Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing,” Episode 1.13, “Take Out the Trash Day”

In case you’ve forgotten, I do, in fact, love this show. It has become a ritual now that when my dad visits, we stay up late watching and eating ice cream. Sometimes, it’s ice cream I made, like the brown-sugar-bourbon ice cream I made him last time.

But loving and criticizing are not mutually exclusive activities! 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 (or other emotions/behaviors) 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.
  11. Lip service is paid to female power or agency or simply the existence of females in this world without, oh, say, actually casting one or giving one something cool to do.
  12. A male character or characters act(s) as white knight to a female character or characters.
  13. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! – A display of homophobia

And a ! for every piece of evidence that Toby and C.J. are FwB, and a TNFTS for every time the boys are Too Noble For This Shit.

Last time on “The West Wing”: evil-looking dudes had records of Leo McGarry in a rehab facility, even though that shit is supposed to be confidential; C.J. made out with Danny; Leo made a public statement about his addiction.

It’s Take Out the Trash Day! C.J. is in the press room, telling the press that, weather permitting, they’ll be in the Rose Garden, and “weather permitting” means “not actually precipitating.” The reporters are unhappy because it’s going to be cold but the president ain’t trying to hear that, or so he told C.J. He is a hardy New Englander, gosh darn it! C.J. goes on to say that there will be 15 bill-signing souvenir pens, and Danny wants to know how, since Josiah Bartlet only has 13 letters. But he’ll use separate pens for dotting the i and crossing the ts. C.J. calls Danny “freak-boy” for asking, because that’s how you show affection in an Aaron Sorkin teleplay.

C.J. goes on to announce that the parents of Lowell Lydell will be at the signing, and, as Mandy begins to hover ominously, a reporter expresses surprise. Apparently there’s a rumor that the Lydells don’t support the president, even though the president is signing a hate-crimes bill, and Lowell Lydell was beaten and killed for being gay back in episode 10. Got to give them points for continuity here. C.J. dismisses the rumors of non-support, even when another reporter seconds it. C.J. promises that the Lydells are coming and will be available to the press. Mandy, in I guess the control room?, looks chagrinned.

We move to the control room, or whatever that room is, as C.J. gets off the podium. She and Mandy pedeconference through the C.J. area while Mandy says she wishes C.J. hadn’t promised the press the Lydells. Mandy is feeling uncomfortable because Jonathan Lydell, the father, “doesn’t say much.” C.J. thinks that’s a ridiculous concern. I think it’s a ridiculous concern to be bringing up after the briefing rather than before, and I have to imagine that Mandy knows when C.J.’s briefings are, but never mind, the Bechdel test is being passed! C.J. and Mandy are talking about their job! Well, they’re talking about a man, Jonathan Lydell, but still! Right? -10

Then C.J. talks to Carol, thanking her for the bit about dotting the i and crossing the ts, which is also a Bechdel pass (but the rules that I made up are, only one point for or against in any given episode) and then immediately chastises her for misspelling “Senator.” Sadly I have to give a -5 for that one because while a female underling is experiencing her boss being rude to her, that boss is also female. Oh, C.J.

Josh comes in to C.J.’s office and C.J. correctly assumes that whatever he’s coming in for, it’s going to involve her staying late. “I’m a woman in her prime, Josh,” she says, which is interesting, because at no point do any of the men who work here ever object to staying late because it’s putting a crimp in their love life. Even the one who’s getting divorced as a result of it. In fact, Leo even used Sam’s love life to make a point about how sometimes you gotta work late, and Sam never objected, even when he discovered that it was all a ruse. 2. Josh does not care about C.J.’s love life, but cares about everyone else’s – he wants C.J. to read a report about how abstinence-only ed doesn’t work. The White House is trying to pass a bill to get more teachers on the ground, but some in Congress want to stipulate to that bill that the sex ed classes in the schools that benefit be abstinence-only. It’s one of those situations on this show where it becomes easy to forget that this aired a decade and a half ago. C.J. complains that she would have no trouble passing an abstinence-only class, which, still a 2, but also, hah. Josh leaves on, “By the way, pages 27-33? A couple things every girl should know.” And he smirks. And I am simultaneously offended and amused, as I so often am when it comes to this show. But it gets another 2. I know it’s a stretch, but I don’t care. I’d be happy to debate this point in the comments.

Credits. Rob Lowe for real does not age.

Danny comes in to C.J.’s office and asks what she’s up to. He’s excited by the answer (reading a report on sex ed) because everyone who works here is thirteen. He wants to get dinner with her and insists they have to go on a date sometime; C.J. can’t just keep grabbing him and kissing him. Really, Danny? The first four months of my relationship with my husband consisted of me grabbing him and kissing him. It works out sometimes, is my point.

But Danny didn’t come to C.J.’s office to flirt. He came to ask her about an advance man for the vice president taking a Navy helicopter to Pebble Beach to play golf. When I first saw this episode, I did not understand what any of those words meant. I mean, I understood what they all meant individually, but strung together in a sentence, they did not make any sense to me. They make sense to C.J., though, who is shocked and dismayed and a little annoyed that Danny won’t give up his source, which of course he won’t. Then Danny claims that he has a pilot who sat around for “four hours” while the advance man “hit every sand trap in Carmel.” I am not terribly familiar with golf, but wouldn’t 18 holes take at least four hours to play even if you were really good at it?

