Buffy Rankings Rankle

So, Kate and I were both annoyed by a recent BuzzFeed article ranking all 144 episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a series which I love quite a bit and to which she is irrationally attached.  We didn’t agree with the rankings at all, basically, and I didn’t like that there was no real sense of a rubric, no one standard or set of standards by which the episodes were being judged.

We were originally going to do one post about our top ten, but that wasn’t working out, so she’s going to do her top ten at her site, I’m going to do my top ten over here, and then we’re going to have a joint post discussion of all things Buffy, and perhaps my brother (who is not her brother – I know, our family is weird!) will join us.

I have to confess, from the outset, that my memory is pretty blurry on seasons 5-7. Okay, 4-7. I actually have zero memory of anything that happened in Season 7. The Big Bad was the First, right? Like, the First evil, source of all other evil? Which mainly looked like your dead loved ones and got all up in your head about shit? And Buffy found all the Slayers-in-waiting? And Faith was good again? I  mean, good for Faith? And some creepy church dude who was maybe played by Nathan Fillon? Okay, so that’s not zero memory. That’s, like, .75 memory. (Sorry, Zoe is making me number everything. “Do you like this game/outfit/picture? How much?” And the scale is 0 – infinity, and she is always disappointed if the number is < 100. Also she doesn’t believe infinity > any single number.)

So my episodes are mostly going to come from seasons 1-3, and also, the rubric I will be using will mainly be, “Do I enjoy the experience of watching this episode?” There will also be consideration given for “a really good and useful way of exploring the themes of the season/series” and/or “a really well-done story in and of itself.” But mostly it’s going to be, “If I flip on the TV and the episode is on, do I want to watch it?”

Also, I think the issue with “Buffy” is, for me, it’s not as much about episodes as it is about arcs, threads, lines, and characters. So there are some perfectly terrible episodes with great moments. “The Zeppo” (3.13) is the one featuring Xander trying to prove (to himself, mostly) that he’s useful and capable and it’s just a dreadful episode. Totally out-of-character moments for all the other Scoobies just to set up a contrivance-filled, stupid-ass plot. But! It’s the one where, upon discovering that Willow and Buffy have eaten all the jelly-filled donuts during a research session, Giles says, “But I’m the one who always says, ‘Let’s have some jellies in the mix,'” and it is awesome. But we’ll get into threads, arcs, lines and characters in the group discussion.

Now, this list is going to leave out some great episodes. Episodes like “Surprise” (2.13) and “Innocence” (2.14) which really cemented the show’s theme of monsters=real life with its “Lose your virginity to a guy, watch him become a monster” thing. And the way Giles reaffirms Buffy’s worth as a person despite her dirty, dirty sex-having cements this show in the feminist firmament. The end of season two, “Becoming (Part I)” (2.21) and “Becoming (Part II)” (2.22) was brilliantly executed and heart-breaking. Angel, having lost his soul to Buffy’s happiness-inducing hoo-ha in “Surprise”, has started a spell that can bring about the end of the world. Buffy must kill him to end the spell. At one point, it looks like he’s defeated her. She’s on the ground, weaponless, and he asks, “What happens when you take away your friends, your family, your weapons?” (I’m paraphrasing) and she grabs his sword by the blade and says “Me.” Bad-ass. But then during their final fight Willow, from the hospital, completes the spell that restores his soul. He becomes Angel again, unaware of what he’s been up to, still in love with Buffy. And she has to shove a sword into his belly anyway. This episode was my first exposure to the show, not through watching it, but through having it described to me by my bff right before first period the morning after it aired. I cried intermittently all day, despite never having watched the show.

The finale of Season 3, “Graduation (Part I)” (3.21) and “Graduation (Part II)” (3.22) is also kick-ass, with Buffy leading the school in bringing down their mayor-turned-enormous-snake-demon (Joss does love his phallic imagery), which is both just cool as hell and also all thematic and shit with Buffy graduating from childhood and shucking off all her patriarchal oppressors. I’m also a fan of all things involving Faith, the other Slayer, Buffy’s dark side.

And I’ll mention some moments and some powerful forces in “Buffy” that I don’t have room for here. But I already cheated on my Top Ten Seventeen (How very dare I! Kate’s going to hate this!) list so here we go!

10. “Hush” 4.10/”The Body” 5.16

I did, actually, pair these for a reason. I promised that my rubric was “Episodes I love to watch.”

I cannot watch either of these.

And yet they are two of the best episodes of the series.

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“Hush” (4.10) is the only episode to be nominated for an Emmy. I read over at Snark Squad that it was written in response to the criticism that, sure, Joss can write witty dialogue, but that’s really the only trick up his sleeve. So he wrote an episode in which the Monsters of the Week – The Gentlemen – steal everybody’s voices in Sunnydale. So no dialogue. But Emmy nominations. Take that, mofos.

It’s a really brilliant episode. The lack of dialogue – or any sound at all, really – is compelling, and it allows the characters to express themselves in other ways, when language was really a barrier between them. Buffy and her Season 4 love interest Riley, after stumbling in and out of conversations about cheese and classwork (He’s her TA and we’ll just pretend that’s okay. So much was wrong with their relationship that I’m not going to quibble about inappropriate teacher-student relations.), finally can express their attraction and kiss in silence. Even small moments, like Willow being visibly freaked out by all the silence and Giles hugging her, even though neither of them is usually that physical, are lovely. And it uses humor really brilliantly, too. Giles gives a projector-enhanced “talk” on his research, which is already hilarious, and then Buffy, in order to indicate that she wants to know if she can stake them, makes a motion that . . .

well . . .

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Looks like that. And everyone gives her hilarious side-eye. Even just the guy selling whiteboards for $10 was great. American entrepreneurship, people.

So with all this awesomeness, why can’t I watch it?

Because it creeps me way the fuck out. I can’t watch this and then hope to sleep for, like, a week.

The Gentlemen, oh, my God, the Gentlemen. They have these gracious, polite mannerisms and these creepy as fuck smiles and they glide everywhere in a group of seven and SCARE ME TO DEATH, OKAY?

And! The whole episode is capped by a disembodied, high-pitched child’s sing-song voice reciting a creepy nursery rhyme about the gentlemen.

Plus not being able to speak is one of my top five biggest nightmares.

So. Great episode. Deserves a spot on the list. Can’t watch it.

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“The Body” (5.16) is similarly quiet; the decision was made not to have any of the soundtracking customary to TV shows. Whedon & co. didn’t want to guide your emotional reactions. And they didn’t have to. Joyce Summers, Buffy’s mother, is found dead by her titular daughter. She’s died of complications related to a brain tumor; there’s no demon or vampire for Buffy to fight. Just real life.

Look, I can’t even write about this episode. The last half-decade or so of my life renders me completely incapable. Go look at my sister’s blog for the Anya quote that goes with that picture; it’s heart-breaking. The whole episode is heart-breaking. And my heart can’t withstand it.

9. “Helpless” 3.12/”Checkpoint” 5.12

Another pairing! Ha! And these, while separated, deal with the same theme – Buffy’s relationship with The Watcher’s Council, the sort of bosses of the Slayerverse. They only really play a part in these two episodes, and both times, they illustrate how much Joss Whedon hates authority.

I mean, how useless they are to Buffy.

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The first, “Helpless,” is really a heartbreaking episode. It’s Buffy’s eighteenth birthday, and, because Slayers don’t usually make it to eighteen, they get tested at that age. Their watchers are instructed to inject them with something that takes away their superpowers, and the Council then sets up a test, to see if they can survive without them. What’s that, you ask? Why would the council deliberately endanger the few Slayers strong and smart enough to get to their eighteenth birthdays? I dunno, dude. Because the patriarchal authority structure sucks. Don’t you pay attention?

It’s no accident that this episode takes place during the season in which the Big Bad is The Mayor, another very literal representation of oppressive (demonic) patriarchy. And it involves another patriarch and his relationship with the Slayer – Giles, her pseudo-father. In the beginning of the episode, Buffy makes that connection for us, in case we hadn’t already picked up on it. Her real father is unable to make their annual date to the Ice Capades, and Buffy brings this up with Giles, saying the Ice Capades is something you take your daughter to. Or your student. Or your Slayer.

But Giles is at first complicit in the Council’s plans, even though it’s plaguing his conscience. Then the extra-vicious vampire that the Council’s brought in – he was a homicidal sociopath before he was turned – gets loose because in addition to being evil, the Council is dangerously incompetent. (They actually remind me a little of the villain of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. They are not evil because they are on the side of bad, the way demons and vampires are. They are evil because they are on the side of good but think that their ends – that the world is saved – justify their atrocious, abusive, officious means.) So Giles tells Buffy what’s up. Buffy is furious with Giles and leaves him. Giles decides to arm himself and go help her.

Buffy, in the end, needs very little help to rescue her mother from the vampire’s clutches. She fights though she is weakened and defeats the vampire with a glass of holy water placed near his medication (I guess even if you get turned into a vampire you still need your psychiatric meds?). She feels betrayed by her not-dad, but that feeling of betrayal is softened when the head of the Council announces that while Buffy passed her test, Giles failed. He has a father’s feelings toward the Slayer. The Council fires him, but Buffy says “Fuck that” and fires the council. It’s like she’s growing up and emancipating herself from all this patriarchal authority right around her eighteenth birthday/high school graduation? You know?

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The Council shows up two years later in Season 5. At this point Giles and Buffy have been operating  Council-free for a while. And the Big Bad that season is the better-in-smaller-doses Glory, whose main superpowers are, as far as I can tell, to annoy me and to maintain perfect ringlets at all times.

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Anyway, what The Council knows but Buffy doesn’t at this stage is that Glory is not your run-0f-the-mill demon; she’s a god. And they won’t tell Buffy unless Buffy passes various tests. Buffy tries at first to jump through their hoops, and we have a good time watching her friends answer interview questions (Willow and Tara get adorably defensive about their lesbian love, only to learn that the Council cares about their relationship with Buffy, not with each other; Anya tries to cover up the fact that she’s an ex-demon; Spike gets flirtatious with a Councilette who gigglingly confesses that she wrote her thesis on him). But in the end she’s like, “You know what? I’m the motherfuckin’ Slayer. You need me more than I need you. So how about you give me my information and I agree to let you keep living?” And, on Giles’s prompting, “And you give Giles his job back. With backpay.”

Anyway, I like the episodes that speak to the feminist-oriented themes and the anti-authoritarian themes underlying the series, and these Council-centered episodes give a pretty good lens on that.

8. “This Year’s Girl” 4.15 & “Who Are You” 4.16

Oh, Katie Boe, I don’t think I have many single-episode items on this list. This pairing, at least, makes sense, because this is a two-part episode, and I know you have a problem even with that, but it’s one story split into two 43-minute segments; I’m not going to feel bad here.

This two-episode story is about Faith, the other Slayer, who shows up in Season Three and is sort of Buffy’s “bad girl” alter ego. At first they play for the same team, slaying together, working through their different work styles and towards common goals. Buffy is confounded by Faith’s ease and happiness with the Slayer life, and Faith is confused by Buffy’s I’m-still-a-nice-regular-girl-schtick. (Best moment from Faith’s first episode, “Faith, Hope & Trick” (3.03) is when Faith, trying to connect with Buffy, says, “Isn’t it funny how slaying always makes you hungry and horny?” While her friends all look to Buffy, full of curiosity, Buffy shrinks in her chair and says, “I sometimes crave a non-fat frozen yogurt?” That, right there, is the difference between Faith and Buffy.)

But in the middle of Season 3, Faith accidentally kills a human. (I mean, he worked for the demonic mayor, but he wasn’t a demon, and it’s not clear if he knew the mayor was.) The way she handles it, and the way Buffy and the Scoobies handle it, pushes Faith to the dark side. She spends the rest of Season 3 working for the Mayor, until Buffy nearly kills her in a fight over Buffy’s vampire-with-a-soul boyfriend Angel. Then Faith is in a coma and we don’t hear about her again until this pair of episodes.

