Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing,” Episode 1.22, “What Kind of Day Has It Been”

I’m a little blocked so I’m writing this instead. Hope you all enjoy.

Remember that a) I f-ing love this show, and b) that won’t stop me from criticizing it. 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.

Previously, on the West Wing, I forgot that India and Pakistan WERE NOT actually on the verge of a nuclear war when I woke up after watching that episode; CJ wasn’t properly prepped because Toby doesn’t trust her enough; death threats regarding First Daughter Zoe’s relationship with President’s Body Man (and black guy) Charlie are worrying the president and the Secret Service.

Shit, you guys, it’s this one.

We’re in Rosslyn, VA and Jed is giving a live Town Hall Meeting at the Newseum, which I would very much like to visit some day. He makes a joke about lying politicians, on the way to making a point about apathetic young voters. Hey, there’s something that’s less true now than it was then! Go, Progress!

While he talks, we see Gina, Zoe’s Secret Service person, worrying, and then we’re in the press room and Josh is shouting about something. Then we’re back on stage and Jed wants to know if he can take his jacket off without making anyone think it’s a statement. They can. In the control room, Bonnie asks Sam where Toby is, because he’s got a call, but Sam decides to take it. A beat later, Sam calls to Toby across a balustrade and makes a hand gesture at him. Toby then makes that same gesture to Josh, who is in the atrium below Toby, and Josh turns to make it to Leo, who is a few feet away from him. I have a hard time describing physical spaces so I know I’m not doing well here, but be assured, it’s a cute and well-shot sequence. Leo thought the gesture was the signal for “the other thing” but according to Josh, it is now the signal for “this thing.” Leo confirms that they are “totally out of the woods,” and Josh encourages him to go tell the president. So something good happened, this much we know.

In some other control center/press room thing, CJ distributes something to a bunch of reporters and then smacks Danny up the backside of the head and calls him out of the room. CJ is giving information to Danny before anyone else as a peace offering. “Call your science editor,” she says. “It’s about the space shuttle Columbia.” They should have done a better job of including her in the hand gestures so we knew that this was related to that. It’s a small thing, but I’m giving it an 11 anyway.

Back in the speech, Jed is quoting a poll from Third Millenium saying that a large proportion of people my age believe the soap opera General Hospital will outlast Medicare. Well, that’s possible.

Outside, the guy in charge of the Secret Service people tells Gina that the president isn’t going to work the rope line because there’s a softball game on TV that the president wants to watch. Gina is incredulous about all of the things contained in this statement – that the president will avoid the rope line, that there is softball on TV, that the president watches it – but also seems concerned about the crowd gathered outside the Newseum.

Back inside, Charlie is excited that the president used the information he contributed – presumably that bit about General Hospital. He tells Josh that Josh was right (a thing Josh never needs to be told) – “It doesn’t go away.” Aw, Charlie. You may or may not remember that in the episode in which Charlie was introduced, he gets a little awestruck about standing in the Oval Office, and Josh assures him that that feeling doesn’t go away. Okay, my cold, cynical heart is melting a little.

The speech is over and everyone is cheering. Charlie and Josh go to get the president, while outside, Gina tells someone else that Jed is not working the rope line, and that she’s got “Bookbag,” Zoe’s code name, which is adorable. But Gina is still suspicious of something, and the foreboding music backs her up. Even as Gina walks Zoe out, and Zoe chatters about the speech, Gina’s face and the music aren’t happy. Zoe observes that her father is, after all, working the rope line, because Jed has never met a group of people he doesn’t want to gladhand. Gina and the music don’t like it. Gina says to her headset that she saw something. Zoe remains unfazed, but Gina saw something. And then Zoe notices and Gina spins around just as the foreboding music smashes into the opening credits.

Damn. Look, I don’t love the misogyny, but Sorkin can write a teleplay like no one’s business.

