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

Credit: NBC

Welcome back to Better Late Than Never. I hope everyone is now sufficiently out of their food coma and ready to ring in the New Year. 

When we left off, Leo led the staff through their first “total crackpots” day, more specifically their first big block of cheese day after a long hiatus. Josh got a card from a NSC staffer that told him in the event of a nuclear emergency, he was one of the few members of President Bartlet’s staff that would be saved. The card threw Josh into turmoil, coupled with an article on smallpox and the audience was able to get a glimpse into Josh’s motives as well as a look in his mind. It was a great character episode and a way to see Bradley Whitford stretch his legs a little in the role. 

Today’s episode gives Toby Ziegler time to shine as well as notable moments from new character Charlie Young and President Bartlet. Let’s dig into “Mr. Willis of Ohio.” 

  1. Can I just say that I love this moment with the staff? I think it’s such a great character moment. Plus it’s a bonding scene and I think those are important in the grand scheme of things. The staff gets to work off of each other in a different way, but it’s still thoughtful and intelligent. I don’t know. I want more scenes like the poker game in my episodes. I don’t just want it, I need it.
  2. Ron Butterfield! We don’t see him enough in my humble opinion. Not at all. Also, here we have some lovely foreshadowing that I didn’t pick up in my first, like, three watch throughs of the first season. Seriously, though, how did I miss this?
  3. Question: Are most appropriations bills that big? I know nothing about politics, but for some reason, that seems pretty excessive? Probably just me being a noob, though.
  4. I already love Mr. Willis. He’s so quiet mannered and not at all bothered by these people around him knocking swords. His colleagues on the other hand are not looking forward to this fight. It’s immediately obvious.
  5. The President immediately caring about Charlie is so precious. He immediately becomes a sort of father figure. At the same time, I really adore Josh with both Mallory and Zoey (despite it being weird seeing Moss and Whitford together like this). They really don’t get enough time together and I would’ve liked to have seen that relationship explored further. Especially with Mallory. It feels like she really kept him on his toes.
  6. We really don’t talk about Snuffy Walden’s score enough. It’s so uplifting and it always comes at the most perfect time. Mr. Willis does something grand and pretty much unheard of. He proves himself to be a stand-up, admirable guy, and here comes the score with the gut punch that threatens tears.
  7. Today is just a treasure trove of team bonding moments. Not that all of the people in this bar are part of the team, but it’s still a bonding moment and I think it’s great. Also, badass Charlie is everything I needed and more. Actually, badass Sam and Josh weren’t bad either, but Charlie takes the cake.
  8. More foreshadowing. Though, I do have to say, that the President pulling out this speech with Zoey is scary. Poor Zoe is scared stiff. I’m scared stiff. Damn, Martin Sheen. Go off, sir. Go off.
  9. The absolute love and adoration between Leo and Jed are so special. It’s so clear in this episode, the extent of that love. The amount of energy that Jed puts into caring for the people he loves is extraordinary. Yeah, he was an idiot earlier, but he’s man enough to know he screwed up and he’s man enough to apologize and it’s such a tender moment.
  10. I think every single episode so far has ended on a good note and not just a “good” note but a rather uplifting and nice note. I know those usually happen in procedurals, which is what The West Wing ostensibly is, but I know that not every ending will be like this and I feel like we should savor them.

After last week’s heavier and more prophetic episode, which was bizarrely peppered with levity in the form of big block of cheese day, “Mr. Willis of Ohio” is a welcomed breath of light and fluffy with a dash of deepness that makes the whole affair breeze right on by. It’s not a very well balanced episode. As such, I feel like it gets lost in the haze, but that could just be a me thing and not a fandom thing. I could be wrong. Either way, this is one of those episodes that feels like both a hidden gem and a forgotten attempt at greatness. It’s one of those that has so much going for it but that feels strangely lackluster. It’s a weird little episode and, yet, each time I watch it, I remember how good it is. 

I don’t remember this episode often enough. The subplot is important and I’d forgotten that. Mr. Willis is important. I’d forgotten that as well. But, I’ll be honest and say, most of the plot isn’t what’s important in this episode. What’s important is the character building and the way Sorkin sets up the pieces for future turmoil, most of which I won’t actually get into because that would include spoilers. 

Sorkin creates a nightmare scenario for Zoey, the President’s daughter, one that is mostly ignored in media in favor of lighter fare. The thing is, Sorkin’s scenario he creates is more in line with what could happen to a prospective president’s children. In one daring, well-acted, and impassioned speech by Jed, Sorkin explains that one of the worst fears of a parent–that their child could be kidnapped while spending time with their friends–is entirely well-founded, plausible, and even likely now that Zoey is the youngest first daughter and now living in D.C. for college. The subtle undertone of guilt for putting Zoey in this position, and for yelling at her and scaring her, is wordlessly acted by Sheen but it’s a needed moment for the audience to see. We’ve experienced Jed in his presidential capacity for five and a half episodes and now we’re getting Jed Bartlet the parent. He cares about Zoey and her safety and even though it’s a scary scene, it shows just how much he loves Zoey. (I’m also realizing now how this comes into play for a season two episode, but I won’t get into that one either.) 

“Mr. Willis of Ohio” also gives the audience some of the best scenes of the senior staff together thus far. The episode begins and ends with a poker game between the senior staff, the latter game brings Charlie into the fray. The poker game lets the audience see how these people work together and how they get along together outside of the office and it’s obvious who gets along and who doesn’t. Is it any surprise that Jed and Toby engage in a tug of war of wits and superiority? No, not at all. In fact, the argument could be made that this poker game firmly establishes Toby as Jed’s foil, something that doesn’t quite come to a head until much, much later in the game. But it is a good scene that allows these characters to breathe in a context that isn’t work-related. I hope we get to see more of this. 

Lastly, I feel like Mr. Willis needs to get his dues. Speaking of foils, he’s a foil to the other congressmen that Mandy and Toby meet with about an appropriations bill. He’s a bright spot in the middle of turmoil. He’s a good man in a sea of men who would fight the senior staff and the Administration. He bucks the conventions that Toby is expecting, and as a result, leaves the meeting having earned Toby’s respect. He’s the image of a man who wants to do good and does it because he’s in a position to do so. The West Wing is full of characters like Mr. Willis and that is what makes the show special. It’s a reminder that people in power can do good things. 

“Mr. Willis of Ohio” is a solid episode, but pretty unmemorable, save for three important things the episode reminds us of. Could it have been better? Yes, but it’s still an episode that requires and demands a few repeat viewings to fully appreciate what’s going on. 

Shelby Arnold
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