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Faith wakes up and realizes that a lot has happened since she’s been out. She is left a gift by the dead Mayor that allows her to switch bodies with Buffy. Buffy, in Faith’s body, ends up in the clutches of The Council, while Faith, in Buffy’s body, messes with Buffy’s friends, sleeps with Buffy’s boyfriend, and torments Spike a little in one of those scenes where you go, “Yeah, Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters have too much chemistry for them not to hook up eventually.”

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Faith plans on escaping Sunnydale in Buffy’s body, but when some demons attack a church, she realizes that the “Because it’s wrong” Buffy she’s been mocking is in her, too. She can’t take her chance at escape and let all those people die . . . because it’s wrong.

The episode pair is great in part because Sarah Michelle Gellar f-ing NAILS IT. I don’t feel strongly about her acting one way or another most of the time. I think she has brilliant, beautiful moments and meh moments and gets-the-job-done-competently moments. This episode pair is one of her absolute best.

And of course it’s always delightful to see Eliza Dushku. She’s nowhere near as good as Sarah Michelle Gellar here but she’s not bad and she’s pretty and Faith is a great character.

But I also like the way it explores the theme that Faith has always been instrumental in exploring – what does it mean to have Slayer powers? What are your ethical obligations? How do you handle the power? How do Buffy and Faith deal with these questions differently? Especially in a Season that really has Buffy dealing with what it means to be a Slayer now that she’s not in college, and now that there’s such a thing as the Initiative, and now that her world has been morally compromised by a vampire-with-a-chip-and-killer-cheekbones, it’s a really good episode pair.

7. “Witch” 1.03/”Puppet Show” 1.09/”Earshot” 3.18

This is really going to drive Kate nuts. Sorry, Kate!

I included these three because I said in the beginning that my rubric was “Episodes I Want to Watch.” I love these four. There’s nothing particularly awesome about any of them from a season/series arc perspective or from a storytelling perspective. In fact, some of them, like “Witch” aren’t even objectively all that good.

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But “Witch” has Drunk Buffy (She’s not really drunk; she’s under a witch’s curse) which is delightful and also Joyce’s declaration that under no circumstances would she ever in a million years want to be a teenager again, which, I feel ya, Joyce!

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“Earshot” is the one where Buffy can hear people’s thoughts. Again, nothing awesome or thematically relevant about it, but it’s funny. It’s funny the way Cordelia is always saying exactly what she’s thinking. It’s funny when Buffy, having been cured of this problem, is back at school with Giles and Giles invites her to a training session that afternoon and she goes, “Sure. If you’re not too busy having sex with my mother!” and he walks into a tree. It’s funny how Willow and Xander are thinking regular teen things and Oz is getting all philosophical, like, “If we are because we think, and she can hear our thoughts, do we exist at all? Are we all Buffy? Is she us?”

(This episode actually couldn’t air with its season originally because in it, tertiary nerd Jonathan has got a gun in a clock tower and it’s implied he’s going to shoot his fellow students, although it turns out he intended to shoot himself. And right before it was supposed to air, Columbine happened.)

Yes, this is an outfit she wears in “Puppet Show.” Yes, this was considered by the show’s costume person to be an outfit that a high school sophomore would wear to school. Yes, that costume person clearly attended high school in a brothel.

And “Puppet Show,” a first-season one-off in which a demon is harvesting body parts from students involved in the school’s talent show and also there’s a ventriloquist’s dummy who’s also a cursed demon hunter and really, there’s nothing special about this episode at all. It’s just fun. And if it’s on, I watch.

6. “Anne” 3.01

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This remained the end of the credits I think for the rest of the series. Because it’s so bad-ass.

The end of Season Two really just sucked for our girl. The second slayer (who was called when Buffy died briefly at the end of Season One) is killed by one of the Big Bad trio of the season and Buffy is accused of the murder by the principal who has it out for her anyway. Said principal also expels her. Her mother finds out about her Slayer-ness (For which I was grateful – two seasons of her not realizing what her daughter was up to just speaks to extreme parental negligence.) and kicks her out of the house. (So I guess the parental negligence is not over.) And then, she has to kill her suddenly re-be-souled love Angel. Sure, when she’s fighting him (while he still doesn’t have a soul yet) she declares that, even without her friends, family, and life, she’s still got “Me” and “me” is a total badass, but that’s a lot for a high school junior to take. So she gets on a bus and starts a new life in L.A. as a waitress at a diner named Anne. A waitress who doesn’t say a word when a patron pinches her ass. It’s like she’s not “me” anymore!

Until a damsel in distress leads her to a demon who’s making the most of kids like her who don’t think they’re “me” anymore! Then she leads those poor lost kids in a revolt against the demon!

It’s a beautiful and brilliant episode. It shows you exactly what Buffy still has inside her. My favorite moment is when she’s investigating the demon at a blood drive center and the nurse walks in on her and threatens to call the police. Buffy very calmly rips the phone off the wall and proceeds to question the nurse like it ain’t no thing. Kick-ass. It’s a great, feminist-y but also just human message about what happens when you don’t know who you are and when you find out. And it foreshadows the end of the season, where Buffy will lead her classmates in revolt against their Mayor/giant snake demon.

I was going to mention the other season opener, “When She Was Bad” (2.01), when Buffy comes back from L.A. after having died and then killed the Master who murdered her, brats around for a while, then sobs as she pummels the Master’s bones with a mallet. And the next day, even though she’d been awful to her friends for days, they greet her like nothing’s wrong and ask what they’re all doing tonight. And Xander, with a big smile, says, “Well, we could grind our enemy’s bones to powder, but heck, we did that last night!” I love the depiction of friendship on this show. But I didn’t want to drive Kate even crazier.

5. “Nightmares” 1.10/”Killed By Death” 2.18

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These two are my favorite scary episodes. “Nightmares” (1.10) has a boy in a coma who has brought everyone in Sunnydale into a nightmare universe, in which all their nightmares become true. This is one of those early episodes that doesn’t try to answer “Why?” with more than “Uh, Hellmouth?” which is fine. I am attracted to dream-episodes and this was a good one. We get your standard naked-in-class/doesn’t-know-anything-for-a-test/singing-on-stage stuff, but then things get scarier. Buffy is informed by her father that her parents’ divorce was really all her fault for being such a difficult child. Then we see her grave (which is Giles’s nightmare. Because he’s her real father.) and then she climbs out of it a vampire, declaring that they better solve this problem quick, because she’s getting hungry.

And then it turns out that the kid is in a coma because his coach beat him up. Awesome. Do you think Joss struggles with authority? Especially when it’s male?

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“Killed By Death” 2.18 puts Buffy in the hospital with the flu, where she discovers a demon that sucks the life out of little kids and can only be seen by feverish kids. So even when Buffy gets better, she has to give herself some flu virus so she can see the monster she’s fighting, which is kinda cool. And it’s the demon that killed Buffy’s cousin when she and Buffy were kids, so . . . something meaningful? I don’t know. And then one of the kids she saved makes the above picture for her. I don’t know, really, why I like this episode so much. I just do.

4. “Halloween” 2.06

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So I love that in the Buffyverse, Halloween is pretty much a day off for the demons, because, you know, so commercial. I love it because it’s funny on its own but also because it echoes what we deal with in the real world. Do you know that only one person has ever poisoned kids’ candy on Halloween? And that person was the kids’ father? He poisoned his kids’ pixie stix, figuring that he wouldn’t be caught, because they’d just be part of the annual rash of kids being poisoned by Halloween candy. Only since that NEVER HAPPENS EVER, he was totally caught, and because he lived in Texas, he was executed. I’m not really in favor of the death penalty, like, in principle, but I can’t say that makes me real sad.

Anyway, in this episode, the demons are relaxing, but Ethan Rayne, a human and an old friend of Giles’s from Giles’s bad boy teen years, is in town to make trouble. Any costume bought at his shop turns you into that character! Xander becomes an actual military person, Willow becomes a sort of hooker/ghost (don’t worry about it), and Buffy becomes a dainty 18th century damsel. It’s not really that great an episode – there’s some uncomfortable Xander-needs-to-prove-his-masculinity schtick and it’s not clear to me what, if anything, Ethan was after, although if all he was after was mayhem that’s fine by me. But it’s a really fun concept, and Sarah Michelle Gellar is laughably bad as a damsel. She gets better at that kind of character – I love her as the Buffybot in Season 5, even if the plot line is disturbing and gross – but here, with the accent and the ridiculousness, it’s terrible. But enjoyably terrible. I love this episode.

3. “The Wish” 3.09/”Doppelgangland” 3.16

I love how this version of super-tough Buffy still has glittery nail polish.
I love how this version of super-tough Buffy still has glittery nail polish.

I’m going to go ahead and feel okay lumping these two together because they are both good for basically the same reason – they have Vamp Willow! Allyson Hannigan is a complete delight all the time, and her evil counterpart is so perfectly Willow, but evil.

In “The Wish” (3.09), a new girl has come to Sunnydale in the wake of Cordelia and Xander’s break-up (which happens as a result of events in “Lover’s Walk” (3.08), another great episode I don’t have room for here, even with my generous interpretation of “ten”). But she’s not just a girl, she’s a vengeance demon! And she grants the wishes of wronged women!

Cordelia (not realizing she’s talking to a demon) reasons that if Buffy had never come to Sunnydale High, teen queen Cordelia would never have looked twice at nerdy, awkward Xander, and it was only his coolness-by-association-with-Buffy that led to their going out at all. (It’s actually a kind of weird speech, because Cordelia doesn’t think Buffy is cool. It was more that Xander kept being involved in activities that saved Cordelia’s life/the world that pushed her toward Xander. Still, that was Buffy’s fault, so, you know, same result.) So Cordelia wishes that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale.

And then our favorite vengeance demon Anyanka goes all veiny in the face and says, “Done,” transporting Cordelia to the Sunnydale that would exist if Buffy hadn’t been there. A Sunnydale in which you’re not to wear bright colors and you’re to get home before dark. A Sunnydale in which there are monthly memorial services for all the Sunnydale High kids who die each month. A Sunnydale in which the Master arose (an event which Buffy had prevented back in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (1.01) and “The Harvest” (1.02)) and turned the teen nightclub The Bronze into his personal headquarters. A Sunnydale in which Xander and Willow have been turned and Angel is kept in a cage and tortured for their amusement.

Like I said, Willow takes the cake here, because she’s still Willow, just with also being a vampire. She asks the Master if she can “play with the puppy” in that same adorable Allyson Hannigan voice – and “play with the puppy” turns out to mean “flick lit matches at a chained up Angel.” And also she tortures and kills Cordelia. And I even like the idea that alterna-Willow is the Master’s favorite, and regularly-scheduled-Willow is the mini-Giles. But even besides that, I am a big fan of alternate histories and “What if this one thing were different?” kind of stories, and this delivers. Buffy eventually arrives from, like, Ohio? Detroit? Somewhere like that. And it’s a different Buffy. A kickass Buffy, sure, but a Buffy who is more like what we’ve been shown Slayers are like without family and friends and other things to tether them to the real world – a little heedless of her own life. She’ll fight, she’ll kill, but she won’t protect herself. She won’t even necessarily protect others. And, in fact, in this alterna-reality, The Master snaps her neck, killing her. In our reality, the Master also killed Buffy that one time – but she was connected to people who loved her and rescued her.

Eventually, Giles realizes that the necklace the now-dead Cordy was wearing was a power center for the demon who created this reality and smashes it, sending us back to the reality we know, and only Anya knows what happens. Only now Anya is stuck in human form and we get a brand-new, (mostly) delightful Scooby!

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A few episodes later, in “Doppelgangland” (3.16), Anya gets Willow to help her with a spell that’s an attempt to recover Anya’s lost necklace. But something goes awry and instead of bringing the necklace over from the other dimension, they bring Vamp Willow! Really it’s mostly an opportunity for Allyson Hannigan to show of her mad skillz again, but it’s a good opportunity and full of many cute moments, not the least of which is the hug that first Buffy, then Xander, and then Giles, pile onto when they realize that their Willow has not been vamped. And it also helps Willow own a little of her own badassery.

