NB: The title doesn’t have the third comma in it, according to Netflix. But I am a proud supporter of the Oxford comma, so I put it in. Go ahead; @ me.
What are we looking for?
- Physical comedy is used to undercut a female character’s competence.
- A female character’s sexual appeal or sexual/romantic relationship (or, sometimes, maternal qualities) with a male character is primary.
- 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?”
- Femininity or feminine concerns are disparaged, by male or female characters.
- Any character is rude to his/her female subordinate with no consequences.
- A male character is lauded and glorified in an unlikely way by a female character or characters.
- A female character screws up at her job.
- Anger (or other emotions/behaviors) coming from a female character is unreasonable or mysterious, either to the audience or to another character.
- 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.
- An episode goes by that does not pass the Bechdel test.
- 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.
- A male character or characters act(s) as white knight to a female character or characters.
- 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,” CJ was pissed at Mandy because people were pissed at CJ because of a paper that was going around that Mandy wrote; Leo was mad at CJ; CJ was mad at Danny because she was having a rough day, what with everyone ganging up on her over a mistake Mandy made; Jed wanted Josh to find candidates for the FEC who back aggressive campaign reform; Jed spoke passionately from a podium about restoring democracy; CJ didn’t want Sam to see his call girl because he’s going to get caught. Think he’ll get caught this episode?
In the Josh area, Josh and Donna banter about what time it is. Really? Yes, really. Donna says it’s 7:05; Josh thinks it’s 6:50. It actually matters a little, though.
Toby is arguing with CJ about the wording of a survey question. Josh, who has stopped by, thinks Toby is right. Donna thinks it’s 7:05, which means the call-making for this survey should have started five minutes ago. Also, the redheaded assistant who is a Sheen and the black assistant whose name, I’m, like, 90% sure is Bonnie, both get lines, so that’s nice. CJ thinks the wording of the question is unimportant, as the question has proven effective. (The question is, “Do you think the country is headed in the right direction or have we gotten off on the wrong track?” Toby thinks the question is rhetorically asymmetrical; you should stick with either right track/wrong track or right direction/wrong direction. I think he’s favoring rhetorical style over connotative nuance, which makes sense, as he is a speechwriter, but I also think it’s 7:05 so the time for bringing up this problem is long over.)
Josh also has a problem with the phrase “average people,” which Josh thinks is a pejorative phrase, because of course he does. CJ insists that most Americans do not consider “average” to be pejorative. They pedeconference over to the meeting room where Leo brings up the “people like me” phrase in the statement, “President Bartlett cares about people like me,” wondering if it might be confusing to the listener. (People like the surveyor or the surveyed?) Toby challenges CJ, saying “Since when are you an expert on language?”
“In polling models?” CJ asks. “Since 1993. Since when are you an uptight pain in the ass?”
“Since long before that,” Toby responds. So I’m giving this a 5 because why does Toby have to question CJ’s competence, especially in front of all their colleagues, but also the back-and-forth is great and CJ does not need me to defend her honor.
Leo is back on the “people like me” line. Ed and Larry go back and forth on this but CJ insists everything is fine. Josh informs CJ that it’s an important poll, like, tell her something she doesn’t know, Josh 5 but CJ insists that it’s five past time-to-start-o’clock.
Leo asks for predictions. Ed and Larry think they’ll hold steady; Josh would be happy about that; Toby thinks they’ll drop a few points but be inside the margin of error. CJ thinks they’ll gain five points. Leo says even the president thinks they’ll just hold steady but CJ says the president is wrong. I love her.
Sam and Mandy get the call to start the calls going. Credits!
