Better Late Than Never: 10 Random Thoughts On The West Wing Episode 13

Credit: NBC

Welcome back to Better Late Than Never. Yesterday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were inaugurated and already President Biden is busy signing executive orders as part of his first 100 days in office. Let’s take a break from the ongoing inauguration day buzz and join one of our favorite fictional administrations as they continue to deal with the fallout over Congressman Lillianfield’s accusations and Claypool’s investigation. 

So, as always, without further ado, let’s start with “Take Out the Trash Day.”

  1. I love episodes where they start in the press room. The press room, depending on what the tone of the episode is, could start on a funny note or a somber note. This one kind of marries the two. On the one hand, you have Danny asking questions about how the President is going to use 15 pens to sign his name when he only has 13 letters in his name. On the other hand, you have the press asking questions about the Lidels who lost their son to a hate crime a few weeks ago. It’s Sorkin being Sorkin. (I’ll comment on this dichotomy a lot, in case you haven’t noticed.) 
  2. Do we ever get another time where all the aides and secretaries are all in one room talking to each other? I know Bonnie isn’t there and neither is Nancy but everyone is right there talking to each other and I love that. I think I would’ve paid to see an episode with just them gossiping, talking about what happens with their bosses, and what they do on their “downtime.” But that’s just me. And it’s just because I adore Ginger, Cathy, Margaret, Donna, and Carol.
  3. CJ laughing at Toby being raised on Julia Child gives me life. Not because she’s laughing, but because I like to think she finds it endearing and adorable and it’s totally on-brand for their relationship/friendship/whatever ship they have.
  4. “The measure of a man is how does he behave when things are otherwise.” Jed has a point. It’s also great advice. Advice that people should follow and not enough do. 
  5. This guy. Whoever this guy is. Who is he? Simon Blye? He’s gross and Jed pegged him right off the bat. Leo, always listen to your best friend. He’d never steer you wrong. (Can we also just say that Leo is scary when he’s angry? This also just proves, early on, how absolutely vicious he can be if he needs to be.)
  6. Who are these people and why do they think that PBS is TV for rich people? I love Toby sitting there and schooling them with facts and figures and proving them wrong. PBS is literally the public broadcasting system and provides educational programming, arts programs of all sorts, as well as news and British imports to citizens of the country free of charge. They run on donations. Like… come on, now. Be smarter. I don’t work in the White House and I know these things. 
  7. “Mr. President, we could all be better teachers.” After everything she’s been through today. After sending the Lidels home, after going through the emotional response of being wrong and then Mandy being callous with her, she sums everything up with such a powerful statement. I love her. I love her heart.
  8. I talk about this moment here, and if you’ve not read through this article, I think you should. I’m going to take what I said in the previous article and put it here. Spencer gave such a nuanced performance with this storyline and this scene is no different. It was a scene that made me appreciate Leo even more. He explains alcohol and addiction, unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard before. I’ve not struggled with addiction, but I do have mental health issues, and the way he explained his addiction to someone who doesn’t understand… there is so much warmth and empathy in those words. There is so much of that in his expressions too. He cares about Karen. He understands that she was very brave in leaking his personnel file because even though she doesn’t “get” his addiction, she’s seen it before and it scared her.  It’s a very human moment and a very vulnerable moment and I thought it was beautiful. I felt seen watching this moment, and I still do so many months later.
  9. Knowing what I do of future episodes, Leo’s mention of not having a pill or drink in six and half years kind of creates a plot hole, or, rather, a plot inconsistency. As a writer, that bugs me. As a person, I could make the argument that the reason Leo gives that number is that he is ashamed of his shortcomings. He’s only human. This will come back later, but it’s just a thought I had while watching this episode again. 
  10. Lastly, I just want to say that Liza Weil is so underrated. I fell in love with her first in Scandal and was shocked to see her turn up as Karen, but she continued to blow me away. She was about twenty-three or so when she stood on that soundstage and went toe to toe with Spencer and she held her own and I feel like she delivered one heck of a powerful performance. Subtle, but super important. I wish we could’ve seen more of her. 

This is probably one of my most favorite season one episodes next to “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet.” It should come as no surprise considering this is a Leo heavy episode and I adore Leo with my whole heart. He’s easily one of my most favorite characters ever and it doesn’t hurt that John Spencer is at the helm. 

Anyway, enough of that rambling. I don’t have a whole lot to say about this episode because I’ve seen it so many times and I’m so biased about everything in this episode. The pacing is wonderful. The performances are spectacular. There’s drama; there’s humor; everything one could ever want is in this episode. Most importantly, though, I have to say, that it has heart and it has compassion and the three standouts of the episode are Allison Janney, Spencer, and Weil. 

Janney once again expertly maneuvered CJ’s passion and confusion with such ease. CJ struggles to understand why the Lidels, particularly the father, could be embarrassed with his son’s sexuality even after he was murdered. And, once again, Mandy is there to bring her down. Janney is so underrated in these early seasons. She gives impassioned performances that are so nuanced and so emotional, she makes you feel CJ’s emotion and her upset and her confusion. She’s desperate to understand and in her desperation, she almost does something that jeopardizes her principles, but she reigns it in and shows her heart. Her professionalism is never in question with Danny, unlike it was with Toby. That’s respect and Janney delivers an incredible performance. 

Spencer and Weil also gave incredible performances both tinged with empathy, warmth, and understanding. Once again, Sorkin gives the audience this remarkable story of recovery and gives it in a tender way, a warm way, that helps us to understand addiction in a way that usually isn’t presented. 

Spencer and Weil occupy this remarkable space that I wish would’ve been explored more. Their conversation is the perfect embodiment of a mentor/mentee relationship. They are open and honest with each other and they played off of each other well. In a lot of ways, it’s obvious that Leo respects Karen for what she did. She didn’t know him at all, but from personal experience, she made inferences into how he could be. Weil, upon her character meeting Leo, portrays her surprise with earnest honesty. She’s expecting one thing and is met with the complete opposite. Then, of course, Spencer is over here portraying a side of Leo that is not often seen. Leo is letting his bravado down and letting Karen see the real him, the kind who allows second chances. The kind who desperately wants others to understand, helps them understand, but realizes that addiction is different for everyone and he gives Karen a second chance to see that, to teach her. It’s a great moment and it’s pulled off flawlessly. 

“Take Out the Trash Day” is easily my most favorite episode. Janney, Weil, and Spencer give fantastic performances and I can’t wait to see more and see how they go from here.

Shelby Arnold
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