2. “Band Candy” 3.06

Like I said on Facebook, I realized I was a grown-up when I stopped crushing on Oz and started crushing on Giles. And this episode right here really helped.

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Now, this episode of “Buffy” is not one of its strongest, plot-wise. Ethan Rayne, Giles’s ex-friend, is back in town for a little chaos-causing. This time, he’s poisoned the candy that every Sunnydale High student has to sell for the benefit of the marching band, such that when the adults (who buy it from their children because honestly, who wants to go door to door selling candy?) eat it, they all revert to their teenage selves. Unfortunately for the gang but SO VERY FORTUNATELY FOR ME, Giles had a particularly rebellious teenagehood and his re-enactment of his teenage self is just so fantastic I can’t even.

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Anthony Stewart Head is a national treasure. I guess not of our nation, but still.

But the chaos is all to collect, like, five babies from the hospital’s nursery. Which the demons can do because the nurse on guard is resentfully watching TV and munching chocolate and not paying attention but . . . the whole town of adults needed be turned into teenagers to achieve this end? Most of them don’t go anywhere near the hospital on a given day.

Ah, who cares. Giles! And actually all the adults do a fantastic job of being teenagers for this episode. Delightful.

1. “Once More with Feeling” 6.07

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The musical episode. Best thing ever.

Look, even if they did an only mediocre job with the episode, it was going to be my favorite anyway. I love musicals and I love the musical-ization of things that should not be musical-ized. But they actually did a really good job with it. The songs were not bad at all. All the singing was not great – Anthony Stewart Head and Amber Benson (Willow’s girlfriend Tara) can sing but none of the rest of the cast really can – but there were solid acting and storytelling reasons to keep all their voices as is, rather than “Singin’ in the Rain” the whole thing.

And Season 6 is a tough one to deal with. It’s mostly about Buffy suffering from severe depression after she died and was brought back to life – and out of heaven – by her friends. But the musical episode manages to skillfully sort through her emotional issues as well as all of the issues everyone else is having, all the secrets they’re keeping from each other, all the things they’re not saying. That’s actually the Monster of the Week’s job – he comes to town and everyone sings their feelings until they spontaneously combust.

And the lyrics are really talented at getting at double and even triple meanings in terms of what’s happening for people. In the second song of the episode, “I’ve Got a Theory,” in which the Scoobies gather at Giles’s magic shop to research what could be causing the singing and dancing, everyone proposes various possibilities, and then Buffy sings:

I’ve got a theory

It doesn’t matter.

What can’t we face if we’re together?

What’s in the world that we can’t weather?

Apocalypse, we’ve all been there.

The same old tricks.

Why should we care?

What can’t we do if we get in it?

We’ll work it through within a minute.

We have to try.

We’ll pay the price.

It’s do or die.

Hey, I’ve died twice.

On the surface, and as perceived by her friends, it’s a bad-ass, bring-it-on type statement, and that last line is met with smiles. But the audience, who knows what she’s going through, also sees that deep, troubling ennui that’s seized her and that she sang about in her first song, “Going Through the Motions.” What difference does it make what this demon does or doesn’t do? Nothing will change.

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Xander and Anya also have a pretty good song about their relationship that I think encapsulates all the relationship problems that aren’t “S/he cheated on me/hit me/stole my money.” They sing about their uncertainty about getting married, including the little things – “She eats these skeazy cheeses that I can’t abide” – with the big things – “Will our lives become too stressful if I’m never that successful?” and “I’ve read this tale; there’s wedding, then betrayal.” And they also reaffirm the title of the song, “I’ll Never Tell,” which is of course at the root of every relationship problem ever.

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No, there is no Renaissance Faire in this episode. Yes, that would be the only reasonable explanation for those outfits.

And Willow and Tara’s song – well, Tara’s song that she sings to Tara – is this lovely, beautiful little ballad full of sweetness and magic, and also some dirtiness when Willow totally goes down on Tara on network TV . . . except that we know, and Tara does not, that Willow’s been using magic to mess with Tara’s mind so that Tara will forget the things she’s mad at Willow for. NOT COOL, WILLOW. NOT COOL. Also they are both wearing beautiful, but totally bizarre outfits in that scene.

The plot, I’ll admit, is a little weak. The musical demon was summoned, and the episode tries to indicate that it was Dawn, that ball-of-energy/Buffy’s sister, and that would have made some degree of sense. Dawn is a lot younger than the Scooby gang and has been shown time and time again, before and after this episode, to do batshit stupid things regarding the demon world she knows is out there. But then, to wrap up the episode, they reveal that it was Xander who summoned the demon. Because, you know, whoever summoned the demon has to go be his hell bride, but the demon doesn’t really want Xander. Haha. Male homosexuality is hilarious.

The problem is, Xander has been a Scooby since he was fifteen. He has already had one bad run-in with magic, when he tried to do a spell on Cordelia in “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered” (2.16) and it went very awry. And he’s spent the past two seasons growing into a mature, responsible, supportive man. It’s too much of a stretch to believe he’d have done this. Dawn doing it would have given me one more reason to hate Dawn, but it would have been in character. I would have also accepted that sterling explanation that was so popular in Season One, “Umm . . . Hellmouth?” But since it’s such a minor part of the episode it doesn’t really mar your enjoyment. This episode does that thing Whedon does best – funny and deeply emotional all at the same time.

Also, Spike and Buffy finally kiss. Which you knew had to happen because Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters set off fire alarms when they’re within five feet of each other. But ugh. We’ll talk more about my ugh feelings in the discussion with Kate and Evan.

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Ricki/Sophia 3

Dear Ricki/Sophia,

I’m the oldest of my ten cousins, and I’m the only one who didn’t marry in my twenties like a good girl. Usually, being single doesn’t bother me, even at a wedding, but I think that is about to change. My youngest cousin, Tabitha, is getting married in May, at which time I will be the only single cousin left. I won’t disclose our ages, but suffice it to say I held Tabitha when she was a baby. Even if I happen to be feeling good on the big day, I’m anticipating a lot of pitying looks and rude questions. What are your best tips for looking great, feeling fabulous and not giving a fuck?

Sincerely,
Spinsterliscious in Seattle 

Look great, feel fabulous, and do not give a fuck. Am I missing something?

Yeah, Sophia’s pretty much right here. Look, haters gonna hate, and rude people gonna rude. When you get pitying looks, ignore them. When you get rude questions, make big eyes at the person, say, “Wow,” like you cannot believe that this person could ask that rude a question, and then, if you don’t care about that person much, walk away, or if you do, change the subject. “Boy, the bride looked beautiful, huh?” “So, Kim Kardashian, right?” “Your shoes are fabulous; where did you get them?” Just as if they did not ask the incredibly rude question.

Yes, this is perfect. And do not for one moment allow yourself to feel as if you are being rude by changing the subject. You are being all things gracious and kind by ignoring their rudeness and carrying on a polite, appropriate, interesting conversation.

Yes. And if they persist, you can say, “Why are you asking?” And then stare at them and let the silence just sit there. Fight the nice-girl urge to smooth. They’re being rude and inappropriate; it’s they’re job to smooth.

Darling, you have nine nincompoop cousins who have chained themselves into the bonds of matrimony. You alone have escaped these shackles. What on God’s green earth would give them cause to pity you?

Sophia!

What?

We’re married!

Well, that was your decision.

Wow, Sophia. So, Spinsterliscious, do you have an ally at the wedding? Are you invited with a plus one? Bring your coolest friend, male or female. Do you have someone in your family who gets you and would never pity you for being fabulous? Hang with them during the wedding and have a good time. And stop calling yourself a spinster. Or not a sufficiently “good girl.”

Who wants to be a good girl? My alter ego is good and what good has it done her?

Wow, Sophia. Just wow.

Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin – “The West Wing”, 1.04 “Five Votes Down”

I must say, episode titles are something I think Aaron Sorkin really does well. Usually it’s the exact right amount of information and relevance. It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing, too, you know?

So I’m watching my favorite TV series for the purpose of criticizing its tendencies toward misogyny, tendencies that are exacerbated in creator Aaron Sorkin’s later works. Here’s what we’re looking for:

  1. Physical comedy is used to undercut a female character’s competence.
  2. A female character’s sexual appeal or sexual/romantic relationship with a male character is primary.
  3. A female character displays “feistiness”. “Feistiness” is a frequent shorthand in liberal misogyny for “See? She’s strong and independent and we find that adorable! What’s the problem?”
  4. Femininity or feminine concerns are disparaged, by male or female characters.
  5. Any character is rude to his/her female subordinate with no consequences.
  6. A male character is lauded and glorified in an unlikely way by a female character or characters.
  7. A female character screws up at her job.
  8. Anger coming from a female character is unreasonable or mysterious, either to the audience or to another character.
  9. A female character plays the Exposition Fairy. Note: Having Exposition Fairies is not in and of itself a problem. It’s necessary in most fiction. But in The West Wing, the Fairy is almost always a female character, and is almost always asking a male character for explanation, and would almost always certainly know the information she’s asking for, so that the fact that she’s asking indicates that she’s not that good at her job.
  10. An episode goes by that does not pass the Bechdel test.

And,

!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it. Not misogynist, just entertaining to me personally.

Some notes on the Bechdel test first, because it’s been coming up in the news lately. Apparently Sweden is adding it to their ratings system and also I’ve read posts here and there and I just want to emphasize that it is the view of this blogger that the Bechdel test is not the be-all-and-end-all of feminism in storytelling. It’s just one test, one way of showing that so much of our contemporary storytelling DOES NOT have something so basic. And on a show like “The West Wing,” in which romance is not at all central and there’s plenty of talking, it seems like it should be passable every single episode. If it’s not, that means there aren’t enough female characters and/or they’re not doing enough important stuff.

Anyway, here we go.

From last time, we are reminded about the contentious relationship between Vice President John Hoynes and Chief of Staff Leo, the contentious relationship between exes Mandy and Josh, and we are also reminded that Charlie! and his dead policewoman mom and his adorable “Yes, sir, I do,” which is my favorite thing ever.

A chyron tells us it’s Monday. The president is on a podium in a tux. There’s a sign behind him that says “Practical Idealism,” and a large, fancy audience at dinner tables with wine, so I’m assuming fundraiser. Everyone laughs at his line, “Bess, why do you suppose it is only sons of bitches know how to lick a stamp?” He exhorts the audience to, well, lick stamps, make your voice heard, etc.

We see Leo getting a call while the president says something about people who are dead, and that plus the reminder of Charlie’s dead policewoman mom makes me think this speech is about gun control. I am good at TV! Leo is not pleased about whatever he’s hearing on the phone, asking “How did the wheels come off this thing?” The audience claps – at the president, not Leo’s phone call – and Josh approaches Leo. Leo hangs up and informs Josh that they lost five votes. Josh is displeased and wants names. Leo doesn’t have any; he tells Josh to get on the phone.

Toby comes around to watch the speech. He is in a tux and he is tense. Ooh, baby. Have I mentioned I ❤ Toby? Not the way I ❤ Charlie. I ❤ Charlie like he’s my little brother. I ❤ Toby like I’m thinking of many ways I’d like to help him relieve his tension.

Anyway, Leo has got a phone to his ear, Josh has got a phone to his ear, and the president wraps up his speech. He gets a standing O and “Happy Days Are Here Again” plays as the president heads off, a whole brigade of be-tuxed Secret Service agents surrounding him. Behind them, Sam and Toby start pedeconference. Sam thought the speech was awesome. Toby is upset that the president blew “the D section.” C.J., looking fab in evening wear, comes up behind them and congratulates Sam on the speech. Toby objects, claiming that Sam wrote two and a half paragraphs and Toby wrote 37 pages. I think this is a little peek into the head of Aaron Sorkin, who hates sharing writing duties, but whatevs. C.J. calls it (either the speech or the two and a half paragraphs) “inspiring,” which annoys Toby. Then C.J. says she does it to see his face turn that color, like we don’t all know she knows MANY ways to change the color of his face. Mandy is walking with C.J., btw, and seems amused by this exchange.

