Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing,” Episode 1.20, “Mandatory Minimums”

Okay so listen. I know I don’t produce these recaps at a fast enough clip. But I do love doing them. So this one took me, oh, eleventy-hundred months to write. But I enjoyed all of those months and I’ll see what I can do about working at a steadier clip.

Also you need to know – if you don’t already – about two podcasts: The West Wing Weekly, with WW alum Joshua Malina and podcaster Hrishikesh Hirway, and Jed Bartlett is My President with Lani Diane Rich, formerly of StoryWonk and also romance novelist and professor. The first has some big deal guests – including Ed and Larry – and obviously some insight from Joshua Malina himself on what it’s like to work with the Big Guy. The second has a lot more feminist-y stuff, which I like, but she’s going out of order, which drives me crazy. I am not in general a Type A person, but there are some things…

Anyway, on to the recap.


  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.

Last time on The West Wing, Josh failed to land Joey Lucas because she was sleeping with Q; a piece of paper was going around; Leo told the news room about his history of addiction; two seats opened up on the Federal Election Commission and Jed wants to get all outsider-president about how he picks new commissioners, which makes some Congressdude threaten Josh with a legislative agenda that will embarrass the president.

At the Sheraton Centre Hotel in D.C. (which, this is America, bitches; we spell it “Center”), the president is giving a speech about our episode title. He says he feels nervous about laws that assume you can’t trust Americans. I, for the record, do not. (Although I am against mandatory minimums.)

Jed is also against term limits. Ah, Jed. Here in 2017, so am I.

The press seems impressed with the speech, and C.J. is quipping. With a female reporter. They are both women, but they are talking about what the president had for breakfast . I have no idea if this passes the Bechdel test or not. C.J. tells the press they’re about to hear something interesting and she’ll talk more about it at the briefing later, in a sure-to-be-successful effort to get them not to bug her about it now. Danny tries to chat with her privately but she blows him off so she can go listen to Jed’s big announcement.

In another room, a Senator is mansplaining cognac to his staffers. Do I have a number for mansplaining? Not really, and I don’t care enough about this particular moment to make one. The guy who was pissed off about the FEC thing last episode, who I thought WAS a Congressperson but in fact is the chief of staff for Senator Cognac, draws the Senator’s attention to Jed’s speech on the telly. (Hey, if the speech is at a centre, it’s on a telly.) The senator hears the names of the people Jed is appointing to the FEC and is furious that his threats-by-proxy didn’t work.

Sam is kind of needling Josh about the call he’s about to get from Senator Cognac. Toby tells Sam to stop it, and Sam says Toby told him to do it, and Josh appears cool as a cucumber. Donna approaches Josh with his cell phone. It’s Senator Cognac. Josh calmly takes the call, tells the senator to “take your legislative agenda and shove it up your ass.” He hangs up, in a move that definitely looks cooler with a flip phone than it would on a 2017 phone.

And on Cool-Guy Josh note, we get the swelling music!

After the credits, we’re in the briefing room with C.J., who reminds the press that the president has selected one Democrat and one Republican, “which he was under no legal obligation to do.” She also confirms to a reporter that they may not have told Congressional leadership that Jed was making this announcement, so Congressional leadership will be upset, as they expect to be the ones to choose new FEC chairs. Through all this, she’s sort of pointedly not calling on Danny. Another reporter wants to know if the president is declaring war on Congress, and we pan to Josh watching the briefing on a TV and encouraging C.J. (who cannot hear him) to say it’s a “police action.” She does not, but Josh seems pleased with her answer anyway.

Okay, wait, when C.J. answers a female reporter’s question, does that pass the Bechdel test? (Also, this confusion I am experiencing is not the Bechdel test’s fault. It’s the fault of television and movie scripts that force us to look for these little crumbs.) Either way, I guess I can put a -10 here.

Donna pulls Josh out to go see Toby about “polling”. Donna temporarily refuses to tell him that Toby is pulling in Al Kiefer, who you may remember from 1.16, “Twenty Hours in L.A.”, and whose face may or may not, depending on whether you watched Star Trek: The Next Generation and how you felt about his character Q, give you a visceral “No” reaction any time he appears on screen. It’s not your fault, John de Lancie, actor who plays Al Kiefer and Q. Or rather it is. For being such a good actor as the intensely irritating Q.

Anyway, Donna’s point is that, with Al Kiefer will be arriving Joey Lucas, who first charmed Josh in 1.14, “Take this Sabbath Day,” and then was sleeping with Al Kiefer in 1.16, but maybe not exclusively and maybe she’s interested in Josh and despite her stunning lack of taste in men, we like her. Josh pretends to be unfazed by this information and Donna pretends to believe him.

In the Toby area, the Toby assistants clap for Josh and his cool-guy flip-phone demeanor. Bonnie says they’re not allowed to talk like that in Indiana. Ginger, the Sheen, says in New Jersey, it’s encouraged. Speaking as a Jersey native transplanted to the Midwest, I can relate to both these ladies.

Josh finds Toby and Sam in Sam’s office. Toby is watching over Sam’s shoulder as Sam writes and says it’s good twice before saying he might want to come to a verb at some point. Sam says it’s imagery; Toby says it’s bad writing. I love this little byplay because it’s about writing and I love Toby but also if I were Sam I’d want to punt him through the wall and Sam doesn’t appear to want to do that so I love Sam a little, too.

The boys talk Al Kiefer, and how he’s only going to do what Toby orders him to do, which I’m sure will work out great. Also, given that English as the National Language is the first thing the Republican dudes threatened to put on the table, they want to gear up for that. Which means bringing in Joey Lucas and her Hispanic-heavy-California numbers. They are very concerned.

I feel like I should give this a number, this idea that a woman whom Josh finds charming but who didn’t sleep with him last time they saw one another is somehow a concern worthy of all of the professionals who work with Josh. But I can’t figure out which one. Maybe a for Joey being relegated primarily to romantic status.

But the more Sam talks about women in a very way, and also a little 4 for the mention of high heels, the more disheartened Josh looks, until finally Sam observes that nothing he’s saying right now is helpful and so he’ll just go back to his job. Josh leaves (after saying C.J. is doing great) and Toby mentions that Sam could use punctuation at any time, and Sam finally looks annoyed. I could 100% watch a show that is primarily devoted to Sam and Toby co-writing things.

C.J. is still killing it in the briefing room, agreeing with a reporter that the Federal Election Commission is generally “toothless,” but that the symbolism is still important. C.J. walks off and whispers something to Carol. Carol approaches Jack, a reporter sitting directly in front of Danny, and says C.J. wants to see him in her office for some follow-up. Jack gets all embarrassed and insists she must want Danny, not him – not because he and all of the reporters have been gossiping for months about Danny and C.J. possibly doing it, but because Danny outranks him.

Only ever on Sorkin shows do people committed to their intensely competitive jobs ever try to turn down major opportunities in their fields because it’s someone else’s turn. TNFTS!

Anyway, C.J. did not mean Danny, she meant Jack, and Danny is making many faces about this, but, because he is also Noble, he tells Jack to go.

On Tuesday morning, Sam is lecturing Toby about why mandatory minimums are bad, while Toby insists he knows. See, this is the point I was trying to make last episode. When it’s Donna, it’s, “Please, Josh, mansplain to me a thing that the real assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff would definitely know already, even if the average audience member wouldn’t.” When it’s Toby, it’s “I obviously already know this thing you’re telling me for the sake of the average audience member and I will mention with every sentence how much I already know this.” Anyway, the point is that Sam wants to do something, and Toby doesn’t want him to, so even though Toby said Sam was in charge of this thing, actually, Toby is still in charge forever and always. And they passed the breakfast place where they’re meeting Leo a block ago, but Sam felt they were having a nice conversation. You guys, I really love the Toby-Sam dynamic.

At the restaurant, Margaret is doing something weird with pencils. 4? I don’t know. It’s weird. Josh comes in, with Donna, complaining that they’re far from the office. Donna points out that Josh’s suit is particularly nice, because Joey Lucas is coming, and Margaret admires it, and it’s all very silly 4 in a way that Toby and Sam dragging Josh to their office to make sure he’s okay with Joey appearing wasn’t. Toby and Sam arrive – and by the way, they’re seated outside on this lovely terrace and it looks like a very nice place to get breakfast. Toby says they’re ready to go to the president with treatment vs. incarceration on drugs, and Sam also wants to go to him with stuff about getting rid of mandatory minimums (this being what they were talking about during their nice conversation), but Leo, like Toby, thinks they should do one thing at a time. And that Sam’s in-chargeness was not so much an actual thing.

Leo takes a call while the waitress comes over to take their order and has Margaret write some names down. The names are very Sorkin-y so I will record them here: Dalton. Dawson. Foxworthy. Greer. Morganthal. Stackhouse. Sugarbaker. Toby asks what that was, Leo says that Toby knows, and Toby says it’s the right thing to do. But what is it?! We don’t know yet. Boy, the audience anticipation you’re building better pay off.

Josh would like to clear up that he’s not dressed up specially for Joey Lucas and Donna insists it is. Leo threatens to fire them, as is his wont. They are unafraid of him and continue to argue about Joey Lucas. With a little homosexual side-eye thrown in. 13. I almost forgot I had a number for that.

Anyway, Leo feels that they’ve got to not screw up this week and also that he is perfectly calm, a statement which Sam disputes by using a word his mother made up and then everyone looks at him funny. I do that all the time, Sam.

In the Oval, Al “Q” Kiefer is telling them they’re going to lose. C.J. and Mandy head outside and C.J. says “Listen,” and they just stare at each other for a while until Mandy insists she wants to go over Leo’s head to talk to the president. Hey, this is definitely the Bechdel test being passed, though. So that’s cool. C.J. is telling Mandy that everyone is so pissed at Mandy that they’re pissed at C.J. and Mandy storms off in an uncharacteristically poorly framed shot.

Back in the Oval, Al hates Sam’s idea that we spend more money on drug treatment and less on drug enforcement. (Like, spend the same total amount of money on drug stuff, but flip more to the treatment side rather than the punishment side.) Al thinks it makes us sound soft on crime. Jed does not give a fuck. Al is very tired. And I am with the White House boys; Al Kiefer is always wrong and also he’s Q so I hate him. But then why do they keep paying him money to tell them stuff?

Charlie makes a cute little face at Josh to get him out of the room, because omg you guys Joey Lucas is here and Charlie is being just as much of a weirdo as everyone else around this issue. “She’s a fine-looking woman,” he repeats to Josh like 80 times, even though a) isn’t he 20 years old or so? Would a 20-year-old in 2000 use the phrase “fine-looking woman”? and b) 2. Joey is there to do a job. For real, guys.

In Josh’s office, Josh greets Joey and her translator Kenny and offers to show them to her desk. Josh is being rude and justifying it with “This is the White House, bitch,” but then Margaret brings flowers from Leo, so ha! He then says that “women” like to personalize their space with things like hand lotion (?) but he doesn’t like clutter 4 and also he’s a dick 5 because he likes her 2. Then she has her translator say very loudly that she’s not sleeping with Al Kiefer anymore 2,3 and Josh lectures her on professionalism. Hey, remember that time Josh thanked a reporter for favorable reporting by trying to help him get in the press secretary’s pants? Good times.

C.J. finds Josh and reports her mistake – it turns out that the president is, in fact, under legal obligation to nominate a Democrat and a Republican to the FEC. This still doesn’t make sense to me. If two don’t usually quit at a time, how can you always be appointing one Democrat and one Republican? (Also, are our political parties really locked into law like that? I’m not sure I approve.) Anyway, C.J., you made a stupid boo-boo. 7. Josh she’ll fix it in the briefing and don’t worry about it. This feels like a stupid scene. Like, why is Josh C.J.’s point person on this? Isn’t Toby her boss? Why does this need to be explained to Josh at all?

In the Oval, Sam persists in trying to persuade Al Kiefer that drugs are an addiction and not a crime. Al feels they can’t sell it. Toby says, in a tone of voice that implies everyone would agree, that, “This isn’t ideological; it’s science,” and I fall over because I’m sobbing so hard. “Science is science to everyone,” Toby says. I can’t even see the screen through my tears.

Josh comes in and wants Toby and Leo. In Leo’s office, Josh opens with Joey’s new relationship status, because this is pre-Facebook and they don’t all already know. Josh reports what C.J. said, like, why isn’t C.J. reporting this? Why did she tell Josh first? WHAT IS THE STRUCTURE OF THIS OFFICE I AM SO CONFUSED PLEASE SEND HELP.

Josh asks if Leo has talked to Sam about “the thing” yet. Josh, I’m sure Sam’s updated on Joey’s sex life. Oh, no, they need to talk to Toby about a thing. A thing where they want Toby to have lunch with his ex-wife because his ex-wife is in Congress and something something something FEC.

Toby goes off and Josh complains that Leo sent flowers. Because this is a Sorkin teleplay, Josh is under the impression that he, Josh, was successfully flirting with Joey when he was being a dick about the professionalism of the White House. Professionalism he’s displaying in spades right now by mitchering his boss about sending their new contractor flowers.

Josh goes and Leo calls in Margaret and asks for the names he gave her earlier. She repeats them back to him and he’s for some reason annoyed that she memorized them. 5.  He asks Margaret to get one representative from each of those people’s entourages at 2:00, in the press briefing room. He won’t tell Margaret what he’s up to. I’m in a mood so I’m giving that a 5, too.

Josh goes to check on Joey. He declares that her clock is an acceptable bit of personal decoration. Then he sits down and tells Joey all about the FEC and the retaliation and English as the Second Language. Joey knows this; she was briefed by Toby. I’m going to go ahead and give that a -9. A female character already knows the thing she’s having explained to her. See? I am not in such a bad mood that I cannot be generous.

Joey’s alarm goes off. It’s lunch time. Josh looks annoyed that his flirtation-by-way-of-being-a-jackass isn’t going well.

Sam and Toby feel they can sell the idea of spending money on drug treatment. Al disagrees. The president wants lunch.

Sam heads back to his area and Cathy tries to get him to commit to a lunch order. In Sam’s office is Senator Cognac’s chief of staff, the guy who was threatening Josh. Sam wants him to talk to Josh. Senator Cognac’s chief- Oh, Christ, this is too long. I think his name is Steve; let’s go with that, shall we? Steve thinks Josh is not being himself. “Take your legislative agenda and shove it up your ass?” he says. But Sam says that sounds exactly like Josh. As do we all, but I like the opportunity for a joke. Steve wants to have lunch with Sam at Sam’s desk.

A beautiful redhead is on the lawn, trying to get Toby to sit with her. The ex-wife, then. They banter. It’s cute. She’s got pie. I’m giving this a 4 but also it’s cute. They of course must start walking before they can talk business, so they do. Gosh, D.C. is pretty. Andy (Andee? Andi?) wants to talk about mandatory minimums, Toby doesn’t, and they have a little ex-marital spat. Toby asks if she has a problem with what Leo is going to do, and she says she doesn’t but wants to be there, for fun. Toby complains about her wanting to have fun. 4.

Back in Sam’s office, Steve tells Sam that as long as they press on the FEC, there’s no room to work with them on the drug thing, which Steve knows is important to Sam. “With the FEC, you can go back to writing speeches for when the president talks to the Girl Scout who sells the most cupcakes.” Sam is called out of the office but makes a point to tell Steve that Girl Scouts sell cookies, not cupcakes, and that he wrote a great speech about volunteerism. Sam’s defense of the Girl Scouts is why Steve’s comment is not getting a number. I’m taking this show/Aaron Sorkin to task for displays of misogyny, not the characters. We’re clearly not meant to side with Steve.

C.J. comes to see Leo; his peeps are in the press briefing room. C.J. brings up her mistake and Leo chastises her pretty hard. 7. Leo peels off to his super special secret meeting in the press room, and Danny accosts C.J. to yell at her about ignoring him. They yell at each other for a while, and it’s mostly about C.J. not putting up with Danny condescending to her anymore. God, I hope that sticks. A -3, I think, for how this is a woman being in control, quick-witted, and strong in her own defense without it coming across as adorably “feisty.”

Leo greets his group. He starts talking and one of the group interrupts him right away, which, rude. But Leo can handle it. He tells them there’s going to be a debate about fighting the drug problem, and that the White House will be in favor of more money for treatment vs. punishment, while the people they work for – those names Margaret memorized – being more in favor of punishment. Oh, and Andy is getting to witness this, which strikes me as WHOLLY UNPROFESSIONAL but whatever. So why is he talking to the seven of them about this? But it’s because each of their bosses are connected to situations in which privileged people did not have to serve the “mandatory minimums” connected to the drug crimes they committed. Someone’s daughter was trafficking cocaine and got a slap on the wrist. Someone’s husband committed vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, got community service. Etc. “The president wants a lively debate but he’s not going to stomach hypocrisy.” If any of their bosses start saying anything about being soft on crime, Leo will make his information public knowledge. And Leo has C.J. open the doors to the press to demonstrate how easy it would be to do so. Yes, the payoff was worth all the mystery. Andy and I both enjoyed watching that scene very much. Toby did not enjoy Andy’s enjoyment. Aw, Toby. I like you.

Andy reveals to Toby that the previous night, she had been on a date and her date “bumped” a car in front of them and a cop was about to give them a ticket when he recognized Andy and didn’t. Toby says as long as Andy didn’t ask for such treatment, there’s no problem. Then he marvels that she was on a date with the “executive adviser” for the Baltimore Orioles. Is that a real job title? Come the fuck on.

They banter a little more but Andy is very serious about mandatory minimums and enjoyed seeing Toby. Toby asks her for pie. It’s very sweet. I love Toby. And Richard Schiff is so damn good.

It’s 11:30 pm. The president is asleep next to a bunch of open books and papers. Leo barges in because why the fuck, Leo? Jed doesn’t beat him over the head but lets him in instead.

Charlie drops in on Josh still at his desk. Charlie has noticed that Joey is still here and wants Josh to go over there and not be a dick but be nice instead. 2. But also it’s a good piece of advice, Josh.

Charlie leaves and Toby and Sam come in to tell Josh about Sam’s meeting with Steve. Josh and Toby find this whole thing hilarious. They think that Steve knows about Laurie, Sam’s hooker friend, and wants Sam out in front on something so that Steve can use Laurie to take Sam down. Sam is not nearly as amused by this as Josh and Toby are.

They leave Josh’s office and Josh sees Joey. Joey starts telling him about her research but Josh wants to give her this White House mug he got her. You know, to decorate her desk. Joey likes it. Josh kicks Kenny out and tells Joey that he did, indeed, wear his nicest suit for her. Joey smiles. Joey is 100% too good for Josh. I’m not into her highlights right now, but it was 2000 so she is forgiven.

Okay, so Leo woke the president up to talk to him about his feelings regarding drug treatment legislation and Leo’s own addiction. Jed, instead of being irritated at being kept awake for this, says nice, supportive things to Leo. Then C.J. comes in because this is a staff that comes up to the residence whenever they want to. I suspect this is acceptable in very few White Houses. I suspect this is one thing the Trump presidency and the Obama presidency have in common – that staffers are not permitted to wander at will into the residence at 11:45 at night. Anyway, C.J. wants to apologize for her mistake but Jed doesn’t care about the mistake and forgives her. Sam and Toby turn up. Because sure. And then Josh, too. And Josh tells Jed and the gang about the coffee mug. The president wonders why his Secret Service agents haven’t taken them all out. I am wondering the same thing. Sam wants to know where Jed is on the drug thing. He’s not anywhere because it’s nearly midnight and he wants to be a-fucking-sleep, Sam.

I know, I know, this is cute and Jed gets an opportunity to give the gang a pep talk in his pjs. I’m just being a curmudgeon.

Jed also tells them to be nice to Mandy and Danny now because they were both just doing their jobs.

Everyone leaves except for Toby and Leo. Toby says he met with Congresswoman Wyatt. Josh teases Toby about calling his ex-wife Congresswoman Wyatt and reveals that he enjoys calling his own wife Dr. Bartlett. Anyway, Andy’s turned Toby around on mandatory minimums. They’re racist. And Jed promises they’ll be part of the drug conversation.

Toby leaves and Jed tells Leo he’s sleeping better, dreaming of utopias, waking up and thinking he can sell those utopias. It’s a nice ending to a middling episode. Of course, middling episodes on this show kick the asses of episodes on ALL THE OTHER SHOWS OF EVER.

Total Misogyny Points:  Aw, shit, I didn’t keep a running tally. Okay, went back and counted. 15. That’s pretty light. I’d say the misogyny in this episode is light but heavily concentrated around certain themes – like, say, “Hey, Josh, we brought you a girlfriend!”  That theme.


Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing,” Episode 1.17, “The White House Pro-Am”

OMG I started this forever ago. I have come back to finish it now. Sorry.

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,” Stockard Channing, the first lady, could have married a lot of other people besides Jed Bartlett; Charlie condescendingly tells Zoey he’s trying to be a better boyfriend; Zoey’s got a new Secret Service agent who’s looking out for white supremacists.

In this episode, the first lady is getting ready to go on TV with a black teenage boy named Jeffrey. The first lady is joking with the young man about going on national television in a manner that, in a Sorkin script, is jocular and friendly and leads to camaraderie, but in real life just makes you an asshole. 3 And listen, people, I know. I think I was raised in a sort of Sorkin-esque environment, and am therefore sometimes unwittingly an asshole myself. I’m sorry.

The kid is unruffled, because he’s a Sorkin character. With ten seconds to air, the First Lady calls out to Lily, whom I believe is her Leo, that she should have worn the gray suit. 4. Then we’re live, and it turns out that Jeffrey has come to the first lady’s attention because he’s started an organization called The Children’s Crusade, regarding child labor. He had a pen pal in India who basically got sold into slavery to a loan shark.

This is all being explained while Sam, watching the TV in the Sam-and-Toby area, is sniffing, “When did Jeffrey happen?” at Lily. Lily wants Sam to give them the news cycle that day. See, the plan currently is for the president to bring the trade bill or something, physically, to Congress, in a gesture indicating compromise and bipartisanship and blah blah blah. But Lily wants the Congressional leaders to just come to the White House as usual, so that the press will be more interested in the Jeffrey story. Sam does not want to. Since Lily’s “guy” is married to Sam’s “guy” and Sam’s “guy” won an election, nyah nyah. 4. Lily points out that her “guy” has a way higher approval rating than Sam’s “guy”, “and bite me.” 3. “Ah, point well argued,” sarcastics Sam. 5. That’s not quite the right number because she’s not his subordinate. But he seems to think she is.

Back on screen, the interviewer asks Abby Bartlett if the companies know they’re using child slave labor. “If they don’t,” Abby says, “then they’re criminally negligent. If they do, they’re simply criminal.” Lily is very proud of this line, as, I feel, she should be. Even Sam thinks it’s good.

But then Toby comes out of his office and tells them to turn to channel 5. “Bernie Dahl died,” he announces ominously. Sam and Lily watch the news, shocked, as the death of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve is announced. Sam has to get in the snide remark about Lily losing her news cycle. 5.


MPTF: 6 We are off to a great start!

I wish I had better language to describe shots and camerawork. This show does a lovely job of that; I just don’t know how to talk about it. We’re with the president in the Oval, and the first shot is lovely, but you’ll just have to take my word for it. He’s asking a guy in military uniform and another guy in a suit if there’s going to be a coup. The military suit guy thinks not. Then he says a bunch of words I don’t understand.

Leo comes in to call the president out of the room, to tell him about Bernie Dahl. And also to tell him that everyone already knows, which, the president surmises, means the market will open 300 points down. Is it me, or sixteen years later, does a 300 point dip sound laughably adorable?

Leo wants Jed to announce Ron Ehrlich as successor right away, to prevent market panic. Jed is stubbornly reluctant. He’s not sure it’s going to be Ron Ehrlich and wants a day to think about it. Leo thinks this is stupid. I mean, he doesn’t say it like that but he does. Jed thinks Leo could be nicer to him during this conversation. He didn’t tell you you were being stupid, Jed. That’s pretty nice. Leo holds his ground about this being bad for the economy, claiming he’s going to go dump his portfolio now. Then Jed reveals that there’s some sort of family tension around Ron Ehrlich. “I’m not ready to jump into bed with Ron Ehrlich yet,” he says, “making me one of the few people in my family who can say that.” Had I not seen the previouslies, I would assume that he meant that Ron Ehrlich tried to sleep with more than one Bartlett woman, and that any number of them seemed amenable to that. As I did see the previouslies, I think we can all safely assume that Ron Ehrlich is one of the people Abby Bartlett could have married.

Also 2.