PS. As a teenager, I was mortified when my dad took up golf. He didn’t take it up too seriously, just as a thing he had to do sometimes with his clients, but I still made fun of him mercilessly. But then he said, “Look, golf is a walk in a lovely park with your friends. Sometimes, yes, you have to swing a metal stick in the direction of the ball. But it’s that swinging of the metal stick that allows you to stay in that park all day.” So now, even though I don’t play or anything, I do get why people like it.

Oh, then C.J. grabs Danny and kisses him. I think she’s probably a very good kisser.

In the Josh section, Donna calls to Josh and then asks the person carrying food – who may or may not be Sam’s assistant whose name may or may not be Carol? – if Josh’s burger is burnt, because that’s the way he likes it. Yet another reason for me to not like Josh.

Josh comes by and asks if it’s burnt and then beckons Donna to follow him, leaving her to carry the food, which she points out. This is a sort of feature of liberal misogyny that I find interesting. “Look, I’m not going to be chivalrous and gentlemanly to you because feminism, right? You ladies don’t want that, right? Haha.” And then it’s the one example of “equality” they’re willing to actually, you know, perform. I might decide to give this a number; I know it shows up in Sorkin’s stuff a lot.

Donna wants to play exposition fairy by asking, “What’s Take Out the Trash Day?” 9. Josh explains that, if there are stories they don’t particularly want the press dwelling on, they dump them all on Friday. All at once, because if they’ve got x column inches to fill, they’ve got to divide that x by whatever number of items are being dropped; Friday because no one reads the paper on Saturday. Then Josh sends Donna to deliver C.J.’s salad.

Sam comes in to Toby’s office. Everyone’s office seems awfully dark, today, by the way, even C.J.’s, and she was reading a report on paper, so one might think she needed light. Sam is upset because some town in Alabama wants to get rid of all laws except the Ten Commandments. Toby doesn’t so much care and asks Sam what he actually wants. It turns out the Georgetown student newspaper wants to get Sam’s comment on a professor spouting stuff that right-wingers seem to think doesn’t make them sound blatantly racist – welfare, single moms, etc. They want Sam’s comment because Zoey Bartlet is taking the class. Sam is concerned that this might become a thing. Sam promises to talk to Zoey but doesn’t leave the room and Toby is annoyed until Leo calls them into his office. Leo also doesn’t care that much the town in Alabama that’s got Sam so steamed.

Josh is already in Leo’s (very dark) office, eating. Leo says this sex-ed report could not come at a worse time, since they want that teacher bill passed. Then there are some sentences exchanged about the thing with Leo and all the things these boys are too noble for. TNFTS!

A bunch of assistants are clustered around Margaret’s desk. The woman who may or may not be Carol is arguing with Donna about someone who knew something either “for sure” or “in her heart.” No, wait a second. C.J.’s assistant is Carol. And there’s the one played by Martin Sheen’s daughter, who may or may not be Bonnie. No, wait, I think the black girl who is sometimes near Toby is Bonnie. She’s not there. Whatever, Mrs. Landingham comes in and asks what they’re doing. Gossiping. As girls do. 4. Mrs. Landingham chastises them and leaves, at which point Donna and Not-Carol continue arguing. Josh comes out of Leo’s office and says, “Well. Here’s a group of federal employees.” Yeah, Josh. You were a federal employee when you were telling Dan about how C.J. likes goldfish. Or the times you were talking about Sam and his call girl. 5.

Donna peals off and asks if she can talk to Josh and Sam. In Sam’s office, Donna brings up the vice president’s advance man, whose name, improbably enough, is Chad Magrudian. I do love Aaron Sorkin character names. Especially tertiary characters. Apparently old Chad used to work for them, and was in the habit of using his “advance” trips to go have a good time then, too. Anyway, Donna brings it up because they know who leaked the story.

C.J. is reading on her couch with a blanket on her feet. She finally turns on the light behind her when Toby comes in to talk about Chad Magrudian, who, I swear, they only talk about because they want to keep saying that name. When Toby asks how C.J. heard about it and C.J. reveals that Danny gave it to her, Toby says, “As long as it’s not the other way around,” and then quickly insists it was a joke. 5, Toby. And 2. For real, dude. Saying it was a joke doesn’t really make it less rude. Also Toby tells her about Zoey. Aw, it’s really tense in here. Probably because their FwB arrangement is on hold while C.J. works out her shit with Danny.

For real, though, I can’t think of another reason for this scene to be there. Definitely bolsters my theory. !

Josh, Sam, and Toby are on the couches in the Oval. Josh is telling Toby that the leaker is one Karen Larsen. She worked on the Veep’s campaign and later in his publicity office, then was moved when the Veep’s aides thought she was getting a crush on Hoynes. 2. Toby instructs Sam to have a talk with her when he gets back from the Hill.

Leo and the president pedeconference through that outdoor hallway on their way into the office. They’re talking about bananas. Mrs. Landingham mistakes their talk of trade and bananas for the president wanting to eat a banana and orders an assistant to go get the president a banana, over his protests. Because men, they talk about important things like trade agreements, whereas women, they just want to feed and fuss over you, all annoying and shit. 4. Also 5 for the president rudely saying to Mrs. Landingham, “I’m done talking to you now.” Although, full confession, that’s sometimes how I end phone calls with my husband. But that’s because he’s really bad at taking hints. Hints like, “Okay, well, I’ll see you when we get home,” and “I can’t talk right now,” and “Seriously, I need to hang up the phone this very moment.”

