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.

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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.

And,

!. 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.

Credits.

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.

Nice.

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”, 1.01 “Pilot”

I’m not going to lie to you guys; this whole idea started with me wanting to rewatch “The West Wing” for the 473rd time and deciding that doing a blog post about it might make it “productive.”

And I do want to cover the misogyny on “The West Wing”. I know, I know, it’s a great show. One of the greatest ever, really. Didn’t I just say that I wanted to watch it for the 473rd time? But, while Aaron Sorkin has made his basic condescension toward women fairly evident on more recent offerings shows like “Newsroom” and The Social Network, (And I’m sorry, but if you don’t see it, you’re probably guilty of a little of this liberal, elitist “But I love women! Abortions and birth control for all! It’s just, you know, they do like shoes an awful lot” variety of sexism of which Aaron Sorkin is probably the patron saint. It’s okay. It doesn’t make you a bad person. You just need a little enlightenment, and I’m willing to provide it, you lucky, lucky thing, you.), The West Wing remains his best creation, with his strongest, most awesome women. But the problems with female characters are still present; they’re just masked by the better writing and the better acting and the more general awesomeness.  And sexism – any -ism, really – is so much more potent when it’s undercover. The greatest trick the devil learned was to convince people he didn’t exist, right?

Also I wanted to rewatch “The West Wing.” I cannot emphasize this point enough – I. Love. This. Show. Whenever I think to myself, “What do I want to watch right now?” 99% of the time, the answer is “The West Wing.” Just like when I say to myself, “What do I want to eat right now?” the answer is either pasta or veggie samosas. Because I like the starch. And conversations that happen while two people march purposefully down hallways.

But this whole thing was nearly torpedo’ed. I started watching and taking notes. Then I went downstairs and watched while doing dishes, so I couldn’t take notes, so I tried to remember after the fact what I’d just watched, and then I started over, and then I took some notes in one notebook and some notes in another and I know a bunch of you are going, “Notes? She’s taking, like, pen and paper notes? For a blog post?” Yes. Hello. I’m a nerd. Welcome to my blog.

And then I was like, there’s no way I’ll be able to fit the series in one blog post. How about I do season by season?

And then I was like, there’s no way I’ll be able to fit a season in one blog post. How about I do episode by episode?

And then I was like, that’s crazy, right?

And then I started reading these. (Which I found, by the way, through links to this. And now I’m burning my way through her entire blog and also reading one of her novels on my Kindle.)

And now I not only had the one other person doing a project like the one I had in mind to prove to myself that I’m not crazy, I also had a format. She keeps a list of trends in Buffy that she wants to point out and then just drops a number in her recap when she sees evidence of that trend. So I’m going to do it, too, with all the ways Aaron Sorkin displays his “Women are awesome except for how female they are!” misogyny.

So here we go. The items will be as follows:

  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.

I’m sure I’ll add more as time goes by.

Now, it’s been pointed out that sometimes, Aaron Sorkin is not misogynist. Sometimes, an episode does pass the Bechdel test. Sometimes, a male character plays Exposition Fairy. And sometimes, a male character screws up at his job. So every counter-example to my list will be marked with a -(that number). Then, at the end of the show, every misogynist item will be weighed against a non-misogynist item and a total score for the episode will be given.

But! Note! A lot of the times the weight is not equal! For instance, male characters do screw up at their jobs, and frequently. HOWEVER! When male characters do it, it’s usually for “noble” reasons, or the screw-up is because the wronged party are stupid strawman jerkfaces and the Aaron Sorkin character remains awesome. When female characters screw up, they just screw up. Now, if a male character genuinely screws up, I will throw in a -7. And if a female character screws up, but for noble reasons, I will also throw in a -7. But neither of those circumstances will happen all that frequently.

Also, just for fun:

!. Any time anything happens that leads me to believe Toby and CJ are totally doing it. Not a relationship, just a little FWB thing to blow off steam. Because you know they are.

Okay, here we go!

Pilot

The first few scenes are quick little vignettes that very tightly characterize our new buddies and set up some of the basic plots of this episode. There’s a lot going on and these scenes are handled quite skillfully. So, first:

First up is Sam Seaborne, Deputy Communications Director. (I mean, we don’t have job titles yet, but I’m telling you now in case I forget later. Also, Rob Lowe for sure has a portrait of himself in his attic that is rapidly aging and grotesque, yes? Yes.) He’s fending off a journalist who is trying to find out if Sam’s colleague Josh, whom we have not yet met, is going to be fired. Sam then realizes a woman across the room is checking him out. First woman in is known for checking out Sam. 2.