Donna wants to tell Josh about a book she’s reading, about what life was like 100 years ago. He’s not interested, because 4. Also he expresses his disinterest with rudeness, as ought to be expected. 5 Also he suggests strongly that she only has time to read these books because she’s not doing her job. 5. She leads with a few things Josh is not at all interested in – how women used to wash their hair, popular female baby names 4, but then mentions that drive-by shootings were a problem, which seems slightly more interesting to him. In case you haven’t watched enough TV, this books is going to be a Thing for the rest of the episode.

MPTF: 11

Toby wants Sam to come up with a way for C.J. to say they’re not naming Dahl’s successor without making it look like they’re backing away from Ron Ehrlich. Sam says he already gave her one – respect. You know, cause the dude just died. Sam is also highly concerned about Dahl’s heart attack and claims he will go to the gym later. Toby points out that this was Dahl’s fifth heart attack and the man was 138 years old, so maybe young, fit Sam doesn’t need to be so nutsy.

Josh comes to take Toby to a meeting that Toby doesn’t want to go to. It’s to get three left-wing Congresspeople on their side for something that’s already going to pass without them, but Josh wants to look like their liberal base still loves them. Toby thinks this is beneath him, and that they won and they don’t have to grovel for more votes. Josh says they’re doing good cop, bad cop. Toby wants to be the cop that’s not at the meeting. Josh says they’ll start out insulted if he doesn’t show. Toby suggests that if he does show, they’re going to end up insulted. But they go anyway, even though they’re still fighting.

Josh greets the people in the meeting warmly, while Toby sits and appears prepared to keep his mouth shut, as he promised Josh he would.

C.J. is briefing on Bernie Dahl’s death, but before she can finish her statement of respectful grief, the corps starts shouting, “C.J.!” The first question is, of course, if Ron Ehrlich is going to be Dahl’s replacement. C.J. dodges until Danny Concannon says that Abby Bartlett’s declared a preference for Ehrlich, and will that sway the president? C.J. is not aware of any such declaration. Danny says it’s a wire piece, with unnamed sources claiming that the first lady had previously said she hoped the president would appoint Ehrlich after Dahl’s term expired. C.J. gives Danny a line about “maybe on a social occasion.” Someone else asks when they can expect an announcement, C.J. says tomorrow, someone else asks why the delay, and C.J. says, “Respect.” Which does sound stupid in context, though it’s not actually a stupid reason. I think. Having little idea what the Fed Chair does.

Outside the press room, C.J. asks Carol to get her the wire report to which Danny referred, and also, could she have sounded any stupider, saying, “Respect”? Okay, so that’s the Bechdel test passed. -10.

C.J. approaches Sam and tells him about the wire piece, which causes Sam to cancel his plans to head to the gym. He heads to Lily’s office instead, where he bullies and insults her 5 and in the end is no closer to discovering who leaked the quote, nor is he any closer to working more productively with the first lady’s staff.

In the Oval, Jed is spouting stuff about the economy that Leo, C.J., and I don’t fully understand, but only C.J. gets called out for not understanding. 5. The upshot is, Jed’s not sure Ehrlich’s the guy. But also he doesn’t want anyone talking to his wife about it, because when his wife gets handled, he, Jed, gets a little “punishment” on the other side of the building. Damn, Jed. Maybe TMI. Also 8 and 2. But, while not talking to Abby, Jed would like C.J. to find out who the sources for the wire piece were, and then lists a bunch of friends and neighbors, almost entirely women, who don’t like him. 8. C.J. leaves and the president prattles on about the economy, and Leo admits to not knowing what the president is talking about. Then Jed claims sometimes he’s just making it up. For admitting this once C.J. leaves, I give this another 5.

MPTF: 15

Zoey’s been called in to the Oval, and Jed greets her by being sad she’s not five anymore. Leo goes, pretending to be confused by the term “keeping it real”. Jed settles into giving Zoey shit about her courses. But, seriously, he called Zoey in to tell her about the death threats they’ve been getting regarding her relationship with Charlie. He wants her not to go to the club opening she was planning on going to with Charlie, because the white supremacists are having some sort of convention in Virginia that weekend and it seems like too good an opportunity. Zoey notes that Charlie will not like it, but that she will tell him at lunch that day that they can’t go together.

As Zoey leaves, she says she’s sorry about Bernie Dahl and asks about Ron Ehrlich. Jed uses this opportunity to give her more shit about not taking math.

In the Toby-Josh meeting, a Congressperson points out that, as Democrats, they don’t like a thing because it lowers taxes. Apparently we do like lower tariffs, though. Yeah, I don’t know. Toby looks utterly bored. He plays with his tea and insists this is going to pass. Josh speaks condescendingly and the only woman in the room calls him on it. I love her. The first congressperson then says they’re concerned about the effects of cheaper, foreign-made products on American labor. Toby asks what kind of car he drives. He says he drives a Toyota. Toby tells him to shut up.

This is all about to devolve into a very kindergarten discussion of what global trade regulations do and I don’t care enough to parse it out. Except to point out that, at least with car manufacturing, the nationality of the company is almost never indicative of the location of factories. Our Hondas were built in Kentucky. Your Ford was built in Mexico. And so on.

There’s a knock, and Josh leaves cordially, and Toby leaves pissily. On the other side of the door, Josh says that this sort of behavior is why Toby has the reputation for being a pain in the ass. Toby says he cultivated that reputation. I love Toby. C.J., on the other hand, is waiting, less than patiently, to say what she came to say. She’s telling them about the wire piece. They all believe the source was Lily, who told Sam she didn’t know anything about it. Just like C.J. had suggested to Leo and Jed, Toby and Josh think this is an easy fix; if the first lady just says something like, “Old family friend, support my husband’s decisions, blah blah blah,” it’ll be fine. But C.J. tells them that Jed said he didn’t want Abby being handled. Josh feels this is all C.J.’s fault for not being able to tell the difference between Jed’s “Don’t handle my wife,” and Jed’s “Handle my wife, but I’m not the one telling you to do it.” 7. Toby tells her to go get Sam to go back to Lily.

Before they go back in, Josh observes that Toby likes winning, and Toby says, “Saves you from having to say the word ‘please’.” I’m only reporting this because it’s another good line.

Sam is bench pressing when his pager goes off. He puts the weight down and then bangs his head on it. A congressperson approaches him and says, basically, that she’s offering an amendment on the trade bill about child labor, which will change that sure win Josh and Toby thought they had. She’s got to do it because the first lady is talking about this but it’s HER thing so she has to do something about it now.

Leo goes to see Danny. They pedeconference. Danny brings up the market opening 320 points down. Leo wants Danny to come see the president at the end of the day, during a reception for the Michigan Women’s Democratic Caucus. Danny is suspicious.

C.J. blows Danny off and finds Sam, who ignored her page. Sam also wants C.J. to parse whether or not the president actually wants them to handle his wife. 7. Everyone seems to think this is somehow C.J.’s fault for not reading the president’s signals. Instead of the president’s fault for expecting his staff to manage his marriage. 8 C.J. asks Sam to go talk to Lily.

In the Josh-Toby meeting, the loudest congressperson is insisting that the fact that you can buy a British-made Range Rover has hurt Ford. Toby can, in fact, deny it, because, as a result of competition with the Range Rover, Ford made the Explorer, which is the best-selling model in its class.

Sam knocks, and the congressperson asks if they’re keeping them from more important things. “Many, many things,” Toby responds, which, duh. Did he think that the meeting to convince three Congresspeople to vote for a bill that was already going to pass was the most important thing on the Deputy Chief of Staff’s and the Communication Director’s schedules?

But of course, it’s about to become a way more important meeting. Sam tells them about the congresswoman’s amendment. They want to get Lily to get Abby to get the congresswoman to back off.

Charlie and Zoey are at a diner. Zoey is showing Charlie her notes on the 100 years ago book. They’re enjoying themselves. Well, Charlie is pretending to enjoy himself, in order to get some of Zoey’s egg salad. 4. Then Zoey drops the bomb on him about the club opening on Friday. Gina drops in to support her – the club itself, the physical building, is too hard to secure. Charlie doesn’t give a damn. Because he bought a new suit. For a club opening? What kind of club is this? Were there clubs in D.C. in the year 2000 to which 20-year-old guys would wear suits? Anyway, Charlie consults the book. He observes that 100 years ago, a black man couldn’t go to a club with a white woman for fear of being killed. Charlie, stop being a dick about this. 4.

Zoey excuses herself for the bathroom, which Gina signals, to another agent. Charlie thinks he is the one with the right to be pissed. Gina points out that it’s actually her job to take a bullet for Zoey, and that she prefers it when Zoey stays home and watches movies. This seems both true and unprofessional to say. Charlie leaves without waiting for Zoey to say goodbye.

Sam goes to Lily’s office but oh, look at that! It’s not Lily, it’s Abby! Back from the commercial break, Abby is complaining about the war the two staffs wage. Sam tells the president that, in fact, the first lady does not behave professionally. Sam says she has to vet stuff like Jeffrey through his office, because he’s the one who knows what he’s doing. And also she’s got to tell the congresswoman to back off. She says she will. 5 for this whole thing.

Danny is waiting in the outer office of the Oval, annoying Mrs. Landingham. Then Abby walks in and he annoys her by getting the name of the event wrong. (“The Many Women of Michigan?”) Because it’s about girls, and girls are stupid. 4. Abby walks out.

MPTF: 21

Danny tries to engage Charlie in conversation but Charlie is not really interested. He says he can’t date Zoey because he can’t be constrained by the Secret Service. Danny thinks he’s being stupid. Danny says, “If it was me, just for now, I’d make sure I was the one guy in her life that was totally hassle-free.” Which is not exactly really good advice? He does point out that the guys who are sending the death threats may be heavily armed, but they’re not necessarily good marksmen – “One day they’re going to be aiming for her and hit me.” That’s the better point. Charlie can be cavalier about his own safety, but he’s not the only one at risk. And, black or white, when you’re dating the president’s daughter and the Secret Service says, we cannot make you or her sufficiently safe here, you don’t go. That’s kind of it. There’s no use getting pissed at them, or at her, about it. But also, it’s probably not great for your relationship, whether you are the boy or the girl, to make it a goal to be “hassle-free.”

I guess it does make Danny the one guy who didn’t act as if a woman in this episode was irrationally angry when in fact she was quite justified. So, go Danny? I’ll give this a -8.

The president calls Danny in to the Oval Office. Leo’s in there, too. He thinks the president should not be having this conversation with Danny. I have to agree, because what the president is doing is, he’s trying to use the “closeness” he claims he and Danny have cultivated, over late-night talks on the campaign trail, and also Danny’s having written a biography of the first lady, to get Danny to spill who his source was on the quote about Ron Ehlrich. Because he doesn’t want to just ask Abby. So he’s trying to get his staff and now a reporter to intervene in his marriage because he’s too chicken-shit to do it himself. 8.

Danny, appropriately, refuses, though he cites not wanting to get in trouble with the first lady as one of his reasons. 8, Danny, and for shame. Then he says the president should forgive him because he just gave “very sage” dating advice to Charlie. The president is not pleased that Danny is helping Charlie “score with my daughter.” Ew. 2. The president sends Danny away.

At the party for the Michigan Women’s Democratic Caucus, Donna is continuing to talk to a very bored Josh about the book. One hundred years ago, it seemed, people were worried about seamstresses become aroused by the steady rhythm of the foot pedals used to operate sewing machines. The recommendation was to drug the seamstresses with bromide, to reduce their sexual desire. Josh asks why anyone would want to reduce a woman’s sexual desire. Donna says, flirtatiously, that “we can get out of hand.” This is a super-appropriate conversation for them to be having, and because I’m in the mood, I’m giving it a 2.

Josh turns to watch as the first lady walks in. She pulls aside the congresswoman who has the amendment and does what Sam wanted her to do – promises political support to the congresswoman while also commanding her to drop the amendment.

Back in the Oval, Leo and the president also marvel at the dangers of the rhythm of the sewing machine pedals. And Leo mentions that morphine, heroin, and marijuana were all over-the-counter drugs.

Mrs. Landingham pops in to tell the president that his wife is here to see him, and Leo peaces out, much to Jed’s chagrin. It is evident that Abby is pissed. She mentions Sam coming to see Lily and Jed tries to pass it off as flirtation between them 2 but Abby’s not having it. Jed admits that he wanted C.J. to handle her. And he doesn’t even thank Abby when she tells him she killed the amendment. Then he gets self-righteous about trying to get his staff to manage their marriage. And he reveals that this is all because he was pissed about her saying nice things about Ron Ehrlich. And then Abby reveals that she did, in fact, used to date Ron Ehrlich. I’m giving this a 2. Because he nitpicks on how long they dated and calls him “Skippy.” Also a 4 for not wanting to look like he’s “taking orders from his wife” by choosing Ron Ehrlich now. Abby concedes she was wrong to say that to the press, and Jed demands that she just “stand there in her wrongness and be wrong and get used to it.” Ugh. Jed. For real. 4. Because I don’t know what other number to give this.

But Abby is still impassioned about the plight of child laborers and Jed kind of agrees with her. He says this was their first Oval Office fight, which I find hard to believe. He’s been in office almost two years. Then they settle in to parent talk about Zoey and Charlie. Abby reveals that Charlie headed over to Zoey’s dorm a few minutes ago. They leave for the party with their arms around each other.

We cut to the hall of Zoey’s dorm. Charlie, in his suit, has flowers. He knocks, and nods at Gina, across the hall. Zoey is pissed but for some reason accepts Charlie’s apology, even though he says that he’s apologizing for “anything I’ve done to upset you, even if it only exists in your kind of confused little mind.” That’s just so awful. 8. And 4. And fuck you, Charlie. I like you most of the time, but in this moment I really hate you.

Charlie brought popcorn and videos (Hi, 2000!), and the door closes, as Gina radios, “Bookbag is in for the night.”

TMP: 30. It’s a pretty high episode, folks.

By the by, I feel like I remember the existence in the real world of this book, published at around this time (meaning early 2000). I don’t feel like Googling at the moment but if anyone knows about this, hit me up in the comments.

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.

Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin – “The West Wing,” 1.10, “In Excelsis Deo”

There are many things I should be doing right now (like going to bed) but I am choosing this instead.

To remind you, I am using these posts to a) recap a much-beloved (by me and in general) TV show, and b) point out the misogyny in it. Because I like to combine my two favorite activities – watching TV I love, and hate-watching! 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


!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it. Not misogynist, just entertaining to me personally.

Previously, on “The West Wing,” Danny brought C.J. a goldfish; Sam tried to save his escort friend from her degrading lifestyle; and Leo revealed to Josh, after a Congressman named Lillienfield started talking about drugs at the White House, that not only is he addicted to alcohol, he has also gone through addiction to prescription medication.

It’s Thursday, December 23 at 7:30 am. Oh, shit, it’s the Christmas episode. You guys, I have to warn you, I have . . . allergies, okay? Hay fever.

Anyway, we’re in the foyer and there’s Christmas decorations and Mandy is telling C.J. something to do with Christmas media event plans. Dickensian costumes and Santa hats. Yeah, I’m agreeing with C.J. that they will, in fact, clash. But already we passed the Bechdel test! Go episode! -10!

And then Toby grouses about why he has to be there because caring about Christmas stuff is for girls. 4. 

Sam seems significantly less cranky about Christmas planning than Toby. Then Sam and Toby get into a stupid fight about the year 2000 not being the actual start of the new millennium. I didn’t care in 1999 and I’m certainly not going to care now. Toby is adorably grumpy, though.

As they are pede-arguing, one of the assistants – Bonnie, I think? – stops Toby because she’s got the D.C. police on the line. Shit. It is this episode. I have a dust in my eyes, people! Dust!

Toby peels off and Sam tries to get C.J. to care about when the millennium starts. She does a decent job of seeming like she cares, until she informs a Secret Service agent that she’s on her way to the Oval Office and the Secret Service agents says into his wrist-thingie, “Flamingo is on her way.” I’m giving a 1 to this Flamingo-as-C.J.’s-code-name thing. It’s not exactly slapstick but it’s using her body for comedy.


Misogyny Points Thus Far: 1 

Park. Park bench. Dude sleeping on park bench. Toby approaches a total “Hey, it’s that Guy!” I know he was the dude in “Fringe,” the, like, head of their department or something? And other stuff but I don’t remember what right now. Anyway, he is the D.C. police guy, and he reveals that it was not a dude sleeping on a park bench. It was a dude dead on a park bench. A dude by the name of Walter Hufnagle. Because Aaron Sorkin loves his names. Toby doesn’t know the guy, but apparently he had Toby’s business card in his jacket pocket. Because Toby gave a coat to Goodwill and the coat had his business card in it.

Toby is sort of horrified that the dead body is still there, and is also disgusted that the guy, despite being a veteran (as evidenced by a tattoo on his forearm), isn’t receiving a whole lot of respect.

We’re back at the White House, in Josh’s section, where Donna has greeted Josh. Donna has apparently prepared a list of things she’d like Josh to buy her, all ski-related, despite the fact that she doesn’t ski. Because girls, right? 8. Then Josh tells Donna he has to meet with Leo to talk about Donna’s Christmas present and Donna goes, “Really?”, all hopeful, like she believes him. 8. Then he promises Donna to think about the skis and, as soon as her back is turned, he throws her list in the trash. 5.

Leo is at Margaret’s desk, signing Christmas cards with Margaret and being irritable with her 5 despite the fact that Margaret is no happier about this activity than he is. Leo sends Margaret out of the room so that he and Josh can talk about Lillienfield having the information about Leo and his pill addiction. Josh speculates that Lillienfield is going to wait until after Christmas, when people are paying attention, to drop the other shoe. So he wants to go on a preemptive strike – using Sam’s escort friend. Ugh, Josh. Just ugh. Let’s give this a 2 and see if there are any other numbers we can use as this plot line progresses.

Leo is against this plan, because “we don’t do these things”. Good for you, Leo.

Josh is about to leave when Leo fills him in on a recent hate crime against a gay teen. I’m assuming this is the fictional version of Matthew Shephard. Although Matthew Shephard’s assailants were not thirteen years old, as these fictional assailants are. So, Leo tells Josh, they are going to have to talk about hate crimes legislation, and C.J. is going to send up a “test balloon” at her briefing to get a feel for where the public is on this.

Josh goes and Leo bitches at Margaret some more. 5.

C.J. is giving the press the president’s holiday schedule, with a cute line about how he’s leaving at 5 a.m., no delays, so that means probably noon. One of the journalists brings up not-Matthew Shephard – whose name is Lowell Lydell – and C.J. confirms his condition and, in response to a question about whether this will bring up hate crimes legislation, C.J. says she supposes it would have been better to bring it up before Lowell Lydell was assaulted.

Toby is on the phone trying to get information about Walter Hufnagle. It’s not going well. Mandy is knocking on his door. Toby tries to explain what’s going on and Mandy doesn’t care because she’s soulless. 8? Apparently she wants to talk about the Dickensian costumes/Santa hats issue. Toby mocks her. 4 & 5. Not because he’s wrong, but because what function does this exchange serve other than to illustrate that Man Toby is dealing with Sensitive, Important Things like Homeless Vets whereas Stupid Girl Mandy is dealing with Stupid Girl Stuff. Toby goes back to his phone call.

MPTF: 10

Josh is walking and Donna joins him for a pedeconference. Only they actually stop walking because Donna does not, as Josh assumes, want to talk about her Christmas list, but instead wants to know what’s going on with Leo. Josh closes the door to his office and gets a little pissy that Donna was talking to Margaret about this but Donna does not feel bad and Josh doesn’t really look that surprised or angry. Donna is disappointed that Josh isn’t doing anything about it. Josh feels bad about that. It’s the first exchange EVER between Donna and Josh that hasn’t set off my Misogyny Meter.

C.J. is leading a group of kids into the foyer with all the Christmas stuff and instructing them on how to talk to the president. The president enters and the kids, as instructed, give a hale and hearty, “Good Morning, Mr. President!” The president makes dad jokes at them and it’s adorable. C.J. smiles and is also adorable. But then Charlie gestures and C.J. escorts him away so that Charlie can inform them that Lowell Lydell has died of his injuries. Everyone is sad. Then the president has to go back and make some more dad jokes at the kids.

In a hallway, C.J. is walking when Sam joins her. He feels she didn’t so much send up a test balloon as a test firework. She doesn’t see why that’s bad, and Sam says they’re not sure where they stand on this. C.J. knows exactly where she stands on people throwing rocks at the heads of gay teenagers. Sam tells her to pull back anyway.

C.J. wants to know what Sam’s new Secret Service nickname is. It’s “Princeton.” C.J.’s is, as you may recall, “Flamingo.” Yeah, I’m keeping the going for this. Sam is trying to extricate himself from this conversation because 8 and they peel away from each other.

MPTF: 12

Another assistant – who is actually maybe Bonnie and the other one from before is Nancy? – asks Sam how he’s doing. Sam claims he is 27 hours from Bermuda and therefore doing fine. I, having watched TV before, am going to bet a whole lot of money that he will not, in fact, be in Bermuda in 27 hours.

Josh approaches Sam and follows him into his office. Josh wants Sam to introduce him to Laurie, his escort friend, so that he can get information from her. Sam initially protests, but then Josh reveals the thing about the pills and that it happened while Leo was Secretary of Labor. Josh reminds Sam that they “owe Leo everything,” and Sam agrees to call her and go see her with them.

In the office that’s right outside the Oval Office, Mrs. Landingham reminds Charlie to remind the president that the president is allergic to eggnog. Charlie agrees, and comments on how festive the White House looks. Mrs. Landingham looks disinterested, which is, of course, why Charlie brought this up. He notes that she seems a little down this week.

You guys. Allergies. Mrs. Landingham reveals that her twin sons chose not to defer when they were drafted for Vietnam, instead joining as medics (as they were in medical school at the time). Then they were killed in battle on Christmas Eve. “It’s hard when that happens so far away, you know, because, with the noises and the shooting, they must have been so scared. It’s hard not to think that, right then, they needed their mother.” ALLERGIES, YOU GUYS. IT IS SO DUSTY IN HERE. I cannot praise Kathryn Joosten (Mrs. Landingham) enough for her work in this scene. She’s so matter-of-fact, so plainspoken in her description. It’s spare and quiet and I’m going to be crying all night now.

Toby is at a memorial – I think the Vietnam one? But then it must be the Korea one because that was where Walter Hufnagle fought? There is a Korean War memorial, right? Toby talks to a vendor about Walter to get more information. The vendor tells Toby that Walter had a community that hangs out at “Capital and P”. Toby asks if the vendor is a veteran and, when he says yes, Toby introduces himself and shakes his hand. God, his puppy eyes in this storyline break my heart.

Mandy is in the Oval Office yelling at the president for not letting her send a couple of (press) guys to photograph him shopping at a rare books store. 3 for her general demeanor and 4 and for the president’s dismissiveness towards her for trying to do her job. Josh comes in and the president asks him to come along. Josh is astounded that the president manages to sneak out for excursions like this every once in a while. The president asks Josh if he knows about the underground tunnels out of the White House. Josh does. The president says he hasn’t found them, even though he looks almost every day. Hee. Josh for some reason is hesitant to go because these people I guess don’t want to write books or have any fun. I’ll go with you to a rare books store, Mr. President. Josh asks if he can be dropped off the Washington Monument instead. The president gets in the line of the night when he says, “It’s Christmas, Josh! No reason we can’t do both!”

C.J. is pulled into a pedeconference by Danny, who knows all about the president’s secret excursions, because of course he does. He’s like the opposite of 9 in that he’s a male character who should actually be kept in the dark about many things but of course knows them anyway. So any time he does that I think I’m going to give it a reverse 9. It’s my system and I can do what I want, that’s why.

MPTF: 16

Anyway, Danny didn’t want to talk to C.J. about work, of course. He wants to talk to C.J. about the list he put together on why they should date. C.J. tells him to give her a few hours to put a list together of why they shouldn’t and complains again about the code name “Flamingo” 1. Danny goes and Sam comes up and C.J. asks what Sam and Josh have going on tonight. Sam assumes she knows about their plans with Laurie but in fact C.J. was inviting them over for dinner. This is stupid. Why wouldn’t she ask Josh separately if that were the case? I mean, why would she assume that Sam would know what Josh’s plans were for dinner? And now, because Sam is acting suspicious, C.J. knows something is, in fact, up. Sam is not super-quick. But Sam insists that it’s nothing, again, and the scene ends.

At the rare book store. The president is very excited about a book he’s found and Leo is not really entertained. Mandy complains to Josh that they couldn’t bring some press, and Josh complains about how boring the selections here are, while describing what sounds to me like a perfectly interesting book.

The president wants Leo to come up to Manchester with him for Christmas, but Leo wants to stay back and work. Then Leo tells the president that after the holidays, they’ll have to deal with his Lillienfield situation, but the president ain’t tryin’ to hear that. Charlie ushers the president out while very politely making fun of the president’s gift of choice for Zoe. Leo reminds Josh not to talk to Sam’s escort friend and they go.

