MISOGYNY & AARON SORKIN, “THE WEST WING,” EPISODE 1.16, “20 Hours in L.A.”

Let’s do some more!

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.

Let’s get right to it. Previously, on “The West Wing,” Zoey Bartlet asked out Charlie Young, which kind of made her father nuts; Joey Lucas called Josh an unmitigated jackass, earning her a place in my heart forever; the veep and POTUS have some beef; Jed Bartlet is upping his daughter’s protection.

It’s 2:38 am and Jed and Leo are in a car. Jed is telling Leo that he, Jed, didn’t mean to put him, some other dude, in this position. But apparently every “him” knew the vote on the ethanol tax credit was going to be tight, and it is, in fact, 50/50. Leo wants to be done with this conversation, as it’s 3:00 am, but Jed wants to focus on how, despite the irony, he is not to blame for this. For those of you not catching up yet, when the Senate is tied, the vice president makes the deciding vote. So the “him” who can’t blame Jed is the vice president, and we can assume that whatever the vice president’s stand on ethanol (gas made out of corn) is, it’s going to put him in a tough position regarding this vote.

We also learn that Jed will meet Zoe’s new Secret Service agent on the plane. Where they are presumably going. Leo is trying to encourage the president to just sleep at the hotel that night instead of coming home right after the fundraiser. It seems the president and company (but not Leo) are going to L.A. for a fun-filled day of meetings and a party. Yeah, Mr. President, just stay the night. Go to sleep.

This may be why I’m not the leader of the free world.

The motorcade arrives at the plane. Leo says goodbye to Leo and hello, jubilantly, to C.J. and Charlie. C.J. tells him the press is not in a particularly good mood, given that it’s 3:00 am. The president insists it’s going to be great. “We’re going to race the sun to the Pacific horizon!” C.J. does not seem to feel this will help.

On the plane already are Sam, Josh, and Toby. The president tells Sam it’s going to be 50/50 on the ethanol tax credit. Sam offers to make phone calls but the president surmises that it won’t help. Isn’t this Josh’s job? Why is this information being directed toward Sam?

Toby and Josh want to talk to the president about the Al Kiefer meeting. The president thinks that they’re unnecessarily worried about the Al Kiefer meeting. Then he asks if they want to see the best part of having his job. He picks up a phone and says, “Colonel, this is the president. I’m ready to go.” And the plane starts up. That is a pretty good part of having that job.

Credits.

On the plane, Donna and C.J. are discussing sun protection skin care. I guess this has to count as passing the Bechdel test -10 but God. This is why simply passing the Bechdel test does not make a story feminist. Toby makes fun of them, naturally, so I can give it a 4. Also, Donna says, for the first of many times this episode, “I have sensitive alabaster skin,” and I’m going to go ahead and give that a 4, too, because it sounds ridiculous and it’s meant to sound ridiculous.

Josh is concerned that a representative named Cameron is going to introduce a bill banning gays from the military. Oh, look, it’s a plot point on which the actual United States has progressed since this show aired! I love it when that happens. (It will only happen on the issue of gay rights, if I recall correctly.) C.J. thinks they don’t have to care, because it’s Cameron. Josh thinks a man named Ted Marcus might care. Sam thinks that Ted won’t know. Toby thinks they can pretend they don’t know.

Charlie comes in to warn C.J. that the president is headed for the cockpit. C.J. goes to head him off.

Charlie has a seat next to Zoe in a very cushy-looking room. He apologizes that he won’t be as attentive as she might like during this trip. Because girls are dumb and can’t tell the difference between “working” and “not working.” 8. Zoey insists that it’s okay. Charlie says he can’t tell the difference between when it’s okay and when it’s not okay. 8. Zoey replies. “I know. Doesn’t that suck for you?” 3 and 8. Ugh. Sorkin, women don’t really act like this. If you’re dating women who act like this, you’re probably not actually listening to them.

The president welcomes Special Agent Gina Toscano into his office. Gina has been with Zoey for two weeks now. The president asks her a bunch of questions. He sits but doesn’t invite her to sit for a good long time. I’m going to count that as a 5.

We learn that there have been letters regarding Zoey and Charlie and they may or may not be from white supremacists. They don’t have much to go on, but Gina assures the president that she knows what she’s looking for in a crowd.

