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

Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin – “The West Wing”, 1.03 “A Proportional Response”

The name “Aaron” is starting to look like a nonsense word to me.

Anyway. Remember, this is 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.

So last week you may remember that the Syrian Defense Ministry shot down the plane containing Morris Tolliver, the president’s doctor, and others, on their way to a teaching hospital in Jordan. The president got over his “I’m uncomfortable with violence” thing BUT QUICK, telling Leo he was going to “blow them off the face of the Earth with the fury of God’s own thunder.” Which is a good line, but Leo seemed to be more perturbed by the sentiment and less impressed with the wording.

Also Sam accidentally slept with a call girl and wants to be buds with her so he can save her from the degradation and despair that is her life, and Mandy was being hired as a media consultant over her ex-boyfriend Josh’s objections.

Josh is coming in to work and Donna closes in behind him. She tells him “C.J.’s looking for you” about eight times before he gets that C.J.’s not looking to tell him what a god among men he is. Donna won’t tell him why he might be in trouble because he doesn’t let her make “substantive contributions.” I’m giving this whole thing a 8 because it’s playing as if Donna is just whinging about not feeling her value is being appreciated as if that’s a stupid thing to be whinging about. And then it turns out she just wants $$$. Finally, she tells Josh that she’s cobbled together, from gossip around the Danish cart (not making that up 4) is that it has something to do with C.J. not knowing something about Sam and a woman. And then she doesn’t even know that C.J. is waiting in Josh’s office, thus undermining the whole speech about why she deserves to make substantive contributions/get a raise. 7.

So hey, there’s C.J.’s gams 2 in Josh’s office, and when he comes in the door, she says, “Wow, are you stupid.” 3. And then credits.

I’m not giving an 8 for this because, while C.J. is a female who is angry and Josh and Sam will protest that her anger is unwarranted, I don’t think the show is trying to make us think it is.

Misogyny Points Thus Far: 5

After the credits we are back on C.J.’s legs. Donna and Josh bicker for a second about the fact that Donna didn’t know C.J. was in Josh’s office. C.J. starts yelling at Josh and Josh pretends like this isn’t a big deal because Sam didn’t technically do anything wrong, since, as you might recall, he neither knew she was a prostitute when he slept with her, nor did he pay her. C.J. points out that that doesn’t matter on “Hard Copy” and Josh accuses her of overreacting, and then C.J. does my job for me, saying, “Oh, am I? As women are prone to do?” Go, C.J.! But also a 4 for you, Josh. Then Josh calls her a “paranoid Berkeley shiksa feminista” 4 and I’d love to know what her not being Jewish has to do with all of this. To his credit, he does realize he went to far, and C.J. responds by calling him an “elitist, Harvard, fascist, missed-the-dean’s-list-two-semesters-in-a-row Yankee jackass.” I also don’t know what his being north of the Mason-Dixon has to do with anything, but okay. Josh tries to apologize by telling her she looks “like a million bucks” because he’s your Great-Uncle Harvey who thinks it’s 1957 (and by “he”, I mean Aaron Sorkin) 2 and C.J. is not trying to hear that as they head into their senior staff meeting.


Toby joins them on their rounds, complaining about what a crazy mood is the president is in, what with Morris Tolliver and dozens of other Americans being dead and all. It is determined that C.J. has learned about Sam and Laurie (the call girl), and C.J. promises to visit him later. Toby asks, “How the hell did I get in trouble?” Josh says, “Today? All you had to do was get out of bed,” like, no, jackass, all you had to do was keep C.J. out of your boys’ club, thus making it harder to do her job of protecting you all to the press. 8. Also that invalidates your earlier non-apology. (Also we all know C.J. is just going to visit Toby later to do it. !)


On the way to the Oval on that outer walkway, in the rain, the president is yelling at Leo for how long it’s taking to come up with a response scenario. Leo is trying to calm him down. It’s not working. President Bartlett tells Mrs. Landingham he can’t find his glasses, giving us our Chekhov’s Pager for the episode.

The president wants to get on this today, three days after they blew “him” out of the sky, and Leo points out that saying “him” rather than “it” or “the plane” is maybe indicative of – but the president is not trying to hear that. He yells at Mrs. Landingham again about his glasses and this is getting close to 5 territory but it’s not quite there. Leo leaves the president to go to the senior staff meeting.

In his office, Leo encourages the gang not to worry about the president’s mood and asks Sam what he knows. What Sam knows is that Bertram Coles, who is a congressman from a district with a military base, and who is upset with the president because the president has recommended cutting funding for something related to that military base, got on a radio show, in front of a bunch of military officers, and said, “Folks down here are patriotic – fiercely patriotic. The president better not be planning on making any visits to this base. If he does, he may not get out alive.”