In the Oval, Leo and the president continue to talk bananas while the senior staff minus C.J. wait for them to be finished. The president wants to talk to Toby about appointments to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that are being held up. Toby’s got a meeting and he’s all set for it, thanks. He was raised on Sesame Street and Julia Child and Brideshead Revisited. C.J., who has come in, laughs at Toby for having watched cooking shows. 4, C.J. Come on now. You don’t have to be one of the boys. Then Toby defends himself by saying, “I watched Julia Child,” which is a lot like guys who scoff at chick flicks but make allowances for When Harry Met Sally.

C.J. is being asked about the Lydells. Leo and the president think the father might be ashamed that his son was gay, even though said son is dead, which flabbergasts C.J., which, no. No, it doesn’t. 9. Because first of all, it’s actually C.J.’s job – and Mandy’s – to be attuned to these nuances, and usually, she is. And second of all, Leo and the president’s supposition that a person who “sells dental supplies in the Twin Cities” could not possibly be enlightened I don’t think rang necessarily true even back in the Dark Ages when this aired. Or maybe I’m forgetting exactly how far we’ve come.

C.J. also wants to talk about the sex ed report but the president hasn’t looked at it yet. Toby and C.J. leave and the president asks Josh and Sam to talk to him in the hall. He wants them to act to preempt a hearing to save Leo from the mud-dragging. Nothing that is offered as a deal should be rejected without talking to the pres! TNFTS!

The president goes back in to the Oval to ask Leo why he’s meeting with a Simon Blye. The president rejects Leo’s assertion that Simon is a good friend and is offended that Leo is not exclusively seeking counsel from within the West Wing. He advises Leo not to be so trusting. Leo agrees and urges the president to read the sex ed report.

C.J. approaches Danny and asks if they’re off the record. After some banter about whether they’re on the record or not which is only a very little bit charming and only because Allison Janney and Timothy Busfield are really pretty good at this. C.J. asks Danny if he thinks it’s possible that a man could be embarrassed about his son’s gayness even after that son has been murdered. Another 9, then. Danny says that it is, in fact, possible. I think making C.J. so astounded by what seems to be common perception is shitty, but I also think that the common perception is a little bit old-fashioned, even for 2000. It’s not that I think that it’s impossible that a father in 2000 might feel that way; it’s that I don’t think it’s as easy and obvious an assumption as the president and Leo and Danny are making it sound.

Danny wants to know about Chad Magrudian, and C.J. promises him the story, and Danny says, “So you’re dumping it with Friday’s trash?” Further evidence that the idea that Donna wouldn’t know is a little absurd and insulting. C.J. points out that it is, in fact, trash. Then there’s a moment where it seems like they’re going to kiss, even though she said they’re not going to kiss anymore, and then she tells him to go and he points out that this is his office and wasn’t there recently a scene where Danny had to tell C.J. that the room they were in was her office, like, why does C.J. need this kind of shit pointed out to her? It’s because girls are dumb, that’s why. Especially when they’re in lurve. 2.

Leo and Sam are on the Hill with Bruno and two other guys. This is not a legal proceeding, Bruno assures them, even though people in Congress want a legal proceeding, so, in order to avoid a legal proceeding, why don’t Sam and Josh tell him what’s up?

Margaret ushers Simon Blye into Leo’s office and it’s a total HITG! After two seconds of pleasantries, Simon offers to talk about Leo’s problems, and then I realize we’re doing a flipping back and forth thing between Josh talking to Bruno and Leo talking to Simon and I love this kind of thing as an audience member, but as a recapper, Jedediah Horatio Christiansen, is it irritating.

So Sam and Josh start telling Bruno about how Lillienfield announced that one in three White House staffers was on drugs, so Toby asked them to investigate-but-not-investigate what was going on. Then Claypool – the evil-looking guy from the previouslys, I think – subpoenaed the records of this not-at-all-an-investigation. Bruno has those depositions and wants to talk about them.

Back with Simon and Leo, Simon believes they won’t succeed in holding off a hearing and it’s all going to be awful. Simon thinks Leo should resign. But Leo tells Simon that the president is TNFTS! Leo correctly guesses that Simon’s got an Op-Ed in the next day’s Post that will say Leo should resign, and not so much because he cares about his country, but more because he wants to up his Q rating. (Leo doesn’t say Q rating. I am saying it.) Then Leo dings Simon for lobbying for an oil company, which, I’m not sure what that has to do with the price of tea in China, and also, Leo, I don’t think he can feel the sting of that comment through the layers of Benjamins. Although he claims to be insulted. And Leo doesn’t care and kicks him out of his office. Almost literally. Then Leo mutters, “Oh, God,” as the lights go down.

Back with Leo and Sam, we learn that Bruno will hold off on a hearing if they keep the lid on this sex ed report until after the midterms. Josh gets on his TNFTS horse and Bruno takes him down a notch. He calls them teenagers and it’s adorable. “I’d like to hold hearings into the two of you being stupid. But I don’t have that kind of time.” I want him to be on my dream spin-off with that retiring Supreme Court justice.

Toby is arguing with some people about PBS. They think it’s subsidizing television for rich people. Toby thinks it’s not. C.J. is with him but Carol comes by to call her out because the Lydells are here. C.J. asks Carol to get Mandy out of the Oval. So Carol and C.J. talked about Mandy. Very clear Bechdel test passing. But, as I said, Bechdel tests are pass/fail. This episode has already passed. No further points will be awarded.

