In the eleventh episode of the seventh season of The West Wing, C.J. deals with a number of delicate crises while considering a future with Danny and the legacy she’ll leave behind. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
You know, I didn’t even notice that Bradley Whitford wrote this episode! I think I was too excited by Danny finally appearing in this season and by the prospect of Annabeth Gish on my screen again to take notice. Goddamn, this is an INCREDIBLE episode, which shouldn’t be a surprise since C.J. is my favorite character on the show. But this chance to experience her day in detail is perhaps one of the best examples of how things have changed for her since becoming the Chief of Staff last season. It’s breathless in a lot of ways, painfully awkward in others, and a wonderful demonstration of how our government can often trudge its feet in the face of human evil.
It’s important to start with the opening scene because it sets the narrative in a single direction. Yes, it’s important because DANNY AND C.J. YES. I AM SO INTO THIS. But I also needed this to remind me of how complicated the very idea of relationships is on this show. The whole Donna/Josh frustration is rooted in a similar conflict for Danny and C.J., and perhaps even Kate/Will. The job that these people do prohibits relationships for ethical reasons or because of simple lack of time. Or a combination of that, of course. But knowing how their story ends in some way adds tension to every scene between C.J. and Danny since they end up together. AND YET, WE’RE STILL TEASED WITH THE POSSIBILITY. But Danny’s conversation with C.J. over dinner serves another purpose beyond introducing the Doug Westin plot: to get C.J. to examine the sort of power she has as the Chief of Staff and how she can use it to do good.
It’s a complicated journey, certainly, and it’s not without bumps along the way. Throughout “Internal Displacement,” C.J. balances her time and attention between Doug’s apparent infidelity, brokering a deal to get oil sanctions against Sudan to alleviate the genocide in Darfur, Josh’s badgering over a research lab, and continuing to prevent World War II from breaking out. It’s a frustrating episode to watch because of this, but, again, it’s such an incredible way to show us all what C.J.’s life is like. I also loved that we were shown how much C.J. now trusts Kate both for personal issues (like the disaster with Doug) and political ones (like the insight Kate provides on brokering a deal between Germany, France, and China). Dare I say that something like this never would have come about during Sorkin’s reign on the show? I mean, Will and Bartlet are definitively in the background for most of this episode, aside from Will’s scenes early in “Internal Displacement” regarding his investigation of Doug Westin. This is all about C.J. and Kate’s work to bring about change in some way, though admittedly, C.J. is the heavy lifter here.
And goddamn, it’s some heavy fucking lifting, y’all. Her meeting with the French ambassador is brutal and painful, but it’s part of the process. This episode doesn’t shy away from increasingly intense complaints of inactivity on the part of the United States, and Whitford’s script is all the better because of this. We have to see how C.J. comes to her pragmatism in solving these problems, and it’s something that calls back to episodes like “The Women of Qumar,” in the sense that C.J. has to grapple with her own moral desire and the realities of how the government often works. She misses the mark initially, sitting through a brutal criticism from the French ambassador, and then finds some success with the Germans. But it all pales to her meeting with Steve Laussen, the representative from the Refugees’ Rights Alliance, who is certain that the United States isn’t doing nearly enough to save the victims of genocide in Darfur. And it’s uncomfortable because nothing Steve says is incorrect and because it’s not like C.J. can just tell this man she’s helping to create a secret deal to help stop the flow of money to that region. Well, it’s also important to acknowledge that in brokering these deals, C.J. still has to get dirty anyway. It’s part of that pragmatism I just referenced and that she mentions to Danny at the end of the episode. (The “mud” metaphor.)
This is also one of those rare moments where real-world events cross into this fictional work, so I was fascinated by the way in which it’s introduced. C.J.’s meeting with both the French and German ambassadors hinted at a history in Darfur where every country ignored the horrors going on there, but otherwise, Darfur isn’t mentioned until this episode. But thankfully, this episode doesn’t veer into unfortunate white savior territory by proposing an easy solution to the problem. I doubt we’ll see more than what we get here in terms of the remainder of season seven, but the end of the episode demonstrates that the deal C.J. helped push along is just the start of something greater. It’s not the answer either.
But this episode chronicles a lot of difficult decisions and awkward moments, and I don’t envy C.J.’s job at all. BECAUSE DOUG WESTIN. Sweet mother of god, I cannot believe how uncomfortable this got, but you know what? Bless C.J. for doing what she did with Doug. This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen how C.J. does whatever she can to protect Bartlet, but it’s never felt so obvious than it does here. And I don’t mean that as a criticism! I think the way in which she confronts Doug is just a demonstration of her loyalty and an example of her own personal disgust mixed in with one another. (Oh god, I was so pleased that this episode so plainly described Doug as negatively as it did. GOOD. IT SHOULD. BRAVO, BRADLEY WHITFORD.) Of course, things aren’t all that simple because THIS IS C.J.’S LIFE. When Margaret told C.J. that Liz was in her office, I had a suspicion that this would get worse because OH GOD, DOES SHE KNOW NOW? DID DOUG TELL HER WHAT HE DID? But oh my god. I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN PREPARED FOR THIS. What’s so unfortunate about how this ends is that C.J. did the best she could and she did what she thought was right for Bartlet. I don’t disagree with how she handled this. It just sucks that Liz came to C.J. with a desire to do what was best for her family, and C.J. couldn’t take back what she’d already done. I think C.J. would have deferred to Liz if she hadn’t already agreed to Josh’s plan to have Bartlet announce the research facility in Austin.
And then this show has to go and ENDLESSLY FRUSTRATE ME by giving me that tear-jerking moment of joy at the end of this episode because OH MY GOD. IT’S HAPPENING. IT’S HAPPENING AND THERE IS NO TURNING BACK AND I AM SO HAPPY. Danny’s little monologue to C.J. is one of the absolute best things that has ever been on this show, and I love how Whitford re-purposes the whole cliff-jumping metaphor from last season (when Bartlet asked C.J. to be Chief of Staff) to mean something entirely different. Both Danny and C.J. will soon enter a new chapter of their lives, one full of the unknown. Why not do it together?
BECAUSE OF COURSE C.J. IS CALLED BACK TO THE WHITE HOUSE DUE TO SOME KIND OF NUCLEAR DISASTER AND OH GOD. THE TIMING IS THE WORST. And this is clearly going to have repercussions for the Santos campaign, isn’t it? Since Santos just pushed the whole tech angle. OH GOD WHAT IS THIS SHOW.
The video for “Internal Displacement” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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