No. Nope. That’s not a thing that happened. Even Sarah Palin, she of the “second amendment remedies” wouldn’t go quite that far. Even in 2013, a year in which the partisan bickering of this show’s airing year, 1999, looks noble and mature, this is not a thing that would happen.

Anyway, Toby is infuriated, and Leo is clearly enjoying riling Toby up, muttering, “There ought to be a law against it,” with a sly smirk toward Toby. Toby notes the several laws that are against it, such as threatening the life of a president, conspiracy to threaten the life of a president, and treason. As silly as the set-up is, I cannot at all fault Leo for the pleasure he’s taking in making Toby mad, as it is totes adorbs and I would make a habit of riling Toby up on the regular if I were in his (fictional) life.

Also, apparently Bertram Cole is a member of their own party. Yeah, no. Did not happen. Would not happen. Don’t care. Toby wants to do something about it and everyone else just wants to watch Toby. With you guys all the way.

Leo asks about when the networks would need to be told about the president announcing an attack on Syria and C.J. tells him they need 90 minutes. Networks, y’all get 90 minutes warning and I STILL miss key sections of the SYTYCD finale, so that the president can announce we’re NOT bombing Syria? I call shenanigans, FOX. Shenanigans!!

On the way out of the meeting, Josh and C.J. pedeconference, with Toby and Sam behind them. Before they split up, C.J. asks Sam to stop by her office later. Sam agrees, then, once C.J. is out of earshot, asks Toby if he thinks she knows, which of course he knows she does. Toby sees a knot of reporters and takes this opportunity to look very busy but come toward them, seemingly not deliberately. A reporter asks for a comment about Bertram Coles and Toby says “The Secret Service investigates all threats made against the president. It is White House policy not to comment on those investigations.” When the reporter follows up by asking if he’s saying there’s going to be a criminal investigation, Toby looks like he’s been caught talking out of school and says, “I really can’t comment on that right now” and then scurries away. So! Adorable! Love! Him!

Also loving that it’s been several paragraphs and I haven’t had my misogyny meter tick!

C.J. is in her office with two female assistants talking business. Hey, it’s not about a man! This episode passes the Bechdel test! -10! Sam comes in and C.J. kicks the assistants out. C.J. is pretty pissed and points out that this is a public relations problem and Sam continues to protest his innocence, ignoring C.J.’s concern about publicity, so 4. Also doesn’t C.J. understand that Sam is going to save her? Ugh, I need a number for his attitude about Laurie’s life. Let’s go with 4. It’s not perfect but it’ll have to do. C.J. reminds him that it’s her job to care what it looks like, not what it is, and Sam continues to be rude to her. More 4. (Not 5 because it’s not clear to me that C.J. is his underling but what do I know?) C.J. tells him that regardless of looking good vs. being good, he should come to her first, not Toby or Josh, because this is her job. She doesn’t say it, but it’s clear that he didn’t go to her because she’s a woman, and I kind of wish this part of C.J.’s arc had been teased out more throughout this season. Sam totally dismisses that idea, saying this should be about her standing up to the press instead of kowtowing to their morals. 4. Sam is being such an ass. C.J. is clearly hurt and dismisses him. Sam feels bad but, despite a half-hearted attempt, isn’t going to be able to make it up right now. Sam walks out of her office and punches a wall.

MPTF: 12

Now we’re in the situation room with a bunch of dudes in uniform. The Joint Chiefs, I guess. The president comes in, everyone stands, he tells them to sit. Because he’s a regular guy, all about business and not the nonsense of protocol. Admiral Fitzwallace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presents the president with three possible response scenarios, all of which require no prep time, meet the standards of “proportional response” (episode title check!), and pose minimum risk to civilians. The president demand to know, what is the “virtue” of a proportional response. This totally flummoxes the room. Fitzwallace tries to redirect the conversation, as does Leo, but the president is pissed and not having it. He says Syria knows they’re going to do what they’re going to do, that they’ve even prepared for it. Finally Fitzwallace admits that a proportional response is not virtuous; it’s just what there is. The president insists that it’s not all there is; they could be disproportionate, instead, and insists that the Chiefs come up with a plan that “doesn’t make me think we are just docking somebody’s damn allowance.” He storms from the room. Leo looks terrified.