Toby walks down to Capital & 9, where bunch of homeless guys are in line for soup. One of the homeless guys points out Walter Hufnagle’s brother and tells Toby he’s a little slow.

Toby finds the brother under a bridge or overpass or something, where George Hufnagle identifies himself. Toby tells him his brother is dead and George Hufnagle reacts like a slow, sad man in a Frank Capra film. Toby very awkwardly tries to explain what he’s doing while George Hufnagle focuses on the northeasterly winds off the Chesapeake and does not understand at all what it means that his brother was a veteran who got a purple heart. (Purple Heart?) George also reveals that he slept at the shelter to avoid the winds but there weren’t enough beds for Walter.

Toby decides to tell George that Walter deserves a proper funeral and very uncomfortably tells George he is very influential and wants to make sure Walter gets that funeral. One of the other guys – the guy who pointed George out to Toby – assures Toby he’ll make sure George is there to be picked up for the funeral the next day and then refuses to take Toby’s money.

We’re in C.J.’s office with Danny and C.J. is reading her list. Danny, it turns out, only made a mental list. Danny gives C.J. fish food as a Christmas present and tells C.J. that he’s going to ignore her list because he thinks it’s ridiculous (his words!) and because he has a crush on her. Blergh. Argh. Danny, it’s not even remotely within the vicinity of “ridiculous” that the press secretary doesn’t think she should date a White House reporter. 4. And calling her “ridiculous” is rude. 8. Also, you have a crush on her and that’s supposed to make your total disrespect for her professional and personal boundaries okay? 12 and STFU! (I’m using 12 for now but I may need another number for Nice Guy phenomena. We’ll see.)

Leo comes in to C.J.’s office (wouldn’t she normally be called in to his) to tell her to dial down the hate crimes talk. He doesn’t know what side they’re on when it comes to hate crimes. C.J. continues to know what side she’s on. Leo understands her argument – that this was a crime of entertainment, fueled by pathological homophobia – but isn’t sure we should legislate how people think.

You guys, when I first saw this episode, I thought this was a valid argument on both sides. Now I know it’s kindergarten stuff. The issue with hate crime legislation is not “legislating how people think,” it’s about whose jurisdiction the crime is in, since a community with citizens that hold virulent enough homophobia (or racism, or sexism, or anti-Semitism, or what have you) may also have police, judges, lawyers, and jury members that hold virulent homophobia and therefore they may not be able to be trusted to investigate and prosecute the case fairly. And it annoys me when this show, with all its pretensions of high-minded debate and intellectual rigor, goes this immature on important and substantial issues.

But this is not about misogyny. Although now two men who are higher on the totem pole than C.J. have told her to sit down, shut up, and keep her opinions to herself. So maybe I think it’s time for an 8.

MPTF: 21

C.J. is also dismayed that Leo has no plans for Christmas and offers to come cook him something. What? And Leo is dismissive of this. 4.

Oh, good, the boys are at Laurie’s place. She looks suspicious. As well she should be. Sam explains the situation condescendingly and Laurie, who gets more than he thought she would, is fucking pissed, as well she should be. Then Josh gets really rude and threatening and Sam tries to defend him and then Josh tries to pretend he didn’t mean to be rude. Then he actually does apologize and Laurie tells him they’re the good guys and they should act like it.

I don’t even have enough numbers to throw at this scene. A 6 for her calling them the good guys. A 2 for the entire plan and maybe an 8 for how Josh talked to her and a 4 for Sam being surprised that she understood what was going on and an extra for when Josh said he didn’t want to take civics lessons from a hooker. Good God, y’all, that was bad.

C.J. is arguing with Leo some more about hate crimes legislation and it continues to be the junior high debate team version of this issue. Then Sam and Josh come in and Leo sends C.J. out and then hollers at the boys for going to Laurie. Which is great but I’m also giving this a 7 because this should be two guys who screwed up at their jobs by doing something boneheaded and stupid and mean and awful that their boss told them not to do. But of course, they are valiant, noble guys who were only doing it to protect Leo. Josh says they meant well. Leo asks, “Is that supposed to mean something to me?” Josh says, “No,” but then Leo says, “It does.” They proved their loyalty. A screw-up but for a good reason.

Sam leaves but Josh stays to talk more to Leo about how miserable this is all going to be. But Leo knows. And Josh will be working through Christmas.

C.J. says Merry Christmas to the press corps then pulls Danny over. She is looking for him to agree with her on hate crimes, in exchange for which she will go on a date with him. Ugh. 2. He does not agree, even more vehemently than Leo didn’t agree. For some reason, C.J. wants to go on a date with him anyway. 2 again. And then she fixates on the Flamingo thing again and glares at him. Women who have interest in men in Aaron Sorkin scripts behave in the oddest ways towards them. 1. For the Flamingo thing.

Josh is right outside C.J.’s office and asks how Danny is doing. Danny doesn’t know. Because women, they are so confusing. 8. Donna opens her present from Josh, which is a rare book about skiing. He tells Donna he wrote a note inside. He wrote on the inside cover of a rare book?! The fuck, Josh?!

Anyway, Donna starts to read the note and she gets weepy because it’s sweet, even as Josh tells her not to get weepy. 4. “You see? You spend most of your time being, you know, you, 3 and then you right something like this to me.” And she goes in for a big hug and then says, “Skis would have killed you?” 8.

MPTF: 35

The president comes in to some room where there are Christmas decorations and a choir and people clapping.

Mrs. Landingham wishes Toby a good morning and says the president would like to see him. She asks if he used the president’s name to arrange a funeral with a homeless veteran. Yes, in fact, he did. Mrs. Landingham tells him he shouldn’t have done that but I think the looks that pass between them indicate that she’s really glad he did.

As they listen to the choir sing “Little Drummer Boy” (which, incidentally, is Zoe’s favorite Christmas carol. I myself prefer Bruce Springsteen Christmas – although I am also fond of my sister’s fiancé making fun of Bruce Springsteen Christmas – but of the traditional carols, “Little Drummer Boy” is my favorite, too.), Mandy continues to natter on about the rare book shopping excursion and the PR opportunity the president is forcing her to miss and he’s telling her to can it. A 3 and a 5, I should think.

Then the president brings Toby into the Oval. He kind of gives Toby a little shit for arranging things in the president’s name but he’s obviously not really angry. Toby explains what happened. The president says, “You don’t think if we pull strings like this every homeless veteran will come out of the woodwork?”

“I can only hope, sir,” Toby replies, quietly. I swoon a little.

Mandy comes in to tell the president his absence in the other room is conspicuous. They leave the office, and Mrs. Landingham, already in her winter gear, asks Toby if she might come along. You guys. THERE IS DUST. So much dust.

So now we cut between scenes of the military funeral, and the choir of children singing “Little Drummer Boy,” and also the rest of the senior staff gathering, lined up in profile like a Norman Rockwell painting, listening to the choir. I give it up. It’s not dust or allergies. I’m openly sobbing in front of my computer at midnight. Heartstrings? Effectively pulled.

Total Misogyny Points: 37. A pretty heavily misogynistic episode. But also a great one for Richard Schiff and Kathryn Joosten.



Another head cold, another turn at recapping “The West Wing”! Here we go!

To remind you, I am using these posts to a) recap a much-beloved (by me and in general) TV show, and b) point out the misogyny in it. Because I like to combine my two favorite activities – watching TV I love, and hate-watching! 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.


!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it. Not misogynist, just entertaining to me personally.


Previously on “The West Wing,” Leo told his wife that being the president’s chief of staff was more important to him than their marriage; Danny the reporter flirted inappropriately with C.J. the press secretary; and the veep wanted to know when Leo had last been to an AA meeting and invited Leo to his.

There is some banging over the episode title and we are told that it’s Monday morning. Josh is on the phone saying “Yes” a number of times. C.J. is leaning over him, on another extension, with her hand over her mouthpiece, evidently listening to the same conversation. They both seem tense with anticipation. They get the answer they’re apparently hoping for and start excitedly – but silently – dancing and pumping their arms and such while Josh’s voice remains calm, telling the person on the other line that s/he should expect a call from the president later. They both hang up and start cheering. “It is done and we did it!” they crow. Then Josh immediately says, in front of his whole staff, “I did it.” Because he is an enormous dick. 5. C.J. insists that Josh made one phone call, and Josh responds that he “masterminded” a series of phone calls and that the important thing to remember is that “it is done and I did it.” C.J. seems unfazed and actually congratulates him. 6. Then he’s gracious enough to say “we did it” to her. Away from his staff. Privately. What a charmer.

Donna scuttles after him as he gets himself over to the Oval Office and asks if he wants to know about the banging coming from the floor above his office. He is not interested. Being interested in the details of the world around you is for icky, stupid girls like Donna. Josh is far too important to notice or care; he was on the phone trying to (and succeeding in) filling a seat on the Supreme Court. So nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah. 4. Also for pretending Donna might not understand he’s talking about the United States Supreme Court because he is very, very important.

Sam and Toby meet up with Josh and they bump chests and Josh cries, “We the men!” because Josh has no problem sharing credit with his fellow male colleagues. 5. And lest you say, “Hey, you don’t know what each of the members of the senior staff contributed to this particular problem; for all you know, Josh and Sam and Toby did, in fact, do more than C.J.,” let me say, you’re right. I don’t know. The script never tells us. That’s kind of the point. The default is to assume that the boys have every right and reason to take this credit, and that either the girl did in fact do less than the man, or that she should be pleased to be included even on the outskirts of the group, only acknowledged off to the side.

Anyway, Josh then insists on some more adulation from Mrs. Landingham, which, in an extremely un-Mrs. Landing ham way, she provides. 6. Then Josh and Sam chest-bump again as they chant, “We the men!” Because, again, Josh can share credit generously with his bros. In front of people. 5.

They enter the Oval to a very pleased president and chief of staff. The president wants to know which one of them is “the man.” Because even the terms for having been successful have to be masculine. I don’t know where to put that so I’m going with 4. And you know what? I’m not usually one of those feminists, who needs to change “You’ve got balls!” to “You’ve got ovaries!” and “chairman” to “chairperson” or even “chairpersun” or what have you. I use “guys” as an intersex term with nary a second thought and, try as I might to break myself of the habit, I still refer to God as “he” when using a pronoun. But in this particular case it’s irritating me. C.J. – who evidently had something to do with the whole process – isn’t even in the room! And again, that’s a storytelling choice. They could have not had C.J. in the room, on the phone along with Josh in the first scene. It could have just been him. They chose (and by “they” I mostly mean Aaron Sorkin) to put C.J. in the room, and then have Josh take credit away from her. And to present this all as adorable office comedy and not at all as a jack-ass being a sexist shit-head to his colleague.

Okay, okay, I’m moving on. Plot. The boys move from the Oval to Leo’s office (minus the president, who stays behind to make the phone call). Mandy is already in Leo’s office and she tells them they rock. 6. Leo wants to make some phone calls and realizes belatedly that C.J. isn’t in the room. 5. Then she appears behind him and he tells her she should wear a bell or something. 5. Gross, Leo. Toby issues a bunch of directives – including that the announcement will be made Thursday and not Friday, because, though Josh wants more time, people watch TV on Thursday. I wonder what day of the week this show originally aired?

The senior staff exits Leo’s office with Toby commanding Josh to get him all the information on this Supreme Court future nominee. Josh says they vetted him for two months but Toby wants to use the next four days to do some more vetting. He orders everyone around but only yells at C.J. 5. But then C.J. tells him he’s hot when he’s like this. Which seems a bit 6 to me, and, given the nature of the relationship they have in my head, also a bit 2, and I’m giving it both of those numbers because Josh has already put me in a bad mood, but I’m also throwing in a ! and squeeing a bit.

Toby yells at the room in general and goes into his office. Josh and Sam congratulate themselves some more – the president was so happy! They made Papa proud! – and split. Mandy asks to speak to C.J.

Donna rejoins Josh and tells him that the banging is a maintenance crew working upstairs. Josh continues to give 0 fucks and gives us the Supreme Court nominee’s full name – Peyton Cabot Harrison III – a few times so we can appreciate the extreme Sorkin-ness of it. He loves his WASPy ’50s names, he does. And I kind of do, too. Donna is doing her best to pretend to give a shit about Josh’s roll call of Peyton Cabot Harrison III’s qualifications – Exeter! Yale! Rhodes! – and then points out that Peyton Cabot Harrison III is just another WASPy old man. I’m loving Donna in this scene and giving this a -5 just basically for her calling Josh on his shit. Josh doesn’t care, though, because this means a smooth confirmation process. “There’s many a slip twixt the tongue and the wrist,” Donna reminds Josh, which, truth, because I am, as has been previously established, a HUGE fan of not counting one’s chickens. Josh calls this “fortune cookie wisdom” 5 and Donna begs him not to get his hopes up because when he’s upset he shows up to her apartment drunk in the middle of the night and yells at her roommate’s cats. This is a detail that never goes anywhere and I love it both in itself and BECAUSE it goes nowhere. Donna advises cautious optimism and Josh insists nothing will go wrong this week. Then a piece of ceiling falls on Josh’s desk. It’s both predictable and pretty funny.

Wow, that was a long teaser.

Misogyny Points Thus Far: 14 So a pretty sexist teaser as well.

Swelling music! I am feeling uplifted and inspired!

The president and the retiring Supreme Court Justice sit in a very old-man-lawyer office and share pleasantries. The justice asks if they’re going with Harrison and the president is being cagey, which doesn’t fool the justice. He wishes they’d taken a closer look at Mendoza, who the president insists was on the short list. The justice thinks they put Mendoza on the short list so they could show they had “a Hispanic” on the short list. Burn. The pleasantries quickly sour as the justice tells the president exactly how disappointed he has been in President Bartlett, saying he drove to the middle of the road right after he was sworn in, to a line “painted yellow”, and also that he wanted to retire under a Democrat, “and instead I got you.” BURN. I like this guy. Let’s give him a spin-off.

Outside the Supreme Court building, reporters mill and Danny spots C.J. He walks over to her and they pedeconference – well, he pede-flirts/interrogates; she pede-stonewalls. Danny also knows already it’s going to be Harrison.

Back inside, the president is running out of pleasant and the justice could give a shit. “I took my seat the year you started college,” he tells the president. “I believe I’ve earned the right to say a word.” You sure did, Justice. I am willing to listen to all the words.

Seriously, can’t you see Retired Justice Cranky-Pants and his live-in home health care worker Berta? Maybe Berta ends up having to bring her three children over from Barbados to live with them? The two teenagers drive him nuts, but he forms a bond with the eight-year-old? I want this to be a sit-com. Let’s get on this.

The justice pleads with the president to reconsider Mendoza and points out that he won’t win his reelection without guts. The president whines about his job and the justice continues to give zero fucks. For some reason, when the justice calls him Mr. Bartlett, the president corrects him with “Dr. Bartlett,” not “President Bartlett.” Maybe this is a subtle piece of writing to tell us how Jed is feeling about his job?

Outside, Danny offers C.J. his gloves and then continues to interrogate and inappropriately flirt. Then a nameless black woman strides toward them and declares that it’s time.

We go back to the White House, where Josh and Donna are staring at Josh’s ceiling and Josh is marveling that it could have been his head that was hit with a piece of ceiling. Donna is all, get over it, Drama Queen. And she’s right, and also, a massive head wound could only improve his character, but also . . . I mean, wouldn’t they cordon off sections of the office if this were going on? In case something like this happened and Josh sued the federal government for millions of dollars? Josh thinks it should be Donna in the danger zone. 5.

Mandy comes in and Donna goes out. Mandy wants to know why Lillienfield is holding a press conference? Josh doesn’t care and yells at Donna. A 4 for how he’s treating Mandy’s concerns and a 5 for how he’s talking to Donna.

Sam comes in to Toby’s office and Toby tells him that he’d like Sam to play up that Peyton Cabot Harrison III clerked for a Republican judge back in the day, despite himself being a Democrat, and to play down that Peyton Cabot Harrison III has never given an opinion on abortion. Sam already gets this, and sees Lillienfield on Toby’s TV. Toby and Sam also seem unconcerned about Lillienfield although we are still listening to him as he namechecks “Rumsfeld” as one of the members of the halcyon days of White House staff and I ask you all to marvel with me about the difference a decade and a half makes. Lillienfield then claims that one in three White House staffers use drugs on a regular basis. Now Toby is interested. He picks up his phone and barks, “Get her.” 5.

Carol, C.J.’s assistant, knocks on C.J.’s door and C.J., without turning or needing further explanation, says, “Tell him I’m watching.”

Now everyone is gathering in Leo’s office, and they’re all upset. Sam wants to know, if Lillienfield tried a little harder, could he be a bigger horse’s ass? And it’s delivered in such a Sam-like fashion. I really do love Rob Lowe’s portrayal of Sam Seaborne.

Josh comes in and makes light, demanding that the 1.6 staffers in the room who are stoned right now stop bogarting the good stuff. (Really, WordPress spellcheck? Bogarting is a word? Okay.) Mandy is not amused. Josh continues to make light and I’m giving his attitude toward Mandy a 8. God, lighten up. Girls just don’t have a sense of humor.

Toby comes in and yells about nobody having seen this coming. C.J. returns that she’s shocked her psychic didn’t tell her. Josh thinks they should ignore it; Mandy and C.J. think that’s impossible, because if she denies it, and then it turns out some guys in the photo room shared a joint over the weekend, “which is not, like, out of the realm of possibility” then she has to account for that, and the closet junkie in the catering department, etc., and C.J. and Mandy spit out scenarios along this line for a little bit. Toby doesn’t appreciate it. 5.

Misogyny Points Thus Far: 20

Leo cuts this off with a “We’re looking into it” line for C.J. Josh asks if they’re actually looking into it and Leo says yes and Josh is upset. Then Margaret comes to call Leo out of the room.

As the gang leaves Leo’s office, Toby goes over talking points with C.J. and orders Sam back to work. The gang splits but Josh doubles back and Toby asks him, “What do they know? What do we know?” Josh does not like the idea of becoming in the know as regards drug use among White House staffers. Toby says he’s tired of being “the field captain for the gang that couldn’t shoot straight!” I love Richard Schiff. And I wanna bang Toby. In case I haven’t made that clear.

Sam looks like he’s taking a nap in his darkened office when the phone rings. He takes the call, looks stunned, then asks for the caller’s name, assuring the caller that he’s not a cop. I am confused. Wouldn’t this call come through a call center of some kind? Wouldn’t Sam’s assistant have found out who the caller was? Wouldn’t the caller know s/he wasn’t speaking to a cop? So many questions. But I will suspend my disbelief for the sake of drama. And brevity. (“To make a long story short-” “Too late!”) Oh, then Sam says he’s alone in the office, so that’s why no secretary to field the call. He decides to go meet the caller and then trips adorably over a carton on his way out.

Leo and the president are pede-conferencing through that outdoor hallway that I never know how to describe. They are optimistic about the smooth confirmation process that nominating Peyton Cabot Harrington III assures them. In the office, the president sends Charlie out for gifts for the nominee and his wife (cigars for him, perfume for her, and maybe I should add a number for just good, old-fashioned gender stereotypes? But I think I’ll give Sorkin a break on that. For one, it’s believable that Jed and Leo hold those stereotypes; for another, it’s not exactly misogyny to have the stereotypes unless one values them differently. That’s why I have number four on my list. It’s not for when things are coded as feminine, but for when things that are coded as feminine are disparaged. It’s a fine line but I’m accepting it for now.)

Jed wants to know what’s going on with Lillienfield but Leo advises Jed to stay out of it. Leo and Jed are called in different directions but then the president if they gave Mendoza a good look. He dismisses it a second later and then strolls over to Toby’s office. He asks Toby to put together information on Mendoza so that Jed doesn’t have to feel like he just had a Hispanic on the short list for appearances. Even though he totally did. Jed also asks Toby about Lillienfield and Toby also tells Jed to stay out of it.

Sam busts in in his winter coat with bad information from his phone call with regard to Harrison. Toby asks him to close the door.

After the commercial break that would have existed had I been watching this on regular tv, Sam is telling Toby that what he’s got is an unsigned note that every member of a law review is required to prepare. (Harrison had been the editor of the Yale Law Review.) Toby says he knows what an unsigned note is even as Sam goes on to explain that it’s “like an article,” 40-50 pages of well-researched, footnoted, revised by advisors, etc., and then published with no name.

And here I have to break in and explain another element of my numbering system. Sam’s explanation of the law review unsigned note is exposition, sure. But Toby insists he knows what it is even as Sam is explaining it, so Toby is not functioning as an exposition fairy here even though something he should already know is being explained to him. Because we must go out of our way to show that male characters already know everything they ever need to know. Keep that in mind when Donna’s all, “Explain to me what taxes are, Josh?”

Anyway, Toby is agitated and wants to know how they know Harrison wrote it; Sam says he’s spent the last three months reading everything Harrison has ever written and this is definitely something Harrison wrote. Toby calls for his assistant Bonnie to get him the next five minutes the president got.

Ah, here’s our favorite Exposition Fairy now. Donna wants to know where Lillienfield gets his information and Josh informs us that he’s on the House Government Oversight Committee, the committee that “literally decide(s) if we get heat and electricity in the White House.” Now, I don’t know what the House Government Oversight Committee is, nor could I name who’s on it. But do we really think that Donna, the assistant to the Deal-With-Congressmen senior staffer, who herself works in the White House, doesn’t know which committee controls her paycheck and who its members are? No. No, we do not. So 9. And again, let us keep in mind that, if the point of exposition is to catch the viewer up on stuff they wouldn’t know, which it is, they could choose, as they did one scene before with Toby and Sam, to have Josh blather on about it to Donna while Donna says, “Yes, I know this already.” I’m not saying that they sat in the writer’s room going, “Well, but Toby is a boy and therefore smart and Donna is a girl and therefore dumb.” I’m saying that, consciously or not, they made storytelling choices. This is how I, one viewer, am experiencing and interpreting those choices.

Donna assures Josh that he needn’t feel bad about interviewing her. “You know anyone around here who uses drugs?” he asks. She does. “You gonna tell me who they are?” She will not. He says to consider herself interviewed and Donna thinks he’s a “good boy.” Also, apparently Donna gets a lot of parking tickets. Once in college my dad called me up and demanded to know how I’d wracked up somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 parking tickets in one semester. I went down to the campus police station and talked them down to two. I was very proud of myself at the time. Now I am wondering if they actually gave a shit about any of the twenty.

Mandy is in Josh’s office and they are arguing. Mandy thinks everyone should take a drug test and that anyone who can’t pass will just resign. Josh thinks people would be more comforted to know that they will never be asked to turn over evidence against themselves. I don’t know how seriously I’m supposed to take all of this, btw. My husband is an employee of the federal government. He has to take drug tests. It’s not uncommon in the working world in general and it’s pretty standard for government employees. Right?

Josh says Mandy only wants to preserve the spotlight for the Supreme Court thing, which he says like it’s a bad thing but which is actually the job for which she was hired. 5. Finally Josh settles down enough to ask Mandy what she thinks Lillienfield is really after. Mandy tells him to go talk to whoever it is he talks to. Not like a shrink, though. Like an informant.

C.J. is briefing the press. They apparently are not satisfied by the “We’re looking into it” line. One reporter has the audacity to ask C.J. if she uses drugs. She says she does not. Another reporter says it’s been 24 hours; how long do they need? C.J. says they need more time and then says that since no one has been subpoenaed and Lillienfield has not offered up his evidence, they’re not in a big hurry to get it done. Apparently being the first person to say “subpoena” is a very bad thing, which Danny follows her out of the press room to point out. Then he asks her out and offers to explain basketball patronizingly and slowly in a way a girl would appreciate. Yes, those are his actual words. Mr. Sorkin, self-awareness does not always lead to self-correction. Or, even if you know and acknowledge that you’re being an asshole, that doesn’t mean you’re not being an asshole. You know?

C.J. agrees with me and leaves him alone in the press room. Josh appears and asks to speak to Danny. They take a walk together. Because all conversations on this show must be had while people are in motion. Danny is offended that Josh is asking him for intel, but says that Lillienfield wouldn’t be talking like this if he wasn’t trying to hit something big. So basically Danny just helped Josh solidify what he already knew. In exchange, Josh tells Danny that C.J. likes goldfish. 2. Because come on, why would Josh be helping his press secretary get with a reporter? It’s an obviously bad idea if you think of C.J. as primarily a press secretary. But if you think about her as this chick you know from work, and Danny is your bro, then this is the kind of thing you would tell him.

The president is looking at the unsigned note. It’s apparently an argument that privacy is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution. The president is perturbed, both by the paper and the fact that they didn’t know about Harrison’s position on privacy. Toby thinks it’s NBD; maybe he didn’t write the paper, maybe he doesn’t feel this way any more. Sam thinks that “maybe” is not good enough for someone they’re putting on the Supreme Court. The president wants to see Harrison ASAP and tells Toby and Sam to get ready.

