Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing,” Episode 1.14, “Take This Sabbath Day”

Boy, it’s been a while. And now I have other shows I want to do, in other formats. So I’d better get my ass in gear.

As a reminder, 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 (or, sometimes, maternal qualities) 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.

Ugh, I forgot. I kind of hate this one. I actually like the rhythm of it, if that makes any sense. Although if you’re an Aaron Sorkin fan, you probably do. I just find it somewhat boring and pedantic and also, there’s going to be a limited amount of stuff about girls.

Oh, way, no, this is the episode in which Joey Lucas is introduced. There will be a little.

Also, I have the strong feeling I’ve done this recap before, at least in part. But I can find no evidence on WordPress that this is true.

Okay, so, previously on “The West Wing,” nothing at all happened that will be relevant in this episode.

It’s Friday evening at the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s apparently time for retrenchment at the U.S. Supreme Court, because damn, it is dark. We saving on electricity here? The Supreme Court is announcing that they will not be staying the execution of somebody. That somebody’s three lawyers – the tallest one in particular – look very disappointed. Or at least they would, if I could see their faces.

Those three lawyers pedeconference outside the Supreme Court. The short, Jewish-looking one and the the bald black one argue about who they know at the White House, that they can call at 8:00 on a Friday night. The bald, black one surmises that they’ll only be able to get ahold of the switchboard operator. But the tall one in the middle, who’s a total Hey, It’s That Guy!, used to beat up Sam Seaborn in high school.

At the White House, Josh is excited to leave and get to his friend’s bachelor party. Donna reminds him that he has to see Sam before leaving. As they pedeconference over to the Sam part of the building, Donna reminds Josh that his system is too delicate for a lot of drinking, and Josh informs Donna that while men do still like naked women, they no longer enjoy looking at them in a room full of their best friends. This whole exchange is very Donna-as-Josh’s-mother-and-girlfriend, so I’m giving it a but it’s also very cute.

Bonnie (ah, Bonnie is the black assistant whose face I can rarely see!) reminds Sam that he wanted to see Josh about O’Dwyer. As Sam and Bonnie get ready to go, Sam explains that he made an appointment with O’Dwyer’s campaign manager, Joey Lucas, for the next day. But Josh will have to take it because Sam will be sailing. Josh is not pleased, and neither is Donna when Josh tells her if he has to be there, so does she. She was planning on going shopping. He mollifies her by offering to buy her shoes afterward, which, yes, 4, but also, mildly cute.

MPTF: 2

Sam tells Bonnie he’s seriously leaving, as she cheers him on, clearly trying to get out of there as well. No pager, he says. No cell phone. Well, maybe pager. Maybe cell phone. But he’s leaving. Now! Except, as we knew, his phone rings. And he stays to answer it.

After the credits, Sam is meeting somewhere outside with Bobby, the tall lawyer who used to beat him up. Bobby is being pretty belligerent now in insisting that Sam force the president to pardon his client. But this is an Aaron Sorkin show, so belligerence is an effective persuasion tactic. Sam says he’ll try, and even reveals when the president lands the next morning and where Toby Ziegler goes to shul on Saturday mornings. FFS, Sam.

Sam heads back to the White House to get his stuff and tells Leo what’s going on. Leo is not happy and says they thought the court was going to send it back to the 7th circuit. Sam says he’ll brief Toby before he goes. When Leo asks why they don’t just execute him tonight, why the execution is scheduled for Monday at 12:01 am, Sam tells him it’s because we don’t execute people on the Sabbath. The Jewish or the Christian one.

Isn’t the Muslim Sabbath Friday? Shouldn’t we be trying to improve the perception in our society of Islam so that we can parlay that into all Sabbaths being non-work days? Let’s get on this, people.

Sam goes to sign out of the building, and then, completely predictably, comes back to his office. And then he doesn’t take off his coat and he only turns on his little desk light and starts to read this enormous law book. Did Aaron Sorkin use up NBC’s electricity budget? Why are there no lights on in this episode?

It’s Saturday at 9:00 am. Donna is in the office. She finds a very smelly Josh asleep on his office floor. There is a red fringe-y thing around his neck. Donna starts pestering him. Yes, Josh came there after the party, which just ended a couple of hours ago. He couldn’t go home because he couldn’t find his house keys. Or his house. He is both hungover and still drunk. Donna is super-pissed. And disgusted. I have to give this a 4. It’s all very “Oh, my God, why is this stupid girl bothering me about stupid girl things?”

