Better Late Than Never: 10 Random Thoughts on The West Wing Episode Seven

Credit: NBC

Welcome back to Better Late Than Never!

Today we’re diving into episode seven of season one, “The State Dinner.” There was so much going on in this episode, I think I could’ve double the list of thoughts I had on the subject. I’m being serious. I held back so much while watching this episode. It’s such a zinger. There are a lot of moving parts. There are characters introduced who we haven’t seen before. There are hijinks. There’s is a state dinner that lets us get a good look at our characters all dressed to the nines in tails and white bow ties. It’s a smorgasbord of delicious content. It’s also the most tragic episode so far. The win the Bartlet Administration secured in the previous episode pretty much gets overshadowed by all the bad that happens in this one. It’s a doozy, for sure.

In that case, let’s go ahead and jump right in because we have a lot to cover.

  1. “It’s wine. You’ll drink it.” I love CJ. I also love that she has no time to suffer fools. Not that the journalists from InStyle magazine are fools, CJ just doesn’t like dealing with them. I don’t blame her. She’s studied for this job for years and has done a lot of work with politics. Who would want to deal with something perceived as shallow when there are much bigger fish to fry?
  2. “She’s not worried about the length of your question, she’s worried about the length of my response.” And she would be correct considering the President can be very long-winded when he wants to be and extremely long-winded when he isn’t trying to be. I love it when he’s long-winded though. He makes good speeches and tells good stories. 
  3. This President of Indonesia does not look pleased to be there at all. Poor Jed is trying his hardest to make conversation and it’s just not working. It’s hilarious. 
  4. Danny tries hard to ruffle CJ’s feathers, but never quite manages it. She’s always so calm and composed. I adore her. I like their relationship. I don’t like that they are considered a “romantic” couple, but I like how they volley back and forth between them all the time.
  5. The dichotomy between Sam’s idealism and Toby’s pragmatism is not always so starkly contrasted in this way. We see it when they’re with different people but not always when they’re with each other. When it happens with each other, it’s like night and day. I don’t like when Toby needlessly puts Sam down, but, then again, it is Toby and he can be brusque.
  6. Donna and Josh being completely platonic and not in love with her doing his bow tie and they’re in each other’s personal space like it’s no big thing. Remind me, again, why they aren’t together already? Oh, right, because Josh is an idiot and is adorably clueless to everything personal relationship-wise. 
  7. STOCKARD CHANNING looking radiant as always!! God, she’s beautiful and I love her. I love them all. I also love how Abbey is just so in charge and certain of herself. I also love her obvious relationship with Leo. It’s so, I don’t know, it feels different than everyone else. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain.
  8. Things went from hopeful to bad to worse. I cannot handle how this all just went down the tubes. First, the hostage negotiator is shot and then the hurricane threatens and then takes out the carrier group that evacuated the storm. The Bartlet Administration just cannot catch a break. 
  9. And he does pistol whip the trucking industry. I love it when President Bartlet uses not only his panache but his smarts to do what needs to be done. He’s so charming even when he’s on a warpath. Abbey speaks the truth, though, when she says he has a big heart. It’s that compassion that makes Jed so brilliant and so awe-inspiring. 
  10. The ending of this episode never fails to make me cry. It’s so sad and so moving.

As I said above in my intro, so much happens in this episode. The White House is in a flurry of activity. The FBI has a home in Idaho surrounded. A hurricane is set to make landfall in Georgia. The trucker’s union is threatening to go on strike. Not to mention, the new President of Indonesia is not interested in the formalities that come with the state dinner. Then, there’s Abbey coming home from Pakistan. Toby tries to corner an Indonesian official for a favor but he and Josh can’t get the interpreter right. There’s a lot going on and not all of it ends up good.

I’d make the wager that this episode is the most mentally draining on the Administration, and President Bartlet, thus far. Even Abbey makes the comment that Jed can’t fix everything no matter how hard he tries. That same sentiment can be applied to Mandy and Toby. Here they are, part of the most powerful staff in the world, but not everything can be fixed and not everyone can be saved. Everyone has to lose a little. It’s not all winning all the time. It’s a lesson that all three of these characters need to learn. I feel like they learn them each a little harder than the next, starting with Toby and working up to Jed.

Despite all three of these characters getting a spotlight this episode, I’d like to focus on Moira Kelly and Mandy this time around. I feel like poor Mandy gets the shift more often than not. It’s true she’s the least likable character of the show and it’s also true that she has almost zero chemistry with the staff, save for maybe Toby and Jed. But Kelly gets to work with some things finally. Sorkin finally puts her in the middle of the action and allows her to make a call that directly affects the very thing that she works with, PR and, of course, political recourse.

Kelly handles Mandy’s passion with ease. We’ve known that since her first episode. She can be abrasive, but she goes after what she wants and she does it fiercely. There’s never a dull moment with Mandy because of how she’s such a firebrand. This episode is much of the same. Mandy thinks the President should exhaust all options when it comes to the FBI raid in Idaho. There are children in there. Going in guns (or tear gas) blazing will cause a PR nightmare and possibly injure the children who are in the house. The President sends in a negotiator and things seem to be working, but at the last possible minute, the negotiator is shot. Mandy is, understandably, upset. Here she tried to get into the big leagues and prove that she could do what everyone else was doing and she failed.

However, I wouldn’t really say she failed. Kelly does a good job at convincing the audience Mandy failed, but I’m going to argue that isn’t the case. She didn’t fail. Despite Mandy’s abrasive nature, this is a great character-building moment. We learn that she cares even though she doesn’t put that out when we see her interact with the other characters. She also appeals to the President’s humanity. We don’t have to guess Jed’s motivations. He wears them on his sleeve, but he can be hard-nosed and rough edges about some things. So, in this moment, Mandy softens him up, gets to think about the kind of message he’d be sending out, and also appealing to his heart, the same heart Abbey discusses at the end. It’s great seeing this come full circle with both Abbey and Mandy’s help.

“The State Dinner” is another one of those episodes that make the audience stop and think and makes the audience realize that there are always better ways to try to handle things, even if things go wrong. It’s a nice episode that proves the administration’s intentions and its idealism.

Shelby Arnold
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