Next is Leo McGarry, Chief of Staff, played by the late, lamented John Spencer. We know he is wealthy and grumpy and is annoyed with his crossword puzzle. Then he gets a call about POTUS. It’s worth noting here that, in 1999, when this show premiered, and even in 2003, when I first started watching, not everyone in the world would have known immediately what POTUS stood for, even people with an interest in politics. So at least a portion of the audience is meant to be going, “What’s a Potus?” and the other portion is meant to be smiling condescendingly at that portion of the audience while feeling immensely superior because they already know.

Then it’s C.J. Cregg, my beloved C.J.! She’s the Press Secretary, and she’s played by my also beloved Allison Janney! So her two co-workers have been portrayed a) doing their job well and being hit on by a beautiful woman, and b) knowing more than the New York Times crossword puzzle editor. What’s the only female senior staffer going to be known for?

How about a little set piece straight out of Chick Flick 101 where she is a) at the gym, and b) trying unsuccessfully to flirt with a man until c) her super-important but at the moment just-a-nuisance job interferes by way of her pager going off and d) she flies off the treadmill! 1! And what the hell, let’s throw in a 2, too, because the first thing she’s doing is hitting on a dude. Unsuccessfully. Whereas Rob Lowe is drawing them in across the bar.

Next we get Josh Lyman, the Aaron Sorkin avatar and Deputy Chief of Staff, played by Bradley Whitford. He’s asleep at his desk – you can bet your ass he doesn’t try to find pockets of personal time like C.J. over there. He’s awakened by his pager going off.

Then Toby Ziegler, light of my life, fire of my loins, played by Richard Schiff and Director of Communications, is on a plane. He’s being bothered by the silly (female) flight attendants with their silly rules about computer rules during descent and he’s brilliantly sarcastic with them and showing off his knowledge of the plane they’re flying. As much as I appreciate some Toby being sarcastic and nerdy, I think we’ve got a and a right there. Another female flight attendant tells him they’ve received a message for him – POTUS has been in a bicycle accident.

Sam, offscreen, adorkables to the girl from the bar about her water pressure while the girl inhales deeply from her joint and protests that she’s not a drug person; she just loves pot. Sure, Sparky. The girl reports his pager message – that POTUS has been in a bicycle accident. She broadcasts the B-plot by observing loudly and slowly that their pagers look exactly alike –

It occurs to me that I might need to explain something here. You see, kids, back in 1999, cell phones were not widely in use yet. People with important jobs had beepers, or pagers. If you wanted to reach someone, you’d dial the number of their beeper/pager, then punch your own phone number in, then they’d see it, find the nearest phone, and call you back. You could also use them to type short messages, although I don’t really remember how that worked. I know. Crazy, right? But that’s what they did in the olden days.

Okay, so this chick and Sam have the same pager, which will in no way come up when she, already baked at 5 am, hands him one of them as he’s rushing out the door to respond to the page. Also this chick doesn’t know what POTUS stands for. Now, I know I said POTUS wasn’t common parlance back in the day. But given that we later find out that this girl is a) a Georgetown law student and b) a high-priced escort whose clientele is largely comprised of big-deal politicos, it’s kind of unusual that she wouldn’t know. So 9!

Okay, so now that we’ve established all these characters and their personal lives, it’s off to the White House.

Leo is rude to two female subordinates 5, including our favorite Exposition Fairy, Donnatella “Donna” Moss (Janel Moloney), before talking to Josh about one of our many subplots, that there are Cuban refugees on rafts heading for Miami. Leo and Josh condescend to each other for a little while. Since Josh is Leo’s subordinate, I suppose I ought to be dropping a -5 but since Josh is condescending back, I don’t think one is warranted. Also, after Josh reveals no knowledge of anything to do with the Cuban refugees other than, there are Cuban refugees on rafts heading toward Miami, Leo gets in one of the top five lines of the episode: “True or false: If I were to stand on high ground in Key West with a good pair of binoculars, I’d be as informed as I am right now.” Josh concedes that that’s true.

Then Josh, whose job we know is on the line, asks Leo if he’s going to be fired and we find out why – he mouthed off to a member of the religious right on TV the night before. Now, this could be a place for a -7, except that, as I said above, male characters will only screw up if their intent is noble, right? So Josh admits that “It was stupid,” and Leo calls back, “Damn straight,” and then, as Josh leaves, he says, “I was right, though,” and Leo mutters, “Like I don’t know that.” So nope. No -7 here. This will be a common theme.