The president is talking to Mandy about the sex ed report while Mandy takes notes. Other than the president being adorably grandpa-ish (“I’m not going to say that word.”), I’m not sure what the point of this is. But Mrs. Landingham comes in to get Mandy out to see C.J. and the Lydells.

Mrs. Landingham asks the president if he’d like to share with her what’s in the report, and he declines, because he’d rather not be in therapy for the rest of his life. I’m pretty sure this attitude is sexist so 5 but also it’s terribly childish.

Mandy and C.J. come in to meet the Lydells, who are in some beautiful room. As predicted, Mr. Lydell says very little until C.J. very uncomfortably asks if he’s embarrassed by his son’s sexuality and do they support the president? Mr. Lydell says they do not, over his wife’s objections. It’s not the hate crimes bill; he doesn’t care one way or another. But he’s pretty damn insulted that he’s being asked if he’s embarrassed by his gay son, when this president is taking such a “weak-ass position on gay rights.” You go, Mr. Lydell. He wants to know where the president is on gays in the military, same-sex marriage, gay adoption, etc. And I listen to this list and feel really good about how far we’ve come. Gays in the military? Check. Same-sex marriage? It’s coming. In about a month, right? Less? I don’t know where we are on gay adoption but maybe it’s next.

C.J. and Mandy step out. C.J. wants to let them talk to reporters and say whatever they’re going to say. Mandy is like, no fucking way, remember what our actual job is here? C.J. goes in to tell them they have to go home.

Toby is still with the PBS people. One of them calls Fozzie Bear Fuzzy Bear and Toby is incensed. Toby says, “At at time when the public is rightly concerned about sex and violence on TV, this administration is going to protect The Muppets! We’re going to protect Wall Street Week, we’re going to protect Live from Lincoln Center, and by God, we’re going to protect Julia Child!” I agree with the sentiment and Toby continues to be adorable but I’m not really sure what we’re doing here.

C.J. knocks on the door and Toby gets up to go talk to her. He tells her that Josh and Sam cut a deal on the Hill and there isn’t going to be a hearing. She’s happy because she doesn’t know what the deal is yet. “I gotta get back in there; this is too much fun,” Toby says and I love him so hard.

Cathy! Cathy is Sam’s assistant’s name. Cathy has been called in to Sam’s office so he can bellyache about the town in Alabama that wants to have the Ten Commandments be the only laws. Cathy is not super-excited to play. She says, “She’s here.” The “she” is Karen Larsen, better known to me as Paris Gellar. You know, she also had an arc on “Scandal” and looked exactly like a young Elizabeth Shue. Anyway, Sam invites her in and then accuses her of being the leak on the advance man. Then he reveals that he doesn’t care about the advance man, he’s looking for the leak on Leo. Which Karen did. She starts to say, “Mr. Claypool is a family friend,” but Sam calls for Cathy and instructs Cathy to take Karen to her office and stand there while she empties her desk. “Security’s gonna throw you out of the building in fifteen minutes,” he jaw-clenches at her, and then leaves the office. I’m sure my panties are supposed to be melting from the self-righteous anger of Sam right now, but I just kind of see a White House senior staff member threatening a kid. Who did something really bad, true. But a kid, nonetheless.

The president comes to Mrs. Landingham’s desk. “You’re not going to believe this but I think I’d actually like a banana,” he says to her. “I’m afraid not, sir, no,” she returns. He was snippy before and now he will not be getting one. You go, Mrs. Landingham. -5. I particularly like where he starts to argue and she, in her very even voice, is like, “Yeah, no. C.J.’s waiting for you.” Like, I’m sticking to my guns, not angry, changing the subject. It’s the kind of parenting I try to do.

C.J. wants to ask about the sex ed report and the president says they’re going to stick it in the drawer because it’s incendiary and it’s not going to go down well at PTA meetings. I think I should join a PTA. Or something. Because honest to God, I want my kid to get a fact-based, useful education, on all subjects, including sex ed. (The question did sort of come up, btw, the where do babies come from question, and I’ll admit, I didn’t get into it. But what I said was, “That’s a pretty long story, and I’ll tell it to you if you want to, but I’m not sure you have the attention to listen to it right now. Do you want me to tell you?” And she said, “Maybe later” and went back to her television show.) Anyway, C.J. protests, and the president yells at her, and it’s finally revealed that it’s the deal Josh and Sam made. C.J. says she understands but she is clearly pissed. Actually, I would describe her as disappointed.

C.J. is now sitting in a darkened back stairwell when Danny finds her. She almost leaks the Lydells but Danny won’t take it. Not from her, because he wants to make out with her more. Which is why it’s a bad idea for a press secretary and a reporter to date, on both their ends, but whatevs. He promises that if there’s a story, he’ll find it, but she says they won’t, because they’ve gotten very good at this. How good? He knows about the Friday trash dump. He knows the Lydells were supposed to be at the bill signing and now they’re not. How hard does he have to try to call them up and ask why?