Donna says she’s going to find him clothes and then says, “Are you going to listen to me from now on?”

“I’m not even listening to you right now,” Josh replies. 5.

“I SAID ARE YOU GOING TO LISTEN TO ME FROM NOW ON?!” Donna knows he’s hungover. So good for her. -5.

The president has landed and Leo is greeting him. C.J. is demonstrating how little she fears for her job by complaining loudly and bitterly about the president’s conversation on the flight. -5. Charlie is very tired. Leo gives the president a very brief version of the 411.

Donna has brought Josh Sam’s foul-weather gear so that Josh won’t be naked while Donna goes to have his suit dry-cleaned. Why doesn’t Josh have extra clothes at the office? He pulls overnighters all the time. Josh fears he’s going to look like the Gordon’s fisherman.

Toby is in shul. The rabbi has just started his sermon when Toby’s pager goes off. Toby goes outside and calls back Sam, who asks if the rabbi is giving a sermon about capital punishment. He is. Vengeance is not Jewish, the rabbi is saying, in a very Jew-y accent. Sam says the appeal was denied and promises to explain when Toby gets to work.

“Are you the unmitigated jackass who’s choking off funding for the O’Dwyer campaign?” someone busts into Josh’s office, yelling. Look, you start off a question with, “Are you the unmitigated jackass” and the answer is “Yes. Yes, it’s Josh. For sure.” It’s actually two people yelling, Marlee Matlin in sign language and her translator. Josh is very much not catching what’s going on. And he’s in an undershirt and suspendered yellow plastic pants.

There must be something made about how Joey is a woman, not a man, and also, how silly Josh looks. Joey is not impressed with how hungover/still drunk Josh is. Donna comes in with Josh’s clothes. They exit so Josh can change, and Donna observes that Joey Lucas is a deaf woman, and also, that Sam needs to see Josh. Josh wants to know why Sam is there, and Donna says all she knows to say is, “The appeal was denied.” Josh is saddened.

Toby is clarifying with Sam that Toby’s rabbi spoke to Lawyer Bobby. Mandy is there to ask Exposition Fairy questions, but a) it’s believable that she might not know, as she’s a public relations person, not a policy wonk, and she’s not asking obvious questions, and b) it is a legitimate part of her job right now to be asking these questions. So no points for that.

Everyone splits to do their jobs, and Josh says he’s meeting with Joey Lucas. Sam asks what “he’s” like, and Josh responds, “Well, for a campaign manager, he’s got very nice legs.” Is there a more asshole way to have answered that question? 2. But I wish I could give it many 2s.

MPTF: 3

When Josh leaves, Toby continues wondering how Lawyer Bobby knew he went to shul. Then Toby doesn’t fire Sam when Sam reveals that Sam told Lawyer Bobby.

Leo gives the president some info about the case. The president is not looking forward to dealing with this. When Leo leaves the room, the president asks Charlie if he would want to see the guy who killed Charlie’s mother executed. Charlie says he’d want to kill the guy himself.

Which, in my opinion, is the reason we shouldn’t have the death penalty. But that’s neither here nor there.

Joey Lucas is arguing about how the DNC could cut off funding just as O’Dwyer is doing so well. Josh informs her that it’s precisely because O’Dwyer’s doing well. The person he’s campaigning against is such a right-wing nut job that every one of his soundbites is worth $1 million in the DNC’s coffers. Joey wants to see the president. Josh calls her a “lunatic lady” 8 and says that there’s no way she’s going to see the president. Of course the president walks up behind him at that moment. The president invites them all on a pedeconference. Joey gloats.

C.J. asks Carol for biographical information on Simon Cruz, the guy about to be executed. First, she’s going to need to know how to spell his last name.

The president determines that Joey Lucas is a Dutch Quaker from Pennsylvania. As they settle into the Oval Office, the president asks Joey what she thinks he should do about Simon Cruz. Joey thinks the death penalty is wrong. The president says it’s supported by 71% of Americans. Joey says that’s a political problem. The president says he’s a politician.

Josh goes to usher Joey and her translator Kenny out of the office, but Joey is a focused woman. She asks the president about O’Dwyer. The president says O’Dwyer is an “empty shirt” who’s running for Congress “because it’s a great gig.” Meanwhile, “the devil you know” is better. Then he dismisses her, because he’s done with her. 5.