Josh approaches from behind and C.J. informs him that his fan club is out in force tonight. Because Josh, the deputy communications director, has a fan club. That has a crush on him. Quick, who is the current real-life Deputy Chief of Staff? Can you picture him/her in your head? Okay, then. And if you did know who all the senior staff of the White House was and what they looked like, wouldn’t you be crushing on the one who’s a dead ringer for Rob Lowe over the one who looks like Bradley Whitford? I mean, especially if you were a superficial and hormonal young girl? 6. (And yes, I am aware that I crush hard on the older, balding, short Jewish one over the one who looks just like Rob Lowe but . . . just shut up.) Josh claims they like the way he looks in his tux. Him, and not Sam-who-looks-like-Rob-Lowe. C.J. starts to say something else and Josh orders her to “Stop talking.” While I only believe, and do not know, that C.J. is under Josh in the hierarchy of the senior staff, I’m giving that a 5. Then he tells her to look calm while he tells her that they’re five votes down on “802”. She proceeds not to look calm. Because women, amIrite? 8.

Misogyny Points Thus Far: 3

Meanwhile, Sam is making fun of Mandy’s choice of “Happy Days are Here Again” to cap a speech on gun control. 4. Mainly because they both have good points – Mandy’s is “Optimist is good” and “The president likes it!” and Sam’s is, “He just said ‘Kids are dead!’ and then you play ‘Happy Days are Here Again’?” –  but they let Sam make all his points and poo-poo Mandy’s, whereas Mandy’s sound weak and she doesn’t counter him. On the other hand, she appears to have zero fucks to give, so good for her. I’ll just give them for her.

MPTF: 4

The president gets in on the mitchering Toby action, an activity for which I give all the approval in the world. Toby tells the president that he, Toby, did an excellent job, and then points out that the president “got a little extemporaneous” in the D section. The president is very much enjoying Toby being bothered by this – as am I. BTW, they are now all pedeconferencing through what looks like the hotel’s staff hallways, what with the giant metal wheelie kitchen thingies and whatnot. Not as august as the West Wing halls but these people do not need glamorous settings; they are pedeconferencing pros!

They pass two hotel staff members making out in a corner, and the president razzes them, too. Toby laughs. I swoon a little.

The president calls Charlie over and asks Charlie what Charlie thought of how well the president delivered the speech, while Toby asks Charlie to focus on how well the speech was written. Charlie’s whole demeanor says, “Nope. Nope. Nope.”

Yeah, .gifs are too much fun.

Yeah, .gifs are too much fun.

It’s okay; they can (and do!) keep having their fight without him. The president tells Toby, “You’re what my mother calls a pain in the ass.” Toby says that’s what his mother calls it, too.

Charlie tells the president that the First Lady called and wishes for the president to take his back medicine, which Charlie has on him. The president claims they make him goofy, and Charlie says her tone was adamant. The president says he doesn’t need to hear a description of his wife’s tone because he is quite familiar with it. 8. Boo, Mr. President.

They exit the hotel to a crowd of people cheering, and I would have thought that this winding trip through the bowels of the hotel was to avoid the crowds, but I guess the crowd can find the motorcade just fine. The president waves and a bunch of fresh-faced girls scream out, “We love you, Josh!” because for fuck’s sake, that’s why. 6. C.J. calls, “It helps not to know him.” True dat, C.J. True dat. Of course this show was made before the advent of Twitter or Fox News. You know these days an offhand comment like that would go viral in six hours and be a talking point on Fox News for the next three weeks. “Strife among Senior Staff? Our expert on shit-stirring and middle school drama has more after these messages!”

MPTF: 6

Credits.

Senior staff are in a conference room in the West Wing with a bunch of boxes of Chinese food in front of them. Mandy and C.J. are pushing the General Tso’s on Sam and then insisting he have it with the sauce. Toby tells them to shut up about the sauce. 4. Girls are so annoying with their concern about feeding people, amIrite? It’s almost as annoying as how they want to make sure you take your medicine and eat healthily.

Leo has two names of the five they lost. Remember from his phone call? Anyway, he’s got Katzenmoyer and Wick. I also kind of adore Aaron Sorkin’s character names. Mandy could have called that, because she’s feisty! 3. Josh has a third, O’Bannon, and is floored by Wick being on the list, saying it must be a mistake. Leo reminds them that the president just made a speech about how they’re going to pass this bill and now they have to. Toby wants to know how they do it in three days with no noise. Mandy asks why no noise, and Leo quotes that “laws and sausages” thing, so that’s a definite 9 because no way the Mandy character didn’t already understand that. Her entire job, really, boils down to understanding that, and she’s supposed to be the best at it. So that was just for the 1/3 of the audience that doesn’t already know the “laws and sausages” thing. Mandy says they can’t involve the president and everyone agrees.

MPTF: 9

Leo asks what’s on tap for the press and C.J. says it’s financial disclosure time, which bemuses everyone. Sam asks Toby what he’s worth and Toby says he owns the tux he’s wearing and $23. I only report this because it’s a plot point. Mandy says it’s good to make this a big joke for the press, how little money everyone has. Josh likes this idea. Toby doesn’t. Mandy says they’ll love him for being broke. Toby says, “I find that. I find that women especially can’t get enough of my 1993 Dodge Dart.” I’d throw a 4 or an 8 up here, but it’s funny, so I won’t. I make the rules around here!

Sam also believes that Chris Wick is a mistake and believes the other two are Tillinghouse and LeBrandt. (I’m guessing on spellings, btw.) He claims that they’ll need the vice president’s help to get to one of them, preferably Tillinghouse. Leo is saying, “Nope,” but in a different way than Charlie.

nope

Anyway, Leo’s outie. He congratulates Sam and Toby, and, as he leaves, Toby again points out the 2-and-a-half-paragraphs/37-pages thing.

Leo pulls up outside his schmancy house. Because not all the senior staff are broke. He walks in to a darkened hallway and a miffed wife comes down the steps. She asks where he’s been and points out that the event was supposed to be over at 10:30 and it’s after 2 am. He tells her about the five votes down and then insists he can so do things at 2 am to help the situation. His wife – Jenny – tells him to come to bed and before he does he sees a box on the table in the front hall. It’s a wristwatch, Jenny tells him. For their anniversary. Which he clearly forgot. D’oh!

I just want a moment to say, this is not something that has ever happened in my relationship with Jason. We both tend to be sort of cavalier about anniversaries and stuff, and only lately have become more interested in them, because they are a guaranteed date night. And we always do dates, not so much gifts, so it’s not really an issue of “forgetting,” because we’ve already had the “What do you want to do that night? Okay, let’s get tickets/reservations/babysitting” conversation. I guess if we were more focused on gifts it would be more of a thing. And I would be the one who always forgot, not him.

Anyway. It’s Tuesday. I mean, I guess it was Tuesday when we left these people, because it was 2 am, but it’s really Tuesday now. The sun is rising on the White House.

A somewhat dowdy woman is in Toby’s office with him. And, like, almost legit dowdy, not just TV-dowdy. Which I mean as a compliment to the show – having a normal-looking woman do anything at all? Good job. Let’s give that a -2. She’s asking him about some stock he owns. So here’s the information we can gather from what Legit Dowdy – her real name is Leila – is asking: A year ago, broke Toby spent $5,000 on stock in some company because he, uh, liked them. Buying $5,000 worth of stock in a company because you like them is totally something that people do when their cars are worth less than that, Aaron. The stock is now worth $125,000, something Toby didn’t know until the same person who told Leila called him. Because when you are broke, you definitely don’t monitor the one investment of $5,000 you made. Aaron Sorkin, when was the last time you were broke? And if this is how you handle money when you are broke, maybe that’s why? Anyway, a huge portion of the jump happened after a certain person testified to a certain congressional committee, and is, in fact, attributed to that person’s testimony.

One of the assistants – Carol, C.J.’s assistant, I think, but I’m watching on my iPad and there’s a weird light on her face – comes in to tell Toby they’ve got all five and one of the five is, in fact, Tillinghouse. Toby nods and Carol-I-Think leaves.

Leila points out that it was Toby who got this person to testify to that congressional committee. Which was just because he’s an old friend. Leila asks, “Are you telling me you didn’t  know what he was going to say?” Toby insists that not only did he not know or care what his friend was going to say, “if he had sat in my office while I typed out his testimony for him, I wouldn’t have understood what he was going to say to the committee!” I use that line a lot to explain my total lack of understanding things. Leila asks if he knows that manipulating the stock market is a federal crime. Toby wants to know if he should be talking to a lawyer. Leila points out that he is talking to a lawyer – her. Toby makes a hangdog face.

MPTF: 8

Josh and Sam pedeconference as they exit the Oval, and Mrs. Landingham congratulates Josh. Josh says thank you but doesn’t know what for. Nor does he seem very curious. I guess women saying nice things to him is just a regular part of Josh’s day. 6. Sam and Josh continue their pedeconference about what the five will want in exchange for their votes. Sam is concerned about giving away everything. Josh wants to give away nothing. A random assistant congratulates Josh, and Sam is more curious than Josh about it. Josh says LBJ would never have taken this shit from Democrats in Congress; he would have said, “You’re voting my way, in exchange for which, I might remember your name.” We now know everything we need to know about Josh. Josh claims to own Chris Wick’s ass.

Josh and Sam enter the part of the building where Josh’s office is and a whole bunch of people burst into applause. Josh says he senses he’s being mocked. You are, Josh. Right now. By me. Donna informs him that he’s won their prize for Best Gift Valued over $25 on the financial disclosure reports. Apparently Josh received an $1189 Italian smoking jacket from a Sarah Wissinger. Ms. Wissinger also gave him a $345 scrimshaw cigarette holder, which is the runner-up. 6. For Ms. Wissinger liking Josh that much. Josh dismisses Donna, telling her that he and Sam are making important decisions and Donna has a lot of “typing” to do and lest you think I’m being unfair in my doling out of numbers, he has a definite sneer in his voice when he says it and is actively and purposefully juxtaposing “important things” and “typing”, okay? So 5.

MPTF: 11

Josh and Sam continue walking, and then realize that they were just following each other. Hee!

Josh departs and Toby appears and tells Sam they need to talk, and as they walk off the camera goes to Leo. I’ve never been to film school so I don’t know how to talk about these shots where the gang moves and the camera goes from one set to another, but it’s cool. Anyway, Leo is putting Margaret on the make-my-wife-not-hate-me project. He wants champagne in a high hat and the meal under sterling silver, and Margaret claims no knowledge of either of those things, which, no, so 9, because Margaret’s been working for Leo for a long time, and he’s got some pretty high-end tastes, and also, when he said “high hat,” I didn’t know what that was but I immediately pictured the little stand fancy restaurants put wine in. And when he said “under sterling silver” I immediately pictured the, you know, silver plate cover thingies that you see in cartoons, so . . . Anyway, Margaret suggests a violinist and Leo points out that “after the initial thing wears off there’s just a guy with a violin in my house,” which, fair. Harry Winston is sending a choker and Margaret disapproves of all this spendiness. It turns out Leo is making $40,000 a pop on the lecture circuit and Margaret is upset about it. When does Leo have time to lecture?

MPTF: 12

Josh comes in and Leo asks Josh if women like violinists. Josh at first thinks Leo is thinking of taking lessons, which is sort of funny, and then when Leo corrects him, says it’s just kind of weird. Until he learns that Leo forgot the anniversary, at which point, Josh thinks he should bring in the Julliard string quartet.

I mean . . . really? Are we just reconfirming that I am kinda a dude? Because if Jason forgot our anniversary . . . probably I did, too? And upon discovering it, I’d be more like, “Oh, okay, you wanna do something next weekend, then?” instead of needing FOUR instead of just ONE strangers in my house to play me songs.

I’m not giving numbers here because a) I think Jenny has a legit beef about her husband being unavailable and b) I don’t think the show wants me to think otherwise, and also c) maybe women who are not me do get upset about this stuff routinely? But I did think of throwing an 8 in here somewhere.

