Better Late Than Never: 10 Random Thoughts On The West Wing Episode 17

Credit: NBC

Welcome back to Better Late Than Never. I’m your host, Shelby, and we are continuing our watch through of The West Wing.

On Tuesday, I discussed and reviewed “20 Hours in LA.” The Bartlet Administration–as the title suggests– twenty hours in Los Angeles for a film producer’s fundraising party. The episode tackled racism, LGBTQ rights, First Amendment rights, and some personal things between Donna, Josh, and our favorite California pollster, Joey Lucas. It was a breezy but important episode that showcased Sorkin’s ability to weave together a lighter tone with heavy issues.

“The White House Pro-Am” does the same thing, but there are far more emotional moments than lighthearted ones in this episode as Sorkin, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Paul Redford tackle child labor and a poor economic performance following the death of the chairman of the Federal Reserve. The chairman’s death causes some friction between the President and the First Lady as the man who is set to be named as the new chair is one of Abbey’s ex-boyfriends.

There is a lot of squicky things in this episode that just didn’t jive with me, so stick around for my review of the episode below.

  1. Abbey and this kid. The kid is just so calm about it and it’s hilarious. He’s taking what Abbey is giving him and just eating it up. He’s not nervous. He’s rather calm and he’s laughing at her giving him a hard time. It’s times like these when I wish that we could’ve seen more of Abbey as a parent. We’ve gotten Jed so far, but not Abbey. At the same time, though, does anyone find her words to him just a bit off-putting and a little suspect? Like… let’s not think about them for too long, shall we?
  2. “If I go to this meeting there’s a good chance they’re going to leave insulted.” They’re not wrong, but this is why we like Toby, right? He speaks his mind and doesn’t hum or haw over things. He does what needs to be done and says what needs to be said. 
  3. “That was a great bit of diplomacy I just did there.” No, not really, Sam. In fact, I’d say that you were being misogynistic and rude. But, hey, that’s par for the course for some staffers, isn’t it? Or is it just par for the course for the communications staff? 
  4. Jed, I like it when you talk nerdy. You really are an economics professor. 
  5. I feel like I need an economics course to understand this episode and I could tell you right now that I really wouldn’t do well in the course because I don’t do math and I don’t understand math. But I’m going to be a little vain and say that I like it when Josh takes the reins and puts his smarts to good use. I also like Toby here just wanting a doughnut because this is a waste of his time. Richard Schiff and Bradley Whitford are really over here showing just how different these two characters are and they’re putting it front and center. I adore it. 
  6. I adore Charlie. I love that he likes Zoey and wants to keep her safe and yet I also love that he’s not going to let people ruin his life or run him out of town just because of the color of his skin. He is taking control of his life and he doesn’t care that there are death threats against him. He likes this girl and he wants to have fun with her, get to know her, and spend time with her. Good on him.
  7. Okay, so, I go back and forth on Danny and CJ being a thing because I like CJ and Toby and think they would’ve made a fantastic couple, but I have to give kudos to Danny here. I really do. He’s speaking the truth and doing so in a very unpatronizing way. In fact, I sometimes feel like Danny is the only one in the White House who isn’t patronizing to women. We’ve seen all of them treat CJ with some form of disrespect. Mandy is always villainized. I don’t know. Danny and Charlie often feel like the only good guys toward women. Charlie makes some mistakes but he learns from them.
  8. “Why would anyone want to diminish a woman’s sexual desire?” “We can get out of hand.” I would like to ask, once again, why it took SEVEN SEASONS for Donna and Josh to get together. I am just pointing that out here. 
  9. You put Martin Sheen and Stockard Channing together in a room and all sorts of sparks fly and I think it’s not only good writing but good acting too. I love their relationship. I love how we get to see them navigate this relationship with the pressures of the office around them. Everything about them and their relationship just feels so natural. I love it so much. 
  10. The juxtaposition of Abbey and Jed and Charlie and Zoey is the cutest and best thing in the whole wide world. I think it says a lot about their relationship when the writers put the two couples side by side like this. To me, it almost seems like the writers are purposefully setting them up like this to foreshadow that Charlie and Zoey are in it for the long haul. Theirs is the relationship that will stand the test of time. All of the other relationships, minus Abbey and Jed’s, might make it and might not. But I think we can all say that if Donna and Josh were together now, we’d be saying the same thing. It’s just facts.

Sam Seaborn is back at it with the sexism and he dares to take it into the East Wing in the presence of the First Lady and her staff. Of course, he does this all under the guise of, well, the West Wing is more important and our news cycle trumps your news cycle because the President is more important than the First Lady and it leaves one heck of a sour taste in my mouth.

Yes, I understand that, technically, the President is more important than the First Lady in a lot of different ways. I get that, but it’s important to remember that the First Lady also accomplishes a lot in her tenure in the East Wing. This is the first time we get to see Dr. Bartlet work her magic as First Lady and immediately, three things happen. One: the Federal Reserve Chairman dies. That’s not something that can be controlled. I understand. I’m just pointing it out. Two: the new appointee to the Federal Reserve happens to be  Dr. Bartlet’s ex-boyfriend. Three: the Bartlet Staff attempts to “handle” the First Lady and coerce her to retract a statement of support for the new Reserve appointee because of that reason and because the President is jealous.

Just let Dr. Bartlet live, ladies and gentlemen. Here is a strong woman, in the White House,  who is as strong as C.J. and perfectly capable of handling herself who very clearly doesn’t need guidance from the many men in the West Wing and yet, here they are, all trying to handle her. Sam is the worst. Not only does he take out his anger on the First Lady in her Chief of Staff’s office, but he also speaks condescendingly to the Chief of Staff. How dare he, is all I have to say about it. How dare he.

At the same time, how dare Sorkin. I feel like every time he gives Channing and Janney something to do, he undermines them and shoves man pain on them which causes arguments then causes C.J. and Dr. Bartlet to soften their stances and bow to the male status quo. The West Wing is a male-dominated show about a male-dominated profession, and yet he’s created these wonderful female characters, has rounded them out, and made them flawed and wonderful and so real in the context they’re in. Yet, he can’t even give them good stories because of that one character who has to ruin it. Yes, I’m looking at Sam Seaborn. At least Jed explicitly tells his staff not to handle Dr. Bartlet and then apologizes when it’s pointed out to him that it happened, but still.

Maybe I’m biased because I don’t like Sam as a character, but when everyone else tries their hardest to not be sexist (sometimes they fail) and Sam just does it blatantly with no remorse, it’s hard to like him.

Shelby Arnold
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