Misogyny Points Thus Far: 2
It’s Three Hours Into Polling according to the chyron. Bonnie and the redhead ask Sam how it’s going and he jokes that he popped Mandy with a tranq gun because these crazy women, they’re so crazy 8. I mean, when Leo, Toby, and Josh are freaking out about this Very Important Poll, it’s because they understand the gravitas of working in the White House, but Mandy is a zoo animal that needs to be subdued. Then Bonnie and The Redhead (whose name might actually be Ginger) get to play Exposition Fairies 9, asking Sam why they need 48 hours, and Bonnie expresses surprise that they need to make about four calls to get one response, which, I feel like, assistants would understand even better than Sams. Again, I don’t have a problem with exposition fairies. But when it’s always women, and always women who would definitely know the answers, it’s a problem. Like, why isn’t Charlie asking this question? He’s new; he would have no prior experience in polling. Or, why isn’t Veteran Bonnie explaining to Newcomer Redhead? Or maybe Sam could explain condescendingly while the ladies roll their eyes and say, “We know,” as happens when a male character explains something to another male character on this show. I’m saying, these are choices available to the writer, and the writer makes the same choice over and over again.
Oh, and, if you’re curious, 1 response per 4 phone calls was a pretty reliable number back in 2000. Now it’s apparently more like 1 per 10. I learned this by listening to The West Wing Weekly, which you should check out.
Toby pulls Sam into his office and closes the door. He mentions that the GW law school graduation is tomorrow and asks Sam if he plans to attend to see his friend the call girl graduate. Then he says that Sam can’t because people are going to be staking it out. Sam keeps insisting that Toby use her name, “Laurie,” instead of “your friend” or “this girl”. Sam says he’s not disagreeing with Toby but proceeds to disagree with Toby. Then he says he’s not going and walks out. You guys, graduation tickets are usually limited. Doesn’t Laurie have parents? Siblings? Or anyone closer to her than the dude she knocked boots with one night who wants to rescue her?
Margaret comes into Leo’s office to tell him someone is here and Leo plays a little game of making Margaret wait in his office for a few minutes before telling the guy to come in. Margaret clearly feels uncomfortable with this and I’m giving it a 5 because this should be a Leo-and-Margaret tag-team moment, not a Leo-makes-Margaret-feel-awkward moment. Finally Leo gives her permission to go out and send whoever in.
Leo greets Barry Haskell, played by Hey, It’s That Guy! Austin Pendleton, warmly. Barry Haskell is on the FEC already and Leo is making a big deal of welcoming him into the august environment of the west wing. The West Wing? Is it capitalized when you’re referring to the place and not the TV show? We may never know. Well, me. I might never know. Because I’m not going to look it up.
Leo wants to talk to Barry about campaign finance reform and Barry is nervous. He asks for fruit juice and mentions the dress marine he walked past to get into Leo’s office. Leo informs Barry that the marine’s name is Rodney and calls Rodney in to do something impressive and ceremonial with his gun. It makes Barry even more nervous. But Leo knows that Barry secretly favors a ban on soft money contributions, because Barry said so to the Newark Star Ledger, which is the paper I grew up with, so yay! and another paper I don’t care about. Barry says he gave those quotes anonymously, and Leo points out that he was also in a twelve-step program anonymously and look how that worked out for him. Barry says he never said it out loud because then he wouldn’t be on the FEC, but Leo says he can say it now because that’s what got him invited to the West Wing. Barry is aware that he’s being manipulated by all the pomp and circumstance, but also, it’s working. It works even better when Leo “accidentally” lets him into a convivial Oval Office, where the president and some of his cabinet and administration officials are having a nightcap.
None of the participants in this conviviality are women, I’m noticing. 11? Sure. I’m moody lately.
Jed leaves Barry with his male cabinet members to talk to Leo. He asks what predictions were made about the poll. Actually, he asks what predictions “the guys” made. 11. Look, I refer to mixed-sex groups as “guys” all the time, but I don’t care. I’m in a mood. Leo reports that they think he’ll hold. Jed ribs Leo about the dress marine, who isn’t usually guarding Leo’s door. Leo promises to be back in ten minutes.
In a library, Laurie is studying for her bar exam while her best friend, whom we’ve never seen, bothers her and half-laments about being a waitress. Then her cell phone rings and it’s Sam breaking the bad news. Laurie a) answers the phone much more like they’re lovers than like they’re friends, and b) takes it pretty well, although she’s pretty sad. So, if they have been lovers, that’d make sense, but if they’re just friends, this is a pretty big reaction. Does she or does she not have parents?