Margaret announces Karen Larsen to Leo. She comes in with her box of office stuff and a suspicious expression. He says he wanted to meet her and have her meet him and asks if she’d like to talk for a minute. She doesn’t seem to, particularly, but she does put her stuff down. He asks her what she thought when she read in his personnel file that he had been treated for a drug and alcohol addiction. She won’t answer at first, but he says, hey, I’ve already fired you, what do you have to lose? So she says her father drank a lot. So did Leo’s. It’s a nice moment because it’s easy for young people to forget that old people were once children themselves and have, like, fathers and stuff. Anyway, Leo goes on to say that his father died as the result of his drinking. Well, he committed suicide, but while he was very drunk. “Is that why you drank and took drugs?” she asks. No, he says, he drank and took drugs because he’s an addict. She asks how he got cured and he says it doesn’t work that way. She doesn’t really understand the nature of addiction and Leo says it’s okay; hardly anyone does. He asks again what went through her head when she saw his personnel file, and she says she thought about all the important decisions he has to make. He says that what she did caused a lot of problems, “but I’m not sure it wasn’t a little bit brave.” TNFTS! He gives her her job back. Sadly, dear readers, this does not mean we will see more of Liza Weil in this show.

We watch from overhead Leo watching C.J. on his TV throwing out stuff with the trash.

I am 100% in favor of watching Toby yell at straw men about Julia Child, but this episode felt a bit flabby and unfocused. A bit like they were taking the trash out of the writing room.

Total Misogyny Points: 13

While the total count is low, I feel C.J. making fun of Toby for watching Julia Child is a sort of classic in the “This is what liberal misogyny looks like” field.

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Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin – “The West Wing,” Episode 1.12, “He Shall, From Time to Time…”

Okay, people. I’m having a super-shitty night. I’m chasing it with some bourbon & Dr. Brown’s cream soda and I’m going to take my anger out on Aaron Sorkin’s characters. I think it’ll make me feel better.

As always, 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 (or other emotions/behaviors) 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.
  11. Lip service is paid to female power or agency or simply the existence of females in this world without, oh, say, actually casting one or giving one something cool to do.
  12. A male character or characters act(s) as white knight to a female character or characters.
  13. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! – A display of homophobia

Previously on “The West Wing”: Josh is ready to go to bat for Leo; C.J. for some reason felt romantic attachment to a guy who was being pretty shitty and oblivious to her (or, “Any Aaron Sorkin script ever”); Sam and Leo’s daughter Mallory had a similar obnoxious-off as related to dating (or, “Any other Aaron Sorkin script ever”); and we should all be very grateful that a rude, drunken British lord is on hand because brown people have weapons and that’s a disaster.

A chyron tells us it’s Monday night. The president is orating grandly to a room of senior staffers and presumably non-senior staffers. It becomes clear pretty quickly (in case the title wasn’t enough of a clue) that he’s practicing the State of the Union, which, it seems, is pretty good. The state of the union, I mean, not the speech. Although I’m sure the speech is fine. The president gets hung up on a fairly minor mistake that Toby points out, but he’s uncharacteristically non-combatative about it. Jed is actually looking kind of shitty and then he coughs a few times and the staffers look worried.

Josh and C.J. are watching him on a screen in another room – presumably to see how the speech looks on TV – and they agree that he looks kind of shitty. Josh wonders if the president’s glands are swollen. “Damn,” says C.J.

“What?” says Josh.

“You know what I forgot to do today?” C.J. answers.

“What?”

“I forgot to feel the president’s glands,” C.J. answers, with A+ perfect deadpan delivery. I love you, Allison Janney. I want to drink bourbon with you.

Then Josh asks if her sarcasm makes it difficult for her to keep a man. A giant 2 and I think a 5, too, even though it’s still not clear to me that C.J. is Josh’s underling. I mean, she has to be, right? She’s Toby’s underling and Josh and Toby are at the same level. Right?

Anyway, they’re both concerned that the State of the Union is 44 hours away and the president doesn’t look so hot.

Isn’t the State of the Union usually on a Tuesday night? How is it Monday night and 44 hours away?

Back in the room with the president, who is back to his old self and being snotty about a couple of typos. Leo calls a break. Josh and C.J. approach and ask how the president feels. He wonders why everyone is bothering him about this and he’s fine and taking the pills that his wife gives him. Well, not so much taking them as carrying them around, which C.J. points out is less effective. I gotta be honest; I’m with the president here. Do you know how many times I’ve assumed that wondering really hard where my Advil bottle was located would in fact fix my headache?

The president continues to correct what I think is a typo but it turns out it’s, like, a policy thing – moderation has spoken, and we’re only supporting the American Dream for those “who work for it”. This being back in the ’90s when getting a job was possible! Not that Republican rhetoric has moved anywhere on these issues.

Josh also announces that the era of big government is over. When did this happen, Toby wants to know. Josh tells him it was this morning; they had a meeting. Okay, fine, Josh. Hah. I still hate you, but hah.

Toby wants to know why they’re offending poor people and Josh offends them some more by saying that poor people don’t watch “The West Wing.” I mean the State of the Union! They don’t watch the State of the Union! Silly me.

Toby says, “Alright, but when you get visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, don’t come running to me.”

“Damn, Toby, because you were exactly who I was going to come running to.” You guys. You’re killing me. I’m trying to stay in my pissy mood and you’re making it really hard.

Toby also feels the president doesn’t look so hot. Everyone is nudging him. This is a lot like going to one of my family’s gatherings when I’ve got a bit of a head cold. Truth: As much as it used to annoy me, I would now give almost anything to hear my grandmother say to me, “Ooh, ooh, ooh, I don’t like the sound of that cough!” Though her husband and sons are filling in for her on that front.

Great. Now I’m getting maudlin. Moving on.