After the break, we’re twelve hours earlier, a storytelling technique I’m quite fond of. We’re in the Sit Room with Admiral Fitzwallace and Leo. Fitzwallace hangs up the phone and tells Leo that a Nighthawk – an F1-17 – didn’t come back to an airbase in Kuwait from a patrol in Iraq. Leo will bring in the president in ten minutes.

In that outdoor hallway that someone told me the name of this week but I still can’t remember, Jed is happily anticipating that if the event tonight is over early enough, he can get back in time to watch the girls’ softball game and then surmising that Charlie is mocking his desire to watch the softball game. Which he is. There’s an extended pedeconference between Charlie and Jed about what men do and cricket and softball and beer. 4 for this whole thing.

Jed finally makes his way to the press room, which they’re using to rehears the town hall. CJ is trying to go over certain stage-manager-type details and Jed mocks her, saying “And when I speak, I should face the audience, right?”, which, 4 and 5, I think. I’m feeling this as a woman and as a former stage manager type. Everyone thinks it’s so stupid to go over basics, then gets flummoxed by the presence of a stool or whatever.

Jed asks Sam why the space shuttle Columbia didn’t land last night, and Sam has no idea. Jed tells Sam to ask Toby. Sam asks why Toby would know, and Jed reveals that Toby’s brother was on the space shuttle, working with red-bellied Japanese newts. “Know what they call them, CJ?” Jed asks. “Astro-newts,” she replies, without a hitch. It’s a very cute moment.

Jed takes the dais, still mocking CJ for her stage managing. Another 5.

In the Toby area, Toby is talking through a bit of prep work or something regarding China with the assistants. Sam comes in and Toby frets about needing an answer on Cuba. Sam says the kids won’t ask about Cuba but Toby says there will be faculty there. Sam reveals that he did not only not know that Toby’s brother was on the Columbia; he didn’t know Toby had a brother. Sam walks through a few questions about the space shuttle’s schedule, and Toby reacts with hostility. Sam promises to find out what’s going on. Toby says “Thank you” in a tone that implies no gratitude whatsoever, and also wants an answer on Cuba.

We cut to the Josh area, where Josh is unhappy to learn that the only meeting Donna could get for him with the VP is one involving jogging. See, Hoynes wants to go pedeconferencing but a little faster. Donna reminds him that he’s supposed to be in town hall prep ten minutes ago. Josh wants to know what happened to his chair. Donna seems reluctant to talk about it but reveals that it’s in the shop because one of the wheels was wobbly. Well, not a shop. Her friend Curtis. 4 for this nonsense.

In the press room, Mandy is heckling the president about health insurance for children, not because she’s being feisty, but because it’s her job. The president repeats a phrase from her question, which Josh tells him not to do. The president gives a better answer and then asks for permission to blame Congress, which Josh and the laughing assembly agree to. Leo comes in. He needs the president in the Sit Room. I guess the ten minutes are up.

The president must have been briefed by Leo on the way in, because the first thing he does in the Sit Room is ask Admiral Fitzwallace if the pilot is alive. Fitz and some other dude say a bunch of words I don’t understand but the president is there to sum up for me – the pilot is probably alive but in the middle of hostile desert, ten miles from anyone, and “anyone” is the enemy. Does Fitz have a rescue scenario? He sure does. A whole bunch more words and letters and numbers spill out that I don’t understand, but that’s okay. Rescue is on its way! Except some other dude – not in uniform; in a suit – thinks they should check with the embassy before sending in a rescue team. Leo thinks this is stupid and tells the suited dude so. The president wants to know the pilot’s name and personal details. He says there’s a bounty on American soldiers in Iraq and that if we have to call this kid’s parents, we’re invading Baghdad. “Get him back,” he orders.

