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

Credit: NBC

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Better Late than Never. We are going full steam ahead on our The West Wing binge which means that today we are on the second episode of the first season. “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” gives us a better look at Mandy and her motivations. It also gives us another good look at the President and puts him in the Oval Office with all of his staffers instead of just Toby, CJ, and Josh. It also gives us a more personal look at the President and the insecurities he’s feeling in his second year in office. It also gets the ball rolling as Jed is faced with the first major personal loss of his administration and the ramifications it creates for him.

So, without further ado, let’s get into “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.” (Which, by the way, means after, therefore, because of it.)

  1. “It’s the party they’re having right now in the West Wing at my expense.” “They’re not having a party at the West Wing.” a few seconds later “Victory is mine. Victory is mine. Great day in the morning, people. Victory is mine. I drink from the keg of glory, Donna. Bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.” Yeah, sure they’re not having a party at your expense, Mandy.
  2. “We didn’t lose Texas because of the hat joke. You know when we lost Texas?” “When you learned to speak Latin?” “Go figure.” Great quips like this make me adore these characters even more. They play so well off of each other. There’s not one misstep. It’s all so perfectly delivered. I would kill to be able to write this good. Sorkin, tell me your secrets. 
  3. I’m going to say this very loudly and very clearly. Is everyone listening? Okay, good. It’s an absolute travesty that we never saw Toby and CJ as a couple. Do you hear me? It’s a dang Greek tragedy. Their chemistry is off the charts. Toby is obviously in love with her. They share a great rapport. I’d almost liken them to Josh and Donna a bit. Seriously. They deserved a crack at having a relationship with each other and the audience deserved to see it. 
  4. Right from the get-go, I don’t like Hoynes. It’s kind of like Mandy. You know, everyone in the cast is introduced in a likable manner. They’re approachable; they’re reachable; you can understand their motives. Mandy and Hoynes aren’t like that. Okay, yeah, you can argue that we understand Mandy’s motives clearly, but she’s still not approachable. Each time we meet her she’s angry and snarky and not in a good way. Hoynes already feels like a snake oil salesman. I don’t like him. 
  5. I like this brief moment of vulnerability from the President. I think it’s well placed and I love all the layers to it, the future implications of the things that were said. This is a President who is confident but who is going through some hard times. This is a President who has experience but is scared. There’s a lot going on under the surface. It’s one of my favorite exchanges so far. 
  6. Sam is the epitome of an awkward teenager that doesn’t know what to do when they’ve done something wrong. 
  7. There is something so hysterical about Josh begging for the new media consultant to not be Mandy, only for everyone in the senior staff to turn around and name Mandy the new consultant. Whitford’s comedic timing is sorely underrated. I will never not say that. 
  8. Everyone else was trying to avoid Leo and Hoynes coming to fisticuffs, but damn, I’m glad it happened and I’m glad it happened this early in the game. Leo is a force to be reckoned with. He’s the stalwart pragmatist in the midst of idealists and dang it if John Spencer doesn’t nail all of this with steely-eyed perfection. 
  9. I’m only going to say this once but can I skip over all the stuff with Sam and Laurie? I just don’t see the appeal there. Again, I realize this was supposed to be Rob Lowe’s show, but I’ve never really cared for him and Sam’s character is still growing on me. This strange fixation with “fixing” and “reforming” Lori is weird. It’s misogynistic and gross. 
  10. No. Noooooooooo. Not Morris. WHY DID YOU HAVE TO KILL MORRIS?? He just had a baby! Ten days ago! I can’t handle this. I mean, I’ve seen this episode before, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt any less. What a way to end the episode. This is the kind of cliffhanger I like. Not that I like death, because I don’t.

Oh, boy. I adored the pilot episode but this just takes the pilot and amplifies it to a ten, in my opinion. Everything is already settled down. The cast and the characters click. It’s an episode full of humor and tragedy and it’s so well-paced and balanced and it sets the next episode up so well by giving us our first major conflict of the series. We also get more of Martin Sheen as Jed Bartlet and Sheen knocks it out of the park. Then again, they all do. Yes, even Moira Kelly as Mandy, despite her characterization and the way poor Mandy is written.

My favorite parts of this episode are, easily, Sheen as Bartlet and Whitford’s comedic timing in regards to hiring Mandy as a consultant. I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t seen many of Sheen’s roles in movies or other showsI know. I call myself a cinephile. So, this is the only time I’ve really been privy to his performances, but I can honestly say that his portrayal of President Bartlet is one of the greatest things I’ve seen on television.  Hands down. Bar none and we’re only in episode two.

But, then again, episode two does give us more of the psyche behind President Bartlet and possibly the reason behind his second-year mishaps and misfires. It’s not that Jed isn’t personable. In fact, he gets along with all of his staffers. Sheen has an easy chemistry with the rest of the cast that easily translates to the characters. The “problem” is that Jed is brilliant and has a brilliant mind. He’s smart. He also has a sense of humor that is intellectual that, sadly, most people don’t get. Of course, he also is so smart that he doesn’t seem to realize that messing with Texas is a no-no but he does it anyway and he makes a joke about golfers that bites him in the butt when the entire team of golfers declines an invitation to the White House. It’s just another notch in the proverbial hitching post that the staff has to deal with.

Despite his easy camaraderie and his brilliant mind, he’s insecure. He’ll tell you that he was a senator and the governor of New Hampshire, but despite that, he feels inadequate. He doesn’t say it in as many words, rather, he skirts around it, but the moment with Morris and Jed in the Oval Office is telling. Jed and his father don’t have a good relationship. Jed doesn’t feel completely ready for every facet of his role as President, a fact that comes to a head at the end when Morris is killed by Syrian rebels.

I just love the narrative circle Sorkin creates in this episode and how well Sheen rises to the occasion and acts it to perfection. The ending scene alone is beautiful as Jed realizes exactly what he’s going to have to do and what that might mean for his morality. Even this early in the game, it’s obvious that he’s well versed in spiritual things which means he understands the ramifications of violence but he also knows that he has to retaliate because Americans were killed in foreign airspace by terrorists. It’s his first catch twenty-two. It’s the first time he feels violence against another person. It’s the first time he gets to enact said violence and it’s safe to say he’s terrified.

Bringing a bit of levity to the proceedings is Whitford as Josh. Whitford and Kelly have absolutely no romantic chemistry, despite what Sorkin was trying to do with their characters. Everyone knows that and notices that, but what makes Josh and Mandy so hilarious is how Mandy gets under Josh’s skin and challenges his authority. It’s safe to say that Josh likes being in charge and likes his position as deputy chief of staff. He doesn’t have anyone over him except for Leo and Jed and he likes that. But with Mandy, she likes being in control and Josh doesn’t seem to like that. At least he responds with silly quips and doesn’t actively try to take her down a peg.  Instead, it’s Mandy who takes Josh down a few pegs and Whitford is just so good at that rapid-fire humor that challenges Kelly’s fierce, sometimes no-nonsense wit. I still maintain that he deserves to be in another comedy because he’s just so good at it.

Overall, this episode is a solid second episode. It gives our characters more time to interact with each other and the narrative is just as strong and finely crafted as the pilot.

Shelby Arnold
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