The president agrees to take his pills, with water from a pitcher given to him by some Christian association because he’s so not Scrooge, Toby, and goes into his office.

When he turns, Sam points out that they haven’t technically be invited to give the State of the Union, and that it’s protocol that they be invited by the Speaker of the House. Sam agrees to take care of it and they’re all giggling over the typos until they hear a loud crash from the Oval and rush in to find the president lying on the rug, passed out, with the broken pitcher of water next to him.

Very inspirational music! Damn, bourbon does make me kind of weepy. This is not working out really well for me.

In the Oval, a uniformed doctor is telling the senior staff the president has the flu but wants to take the president to the hospital anyway for some tests. The president doesn’t want to go and anyway, he has to go to the Sit Room.

Fitzwallace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is exchanging some military info I don’t understand with other uniformed dudes. He doesn’t have the jacket of his uniform on, which I think in military culture is like being in yoga pants and a stained sweatshirt in the regular world. The president comes in and asks whether the Celtics won that night, because showing yourself to be cavalier in the face of the world going to hell in a hand basket is adorable and charming.

I cannot tell what is going on but as far as I can tell, the ceasefire is not going well. Fitz has a plan that I’m sure is a very good one and the president is going to bed. But not before he learns that the Celtics lost in over time.

Mandy and Danny are in C.J.’s office, flirting. C.J. comes in and she’s not amused. She sends Danny off. Mandy thinks it wouldn’t kill C.J. to be friendly to Danny and C.J. says it doesn’t seem to be killing Mandy. Rowr! Oh, you girls with your jealousy. C.J. claims to be kidding but I’m still giving this an 8. 

Mandy informs C.J. that the Leo thing – that he was once addicted to pills – is going to break tomorrow. Does this pass the Bechdel test? They’re talking about Leo. But to them, that’s work, not “a man.” But Leo is a man. And it’s kind of more about his personal shit and less about his professional shit. But it does affect both of them professionally. But the point is, their work lives revolve around men, right? Like, Leo can (and does) have any number of conversations with Josh or the president in which a woman’s name never comes up at all, whether in a professional or a romantic or familial capacity. Right. So no -10 here.

Margaret is asking Leo about the whole being-invited-to-give-the-State-of-the-Union thing and he’s being characteristically rude to her. 5. Then he tells Margaret to remind Josh about “picking a guy” and Margaret is uncomfortable about not knowing what that means and Leo is rude to her again. 5. He shoos Margaret out and the C.J. comes in. C.J. asks about the president and then says, “Leo,” and he concludes that the story is going to break. They say a few things to each other that basically indicate that they don’t need full sentences to understand each other, which was nice.

The president is in bed being treated by his military doctor. He’s on the phone about the speech and then Charlie is fussing over him. The president says, “This isn’t the worst of it. The worst of it is coming up the stairs right now.” He’s of course referring to his wife, because wives, they are the fucking worst, aren’t they? 4. The first lady takes the president’s charts from the military doctor and asks a bunch of questions and orders some treatments. The president looks utterly entranced by his take-charge wife. The first lady asks to be left alone with her husband and her husband flirts with her. Abby is worried and fussing, albeit in a has-an-actual-medical-degree way. She asks if it was like the time in Nantucket, in a way that makes us think the time in Nantucket is more significant than just the flu. I mean, I already know it’s more significant because I’ve seen this show before, but there’s definitely musical foreshadowing notes and, like, acting cues, so I’m not just reading what I already know into the scene. The president, after telling his wife about all the things that are happening and insisting that he could jump her right now, finally drops off to sleep, whereupon the first lady sinks into the chair that’s been placed next to her bed and looks sad and worried. It’s a nice scene of married people being realistic and loving to each other. But my practical mind is on her uncomfortable stilettos and her uncomfortable suit and that uncomfortable chair. The president is asleep now, Dr. Bartlett. Go get on your pjs and worry about him from the comfort of your bed.

A chyron informs me it’s now Tuesday morning. Josh is on the phone about the non-invitation-thing, which I thought Sam was taking care of. Donna comes in to tell Josh that Margaret asked Donna to remind Josh about needing to pick a guy. Donna is similarly annoyed that she doesn’t know what that means. Josh actually deigns to answer her. He says he needs to pick someone in the line of succession to not be in the building when the president delivers the State of the Union. Donna asks why. 9. Even Josh is shocked by this level of Exposition Fairy-ing and just says, “Donna.” Donna catches up and says, “In case someone blows up the building?” which is, yes, of course the reason. Donna wants to know who he’s going to pick. Josh asks who she thinks he should pick and she suggests herself. Josh asks where she thinks she falls in the line of succession and she says, “If someone blows up the Capitol Building during the State of the Union, I imagine I’d move up a few slots.” Line of the night. Also, for once, the interaction between Josh and Donna is coming off as genuinely friendly banter rather than Josh being rude and Donna being whiny, so A+ to both of them here.

Anyway, it’s not going to be Donna, it’s going to be Roger Tribby, the Secretary of Agriculture. Then Josh reminds Donna to be nice to Margaret and Leo since today is going to suck for them and Donna agrees and this conversation continues to be fine with me. Huh. Weird.