CJ comes in to Leo’s office, where Leo spills out the pilot story the minute she glides in. Can’t ask her to take a seat first? She rolls with it, asking if the pilot is alive. Leo tells CJ and reminds us that he is; he’s just in a desert surrounded by the Iraqi Republican Guard. CJ briefs Leo on what there’s going to be on television about this if the Iraqi Republican Guard have footage of themselves shooting down an F-117 (?). Leo asks if CJ understands what he’s asking her and reminds her of a problem a few months ago with India and Pakistan and them not telling her shit, therefore making it harder to do her job. Only Leo says it like it was her fault. 5. CJ also points this out and Leo non-apologizes.

Josh comes in to ask Leo about the F-117. Josh points out that it’s a stealth fighter and they should probably talk at some point about how the Iraqi Republican Guard took down a stealth fighter. Excuse my stupidity, but stealth fighters can only make themselves invisible to radar and other detecting machines, right? Not to the human eye? Okay, cool. Anyway, Josh tells Leo he and Hoynes are jogging. Leo reminds Josh to tell Hoynes why “it” is” bad for Hoynes, not bad for them. We don’t know what “it” is yet. Josh is not worried, but Leo is, instructing Josh to come see him after the meeting.

In the hall, Toby finds Josh and also worries about why the stealth fighter wasn’t so stealthy. Guys. Could the Iraq Republican Guard not … look up?

Josh splits off and Toby finds Sam in his office. Sam informs Toby that one of the payload bay doors on Toby’s brother’s rocket ship wouldn’t close. Toby greets this news with hostility, and Sam illustrates what he’s learned from his research on Toby’s brother, such as, a) he’s a doctor, b) this is his fourth trip into space, and c) Toby has a brother. Sam reassures Toby that this is all going to be fine, per NASA dude Peter Jobson, and Toby continues to appear not to give a shit, telling Sam they’ve got to move prep to the Roosevelt Room. Sam responds by saying they’re still looking for an answer on Cuba, and on teachers. As Sam leaves the room, Toby asks him to keep in touch with Peter Jobson and keep Toby informed.

Jogging with Hoynes and his Secret Service detail. This appears to be about campaign finance, and they’ve been noticing that Hoynes is playing a lot of racquetball with members of the party opposed to same. Also Josh is noticing he’s not in good enough shape to jog with Hoynes. Then Josh goes on about the president’s numbers rising, and it’s all going fine until he says something about bringing the pilot home alive being worth another ten points. Oof. Josh. That’s not good. He does cap off his little out-of-breath speechifying by saying, “You’ve had some experience battling Jed Bartlet when he’s right, and you’ve had some experience battling Jed Bartlet when he’s popular. Why in the world would you want to trywhen he’s both?”

Hoynes says he wonders, if he listened to Josh two years ago, would he be president right now? Josh says he doesn’t wonder it, he knows that Hoynes would be. Then he staggers off, unable to run with Hoynes anymore.

CJ is at her press briefing with some military brass. She fills the press in on the F-117. Leo watches her handle the briefing with her usual fucking aplomb, Leo, because she’s good at her fucking job. 5. Because I’m pissed.

Misogyny Points Thus Far: 8

In the Roosevelt Room, Mandy is giving some instruction to the president, and the president is using this opportunity to make some more fun of CJ for her stage-management concerns. 5. Then the team devolves into the debate about his jacket that we heard referenced in the cold open.

Zoey comes in and the president is eager to speak to her, although not about the jacket. Zoey is concerned about her father’s medical condition, and he is dismissive, because stupid girls and their stupid girl things. 4. Jed wants Zoey to come tonight, and she doesn’t want to because it’ll be embarrassing, but he insists. Zoey tells him Charlie had something he wanted to say during prep, then confirms that she’ll be there that night.

The president dismisses everyone in the Roosevelt Room, then asks Charlie about Zoey’s thing. Charlie denies all. Sam stops the president to suggest that they have a signal, in case good news about the pilot comes through while the president is on live TV. Sam makes the sign we saw him make to Toby in the cold open. The president mocks him so subtly, Sam misses it. I’m going to go ahead and give this a -5, since a male underling is being mocked.