Then we meet Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), the president’s secretary, so that she can be condescended to a little bit by Leo  and also have her concerns about proper language in the Oval Office belittled 4 while we catch up on POTUS’s bike accident, in which we determine that Leo’s bike, which he lent the president, is broken, but not any part of the president.

Leo is then somewhat rude to C.J. but he has another great line when he tells C.J. to tell the press that the president, while riding his bicycle on his vacation in Jackson Hole, came to a sudden arboreal stop.

Everyone argues about Cuba. Sam says something stupid so -7 and Toby condescends to him a little so -5. Aaron Sorkin clues us in that we like these people by keeping the discussion of the political ramifications of the Cuban refugees brief and the discussion of what should be done in a moral universe to help them long.

We flip to the journalist who was bugging Sam and is now claiming to have more insider information than he does to a female colleague before C.J. calls them in for a briefing. You know, this has nothing to do with my misogyny tracking, but I just want to note that this show was supposed to go in a very different direction than it did, with the focus being on the staffers and their lives rather than on the president so directly, but then Martin Sheen was awesome and what are you going to do? But while this scene with the two journalists arguing seems pointless in the general scope of the series, I get where it would have fit in the original conception of this series, and I think I would have liked it. Then again, Martin Sheen. Had this show run, say, ten years later, there would have been a possibility of webisodes about the press pool, the assistants, the interns, etc., which could have been really cool. Except that Aaron Sorkin hates the internet so never mind. (I won’t be tracking that because I don’t care that much, but he does.)

So C.J. holds the briefing and is awesome, inviting the press to enjoy themselves with the president’s ridiculous bicycle accident footage, and then keeping the briefing from becoming a speculation party about whether or not Josh is getting fired. I was going to give this a -7 but you know what? It shouldn’t be out of the norm that a female character is good at her job.

Josh watches footage of what he actually says to Mary Marsh, religious right representative, which is, in response to her claiming he doesn’t believe in any God she prays to, “Lady, the god you pray to is too busy being indicted for tax fraud.” So that’s the line that he was “right” about. Okay, guys. Then he belittles Donna, his assistant, for caring about his tie 5 and she talks passionately about how awesome he is and how he shouldn’t be fired. I almost put down a 6 for that, but she is his assistant, so I guess it’s realistic to believe that she’s this invested in his right not to be fired over this monumental screw-up (which is not a screw-up because he’s right and the religious right is awful! And so is religion!).

Donna tells Toby to shut up so I guess -5.

Toby goes in to talk to Josh and tells him that he has a way for Josh not to be fired, although he tells Josh, “I don’t want this gesture to be mistaken for an indication that I like you,” and I swoon a little. (I don’t think this counts as a -5 but I really can’t tell whether Josh is Toby’s subordinate or not.)

Josh protests the nobility of his screw-up some more, which Toby does little to deny, but insists that he come to a meeting with the woman he insulted and two of her religious right friends. Then Toby gives a newsclipping of Josh’s ex-girlfriend Mandy to him. I mean, we don’t know all of that yet, but Mandy is introduced off-screen and in a way that indicates that she and Josh are connected romantically. 2. Josh even indicates that the clipping includes “a good picture of her” in a very tender and appreciative way, so double 2.

Then we get Mandy. Mandy is the absolute embodiment of 3, yelling fiestily to someone on the phone while driving totally recklessly through the streets of D.C. Then she’s feisty at the cop who pulls her over 3. We are supposed to find her adorable. We do not. Part of it is that Aaron Sorkin frequently overestimates the charm inherent in fiestiness, and part of it is that Moira Kelly, the actress who plays Mandy, does not do Aaron Sorkin well. Which is not to say she’s not a good actress; but Aaron Sorkin is a special skill set and she doesn’t have it.

Leo is being condescending to two male economists who are not his direct subordinates, so -5. Sam and Josh report a storm that might affect the Cuban refugees, and then Josh reports, via a roundabout Socratic conversation with Leo, that Mandy’s in town and representing a possible competitor on the Democratic ticket for the president in the next election. Leo goes off to yell at his long-suffering secretary Margaret (NiCole Robinson) 5 while Sam and Josh establish that they are both wearing the same suits from yesterday, Josh because he slept at his desk and Sam because he got some. Snerk.