The president says he wants Zoey to be comfortable with her protection and it’s not Gina’s job to tell him the nonsense that college kids do. Which she already knows. Then he pretends he does want to know if she’s cutting English lit, and Gina refuses. He waves her off.

At the White House, Leo pedeconferences with Ed and Larry, two guys from Sam’s office who have these conversations when Sam is elsewhere. They’re talking ethanol and the tax credit, its pros and cons. Leo thinks they never said enough that the tax credit creates 16,000 new jobs. Ed and Larry ask if it’s over. Leo tells them Sam’s been calling senators (at 3 am?) and Leo’s next phone call will be Sam telling him it’s over. “At least we’re going to win,” Ed or Larry says.

Margaret brings in papers for Leo to sign but she’s in a snit because she doesn’t get to go to L.A. for the day. 8. She also insists she’s not upset. 8. Sure enough, the phone rings and it’s Sam. Leo asks Margaret to get the vice president.

On the plane, C.J. wakes up the press to go over the schedule. They’re being greeted at the airport. Photos only. Then they’ll depart for the hotel, at which point, C.J. predicts, they will no longer be on schedule. Over a bunch of exterior shots of the president’s plane and then his motorcade, C.J. continues giving us the schedule. There will be two hours at the hotel for a security briefing and “personal staff time.” That sounds kind of dirty. I mean, not with Jed, but imagine if the president were more Bill-Clinton-y?

Damn, that joke is as old as this episode.

Anyway, at 10:00 am, they’re going to Orange County to hear a discussion on a constitutional amendment to prohibit flag-burning. Hey, I vaguely remember when this was an “issue” people actually talked about. Boy, I’m glad it’s not any more.

Hey, more progress!

At 3 pm, they’ll be going to a town hall meeting on school vouchers, and then to the exciting fundraiser held by Theodore (Ted) Marcus. The press will wear coats and ties and stay in the roped-off press areas.

At the hotel, Donna is dragging Josh’s luggage and Josh can’t open his hotel room door. Donna starts reading off people who have left Josh messages at the front desk, all of which he’ll handle later, as he’s too busy complaining about being unable to open his door. So Donna opens it for him. Josh is finally intrigued when Donna says Joey Lucas called. And not intrigued in a professional way. Joey will be at the fundraiser that night. Donna feels that Josh should do something about his crush on Joey Lucas. Josh makes fun of her. 5 Josh decides they’ll call her. Donna repeats her line about alabaster skin. 4. Then, before Donna can call Joey, she tells Josh Ted Marcus also called, and Josh decides to deal with that first.

MPTF: 10

We pull up to a stunning home, with men moving enormous vases of flowers around. Ted Marcus (played by Bob Balaban) has, in fact, heard about Cameron’s amendment. Josh pleads ignorance but Ted – a studio chairman, btw – doesn’t care. He’s sending them home tomorrow with $2 1/2 million so he wants to be listened to. Josh is not really that good at listening, but he listens hard when Ted Marcus cancels the fundraiser. Josh insists that the bill won’t be passed, and if it were passed, the president would never sign it. That placates Ted – if Ted hears the president say that on national television. Oy gevalt.

Back in D.C., the vice president enters Leo’s office. So now they need the vice president to go vote for the ethanol tax credit. The vice president is not happy. He begs Leo to get him off the hook. He says he spent eight years fighting this bill, and he was right. (He is, by the way.) But being right is not the point; it’ll be politically disastrous for him if he votes for this bill.

We go to the stupid-ass flag-burning thing the president is being forced to sit through. It is intentionally stupid-ass and I’m not getting into it. Josh pulls Toby and Sam out of the room to tell them about Ted. Toby says that Josh should tell Ted that a) the bill’s not going anywhere, b) it’s not actually in the interest of gay rights that the president say anything about it because it’ll give Cameron credibility and attention, c) the president can’t be publicly blackmailed, and d) if he chooses to stay home rather than go to the fundraiser and kow-tow to Hollywood, it’ll only make the president look better to the general electorate. And then, Toby tells him, you can promise Ted 10 minutes with the president at the party. That’s fine, Josh says, then asks how the president is doing in there. “He’s got that look on his face like he’s thinking of ways to kill himself,” Sam says.