Leo is talking numbers with some folks when the president interrupts. Leo orders his folks out and the president tells Leo he wants to meet Mendoza. Leo says yes, sir.

It’s Wednesday morning. Toby, Sam and Mandy are all tensely in the assistant’s area outside the Oval. Inside the Oval, the president asks Peyton Cabot Harrison III if he’s the author of the unsigned note. He is. The president mentions some paper about trade barriers he wrote at 26 years old – the age Harrison was when he wrote the unsigned note – that he says was the result of youth and stupidity, apparently hoping that Harrison will go, “Yeah, these young and stupid things supernerds like us do!” Harrison does not say that. The president calls Toby and Sam in.

But apparently before they do, Josh speaks to Toby about the privacy thing. Josh is pissed. “When did we get the idea that Harrison was our guy? When we used to talk, it was never Harrison,” Josh says. Charlie comes for Toby.

Leo’s alone in his office when Margaret comes in and asks if he has a minute for Josh. He does. Leo sympathizes with Josh about how much it sucks to be interviewing people about their drug habits this week. Josh tells Leo that he thinks Lillienfield is after Leo for Leo’s alcoholism. Leo is not entirely surprised to learn that Josh – and everyone in D.C. – pretty much knows about it. But Josh knows there must be more than alcohol. Leo confesses to a pill addiction, for which he went to a facility six years ago. Leo says the records are confidential but Josh is convinced Lillienfield has them. Then Josh claps Leo on the shoulder and says, “You’re Leo McGarry. You’re not going to be taken down by this small fraction of a man. I won’t permit it.” Music swells. If anyone ever says to you, “What is the heart, the essence, the sum total of Aaron Sorkin’s psyche?” just show them this clip.

Harrison, the president, Toby, and Sam are in the Oval having an incredibly amateur conversation about interpretations of the Constitution. I’m not going to recap it. It’s way too American Government 101.

C.J. is in her office with a pile of papers. Danny walks in and C.J. tells him he was right about the subpoena thing, but notes that he did not make it a big point in his. Danny has a goldfish in a bowl for C.J. He reveals that Josh told him she liked them. But Josh meant the crackers, not the fish. C.J. thinks this is adorable and hilarious. It’s a little hilarious. She wants to keep the goldfish – the goldfish named Gail – anyway. C.J. kisses his cheek and thanks him. Danny advises her to keep her head in the game. Which is a little patronizing. I don’t know what number to give it so I’ll go with 7.

More Constitutional conversation on the level of your tenth grade debate club carries on in the Oval Office. I’m still not recapping it. Harrison is insulted that he even has to be in this conversation. The president excuses Harrison. Toby and Sam continue to argue about whether or not Harrison should still be their guy. Sam believes that privacy debates are going to define the next twenty years. He’s not wrong. Toby agrees to meet with Mendoza.

This is a meeting Mandy has apparently heard about, and she comes in to whine at Josh. Josh continues to be rude about Mandy doing her actual job. This whole scene is 3 and 5. And exposition about Mendoza. Who’s the little guy. Went to law school while recovering from an injury sustained doing police work. Public schools. Hispanic. Blah blah blah. And Mandy’s worried that the senior staff isn’t up to fight for him, especially not if they get bogged down in the Lillienfield thing. They resolve their fight only to have Mandy 3 a little more.

Edward James Olmos is paraded down the hall looking badass. Margaret informs some dude that he’s Roberto Mendoza.

Harrison is climbing the walls in the room they’ve put him in. Charlie’s in there with him. Charlie, as it turns out, caddied at the golf club Harrison belonged to.

Now we’re in the Oval with Mendoza, Sam, Toby, and the president. Mendoza is just as arrogant and condescending as the rest of them; he’ll fit right in.

Leo calls the president out of the room and we discover that the president already knows about the pills. Leo wants to resign in order to save the president the trouble but the president is going to stand by Leo’s side, because this storyline is Aaron Sorkin’s mission statement.

The president comes back and they ask Mendoza what he thinks of firing someone for failing a drug test. Mendoza would order that the employee be reinstated. Everyone likes him and the president tells him he’s being nominated for the Supreme Court. Mendoza accepts. Everyone is up for a “good fight.” Huzzah!

A whole bunch of people outside the office applaud as the president announces, “Mr. Justice Mendoza!” to the crowd.

I swear, somewhere in the back of my mind is a memory of Harrison arguing with Charlie about that golf club. I guess it’ll come up next episode?

Anyway, in misogyny terms, the beginning of this episode was completely dreadful. It evened out by the end but it still totaled 27 points on the misogyny scale, which is definitely on the high end.

If I still feel like utter crap, I’ll do another of these tomorrow!

Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing”, 1.08, “Enemies”

Haven’t done one of these in a while. Be warned, I have a terrible head cold right now. I don’t know how much sense I’m going to make. But watching “The West Wing” is a great sick-day activity, so y’all are along for the ride.

To remind you, I am using these posts to a) recap a much-beloved (by me and in general) TV show, and b) point out the misogyny in it. Because I like to combine my two favorite activities – watching TV I love, and hate-watching! 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.


!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it. Not misogynist, just entertaining to me personally.

Last time on “The West Wing”: the Veep was rude to C.J., Leo told him not to be because she represents the office of the president, and Hoynes did not feel that the office of the president got to tell him shit; we learn that Leo’s daughter is protesting too much about her thing for Sam and Danny is being full-on aggressive about his thing for C.J. (which, in case you’ve forgotten, is bad because Danny is a reporter and C.J. is press secretary and those two things do not go together); and Leo’s wife, meanwhile, is so over him and has asked him for a divorce.

This time on “The West Wing,” the president is in the Oval office with Josh. They’re talking about Yellowstone National Park. Well, the president is talking. Josh is trying to leave. I really don’t know what’s wrong with these people. In Josh’s position, I would want NOTHING MORE than to listen to Jed Bartlett talk about national parks for hours. But Josh is not having fun. He’s being pretty obvious about it and also calls the president a nerd. Josh has some pretty secure feelings about his job, no?

Also, I did not know that the Everglades have an extensive mangrove forests. And I am interested. And I would totally look at the president’s slides of all fifty-four of the national parks, which he has because he’s visited all of them. Can this be a job? President-tender? For when the president is waxing nerdy and his staff is tired? I bet Obama waxes nerdy a lot.

I mean, the president wants to take the staff on a field trip to Shenandoah and to act as a guide! And Josh thinks this is a bad idea! I want to go to Shenandoah with Jed Bartlett as my guide!

Credits. Boy, I sure do feel patriotic and important.

Leo is having breakfast with his daughter Mallory at his I’m-about-to-be-divorced-but-I’m-still-crazy-rich hotel’s restaurant, where the coffee is $6.50 a cup. Mallory was going to pay for breakfast until she heard that. You guys, I’ve tried to pay for meals for my dad. It never works. My mom sometimes will allow me to get a bill, but that has been a struggle.

Leo is about to interrogate Mallory about her mother when a congressman stops by to congratulate Leo. Mallory correctly guesses that the congratulations is as regards “the banking bill”, which Leo claims will pass but has not yet, so I’m not sure that congratulations are in order.

Mallory wants Leo to just call Jenny (Mallory’s mother, Leo’s almost-ex-wife) if he wants to know how she’s doing. Conversation turns to opera tickets. It’s Leo and Jenny’s subscription night but neither of them wanted the tickets. Leo wants to pick a fight with Mallory and starts complaining that she hasn’t congratulated him on the banking bill – which has not yet passed – with a sufficiently impressed tone. But Mallory’s not having it, so Leo drops the hissy fit and instead gives her the tickets and asks her to walk him back to work.

Over at the White House, C.J. is marveling to Mrs. Landingham that Josh was talking to the president until 2 am about national parks. So I guess Mrs. Landingham couldn’t leave, either? And she didn’t even get to hear the president’s discussion of Yosemite. That’s not nice, Mr. President. It’s so not nice that I’m going to give it a 5.

Also, this is another one of those cases where I can’t tell if this passes the Bechdel test or not. I mean, on the one hand, two named women are talking. On the other hand, they’re talking about men – the president and Josh. On the other hand, the men are not romantically connected to them, so they’re really talking about work. I’ll reserve my judgement for the end of this post.

The president bursts out of the Oval, declaring with much hubris that the banking lobby has been defeated and that the banking bill will pass. But it hasn’t passed yet, Mr. President, so maybe tone it down? C.J. asks about the national parks conversation, which almost starts the president on a discussion of Yellowstone, but then Mrs. Landingham reminds him he has a phone call to gloat on. He reminds C.J. to talk up this bill (that has not passed yet).

Can you tell I’m not a counting-chickens-before-they’ve-hatched type of person? And also that I’ve watched TV before?

People mill about the Roosevelt Room (which I now recognize from the picture of Teddy Roosevelt in the background!!!) and pass folders about. The Veep enters and calls the meeting to order, saying that the president is running a bit behind. It’s a cabinet meeting, and the first in six months. The Veep starts with pleasantries about exchanging ideas and says that their first goals should be finding a way to work with Congress. Then the president walks in and starts glad-handing. He introduces himself to the woman taking minutes, Mildred, and gets her to repeat the thing about first goals so that he can harangue the veep about it. “You don’t think our first goal should be finding a way to best serve the American people?” He’s really quite a dick about the whole thing. Hey, I guess this gets a -5 because the president is being rude to a male subordinate. Although using Mildred in this way is kind of rude, too, so another 5 for you, Mr. President!

In Toby’s office, Toby and Sam agree that their latest speech is a little flat. They argue about whose writing is failing to hit the mark and then Josh comes in. Josh wants to know if they’ve heard anything about the banking bill. He is not as confident as the president was. Toby assures him that everything is fine and that he’s having lunch with Crane, who is presumably a congressperson involved in the bill? Josh leaves, not really reassured, and Toby, more invested in the writing, says to Sam, “Somewhere in this building is our talent.” Oh, Toby. Your talent is always with you.

Danny comes to C.J.’s doorway and C.J. wonders why her staff lets him waltz around. This is treated as a part of adorable banter, but, for real, though, why is the press secretary’s staff letting a reporter meander freely through the press secretary offices of the White House? I’m not sure what number I should put here so I’m going with 2 because the fact that Danny has a crush on C.J. is being placed above the logic of a press secretary’s security for storytelling purposes. And you can tell it’s for storytelling purposes because C.J. points out the illogic, and then they brush it aside. It’s a favorite writerly technique for dealing with an editor’s or fact-checker’s note without actually changing the scene you’ve written.

Anyway, Danny has heard that the president was rude to the veep at the cabinet meeting and also does C.J. want to have dinner. C.J. wants to know where he heard this. Danny wants to press his dinner invitation. He’s getting pretty effing close to a backing-away C.J. here. I’m going to give this another 2. Finally he goes away.

Hoynes is chatting with people I’m taking as reporters, since they’re all sticking their tape recorders in his face. Also, Danny is there. Sans tape recorder. They’re saying something about stocks and the internet. I’m not even sure it’s supposed to make sense.

Danny peels away from the herd with the veep and tries to get information out of him about the cabinet meeting, but the veep is not giving anything up.

C.J. asks Sam if he’s heard anything about the cabinet meeting and he has not. She peels away from him and he greets Mallory. Mallory takes the very long route towards asking him to go to the opera with her that night, but not as a date, because “there will be under no circumstances sex for you at the end of the evening.” Okay, then. I think a 3 is appropriate here. And, look, I married the guy I started hooking up with when I was eighteen. I don’t know how first dates work. But . . . don’t many of them include not having sex at the end and still count as dates? Is she implying that there will be no sex for Sam with her ever? If so, why does she want to go to the Chinese opera with him? Anyway, Sam thinks Chinese opera and no sex sounds like a great night. Mallory says she’ll come get him at 7:30.


C.J. and Sam both sit in front of Leo’s desk, silently, waiting. Neither of them will tell the other what they want to talk to Leo about. Leo comes in and asks what’s up. C.J. tells him that Danny has the info about the cabinet meeting. Leo tells her to deal with it. C.J. says, “You’re a real details man, aren’t you?”

C.J. leaves and Sam tells Leo about Mallory asking him out. Leo is displeased but tells Sam he’s fine. Sam leaves. Leo insists to the air that he’s fine.

The veep is holding forth with another group of people. This time none of them has a tape recorder, although there does seem to be someone with a camera. He’s talking about a rocket. Again, I’m not even sure this is supposed to make sense. A secretary pulls him away and brings him to C.J. C.J. tries to talk to the veep but nothing productive is revealed, other than, the veep is pissed and C.J. is concerned.

Toby comes back from lunch, still convinced the banking bill is in the bag, asking Sam to help him draft a statement. Josh comes by and insists that the banking bill is not, in fact, in the bag. Two people named Broderick and Eaton have attached a land-use rider to the banking bill. They want to strip-mine the Big Sky Federal Reserve, which is apparently most of Montana. Sam thinks that’s fine. Josh thinks it’s not fine, not so much because Montana matters, but because winning does. (By which I mean, having the full victory, unmarred by . . . compromise? Giving in to shitty political tactics?) The three of them head off to make an appointment with the president.

C.J.’s at her podium, talking to the press. A reporter is asking about the attachment of the land-use rider to the banking bill. C.J. is, of course, only hearing about this now. Because the boys of the president’s staff don’t tell her things. 5?C.J. handles it with her usual aplomb and charm.

She walks off the podium and asks Bonnie to find Toby for her. I kind of wish there was a web series or something in which Bonnie, Cathy, and all the other barely-seen assistants could have their own stories.

Danny approaches C.J. and notes that the land-use rider was a shock to her. C.J. points out that this is a restricted area but beyond the banter about the signs that are usually but not currently posted, indicating that this is a restricted area, she does nothing to stop him from pedeconferencing with her. C.J. is not pleased with him and Danny continues to ask her out. 2 to everything going on here. Bonnie tells her Toby is in his office and C.J. heads over there to surprise him.

Leo is reporting the land-use rider to the president. The president is surprised, not in the least because it was Eaton and Broderick, which was basically Josh, Sam, and Toby’s reaction. Toby, who is in the Oval Office, with Sam, Josh, and some other people, says it’s retaliatory. The president wants to know what it’s in retaliation for and Toby says it’s for winning. Oh, boy, 1999 Aaron Sorkin. Believe me when I tell you, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Sam suggests swallowing it and Josh says, “I knew you were going to say that,” which, like, what a genius you are, Josh. He told you he was going to say that two minutes ago. Sam doesn’t want to screw up their banking victory with an argument about a bunch of rocks that are uninhabitable eight months of the year, and Josh says Sam means they can live without the environmental lobby on their side. Josh wants to veto and so does Toby, basically because they are puny White House staffers and this is how they flex their muscles. Sam thinks Montana doesn’t have enough electoral votes to worry about pissing them off and Josh snarks that he knew the day would come when Sam would willingly sell of states for political purposes. Excuse me, but isn’t this, like, the exact opposite of Sam’s usual personality? Isn’t he the least likely member of the staff to ditch principle for politics? No? Okay, then.

Toby wants a few hours to speak to some people. Isn’t that Josh’s actual job? What is going on here?

The president dismisses everyone with a “What’s next?” and we’re taken via b-roll to a D.C. sunset. Leo’s reading on his couch when the president meanders in, having nothing to do because they had most of the night blocked for “that thing” and then it got cancelled. Jed clearly wants company and Leo gives it to him. They discuss Leo’s divorce and his daughter. Jed points out that Mallory does not really see what Leo’s job is. It must be weird to have these discussions about your personal life with someone you have to call “sir”. Anyway, Jed reminds him that he’s next door all night.

Josh is typing when Donna comes by with Mandy. Mandy wants to talk about the banking bill. She’s on Sam’s side. Josh reiterates that this is more about pride than anything else. Mandy is being very 3 and that seems to be the whole point here.

Charlie comes by to let Leo know that some cabinet undersecretary is having a birthday and needs a card/birthday letter tonight. This gives Leo An Idea. He tells Charlie to give it to Sam, which he does. Sam realizes he’s cutting it close to his date but goes to accomplish his task.

Mandy is talking to Toby who is not listening. He’s being pretty rude. 5. Also, Mandy is being 3. I feel sometimes I should just replace 3 with Mandy. Toby tells Mandy he has hatred in his heart. Mandy asks towards whom. Toby says, “You go ahead and pick ’em.” Have I mentioned how hard I ❤ Toby?

C.J. stops by. She was probably hoping he’d be alone. ! Mandy wants to do that silly thing where she tells C.J. to tell Toby things that Toby can perfectly well hear Mandy say to C.J., what with him sitting right there. Because she’s 3! C.J. tries very hard to play along but it’s hard to get past the fact that she does not care.

TMPTF – 10

C.J. follows Mandy out. I guess Toby saying he needed to work was C.J.’s cue that there would be no booty call that day. !

What, you guys? I’m sick, okay. I have to get my fun where I can. (Oh, my God, people, I mean I have a cold. Not that I’m a pervert whose fetish is shipping unrequited TV couples.)

C.J. asks Mandy about her trouble with Danny and Mandy suggests giving him a half-hour with the president. I don’t know why C.J. couldn’t figure this out herself, so 9. Mandy asks for C.J.’s help with the banking bill thing and C.J.’s like, sorry, the boys must be boys on this one. Mandy says they’re idiots. C.J.’s like, yeah, we know.

So does this pass the Bechdel test? Two named female characters talking about work, which just so happens to also be about men? I am still undecided.

The president is looking over Sam’s birthday message and asks him to do another draft. Because he’s in on Leo’s Idea.

Mallory comes by in a totally sex red dress. For someone who’s not on a date . . . I’m going with a 8 here, not for being dressed the way she is, but for saying earlier that this is not a date when it clearly is a date. Irrational women use irrationality to flirt, right? Say no when they mean yes and “Get lost” when they mean, “Take me, I’m yours”?

Anyway, she won’t be on a date in a minute. Sam invites her in to his office.

Danny is typing in the dark. C.J. comes by and says she’s having a hard time believing one of the cabinet secretaries was gossiping with him. He points out that the cabinet secretaries weren’t the only ones in the room. C.J. figures out it’s Mildred and Danny insists that Mildred not be fired because it would be “mean”. Right, big important cabinet secretaries can be expected to be discreet, but female administrative staff? Pfft. Don’t be mean.

C.J. makes the deal with Danny for the president, after he pushily flirts with her and threatens that he’ll write about it if Mildred gets fired.

Mallory is in Sam’s office questioning why Sam would have to do such a lowly task on the night of their date. For some reason she thinks Sam is chickening out. He insists she stay for half an hour while he finishes up.

Toby is in a library-looking room with a portrait of the other Roosevelt. Josh comes in and says he doesn’t think it was Broderick and Eaton; he thinks it was Crane, the dude Toby had lunch with. Toby has already come to that conclusion but apparently the hatred has fled his heart, leaving nothing but apathy. The hatred still burns hot in Josh’s heart, though.

C.J. goes to the Oval and tells the president about his upcoming sit-down with Danny. C.J. also tells the president it was probably Mildred who talked, not the Veep. The president is also in favor of dropping the subject. Because ladies can’t be expected to not talk to reporters, right? Right. 8

Sam is nerdishly (and I mean that as a compliment) finishing his draft of the birthday message. Mallory is exasperated. Sam says he doesn’t care that it’s just a birthday message; he was asked to do this by the president of the United States. Mallory connects the dots and asks Sam if he told Leo they were going out that night.

Leo’s dictating some things to Margaret when Mallory comes in to 3 at Leo. Leo admits readily that he made Sam do the birthday message to show Mallory what it’s like to be romantically involved with someone who works for the White House. Then the president comes in and reveals he’s in on the plan. Jed reads some of Leo’s schedule from that day, to demonstrate how difficult this job is. Mallory 3s at him.

Mallory assures Leo that she’s not blaming him and offers to go see the rest of the opera with her. He does not think Chinese opera is a good way to make anything up to him. And, on the one hand, they’re his tickets. But on the other hand, Jason and I have season tickets to the Marriott Lincolnshire’s theater and sometimes things are included that I’d rather not see. Like, I made him take Zoe to Cats this year. And last year there was some sort of Andrew Lloyd Webber review so we gave those tickets to his parents.

Mallory thinks they should ask Sam and Leo agrees, reluctantly. But, hahaha, Sam would rather stay and perfect the birthday message. Even after Mallory gets Leo to admit that this assignment was bullshit. Because Sam’s enormously nerdy. In a truly, truly lovable way.

Mallory also thinks this is lovable, saying Sam is so exactly like her father. Sam says that’s the nicest thing she’s ever said to him.

Some assistant knocks on the Oval Office door to announce the veep. They have a friendly handshake but that’s the only friendly thing that happens. Turns out, the president hates the veep because the veep made him “beg” him to be his vice-presidential candidate. Jed claims that it weakened him out of the gate, but I notice that he still got elected, so Jed is still being an asshole.

Mandy is hollering at Josh because Josh is still trying to deal with the banking bill. Mandy closes herself in Josh’s office and tells him he’s fighting the wrong fights for the wrong reasons. Josh looks stunned but doesn’t seem to change his mind. He yells at Donna for not having gotten some files he wanted and Donna says the computer system is antiquated. This gives Josh an Idea.

Now Toby is nerdishly trying to help Sam with the birthday message and I swoon a little. Josh comes in to announce that the president can use the Antiquities Act to make Big Sky a national park. OMG, it’s like the thing that the president was talking about in the beginning of the episode was important for the plot or something! It was Chekhov’s Pager all along and I didn’t know!

The president is now telling a very bored Charlie about national parks. I guess president-sitter is Charlie’s actual job.

Josh comes in to give the president his idea. The president loves it. He says to Josh, “You understand it’s a bunch of rocks, right?” Josh says, “I’m sure someone with your encyclopedic knowledge of the ridiculous and dork-like will be able to find a tree ora ferret that the public has a right to visit.” The president wags his finger and says, “More than a right, Josh. It’s a treat.” I truly, truly love this exchange more than I love many things in the world. I know that I must come across in these recaps as a hater of this show but seriously? This right here puts a smile on my face. This whole scene, really, the writing, the acting, the humor and the seriousness – it really means so much to Josh to deliver for the president, and the president knows and appreciates that – it’s just awesome. And I’m sure the lighting and set design and cinematography are good, too, and if I knew anything about that I’d appreciate it.

Josh follows the president out onto the thing I’ve been calling a portico even though I don’t know if that’s right to say, “We talk about enemies more than we used to.” Who’s the “we”, Josh? You are usually leading the discussions on enemies. Didn’t you tell some guy that’s what the president employs you to do?

That’s the episode. Only 16 misogyny points, which isn’t bad. I don’t think I’m going to give them the Bechdel test pass, after all. Not because this episode is light, but because, look, Toby and Sam talk about “work” in their first scene without talking about women. In fact, none of the men have discussions about women as they relate to work at any point in this episode. Male characters can do that on this show; female characters rarely can. Also, in both cases where two named female characters talk to each other about “work,” they’re really talking about the men’s personalities and preferences. Mrs. Landingham and C.J. are talking about the president’s love of talking about national parks, and C.J. and Mandy are talking about Toby and Josh’s stubbornness and pride. So no Bechdel test passing.

See you next time!

Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing”, 1.07, “The State Dinner”

Dudes, these titles are getting a little unwieldy. Not of the episodes, of my posts. Would it confuse anyone if I went with something shorter and simpler?

Just 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 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 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.


!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it. Not misogynist, just entertaining to me personally.

So, previously on “The West Wing”, Josh obnoxiously asked Mandy to work for “the leader of the free world” and Mandy feistily punched him and I wondered if I could drop a number for a thing that happened in a previous episode and then decided it’s my f-ing blog so why not 3; CJ gave Danny a lead on something because he’s a good guy; Leo insisted that his marriage was not over and his daughter laid some truth on him; Sam was obnoxious to his prostitute friend who “doesn’t plan on getting busted”. 12 because we didn’t have a number for this before and also we’ve found our Chekhov’s pager!

Currently on “The West Wing,” C.J. is in a room, like, behind the press room? With machinery? She’s looking at something I think may be photography-related while a bunch of lady reporters ask annoying lady questions about what the First Lady and also the guest First Lady will be wearing. C.J. is sort of keeping it together but clearly has an “Ugh, fashion” attitude. I’m giving this a 4 because it doesn’t have to be a male character disparaging femininity; it just has to be the show. C.J. even throws shade at the FASHION REPORTERS for not asking about the NUCLEAR TEST BAN TREATY. Which, a) THEY’RE FASHION REPORTERS, C.J., and b) isn’t even mentioned for the rest of the episode. I thought at first that the state dinner had something to do with the nuclear test ban treaty but on further viewing, it doesn’t, so wtf, CJ? Another 4 for you.