Anyway, Margaret uses this opportunity to get in a dig about the smoking jacket, and both Josh and Leo yell at Margaret. 5. Margaret leaves and Josh says he’s going to see Katzenmoyer (one of the five) and wants Leo’s permission to kick his ass. Leo is reluctant but eventually agrees.

MPTF: 13

Katzenmoyer and Josh pedeconference in front of the Capitol. D.C. is really pretty. The museum-y, government-building-y, monument-y sections, anyway. Katzenmoyer doesn’t want to vote yes because his people like their guns and he’s up for reelection. He promises to vote with them two years from now. Josh says he won’t be around two years from now because they’re going to pluck some obscure Democrat out from nowhere and endorse him in person and primary Katzenmoyer. (I mean he doesn’t use primary as a verb because 2010 hasn’t happened yet but that’s what he means.) Katzenmoyer points out that he’s a member of the president’s own party, and Josh points out that that’s not doing them much good. True that. Josh says, “President Bartlett is a good man. He’s got a good heart. He doesn’t hold a grudge. [puts on sunglasses in very cool-guy manner] That’s what he pays me for.” It’s a very cool moment. Trying very hard to be cool, but succeeding.

Sam and Toby are in Toby’s office, with the door open and the lights off, I think. I don’t know why. Sam is advising Toby on the $125,000 issue, and gloating about the whole thing because Toby’s $125,000 = Sam’s hooker. Appearance of impropriety without actual immoral behavior. Sam points out that just because it’s in the report doesn’t mean anyone knows because maybe no one read the report, but C.J. comes by to razz Toby about the $125,000 so I guess she read it, although she’s the White House press secretary; it’s her actual job to read it, so I don’t know what that proves. Also, her joke is terrible and she starts laughing in the middle of it, which I’m counting as a 1 even though maybe the normally poised C.J. is just a little giggly right now because she and Toby slipped away right after Toby got the news and she’s just got some post-coital high going on right now.  Sam promises to have Toby’s back. Toby believes he’s screwed.

MPTF: 14

C.J. is amusingly disclosing some financial stuff to the press, including that the president gave a gift from his brother-in-law to the Salvation Army. The press enjoying themselves. A journalist asks about the property value of the president’s farm in Manchester, which has gone up due to Secret Service improvements and “the ability to run a global war from the sun porch.” Man, I want a sun porch. On a beautiful old farm in Manchester. The press continues to be amused when C.J. promises them that the next briefing will be about Josh’s forms and that they’ll want to save column inches.

She gets off her podium to pedeconference with Josh, who tells her he’s got Katzenmoyer back, as well as O’Bannon and LeBrandt, and that Chris Wick is waiting for him right now, but that he can’t get Tillinghouse without Hoynes. C.J. says get Wick and then they’ll worry about Tillinghouse. C.J. leaves and Josh is greeted by Donna, who says Chris Wick has been waiting for Josh in the Mural Room for 20 minutes. Josh already knows this. He also knows about next two meetings she brings up. Graciously she says, “Well, then this whole conversation has only served as a reminder,” and he says it was in fact a “colossal waste of time and energy; keep up the good work.” 5. He then goes into the mural room, where Chris Wick is waiting with a bunch of guys. Josh dismisses them without allowing introductions to go forth and then gets rude with Chris Wick, who keeps calling him “dude”. While a camera swirls around their heads, Josh quizzes Chris Wick about the bill, as it becomes clear that Chris Wick could give a shit about the bill, and wants more attention from the president. Josh says he’s so sick of Congress he could vomit and then gives in to Chris Wick’s demand that he get a photo op playing chess with the president.

Sorkin, you think you’re sick of Congress in 1999? Come talk to 2013 us. If only personal vanity were still our biggest issue.

Leo has called C.J. and Mandy in to admire the Harry Winston choker. Because women like shiny things. 4. Sam comes up behind them and admires it, too, but his admiration is not met with smiles by Leo. Is it because Sam hit on Jenny that one time, Leo? C.J. wants to try on the necklace and Mandy wants to rub it against her teeth (? Is that a thing with pearls?) 4 and Toby is pissed and wants to talk about himself. C.J. thinks Leo won’t let her try on the necklace because of the size of her neck (?) which is the second time this concern has come up this episode (the other time was during the hotel pedeconference) and I’m going to go ahead and give that a because why is C.J. worrying about her neck this episode?

MPTF: 18

Leo is continuing to not want to go to Hoynes to deal with Tillinghouse and thinks he will instead go to Richardson. But Richardson’s caucus is already upset with them. Leo promises to do this quietly and immediately.

Sam points out that Toby can now afford one of those chokers and Toby says there’s no one he doesn’t hate right now. I love grumpy Toby.

Now Leo and Richardson are pedeconferencing outside what I think is the Lincoln Memorial. Richardson is black. I guess that’s the caucus that’s upset with the White House. Richardson guesses Leo’s talking to him because he doesn’t want to get Hoynes to talk to Tillinghouse. But Richardson doesn’t care. He doesn’t like the bill not because he likes guns but because the bill doesn’t do enough to get guns off the street. Leo lectures Richardson on the needs of the black community vis-a-vis gun control. “The bodies being wheeled into hospitals are black!” Leo says. Richardson quite appropriately shuts him down and calls him an idiot. Nice.

Mandy is in Josh’s office being feisty at him. 3. Donna puts Leo on the phone with Josh and Mandy intuits that Leo needs to talk to Hoynes. So Mandy was in that scene only to be feisty? Okay.

Leo sees a cab outside his front door. The entryway is dark. He goes to an empty dining room, set for a romantic dinner. Jenny is behind him and says she’s sorry he went to all this trouble but she can’t do this anymore. Their marriage, she means. Leo says this (his job) is the most important thing he’ll ever do and she says it’s not more important than his marriage. He says it is, during these few years while he’s doing it. He says he made the time for this date he arranged, and Jenny says she knows he has a meeting with the veep that night. Jenny tells him she’s leaving and staying at the Watergate for right now. Leo offers to carry her bag to the cab. She shakes her head. He asks her to call before she goes to sleep and she says okay.

You guys, I just don’t know how to feel about this. On the one hand, you knew he was going to be the president’s Chief of Staff and that’s not a nine-to-five gig? On the other hand, Leo, how could you say your marriage isn’t important? In any event, the show handles this very well. You’re not being asked to side with one of them over the other and there’s no sense that women, amIrite? And it’s just two mature, loving people who can’t get what they need from their relationship but still love each other and shut up I have ALLERGIES, OKAY?! IT’S VERY DUSTY IN HERE!

A blurry woman announces Leo at what I’m guess is Hoynes’s home, and Hoynes says to send him in. Hoynes is being pretty nice to Leo. Leo starts to explain what he needs but Hoynes notices that Leo is not okay. He invites Leo to sit down and asks the blurry woman – Jeanine – to get Leo a glass of ice water. I swear we never see her face. Is this a SAG thing? Is it like not having an actor saying a line? Anyway, Hoynes agrees very quickly to see Tillinghouse and Leo thanks him. Leo reveals that Jenny left him. Hoynes asks if he’s been to a meeting, and Leo says, “AA?” and then asks where he could possibly risk going to a meeting. He seems kind of surprised that Hoynes knows, but not that surprised, and also too shaken to worry about it. A+ acting from John Spencer here. I mean, also, always, but here especially. The VP reveals that he has his own AA meetings with, like, senators and judges and shit, so the anonymity is taken very seriously, and an agent stands outside to make it all look like a card game. Hoynes invites Leo to attend these meetings. Leo seems to consider it. He asks Hoynes to call him about Tillinghouse and goes.

The chyron tells us it’s Wednesday. Mandy is bothering Josh about Sara Wissinger, giver of the smoking jacket. Apparently the presents were given while he was still dating Mandy and Mandy is pissed about this 8. They enter the senior staff meeting still bickering about it. Josh says he thought that since they weren’t going out anymore, Mandy wouldn’t yell at him anymore and Mandy tells him that’s unrealistic. I can’t decide on an or a 3 so I’m going with both.

MPTF: 22

Leo enters the room and is confused about everyone asking him about “last night” and then lies that Jenny loved everything. Some more A+ acting. They ask about the president and Leo says his back is pretty bad so he’s staying in bed and making some calls. But the president is not in bed! He is entering the room from the outside hallway thing (portico? is that what that word means?) in his jeans and Notre Dame sweatshirt and it is clear fairly quickly that he is out of his mind on painkillers. He wants to participate in the discussion about Toby’s financial disclosures. When asked which of his pain killers he took, Vicodin or Percoset, he looks confused and asks if he wasn’t supposed to take both. You guys. I took Percoset for my wisdom teeth. It was way too pleasant. But I also couldn’t have gotten out of bed, never mind walked somewhere on my own power and had a conversation. I also took a muscle relaxer when my back was bad – Flexorall, I think? – and it made me so miserable and bitchy and I didn’t even attribute it to the medicine. I just screamed at Jason a whole bunch for doing things like breathing. Then he was like “Hmm, side effects?” and I was like, “No, it’s you, you asshole.” Then he started reading the side effects, which, in addition to “irritability,” included dry mouth and fatigue and headaches, all of which I was also experiencing. So I stopped taking them. Anyway, where was I? Oh, right, the president being all goofy on his pain meds. He still wants to help, by saying that he loves them all very much, and then says, “Tell me what the problem is, Toby,” while looking at Sam. For some reason Toby fills the president in on the problem. The president says Toby is a nice name, but still insists he’s able to focus. He is not. Martin Sheen is delightful in this scene, btw.

Mandy says let’s consider each option from the bottom and starts with resignation. The president likes this idea until they tell him they’re talking about Toby’s resignation, not the president’s. Sam suggests that Toby gives up one year’s salary and cash out his stock issue. Toby hates this idea. Everyone else loves it. The president tells Toby that Toby is a great writer and insists on giving Toby a hug.

Best hug ever.

Best hug ever.

Charlie comes in and chastises the president and wants to take him back to bed. The president first wants to announce that he’s seriously considering getting a dog and then leaves.

Sam asks Toby how he feels and he says he feels like he just got screwed with his pants on. I feel like that was a silly set-up for a bad line. But there are enough silly set-ups for good lines through the course of the series that I’ll let it go.

Hoynes is having breakfast with Tillinghouse, an extremely cantankerous old man who insists he’s voting his conscience. Hoynes basically agrees with his pro-gun rhetoric. Tillinghouse also takes exception to how Josh handled the other four. Hoynes continues to be completely sanguine, but asks Tillinghouse to vote yes, anyway, and relate the conversation to the other four, because Hoynes intends to be president of the United States some day.

We get a swooping shot of the capital at night while we listen to journalists call this a victory for the vice president, and we learn that Richardson had no comment, and is maybe snubbing the president.

Inside the Josh area (I don’t know what all these sections of the West Wing are called for real), the staff are watching the journalists on several different TVs and talking about how incredible it is that the vice president is getting all the credit. It’s like the Veep wrote two-and-a-half paragraphs and they wrote 37 pages and now the Veep is getting all the credit. See what we did there?

Leo says it was hubris and they got what they deserved but I don’t really know what he’s talking about. I mean, sure, he lectured Richardson on how to be black, and Josh ran roughshod over a few people, but in the first case, only Leo was being hubristic, against the advice of everyone else, and in the second, Josh (whom I rarely defend) was being a solid political strategist. I mean, sure, part of the strategy was hubris, but I think he was also doing his job and doing it well, right? And also, the “we” is still just Josh and Leo, why is Leo saying this to Toby and Sam and Mandy and C.J. and Donna?

Toby wants to wake the president and C.J. wants to leave it until tomorrow. Because she wants to get it on right now? No, even I can’t read sexual tension into their body language right now.

