Better Late Than Never: 10 Random Thoughts on The West Wing Episode 12

Credit: NBC

It’s Monday and you know what that means! It means there’s another new Better Late than Never on the horizon. Everyone rejoice! 

We left off last week with the introduction of Lord John Marbury and the revelation that India and Pakistan were on the cusp of war. Leo’s legal troubles, following the leak of his personnel file, seemed to be growing, and Josh almost perjured himself when he spoke with a government watchdog about the investigation into drug use at the White House. Two weeks have passed between episode 11 and episode 12 and things are about to get crazier. 

So let’s dig into “He Shall, From Time to Time” and see what kind of shenanigans our staffers are getting themselves into.

  1. “Damn, you know what I forgot to do today? I forgot to feel the President’s glands.” CJ really comes out and says that zinger while nonchalantly sipping coffee (or water) from a paper cup, while Josh stands there with nothing to do. She’s a queen and we should acknowledge that fact. Also, can we appreciate Allison Janney being amazing and having constantly impeccable comedic timing? Please?
  2. “‘I’m proud to report our country’s stranger than it was a year ago’?” “That’s a typo.” “It could go either way.” I love Jed’s sass. I love Martin Sheen’s delivery of said sass. I love the rapport between all the staffers. I just love love love this cold open, despite the fact that it ends on a rather scary note. I don’t care so much about that. 
  3. Let’s settle this once and for all: Danny did look cute with the full beard. There, I said it for you, CJ.
  4. I love the tenderness that CJ has with Leo when she tells him that the story is going to break. It’s heartwarming. I know I go back to the rapport everyone has with each other, but this goes beyond that. This just proves the amount of respect and admiration CJ has for Leo and how much she cares for him. 
  5. Listen, I love Stockard Channing. I love Abbey Bartlet. I love everything about her. I think she’s the greatest supporting character ever and the greatest fictional First Lady I’ve ever seen. This is also the greatest relationship I’ve seen in fiction too. Bar none, and I’ve only seen them in two episodes together. They respect each other and it shows in every single they do and in every single word they say to each other. Admiration and respect. It’s so good.
  6. Once again, in order to show their support and show their admiration for Leo, their mentor, their father figure, their boss and friend, Josh and Sam go out on a limb and risk Leo’s anger to make sure that the President sees the statement of support. They’re also not stupid. They know that Leo and the President are good friends. They know that the whole world knows. They just want to help in any way they possibly can.
  7. The lighting in this show never gets enough credit, mostly because the lighting is super weird sometimes, but also, sometimes, it looks really good and does exactly what it’s supposed to do. The lighting on Leo as he watches his press conference then ignores the press conference is stunning. 
  8. And then the dang shoe, the dang penny, everything just drops and it’s like a kick in the teeth and it hurts. Oh, boy, does it hurt. Not going to lie, I teared up this time when I watched this moment. It’s such a gut punch. And then the meeting between Jed and Leo as Jed tries not to cry and breaks down in front of Leo…You can just see the love between them and the amount of caring between them. You can also feel it.
  9. “You’re jealous ‘cause Danny was flirting with Mandy.” You have a big point, Josh, and I love every moment of it. She’s so jealous and now she’s going to prove to Danny that she likes him… by awkwardly knocking on her own office door and making awkward advances and telling him that she wants to kiss him “on the mouth” so she can focus and “get past it.” We both know that she won’t get past it. Can we also just comment on the sibling energy between Josh and CJ? Because it’s aces.
  10. “You got a best friend? Is he smarter than you? Would you trust him with your life? That’s your chief of staff.” No, I’m fine. This is fine. Leo hears it and he knows. What a fitting way to end an episode that has been about relationships both personal and political.

We are smack in the middle of the season and Sorkin goes ahead and drops a bombshell that the President has MS right in the middle of preparations for President Bartlet’s second State of the Union. (Technically, it’s supposed to be his first, but we’ll ignore that little detail and I’ll gently remind everyone that this takes place in an alternate universe and thus conventions don’t need to be followed exactly.) Okay, moving on. 

There’s no doubt that this episode is the Leo, Jed, and Abbey show. Sheen, Channing, and Spencer electrify the screen and mesmerize those watching as they act out a long and involved friendship that spans decades, but we’ve only just seen a fraction of it on the screen. These three veteran actors carry this episode on their capable shoulders. Sure, the surrounding characters and actors act their hearts out too, but the core of this episode is the relationship between Abbey, Jed, and Leo and no one can tell me otherwise. 

There is a lot of character work in this episode that I just want to take a moment to talk about. First and foremost, this is the first episode that we get to see Abbey work. This is only the second episode we see Abbey, but already she is a fully fleshed-out character who is a no-nonsense doctor who takes matters into her own hands when her husband is sick. I talk about her relationship with Jed up in my thoughts, but I wanted to talk about it further down here too because this is the beginning of a beautiful exploration of what it’s like to be married to the President, but also what it’s like to be in a relationship. So often, TV and movie audiences are deprived of loving relationships that mirror real-life relationships and I feel like most relationships are so highly fictionalized that they don’t feel real. The relationship between Abbey and Jed feels real. It feels authentic. We’ve only seen them together twice, but they feel like the kind of couple that has been through their fair share of ups and downs and they’re in it until the end. 

By extension, Abbey and Leo’s relationship also feels authentic and so different than what I would’ve imagined it to be. This is a relationship built on respect and the kind of platonic love and tenderness that I, again, feel is missing from most mediums. I don’t know, maybe I’m biased, but I definitely feel like Sorkin does relationships really well and this is just another example of that. Abbey respects Leo and Leo cares for Abbey and that caring and respect go both ways. Plus, I have to give kudos to Leo for not getting angry at Abbey for not telling him that Jed had MS. He knew where the anger needed to be directed and it needed to be directed at Jed and not her. This decision wasn’t Abbey’s decision to make and I feel like that adds another layer of respect and caring in this relationship. 

Last but not least, the relationship between Jed and Leo is one of the greatest platonic male relationships ever put on screen. I will accept no arguments at this time. As with Abbey and Jed, the relationship between Jed and Leo is built on respect and admiration, and, yes, love. We’ve seen more of this relationship than the other two thus far but even in this episode, we are peeling back those layers and seeing more facets of this relationship. We’re seeing just how deep this respect and admiration goes. Jed is visibly distraught at the idea that he kept Leo in the dark about his MS. Not only that, but he’s also distraught that his condition kept him from supporting his best friend when he needed it the most. Leo is being attacked by people who want to see him fall and for the President to not be there, for him to not be there, it hurts Jed something fierce. He needed to be there for Leo and he feels like he failed his best friend. It’s heart-wrenching. 

This episode and its treatment of Jed, Abbey, and Leo is one of the best character episodes I’ve ever seen in season one of a television show. It’s nuanced and beautiful and built on love and trust and respect and I would love to see more relationships built on those traits and expounded in the way that The West Wing does it. Please.

Shelby Arnold
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