Josh follows C.J. out of the room-behind-the-press-room. C.J. continues to rant about how with her 22 years of education (which is K-12 plus four years of college plus five years of grad school, right? So I’ve only had one year less of education than she has? And most of the annoying lady journalists must have had K-12 and most likely four years of college and also a lot of them probably have been to grad school, right? Yeah. Okay.) she has to answer stupid LADY questions about stupid LADY things like fashion and wine. 4. Although it is sort of amusing when she’s all, “And Mirabella wants to know what kind of wine we’re serving, God,” and Josh is like, “What kind of wine are we-” and C.J. snaps, “It’s wine, Josh. You drink it.”

Josh moves on to what he actually wanted to talk about, which is a hurricane headed toward Georgia and the Carolinas and likely to make landfall that night.

Sam tags in to announce that the teamsters have voted to strike and Leo is putting them in a room to hash things out. They have until midnight. (I don’t think he mentions which “team” the teamsters are on here, so I’ll just tell you – it’s the trucking union. I mean, other unions are referred to as “teamsters”, right?)

Toby joins the conga line. There’s a situation in McClane, ID, where somewhere between eighteen and forty survivalists and their children are in a farm surrounded by local law enforcement. The FBI is going in, treating this like a hostage situation. I guess the children are the ones who count as hostages. This is all supposed to remind adult watchers in 1999 of Waco, TX. I’m sure I should understand it in that light in better detail, but I was a kid when Waco happened.

C.J. sums up our subplots thusly: “Let see if I have this: A hurricane has picked up speed and power and is heading for Georgia. Management and labor are coming here to work out a settlement to avoid a crippling strike that will begin at midnight tonight. And the government’s planning a siege on 18-40 of its citizens all while we host a state dinner for the president of Indonesia.” The boys all nod and agree vigorously. “Amazingly, you know what I’ll get asked most often?” she continues. And of course one of those irritating lady journalists pops her head in and says, “C.J.?” And C.J. already knows what she’s going to ask and repeats her description of the first lady’s shoes from earlier. “Black suede and velvet Manolo Blahnik slides with a rhinestone and mother-of-pearl toe buckle.” Then she looks at the boys like, “Women, amIrite?” 4. But thanks for the recap, C.J.!

And, not for nothing, but . . . black suede AND velvet? Suede for evening? Rhinestone AND mother-of-pearl toe buckle? Do these not sound like unrealistically hideous shoes? I mean, I’m no expert and maybe the image in my head TOTALLY does not match the actual shoe, but . . . no?


Misogyny Points Thus Far: 6. We’re in for a good episode!

Josh is in his very messy office with stacks and stacks of stuff practically obscuring his face. He’s talking to someone on the phone about the hurricane. He hangs up and calls for “Donnatella Moss!” He doesn’t want to talk to her about the hurricane, though. He wants her to find out if a specific Indonesian official speaks English, and, if not, get a translator from State so that he, Toby, and the Indonesian official can have a pow-wow later.

Donna wants to talk to Josh about a problem she has with “this whole Indonesia thing.” See, she’s been doing some reading on her own, and –

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Josh says.


No, wait, Robert Downey, Jr. It gets worse.

“Why?” Donna whines.

“Because you tend to cull some bizarre factoid from a less than reputable source and then you blow it all out of proportion.”


I know, right, Karen?

5. And 4. What the hell, let’s throw in an 8. Because for real, Josh? For real, Aaron Sorkin?

And of course Donna only proves the point by insisting that she does not do that, and then insists that in some parts of Indonesia, she’s read, they execute you if they suspect you of being a sorcerer. Ugh. Another 8 just for how dip-shitty they had her sound here.

MPTF: 10

Anyway, Josh does not care and goes into Leo’s office, or maybe his, I don’t know, parlor? The staff is gathering. And the scene that follows is actually one of the ones I want to praise Aaron Sorkin for. It’s not a spectacular scene; it’s a working kind of scene that lets us get updated on all the plot points and also advance one minor thing. All of the people in the room talk so that the exposition feels natural and it’s even funny at points, like when they’re talking about the truckers in the Roosevelt Room and Josh says C.J.’s going to need to know what they’re wearing.

So, anyway, the following things happen:

The hurricane is getting worse.

The truckers and management are in a fight over the two-tiered system, in which some workers are considered full-time, with the pay and benefits of full-timers, and others are considered part-time, even though they work the same number of hours, and they get lower pay and no benefits. On the one hand, that seems unfair. On the other, Toby and Josh claim, the younger workforce is interested in flexibility and not willing to make long-term commitments to their companies, so why should those companies offer benefits and higher wages to them? Oh, 1999. A time when the younguns wanted flexible jobs so they could explore themselves and shit. Instead of just wanting jobs that pay them money. We miss you, you simpler, more economically stable times.

Sam wants to be in charge of the McClane thing but Leo wants him working with Toby on the toast because State is going to be very picky about what they can and cannot say.

Josh says he’ll assign it to someone in his department and Mandy says she wants to do it. Josh does not want Mandy to do it because she is a political consultant and this is “an actual, you know, thing.” Mandy and Josh bicker and whine and C.J. makes great faces. Leo decides to let Mandy handle it, but she has to keep Josh in the loop.

I’m giving Josh a and a 5 for his dismissal of Mandy’s abilities to handle this kind of thing, but I do have to ask – I mean, I know that Sorkin had all kinds of actual West Wing former staffers as consultants but – is it realistic that Mandy, who, as best as I can tell, is a freelance consultant and not an employee of the actual federal government, would be given charge of such a sensitive issue? Should she even be in the daily senior staff meeting like this? I don’t know; I’m just asking.

As they lead the meeting, Toby approaches Donna to ask her about the Indonesian dude. He also confirms that they do, in fact, behead sorcerers in some parts of Indonesia. He seems disinterested, though, and Josh fails to apologize for his earlier attitude. 5.

And listen, I don’t know what they do or do not do about sorcerers in Indonesia, now or in 1999. This blog is not about ethnocentrism, or colonialism, or any of that stuff. Because I don’t know enough to be an authority on this issue. I’m sure Sorkin is wrong about something in all of this, but I’m not taking it upon myself to tell you what it is.

Many camera flashes are going off. One cameraman says, “Mr. President,” and C.J. cuts in to say there are no questions at this particular time; they’re keeping things brief. The cameraman says it’s a short question, and the president says C.J.’s not worried about the length of the question, but the length of his answer. True facts, Mr. President. The cameras continue flashing while President Bartlett tries to engage the president of Indonesia in conversation. The president of Indonesia is not at all interested.

Toby goes to Sam to talk about the toast. Sam’s writing a nice, boring, diplomatic speech. Toby wants to toughen it up. He doesn’t want to remind everyone how friendly America is with dictators who “oppress their people while stealing their money.” Sam wants to know how else you could steal their money? Hee.

Sam asks Toby what he’s got going on with Josh. “We’ve got to see a guy about a thing,” Toby says, and no, he doesn’t want help.

Leo goes to the Roosevelt Room where the teamsters are sitting down with management. Leo yells at them for a few minutes and leaves. Well, good, then.

Mandy is waiting for Josh outside his office. She accuses him of not thinking she can do this. She runs down the situation in McClane. The relevant new piece of information here is that the FBI is using the fact that they may have illegal guns with them as a pretext, except that the FBI in fact sold them those guns. Mandy notes that it bugs Josh that the president listens to her sometimes. He says it bugs him when the president listens to anyone who’s not him. Really, Josh? Funny, we haven’t seen you disparage Sam or Toby the way you disparage Mandy. 5.

More cameras flash. Now the two presidents are sitting down and it appears they can take questions. The Indonesian president is no more responsive to the press than he was to President Bartlett.

Danny Concannon is in this group of reporters and asks the president what he knows about the protesters outside the White House. They’re protesting vermeil. C.J. shuts him up by saying they’re covering vermeil at the briefing later and ushers this group of reporters out of the room. Then she and Danny bicker about vermeil for a while, C.J. insisting that she does, in fact, know what vermeil is. Danny calls Carol over to help C.J. with the vermeil story he just made happen. And the Carol and C.J. exchange words! Okay, two lines. But it’s about vermeil! I believe that counts as not-a-man and therefore this episode passes the Bechdel test! -10.

MPTF: 13

Leo steals President Bartlett for a minute. The minute they’re outside the room, the president complains about how boring the Indonesian president is, and how he wishes he were sitting with Toby, C.J. and Sam that night, as that’s the “fun table.” He observes that the only way such boring and/or rude man could win an election is that the U.S. rigs them.

Anyway, Leo just wanted to tell him they’ve ordered a carrier group out of Norfolk to move out of the way of the hurricane. So that should end well.

Toby and Sam are writing together, Toby on a legal pad and Sam on his laptop. Toby hands his legal pad to Sam and Sam does not think they should invite people to dinner and then chastise them. Toby thinks that if you don’t, it’s just a waste of food.

C.J. is now talking to the press about vermeil, which is gilded silver, and which was produced in France under atrocious conditions and then melted down to pay for Louis XV’s wars. In other words, to some people, it’s a symbol of oppression and government waste. To the White House, it’s a good place to put seasonal floral centerpieces.

Danny follows C.J. out of the press room and C.J. accuses him of “rousing rabbles”. Hee. Apparently this protest is composed of six people. Danny wants to know what C.J. is wearing that night. Not his paper, Danny. C.J. does not smack him, but answers him, “An evening gown of gray silk.” Danny says he’ll be looking forward to it.

Yeah, I’m throwing up a 2 here. You can argue with me if you like in the comments.

Sam and his prostitute friend Laurie are at a diner. Laurie is trying to study. Sam is yapping to her. He is also trying to Bogart her sandwich. He insists that in this kind of place, the food is communal. Sam, you’re thinking of Chinese food. Or family-style Italian. Sandwiches are never communal unless you explicitly state that one of you will have one half and the other will have the other half. Laurie is inexplicably charmed that Sam is not afraid of being seen with her in public. 6. Sam wants to know if she has a date that night and she says yes but doesn’t want to talk more about it. She wants to study. Sam throws the answers to her study questions at her and she thanks him sarcastically for his “nerd bravado” while insisting that, whether or not this test is relevant to the practice of law, it is in fact relevant to the passing of law school. I gotta give Lisa Edelstein credit, by the way. I hate a lot about what they do with this character but I like her a lot and she plays this role very well. I do have to ask, though, if you need to be studying, why are you out having lunch with Sam? He’s even stealing your food.

Some dudes are telling the president how militias are an inherent threat. Mandy asks permission to join the discussion. She lectures the men about how kooks and extremists are the byproduct of a free country, much like porn is the byproduct of free speech. Josh points out that guns are different from Hustler. The unnamed men – who I guess are with the FBI – quibble with her about the difference between entrapment and a sting, and Mandy brings up that her concern is the court of public opinion. Josh says there’s no way this will end good, so it’s best to end it fast. Mandy wants to bring in a negotiator. The president dismisses Josh and Mandy, and they go outside to debate the nature of democracy. Well, Mandy talks theoretical abstract bullshit about democracy. Josh is on the side of, “When the FBI says come out with your hands up, you come out with your hands up,” and you can avail yourself of your free country’s judicial system at that point. I hate to say it, but I agree with Josh here. On a theoretical level, in fact, as well as a practical one. An ordered state requires that everyone buy into the state’s authority, as well as requiring that the state not abuse that authority. I agree that we have plenty of problems with the latter. I’m just saying that doesn’t justify problems with the former.

Anyway, Leo comes out and tells Mandy that the president is sending in a negotiator. Josh nastily says, “Well, you’re in the game now.” 5

Donna is tying Josh’s bow tie and talking about the whole sorcerer-beheading thing some more. I don’t know exactly how to justify this but I’m giving this scene a 4. Charlie comes in to ask Josh a favor – his grandparents are in the path of the hurricane and Charlie can’t reach them. Charlie is clearly embarrassed to be asking this favor but Josh insists he not worry about it. He tells Donna, “Call FEMA, use my name. When that doesn’t work, use Leo’s name.” Hee. Josh promises to find them.

Mandy, in evening wear, approaches Josh. Josh says he looks good, even better than her. I disagree with his assessment. I don’t get the white bow tie thing. Anyway, Mandy is worried that the negotiator hasn’t been in contact yet. Josh has no opinions on this. Nor does he know what’s happening with the hurricane or the teamsters. “What is it you do here, exactly?” Mandy asks. “It’s never really been made clear to me,” Josh responds. Hee.

Their perambulations bring them to Sam. Sam and Josh admire themselves and Mandy asks if they want to be alone.

Yeah, I’m calling it. New number.

13. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Damn, and I just redid my post-it with all these numbers on it, too.

MPTF: 18

Sam wants to know if there’s any personal connection between President Indonesia (they keep saying his name but I can’t catch the spelling) and the US. Josh says that he was once almost pushed out of an airplane by a CIA operative. Sam thinks that’s not going to work and departs just as Toby calls Josh over.

Toby is displeased that the interpreter from the State Department does not speak one of the 583 Indonesian languages that the dude Josh and Toby want to talk to does. Josh shouts for Donna 5 who insists she has it under control. She has a kitchen guy who speaks Portugese and the dialect the Indonesian dude speaks, but not English. But the State Department guy speaks Portugese. And English. Toby wants a drink.

C.J., in gray silk, is greeted by Stockard Channing, our First Lady, who compliments C.J.’s dress except for its lack of cleavage and then introduces her to a single cardiologist. Throwing up a here as well.

C.J. pulls the First Lady away to talk about the vermeil. The First Lady – Abbey – says she’s not embarrassed; they didn’t spend new money on it; and it’s their history. They’re not going to lock it in the basement or brush it with a new coat of paint; they’re going to use it to display seasonal floral arrangements. I gotta say, I like that answer.

C.J. walks away and Abbey greets Leo by comparing him to Fred Astaire. Whom he does kind of resemble. She wants to know where her husband is. He’s on a call. The teamsters are still talking. Abbey commands Leo to mingle.

Mandy is meandering nervously. She leaves the party area to go to the Josh area. Donna can’t get anyone on the phone.

Leo wants Toby, Sam, and Josh to schmooze with a big donor. Whose date is Laurie. Who is Brittany right now. Sam is gobsmacked, visibly. If I were the big donor, I’d assume Sam had used “Brittany’s” services.

Donna finds Charlie. His grandparents are safe at a shelter, but are being sent back home. The hurricane has shifted direction.

Leo passes by Donna saying this to ask C.J. what’s going on. Turns out that carrier group is now in the path of the hurricane. But there’s nothing to be done and Leo doesn’t want to tip the press by having C.J. start to work on this.

Josh is in the dining room on his cell as people come in. Mandy approaches him. She hasn’t heard anything.

But Josh has. It’s over. The survivalists shot the negotiator; the FBI came in and arrested them; the negotiator is in critical condition. Because women suck at doing actual, you know, things. 7. Also, although Mandy was assigned to be point person on this, and has been on the phone all evening, Josh is the one that can get through. 11. Mandy is going to be sick. Because girls, they can’t handle this shit like men can. 4. The presidents are announced as Mandy rushes off to the bathroom to hurl.

MPTF: 22

The president is for some reason surprised that the hurricane changed course without warning. Leo says it’s unusual. Is it? I thought hurricanes did this kind of thing all the time.

President Bartlett and Leo go to talk to a captain, who informs him that this carrier group is 12,000 men. That’s a shit-ton, isn’t it? The worst will hit in 20 minutes. They’re going to set up a call to the carrier group so that the president can talk to them. Leo tells the president the negotiator is being prepped for surgery. The only thing for the president can do is go back to the party.

Meanwhile, Toby is in the kitchen with the two interpreters and the Indonesian dude. Donna watches. It’s all pretty dumb. Josh comes in and the nonsense goes on until it is revealed that the Indonesian dude speaks English. Josh is mad at Donna and dismisses her. 7. Toby dismisses the interpreters. They tell the Indonesian dude they want him to let their French friend out of Indonesian jail. They very obnoxiously explain that they don’t want this to be, like, an official let this guy out of jail; they just want the Indonesian dude to put key to lock and get the guy out. The Indonesian guy correctly notes that this is a favor and that Toby and Josh are hardly displaying the demeanor of persons asking for a favor. Furthermore, the speech Toby wrote was “despicable and humiliating.” He also points out the hypocrisy of lecturing the world on human rights when we killed all the Native Americans. I mean, he’s right, but it’s also kind of a childish and unsophisticated point to make. The Indonesian guy tells them to go to hell.

C.J. is working in her evening gown. Danny comes in and compliments her dress, then asks her about McClane. She’s annoyed. She asks if, when he flirts with her, is he doing it to get a story? No, he’s doing it to flirt with her. Yeah, Danny, you’re all about the boundaries. She points out that he’s the one who says she’s too friendly with the press corps. She sends him off but then asks if he really likes the dress. Ugh. 2.

We’re back with the teamsters. They’re arguing. The president walks in. They all stand. The president demands that they talk for five minutes apiece. While standing.

The donor approaches with Laurie/Brittany. The donor wants a “relationship” with Sam and Sam talks like he’s a prostitute. Then the donor walks off and Laurie, inexplicably, apologizes to him. 6. Sam is pissy with her until Abbey approaches them and asks to be introduced to Laurie. Sam does not know what to do but Laurie handles herself. Abbey wants to know where her husband is and when she’s told he’s with the teamsters, she surmises that he’s there because he can’t save a gunshot victim or divert a hurricane. The first lady then calls Laurie “thoroughly charming” even though Laurie didn’t say anything. -6? Then Abbey leaves and Sam continues to be a whiny baby. He offers her $10,000 not to go home with that guy tonight. She doesn’t smack him; she just leaves. 12.

The president cuts off one of the trucking people and says that none of them know what they’re talking about. At 12:01 am, he says, he’s using his executive power to nationalize the trucking industry and draft the truckers into military service.

The president marches through the halls, and Abbey sees him. She says she shouldn’t have stayed away so long; when she does, the president loses his sense of proportion. They have a very loving interaction as the storm rages behind them, causing the lights to flicker. Jed calls it a “metaphor for powerlessness.”

The two of them depart hand in hand, and Leo finds them and tells the president they could only get a maintenance supply boat, and what’s more, they can’t even get the captain. So Jed, in his office, surrounded by his staff, talks to the kid in the radio shack, who is clearly terrified. As well he should be. He’s going to die.

I can’t recap this scene. I’ve got . . . something in my eye. Shut up. It’s allergy season. The president talks to this kid until he can’t anymore and that’s all you need to know.

And that’s the end of this episode.

It seems ludicrous to write about misogyny points right after 12,000 people died in a hurricane. But that’s my job, right?

Total Misogyny Points: 25

Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin – “The West Wing”, 1.06 “Mr. Willis of Ohio”

So I’m watching my favorite TV series for the purpose of criticizing its tendencies toward misogyny, tendencies that are exacerbated in creator Aaron Sorkin’s later works. 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 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.


!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it. Not misogynist, just entertaining to me personally.

This particular episode could also be mined for race and class stuff but I’m going to just stick to what I’m good at.

Previously, on “The West Wing,” the president marches along that outdoor walkway thing at the White House, the name of which I should probably learn if I’m going to do these recaps; Leo tells his wife that his work as Chief of Staff is, in fact, more important than their marriage; Sam tells a person he thinks is a random teacher but who is in fact his boss’s daughter that he “accidentally” slept with a prostitute; and Charlie and Zoey (the president’s daughter) flirt adorably.

Currently on “The West Wing,” C.J. deals a hand of poker to staffers in a dimly lit room in the White House. It is presumably evening or even late at night. The players are C.J., Leo, Josh, Toby, the president, Mandy, and Sam. Sam and Toby are smoking cigars. I continue to be wildly attracted to Toby despite said cigar. Everyone calls check except the president, who decides to quiz his staff about which fruit has seeds on the outside. The staff is not best pleased and is highly expressive of their displeasure, because they are very, very secure in their jobs. C.J. guesses the kumquat and Leo, next to her, laughs, and they all grin adorably. I do love the scenes on this show where the staffers are just enjoying each other. More poker-y things happen, including Toby raising the president’s bet. The president responds by informing them that the fruit is the strawberry, which they are all way too impressed with, and then asks for the fourteen punctuation marks in standard English. The table in general guesses the most obvious seven and then Toby finishes off with the last, earning an “Ooh!” from C.J. ! He’s totally getting some tonight. Toby insists that the president focus on poker. The president still does not. Instead, he wants to know which three words in the English language begin with dw-. Josh says this is why they never get anything done. Toby and Sam come up with dwindle and dwarf, and then the president raises his bet and reveals, via something Shakespearean, that the third is dwell. There is more general ribbing and everyone being totally fun together, and then Toby loses the hand to the president and they decide they’re done.

The president tells Leo to kiss Jenny for him, so we know that the president has not been informed of their marital troubles yet. Josh is going to go back to the office, because of course he is, and gets Sam to come with him so that Sam can explain the commerce report to him. So, okay, let’s throw in a -9 for that because Josh just admitted he didn’t know something, but let’s also remember this light, joking moment in which Josh basically orders Sam to do this for him and Sam acquiesces agreeably.

The president tells Charlie – who has been in the outer room this whole time, NOT invited to play poker, a shonda, I tell you – that he’s going back to the residence. Charlie says he’s going to stay and do more paperwork.

Mandy and C.J. converse! -10! They’re talking about poker! Mandy won $84 and C.J. lost money, some of it to Mandy.

Then some suited men come walking in all important-like. The building is not secure. They need to all stay in the Oval Office. Josh notes that this is happening too often and Leo tells us it’s pledge week and frat boys have a habit of hopping the fence. Josh is being somewhat shirty with the Secret Service and everyone gets tense for a minute. Then the president breaks the ice by starting a new trivia question. By the time Toby and the president are done razzing each other about it, one of the agents gives the all-clear. Mandy joking that “This is the kind of thing that didn’t used to happen at my old job” leads us into the credits.

And listen, I still don’t have anything against Moira Kelly, but her delivery of that line is kind of the perfect illustration of her not really getting the Sorkin rhythm.

Patriotism, swelling music, and shots of the cast!

Our misogyny count is in the negative right now! -2! Amazing!

After the credits, we’re in the ever-bustling Toby-and-Sam section of The White House. Toby would like Cathy (who I thought was Sam’s assistant?) to get him a copy of Article One, Section Two. Cathy asks, “Article One, Section Two of what?” which seems like a totally reasonable question to me. Toby says, “The Constitution,” like it should be obvious, and I’m going to go ahead and put in a 5 here. A soft 5, but a 5 nevertheless. Cathy wants to know if that’s something she’s supposed to have at her desk. Toby wants to know if anyone in the general Toby-and-Sam section has a copy of the Constitution handy. No one does. Toby thinks this is “discouraging.” Cathy orders Bonnie to get it. Bonnie wants to know “if it’s still in print” which is a ridiculous question. 7. Honestly. Toby shouts at them to “try Amazon DOT com” (or, I would suggest, the internet in general – I mean, I know it’s 1999 and the Internet isn’t quite what it is today, but I bet there was a copy of the U.S. Constitution up somewhere) or to “bust into the glass display case at the National Archives!” Toby, honestly. Send someone down to the gift shop; they probably have free copies.

C.J. comes up behind him and chastises him for yelling. Toby does not say, “That’s not what you said last night.” C.J. says, kind of awkwardly and weirdly, that she’s here to see Sam. Toby does not care and C.J. continues to be weird about it.

Sam is talking to someone named Jill about sampling data and the census. C.J. flatters him weirdly but I’m not going to give it a 6 for reasons that will become obvious in a moment. Sam grumbles about how the census needs to be taken seriously, despite the lack of glamour. C.J. compliments his hair and his suit and he looks good today. Sam correctly guesses that she needs a favor (which is why no 6).

C.J. tells Sam that there were parts of the commerce bill regarding the census that she didn’t understand. Sam says he can help her out. C.J. confesses that she understands nothing about the census. Because 9. Sam chastises her for not having understood the whole thing for weeks now and for faking it and  then very generously offers to “forget about the fact that you came a little late to the party and embrace the fact that you showed up at all.”

So, let’s go over this. When Josh doesn’t understand this very same bill, he obnoxiously orders Sam to stick around well after working hours to help him understand it. Sam helping Josh takes place entirely off our screen and Sam is entirely cheerful and willing to help Josh with no commentary on what it means that Josh needs his help.

The very next day, mere hours later, considering these peoples’ work schedules, C.J. comes to Sam all flattering and penitent and pleading for help understanding that same bill, and Sam makes her debase herself a little about how much she doesn’t understand and then says she’s “late to the party.” I don’t know if I have enough 9s to give. So this scene will get two, the one above for simply the fact that it’s C.J.’s job to play dumb audience member even though we are given a set-up that would have allowed it to just as easily be Josh, and this one for how groveling she’s expected to be about it.