Two girls giggle at a counter and then approach Josh, who is having lunch with his ex Mandy, and ask for signatures. Because we are supposed to believe that two poli-sci majors – or participants in a poli-sci “group”, as they say – from Florida State recognize Josh across the diner and know he was once dating Mandy and giggle and ask for his autograph like he’s a member of ‘N Sync. Sure. 6. Then Mandy talks about her client, Congressman Lloyd Russell, and Josh surmises that Mandy and Lloyd are dating. So now Mandy’s two primary reasons to be on this show are a past relationship and a current relationship. 2. Also Josh surmises that Lloyd is gay and “effeminate” so 4. I’m considering making homophobia its own entry, but it might all fall under “femininity is gross”, so we’ll see how it goes and add if we need. Then Mandy knows something that Josh doesn’t about poll numbers so I guess -7, although the fact that she’s sharing it with Josh is a total 6. Then Josh talks about her romantic relationship with Lloyd Russell some more which 2. Good scene, guys. Good scene.

Leo registers his complaint with the New York Times crossword puzzle with the New York Times. He’s rude and condescending but we can’t tell if the person on the phone is a woman, nor is s/he a direct subordinate, so we’ll let it slide. We are, as an audience, supposed to find Leo’s curmudgeonly demeanor adorable, and, when I’m not analyzing it for a blog post, I do.

C.J. comes in and they manage to have a polite and business-like conversation, in which we learn that Leo has no idea if the president is going to fire Josh or not.

We’re walking and talking with Sam and two of his staffers; they’re discussing gun stats. This show premiered in 1999. This same rhetoric is still be used about gun stats. Just sayin’.

Sam is pulled away by his assistant, Cathy, who is kind of rude to him. -5. She tells him Leo’s wife was supposed to lead Leo’s daughter’s fourth grade class on a tour of the White House but can’t and wants Sam to do it. We also learn that Leo’s wife hates Sam because Sam hit on her at a party fundraiser, and Cathy thinks it’s reasonable that she’s mad, and also that Leo was mad. 8. Why would she be mad about that? Why would Cathy think it was justified? Nothing we know about Sam so far would indicate that he’d be disrespectful in expressing his interest. Sam tells us he doesn’t know anything about the White House. I’m going to go ahead and give this a 4. You can argue with me that knowledge of the history of the building does not count as “feminine” knowledge, but I think it is.

Then Chekhov’s pager beeps and Sam returns the call and gets “Cashmere Escorts” and figures out right away that his lady from last night is an escort and calls to make contact with her to switch pagers. I do appreciate that Sorkin trusts us to figure this out as quickly as Sam did and not go over-exposition-y on us. I also appreciate that when he calls and asks if he can come see her, we know Sam well enough at this point to know it’s not so that he can pay for it this time.

We see the press gaggle bother C.J. and C.J. report to Toby about it very briefly and just because their interaction is so easy and quick and they don’t need to use a lot of words to communicate with each other, I’m going to give it a Shut up and let me have my fun.

Leo is now walking outside somewhere and talking to the “reasonable” religious right dude, Rev. Al Caldwell, reminding him that the president is very religious, and giving us, the audience, the answer to the only important question in 1999 – Does the president support the right to abort? The answer is that while his religious conviction tells him people oughtn’t have abortions, he also does not believe in the state’s rights to legislate the issue. So now you know.

They’re having a fair and even conversation about their political relationship, and doing a great job of expressing their disagreements while being respectful of each other’s positions, until Leo says that they can keep this from becoming bigger than “a petulant woman being angry about getting her hair a little messed up on TV.” Dude. 4. 8. And also f you. And also further evidence that this screw-up on Josh’s part does not deserve a -10 because here Leo doesn’t even assign him blame; it’s just that Mary Marsh’s “hair” got “messed up.” Force of nature. Then Leo claims that the president does in fact want Josh fired, but it’s unclear whether he’s telling the truth now and has been lying all day to the other staffers, or if he’s lying now to Al Caldwell to placate him. Either way, Al Caldwell is soothed. 

Sam goes over to the escort’s, they exchange pagers, and Sam manages to tell her he can’t really see her while also managing not to slut-shame her. Also we learn that she’s a law student and a part-time bartender AND a high-priced call girl. Lady, when do you sleep?

The camera travels the halls of the White House as we see the religious right trio come in, Cathy greet Leo’s daughter’s fourth grade class, and Donna coax Josh into a new shirt. She tells him that “all the girls think you look really hot in this shirt.” 3 and in just a few lines, Mr. Sorkin. Nice.