Tuesday morning, Bonnie and Red get to hear Sam wax poetic about the joys of jogging, sculling, or watching others jogging and sculling on the Potomac in the morning. Toby comes in and demands things from the ladies, including “the next two minutes the president’s got.” Sam says, “You found one?” One what? I don’t know but it’s “Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia,” which is a real country and not a place in a Marx Brothers movie. The president, it turns out, has two minutes now, while he pedeyells at CJ.
They land in the Oval, where the president is yelling about drug treatment, and CJ is saying, “It’s the same memo that’s been generated for thirty years.” Sam and Toby arrive and tell CJ how to do the job she already knows how to do. It’s, like, a joke, because they all tell her to say that it’s the same memo that’s been generated for thirty years as if she herself didn’t already say that, but also it’s not a joke. “Kidding on the square,” as Al Franken taught me to say, and I know I’m not supposed to like him anymore but I think I still do. Anyway, just because you acknowledge the situation doesn’t mean you didn’t create the situation, Aaron. Another 11 for you, sir.
Jed says to the group that Leo told him that they all said he’d hold steady in the poll and asks if they were just being optimistic. Toby and Sam affirm, but CJ says she didn’t say that; she said they’d gain five points. Jed does not believe her, nor do Sam and Toby. And then Jed tells her, as if it was his idea, to tell the press that it’s the same memo that’s been generated for thirty years, even though, before Toby and Sam said it, when it was just CJ saying it, Jed dismissed this line as sounding “soft”. 4. And 5.
So it turns out that The Federated States of Micronesia is where they want to put someone as ambassador. Jed doesn’t like it; he can’t fire the ambassador who’s already there. No, that’s okay, though, because they won’t. They’ll just promote him to being ambassador to Paraguay. Is that a step up? I’ve never been to Micronesia or Paraguay so I don’t know. Anyway, So what happens to the ambassador to Paraguay? He goes to Belgium. Jed likes this; if everyone just moves up a step, he can go home. What about the ambassador to Belgium, who, Jed mentions, is named Ken Cochran? Oh, it turns out they’re going to fire him because he’s banging the Belgian prime minister’s daughter. Which upsets Jed because Jed knows Mrs. Cochran. So they have to come up with some way to fire him without saying why. I’m giving this a 12.
Jed dismisses Toby and Sam and calls in Charlie. He tells Charlie he needs to meet with Ambassador Cochran, making clear his disdain for the man, and then detects in Charlie’s tone that Charlie knows Ken Cochran. But Charlie won’t say anything because Charlie is a man. (Sometimes.)
Off in the polling area, Josh is arguing with Joey Lucas (and, sort of, Kenny, her interpreter). Joey is insisting that it doesn’t matter how English-as-the-official-language polls, since Republicans are not going to put it on the table. Josh does not care if she thinks they’re not going to put it on the table; he wants to know how it will poll. This fight is broken up when Donna comes in to let Josh know that CJ’s talking about the drug memo, and Josh is surprised to learn that it’s at least a half an hour later than he thought it was, because, as Donna had earlier pointed out, his watch sucks. Apparently even more than we had suspected. So Josh is leaving but not before yelling to Joey, “When I get back, we’re going to argue about the things I want to argue about, and your’e going to do your best not to annoy me too much.” Joey says it’s hard to believe Josh is not married, and Josh claims that many have tried, which I don’t even think we’re supposed to believe. I know I should probably give this a 2, but I won’t, because, as Sorkin-y as it is, I find their banter charming.
In the hall, Josh asks if Toby found a country, and if the Federated States of Micronesia is a real country. Also I just realized that I still don’t know what they need the Federated States of Micronesia for. IIRC, it’s to get someone off the FEC, but I guess we’ll find out. Donna claims that Josh is supposed to have taken her to Hawaii, as it’s something bosses do. Just in case we’re confused about where Josh and Donna lie on the appropriate boss-assistant relationship scale. 2.