Donna has a question about the budget surplus that she’s posing to Josh. There’s a $32 billion dollar surplus (Oh, 1999. We miss you.) and the Republicans want to use it for tax relief – i.e., give it back – and the Democrats don’t. Donna wants to know why the Democrats don’t. Josh says, “Because we’re Democrats.” Donna doesn’t care; she wants her money back. Yup, another 9 for the episode. I don’t get the census (unless it’s “We count up all the people,” in which case, I get it fine) but I do get the whole concept of Republicans like not taxing people and Democrats like spending money on social programs just fine, and I’m not the assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff of the White House.

Leo is going over some of the appropriations bill additions with the staff. They are pointing out all the nonsense things in the bill and then we learn the real point – if the three swing voters that Toby and Mandy are meeting with later will agree to something something something wrt the census, they’ll let the appropriations bill pass. Or something. I think that’s what’s being said, anyway. Also, one of the three is the husband of a recently deceased Congresswoman who is taking her place for the term. See, it’s a way to show that women are totally Congresspeople, without having to cast an actual woman to be involved in this meeting. I don’t have a number for that. Let’s call add one .

11. The show engineers things so that it pays lip service to the idea of women in power without actually showing it.

Actually, another good example of this would be C.J. dealing the cards. She is in the in-charge position in a group meeting, but it’s an irrelevant in-charge position, and it’s also undercut by her losing. So already two 11s for this episode!

Wait, and when Sam was on the phone and made sure to address the other person as Jill so we’d know he was having this important discussion with a woman even though we’d never see or hear from her! Another 11!

Anyway, Mandy and Toby think the dead congresswoman’s husband (the titular Mr. Willis, if you haven’t figured that out yet) is just going to vote with the others and are not worried about the meeting. They think they can threaten their three-day weekend in order to browbeat the congresspeople into voting their way. Leo simply commands them not to screw up or embarrass him and the meeting is dismissed.

A Secret Service agent having a meeting with the president to discuss the events of the night before. We learn that the person who jumped the fence the night before was not a frat pledge, it was a middle-aged crazy lady. Because dames. Crazy, right? 8. The president jokes that just trying to kill him doesn’t mean the woman is crazy.  But the president wasn’t the target. Zoey was. The president is taken aback.

Leo walks in and the president tries to pretend he’s okay, introducing Leo and the agent, Ron Butterfield (I love Sorkin’s character names) and marveling that the jumper was “a woman!” 4? And maybe another 11, since, again, we’re supposed to be impressed that the show had a woman doing the thing instead of a man, but we never actually see her.

Ron Butterfield excuses himself. Leo reassures the president that Zoey was safe, and the president decides not to tell his daughter her life was in danger. Because women. They can’t handle shit like this. I think I’m going with 8. Leo starts to try to tell the president about his marriage breaking up, but before he can, Ron Butterfield comes back in to report that their security worked as it was supposed to, and Leo decides not to go on. Ron advises the president not to lose sleep, but admits that the woman did have a gun before leaving.

A whole bunch of dudes come in to one of the meeting rooms, where Josh and Mandy are waiting. One of them is tubby and black and kind of wide-eyed, so that’s Mr. Willis. One of them is smarmy and says to Mandy, “If I had know you would be here I would have brought my sword and shield.” Mandy responds, “Champagne and flowers would have done the trick,” because women! You should always relate to them as if they are your lovers. 2. And 3 for how feisty Mandy is know to be.

Misogyny Points Thus Far: 

Smarmy dude introduces Mr. Willis, who explains to them who he is and why he’s there, which they already know. Mandy says she’s sorry for his loss and Mr. Willis is very nice about everything, and also explains that he’s not really a congressman; he’s an 8th grade social studies teacher.

Toby marches in ready for his performance. He has a bunch of assistants – Cathy and two dudes – put his copy of the appropriations bill on the table. It is many, many stacks of paper. Toby insincerely welcomes the two congressmen and tells Mr. Willis, sincerely, that he was a great fan of Mrs. Willis.

Then Toby turns his attention to the stacks of paper. It ways 55 pounds, he claims. I kind of doubt it. It includes very dumb things, like a study of the uses of wood. Toby tells them he’s thinking of some uses for it right now. I pant a little. The smarmy congressman smarms about how they’re supposed to be talking about the census. Josh, sitting across the table, says, “We are. The White House just wanted to point out that you are criminals and despots.” Oh, 1999. I miss you.

Josh and Mandy say they will pass the ridic appropriations bill if these three people vote against the law in it prohibiting sampling for use in the census. I’m so excited that Mandy actually gets to speak in this meeting I almost drop a number but then remember that THAT SHOULD BE NORMAL. My good mood from earlier in this post seems to have dissipated; I don’t know if y’all noticed.

Toby threatens their weekend plans, and Mr. Willis interrupts to say he has no weekend plans and no flights to miss or reschedule, so he’s down for the long haul on this. Toby is taken aback. So are the other two congressmen.

Oh, my God. C.J. and Sam pedeconference through the C.J. section of the West Wing and C.J. requests that Sam talk slow and assume she’s dumb. I don’t even. All the numbers. Okay, fine. Let’s go with 97, and maybe a little 4. And a 5 for when Sam makes a joke about being able to imagine her being dumb.


C.J. describes herself as “submissive” because she had to ask Sam for help. Note that Josh did not feel at all submissive when he asked, nor did we have to go through several conversations about how weak he was for needing it in the first place. 4. And then Sam insults her intelligence again. 4.

Finally we get to the explanation. The constitution decrees that every ten years, we count everyone. C.J. asks why. I mean, for fuck’s sake. 9. Because, duh, Sam does not say. Sam goes on to explain how the head count works – expensively and inaccurately. C.J. continues praising him unnecessarily but I’m still not throwing up a 6 because it’s not inexplicable.

Leo’s daughter in a gorgeous Irish fisherman’s sweater brings in some stuff for her dad and informs Leo that the marital difficulties he’s having are not, as he says, going to blow over.

Then we go back to the appropriations bill meeting. Mandy is saying this is a one-time experiment and the smarmy congressman is losing his cool. The one who is neither smarmy nor Mr. Willis appears to be asleep. Donna calls Josh out of the meeting and they pedeconference about why Donna is not getting her money back. I’m not even recapping this conversation. Go find a Facebook debate about taxes and government spending. I assure you it will be more sophisticated and informed than this conversation. I’m throwing in a 9 here for Donna being the originator of this dopey conversation. I do like when Donna whines, “I want my money back” and Josh says, “Then you shouldn’t have voted for us.”

Donna peels off and Josh enters that anteroom of the Oval Office where Charlie and Mrs. Landingham sit. He greets Charlie and Mrs. Landingham sends him in to the Oval. The president is on the phone but motions Josh over. He whispers that he’s on a conference call to the Postmaster General and doesn’t know what it’s about. He tells Josh he wants him to take Charlie out for a beer tonight. Because you should definitely be calling him out of meetings and interrupt your own call for this? Don’t get me wrong; I am a fan of this idea. In fact, I wish all episodes would include a scene of some portion of the gang going out for drinks together. I’m just wondering why this couldn’t have been discussed later.

The president is even going to give Josh some cash, which is adorable, except he doesn’t have any, which is also adorable.

Josh invites Charlie out and Charlie is confused. Josh offers to “speak as men do” which is a pretty funny and ridiculous line except that then Charlie implies that Josh is trying to take him to a gay bar because gay=gross and funny! I don’t have a number for that. If it keeps coming up, I’ll make one.

Mrs. Landingham suggests Josh is too old to be “leering at co-eds” and that is also adorable, as Mrs. Landingham is maybe the only person in the building who can legitimately use the word “co-ed.” Josh insists that there will be grad students at the bar, too. I’d call him out for being gross, but it’s not like we’ve ever seen him actually try to start a romantic or sexual relationship with a girl, so I’ll just go with him being funny here.

Somehow, as Josh is exiting the Charlie-and-Mrs.-Landingham room, Zoey (the president’s daughter) and Mallory (the chief of staff’s daughter) have already caught wind of this plan and want to go for beers, too. They insist the president says Josh has to take them, and Josh, instead of sniffing out the obvious lie, calls the president a “camp counselor”, which would be funny if it were not an obvious lie. Don’t let Josh babysit your kids, ladies and gentlemen. He’ll believe them when they say, “But Mom and Dad let me!”

Josh says these are plans among men, and Mallory says they don’t mind if he flirts with the co-eds, so I hope she’s just repeating what she heard Mrs. Landingham say, because she’s way too young to call them co-eds. Josh again insists there will be grad students there. Mallory wants Josh to bring Sam. Josh thinks Sam doesn’t need Mallory making booty calls, which just goes to show you everything you need to know about Josh. Stop cockblocking, dude. Sam can fail to have relationships with women without your assistance. Also 2.

As the girls wander off, Josh says, “The president’s daughter, the chief of staff’s daughter, a Georgetown bar, and Sam. What could possibly go wrong?” And dude, check yourself before you wreck yourself; why do you think Sam is going to be the troublemaker in this situation?

In the empty press room, Sam is explaining the totally obvious reasons why head counts disadvantage immigrants, the homeless, and inner city populations. Sampling is more accurate, but also, unconstitutional. Sam patronizes her and C.J. calls him out. I love C.J. Josh bursts in and invites Sam out. C.J. mentions she likes beer and Josh completely socially awkwards a “Oh, you can come too, if you want.” C.J. teases him about having completely swept her off her feet, and I should drop a 2, like I did for Mandy’s champagne-and-flowers comment, but C.J. has the gift of delivery, so I won’t.

Back in the appropriations meeting, Mandy is quoting statistics about how black people weren’t counted appropriately in the last census. Toby points out that sampling is more accurate and less expensive. Mandy and Toby trade off points for a few minutes. Smarm-meister doesn’t care. Non-smarm-and-non-Mr.-Willis insists that the Constitution makes it perfectly clear that sampling is not okay. They insist that the article in question is not arcane. Then they piss and moan about actually reading the Constitution and claim that none of them are Constitutional scholars. Although they are people who can claim to know what the Constitution says about sampling, apparently. Whatever, at this point, they are just straw men.

So Toby has Mandy read the article. But he has her read it while leaving a section out, you know, for the theater. Because if you’re going to burn your straw men, you want to make sure the flames look good. Non-Smarm insists that the phrase “number of whole persons” means that sampling is a no-go, although I would wonder how a Constitutional scholar would reconcile that with the inherent problem of ascertaining “whole number” by a head count. Toby lowers the boom, asking the black 8th grade Social Studies teacher, Mr. Willis, to confirm that Mandy left out the word “free” in front of “persons” and the phrase about 3/5 of all other persons. Toby really drives it home with a, “Three-fifths, they meant you, Mr. Willis, didn’t they?”

Well, no, Toby, they didn’t. Mr. Willis is a free person. His antecedents in this country may not have been but he is. And if I recall history correctly, there were free persons of African descent living in here when the Constitution was drafted. Their positions may have been tenuous, but they existed. Also, if I recall history correctly, there were non-black non-free persons at the time of the drafting of this Constitution, as well. So they didn’t just mean “black people” when they wrote that. But, excuse me, Toby. I’m interrupting your performance here. Carry on.

After Toby points out that this article is, in fact, arcane, Congressman Smarm wants to go. He and Congressman Non-Smarm say they’re not going to go change their vote. But Mr. Willis will change his vote, so hah. The two white men leave and Mr. Willis stays behind. Toby asks Mandy to go tell Leo and Toby asks Mr. Willis why he changed his mind. Mr. Willis says Toby made a strong argument. Toby is amazed that someone is voting his conscience. Then he admits that he took advantage of Mr. Willis, and that he didn’t mention the problems with sampling, like will it set a precedence for voting? Mr. Willis jokes that it’s okay with him, as long as it’s not the same people who decide what’s on television and they share a good laugh. Then Mr. Willis gets to give a Wise Black Man speech and we say goodbye to Mr. Willis.

Mrs. Landingham and an unnamed assistant help usher an impatient president out the door. The president is kind of rude to Mrs. Landingham but she calls him on it and it seems a natural and not at all power-trippy part of their relationship so I leave it alone. Leo comes in and reports success on the Toby-Mandy meeting. Leo tells Jed what’s going on with Jenny. Jed does not handle it well. He demands that Leo fix it! Leo yells at him. Jed is sad that Leo didn’t tell him about this for two weeks and Leo points out that he quite rightly expected Jed to take it badly. Jed continues to be an ass and Leo is gobsmacked.

We come to a bar called the Georgetown Station. Mallory asks about the prostitute. And apparently Zoey already knows. Because Mallory told her. And Mallory knows because Sam told her. C.J. is amazed that Sam is that f-ing stupid. Sam asks Mallory if her father knows. She says no. Sam asks Zoey if her father knows. Zoey bats her eyes and says, “Not yet.” Gosh, Elizabeth Moss is terrific. And it’s nice to see her play happy and silly. She’s so miserable on Mad Men these days. She should have sex with Stan.

Anyway. The bartender didn’t bring C.J.’s grasshopper. Zoey volunteers to go get it and asks the table to hold her lipstick, panic button . . . you know, that stupid shit in her pocket. Charlie looks hangdog about this. Are they going to give the young-looking nineteen-year-old Zoey a drink? Am I hopelessly naive?

When she leaves, Charlie asks what a panic button is. Hey, Charlie is appropriately and sensibly playing Exposition Fairy! -9! Although Mallory and C.J. totally don’t explain anything. Josh then wants to know if Charlie is having a good time and he and C.J. get into a little nonsense about whether Charlie’s good time is affected by Josh asking him if he’s having a good time. Charlie is only concerned that they know he’s not in college. C.J. assures him he’s the smartest kid in the room. Charlie is scanning the crowd, presumably for Zoe.

Zoe is approached by that dude who (spoiler alert!) gets turned into a vampire in the first episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and then (more spoiler alert!) gets killed in the second. He has two henchdudes with him. They ask her name. Zoey can’t believe they don’t already know who she is. Neither do I. I mean, I know 1999 (or 2000?) was basically the Dark Ages as far as the Internet is concerned, but everyone knew what Chelsea Clinton looked like. Maybe they wouldn’t believe that they were walking into a bar and seeing the First Daughter, but they would have probably said something like, “Hey, did anyone ever tell you you look just like Zoey Bartlett?”

Anyway, they want to guess her name. They already seem menacing, and not flirtatious – I mean, am I just a prude, or is it menacing when three boys get all up in your personal space to hit on you like that? – but Zoey goes with it, delighted with the idea of being anonymous.

Meanwhile, Charlie has spotted their menacing-ness and decided to swoop in. He reveals that her name is Zoey and they become even more menacing, stepping in between Charlie and Zoey and calling Charlie “Sammy” (as in Sammy Davis, Jr., because . . . he, like Charlie, is black? I’m not sure that this has quite the sting these boys imagine it does.) and “Superfly” (also not quite as mean as they’d like it to be?). Then Zoey tries to go with Charlie and the boys physically block her and she looks scared. Her transition from “totes flirting with these boys” to “scared and happy Charlie has come to protect her” happened in nanoseconds, btw. Charlie tries to end this conflict with kindness, but they continue calling out names of other black people.

Then Josh notices the trouble and picks up Zoey’s panic button. The boys are throwing more nonsensical names at Charlie as Charlie remains cool and polite, focused only on getting Zooey away from these boys.

Sam approaches and menaces the boys, who are unimpressed. And have switched to gay slurs, which they can apply equally to Sam, and to Josh as he comes up.

Then, THEN, the best thing happens. One of the henchdudes – you know, the guy who didn’t recognize the First Daughter – looks at JOSH and says, “Hey, I recognize this dude.”

Excuse me while I clean up the Diet Coke I just spurted all over my monitor.

The idiot racist homophobic girl-menacing asshole didn’t recognize the First Daughter, but he recognizes the Deputy Chief of Staff?

Okay, quick. Picture Sasha and/or Malia. Got ’em? Got ’em in your head? Pretty clear picture, right? I mean, the Obamas are sort of protective of their girls, but you know what they look like, right?

Okay, now picture Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff.

Nothing, right?

Can you even NAME Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff? No? Me, neither.

Oh, Aaron Sorkin and his avatars. Gotta love ’em.

So Josh tells the assholes that they’re having a pretty bad night just as federal agents bust in arrest the assholes. Charlie yells at them and Josh gloats, although, really, in any scene where Josh is present, you should assume he’s gloating. And I’m not really sure why we should be counting Charlie, Sam and Josh as the manly men here when it’s the federal agents they called in who brought these guys down.

Also, I think I might have occasion for another number here. Let’s call it:

12. Male characters play the white knight and the show implicitly or explicitly praises them for it, whether the damsel needed saving or not.

Because as far as I can tell, Zoey didn’t need saving. Not yet, anyway. It was probably good of Charlie to walk over there and check on her, but even if he hadn’t, if she had felt uncomfortable, she could have walked away. And if they restrained her – as they did when Charlie tried to take her away – then she could have yelled for help and the boys could have galloped in.

And it doesn’t really matter whether she needed saving, what matters is that the show had this moment at all.

And I’m applying this number retroactively to the bullshit Sam pulled on his escort friend when he showed up while she was on a work-date and made threatening noises at her.

Anyway, we cut to Zoey on a couch with her father questioning her about the incident. He wants to know if she did anything to “provoke” these guys. Oh, Jed. Do I have to add a number for rape apology? At least Zoey stands up for herself on this particular issue.

Then Jed starts yelling about how they’re upping her protection because her getting kidnapped is “the nightmare scenario.” Then he lays out a whole scene about her being in a nightclub, kidnapped out of the bathroom, two agents dead, whisked away in their car, no one realizes she’s gone for a while, the airports are not shut down in time, and she’s in a cargo hold in Uganda while Israel refuses to release the terrorists that the kidnappers want released and now the U.S. doesn’t have a president; they have a father who’s out of his mind because his little girl is in a shack in Uganda with a gun to her head. He’s shouting by the end of it and Zoey is crying. It’s a pretty effecting scene, but I also want you to remember this scenario that the president spells out.

After apologizing to his daughter for scaring her, Jed goes and apologizes to Leo for being an asshole. Leo accepts just as graciously, but with less hugging.

Josh, Sam, and Charlie are sitting around waiting for their lecture. Josh and Sam are discussing which guys they could have “taken”, you know, if they didn’t just call for federal agents instead.

Donna brings in sandwiches but refuses to give Josh his change because of their argument about tax refunds from before. Still not recapping, also don’t believe that Josh handed her a $20 to go get her sandwiches, like she’s his daughter, rather than there either being money in the White House budget for employee sandwiches and a credit card to which assistants have access, or a credit card she shares with Josh for these purposes. Or a running tab at their favorite sandwich place. Donna gets a 3 here.

Charlie insists neither of them could have taken any of the guys, which is true.

Jed calls Josh in. He wants to know why Josh took Zoey to a bar. Josh still thinks he was acting on orders from the president, which is of course not the case. The president says, “When Zoey told me she was going, I just assumed you were going to have malteds or something.” So a) Josh, you’re an idiot, and b) malteds!

Josh snarks on the idea of “malteds” because he’s very secure in his job. And I guess he should be because the president just thanks him for doing whatever it is he did. Which is, hit the panic button so that actually strong, capable men could come in and deal with this.

Josh insists he did nothing (mostly true) but that Charlie didn’t blink before putting his body in between danger and Zoey. Well, at first it was just perceived danger. But that’s also true. Jed nods and calls Charlie and Sam in. Leo is in the room, too, by the way.

Jed invites Charlie to their poker game, as is appropriate. C.J. wants to know why Josh isn’t being punished. They all sit down to review their days. Toby is impressed with Mr. Willis for being unafraid to say, “I don’t know,” and listening to other people. A rare quality indeed in this particular room. C.J. says she’s happy she said “I don’t know” to Sam and now knows everything about the census. Except the total number of people living in the United States! Hah hah, girls are dumb! 7.

Toby wants to watch Mr. Willis place his vote. Because it’s so damn incredible when black people think, or something. And yes, I know that Toby/Aaron Sorkin didn’t mean it that way but it kind of sneaks in there anyway.

End of episode! End of recap!

Total Misogyny Points: 24. And we added two numbers to our list! An exciting day, and again, welcome to any new blog readers! Please make comments if you like!

Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin – “The West Wing”, 1.05 “The Crackpots and These Women”

So I’m watching my favorite TV series for the purpose of criticizing its tendencies toward misogyny, tendencies that are exacerbated in creator Aaron Sorkin’s later works. 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 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.


!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it. Not misogynist, just entertaining to me personally.

Just from the title, you know this is going to be a good one, right?

Last time on “The West Wing”, you didn’t want to see laws or sausages get made, and we saw the former; Sam wouldn’t let C.J. protect him or the president from rumors that Sam’s palling around with a hooker; Josh put on his sunglasses in an excessively cool-guy manner and threatened a congressman; and Toby hated everyone. Also, Charlie! And gun control.

Title Card. The title alone deserves a 4.

The boys are playing basketball. C.J. isn’t. ‘Cause she’s a girl. C.J. may be tall and we’ve seen her work out before, but she doesn’t get to play ball with schlubby Jews or men twice her age, ’cause she’s a girl. 4. The president is winded and the boys are making fun of him for it. Toby wants him to cry uncle. The president won’t. Toby claims that the poets will write that President Bartlett “had the tools for greatness, but the voices of his better angels were shouted down by his obsessive need to win.” Line of the night. When it comes to talking smack, Toby is a poet.

The president calls in a ringer, who, it so happens, is a former college basketball star. And maybe the actor or the character or both is a recognizable basketball star that I’d know if I knew anything, which I don’t. If I haven’t already, remind me to tell you the story of Jason and I taking basketball for gym class at Brandeis. Anyway, they make Charlie guard the ringer because Charlie and the ringer are black.


Sunrise shot of D.C. Then Josh is in a hallway and Donna pops up to remind him that he has a staff meeting. He says that’s where he’s going, and if she sees that’s where he’s going, why is she reminding him? 5. She thinks doing so is adorable because she’s also feisty! 3. He says she’s trying to control him which is, as Oz would say, “a radical interpretation of the text” so 8. Then she starts talking to him about some dude who hasn’t called her. 2. Josh says, “Can we clear up a few things about my level of interest in the local Gomers you date in the free time you create by not working very hard at your job?” Ugh. 5, 2, 4, in no particular order. Then Donna withholds his folder until he says she works very hard at her job and she’s not at all controlling. 3 and another 8 for implying she’s being controlling in the first place. Then she has something else for him and he is rude about waiting for her to find it in her folder 5 and she tells him he is supposed to meet with Lacey from the NSC (National Security Council) after the staff meeting. She asks what he thinks it’s about and, because he’s Josh and cannot resist being rude, he says, “I don’t know but this is the White House so it’s probably not important.” 5.

Misogyny Points Thus Far: 13  And we haven’t even had a Mandy scene yet. Told you guys this was going to be a good one.

C.J. comes up behind Josh as he departs Donna with an article she wants him to read in The New Yorker about smallpox. He says, “The disease?” and she says “No, the dessert topping,” so, just because we’re five minutes into the episode and already have 13 points, I’ll give that a -5.

MPTF: 12

Margaret’s voice is explaining that they do “this” every month, and the voice the credits claim is Cathy says they’ve missed a few, and Sam says they generally try to do “it” on the first of every month, and Toby points out that they’ve done it twice in twelve months, and Mandy, who I guess they were all talking to, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. So, I guess Margaret and Cathy were talking to Mandy and that passes the Bechdel test? But Sam and Toby were there, too. And we don’t actually see Margaret or Cathy’s faces while they’re talking. We’ll see how I feel at the end of the episode. But I am going to go ahead and give this a 9 for Mandy being in the position of asking on behalf of the audience what’s going on. Not that it’s exactly diminishing to her that she doesn’t already know, since she’s new. But so is Charlie. And Charlie actually works there, whereas Mandy is an image consultant, so why is Mandy even in this meeting?

Toby says it’s ” ‘Throw Open our Office Doors to People who Want to Talk About Things We Could Care Less About’ Day” which is a less punchy and amusing way of putting it than either Toby or Aaron Sorkin thinks it is. Mandy thinks that’s goofy. Sam says it’s not so bad; you humor people for a minute and give them a special White House pen and go about your day. Mandy thinks this is a waste of time, and Cathy nods as Margaret confirms that it is an enormous waste of time but it’s one of Leo’s pet office policies. We can see their faces now, though Cathy’s is a little blurry, so I guess I feel comfortable giving this a -10. Bechdel test passed!

