Better Late Than Never: 10 Random Thoughts On The West Wing Episode Five

Credit: NBC

These introductions are always the hardest things to do for these posts. I try to be funny, but I don’t think it always works. So, today, I just want to say thanks for sticking with me through all my crazy shenanigans. I only hope that you guys don’t get bored with me. I sometimes feel like I’m saying the same things over and over again. In that vein, if there are things you’d like me to change, let me know. Hit that comment section or @ reply us on Twitter.

Anyway, enough of my babbling. Today we are discussing “The Crackpots and These Women,” our first big block of cheese day episode. So, without further ado, let’s get into my thoughts and my review of the episode.

  1. I love the President and his staffers playing basketball and Jed brings in a substitution and that substitution played for Duke. And it’s not the first time he’s done it either. Toby is a little insufferable while playing the game, though. Can we just admit that? 
  2. I love this entire block of cheese day speech. I learned something new and get to listen to John Spencer crack wise with Richard Schiff, Rob Lowe, and NiCole Robinson making equally snippy remarks. It’s wonderful and I love it.
  3. Josh getting the NSC card in the case of a nuclear attack and then reading about smallpox and worrying about his staff is such a Josh thing to do. He is so selfless and it doesn’t seem like he cares sometimes, but he cares more than he lets on. Oh, man, I forgot how good a Josh centric episode this was. 
  4. President Bartlet’s joy at Zoey coming down to visit is just pure serotonin at its finest. I don’t make the rules. He’s so pumped up and ready to see her and willing to make chili for her and his staff. I don’t know why I love it, but I just love it. I guess because it’s adorable to see the President worked up over something so simple and so human. Equally as hilarious and wonderful is the way the staff is like, “oh, yeah, great, chili” in the driest, most monotonous tone of voice ever. 
  5. Is it just me, or does Toby’s holier than thou morality/mentality seem extra preachy in this episode? I mean, super preachy. Nothing he says is wrong, per se, it just feels a bit forced and over the top this episode. 
  6. The wolves only highway really needs to be a thing, honestly. There’s a new overpass in the states somewhere that did just that and they say it’s a resounding success. So, this is one of the “crackpot” ideas that I can get on board with. 
  7. The story of how Joanie died. Noooo…. This is so rough. Pairing it with the NSC card makes this such an interesting Josh episode and gives the audience a great look at the pathos behind everything that he does. It lets the audience really get to know Josh in a startling and unexpected way. It’s tragic, but it’s also great. 
  8. Once again, Sorkin is so prophetic it’s almost scary. Terrifying, really. Not just scary. Twenty years ago he’s talking about a global pandemic of smallpox, of which there are only 7 vaccines and a death rate of 1 in 3 with no acquired immunity, and here we are in the middle of a pandemic with a horrible death rate, no acquired immunity, and the vaccines are just now starting to roll in. Sorkin is an oracle. 
  9. First thing’s first. Number one, seeing Bradley Whitford with a very young Elisabeth Moss is a little off-putting. Thanks, Handmaid’s Tale. But I do appreciate the way he treats her like a younger sister in a lot of ways. It’s cute. But, again, also strangely off-putting. Number two, ah, the adorable meet-cute between Charlie and Zoey. I love these two together. I really do. Him calling her ma’am and being polite is so special. So chivalrous. More men need to be like Charlie. 
  10. When Jed speaks, you can’t help but listen. His words, punctuated by W.G. Snuffy Walden’s score which samples Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” are some of the most stirring and heartfelt I’ve heard so far in the show. It’s beautiful. A reminder that we can be better and do better and strive for better things.

I typically love the big block of cheese day episodes. Yes, I’m jumping ahead and kind of letting you guys know that I’ve seen some of these episodes before (some of them multiple times), but let’s ignore that and pretend I never said that. Anyway, I typically do love these episodes and this one is no exception. It’s one of my favorite episodes from the first season. I feel like the first season gets overlooked for season two and season three, but, really, season one has some fantastic hidden gems that tend to come out of nowhere and hit you in the feels.

So, it’s no secret that I started watching The West Wing for Bradley Whitford. I’ve pretty much said so in almost every single article I’ve written. That’s not creepy. I’m not trying to be creepy, I promise. But, basically, this is the episode that kind of solidified that, yes, Josh Lyman is my second favorite character of the series and no one can change my mind. It was also just a great episode to see Whitford kill it with his impeccable acting chops. No one, I repeat, no one else could have played this role. I would have hated to see someone else try.

So much is revealed about Josh in this episode. So much. This is his characterization being solidified and it’s Sorkin and Whitford doing it at the expense of the viewer’s emotions. I’m not sure I was prepared for Josh to be so damn tragic, but the realization that he is, is such a gut punch. It’s a nice gut punch, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t expecting it. In the grand scheme of things, it makes sense, though. Josh is shown to be a caring individual who will put others ahead of himself. Every time. It’s in his nature. He’s caring. He can be a bit of an ass, but it’s all bravado to hide behind and it’s all used in the service of helping others.

This is the episode we learn why he is the way he is and why he cares that much. It’s heartbreaking, but so well acted. Whitford acts with his eyes and his scenes in the therapist’s office say so much without saying a thing. He’s haunted by what happened to Joanie and it drives him to be this person. It drives him so much that I’d almost call it detrimental. This is the first time we really see Josh hiding things and holding back his emotions. He denies his hurt to everyone including himself. A lot of his bravado is definitely used as a shield to protect himself but also to protect others. Josh is so damaged and I think it only gets worse as the series continues.

“Crackpots” is also so well written. I’ll forgive Toby’s preachiness for the moment and focus solely on the whole smallpox subplot, which, again, showcases Whitford phenomenally, in a speech that is terrifying and prophetic. We are in the middle of exactly what Sorkin predicted twenty years ago. It isn’t smallpox but it’s equally as terrifying. Sorkin, as a writer, really captured what people would be facing and he does so with subtlety. That’s the beauty of Sorkin’s narratives. They’re subtle, but it’s enough to make the viewer sit up and think. It’s enough to be eerie and I like how Sorkin handled it. I like how Sorkin handled the entire episode. Again, I feel like Toby’s superiority is a bit in your face and that is off-putting. But everything else is handled with precision. It’s such a strong episode all the way around.

Shelby Arnold
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