Cathy gets Sam into the room with the fourth graders and Cathy can’t point to Leo’s daughter. He greets the teacher, Mallory O’Brian, and Sam spouts off some total nonsense about his job while the fourth graders look bored. Then the teacher says they’re here to hear about the building. He gets everything wrong about everything he says, including which Roosevelt the Roosevelt room is named after, even though there’s an enormous portrait of Teddy behind him. I’m reluctant to give this a -7 because of the 4 I’ve given this whole subject before. Mallory calls him outside the room to ask why he’s so dumb, he explains that he’s having a really bad day and numbers among the bad things about his day that he accidentally slept with a prostitute the night before, as well as further bolstering my “Josh’s screw-up doesn’t get a -7 because everyone thinks he’s right” point and then asks this woman to point out Leo’s daughter to him so he can make a good impression. Mallory reveals that she is Leo’s daughter.

Okay, now I’m ready to give a -7 for revealing to a random stranger that he slept with a prostitute, but hold the phone. At this point we don’t know everyone’s history but we haven’t been given to believe that it’s the senior staff’s first week on the job. How is it humanly possible that Sam could think that Leo’s daughter is a fourth grader and not a grown-ass woman?

C.J., Josh, and Toby head into the meeting with the religious right and C.J. warns Josh that they will try to bait him into saying something arrogant. Josh says, “I don’t need baiting for that,” so that’s one of our lines of the night. Toby opens with cheer, then Reverend Al Caldwell speaks respectfully but forcefully about how disappointed they were with Josh while Josh tries to make eye contact with Mary Marsh and Mary is icy to him which is played totally a 8. Then Josh gives a sincere-sounding apology. Then Mary continues to be rude and use this whole thing as a political football. The conversation is devolving quickly into argument and then Toby interprets one of Mary Marsh’s sentiments as anti-Semitic, which is probably accurate (and also we learn that both Toby and Josh are Jewish). The third and most idiotic member of the religious right says we should talk more about the First Commandment, which says is “Honor thy father.” Which is so typical of Aaron Sorkin, needing to make his enemies such buffoons that they become unrealistic strawmen, not even caricatures, because a caricature of a religious right buffoon would know his commandments. Toby calls him out on it but then declares that “Honor thy father” is the third commandment, which is also not correct. Jews, Protestants, and Catholics get the order of the commandments a little different, because the way it’s worded in the Bible is open to some interpretation, but “Honor thy mother and father” is fifth for Jews and Protestants and fourth for Catholics. Just so you know.

Then the president enters majestically, answering the question, “Then what’s the first commandment?” with “I am the Lord thy God.” It’s a pretty good entrance. He’s got a walking stick so I guess he sprained his ankle. The room’s idiot asks him, “If our children can buy pornography on any street corner for $5, isn’t that too high a price to pay for free speech?” He says, “No. On the other hand, I do think that $5 is too high a price to pay for pornography.” That, friends, is the line of the night. It’s been something of a guiding principle for what I buy for my Kindle, too.

At this point we realize that the president is not at all going to entertain these people or their problems because a fringe religious group sent his grand-daughter Annie a Raggedy Ann doll with a knife through its throat when Annie told a magazine she’s pro-choice. You guys, this is my 473rd viewing of this episode and I only just got that the Raggedy Ann doll wasn’t just a childhood toy, it was the kid. Ann = Annie. I know. I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes.

So now instead of being apologetic, our lovable White House staff can be superior and smug, which is their favorite thing to be. Josh gloats and everyone argues as they head into the Oval Office, where the president yells at them a little bit, says something mysterious about a tomato and a rosary that I still don’t get no matter how many times I watch this episode. We learn that of the 1200 Cubans on rowboats, most turned back, many died, and a little more than 100 of them are here, and it’s time to get to work. Also, Josh is forgiven. We sign off with the president’s catchphrase, “Mrs. Landingham, what’s next?”

Man, that’s a good 44 minutes of television. I want to reiterate that, for all that I complain, I love this show.

So what’s our misogyny tally here? Taking all the incidents of misogyny, and then subtracting all the counter-incidents, I get an 21. Plus, the episode didn’t pass the Bechdel test. Many named female characters, only one of them on senior staff, and none of them talk to each other about anything. Donna shouts to Bonnie that Josh is changing his shirt, but a) it’s not a conversation, it’s a line, b) Bonnie isn’t even on-screen for it, and c) they’re still talking about a dude. So that’s a total misogyny score of 22.

I’m also seriously excited to be working on this project. 🙂 See you next time!