Back in the room, Jed does, in fact, look very Over It. Jed asks what I wanted to know when this was, like, a Thing. “Is there an epidemic of flag-burning going on that I’m not aware of?”

As they walk out, flanked by Service, the president continues asking that question. Toby says there’s not, so they can choose not to meet with Al Kiefer. But Jed says they will meet with him, over lunch, at the Playa Cantina, where they make the guacamole right in front of you, and where Zoey had been hoping to have a relatively Secret Service-free lunch. Charlie tries to dissuade Jed from ruining Zoey’s lunch, to no avail. Jed is determined to ruin EVERYONE’S good time.

You guys, I didn’t really eat real Mexican food until I moved to Chicagoland. Don’t they make the guacamole right in front of you at most authentic and authentic-ish Mexican restaurants? Or did they not in 2000? Or is this a bunch of East Coasters coming to L.A., so for them, it’s a special treat?

Anyway, they pedeconference out to a bunch of people booing the president. I don’t think because of the flag-burning thing, because that just happened, and these people have signs, but I could be wrong. Oh, and then Toby is not allowed to get in the president’s limo, because he made fun of the guacamole. “I didn’t!” says Toby.

“I could tell you were thinking it,” says the president.

“Fair enough,” says Toby. Hee!

At the Playa Cantina, Zoey is pissed, and our impression that the president really interrupted Zoey’s lunch in order to protect her with his own Secret Service. And there’s more commentary about the guacamole.

Al Kiefer (who is Q from “Star Trek: TNG”) is with the senior staff, trying to convince them that the president should not stay quiet on flag-burning, nor should he speak out against it. He should instead lead the charge against it! The senior staff dismiss this, but the president invites him over to tell him more. Al Kiefer goes on about how 47% of voters, middle-aged men, pool-and-patio types (sure) like the president but didn’t vote for him because they think he’s weak. The president makes pointed comments about hearing that he’s weak in front of his daughter, but, dude, you called the guy over. You interrupted your daughter’s lunch and brought this meeting to her. Anyway, Al Kiefer knows this isn’t popular, but he trusts numbers and the numbers tell him that the president should make himself a leader in favor of an amendment against flag-burning.

Josh gets a call and rushes off, while Al asks Toby why he’s smiling. “I just figured out who you were,” Toby says.

“He’s going to say Satan,” Al says.

“No,” says Toby. “You’re the guy who runs into the 7-11 to get Satan a pack of cigarettes.”

It’s a good line. Also, I love Toby.

Charlie escorts the president away. Josh rushes to catch up with him as he smiles at the (now positive) crowd outside the restaurant. Jed is upset that men with pools and patios think he’s weak and Josh tries not at all to not say “We told you so.” But that’s not why he’s there; he’s there to break the news that Jed has to spend ten minutes alone with Ted Marcus. “I used to like parties, you know that?” Jed says.

Zoey is complaining about the extra protection when Gina sees who she’s apparently looking for in the crowd – two pimply, glaring white boys.

At the home of Ted Marcus, elegant lights are lit and elegant music is being played by a quartet on the staircase. C.J. and Toby stand together. C.J. admires the house, which Toby doesn’t care about, then says, “You know, you haven’t said anything about my dress.” 2 and ! at the same time. “You look very nice,” Toby says without looking at her. “You’re not looking,” C.J. says. 8. “I’m looking at the house,” Toby says. and ! again.

A man approaches the two of them and introduces himself as the head of New Project Development at Paragon. He wants to know if his money buys him a few minutes alone with C.J. Gross. Then Toby ups the grossness by saying “Throw in a box of chocolates and a pair of nylons – get you a lot more than that.” 2 and 5 and how very dare you, Toby? Also – a pair of nylons? You gift women nylons? Is it 1954? Are you their grandmother? Toby promises to be over at the bar, drinking heavily, if anyone wants him. C.J. assures him that no one will.

The dude who pulled C.J. away wants C.J. to work for Paragon developing projects. C.J. insists she does not know what developing is. I don’t, either, but it doesn’t sound that hard to figure out. C.J. says she likes the job she has now, knowing what it is and everything, and makes an escape with Sam. It turns out Sam was also offered a development deal. I bet he got offered more money. (Sorry, it was there and I had to.)