Leo walks in and gives his speech about Andrew Jackson putting a 2-ton block of cheese in the foyer of the White House so anyone could come in, have some cheese, and get their voices heard. As he talks there are scoffing noises being made and Leo says he will make mental notes of the scoffers and prepare retribution. (I am not giving the scoffing a -4 because it is in no way implied that Cheese Day is a feminine activity in any way. Both male and female staffers think it’s dumb; its proponents are Leo and Andrew Jackson.) Toby wants to know if this day couldn’t be better spent planning a war against a country that couldn’t possibly defend itself against us, which is a little wordy but funny, and Leo promises they can do that later. Sam makes a comment and goes on Leo’s list. Sam asks, “What about Toby?” and Leo says he’s unpredictable. Hey, me too! That’s what I’ll say whenever I can’t justify my numbering system in these posts!

Mandy snarks and also doesn’t go on Leo’s list. (Not giving a 3 because it’s very much in keeping with the tone of the room.) Leo assures them all that “listening to the voices of passionate Americans is beneath no one, and least of all the people’s servants.”

Josh enters and asks if it’s “Total Crackpot Day” again, which also doesn’t seem to faze Leo and is a better way of putting than Toby’s.

Margaret is told to hand out the assignments and Leo leaves with Josh.

In the hall, Leo hits Josh upside the head for the “Total Crackpot Day” remark, and Josh laughs. Then Leo introduces him to Jonathan Lacey. How stupid of me to assume that, when Josh had a meeting with a person named “Lacey,” it would be a girl. (Then again, if it was a girl with the first name Lacey, she’d be a prostitute.) (Then again, Sorkin boys only have very honorable reasons for hanging out with prostitutes, so what would it matter if she were?) Leo closes the door and Jonathan Lacey gives him a card to keep in his wallet at all times and call them – the NSC – if he loses his wallet. The card is directions for where to go in the event of a nuclear attack. Josh is nonplussed. After a few moments, he asks about where his staff goes. Leo and Jonathan Lacey just stare at him until he gets that his staff doesn’t get protection in the event of a nuclear attack. That clearly throws him even more. Sad music plays as he walks out into the hall.

MPTF: 12

Now we’re in the press room. It is devoid of members of the press and instead populated by Sam, Leo, Mandy and Toby. Sam asks a question in a rehearsed voice. From the podium, the president addresses Sam as “Helen” and answers the question. I’m not reporting the question or the answer because they are about economics things and I don’t understand them/care. I mean, I care in real life, and I’d care if this were a major plot point, but it is not. Sam interrupts to point out that he wasn’t being Helen just then; he was being Sandy King. They quibble about this for a minute and then the president answers the question. Sam suggests he add something to his answer, and then Mandy suggests, “If you could  further see clear to not answer that question like an economics professor with a big ol’ stick up his butt, that would be good, too.” Wow, brevity is not Aaron Sorkin’s friend this episode, is it? Not that he’s known for his terse dialogue, but this is excessive. Also 3. Someone sure is secure in the loyalty of her only client.

The president says he is, in fact, an economics professor with a big ol’ stick up his butt, and they all laugh. Toby wants to talk about guns and the president doesn’t. The president agrees to take a few practice questions about guns and then answers one unsatisfactorily. The tension between the president and Toby grows and Leo tries to derail it. We go outside the press room where Josh is leaning against a door with a blank expression on his face. C.J. approaches and asks why he isn’t in the practice session. A clearly addled Josh says he was just going in. Mrs. Landingham comes out to greet them and C.J. asks her, “Where are we in the saga of Toby and the president?” A lot of these lines feel really phoned in. Not from the actors; they’re giving it their all. But the words themselves are unwieldy and not as funny or punchy as they are intended to be. Mrs. Landingham says they’re having a disagreement, and then we hear the president shout, “Oh, for God’s sakes, Toby!” and Mrs. Landingham leaves and C.J. tries to get Josh to focus long enough to go in.

The president is telling Toby he’s not going to say that the bill they just passed is worthless. Toby wants to admit its weaknesses. Mandy thinks that’s a terrible idea. “It’ll infuriate the left, it’ll energize the right, and everyone in the middle’s gonna feel like they just got yanked around.” Yeah. I think we’re familiar with that feeling.

Anyway, Toby’s pissed, the president’s pissed, and Leo is tired. Sam is supposed to leave for his first Cheese Appointment but he thinks prepping for the press conference is more important. C.J. backs him up but the president thinks this press conference is just about they haven’t had a press conference in a while so no, Sam has to go to his Cheese Appointment. And then Charlie comes to get the president so Toby is left there wanting to yell more and having no one to yell at.

So Sam is meeting with Bob from United States Space Command, whom he is mocking right off the bat for being nerdy. Bob is not impressed with his attitude. He wants the White House to pay more attention to UFOs. Sam is happy to hear that they aren’t paying any attention right now, as they “already have enough trouble with the first lady and her Ouija board.” What? No. 4. I mean, I know this is only episode five and we haven’t met her yet but even if we never met her, having that as our one piece of information about her is diminishing, and also, when we do meet her and get to know her character, she’s not really the type to use a Ouija board a lot, so it’s bad writing, too, for the sake of making a joke about women and the silly nonsense they get up to. Boo.

Anyway. Bob has some data he wants Sam to show the president. Sam says he will not do that because the president will either laugh at him or yell at him. Bob, who is being very calm and professional, by the way, starts talking about some specific UFO near Hawaii that’s up there right now. Sam makes fun of Bob some more and snottily gives Bob a pen.

Mandy is asking C.J. for her support to take the president and staff to a Hollywood fundraiser. Okay, so this episode definitely passes the Bechdel test. Fine. C.J. says it’s not her Mandy has to worry about; it’s Toby. Mandy knows that. They talk about the last one of these they went to, I guess during the campaign. Apparently Roberto Benigni pushed C.J. into the swimming pool.

Actually, this is one of the things that confuses me about the Bechdel test. They are talking about Hollywood fundraisers and being pushed in a pool and all, but they’re talking about convincing the president (a man), and Toby (a man), and about the person hosting the fundraiser (a man), and about the person who pushed C.J. into the pool (a man), so are they talking about “a man” and therefore not having a Bechdel-test-passing conversation? Or would it be far too extreme to expect that female characters exist in a world completely devoid of men in any capacity, and therefore can have conversations about their jobs, their kids, their lives without those conversations including men? Then again, I bet men in movies and TV can, in fact, have conversations that include nothing about any women in any capacity, so isn’t that kind of the point of the Bechdel test?

But for the purposes of this show, the president is, in fact, a man, so if the ladies are talking about work, they are directly or indirectly talking about a man, and I’ll just let that slide and say they’re talking about “work,” not “a man.”

Leo and the president are in one of the conference rooms with a bunch of economists to talk about the budget. I don’t know what they’re talking about and I’m not supposed to. Charlie comes in with a message for the president that makes him happy. The president rattles off a bunch of numbers about deficit and debt and again, I’m not paying a lot of attention to this. One of the economists in the room – the only female economist I see – simpers that the president knew “all those numbers in your head?” 6. Blergh. Then we learn that the note says that Zoey, the president’s daughter, is coming for dinner. The president excuses himself to, as he says, go let his staff bother him, and he and Leo exit.

In the hall, the president gets all excited, saying he’s going to make chili for everyone and bellowing for Charlie. Charlie reminds him that the first lady doesn’t want him to – and the president cuts him off by declaring that, with the first lady in Pakistan, he can eat whatever he wants. 4. Girls. Always with their trying to make men healthy. So annoying. Anyway, Leo is skeptical that President Bartlett can cook.

The president sends Charlie away, and Leo also marvels about him knowing those numbers, too. The president says, “I was right?” and Leo laughs and says, “That’s what I thought.” Which kind of makes that one woman simpering even more gross.

Anyway, the president calls the staff in and announces that Zoey is coming in that night and he’s making chili for everyone. The staff for some reason does not seem enthused about this idea until the president instructs them to look at the seal on his office carpet, then back up at him. He makes the same announcement in the same tone of voice and gets ultra-fake cheering. I don’t really get this. If I worked for the president, I’d be thrilled to death to have chili with him and his daughter, if only so I could put it in the book I’d write one day, but also just because that’s cool as hell.

The meeting proper gets underway, with Leo saying he wants this meeting to last somewhere between three and five minutes. He calls on Mandy, who brings up California and the possibility of going to the fundraiser she asked C.J. about earlier. Toby doesn’t want to because the president will be giving a speech decrying violence in movies, and it’s hypocritical. Sam doesn’t think they should be giving the speech at all. Sam and Toby get into it about violence and Hollywood movies and whether the quality of said movies affects whether or not we think the violence in them is justified. C.J. just makes adorable faces. Toby finally says they can’t admonish Hollywood on Tuesday and cash their check on Wednesday because it’s hypocritical. The president, who is perusing the paper, says being hypocritical to Hollywood is okay. Toby is not pleased. No one cares. Toby makes an analogy about McCarthyism. The president demands to know if he looks like Joe McCarthy to Toby. Toby says, “No, sir. Nobody ever looks like Joe McCarthy. That’s how they get in the door in the first place.” Wow. Toby is also incredibly secure in his job. Although, fair point.

C.J. says they’ve wandered from the point. Leo says time’s up and everyone is dismissed.

I just want to note that, even though this is Mandy’s thing, and she talked to C.J. about it earlier, neither of them participate in the debate. Mandy introduces it and C.J. ends it, but they don’t jump into it. I mean, neither does Josh, and that’s pretty rare, but still. He’s having a weird day. And there are two women in the room, one of whom is the source of this idea in the first place, and neither of them has anything to say on the subject. I don’t have a number for that, so I think I’ll give it a 4 and determine later if I need a new number.

MPTF: 17

Josh and Sam pedeconference out of the office. Sam wants to know if Josh is okay. Josh says he is. Cathy, Sam’s assistant, tells Sam she ate her donut. I think this is the first example of an ongoing weird thing this show has about women and a craving for baked goods. I’ll give it a 4. Sam asks Cathy if “that thing is still out there,” referring to the UFO he dismissed earlier. It is. He and Josh speak dismissively about it some more and Josh mentions Mrs. Bartlett’s Ouija board, too. Ugh.

Josh closes the door as Sam babbles about the UFO and Josh stops him. Josh asks Sam if he’s close to Cathy. “I haven’t seen her naked, if that’s what you’re asking,” says Sam. I’m giving that a 2. I’m in an unforgiving mood today. Sam says Cathy is like a younger sister to him, except she gets paid and frightens Sam. Just like the relationship between Josh and Donna. I’m sure this conversation is sexist; I’m just not sure how. Let’s go with 4. Anyway, Josh asks Sam if, when Sam got his card (from the NSC) and realized Cathy didn’t get one, how did he feel? Sam has no idea what he’s talking about. Josh realizes Sam doesn’t have a card, either. Oh, man, Josh. You not only can’t protect your little sister, you can’t protect your brothers-in-arms.. Sucks to be you.

MPTF: 20

C.J. is in with her Cheese Appointment. A gentle man with a ’70s haircut wants to tell her about Pluie the wolf. C.J. wants to tell him to go fuck himself. But nicely. Another guy – Oh, my God, it’s Ron Swanson! – talks about Pluie’s annual trek and ’70s dude shows all the modern challenges to the wolf’s trek – denuded forests, highways, etc. A humorless, make-up-less woman running the slideshow says, “Not to mention the United States-Canadian border,” and C.J. jokes, “Yeah, ’cause no photo ID.” The woman is not amused. 8. They explain that the wolves need to migrate to find non-related wolves to breed with. None of the three are amused when she jokes about inbreeding and the British royal family. Honestly, I’m not that amused, either. It’s a cheap joke.

’70s man tells C.J. that they are proposing a Wolves-Only Freeway. C.J. clearly thinks this is hilarious. She thinks the wolves will leave the freeway and eat her cat. Well, not if the freeway is going from Canada to Wyoming and your cat is in D.C., I would think.

Ron Swanson tries to change the subject but C.J. wants to talk about how this won’t happen because ranchers. The sour-faced woman informs us that a rancher shot and killed Pluie last month. C.J. says she’s sorry to hear that, and the sour-faced woman says, “I’m not sure you are.” 8, again. Of course the Cheese Appointment dudes are having no trouble keeping this professional, it’s just the stupid girl who’s getting rude and inappropriate.

C.J. asks how much this will cost. ’70s man thinks they can do it for “only” $900 million. C.J. thinks that is the most hilarious thing she’s ever heard. The sour-faced woman continues to be belligerent and stupid. She wonders how C.J. thinks they should spend the money – “Another war plane? Another S&L bailout?” Dude, for serious. She’s in the upper echelon of an organization that wants to actually get this done. She’s sitting down with the White House press secretary. The two dudes with her are calm, professional, direct, and positive. She’s talking like an impassioned co-ed at her first rally. 8.

MPTF: 23

Mandy knocks on Toby’s door and greets him. Toby is not happy to see her. They discuss the fundraiser. Well, not really. They exchange, like, two sentences. They establish that they don’t like being on opposite sides. Then Mandy says, “I’m glad David Rosen passed on the communications job. They couldn’t have done better than you.” Not feeling so secure in your job now, are you, Toby?

We cut to him pedeconferencing with C.J. He reminds her that he asked her a few months ago if he was the president’s first choice for the communications director job. C.J. is surprised they’re back to this. And a big, fat ! for this, because under what conditions is C.J. the person Toby goes to when he’s feeling insecure? Wait, I know! The conditions in which they’re doing it!

C.J. assures Toby that he was the first choice. C.J. doesn’t know about David Rosen. Toby believes he’s become the kid in the class with his hand raised that no one wants the teacher to call on. Oof, Toby. I feel your pain. I probably was that kid sometimes, too.

Actually, I bet the kids in class were happy when the teacher called on me because I did a whole bunch of talking and they didn’t have to. Yeah. Let’s go with that.

Anyway, Toby decides to drop his protest against the fundraiser and wants C.J.’s help with the gun thing for the press conference. C.J. thinks he doesn’t need her help and he’s being silly.

The press conference, the fundraiser, the guns, Josh’s freak-out, Toby’s relationship with the president, Cheese Appointments, Zoey and chili – there are a lot of fucking things going on in this episode. It makes for a good show, but a very difficult recapping experience.

Josh is in an office we’ve never seen before, grateful that someone could squeeze him in. Actually, that someone – Stanley – had to cancel someone to fit Josh in. Gosh, Josh, there is no end to the people whose loss is your gain this episode, is there? We learn he hasn’t been to see Stanley in 10 months. We’ve all caught on that Stanley’s his therapist, right? I don’t have to pretend not to know? Okay, cool. Josh hasn’t even taken off his overcoat, btw. He says he’s absented himself from therapy because his going to therapy might make some of the people he works with nervous.

Josh starts by talking about the smallpox article C.J. asked him to read earlier. Then he says he can’t get “Ave Maria” out of his head. His sister who died used to play it in her room all the time, apparently. She wanted to be an orchestra conductor. Then he talks about the card and how he’s the only one who got one. He lists the people who didn’t get one and includes his dead sister. Freudian slip! He can’t tell his therapist about the card because he works for the government. Then he wants to go. Stanley isn’t letting him get off that easy. He says Josh has never told him how his sister died. It turns out there was a fire in the house while she was babysitting him and Josh ran out and his sister didn’t. Poor Josh. Responsible for everything.

We cut to Josh in his darkened office listening to “Ave Maria” and ignoring C.J.’s knock. She finally comes in and invites him to the chili party already in progress. Josh tells her about the NSC card and how they want to save him and not her and he didn’t want to be friends with her and have her to not know that he has a card and she doesn’t. C.J. laughs this off – kindly – and says of course they don’t want the communications department in the event of a nuclear attack, as they won’t be issuing press releases or writing speeches. Um, they won’t? But they will need someone to harass Congressmen? I mean, I’m sure this is accurate – I’m sure Aaron Sorkin had a source who could tell him who got cards like that and who didn’t – but it seems odd reasoning. Still, C.J. is being reassuring without being patronizing and it’s nice. She tells him again to come have some fun/chili.

Josh redirects her attention to “Ave Maria,” which is, in fact, quite lovely. C.J. just sips her wine and looks at him. Then C.J. says the Cold War is over and Josh scoffs and says it’s not going to be like that, with bombs and red phones. “How’s it going to be?” asks C.J. and I’m calling a 9 here. It’s an invitation to him to explain to her something that she in fact pointed out to him by showing him that article. Josh talks about how scary biological warfare is. And it is, absolutely. I really don’t know how something like the scenario he’s envisioning – a terrorist dropping some smallpox in a New York City subway – hasn’t happened yet. C.J. says they’ll make more vaccine. Josh says they’d better hurry; he’s the only one with one of those cards. Well, him, the president, Leo, the First Family, maybe Charlie and probably some Secret Service agents, probably the Speaker of the House, the cabinet, maybe the Supreme Court justices, probably some other congressional officials, I don’t know. C.J. says he’s very sweet and goes to have chili.

Hey, it just hit me that this episode predates 9/11 and this discussion about biological terror has much more resonance now.

At the chili party, the president is harassing Sam about the fundamentals of basketball, and then he and Leo talk about these kids these days. The president accuses Mrs. Landingham of being drunk, which Mrs. Landingham denies. She starts to say something but the president cuts her off with an “Oh, give it up.” 5. Mrs. Landingham tells the president Zoey is in the kitchen.

C.J. is telling Cathy and Donna about wolves, having apparently now come around to sympathize with them. A fact which displeases Toby, for reasons that could only have to do with the fact that C.J. is his secret girlfriend. ! She quotes the statistic that more people get killed getting change out of a vending machine than by wolf attack. Donna asks the question on EVERYBODY’S MIND – “How do people die from a vending machine?”

The president greets some more staff we don’t know and is approached by Toby. Toby asks about David Rosen and the president admits he was the first choice. Apparently Leo and Josh wanted Toby from the beginning but the president held out for David Rosen. Then David Rosen wanted a job that paid actual money and the president thanks God for that. He wouldn’t be able to handle life without Toby mitchering him all the time. I know how you feel, Mr. President. I’d like a Toby to mitcher me, too.

The president, for his part, wants to know if Toby meant it about the fight between his demons and angels. Toby says he did. But that for the first time in a long time, he thinks the battle between a president’s angels and his demons might be a fair fight.


We meet Zoey, played by Elizabeth Moss, who has a very comfortable relationship with Josh. They yell at each other. Then Charlie comes in and is adorably formal with Zoey. Josh gets obnoxious about it and Zoey gives permission to Charlie to call her Zoey instead of Ma’am, and they flirt subtly but adorably about what spice is needed to fix the chili. I’d go into more detail but I’m busy squee-ing.

C.J. is speculating with the president and Leo about vending machines when Josh comes up. C.J. absents herself and the president marvels to Josh about how much he likes to see colleagues enjoying each other outside work. I have to say, as sappy as this is, I feel that. I really like a lot of the teachers at my religious school and I’d love to spend more non-work time getting to know them.

Then it takes a turn for the weird when they all “can’t get over these women”. C.J. is like a ’50s movie star? Not only 4, but also inaccurate? I’d say more ’30s-’40s? The age of Rosalind Russell and tough dames? And Mandy is, um, talking “in a world that tells women to sit down and shut up.” Yes, Aaron Sorkin. You are an incredibly progressive male. How fabulous. 3 is the best number I can give this item. Mrs. Landingham lost two sons in Vietnam but still hasn’t missed a day of work in 14 years. I mean, I love me some Mrs. Landingham, but that’s not healthy. Sheryl Sandberg would advise against using that as the benchmark of awesomeness. 4. Then the president lists the three female assistants we know without saying anything specific about them. I mean, just the fact that they’re there, supporting the menfolk, that’s awesome, right? Ugh. 4. Sometimes being put on a pedestal is just as bad as being thrown in the gutter, Aaron Sorkin.

Josh turns in his NSC card because he’s so noble. I mean, this is a genuinely noble act (I think) but it’s pretty paternalistic in the context of this conversation.

Zoey and Charlie signal to the president and the president calls everyone to attention. He makes a joke about ordering them to enjoy the chili and then says his wife is in Pakistan but he doesn’t know why and he doesn’t want to ask because women, right? 8. Also, that can’t be true. I have to imagine that a first lady’s activities – especially her visits to foreign lands – have to be vetted by the president’s people, too? Everyone claps for Zoey entering Georgetown in the spring, and then the president expresses his wish that Zoey be celibate her whole life which is so gross and then Josh says, loudly, “Yeah, right,” which is also gross and 2 to this whole thing. The president expresses a wish to fund higher education for all Americans. Then he talks about the Cheese Appointments and how everyone starts so cynical and ends up persuaded. He tells C.J. it’s not the cost of the wolves-only highway that bothers him; it’s the segregation. Wolves only? Won’t the ACLU represent the reindeer and sue? That’s such a dad joke. Which is entirely in keeping with President Bartlett’s character. The president also tells us that the UFO was an abandoned Soviet satellite and wasn’t the Cold War sad but the space race also kind of cool? He asks Toby what the next challenge will be? And how maybe it will be the next smallpox vaccine. Let’s touch the hand of God, people. And scene.

Total Misogyny Points: 31 The highest score so far! And also not a terribly good episode. I loved seeing Charlie and Zoey, and Josh having feelings, and the angels and demons line and Toby and the president’s relationship in general, but overall there were too many plot points and too many badly worded phrases and lines. I mean, for any other show, an A+ episode, but for this one? C-. Don’t worry; there will be better!


Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin – “The West Wing”, 1.04 “Five Votes Down”

I must say, episode titles are something I think Aaron Sorkin really does well. Usually it’s the exact right amount of information and relevance. It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing, too, you know?

So I’m watching my favorite TV series for the purpose of criticizing its tendencies toward misogyny, tendencies that are exacerbated in creator Aaron Sorkin’s later works. 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 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.


!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it. Not misogynist, just entertaining to me personally.

Some notes on the Bechdel test first, because it’s been coming up in the news lately. Apparently Sweden is adding it to their ratings system and also I’ve read posts here and there and I just want to emphasize that it is the view of this blogger that the Bechdel test is not the be-all-and-end-all of feminism in storytelling. It’s just one test, one way of showing that so much of our contemporary storytelling DOES NOT have something so basic. And on a show like “The West Wing,” in which romance is not at all central and there’s plenty of talking, it seems like it should be passable every single episode. If it’s not, that means there aren’t enough female characters and/or they’re not doing enough important stuff.

Anyway, here we go.

From last time, we are reminded about the contentious relationship between Vice President John Hoynes and Chief of Staff Leo, the contentious relationship between exes Mandy and Josh, and we are also reminded that Charlie! and his dead policewoman mom and his adorable “Yes, sir, I do,” which is my favorite thing ever.

A chyron tells us it’s Monday. The president is on a podium in a tux. There’s a sign behind him that says “Practical Idealism,” and a large, fancy audience at dinner tables with wine, so I’m assuming fundraiser. Everyone laughs at his line, “Bess, why do you suppose it is only sons of bitches know how to lick a stamp?” He exhorts the audience to, well, lick stamps, make your voice heard, etc.

We see Leo getting a call while the president says something about people who are dead, and that plus the reminder of Charlie’s dead policewoman mom makes me think this speech is about gun control. I am good at TV! Leo is not pleased about whatever he’s hearing on the phone, asking “How did the wheels come off this thing?” The audience claps – at the president, not Leo’s phone call – and Josh approaches Leo. Leo hangs up and informs Josh that they lost five votes. Josh is displeased and wants names. Leo doesn’t have any; he tells Josh to get on the phone.

Toby comes around to watch the speech. He is in a tux and he is tense. Ooh, baby. Have I mentioned I ❤ Toby? Not the way I ❤ Charlie. I ❤ Charlie like he’s my little brother. I ❤ Toby like I’m thinking of many ways I’d like to help him relieve his tension.

Anyway, Leo has got a phone to his ear, Josh has got a phone to his ear, and the president wraps up his speech. He gets a standing O and “Happy Days Are Here Again” plays as the president heads off, a whole brigade of be-tuxed Secret Service agents surrounding him. Behind them, Sam and Toby start pedeconference. Sam thought the speech was awesome. Toby is upset that the president blew “the D section.” C.J., looking fab in evening wear, comes up behind them and congratulates Sam on the speech. Toby objects, claiming that Sam wrote two and a half paragraphs and Toby wrote 37 pages. I think this is a little peek into the head of Aaron Sorkin, who hates sharing writing duties, but whatevs. C.J. calls it (either the speech or the two and a half paragraphs) “inspiring,” which annoys Toby. Then C.J. says she does it to see his face turn that color, like we don’t all know she knows MANY ways to change the color of his face. Mandy is walking with C.J., btw, and seems amused by this exchange.