CJ is in the press room talking about how mandatory minimums and the whole crack/cocaine differential are racist. Danny asks if the White House isn’t making a crusade out of the rights of drug users. CJ says, “Oh, please,” and tries to move on to Katie, but Danny interrupts. CJ answers his interruption with a good speech about treatment vs. killing/incarcerating black drug users. (In case you can’t tell, I am 100% on the side of the fictional White House on this issue.) Then another reporter – who is not Katie and is a dude – asks a question about the memo, and CJ delivers the response she told the president she was going to deliver, and then was told by Sam, and Toby, and the president, to deliver, as if she hadn’t though of it herself. Then she closes the briefing without going back to Katie. I’m giving that an 11.
Out in the hall, Danny gets mad at CJ for being dismissive of his utterly stupid question, and then insists that it wasn’t a stupid question because CJ can’t count on “everyone being able to understand what the hell comes out of your mouth when even I can’t do it half the time.” Oh, my God, Danny. Oh, my God, Aaron. That’s how you have a reporter talk to the g-d press secretary? The person whose actual job it is to get people to understand “what the hell comes out of [her] mouth”? 4? I don’t know what to give this but 4 seems closer and I’m giving it two 4s because holy shit. One for the line and one for the attitude that this is all supposed to be part of their adorable banter. Oh, and an 8, because Danny clearly believes, and the show wants us to side with him, that CJ did not shut him down because his question was stupid (it was)(like, drug users are American citizens who have rights; why wouldn’t the White House be in favor of standing up for those rights, Danny?) but because she’s still pissed at the memo. 8. (For those of you who forgot, last week it was revealed that before Mandy came to the White House, she wrote a memo about all the ways that the Bartlet administration is f-ing up, as part of her job trying to get her boyfriend elected president. And Danny was the one who had it and was going to publish it.) And you know what? It’s fine for her to be pissed about the memo! To some extent, the press secretary and the press are enemy combatants. They shouldn’t always be, but a lot of the time, it’s the press secretary’s job to present the activities of the White House in the best possible light, and it’s the press’s job to see around that light and expose the nooks and crannies. He did his job by publishing the memo; she’s doing hers by not making his life that easy. So 8 for that too.
CJ invites Danny into her office and exposes that she thinks the memo thing makes the people in the White House take her less seriously. Why is she telling Danny this? 7. Then Carol comes in and tells her she’s late for something. CJ tells Carol to check the polling, so that’s a -10.
Margaret comes in to Leo’s office and tells him CJ is here. Then she tells him a joke (Wanna know why they only eat one egg for breakfast in France? Because one egg is in ouef.) and Leo is predictably rude about it 5. CJ comes in, dithers a bit, and then asks Leo why he didn’t include CJ’s prediction when he talked to the president. CJ (correctly) calls out the sexism of this (“It wasn’t women’s intuition”) which Leo denies is a factor and tells her not to worry her pretty head about it. 4. CJ pretends to be fine, as women are required to do all the time forever.
I think the #metoo movement is making me saltier.
Josh is trying to tell Joey what Theodore Roosevelt said about English as the official language and Joey doesn’t give a fuck. Mandy, in the foreground, also couldn’t give a fuck, and wants to know why they can’t shut up. Josh calls her tightly wound – as if this poll is unimportant and not a huge part of her job 8 – and then CJ walks in and asks what they’re doing here and Josh implies that she’s high-strung as well 8. This is a man who was just screaming about Teddy Roosevelt, btw. CJ accuses Josh of only being there to flirt with the female callers so I’m going to be generous and give that a -2. Josh leaves, volunteering to get coffee, but not without another dig at everyone’s high-strung-ness 8, and also tells Joey she should be impressed with him for being able to quote Teddy Roosevelt 6. (Not that he got the adulation. But he expected it.)