MPTF: 5

Kenny politely says goodbye to Josh. Joey makes rude hand gestures. I like her.

Toby is back at shul, where a woman is practicing a song for a funeral service. The rabbi is sitting in otherwise empty pews. I think it’s Sunday morning now. The rabbi gets the episode title when he tells Toby he was hoping he’d “take this Sabbath day” to consider the death penalty. Toby points out that while vengeance might not be Jewish, neither is the president. He’s Catholic, though, and Catholics are also anti-death penalty. But of course, the president can’t make these decisions based on religion. They argue about the Torah for a little while. Then Toby says he thinks that the woman practicing the song was put there for his benefit, and the rabbi acknowledges that she was. Boy, that’s a great plan right there, isn’t it? What if Toby hadn’t shown up until, oh, four o’clock in the afternoon? Was that woman just supposed to sing sadly all day?

C.J. is staring into space when Mandy comes in and asks if she has everything. C.J. claims to have no position on capital punishment, but that she wishes she didn’t know his mother’s name when she is the one who has to tell the president when he’s dead.

I think this passes the Bechdel test, btw. -10.

Although I don’t know what to do with the fact that the two senior staffer women are the two senior staffers who don’t necessarily think the death penalty is wrong. I think I might give this an 8.

MPTF: 5

Toby goes in to the fairly dark Oval to talk to the president. Toby tells the president about his conversation with his rabbi. He tells the president that while the Torah doesn’t prohibit capital punishment, the rabbis of the Talmud made it damn near impossible to use. Toby thinks that we should do the same. Then Leo comes in and Toby goes with a sheepish look that makes me fall even deeper in love with him.

The president says he can’t commute the sentence just because he doesn’t like the death penalty; it’ll leave the next guy with huge 8th amendment (no cruel and unusual punishments) problems. Leo thinks he can let that be the next guy’s problem. An assistant comes in to announce that Sam is waiting. The president asks for a minute and then shakes his head at Leo.

Leo, perfectly comprehending, goes out and walks Sam away. Sam is righteously indignant but Leo doesn’t care. He says this was all bungled from the beginning, and that, had he known that the court wouldn’t send it back to the 7th circuit, he’d have kept the president out of the country until Monday so that they wouldn’t have to handle this. Sam is very disappointed by that. “There are times, Leo, when we are absolutely nowhere.”

Josh is at a hotel bar where someone’s playing piano. Joey and Kenny walk in. Joey’s not pleased to be meeting him. She says her flight’s in one hour. Ah, the pre-9/11 days, when you could set up a meeting an hour before your flight. Josh is apologizing on behalf of the president, although not particularly well, which is not surprising for the president or for Josh.

Of course, this being a Sorkin teleplay, Joey does not mind the bad apology and concedes that her candidate is indeed a schmuck. Josh says the president thinks that Joey should run for something herself. Joey is touched.

It’s Sunday at 11:57 pm. The president’s hometown priest, played by Karl Malden, whom I know best from his role in the movie Gypsy, comes to talk to the president. He asks about the red phone and sort of gushes about how amazing it is that this kid from his parish can just call the pope. The president is not at all charmed by Karl Malden, though I kind of am.

Jed really wants Karl Malden to know that he tried to find a way to commute Simon Cruz’s sentence. But even though he prayed about it, no wisdom came to him, and he’s pissed off about that. Karl Malden tells the classic tale of the guy in the flood who refuses to evacuate his home, because God will save him. The flood waters are rising, and he refuses to get on a rowboat, because God will save him. The flood waters are rising, and he refuses to get on a helicopter, because God will save him. He drowns. When he gets to heaven, God says, “What are you doing here? I sent you a warning to evacuate, a rowboat, and a helicopter!” Karl Malden tells the president that God sent him a priest, a rabbi, and a Quaker; he can’t complain that God gave him no wisdom.

C.J. comes in to tell the president that Simon Cruz is dead and we hear the woman from synagogue singing on the soundtrack. You gotta give it to us Jews, we do mourning music really well. So what does Jed want from Karl Malden? Just that Karl hear his confession.

The end.

TMP: 5 A very low misogyny count this week, although that’s mainly because this episode was about a BIG ISSUE, and women don’t have any business getting involved in BIG ISSUES.

And also because some of the women got their own back a little.

 

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