Josh goes in to Leo’s office, where he’s practicing his mea culpa with C.J. and Sam. They give him some practice questions and are surprised to hear that Leo still attends A.A. meetings. It’s going pretty well until Leo gets pissy and says he’ll be fine. Then Sam tells Leo that Sam wrote a draft of the president’s statement of support, which pisses Leo off because Sorkin Men are Too Noble For This Shit. Also Sam is Too Noble For This Shit. Leo sends them back to work with an order not to defend him.

Okay, now Abby is in bed with her husband although she’s still in uncomfortable clothing. She’s checking on him and he’s insulting her medical knowledge although it is really just cute marital banter so I’m letting it go. He wants to go back to the office and she says he can, knowing full well that he can’t even get out of bed successfully. He discovers this himself and lies back down while Abby smirks. Kindly.

We’ve got an overhead shot of Leo in a vestibule, which is interesting. Then Carol comes to call him in to the press conference. Leo makes his mea culpa statement and tells the press corps what we already know about his stint in rehab and his addiction issues. We fade away to a shot of the White House.

Donna and Josh are pedeconferencing about why the Secretary of Agriculture? Josh says because the other Secretaries (or some other Secretaries) are famous enough that they want the camera to find them. Donna is concerned. Josh is not, because if the Capitol Building blows up, he’ll be dead, too, and he won’t have to have Roger Tribby, Secretary of Agriculture, as his president. Their bickering is getting a little closer to their usual rudeness but not quite there.

Donna peels off and Josh finds Sam. They agree that Leo did well at the press conference and then Josh says he thought Sam’s statement for the president is great and it’s too bad no one’s going to read it. Sam says the president is, in fact, reading it right now. Josh observes that Leo is going to kill them and Sam does not care. And neither does Josh. Because they are TNFTS. That’s going on the list, not with the misogyny things, but with the exclamation point for C.J. and Toby. TNFTS!

We move into a meeting room with portraits of who I think are both Roosevelts. So I don’t think this is the Roosevelt Room but it seems to be Roosevelt Room of some kind. In the room are Toby and some people who are some sort of Democratic caucus but maybe moderate? Because they don’t like big government? Toby, as usual, looks like he’s playing Anywhere But Here in his head. There are two men and a woman as part of this group, by the way, and the woman just keeps smirking at Toby but not saying anything. 11. Toby wants very much to be done with these people and move on to the next group of people who want to complain at him, so he says, “Just pick a section.” They pick the NEA, which Toby informs the audience is the National Endowment for the Arts. He does not look pleased, but he does look resigned.

Leo’s working in a dark room with a TV behind him (a ginormous TV – ah, the year 2000). The TV is showing his press conference. Uncomfortable! Margaret comes in to announce Mallory. Mallory is very concerned and they share a moment. Then Mallory mentions that she’s seen the president’s statement of support, that it’s floating around the press room, and that it’s very moving. Leo is pissed. He leaves his supportive daughter to go yell at his supportive surrogate sons.

Sam and Josh are whining about Toby going to bat over the NEA when Leo comes in to yell at them. Josh is trying to be conciliatory but Sam is not. Because TNFTS!

Then an assistant – Bonnie? – tells Leo that the first lady is in his office.

Abby is indeed in Leo’s office bothering Mallory about her “itch” for Sam. Ew, that is a bad fucking choice of words, Sorkin. Leo comes in, Mallory leaves, and Abby talks to Leo about postponing the State of the Union. Leo asks what he should know that he doesn’t know. Leo points out that grown men don’t need their wives to cancel trips because of a fever, nor are doctor wives supposed to prescribe drugs or give shots to their husbands, as Abby is doing. Abby finally reveals that the president has MS, and tells Leo with tears in her eyes that a fever could be life-threatening. I forgot that this was revealed this early in the series; I thought we had a few episodes yet.

A soap opera is playing on a TV. The president asks Charlie if any of these characters have jobs. Charlie answers the phone and tells the president Leo’s outside. The president asks Charlie to step out, and Leo steps in. The president knows Leo knows and starts telling Leo about his MS stuff. Leo is pretty pissed about being kept in the dark about this, even going so far as calling Jed “Jed” and not “Mr. President.” See, Leo is upset that he couldn’t be there to support the president the way the president had been there to support him when he was going through his addiction stuff. The way Josh and Sam want to be there for Leo now. See how that all works? Character development, it’s a beautiful thing!

Toby is still talking about the NEA with the two men and the silent lady. One of the men becomes the idiot straw man who confuses Hart with Hammerstein and Arthur Miller with Arthur Murray, the former of which did in fact need the NEA – which was then the WPA – to write Death of a Salesman. He trails off and still they can’t even give that woman the line, “Toby?” What are they, depriving her of her SAG card? Toby announces that the meeting is over; apparently, he has a Plan.

Lord John Marbury is recommending Exotic Remedies from his Imperialist Travels in Asia to the president while pouring tea. Most of these Exotic Remedies are to be taken with a strong shot of whiskey. Hey, that’s my cold remedy of choice, too! Actually, my very favorite is a combination of what he recommends – my Aveda tea (which has licorice root, from his first remedy) or a ginger tea (ginger is his second remedy) with lemon, honey, and a strong shot of whiskey. Lord John Marbury, getting down to business, thinks you should just buy them off. Then he goes on about some bullshit colonialist imperialist shit that Britain used to do to keep those pesky brown people in line. I mean, for real. The president complains that the Indian ambassador paints him with the same imperialist colonialist brush as their mutual former colonial overlords, the British, and then takes advice from this Kipling parody of a British lord. I don’t even know what the fuck because I don’t know enough about these issues to speak intelligently about them but I do know enough to say BLERGH!