Laurie and her BFF are walking down the street giggling. Sam is waiting on the doorstep, and it turns out the BFF arranged for them to meet here. Laurie drunks her way through questions about the gift he bought her, which it turns out is both a space pen and a briefcase, the latter being the standard law-school-graduation gift. And an important one. Laurie is drunk-happy. And then someone from across the street takes a few pictures and peels out, and both Sam and Laurie recognize that this is A Problem.
It’s Wednesday morning, 36 hours into polling. Sam is looking pensive. Toby comes by and they start pedeconferencing. Sam has his letter of resignation ready to go, but Toby doesn’t want him to use it because it would deprive Toby of the pleasure of throwing Sam out a plate glass window. Leo breaks through and says he’s talking to CJ and then he’s talking to Sam. I don’t think it will be a good conversation. Toby continues to list the ways in which he will control Sam – putting him on a leash, chaining him to his desk. Sounds like a fun weekend, Toby. We understand that all of this means that Sam is 100% not getting fired.
CJ is on the phone saying important things about the stock market when Leo slams in and yells at her for not telling him about Sam and the photos sooner. 5. CJ calmly points out that she’s not going to call the Chief of Staff at two am because a car started; she had to do her actual job and find out what was going on first. Which she has, and the London Daily something-or-other is publishing the photo; American press will have it in the morning. Because it’s still the year 2000 and even though the internet exists, pictures of senior advisors and their escort friends take slightly longer than the speed of light to make it around the world. Leo laments that Sam was just giving his friend a graduation gift.
So, CJ somehow doesn’t magically erase a memo she didn’t know Mandy had written and she’s being treated like she’s out of the club. But Sam knowingly hangs out with an escort and gets photographed doing so and he’s just a Nice Guy doing a Nice Thing. Don’t be mean. 7.
Toby is in the White House defending Sam to the president. So another 7 and also a 12 for the part where Jed Bartlet is going to come to the defense and aid of Laurie should there be any negative effects from this story.
Sam leaves and Charlie comes in to announce that someone named Labell and his apparently enormous staff (of people, you perverts) have arrived. Jed tells Charlie to put them in the Mural Room. But Charlie can’t because Ken Cochran is in the Mural Room, and Jed detects yet again, from the way Charlie says his name, that Charlie knows him. Charlie continues to deny this and leaves.
Jed signs something that some nameless woman puts in front of him – what did she, win a contest and get a walk-on? 11 – and then a black man named Ted? Tad? Who may or may not be Labell? Gets a big hug from the president when he comes in. He needs the black man to hire Ken Cochran, whom the president is going to speak to while Ted/Tad hangs out in the Oval Office. “Isn’t Ken Cochran the current ambassador to Belgium?” Tad asks. “Not for long,” the president answers. “Look, he’s a good man, a smart man. I think he’d make a very good corporate officer.” Tad quite reasonable asks why he’s being fired. “Gross incompetence,” the president answers. It’s just a solid, classic bit of Sorkin dialogue I wanted to share with you because I’m not 100% mean.
The president runs into Nancy on his way to the Mural Room to see Ken Cochran. Turns out Tad/Ted was not Senator Labell, who is also not Labell, but Lobell. Sorry. So Tad (who is really Ted Mitchell) is in the Oval, Senator Lobell is in the Roosevelt, and Ken Cochran is in the Mural Room. And now, so is the president. He seems jolly and cheerful but when Ken Cochran asks what he can do for the president, the president says, “Resign.” He lays out the affair, the desire for discretion, and the job offer from Ted Mitchell, then whirls out again. Ken says this is outrage to Charlie, who I didn’t even realize was in the room. After blustering for a minute, Ken realizes Charlie looks familiar. Turns out Charlie was a waiter at the Gramercy Club, where Ken Cochran was a member. Although, he assures Charlie quickly, he has resigned because “exclusive clubs are repugnant.” Charlie, very pleasantly, says he noticed it didn’t stop Ken from joining in the first place, and Ken goes from affable to very “Don’t get uppity with me, boy!” very quickly. (Also, I am way more woke than I was the first time I saw this because the first time I saw this, the whole conversation flew completely over my head. I didn’t understand that by “exclusive” he meant “whites only”.) Charlie appears not to care because he gets to watch Ken Cochran’s downfall (into a cushy corporate position, but whatevs). Ken asks to speak to Charlie’s supervisor, and Charlie gets to say that his “supervisor” is “busy looking for a back door of this place to shove you out of,” and Dule Hill really sells this line, by delivering it in the same polite tone and the same polite expression he’s been using the whole time. Then the president comes in and Ken starts saying that Charlie must have said something to the president about their “past,” and the president becomes elated at the discovery that he was right about Charlie knowing Ken. Then he reminds Ken that he, Jed, likes Ken’s wife and would hate to see her made a fool of. Ken tells Jed that he, Ken, never voted for Jed, and Jed says, “Well, thanks for trying, but here I am anyway.” Then he leaves again.