Outside, David Hasselhoff is trying to have serious conversation with Josh and Donna about the first amendment, but Donna is dumbly trying to talk about his career. 4. Josh leads her away and takes away her drink 4 but Donna goes off after Matt Perry. Who is sadly not on screen.

Joey Lucas and Joey’s translator call out to Josh. Josh babbles and Joey flirts for some reason. 2 and 6 to this whole thing. Even though I like Joey and any excuse to keep her around is fine with me.

Toby pulls Josh away but Josh asks Joey not to leave the party.

Leo is still with the veep. It looks really cold in D.C. And they’re walking outside. Leo is trying to persuade the vice president to vote their way by telling him that the president and his staff don’t trust the vice president. These guys have interesting ways of persuading each other.

Hoynes is above caring about any beef, real or imagined, between him and the West Wing, but apparently not above thinking the president somehow arranged a 50/50 split in the Senate in order to set him up. Okay, sure. It seems Leo was not successful in persuading him.

Leo and the president are on the phone. The president wants to fire Hoynes but he can’t, constitutionally. Leo thinks the vice president is right. Sam, who is there, too, agrees, and says he can set three of the Senators he put “in a headlock” free so that the deciding vote doesn’t come down to the vice president at all. Sounds good.

Veronica Webb and Jay Leno are flirting when C.J. pulls Jay Leno off to the side. She appreciates Jay laying off the president the last few months. Jay says what he wants is for the president to ride his bike into a tree again.

Josh is back talking to Joey. He’s telling her about the Al Kiefer meeting. She already knows about it, because she hears everything. Haha. C.J., Sam, and Toby approach and joke about their development deals. Josh introduces Joey to everyone. Joey says Kiefer asks the wrong questions. Yes, people favor a flag-burning amendment, but, as she found out when she asked, they don’t actually care. I always like this insight.

C.J., Sam, and Toby move off, and Joey says she still thinks the president should come out against flag-burning, just because flag-burning is mean. Oh, whatever. She also says “Vox populi vox dei,” and Josh pretends to confuse “dei,” God, with “dog”, which makes no sense. “Dei” and “canis” (“dog” in Latin) sound nothing alike. Then Joey reveals that she’s at this fundraiser on a date, and Josh tries to pretend he doesn’t care. Joey still asks him to call her some time, and says it was good to see him.

In Ted Marcus’s private room, Ted says he’ll publicly demand that the president promise to veto Cameron’s bill. The president points out that this would be a very stupid move, because right now it’s just a bill proposed by a stupid-ass, extreme right-wing Congressperson of no consequence that will never so much as go to a committee, but if the president says publicly that he would vote for it, it will become a National Story in a nation not really ready to be pro-gay rights. (Woohoo! Progress!)

(We live not to far from the naval base – my husband is a dentist there – and the week that the whole gays-are-allowed-to-serve-openly thing happened, we were out to breakfast and we saw a sailor at the restaurant with her family – and her girlfriend! They were holding hands! It was SO NICE to see a woman in uniform holding hands with her girlfriend in public. Also my husband had, in fact, worked on her teeth, so he went over to say hi to the family and it was all very sweet.)

Anyway, despite Jed’s hostility, Ted takes Jed’s point well, says he trusts and likes Jed, and also observes that Jed looks more tired than he did a couple of months ago. Being president ages you but quick.

Donna is in Josh’s room, persuading him to go ignore Joey’s “I’m with someone” and go chase after her like we’re in a rom-com. 2. After some irritating back-and-forth, Josh goes – only to have Al Kiefer in a bathrobe open her door. Joey comes out of the bathroom, also in a bathrobe. She is embarrassed but also flattered. Al is not really amused.

We’re on the plane. Everyone is snoozing. Except Jed, who is on the phone with the vice president. He tells Hoynes he admires the way Hoynes had stuck to his guns in Iowa on the ethanol tax, even though it probably cost him the presidency. I’m sure Hoynes appreciates that.

Jed hangs up with the promise to go to sleep. But he can’t. Poor guy.

TMP: 20 I don’t mind this episode as a piece of storytelling. But geez. Just about every time a woman appears on the screen, it’s to be a stupid, flimsy, misogynist stereotype. Cut it the fuck out and let me enjoy the otherwise good show you’ve written, 16-years-ago Aaron Sorkin!

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