Anyway, Leo thinks Lord Marbury is a dumbass and Lord Marbury condescends to him and I think we’re supposed to be a little on Lord Marbury’s side here, but you know what? Getting a Cambridge education when you’ve got a British title impresses me about as much as the fact that George W. Bush graduated from Yale. And for the same reasons. Basically, he thinks we should pay for an infrastructure that would allow India a computer industry. Leo stupidly asks why they should pay to avoid war halfway around the world, which I have to give a -9, because come the fuck on, Leo knows this. They were all wringing their hands last episode about how nuclear war would affect everyone. But Leo is not a girl, so that’s why it gets the negative number. Lord John Marbury’s answer is that it’s the price you pay for being rich, free, and alive at the same time, and also for allowing the proliferation of nuclear devices to go on. Yeah, when Britain had an empire, they ran it right, damn it. I hate this dude and this plotline SO HARD.

Charlie ushers Lord John Marbury and Leo out and lets Toby in. The president describes an episode of Jerry Springer in as snotty a way as possible – because poor people are gross! – and then Josh comes in, apparently at Toby’s request. Toby wants to talk about the era of big government being not at all over, that they should be celebrating big government instead. Have I mentioned lately that Toby is my boyfriend?

A chyron brings us to Wednesday night. Josh, Sam and C.J. are in some room where drinks are being served and Josh is sing-songing, “You’re jealous ’cause Danny was flirting with Mandy!” The fuck? 2. C.J. is denying it and Sam takes this opportunity to complain about how unclear Mallory is being about her feelings for him. Because this is TV, at that moment Mallory walks up and asks Sam if he wrote the statement defending her father. He says yes and she gives him a big kiss. Right on the lips! Because if you do something good, women will offer you sexual favors! That’s how life works! 2. Then she leans in for a much sexier kiss and damn, I think Rob Lowe is a pretty good kisser. I mean, from how it looks on TV. C.J. peels away from this conversation to ask Carol to bring Danny to her office. I’m giving that a 2, too.

Abby and Jed are in the residence. Abby wants to take Jed’s temperature one more time and, as she fixes his cufflinks, he offers to let her take it recreationally. I’m pretty sure the president just suggested his wife peg him. Hey, you two get on with your bad selves; you won’t hear a word of judgement from me.

Oh, my God, Gail’s got her own little press secretary podium. (Gail is the goldfish Danny got for C.J.) That’s freaking adorable. Danny is playing with Gail’s little American flags when C.J. knocks. On her own office door. That is weird and deserves a number and I’m not sure which one so I’m going with 1. Danny is confused, too. C.J. calls her attraction to Danny “girlish” 4 and Danny tries to rush her along which is crazy rude and I guess I’ll give it a because even though C.J. is certainly not Danny’s underling, they kind of set up that vibe with her knocking on her own office door and waiting for Danny to give her permission to come in. Then C.J. informs Danny that she’s decided to kiss him to get him out of her system. I am an aspiring romance professional and avid TV watcher, so I know that’s a little bit of dramatic irony right there. They kiss, and it’s awkward because he’s a lot shorter than her and not a very good kisser, but she tries to sell it. Then she gets all flustered afterwards, still holding her fish bowl and then knocking into a door, and he’s condescending about it, so a 1 and a 5 and a general, “Hey, Aaron, most women don’t actually like it when guys are dickheads to them.”

Lord John Marbury and Abby are talking about cold remedies that involve shots of whiskey, and then the president and Leo present him with photos showing that his plans worked and Lord John Marbury actually remembers Leo’s name and then says he’s off. Bye, Lord John Marbury. Don’t let the White House door hit you on the ass on the way out.

The president and Abby walk into a room with a  bunch of staffers, where the president expresses gratitude for their hard work on his speech. “I say thee yea, Toby Ziegler, and I say thee yea, Sam Seaborn!” I love it when he goes all old-fashioned like that. Everyone claps. Charlie tells the president the motorcade is ready and the president goes to greet Roger Tribby, who is in the Oval. OMFG, it’s the Mayor! I mean, listen, I already knew it was the Mayor, because I’ve seen this episode 197 times, but the first time I saw it, I went, “OMFG, it’s the Mayor!”, and I wanted to recreate that experience for you. You’re welcome.

He has brought the president a copy of the Constitution in Latin, which is the perfect present for President Bartlett. IIRC, The Mayor was also pretty good at picking out presents for Faith. The president, at The Mayor’s request, translates the passage about the State of the Union, and they shake hands manfully. The president instructs Roger Tribby on what to do in the case of an actual emergency, and we see that Leo can hear him from the other room. After a bunch of stuff about national security, the president asks if Roger Tribby has a best friend, who is smarter than him, and with whom Roger would trust his life. To all of these, Roger answers, “Yes, sir.” The president says, “That’s your chief of staff,” and from the other room, Leo has feels. Then the president goes into toilets that need handle-jiggling and Charlie pulls him out. Inspirational music swells and Roger Tribby looks around the Oval Office, clearly feeling the power of those strings. (I don’t even know if what I think is strings is, in fact, strings. Musical theory is not my strong suit.)

Despite my bad mood and my harshness, the misogyny in this episode was pretty light, wasn’t it? At least, I didn’t feel the need to do mid-episode tallies.

Total Misogyny Points: 15

Yup, pretty low! Good job, show!