Josh goes to Leo’s office, where Leo has just gotten off the phone with Hoynes. Josh did well; Hoynes is going to do what they wanted him to do with the FEC guys. But did Josh really say that they’d get a ten-point bump for getting the pilot out alive? Yes, Josh did say that. Boy, would the president have been pissed if he found out about that. Because does Josh not understand that this is srsbsns and not just a political thing. And actually, Leo is pretty pissed, because Leo flew planes. I’m giving this a 7. If Donna or CJ ever screwed up this way, it’d be a catastrophe. In fact, part of this episode revolves around the time CJ “screwed up” because it was her fault somehow that the men she works for don’t trust her to do her job.

Josh apologizes, Leo accepts, and Josh leans in for a hug, which Leo was in no way inviting. It’s pretty funny. (Also, John Spencer must be pretty short, because Bradley Whitford is not a tall man, and he’s, like, towering over Spencer.)

Josh turns to go, but Leo asks him about the signal. Josh shows him, and Leo thinks it looks terrible, like a hip-hop gesture. Racist? Maybe. Anyway, they quibble about the gesture, and I guess there’s some generational thing going on, because Sam and Josh are into the gesture, and Toby, who I think is a little older than them, is pretending not to be, and Leo and Jed are dismissive. I don’t know what that’s about.

Josh apologizes again and Leo thanks him. BTW, if anyone is looking for my life-coaching advice, I’ve heard that “Thank you” is a better response to “I’m sorry” than “That’s okay.” “That’s okay” implies that, well, what the other person did was okay. That you are willing to accept that same behavior in the future. Whereas “Thank you” is a gracious acknowledgement of the apology without allowing the apologizer to believe nothing was wrong in the first place.

In a hallway, Charlie is mad that Zoe told her father that Charlie has something to say. Charlie doesn’t believe it’s his place to take part in policy discussions. Zoe thinks he’s being a chicken. There’s a cute little sitcom-y set-up where Charlie says he works in a building with the smartest people in the world just as Josh, whose office they’re using, comes in and falls to the floor because he tries to sit in a chair that isn’t there.

Sam knocks on Toby’s door. Toby immediately asks what he knows, and Sam says there was a screw-up with the door, and now there’s a problem with the engines. Toby appears to know more than he has let on so far about what the back-up plans are for when a shuttle malfunctions. Sam assures Toby that if it were a big deal, they’d have called the president. Toby reveals that he had been embarrassed when Sam first asked about this, because Toby had forgotten his brother was up there. He’d lost track of the schedule. Sam’s assistant Cathy comes in to tell Toby that Peter Jobson is on the phone for him.

After what would have presumably been a commercial break. Jed is asleep on a couch in the Oval when Charlie comes in to tell him that Admiral Fitzwallace is on his way. Jed takes the opportunity to press Charlie about what Zoe had been saying before. Charlie reluctantly brings up a report that had been sitting on Jed’s desk about youth participation in voting. Mrs. Landingham interrupts to announce Admiral Fitzwallace, so Jed tells Charlie to put the report in his suitcase.

Fitzwallace says they’ll be calling in a minute, and asks if Jed is feeling okay, as Zoe did before. The weird thing is, I don’t remember Jed’s health being relevant this episode. Anyway, Fitzwallace starts talking about the eagle seal on the carpet in the Oval Office. Sometimes the eagle is facing the olive branch, but when Congress declares war, it faces the arrows. How do they do that? Fitzwallace is dying to know. Me, not so much. Jed, neither. Fortunately the call comes through.

The pilot is safe! Hooray! Nothing more than a sprained ankle! Jed promises to get an answer on the carpet in gratitude. He then gets on the phone with the pilot, and asks for his parents’ phone number, because “I never get to make this call.” Aw, Jed.

CJ is reporting the good news to the press and promises to answer more questions when they get out of the town hall over at Arlington. She talks about buses and it strikes me that part of the press secretary’s job is camp counselor for the reporters. I would watch a show about White House reporters and their camp counselor/nemesis press secretary, wouldn’t you?