Another faceless assistant – or possibly the same faceless assistant – tells Hoynes that Josh is there to see him. Josh comes in, and they joke about the smoking jacket, and Josh says the bill is a crappy bill in the same way Richardson thought it was, and says he knows because he helped write it. He congratulates Hoynes for being the only one to do well in this whole situation. The faceless assistant – it is the same one and we get a very brief glimpse at her backlit face – comes in to call Hoynes away, and Hoynes says to Josh “Welcome to the NFL” before leaving.

I am not that politically astute. I didn’t understand the thing with Hoynes’s quote with C.J. in that other episode, and I don’t really understand what is happening now. I get that they passed a bill but it looked like the veep’s victory more than theirs, and I get that that’s a little disappointing, but it’s reading like a huge defeat and I don’t see why it’s a huge defeat. Especially since politics is perception and can’t they just get C.J. to drum up some, “Isn’t it great how the president and the vice president are working so well together now?” stuff tomorrow and make that the story instead? Haven’t they already established that the press knows there’s tension there and therefore a “Yay to working together!” story would totally fly? No?

Leo walks down a small, empty corridor and approaches an agent outside a closed door. He tells the agent he’s here for a card game and the agent opens the door. We see him standing next to a coffee urn for a few minutes before closing the door.

At no point in this episode do two named women speak to each other about something other than a man. I don’t think two named women speak to each other at all. C.J. and Mandy both speak to Sam at the same time about Chinese food and to Leo at the same time about a necklace but they address all comments to the men in these respective conversations, and none to each other. 10. And I sort of forgot about this and added it in after I had already considered this draft finished. Which is sort of the point of the Bechdel test; that even though it’s not comprehensive, it’s this weird little misogynist quirk of our current media that you don’t notice unless you look for it.

Total misogyny points for the episode? 23

Ricki/Sophia 2

And we’re back!

Dear Ricki/Sophia,

I just moved back to Chicago after seven years in sunny Florida. It was hard saying goodbye to a job I loved, great friends, and lots of fun clubs and community groups I was a part of. But opportunity knocked and I was ready for a new adventure, so I decided to give it a chance. Well, it’s been almost a year now and I couldn’t be more miserable. My new job turned out to be a total bust: I work long hours and I can never seem to get ahead. I have no friends left in town except my parents, who I’ve been living with while I save up enough money for my own place. I thought Chicago might be a great place to find the man of my dreams, but between my long commute and my lack of energy, all I want to do at the end of the day is curl up with a jar of peanut butter and the remote. Even my parents go out more than I do (which they don’t hesitate to point out)! And all that laying around and eating have made me pimply and fat. Who’d want me now? What can I do to get out of this rut?

Yours,

Regressing in Rolling Meadows

I do not know how it is that women do not understand this basic fact of men, but please, hear me: Being pimply and fat will not stop a man from wanting to have sex with you. Most of them will not notice that you are fatter and pimplier than you would like to be. BUT! Believing that men don’t want to have sex with you will stop a man from wanting to have sex with you, nearly every time. (Except for those horrible men who make a business of preying on insecure women, telling themselves that they are very clever indeed, when really, deep down, they do not believe that a woman who liked herself would ever like them. Which is true. And they are absolute shit in the sack; please do not bother with them.)

self-five

(It’s a self-five because Sophia lives in my imagination so we share a set of hands.) (Also, I’ve never inserted a .gif into a post before. I have a feeling this might be addictive.)

You have a bunch of small problems and they are snowballing into one big one in your head and that’s making you miserable and depressed. That doesn’t make you a horrible person; it makes you a totally normal person. But it’s what’s happening and it’s hard to recognize when it’s happening to you so I’m here to tell you that that’s what’s happening.

So, first things first, take care of you. I would start small. I would make a little schedule for myself. On Mondays, allow yourself to curl up with the peanut better and the remote. On Tuesdays you are required to go immediately to the gym after work, even if you feel draggy and tired. Join a yoga class or a class with some fun, exciting element like belly dancing or rock climbing, and just go no matter what else is happening. Take a totally different route to the gym than you do to go home, even if they are close to each other, so you can’t “accidentally” or unconsciously drive home. I’m not saying this because being fat is awful and you must get skinny immediately; I’m saying this because working out makes you feel better. Endorphins, energy, the sense that you did something good for yourself, simply not being home when your irritating parents are all, “We and have awesome concert tickets tonight and then after we’re going out for drinks, what’s your lazy ass doing?”, these are all good things. On Wednesdays, maybe a little more peanut butter and remote time, but before you sit down, go through your local paper or meetup.com and write down three new things you could maybe get interested in trying. Thursday, either back to the gym or to some other outside the house thing. Friday, do more research on those three things, then back to peanut butter. What the hell, put a few dark chocolate chips on there; it’s Friday!

And then Saturday find yourself a delicious man – not your dream man, honestly, darling, just someone attractive – and go back to his place. Or, if he also has a less-than-ideal living situation, go find someplace terribly naughty to park. 

Sophia thinks casual sex is the solution to everything.

I have nothing against formal sex. Wear ermine and pearls if you like; they make me feel divine!

We don’t have any ermine.

That’s what you think. 

Next, the big things. (1) Are you in therapy? Because it sounds like this whole situation – the big expectations you had going in, the letdown of those expectations, the feelings of helplessness surrounding the situation you’re in – has got you pretty down and a little immobilized and maybe seeing a therapist would help.

(2) How soon can you realistically move out of your parents’ house and to someplace that is closer to work? Get an idea in your head of how much money you’d like to have saved and then do everything in your power to get to that number as quickly as possible. Long commutes can suck the everliving life out of you and so can asshole parents. and rest assured, your parents are being assholes. “We’re going out; how come you’re not, loser?!” is not what parents say. It’s what Regina George says.

tumblr_mnksldboXR1reeivdo1_500

Yeah, this .gif thing is going to be fun.

Also, is this the house you grew up in? Even without asshole parents, living where you did when you were a kid can increase your feelings of stagnation and helplessness. GTFO.

(3) The job. You didn’t go into much detail so I don’t know exactly what’s going on with the job. You’ve only been there a year and you called it a “new adventure” so maybe give yourself a little break on the learning curve if it’s relatively new stuff for you? Maybe one of those off-the-couch nights could be seeking some form of professional development? What’s your boss like? Can you talk to him/her about practical, concrete ways to improve your performance? Does your boss think you’re underperforming (“can’t get ahead”) or is it just you? Sometimes – and God knows, I do this, like, way too much – we can let ourselves think, “I did not perform this particular task well, therefore I suck, therefore I should just bury my head in shame and hope no one notices while I chew myself out on the inside for sucking so much,” and that’s not productive or helpful. But you can instead think, “I did not perform this task well, therefore there must be better ways to approach this task. I wonder how I can find them?” and then you can go find them and learn new things and master them and it’s awesome!

I teach Sunday School and sometimes have to teach kids from 4th – 8th grade to read Hebrew. And because the place that I teach is what it is, kids tend to come into the classroom with widely varying levels of already knowing this stuff. So the kids who barely remember that Hebrew goes right to left and not left to right watch the kids in their grade who already know pretty much all the letters and vowels and go, “I must be so stupid and dumb and I hate Hebrew and I hope we can just get this over with,” and sometimes it takes a great deal of work for me to convince them that it’s okay not to already know stuff. No one is born with the Aleph Bet in their head. The kids who already know this stuff just learned it before, that’s all.

My point is, with the job, is there stuff you can treat like it’s just a skill set you haven’t learned yet, and then go about finding ways to learn it, either with the help of your boss/colleagues or on your own?

Or is it simply not the job for you at all? I think you should give it a full calendar year, but if it’s not, it’s not, and that’s okay. Maybe spend one or two of your nights a week doing some serious thinking about what it is you like about the job, what it is you liked about your old job, and what you want from your next job. Then start looking for the next job.

(4) Friends. Friends are everywhere. I think there’s something of a problem in letting us all come of age in college, where finding friends is the easiest thing ever and people get super tight super fast and it feels like family because you’re all at the exact same stage of your life, living on top of each other, with more free time than you even had before or will again, and so many ways to fill it that allow you to meet even more friends. And then we all graduate and move and shit, and find out that making friends as a grown-up is way harder. And it is. And it’s not going to feel like college. But it’s not impossible. Is there no one in your new work place you like and would want to get to know? Ask them for coffee! Ask them if they know any way to conquer the tasks that are difficult for you. Ask them if they know of any fun thing to do this weekend and then ask if they want to do that thing with you. When you’re not at work, get out of the house! You said you were part of lots of clubs and community groups in Florida; find some of those to join! I know you say your long hours are leaving you wiped but, (a) sometimes having fun stuff to look forward to doing is more energizing than knowing you’re going back to your house to be assholed at by your parents, and (b) caffeine exists in numerous delicious forms. Go join shit. Then find the cool people at the places you just joined and say, “Hey, I’m wiped from my long day. Want to get some coffee?” Or, “Holy shit I just had an awful week at work. Know any good wine bars?” What about people you grew up around? Are any of them still in the area/cool? Would you want to hang out with any of them? Give them a Facebook nudge and see what happens.

(5) Dudes. Look, I am not saying that the man of your dreams is not going to happen. But he is sure as hell not going to pop up on your couch holding an extra spoon. So, yeah, you have to leave the house. But also, you’re not going to find him if you start by thinking, “Are you the man of my dreams?” Because then it will always look like, “No.” Because you will be comparing him to this nebulous, glowing image in your head of what a dream man is and no man is nebulous and glowing.

I really like to cook, and my husband really likes it when I cook. But sometimes he’ll be like, “Hey, this restaurant makes a really great thing! Can you make the really great thing just like this restaurant makes?” And I hate when he does that because I’m never going to match the restaurant thing, and, worse, I’m never going to match his memory of the restaurant thing, which is better than even the restaurant thing itself. No man can match the dream in your head.

And you have to get to know the man before you know whether or not he is dreamy. I know, I know, gut-level attraction is important, but, as much as I hate to agree with Patti Stanger on anything, most women don’t know if their guts are attracted until the dude has his tongue in her mouth.

So don’t start with, “Are you the man of my dreams?” Start with, “Are you a man I might enjoy a cup of coffee with?” If yes, “Are you a man I might enjoy dinner with?” And then keep going.

But I wouldn’t even start here because I think you’ve got to get yourself in a healthy headspace before taking dating seriously. I mean, when choosing gym classes and community groups and whatnot, maybe keep half a mind toward dudes you might meet there. Like, maybe make only one thing a thing only girls would do. Don’t do a belly-dancing class AND a knitting circle AND a Jane Austen book club and then not have any time left for dudes. (I mean, I’m sure there are dudes who take yoga and/or knit and/or like Jane Austen. But in terms of numbers? Not so much.) But start by making yourself feel better about your life. Get yourself on a path toward what you want your life to look like. Then, if no dude has presented himself to you, start actively looking for dudes.

In the meantime, some delightful casual sex couldn’t possibly hurt.

I’m not saying “Turn down nookie.” I’m just saying, “Don’t make pursuit of nookie a significant goal right now.” Actually, I’m not saying that either. I’m saying, “Don’t make pursuit of the man of your dreams a significant goal right now.” Nookie is fine.

“Nookie” is always fine.

Ricki/Sophia Reboot

So here’s what’s going on. A long time ago I had an alter ego named Sophia. She’s sort of my id. And she even has an origin story! I had an English teacher my junior year who called me Rachel all year, except one day she called me Sophia. Then she looked at me and said, “You’re not Sophia; you’re Rachel!” So the following year I had a different English teacher who heard me telling this story, and speculated that Sophia was my evil twin. Specifically, my evil Italian twin, whereas Rachel was my nice Jewish girl. (My mother is 100% Italian and my father is 100% Jewish and so I do, actually, have Italian and Jewish halves.) (Also, the English teacher making this comment is himself Italian. I grew up in Jersey, people.)

Anyway, Sophia was going to offer advice with me and I did a couple of columns like that and then I think I erased Sophia from my blog. I was going to set her up with her own but I . . . kind of never got around to it.

And yet my – and her – advice is needed! So here goes!