Now Jed and Toby head into the Roosevelt Room with Senator Max Lobell and his fourteen staffers, whom Jed does not want to meet. He tells the senator that while they agree on almost nothing, because Jed is a self-described “lily-livered, bleeding-heart, liberal, egghead communist,” and Max is a self-described “gun-toting redneck son-of-a-bitch,” they do agree on getting soft money out of politics, which can be done through four votes on the FEC. Jed is putting two anti-soft-money people on the committee, then they brought Barry Haskell out of the closet, and now Toby is opening up a fourth seat, presumably by offering one of the remaining pro-soft-money people the ambassadorship to the Federated States of Micronesia. If Senator Lobell will support the president’s candidates, he will get in exchange “the thanks of a grateful president,” which is all Senator Lobell wanted.
We see Toby indeed offer that abassadorship. Now it’s Wednesday night and the polling is completed. Josh entered CJ’s office and CJ tells him she’s sent the sealed results by courier over to “him,” who I thought was the president but is actually probably Leo. Josh says he heard she and Joey had a talk, which, why could we have not seen it? Should I take back the Bechdel test passing? Anyway, Josh says that Joey told him that CJ is afraid she can only say she’s sorry to the president so many times. Josh thinks she’s wrong, that the poll thing was left in her hands (except in the beginning of this episode, when Leo and Toby and Josh were mitchering her to death on all the ways she screwed up this poll thing 11) and that she shouldn’t expect to go up five points. Then Josh tells CJ that Jed thinks of her like a daughter, which is exactly how you want your boss to think of you. 12?
In the Oval, Leo, Toby, Josh, Sam, Charlie, Mandy, Joey, Kenny, and Jed are all waiting for CJ to bring the numbers. Jed asks Toby if the FEC chairman that they just punted to Micronesia is okay. Toby says he is, although they are both talking as if a) he’s not and b) they don’t care. Josh brings up that he and Joey are working on an argument against de Tocqueville, and Joey makes an extreme “Leave me out of this” face. Josh does not leave anyone out of this and asks for her counter-argument to the idea that English as the official language will shore up a sense of American identity in the face of ethnic warfare. I don’t know what he’s talking about. Joey responds with a very eloquent raspberry. Jed enjoys this. Then Joey tells the president the same thing she’s been telling Josh, that, given they want Hispanic people to vote for them (snort), Republicans will never put English as the official language on the table. But also, that the language of Shakespeare needs no protection. Josh says that’s the line he’s been looking for, and it took her four days to come up with it. 5. She blows him another raspberry, which is the correct response. Silence settles over the room again, and then Jed asks what kind of briefcase Sam got Laurie. Sam is rather stunned to be discussing this, but answers that it was a Coach Beekman in British tan with brass hardware. Sounds nice. To Jed, as well, who also mentions some other nice briefcases, over Toby’s bellyaching.
Then CJ enters. She’s got the top sheet results. She says she was wrong; they went up nine points. So take that, stupid boys who don’t trust her. Which is clearly the point of this moment, so -7. Leo gives the best John Spencer smile in the world and everyone is pretty happy. Then the president says, “Okay. What’s next?”
I feel inspired, y’all.
Total Misogyny Points: 29 That’s pretty high, y’all, but it’s possible I’m just crankier.