Josh approaches from behind and C.J. informs him that his fan club is out in force tonight. Because Josh, the deputy communications director, has a fan club. That has a crush on him. Quick, who is the current real-life Deputy Chief of Staff? Can you picture him/her in your head? Okay, then. And if you did know who all the senior staff of the White House was and what they looked like, wouldn’t you be crushing on the one who’s a dead ringer for Rob Lowe over the one who looks like Bradley Whitford? I mean, especially if you were a superficial and hormonal young girl? 6. (And yes, I am aware that I crush hard on the older, balding, short Jewish one over the one who looks just like Rob Lowe but . . . just shut up.) Josh claims they like the way he looks in his tux. Him, and not Sam-who-looks-like-Rob-Lowe. C.J. starts to say something else and Josh orders her to “Stop talking.” While I only believe, and do not know, that C.J. is under Josh in the hierarchy of the senior staff, I’m giving that a 5. Then he tells her to look calm while he tells her that they’re five votes down on “802”. She proceeds not to look calm. Because women, amIrite? 8.

Misogyny Points Thus Far: 3

Meanwhile, Sam is making fun of Mandy’s choice of “Happy Days are Here Again” to cap a speech on gun control. 4. Mainly because they both have good points – Mandy’s is “Optimist is good” and “The president likes it!” and Sam’s is, “He just said ‘Kids are dead!’ and then you play ‘Happy Days are Here Again’?” –  but they let Sam make all his points and poo-poo Mandy’s, whereas Mandy’s sound weak and she doesn’t counter him. On the other hand, she appears to have zero fucks to give, so good for her. I’ll just give them for her.


The president gets in on the mitchering Toby action, an activity for which I give all the approval in the world. Toby tells the president that he, Toby, did an excellent job, and then points out that the president “got a little extemporaneous” in the D section. The president is very much enjoying Toby being bothered by this – as am I. BTW, they are now all pedeconferencing through what looks like the hotel’s staff hallways, what with the giant metal wheelie kitchen thingies and whatnot. Not as august as the West Wing halls but these people do not need glamorous settings; they are pedeconferencing pros!

They pass two hotel staff members making out in a corner, and the president razzes them, too. Toby laughs. I swoon a little.

The president calls Charlie over and asks Charlie what Charlie thought of how well the president delivered the speech, while Toby asks Charlie to focus on how well the speech was written. Charlie’s whole demeanor says, “Nope. Nope. Nope.”

Yeah, .gifs are too much fun.

Yeah, .gifs are too much fun.

It’s okay; they can (and do!) keep having their fight without him. The president tells Toby, “You’re what my mother calls a pain in the ass.” Toby says that’s what his mother calls it, too.

Charlie tells the president that the First Lady called and wishes for the president to take his back medicine, which Charlie has on him. The president claims they make him goofy, and Charlie says her tone was adamant. The president says he doesn’t need to hear a description of his wife’s tone because he is quite familiar with it. 8. Boo, Mr. President.

They exit the hotel to a crowd of people cheering, and I would have thought that this winding trip through the bowels of the hotel was to avoid the crowds, but I guess the crowd can find the motorcade just fine. The president waves and a bunch of fresh-faced girls scream out, “We love you, Josh!” because for fuck’s sake, that’s why. 6. C.J. calls, “It helps not to know him.” True dat, C.J. True dat. Of course this show was made before the advent of Twitter or Fox News. You know these days an offhand comment like that would go viral in six hours and be a talking point on Fox News for the next three weeks. “Strife among Senior Staff? Our expert on shit-stirring and middle school drama has more after these messages!”



Senior staff are in a conference room in the West Wing with a bunch of boxes of Chinese food in front of them. Mandy and C.J. are pushing the General Tso’s on Sam and then insisting he have it with the sauce. Toby tells them to shut up about the sauce. 4. Girls are so annoying with their concern about feeding people, amIrite? It’s almost as annoying as how they want to make sure you take your medicine and eat healthily.

Leo has two names of the five they lost. Remember from his phone call? Anyway, he’s got Katzenmoyer and Wick. I also kind of adore Aaron Sorkin’s character names. Mandy could have called that, because she’s feisty! 3. Josh has a third, O’Bannon, and is floored by Wick being on the list, saying it must be a mistake. Leo reminds them that the president just made a speech about how they’re going to pass this bill and now they have to. Toby wants to know how they do it in three days with no noise. Mandy asks why no noise, and Leo quotes that “laws and sausages” thing, so that’s a definite 9 because no way the Mandy character didn’t already understand that. Her entire job, really, boils down to understanding that, and she’s supposed to be the best at it. So that was just for the 1/3 of the audience that doesn’t already know the “laws and sausages” thing. Mandy says they can’t involve the president and everyone agrees.


Leo asks what’s on tap for the press and C.J. says it’s financial disclosure time, which bemuses everyone. Sam asks Toby what he’s worth and Toby says he owns the tux he’s wearing and $23. I only report this because it’s a plot point. Mandy says it’s good to make this a big joke for the press, how little money everyone has. Josh likes this idea. Toby doesn’t. Mandy says they’ll love him for being broke. Toby says, “I find that. I find that women especially can’t get enough of my 1993 Dodge Dart.” I’d throw a 4 or an 8 up here, but it’s funny, so I won’t. I make the rules around here!

Sam also believes that Chris Wick is a mistake and believes the other two are Tillinghouse and LeBrandt. (I’m guessing on spellings, btw.) He claims that they’ll need the vice president’s help to get to one of them, preferably Tillinghouse. Leo is saying, “Nope,” but in a different way than Charlie.


Anyway, Leo’s outie. He congratulates Sam and Toby, and, as he leaves, Toby again points out the 2-and-a-half-paragraphs/37-pages thing.

Leo pulls up outside his schmancy house. Because not all the senior staff are broke. He walks in to a darkened hallway and a miffed wife comes down the steps. She asks where he’s been and points out that the event was supposed to be over at 10:30 and it’s after 2 am. He tells her about the five votes down and then insists he can so do things at 2 am to help the situation. His wife – Jenny – tells him to come to bed and before he does he sees a box on the table in the front hall. It’s a wristwatch, Jenny tells him. For their anniversary. Which he clearly forgot. D’oh!

I just want a moment to say, this is not something that has ever happened in my relationship with Jason. We both tend to be sort of cavalier about anniversaries and stuff, and only lately have become more interested in them, because they are a guaranteed date night. And we always do dates, not so much gifts, so it’s not really an issue of “forgetting,” because we’ve already had the “What do you want to do that night? Okay, let’s get tickets/reservations/babysitting” conversation. I guess if we were more focused on gifts it would be more of a thing. And I would be the one who always forgot, not him.

Anyway. It’s Tuesday. I mean, I guess it was Tuesday when we left these people, because it was 2 am, but it’s really Tuesday now. The sun is rising on the White House.

A somewhat dowdy woman is in Toby’s office with him. And, like, almost legit dowdy, not just TV-dowdy. Which I mean as a compliment to the show – having a normal-looking woman do anything at all? Good job. Let’s give that a -2. She’s asking him about some stock he owns. So here’s the information we can gather from what Legit Dowdy – her real name is Leila – is asking: A year ago, broke Toby spent $5,000 on stock in some company because he, uh, liked them. Buying $5,000 worth of stock in a company because you like them is totally something that people do when their cars are worth less than that, Aaron. The stock is now worth $125,000, something Toby didn’t know until the same person who told Leila called him. Because when you are broke, you definitely don’t monitor the one investment of $5,000 you made. Aaron Sorkin, when was the last time you were broke? And if this is how you handle money when you are broke, maybe that’s why? Anyway, a huge portion of the jump happened after a certain person testified to a certain congressional committee, and is, in fact, attributed to that person’s testimony.

One of the assistants – Carol, C.J.’s assistant, I think, but I’m watching on my iPad and there’s a weird light on her face – comes in to tell Toby they’ve got all five and one of the five is, in fact, Tillinghouse. Toby nods and Carol-I-Think leaves.

Leila points out that it was Toby who got this person to testify to that congressional committee. Which was just because he’s an old friend. Leila asks, “Are you telling me you didn’t  know what he was going to say?” Toby insists that not only did he not know or care what his friend was going to say, “if he had sat in my office while I typed out his testimony for him, I wouldn’t have understood what he was going to say to the committee!” I use that line a lot to explain my total lack of understanding things. Leila asks if he knows that manipulating the stock market is a federal crime. Toby wants to know if he should be talking to a lawyer. Leila points out that he is talking to a lawyer – her. Toby makes a hangdog face.


Josh and Sam pedeconference as they exit the Oval, and Mrs. Landingham congratulates Josh. Josh says thank you but doesn’t know what for. Nor does he seem very curious. I guess women saying nice things to him is just a regular part of Josh’s day. 6. Sam and Josh continue their pedeconference about what the five will want in exchange for their votes. Sam is concerned about giving away everything. Josh wants to give away nothing. A random assistant congratulates Josh, and Sam is more curious than Josh about it. Josh says LBJ would never have taken this shit from Democrats in Congress; he would have said, “You’re voting my way, in exchange for which, I might remember your name.” We now know everything we need to know about Josh. Josh claims to own Chris Wick’s ass.

Josh and Sam enter the part of the building where Josh’s office is and a whole bunch of people burst into applause. Josh says he senses he’s being mocked. You are, Josh. Right now. By me. Donna informs him that he’s won their prize for Best Gift Valued over $25 on the financial disclosure reports. Apparently Josh received an $1189 Italian smoking jacket from a Sarah Wissinger. Ms. Wissinger also gave him a $345 scrimshaw cigarette holder, which is the runner-up. 6. For Ms. Wissinger liking Josh that much. Josh dismisses Donna, telling her that he and Sam are making important decisions and Donna has a lot of “typing” to do and lest you think I’m being unfair in my doling out of numbers, he has a definite sneer in his voice when he says it and is actively and purposefully juxtaposing “important things” and “typing”, okay? So 5.

MPTF: 11

Josh and Sam continue walking, and then realize that they were just following each other. Hee!

Josh departs and Toby appears and tells Sam they need to talk, and as they walk off the camera goes to Leo. I’ve never been to film school so I don’t know how to talk about these shots where the gang moves and the camera goes from one set to another, but it’s cool. Anyway, Leo is putting Margaret on the make-my-wife-not-hate-me project. He wants champagne in a high hat and the meal under sterling silver, and Margaret claims no knowledge of either of those things, which, no, so 9, because Margaret’s been working for Leo for a long time, and he’s got some pretty high-end tastes, and also, when he said “high hat,” I didn’t know what that was but I immediately pictured the little stand fancy restaurants put wine in. And when he said “under sterling silver” I immediately pictured the, you know, silver plate cover thingies that you see in cartoons, so . . . Anyway, Margaret suggests a violinist and Leo points out that “after the initial thing wears off there’s just a guy with a violin in my house,” which, fair. Harry Winston is sending a choker and Margaret disapproves of all this spendiness. It turns out Leo is making $40,000 a pop on the lecture circuit and Margaret is upset about it. When does Leo have time to lecture?

MPTF: 12

Josh comes in and Leo asks Josh if women like violinists. Josh at first thinks Leo is thinking of taking lessons, which is sort of funny, and then when Leo corrects him, says it’s just kind of weird. Until he learns that Leo forgot the anniversary, at which point, Josh thinks he should bring in the Julliard string quartet.

I mean . . . really? Are we just reconfirming that I am kinda a dude? Because if Jason forgot our anniversary . . . probably I did, too? And upon discovering it, I’d be more like, “Oh, okay, you wanna do something next weekend, then?” instead of needing FOUR instead of just ONE strangers in my house to play me songs.

I’m not giving numbers here because a) I think Jenny has a legit beef about her husband being unavailable and b) I don’t think the show wants me to think otherwise, and also c) maybe women who are not me do get upset about this stuff routinely? But I did think of throwing an 8 in here somewhere.

Anyway, Margaret uses this opportunity to get in a dig about the smoking jacket, and both Josh and Leo yell at Margaret. 5. Margaret leaves and Josh says he’s going to see Katzenmoyer (one of the five) and wants Leo’s permission to kick his ass. Leo is reluctant but eventually agrees.

MPTF: 13

Katzenmoyer and Josh pedeconference in front of the Capitol. D.C. is really pretty. The museum-y, government-building-y, monument-y sections, anyway. Katzenmoyer doesn’t want to vote yes because his people like their guns and he’s up for reelection. He promises to vote with them two years from now. Josh says he won’t be around two years from now because they’re going to pluck some obscure Democrat out from nowhere and endorse him in person and primary Katzenmoyer. (I mean he doesn’t use primary as a verb because 2010 hasn’t happened yet but that’s what he means.) Katzenmoyer points out that he’s a member of the president’s own party, and Josh points out that that’s not doing them much good. True that. Josh says, “President Bartlett is a good man. He’s got a good heart. He doesn’t hold a grudge. [puts on sunglasses in very cool-guy manner] That’s what he pays me for.” It’s a very cool moment. Trying very hard to be cool, but succeeding.

Sam and Toby are in Toby’s office, with the door open and the lights off, I think. I don’t know why. Sam is advising Toby on the $125,000 issue, and gloating about the whole thing because Toby’s $125,000 = Sam’s hooker. Appearance of impropriety without actual immoral behavior. Sam points out that just because it’s in the report doesn’t mean anyone knows because maybe no one read the report, but C.J. comes by to razz Toby about the $125,000 so I guess she read it, although she’s the White House press secretary; it’s her actual job to read it, so I don’t know what that proves. Also, her joke is terrible and she starts laughing in the middle of it, which I’m counting as a 1 even though maybe the normally poised C.J. is just a little giggly right now because she and Toby slipped away right after Toby got the news and she’s just got some post-coital high going on right now.  Sam promises to have Toby’s back. Toby believes he’s screwed.

MPTF: 14

C.J. is amusingly disclosing some financial stuff to the press, including that the president gave a gift from his brother-in-law to the Salvation Army. The press enjoying themselves. A journalist asks about the property value of the president’s farm in Manchester, which has gone up due to Secret Service improvements and “the ability to run a global war from the sun porch.” Man, I want a sun porch. On a beautiful old farm in Manchester. The press continues to be amused when C.J. promises them that the next briefing will be about Josh’s forms and that they’ll want to save column inches.

She gets off her podium to pedeconference with Josh, who tells her he’s got Katzenmoyer back, as well as O’Bannon and LeBrandt, and that Chris Wick is waiting for him right now, but that he can’t get Tillinghouse without Hoynes. C.J. says get Wick and then they’ll worry about Tillinghouse. C.J. leaves and Josh is greeted by Donna, who says Chris Wick has been waiting for Josh in the Mural Room for 20 minutes. Josh already knows this. He also knows about next two meetings she brings up. Graciously she says, “Well, then this whole conversation has only served as a reminder,” and he says it was in fact a “colossal waste of time and energy; keep up the good work.” 5. He then goes into the mural room, where Chris Wick is waiting with a bunch of guys. Josh dismisses them without allowing introductions to go forth and then gets rude with Chris Wick, who keeps calling him “dude”. While a camera swirls around their heads, Josh quizzes Chris Wick about the bill, as it becomes clear that Chris Wick could give a shit about the bill, and wants more attention from the president. Josh says he’s so sick of Congress he could vomit and then gives in to Chris Wick’s demand that he get a photo op playing chess with the president.

Sorkin, you think you’re sick of Congress in 1999? Come talk to 2013 us. If only personal vanity were still our biggest issue.

Leo has called C.J. and Mandy in to admire the Harry Winston choker. Because women like shiny things. 4. Sam comes up behind them and admires it, too, but his admiration is not met with smiles by Leo. Is it because Sam hit on Jenny that one time, Leo? C.J. wants to try on the necklace and Mandy wants to rub it against her teeth (? Is that a thing with pearls?) 4 and Toby is pissed and wants to talk about himself. C.J. thinks Leo won’t let her try on the necklace because of the size of her neck (?) which is the second time this concern has come up this episode (the other time was during the hotel pedeconference) and I’m going to go ahead and give that a because why is C.J. worrying about her neck this episode?

MPTF: 18

Leo is continuing to not want to go to Hoynes to deal with Tillinghouse and thinks he will instead go to Richardson. But Richardson’s caucus is already upset with them. Leo promises to do this quietly and immediately.

Sam points out that Toby can now afford one of those chokers and Toby says there’s no one he doesn’t hate right now. I love grumpy Toby.

Now Leo and Richardson are pedeconferencing outside what I think is the Lincoln Memorial. Richardson is black. I guess that’s the caucus that’s upset with the White House. Richardson guesses Leo’s talking to him because he doesn’t want to get Hoynes to talk to Tillinghouse. But Richardson doesn’t care. He doesn’t like the bill not because he likes guns but because the bill doesn’t do enough to get guns off the street. Leo lectures Richardson on the needs of the black community vis-a-vis gun control. “The bodies being wheeled into hospitals are black!” Leo says. Richardson quite appropriately shuts him down and calls him an idiot. Nice.

Mandy is in Josh’s office being feisty at him. 3. Donna puts Leo on the phone with Josh and Mandy intuits that Leo needs to talk to Hoynes. So Mandy was in that scene only to be feisty? Okay.

Leo sees a cab outside his front door. The entryway is dark. He goes to an empty dining room, set for a romantic dinner. Jenny is behind him and says she’s sorry he went to all this trouble but she can’t do this anymore. Their marriage, she means. Leo says this (his job) is the most important thing he’ll ever do and she says it’s not more important than his marriage. He says it is, during these few years while he’s doing it. He says he made the time for this date he arranged, and Jenny says she knows he has a meeting with the veep that night. Jenny tells him she’s leaving and staying at the Watergate for right now. Leo offers to carry her bag to the cab. She shakes her head. He asks her to call before she goes to sleep and she says okay.

You guys, I just don’t know how to feel about this. On the one hand, you knew he was going to be the president’s Chief of Staff and that’s not a nine-to-five gig? On the other hand, Leo, how could you say your marriage isn’t important? In any event, the show handles this very well. You’re not being asked to side with one of them over the other and there’s no sense that women, amIrite? And it’s just two mature, loving people who can’t get what they need from their relationship but still love each other and shut up I have ALLERGIES, OKAY?! IT’S VERY DUSTY IN HERE!

A blurry woman announces Leo at what I’m guess is Hoynes’s home, and Hoynes says to send him in. Hoynes is being pretty nice to Leo. Leo starts to explain what he needs but Hoynes notices that Leo is not okay. He invites Leo to sit down and asks the blurry woman – Jeanine – to get Leo a glass of ice water. I swear we never see her face. Is this a SAG thing? Is it like not having an actor saying a line? Anyway, Hoynes agrees very quickly to see Tillinghouse and Leo thanks him. Leo reveals that Jenny left him. Hoynes asks if he’s been to a meeting, and Leo says, “AA?” and then asks where he could possibly risk going to a meeting. He seems kind of surprised that Hoynes knows, but not that surprised, and also too shaken to worry about it. A+ acting from John Spencer here. I mean, also, always, but here especially. The VP reveals that he has his own AA meetings with, like, senators and judges and shit, so the anonymity is taken very seriously, and an agent stands outside to make it all look like a card game. Hoynes invites Leo to attend these meetings. Leo seems to consider it. He asks Hoynes to call him about Tillinghouse and goes.

The chyron tells us it’s Wednesday. Mandy is bothering Josh about Sara Wissinger, giver of the smoking jacket. Apparently the presents were given while he was still dating Mandy and Mandy is pissed about this 8. They enter the senior staff meeting still bickering about it. Josh says he thought that since they weren’t going out anymore, Mandy wouldn’t yell at him anymore and Mandy tells him that’s unrealistic. I can’t decide on an or a 3 so I’m going with both.

MPTF: 22

Leo enters the room and is confused about everyone asking him about “last night” and then lies that Jenny loved everything. Some more A+ acting. They ask about the president and Leo says his back is pretty bad so he’s staying in bed and making some calls. But the president is not in bed! He is entering the room from the outside hallway thing (portico? is that what that word means?) in his jeans and Notre Dame sweatshirt and it is clear fairly quickly that he is out of his mind on painkillers. He wants to participate in the discussion about Toby’s financial disclosures. When asked which of his pain killers he took, Vicodin or Percoset, he looks confused and asks if he wasn’t supposed to take both. You guys. I took Percoset for my wisdom teeth. It was way too pleasant. But I also couldn’t have gotten out of bed, never mind walked somewhere on my own power and had a conversation. I also took a muscle relaxer when my back was bad – Flexorall, I think? – and it made me so miserable and bitchy and I didn’t even attribute it to the medicine. I just screamed at Jason a whole bunch for doing things like breathing. Then he was like “Hmm, side effects?” and I was like, “No, it’s you, you asshole.” Then he started reading the side effects, which, in addition to “irritability,” included dry mouth and fatigue and headaches, all of which I was also experiencing. So I stopped taking them. Anyway, where was I? Oh, right, the president being all goofy on his pain meds. He still wants to help, by saying that he loves them all very much, and then says, “Tell me what the problem is, Toby,” while looking at Sam. For some reason Toby fills the president in on the problem. The president says Toby is a nice name, but still insists he’s able to focus. He is not. Martin Sheen is delightful in this scene, btw.

Mandy says let’s consider each option from the bottom and starts with resignation. The president likes this idea until they tell him they’re talking about Toby’s resignation, not the president’s. Sam suggests that Toby gives up one year’s salary and cash out his stock issue. Toby hates this idea. Everyone else loves it. The president tells Toby that Toby is a great writer and insists on giving Toby a hug.

Best hug ever.

Best hug ever.

Charlie comes in and chastises the president and wants to take him back to bed. The president first wants to announce that he’s seriously considering getting a dog and then leaves.

Sam asks Toby how he feels and he says he feels like he just got screwed with his pants on. I feel like that was a silly set-up for a bad line. But there are enough silly set-ups for good lines through the course of the series that I’ll let it go.

Hoynes is having breakfast with Tillinghouse, an extremely cantankerous old man who insists he’s voting his conscience. Hoynes basically agrees with his pro-gun rhetoric. Tillinghouse also takes exception to how Josh handled the other four. Hoynes continues to be completely sanguine, but asks Tillinghouse to vote yes, anyway, and relate the conversation to the other four, because Hoynes intends to be president of the United States some day.

We get a swooping shot of the capital at night while we listen to journalists call this a victory for the vice president, and we learn that Richardson had no comment, and is maybe snubbing the president.

Inside the Josh area (I don’t know what all these sections of the West Wing are called for real), the staff are watching the journalists on several different TVs and talking about how incredible it is that the vice president is getting all the credit. It’s like the Veep wrote two-and-a-half paragraphs and they wrote 37 pages and now the Veep is getting all the credit. See what we did there?

Leo says it was hubris and they got what they deserved but I don’t really know what he’s talking about. I mean, sure, he lectured Richardson on how to be black, and Josh ran roughshod over a few people, but in the first case, only Leo was being hubristic, against the advice of everyone else, and in the second, Josh (whom I rarely defend) was being a solid political strategist. I mean, sure, part of the strategy was hubris, but I think he was also doing his job and doing it well, right? And also, the “we” is still just Josh and Leo, why is Leo saying this to Toby and Sam and Mandy and C.J. and Donna?

Toby wants to wake the president and C.J. wants to leave it until tomorrow. Because she wants to get it on right now? No, even I can’t read sexual tension into their body language right now.

Another faceless assistant – or possibly the same faceless assistant – tells Hoynes that Josh is there to see him. Josh comes in, and they joke about the smoking jacket, and Josh says the bill is a crappy bill in the same way Richardson thought it was, and says he knows because he helped write it. He congratulates Hoynes for being the only one to do well in this whole situation. The faceless assistant – it is the same one and we get a very brief glimpse at her backlit face – comes in to call Hoynes away, and Hoynes says to Josh “Welcome to the NFL” before leaving.

I am not that politically astute. I didn’t understand the thing with Hoynes’s quote with C.J. in that other episode, and I don’t really understand what is happening now. I get that they passed a bill but it looked like the veep’s victory more than theirs, and I get that that’s a little disappointing, but it’s reading like a huge defeat and I don’t see why it’s a huge defeat. Especially since politics is perception and can’t they just get C.J. to drum up some, “Isn’t it great how the president and the vice president are working so well together now?” stuff tomorrow and make that the story instead? Haven’t they already established that the press knows there’s tension there and therefore a “Yay to working together!” story would totally fly? No?

Leo walks down a small, empty corridor and approaches an agent outside a closed door. He tells the agent he’s here for a card game and the agent opens the door. We see him standing next to a coffee urn for a few minutes before closing the door.

At no point in this episode do two named women speak to each other about something other than a man. I don’t think two named women speak to each other at all. C.J. and Mandy both speak to Sam at the same time about Chinese food and to Leo at the same time about a necklace but they address all comments to the men in these respective conversations, and none to each other. 10. And I sort of forgot about this and added it in after I had already considered this draft finished. Which is sort of the point of the Bechdel test; that even though it’s not comprehensive, it’s this weird little misogynist quirk of our current media that you don’t notice unless you look for it.

Total misogyny points for the episode? 23