Dear Ricki/Sophia,

Help! I have a big decision to make. About a decade ago, I got my dream job and moved to a small town in the Midwest. I love what I do, and I have a lot of friends here, but there’s just one problem. There are NO eligible men here! I’m not exactly afraid to be on my own for a little while, and I love the independence of the single life, but to be honest, I haven’t been with a man since I moved here (and the few that have applied for the job could not handle the workload, if you know what I mean). Now I’ve been offered a less-prestigious job, for less money, but in a big city with lots of man potential. Is it silly to sacrifice my career just for sex?

Yours,
Celibate in Cedar Rapids

Darling, I do know exactly what you mean. Of course it is not silly. Sex is never silly. Well, sex is often silly, and delightfully so, but it is never silly to do anything in order to have sex.

Yeah, maybe that’s true for figments of my imagination, Sophia. But let’s back up a step. You say “eligible men” in sentence two, but then in your question you ask about “just for sex.” And those are two very different questions.

Ah! I am lucky I am not alone here; I did not catch that. Yes, I must agree, I find it absurd to believe that there are no men capable of delighting your body in Cedar Rapids. I confess, I do not know what a Cedar Rapids is, but, darling, the world is positively full of men with working penises and a significant percentage of them have some vague idea of what to do with a woman’s body. But if you are looking for something more than simply a person to fulfill your sexual desires, then the question is more complicated.

And you’re not great with complication, Sophia.

I beg your pardon?

Outside the bedroom.

There are many things one can do outside the bedroom.

You know what I mean!

Look, if by “eligible,” you mean, “a man I might want to get married to,” and marriage is important to you, then no, it’s not silly. I’d take some serious time to consider if you’ve truly looked at all of your marriageable options where you are, but if you really think you need to move to find a husband, and you want a husband, then, yeah, do it.

If your career is important to you, too, though, also consider the new job and the old job. You say the old job was your “dream job” ten years ago. Is it still? You say the new one is less prestigious and makes less money. Are those crucial characteristics to you in a job? Does this new job offer something, besides a well of new men, that is attractive to you? If so, then I’d say this is an unqualified yes. Change jobs, change living situations, go on with your bad self. If not, is there a possibility of holding out in Cedar Rapids for a little while longer? Maybe looking into dudes you would not marry but might have fun with in the interim and still look for new jobs in new locations that would offer fulfillment?

Darling, do keep in mind, men are simply crawling all over this planet. There are literally billions of them. In big cities and small, in little tiny towns and on vast swaths of farmland. I do not know how to go about choosing a man for marrying, but for pleasure? Just find one that makes your skin tingle and go for it!

But use a condom.

Ugh.

Yeah, well, figments of imagination don’t get STIs or pregnant. Real women do.

Yes, well, fine, then. Use a condom. And have fun!

Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin – “The West Wing”, 1.03 “A Proportional Response”

The name “Aaron” is starting to look like a nonsense word to me.

Anyway. Remember, this is what we’re looking for:

  1. Physical comedy is used to undercut a female character’s competence.
  2. A female character’s sexual appeal or sexual/romantic relationship with a male character is primary.
  3. A female character displays “feistiness”. “Feistiness” is a frequent shorthand in liberal misogyny for “See? She’s strong and independent and we find that adorable! What’s the problem?”
  4. Femininity or feminine concerns are disparaged, by male or female characters.
  5. Any character is rude to his/her female subordinate with no consequences.
  6. A male character is lauded and glorified in an unlikely way by a female character or characters.
  7. A female character screws up at her job.
  8. Anger coming from a female character is unreasonable or mysterious, either to the audience or to another character.
  9. A female character plays the Exposition Fairy. Note: Having Exposition Fairies is not in and of itself a problem. It’s necessary in most fiction. But in The West Wing, the Fairy is almost always a female character, and is almost always asking a male character for explanation, and would almost always certainly know the information she’s asking for, so that the fact that she’s asking indicates that she’s not that good at her job.
  10. An episode goes by that does not pass the Bechdel test.

And,

!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it.

So last week you may remember that the Syrian Defense Ministry shot down the plane containing Morris Tolliver, the president’s doctor, and others, on their way to a teaching hospital in Jordan. The president got over his “I’m uncomfortable with violence” thing BUT QUICK, telling Leo he was going to “blow them off the face of the Earth with the fury of God’s own thunder.” Which is a good line, but Leo seemed to be more perturbed by the sentiment and less impressed with the wording.

Also Sam accidentally slept with a call girl and wants to be buds with her so he can save her from the degradation and despair that is her life, and Mandy was being hired as a media consultant over her ex-boyfriend Josh’s objections.

Josh is coming in to work and Donna closes in behind him. She tells him “C.J.’s looking for you” about eight times before he gets that C.J.’s not looking to tell him what a god among men he is. Donna won’t tell him why he might be in trouble because he doesn’t let her make “substantive contributions.” I’m giving this whole thing a 8 because it’s playing as if Donna is just whinging about not feeling her value is being appreciated as if that’s a stupid thing to be whinging about. And then it turns out she just wants $$$. Finally, she tells Josh that she’s cobbled together, from gossip around the Danish cart (not making that up 4) is that it has something to do with C.J. not knowing something about Sam and a woman. And then she doesn’t even know that C.J. is waiting in Josh’s office, thus undermining the whole speech about why she deserves to make substantive contributions/get a raise. 7.

So hey, there’s C.J.’s gams 2 in Josh’s office, and when he comes in the door, she says, “Wow, are you stupid.” 3. And then credits.

I’m not giving an 8 for this because, while C.J. is a female who is angry and Josh and Sam will protest that her anger is unwarranted, I don’t think the show is trying to make us think it is.

Misogyny Points Thus Far: 5

After the credits we are back on C.J.’s legs. Donna and Josh bicker for a second about the fact that Donna didn’t know C.J. was in Josh’s office. C.J. starts yelling at Josh and Josh pretends like this isn’t a big deal because Sam didn’t technically do anything wrong, since, as you might recall, he neither knew she was a prostitute when he slept with her, nor did he pay her. C.J. points out that that doesn’t matter on “Hard Copy” and Josh accuses her of overreacting, and then C.J. does my job for me, saying, “Oh, am I? As women are prone to do?” Go, C.J.! But also a 4 for you, Josh. Then Josh calls her a “paranoid Berkeley shiksa feminista” 4 and I’d love to know what her not being Jewish has to do with all of this. To his credit, he does realize he went to far, and C.J. responds by calling him an “elitist, Harvard, fascist, missed-the-dean’s-list-two-semesters-in-a-row Yankee jackass.” I also don’t know what his being north of the Mason-Dixon has to do with anything, but okay. Josh tries to apologize by telling her she looks “like a million bucks” because he’s your Great-Uncle Harvey who thinks it’s 1957 (and by “he”, I mean Aaron Sorkin) 2 and C.J. is not trying to hear that as they head into their senior staff meeting.

MPTF: 8

Toby joins them on their rounds, complaining about what a crazy mood is the president is in, what with Morris Tolliver and dozens of other Americans being dead and all. It is determined that C.J. has learned about Sam and Laurie (the call girl), and C.J. promises to visit him later. Toby asks, “How the hell did I get in trouble?” Josh says, “Today? All you had to do was get out of bed,” like, no, jackass, all you had to do was keep C.J. out of your boys’ club, thus making it harder to do her job of protecting you all to the press. 8. Also that invalidates your earlier non-apology. (Also we all know C.J. is just going to visit Toby later to do it. !)

MPTF: 9

On the way to the Oval on that outer walkway, in the rain, the president is yelling at Leo for how long it’s taking to come up with a response scenario. Leo is trying to calm him down. It’s not working. President Bartlett tells Mrs. Landingham he can’t find his glasses, giving us our Chekhov’s Pager for the episode.

The president wants to get on this today, three days after they blew “him” out of the sky, and Leo points out that saying “him” rather than “it” or “the plane” is maybe indicative of – but the president is not trying to hear that. He yells at Mrs. Landingham again about his glasses and this is getting close to 5 territory but it’s not quite there. Leo leaves the president to go to the senior staff meeting.

In his office, Leo encourages the gang not to worry about the president’s mood and asks Sam what he knows. What Sam knows is that Bertram Coles, who is a congressman from a district with a military base, and who is upset with the president because the president has recommended cutting funding for something related to that military base, got on a radio show, in front of a bunch of military officers, and said, “Folks down here are patriotic – fiercely patriotic. The president better not be planning on making any visits to this base. If he does, he may not get out alive.”

No. Nope. That’s not a thing that happened. Even Sarah Palin, she of the “second amendment remedies” wouldn’t go quite that far. Even in 2013, a year in which the partisan bickering of this show’s airing year, 1999, looks noble and mature, this is not a thing that would happen.

Anyway, Toby is infuriated, and Leo is clearly enjoying riling Toby up, muttering, “There ought to be a law against it,” with a sly smirk toward Toby. Toby notes the several laws that are against it, such as threatening the life of a president, conspiracy to threaten the life of a president, and treason. As silly as the set-up is, I cannot at all fault Leo for the pleasure he’s taking in making Toby mad, as it is totes adorbs and I would make a habit of riling Toby up on the regular if I were in his (fictional) life.

Also, apparently Bertram Cole is a member of their own party. Yeah, no. Did not happen. Would not happen. Don’t care. Toby wants to do something about it and everyone else just wants to watch Toby. With you guys all the way.

Leo asks about when the networks would need to be told about the president announcing an attack on Syria and C.J. tells him they need 90 minutes. Networks, y’all get 90 minutes warning and I STILL miss key sections of the SYTYCD finale, so that the president can announce we’re NOT bombing Syria? I call shenanigans, FOX. Shenanigans!!

On the way out of the meeting, Josh and C.J. pedeconference, with Toby and Sam behind them. Before they split up, C.J. asks Sam to stop by her office later. Sam agrees, then, once C.J. is out of earshot, asks Toby if he thinks she knows, which of course he knows she does. Toby sees a knot of reporters and takes this opportunity to look very busy but come toward them, seemingly not deliberately. A reporter asks for a comment about Bertram Coles and Toby says “The Secret Service investigates all threats made against the president. It is White House policy not to comment on those investigations.” When the reporter follows up by asking if he’s saying there’s going to be a criminal investigation, Toby looks like he’s been caught talking out of school and says, “I really can’t comment on that right now” and then scurries away. So! Adorable! Love! Him!

Also loving that it’s been several paragraphs and I haven’t had my misogyny meter tick!

C.J. is in her office with two female assistants talking business. Hey, it’s not about a man! This episode passes the Bechdel test! -10! Sam comes in and C.J. kicks the assistants out. C.J. is pretty pissed and points out that this is a public relations problem and Sam continues to protest his innocence, ignoring C.J.’s concern about publicity, so 4. Also doesn’t C.J. understand that Sam is going to save her? Ugh, I need a number for his attitude about Laurie’s life. Let’s go with 4. It’s not perfect but it’ll have to do. C.J. reminds him that it’s her job to care what it looks like, not what it is, and Sam continues to be rude to her. More 4. (Not 5 because it’s not clear to me that C.J. is his underling but what do I know?) C.J. tells him that regardless of looking good vs. being good, he should come to her first, not Toby or Josh, because this is her job. She doesn’t say it, but it’s clear that he didn’t go to her because she’s a woman, and I kind of wish this part of C.J.’s arc had been teased out more throughout this season. Sam totally dismisses that idea, saying this should be about her standing up to the press instead of kowtowing to their morals. 4. Sam is being such an ass. C.J. is clearly hurt and dismisses him. Sam feels bad but, despite a half-hearted attempt, isn’t going to be able to make it up right now. Sam walks out of her office and punches a wall.

