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

Credit: NBC/@twwgifs

It’s the fourth day of the week and the third episode of The West Wing everyone! We are just chugging right along with this season and will continue to do so, despite the upcoming holidays. So, sit back and relax and join me as I go through “A Proportional Response.”

  1. Janel Moloney and Bradley Whitford have the perfect chemistry and I’m not even mad about it. They play off of each other so well and it’s already obvious that Donna is madly in love with Josh. I don’t make the rules. It’s just true. End of.
  2. Another pair that have fantastic chemistry? Whitford and Allison Janney. The whole conversation in Josh’s office about Sam and the call girl and them calling each other names–very long-winded names, at that–is peak sibling energy. (Though, you know, for one fleeting moment, I kind of shipped them, but I have now seen the error of my ways.) Also, kudos to CJ for getting the last word in and revealing that Josh missed the Dean’s list at least twice in school. Something that kind of seems like a big thing in Josh’s world or I don’t think CJ would’ve said it quite so vehemently.
  3. Toby being sneaky and putting a threat out to the press so it gets back to the air force base and the congressman. I don’t know if that was the right thing to do but at least he did it. He’s not wrong, though. The congressman made a threat to the president and should be investigated.
  4. Yup. I’m sorry, I just don’t like the whole storyline with Sam and Laurie. He’s so condescending with CJ. He’d almost be endearing with this “let’s do good not look good” schtick, but it’s so forced and just not great.
  5. “What is the virtue of a proportional response?” The whole proportional response scenario is recycled from The American President and I just have to say that I love this speech. Sheen does such a good job with it, better, I think, than Michael Douglas would’ve. Sometimes I wonder what Sheen was thinking as they rehearsed and went through that scene as someone who’d already been in one version of it in The American President.
  6. Charlie! Dule Hill knocked it out of the park in these first scenes. Goodness, I adore him. All Charlie wanted to do was be a messenger boy and he gets a job to be the President’s personal aide. Their gut instincts were right.
  7. The tension in the Situation Room underscored by W.G. Walden’s urgent yet subtle score that swells at the end when the order is given. Oh man, that gives me goosebumps. We don’t give enough praise to Walden or the score for this show.
  8. I really like John Amos as Fitzwallace. He comes into a room and things shift. He brings an overwhelming sense of power with him wherever he goes.
  9. “I’m standing here with nothing to do.” Poor Josh. I feel like he’s pushed aside a lot. Why is that?
  10. I don’t like Danny and CJ together and as a couple because of Toby and CJ but I do like Janney and Busfield together. They work well together and bounce off of each other perfectly. Of course, it just goes back to perfect casting and perfect writing. I hope we get more of them and more of Danny as the episodes go on.
  11. BONUS: I love Jed and Charlie’s first meeting. It’s so warm and full of love. Jed cares about his staff and it’s obvious in this meeting. I hope in the future we get the privilege of seeing a gun control bill pass that effectively bans those weapons that, sadly, killed Charlie’s mom.

Sometimes shows seem to lose their strides about three episodes in, like the plot has lost steam already, but with the tragedy that capped off the previous episode, “A Proportional Response” just rolls right along and picks up where we left off. The President is snapping at people, he’s snapping at his wife, and everyone is on pins and needles and walking on eggshells to avoid making Jed angry. It’s a difficult time in the administration and everyone is unsure of what’s going to happen. To top it all off, Sam is in the middle of a crisis with CJ and Laurie, the call girl he slept with in the pilot which bleeds over into Josh who is hiring Charlie (!!! I love Dule Hill) for the President’s body man position.

This episode brought a sense of seriousness to the levity the audience has been given thus far. While the levity is still there–especially, and unexpectedly, at the end between Leo and Jed–it’s far more subdued and buried under a sheath of tension. Things are no longer hunky-dory in the administration and this will be the first time they’ve dealt with a retaliatory strike against a foreign power. There’s an undercurrent of uncertainty that permeates through the staffers and it’s been festering for about a week or so now. Not to mention CJ now knows about Sam and Laurie which throws an entirely different wrench into the proceedings, especially as Danny (Busfield) comes knocking. The audience is immediately supposed to assume that something has been happening or can happen between CJ and Danny and Sam just goes on a little tirade against CJ and Josh and anyone else he can get his hands on.

I’ll be honest. If I wanted the Sam Seaborn show, I’d watch, I don’t know, one of Rob Lowe’s other shows or movies he’s been in. I don’t find Seaborn or Lowe particularly endearing, and despite the way he was introduced in the pilot, he’s started going off the rails. I understand his rant. Believe me, I do. He’s right about appearances and perceived appearances and everything he says is correct, it’s just the way Sam says these things. His tone of voice, to me anyway, says a lot of Sam and he is always, always condescending. He’s patronizing to CJ when he’s explaining his feelings about Laurie and about seeing her again and I could really do without that. CJ doesn’t deserve that attitude. Josh doesn’t either when Sam comes storming in during Charlie’s vetting and he goes after Josh for simply doing his job.

I don’t know how much of Sam’s storyline in this episode was amped up via writing or Lowe’s portrayal, but everything about it rubs me the wrong way. That’s not to say I don’t agree with him. I do, but at the same time, there are other ways of approaching it, ways that are less icky. Maybe I’m just being nitpicky because, for the most part, “A Proportional Response” is a brilliant episode. Sorkin takes some familiar material (some of this episode came from deleted scenes from The American President) and presents it in a way that is fresh and dynamic but still as relevant today as it was twenty years ago.

As I go through these episodes, I’m already finding that Sorkin was incredibly prophetic with the things he wrote, and despite their delivery, Sam’s words are poignant. They’re still important and they still need to be said and need to be heard. Some people might look at The West Wing and call it a liberal fantasy, but they’d be wrong. This is simple decency. It’s common courtesy. It’s idealistic and hopeful and who doesn’t want that at a time like this? Could the execution–at least of Sam’s stuff–be better handled? Of course, but, as I said, I’m really just being nitpicky because it’s the only thing that bothered me in episode three and a lot of that comes down to personal preference.

“A Proportional Response” is definitely one of my favorite early episodes and I feel like everyone knocked it out of the park. I especially love how they introduced Charlie and how he and Jed almost immediately get along. I could talk about this casts’ chemistry all day long, but I won’t bore you. I will simply say that if I’ve caught your attention with these first three reviews, go ahead and dive in because you won’t be disappointed as he keep watching along.

Shelby Arnold
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