CJ quibbles with Carol about spelling which I guess counts as the Buechele test passed. -10. That’s good, because I couldn’t figure out if Gina and Zoe’s conversation in the cold open counted. Zoe was talking about her boyfriend (no) and her father (maybe?) and Gina wasn’t really talking to her at all.

Danny bellows at CJ and CJ orders him loudly into her office. Danny is pissed that CJ told him in an earlier press briefing that they were trying diplomatic solutions. CJ points out that she can’t really tell the press about super-secret rescue plans as they are underway. But Danny is pissed that she called on him for the question she knew she was going to lie about. Like, all of them were going to ask the same question, so why did she call on him? I gotta say, this is interesting inside baseball, and also sounds petty as shit to an outsider. Danny shouts that he’s covered the White House for “the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and the Dallas Morning News,” and CJ teases him that it was very hot the way he said that just then, but that she doesn’t know “why you decided to be your most haughty on the Dallas Morning News,” and it’s cute. Carol reminds them that the buses are leaving for Arlington now.

Leo is side-eyeing Jed’s desire to watch women’s softball 4 and even Mrs. Landingham is dismissive 4 although I suspect for her it’s more the “sports” than the “girl sports”. It’s time to go, though, Mrs. Landingham reminds the president. Before getting there, though, Jed has to stop by and talk to Toby, who is worried about his brother and therefore also not getting in the car yet. Jed just spoke to someone about Toby’s brother’s shuttle, and reassures Toby that there’s lots of things to try and it’ll all probably be fine. Toby is worried, though. Because Toby is Toby and I love him. Jed also implies that part of the problem is that Toby and his brother are not on good terms. Toby is appreciative of the president’s comfort and understanding, but he’s still worried. “The shuttle flies itself, Toby,” Jed says. “No, it doesn’t, Mr. President,” Toby replies. Jed agrees. “No, it doesn’t.” I love Toby. The shuttle does not fly itself and it’s not a comfort to pretend it does.

And now we’re at the Newseum and back where we started. We see some of the same stuff. The joke about lying politicians, the jacket, CJ smacking Danny, Toby’s phone call. The signal that means his brother’s home safe. But we see more of Toby’s relieved face.

Then Gina and the other Secret Service dude and the exchange about softball, same as before, only this time we go in close on a kid in the crowd straight out of White Nationalist Central Casting. We see him listen to Gina, then look up at a window in an office building nearby, which is lit up red, and someone’s inside.

Jed is closing his speech by thanking whoever called him a socialist and reminding everyone that his ancestor signed the Declaration of the Independence. I can now no longer hear the opening lines of the Declaration without rapping them in my head and promising to tell Thomas Jefferson to “include women in the sequel – WORK!”

The music is getting ominous. That teenager looks threatening. Someone is locking and loading up in that office building. “Straight to the car,” Gina tells her walkie.

Charlie is still pretending to be mad at Zoe but Zoe sees through him. Jed uses the hand gesture for Toby and Toby laughs and smiles, which is so delightful because it is so rare. More gun stuff, more scary teen. Jed walking out, as viewed from the teenager’s POV and then the guys in the office. Rope line. Gina. Ominousness. Gina spotting the teen. The teen walking away, Gina sees the shooter and shouts “Gun!” Just as the people in the window start shooting.

All is chaos. We see several of our key people being pushed to the ground but it’s hard to tell what’s going on. The screen goes black as we hear Secret Service agents shout, “We’ve got people down. Who’s been hit? Who’se been hit?”

Oh, my God, you guys, who’s been hit? How do we talk about silly things like sexism now?

Well, needs must.

Total Misogyny Points: 11  A respectable episode. And a really, really good one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing,” Episode 1.22, “What Kind of Day Has It Been”

  1. Llorona says:

    Hello, thank you! I’m delighted! The word for outdoor hallway is “portico”. I would watch the CJ Cregg press-nemesis spinoff, but I want a Joey Lucas spinoff even more.

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