MPTF: 12

Now we’re in the situation room with a bunch of dudes in uniform. The Joint Chiefs, I guess. The president comes in, everyone stands, he tells them to sit. Because he’s a regular guy, all about business and not the nonsense of protocol. Admiral Fitzwallace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presents the president with three possible response scenarios, all of which require no prep time, meet the standards of “proportional response” (episode title check!), and pose minimum risk to civilians. The president demand to know, what is the “virtue” of a proportional response. This totally flummoxes the room. Fitzwallace tries to redirect the conversation, as does Leo, but the president is pissed and not having it. He says Syria knows they’re going to do what they’re going to do, that they’ve even prepared for it. Finally Fitzwallace admits that a proportional response is not virtuous; it’s just what there is. The president insists that it’s not all there is; they could be disproportionate, instead, and insists that the Chiefs come up with a plan that “doesn’t make me think we are just docking somebody’s damn allowance.” He storms from the room. Leo looks terrified.

Charlie! Charlie! It’s Charlie! Okay, pretending I don’t know for a second who this is, a young man with a terrified and confused face is hanging out in a conference room. Josh comes in while giving his lunch order to Donna, then introduces himself to Charlie. He tells Charlie he’s going to vet him, and then calls to Donna to change his lunch order, canceling the salad because he’s not going to eat it anyway. Dude, I feel you. I have been known to virtuously order the side salad instead of the fries and then absolutely ignoring that salad. But back to my misogyny count, in the episode in which we have had Donna insist that she’s capable of doing more, we are now having her take lunch orders. Which, I get that as an assistant, it’s her job, but it’s either a conscious decision or an unconscious assumption and either way I’m going with 5, not so much because Josh is being rude to her – he is being no more rude than is his standard demeanor – but because the show is.

Anyway, Josh encourages Charlie to sit and Charlie stares at him, while Josh describes a job for which Charlie did not apply. Charlie wanted to be a messenger. Josh – and the woman who sent Charlie to Josh – wants Charlie to be personal aide to the president instead. Charlie continues to be terrified and confused while Josh continues to be madly casual and dismissive. Charlie keeps calling Josh “sir” and Josh insists that only the president is “sir”; everyone else is “Hey, when am I going to get that thing I asked for?” Um, maybe to you, Rudey Mc RudePants. Donna brings him his water bottle and he makes a big fucking stink about a typo 5. Charlie continues to protest that this is not the job for which he applied and Josh observes that Charlie’s grades and SAT scores are such that he ought to be in a good college by now. Charlie reveals that he has to take care of his sister because his mom, a police officer, was shot and killed on duty five months ago. Aw, Charlie. I want to hug him so very much.

MPTF: 14

The president reenters the situation room, apparently a little calmer. He tells the dudes that there’s a group of cardiologists having their pictures taken in the Blue Room, whatever that is, and “You wouldn’t think you could find a group of people more arrogant than the fifteen of us, but there they are, right upstairs in the Blue Room.” Good line, Mr. President. Are we ready to stop being crazypants now?

Fitzwallace presents an apparently much worse response scenario, an attack on an airport, which would kill civilians, cripple the area’s abilities to receive water and medical supplies, and ruin the United States’s foreign relations with friends and enemies alike. But he also says, “You’ll have doled out $5,000 worth of punishment for a 50-buck crime,” which is a shockingly insensitive thing for any person to say, but particularly the person who is playing the role of Sensible and Practical Military Advisor, and really just sets up a Straw-Line for the president to be self-righteous about in a few minutes, and it’s annoying. Fitzwallace goes back to being sensible for a minute, but the president waves him off. He agrees to one of their proportionate response scenarios, has to be coached through giving the go order by Leo and Fitzwallace, gets predictably self-righteous about the 50-buck crime comment, and leaves.

We’re back with Charlie and Josh. Josh is trying to ask Charlie questions and Charlie is still trying to figure out what in the ever-living fuck he is doing there when Sam comes in. When Josh says he has to ask Charlie about his personal life, Sam makes it All About Me and My Call Girl. Josh takes Sam out of the room and  Sam complains some more about not being allowed to rescue Laurie when Toby calls them in to Leo’s office, because “it’s all happening.”

Wow, that’s inappropriate. I was referencing Almost Famous, but in that movie, the “it” is sex, drugs, and/or rock & roll, and here, it’s bombing Syria. Sorry. Anyway, that’s why the big rush to Leo’s office.

Leo gives them their marching orders and that’s basically all that happens. C.J. tells Leo she needs to talk to the president before briefing the press, and Leo is like, “You and me both, sister.”

Josh hangs back and tells Leo about Charlie, asking if Leo thinks it’s a problem that Charlie, who, if he became personal aide to the president, would be holding doors and carrying bags, and Charlie’s black, and does that make a bad visual? Leo dismisses this concern, then says he’s “fairly sure” he’s right about this. At some point Leo shouts Margaret’s name in that way he has so 5 but we can kind of assume that happens once per episode.

Fitzwallace comes in to talk to Leo and Josh leaves. Leo and Fitzwallace talk about the president being crazypants. Fitzwallace  continues to be sensitive and practical and not at all the kind of guy who would equate the deaths of a few dozen Americans with “a 50-buck crime”. Leo then asks Fitzwallace, who is also black, about the Charlie question, and Fitzwallace dismisses the concern. And I have to say, this feels very much like Aaron Sorkin just realized that the one black guy who is a series regular is in a kind of servant-ish role, and he wanted to assure us, the audience, that this was okay by using the “But my black friend says it’s fine!” Which, look, I don’t think that anyone here is wrong about the Charlie character – it is better to give Charlie a great job than to not give him this kind of opportunity because it might look sorta racist – but Aaron, if you’re feeling so insecure about it, cast more black people. Don’t get fictional black friends to give you the thumbs up.

People bustle about one of the fancy conference rooms and Josh stands in the middle, sighing that he has nothing to do.

More bustling in the Sam-and-Toby area. Cathy (Sam’s assistant) wants to know why no one can come to the phone. C.J. speculates that they are planning her surprise party and then goes in to see Toby, who is working with Sam on the address that the president will give later that night. C.J. and Toby say words at each other that I don’t understand, possibly about weaponry?, and then C.J. leaves. Sam runs after her and makes a genuine apology about his earlier assholishness. C.J. is cool. I’m glad everyone is friends again, but I really wish they’d made the storyline about C.J. trying to get into the boys’ club more prominent in Season One, instead of letting it simmer in the background so quietly you could be excused for not noticing it.

The press surrounds C.J. and C.J. is awesomely cool and admits to nothing.

Then she’s greeted at her office door by Danny Concannon. We haven’t met him yet but C.J. has. He’s a journalist who makes sure to tell us he’s been in the White House Press Room for seven years. She says she’ll tell him about Syria when she tells everyone else about Syria, but Danny doesn’t want to talk about that. He wants to talk about the $3,000-a-night call girl and asks to come into her office.

(Sam wants to save Laurie from her degrading life of getting $3,000 a night? Damn, girl, and you still have to bartend? How much is rent in D.C.?)

Josh continues to wander around busy people and annoy them. He specifically annoys Donna for a while, then Mandy pokes her head out of his office and says, “Josh, your office sucks!” 3! Mandy already knows everything about what’s going on with Syria so I guess -9. She tells him she has a present for him and after they talk a bit about the plane being shot down, Mandy gives Josh a picture of the two of them, with his face all magic-markered up. 3. She tells him she did the marketing during her period of hating him. 3. She claims it was taken the night they met, and he couldn’t stop staring at her. 3. He says she was wearing “quite the ensemble” that day 2 and she says she doesn’t think it was the ensemble he was looking at which 3 and also that doesn’t really make much sense. Josh gets a call and has to go do something. Mandy assures him on her way out that there is “not a chance” she will be nice to him when she starts working there 3.

MPTF: 21

Danny is telling C.J. that he doesn’t have enough for a story but he’s going to be asking around. C.J. is sticking up for Sam in exactly the way he asked her to, basically, telling Danny that Sam is doing nothing wrong and he should keep his nose out of other people’s perfectly legitimate and legal business. It’s unclear to me if the show wants me to believe that, had Sam not said the things he said, C.J. would be more under-the-bus-throw-y, or if C.J. would always have stuck up for Sam and was just angry that he didn’t tell her she’d have to. The C.J. that we’ve been presented with thus far would absolutely stick up for Sam in just this way but sometimes this show forgets the strengths of its female characters for the sake of plot so I don’t know. Danny warns C.J. that even if Danny drops this, other people might use it when they want to make trouble. C.J. gets a call and then gives Danny a head start on the Syria story in exchange for him not pursuing the Sam story.

Josh is giving Charlie the tour. Charlie probably thinks that they’re walking and talking because they’re on a tour. He doesn’t realize that it is the policy of this particular administration to conduct all conversations while perambulating. Josh says the only thing left is to meet the president and Charlie stops walking. It takes Josh several minutes to notice.

We’re entering the Oval with Charlie and Josh. The president is blustering around all pissed and ornery, yelling at Sam and Toby and shouting to Mrs. Landingham about his glasses and just generally screaming at everyone. While he’s yelling at C.J. he mentions reading something in his private study last night and Charlie gets a light bulb over his head. Josh encourages him to tell the president. The president is pretty rude to Charlie, just demanding to know who he is several times, but Mrs. Landingham catches Charlie’s drift and sends an assistant to the private study for the missing glasses. Chekhov’s Pager has beeped. Josh starts to introduce Charlie but the president rudely says, “I don’t have any time for new people right now.” Leo calls the president out of the room.

Leo yells at the president a little and the president ducks his head, a gesture we will come to recognize as his “I am almost ready to admit you’re right” gesture. He tells Leo that Roman citizens were protected by virtue of simply being citizens of Rome, because Rome would destroy your ass for the sake of one citizen. The president wants the USA to be Rome. Leo doesn’t. They bloviate about politics some, and Leo irrelevants, “Then you are just as stupid as these guys who think capital punishment is going to be a deterrent for drug kingpins, as if drug kingpins didn’t live their day-to-day lives under the possibility of execution. And their executions are a lot less dainty than ours, and tend to take place without the bother and expense of due process.” I mean, it’s a good argument, but it’s also a ham-handed way of shoving this point in to a scene on which it has no bearing. Couldn’t you just write an episode about capital punishment, Aaron? Leo tells the president that if the president wants the US to be Rome, then, fine, but Leo is going to raise an army against him. They argue some more about the proportional response thing and finally the president calms down. Leo says it’s what their fathers taught them. I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but I know I’m supposed to find it deep.

The president gets the line of the night. “When I think of all the work you did to get me to run, when I think of all the work you did to get me elected, (beat) I could pummel your ass with a baseball bat.” Leo likes the line, too. He laughs and John Spencer laughing is wholly delightful. Leo tells the president about Bertram Coles and how Leo messed with Toby earlier. They both have a good laugh. The president asks Leo about Charlie, but we don’t hear his answer, probably because we already know and it’s time to wrap this mother up.

Everyone’s waiting around the Oval. C.J. sidles over to Toby and asks what he thinks the president and Leo are doing, and Toby doesn’t know. But of course they’re the ones making casual, irrelevant conversation with each other because they’re doing it ! Then C.J. asks if Toby knows about a story going around about the Secret Service investigating Bertram Coles. Toby says he doesn’t. C.J. says they’re quoting Toby from earlier, about not commenting about investigations, and did he say that? Toby says, all false innocence, “Yeah. Hey, you don’t suppose that’s how the story got started, do you?” Then he tells C.J. to tell Bertram Coles there’s a new sheriff in town, and they share an incredibly intimate smirk, probably thinking about the amazingly hot sex they’re going to have later. Because they are.

Josh is explaining to Charlie that the president is not usually such a major dickhead. The camera is swirling around their heads in an effort to make me vomit. Then the president, now his usual genial self, comes out to charm Charlie a little and talk to him about the gun legislation they’re going to push in honor of his mother, and does he want to join their team, and Charlie says, with enormous eyes and earnest tones, “Yes, sir, I do,” and I just melt into a little puddle because I LOVE Charlie. Leo and the president joke a little. Charlie tells Josh, “I never felt like this before,” and Josh assures him it doesn’t go away, and the president starts his address with the orchestra swelling inspirationally behind him.

You guys, I LOVE Charlie.

Misongyny score: 21 and largely due to Mandy! This episode was not so bad!