Better Late Than Never: 10 Random Thoughts On The West Wing Episode 14

Credit: NBC

Welcome back to Better Late Than Never. It’s Monday and it’s a new week and I’m going to do something a little differently until I’m finished with season one of The West Wing. My original idea to binge one episode a day and write about it has backfired thanks to me and how busy I am with my job and other time-consuming things. So, I’m going to break these up into manageable three-day chunks. So expect Better Late Than Never articles to come on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays from now on. 

So, last week, we got to watch one of my most favorite episodes of season one, “Take Out the Trash Day.” The staff finally figured out who leaked Leo’s personnel file but instead of allowing her to be fired, Leo spoke to the woman, named Karen, and they gave each other a second chance. It was a beautiful episode and rewatching it just reminded me how much I’ve fallen in love with Leo and John Spencer and his character’s arc.

Today’s episode, “Take This Sabbath Day” does the same thing, only with Jed. So, let’s dive in and unpack this stellar piece of drama.

  1. Donna and Josh arguing about Josh’s intolerance to alcohol gives me life. We already know that he ends up drunk in Donna’s apartment on occasion and yells at her roommate’s cats. I think if anyone is the better judge of Josh’s “delicate system” it would be Donna. Always listen to Donna.
  2. “When it’s over, I’ll buy you some shoes.” That isn’t platonic anything Josh and if you keep thinking that, I might have to smack some sense into you. I’m just saying. 
  3. You would think by now that these staffers know they can’t quite untether themselves that completely from the White House on a weekend. They just can’t. Especially not Sam. Well, especially not all of them. They’re too committed to their jobs. They have too much passion.
  4. I feel like Sam and Leo and maybe the rest of the staff thought that Simon Cruz was going to be another “win,” so to speak. Albeit an indirect win. A win that means the President won’t become involved with something he doesn’t want to be involved with. Leo says as much to Sam in his office. I feel like that’s why Leo says “damnit” after Sam leaves. Maybe I’m mistaken. 
  5. Drunk Josh will not be hilarious. Never. I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again, Bradley Whitford is underrated as a comedic actor. Someone give him a comedy to star in that will last more than one season. Please? I beg of you. 
  6. “So Joey Lucas is a woman?” “Yes.” “And she’s deaf?” “Yes.” “Cool.” That’s it. That’s all that’s acknowledged as the amazing and beautiful and incomparable Marlee Matlin comes sweeping into the halls of the West Wing. Nothing else is made of her deafness. She’s a fully capable woman running a campaign for a California congressman. She is a role model and Sorkin, O’Donnell, and … treat her as such. I love Matlin in this role and I love Sorkin for giving us this woman. Kudos to him. Kudos to her. Kudos all around. 
  7. Dangit, Mandy. Why are you always coming in and just utterly stomping on CJ’s emotions? You know, I understand that Mandy was created to be a foil of sorts to Josh or Josh’s counterpart or future love interest, or whatever, but she’s quickly becoming a foil to CJ and IT’S NOT NICE OR GOOD. CJ doesn’t need a foil. Stop pitting women against women. That’s just how it feels to me. CJ is allowed to have emotions and they don’t need to be undercut by whatever Mandy thinks she needs to say.
  8. I don’t want to be that person in the middle of a super heavy episode with very real social issues being discussed, but, like, can we comment on the men and their jumpers in this episode? Please? They are, literally, flawless. There is something about a jumper or a sweater vest with a buttoned-down shirt with the collar popped over the top. Okay? And so far, I’ve seen John Spencer, Martin Sheen, Dule Hill, and Richard Schiff in one and I am totally okay with that. Give me more. 
  9. I would have killed to have seen Joey run for congress. Is that a thing that can still happen? Can we, like, reboot the show with everyone rallying behind Joey Lucas for something? Because that would be amazing and I would be okay with that. 
  10. Karl Malden, everyone. God, I’d recognize his voice anywhere. He’s only in this episode for a grand total of less than ten minutes and he comes in like a wrecking ball. The entire final ten minutes of this episode hits hard in a way that I never imagined. This is also where we first see the beginnings of Jed’s crisis of faith, one that culminates later in an equally powerful way.

This episode, though. I love every single bit of it. It’s a heavy episode that discusses equally heavy things like the death penalty and religion and other things. It’s handled in such a way that it doesn’t feel preachy. It’s a fantastically balanced episode and I expect nothing less from Sorkin, O’Donnell, and Paul Redford. Turns out, they’ve written many of my favorite episodes and that pleases me immensely. 

What Sorkin, O’Donnell, and Redford accomplish is three-fold. First, they introduce a new recurring character with a disability and immediately don’t draw attention to that fact. There are a few passing mentions to the fact that Joey Lucas is deaf, but that’s it. Her disability is not a hurdle to overcome. It isn’t something that needs to be circled and constantly brought up in casual or professional conversation. Sorkin, O’Donnell, and Redford introduce us to Joey and they immediately prove that anyone can do anything they want, disability or not. And, disability or not, they can be phenomenal in that profession and command attention wherever they go. That’s equally as important. It would’ve been easy for the writers to dismiss Joey as not capable, but instead, they immediately put her up against Josh and the President and she holds her own and is not afraid to speak up. It’s so wonderful. Also wonderful? The fact that this episode obviously puts her in a position to be a romantic interest for Josh. Yeah, I know that’s not how it looks at the beginning because Josh is a yutz, but he redeems himself and she respects him a bit more at the end. Guys, this is huge for a show that aired 21 years ago. Why we haven’t grown from this in 21 years just confounds me. 

Second, as mentioned previously, the debate over religion and the death penalty could’ve been preachy and cringey. It could have been overbearing and turned a lot of people off on the concept, but the writers introduced us to this story and the conversation around the issue felt organic. It morphed over the course of the episode to include many types of faith and many types of thought processes. It did so respectfully and frankly. It introduced people to the horrors of what lethal injection does to a convict at the bodily level, but it also introduces the many emotional responses to it too. There are conflicting thoughts and they’re all given the time to shine throughout the episode. This is not a story that attempts to make us choose sides. It has the capacity for that, but I felt that it gave the issue a fair argument for both sides, though, maybe it did lean a little bit heavy on the discussion against the death penalty, but the sentiment still stands. 

Third, the episode introduced religion to the conversation. In a point that kind of stems off of the above discussion, I like how this episode introduced the audience to different ideologies and how they work with and against each other. This is the crisis of faith episode and it begins some long reaching complications and does a healthy amount of foreshadowing. Without getting into future storylines and episodes, this really is the first time we ever see Jed have a crisis of faith. We know from the very first episode and subsequent ones after that, that Jed is a religious man. He’s Catholic and intelligent and because of that, he’s well versed in his religious beliefs. This situation is something he didn’t want to experience and when he makes his decision, he feels guilty about it. This isn’t preachy or overdone. This is just Sorkin, O’Donnell, and Redford giving the audience another layer of this character and how it impacts his job as President of the United States. 

That being said, guys, Martin Sheen is fantastic in this episode. Why he didn’t get an Emmy or a Golden Globe for this episode is beyond me. He carried this episode on his capable shoulders and then knocked it right out of the park in the final five minutes with Karl Malden. That being said, both Sheen and Malden brought powerhouse performances in the last five minutes of the episode. They both chewed through varying emotions and responses to each other with such ease, all I could do is sit there and stare at the screen mesmerized. That’s the power of acting and the power of good writing. This episode had both by the buckets full.

Shelby Arnold
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