Better Late Than Never: 10 Random Thoughts on the West Wing Episode Eleven

Credit: NBC

Today in my The West Wing rewatch and next in our Better Late Than Never series is an episode that, once again, juggles a lot of different things at once. Some of them are light, some of them not so much. Sorkin, Patrick Caddel, and Lawrence O’Donnell do a fantastic job at presenting an episode that deals with escalation between Pakistan and India as well as the escalation between Josh and Larry Claypool who is a lawyer for the government watchdog group known as Freedom Watch. However, this is something not great simmering underneath all of this and I discuss it in my review of the episode.

While this episode is not as heavy as the previous one, there is a lot going on. So, let’s dive right in with episode eleven, “Lord John Marbury.”

  1. Is this the first time in the show that we start somewhere other than the White House or we start with people who aren’t on the President’s staff? That’s interesting. I like it. It’s all still connected, but it’s a different pace. 
  2. Fitzwallace! Man, listen, John Amos is amazing and I love him and I love Fitzwallace. I also like that this is the first time we see the Sit Room. It’s such an important room, but I’m surprised we haven’t seen it before this moment. It took eleven episodes. Anyway, I really could watch a TV show of a president in a Sit Room and that’s just what it is. Well, I could if Sorkin was writing it. 
  3. Is anyone else as irked as I am (and as Toby is) that no one lets CJ in on what’s going on? She’s a press secretary. That’s kind of her job to know what’s going on. We know her background isn’t exactly in politics but it’s still her job. It’s making politics into a boy’s club, is what it’s doing when they leave her out. Oh, wait. Politics already are a boy’s club, or at least they were in the early 2000s. Obviously. Yuck. 
  4. Oh my god, Charlie and Zoey are precious. I love them. He’s so adorably clueless. He takes his cues from others and everyone else is equally as clueless as he is. It’s cute. 
  5. Ed and Larry! Hi, there Peter James Smith and William Duffy! They are the comedic duo of the show. No, I will not be taking criticism about this at this time. They really are. Second only to Donna and Josh. 
  6. I love that Toby is concerned for CJ, but if he was that concerned about her, he should’ve spoken up when she came in and asked if they were putting the lid on the press. Plain and simple. This is, like, sexism and misogyny at its finest and it’s gross. She’s part of the staff. Her personal business is not anyone else’s and the whole thing that they kept her from knowing because she’s friendly with the press? It’s CJ. She’s friendly with pretty much everyone. That doesn’t mean she’s going to jeopardize the job and the administration because of it. Jeez. 
  7.  Jed, to Leo: “He wants to go out with Zoey.” Leo, in response: the biggest smile imaginable, because this is great, of course, it is, Charlie is perfect for Zoey. Jed, back to Leo: “Shut up.” Mr. President, hate to tell you this, but Charlie really is perfect for Zoey and you should listen to Leo. 
  8. “She’s 19 and he’s 21.” “Yeah, but a guy learns a lot in those two years.” I mean, he’s not wrong. 
  9. I love that Josh will defend Leo even to the detriment of his own character. It says so much about him and what he’s willing to do. 
  10. Oh my god, Roger Rees is brilliant and I adore him. I also love Marbury. The first thing he does is, basically, say that he’s drunker than a skunk. Then he introduces himself (again, we’re told moments later) to Leo and then immediately hands his coat over to Leo because, you know, Leo’s supposed to be a butler. It’s all fantastic writing and it’s acted brilliantly by Sheen, Spencer, and Rees. I already need more of Marbury.
  11. BONUS: “Don’t you ever forget the battles you’ve fought and won.” A great reminder from one of Leo’s greatest friends. A fitting way to end my thoughts. 

I’ll be honest and say that a lot of this episode is not all that great. Sorkin does well, as mentioned previously, juggling many different storylines and weaving them together. The humor in the funny bits was sharp and engaging. The narrative structure was engaging, but I can’t get over how horribly CJ and Mandy were treated in this episode, especially CJ. I know that Sorkin was often highly criticized for being sexist in his writing, and he was criticized for being unable to properly write female characters and I’d be the first to say, yeah, that’s a thing that definitely happened. Especially in this episode. 

Now, I’ll be the first one to say that Mandy is a strong female character, albeit one with not so many likable character traits. I’ve lamented them when they’re stacked against the other characters and CJ. The way she was introduced and the way she constantly clashes with the rest of the staff is through no fault of her own. In fact, it comes from how Sorkin wrote her, but I’d argue that she’s a strong female character, she just doesn’t belong in this scenario with this set of people. I’d argue and say that she’s in the wrong with this particular choice. Yes, she’s a consultant and yes, she has every right to choose her own clients, but at the same time, the fact that she’s not aware of how stupid it is to work with a Republican while also working with a Democratic president just doesn’t make sense to me. Again, it all comes down to writing. Sorkin wrote her like this, which is why Sam reacted. It’s not good either way. 

What’s positively inexcusable is Toby and Leo pushing CJ out of the India and Pakistan information. They purposefully set her up to fail and why did they do that? Because CJ is “friendly” with Danny Concannon. Okay, yeah, sure. This is why Hilary Clinton wasn’t elected in 2016. Well, one of the many ludicrous reasons. It all goes back to how women are the weaker sex and they let their “emotions” get the better of them. And I only have one thing to say about that. How dare they. How dare Toby think that. How dare Leo think that. He and CJ had just recently had a discussion about hate crime policy that was well informed and passionate. CJ can hold her own in a boy’s club and handle a sometimes unruly press room, but, yes, let’s say her emotions will get the best of her, and yes, let’s go ahead and say that she’s getting too chummy with the press room and will put her entire career on the line for a guy. Sure. Let’s do that. 

Yes, I’m aware that these are characters who have flaws, but this is a pretty egregious flaw in the grand scheme of things. 

CJ has to do her job. She can’t not do her job. Withholding this information puts not only the Administration at risk, it also damages CJ credibly and if this had happened while, let’s say, Obama was in office, well, hell we’d never hear the end of it and there might have been a cry from the people for her to be removed from her post. This is serious business and Toby and Leo cut her off at the knees. While I understand information moved a little slower back in 2000, I can’t forgive this. It was gross and Toby’s whole argument about it just made me want to take back everything good I said about him in “In Excelsis Deo.” It left a nasty taste in my mouth and Toby’s apology, though seemingly sincere, didn’t help much. Sorry.

Shelby Arnold
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