Charlie! Charlie! It’s Charlie! Okay, pretending I don’t know for a second who this is, a young man with a terrified and confused face is hanging out in a conference room. Josh comes in while giving his lunch order to Donna, then introduces himself to Charlie. He tells Charlie he’s going to vet him, and then calls to Donna to change his lunch order, canceling the salad because he’s not going to eat it anyway. Dude, I feel you. I have been known to virtuously order the side salad instead of the fries and then absolutely ignoring that salad. But back to my misogyny count, in the episode in which we have had Donna insist that she’s capable of doing more, we are now having her take lunch orders. Which, I get that as an assistant, it’s her job, but it’s either a conscious decision or an unconscious assumption and either way I’m going with 5, not so much because Josh is being rude to her – he is being no more rude than is his standard demeanor – but because the show is.

Anyway, Josh encourages Charlie to sit and Charlie stares at him, while Josh describes a job for which Charlie did not apply. Charlie wanted to be a messenger. Josh – and the woman who sent Charlie to Josh – wants Charlie to be personal aide to the president instead. Charlie continues to be terrified and confused while Josh continues to be madly casual and dismissive. Charlie keeps calling Josh “sir” and Josh insists that only the president is “sir”; everyone else is “Hey, when am I going to get that thing I asked for?” Um, maybe to you, Rudey Mc RudePants. Donna brings him his water bottle and he makes a big fucking stink about a typo 5. Charlie continues to protest that this is not the job for which he applied and Josh observes that Charlie’s grades and SAT scores are such that he ought to be in a good college by now. Charlie reveals that he has to take care of his sister because his mom, a police officer, was shot and killed on duty five months ago. Aw, Charlie. I want to hug him so very much.

MPTF: 14

The president reenters the situation room, apparently a little calmer. He tells the dudes that there’s a group of cardiologists having their pictures taken in the Blue Room, whatever that is, and “You wouldn’t think you could find a group of people more arrogant than the fifteen of us, but there they are, right upstairs in the Blue Room.” Good line, Mr. President. Are we ready to stop being crazypants now?

Fitzwallace presents an apparently much worse response scenario, an attack on an airport, which would kill civilians, cripple the area’s abilities to receive water and medical supplies, and ruin the United States’s foreign relations with friends and enemies alike. But he also says, “You’ll have doled out $5,000 worth of punishment for a 50-buck crime,” which is a shockingly insensitive thing for any person to say, but particularly the person who is playing the role of Sensible and Practical Military Advisor, and really just sets up a Straw-Line for the president to be self-righteous about in a few minutes, and it’s annoying. Fitzwallace goes back to being sensible for a minute, but the president waves him off. He agrees to one of their proportionate response scenarios, has to be coached through giving the go order by Leo and Fitzwallace, gets predictably self-righteous about the 50-buck crime comment, and leaves.

We’re back with Charlie and Josh. Josh is trying to ask Charlie questions and Charlie is still trying to figure out what in the ever-living fuck he is doing there when Sam comes in. When Josh says he has to ask Charlie about his personal life, Sam makes it All About Me and My Call Girl. Josh takes Sam out of the room and  Sam complains some more about not being allowed to rescue Laurie when Toby calls them in to Leo’s office, because “it’s all happening.”

Wow, that’s inappropriate. I was referencing Almost Famous, but in that movie, the “it” is sex, drugs, and/or rock & roll, and here, it’s bombing Syria. Sorry. Anyway, that’s why the big rush to Leo’s office.

Leo gives them their marching orders and that’s basically all that happens. C.J. tells Leo she needs to talk to the president before briefing the press, and Leo is like, “You and me both, sister.”

Josh hangs back and tells Leo about Charlie, asking if Leo thinks it’s a problem that Charlie, who, if he became personal aide to the president, would be holding doors and carrying bags, and Charlie’s black, and does that make a bad visual? Leo dismisses this concern, then says he’s “fairly sure” he’s right about this. At some point Leo shouts Margaret’s name in that way he has so 5 but we can kind of assume that happens once per episode.

Fitzwallace comes in to talk to Leo and Josh leaves. Leo and Fitzwallace talk about the president being crazypants. Fitzwallace  continues to be sensitive and practical and not at all the kind of guy who would equate the deaths of a few dozen Americans with “a 50-buck crime”. Leo then asks Fitzwallace, who is also black, about the Charlie question, and Fitzwallace dismisses the concern. And I have to say, this feels very much like Aaron Sorkin just realized that the one black guy who is a series regular is in a kind of servant-ish role, and he wanted to assure us, the audience, that this was okay by using the “But my black friend says it’s fine!” Which, look, I don’t think that anyone here is wrong about the Charlie character – it is better to give Charlie a great job than to not give him this kind of opportunity because it might look sorta racist – but Aaron, if you’re feeling so insecure about it, cast more black people. Don’t get fictional black friends to give you the thumbs up.

People bustle about one of the fancy conference rooms and Josh stands in the middle, sighing that he has nothing to do.

More bustling in the Sam-and-Toby area. Cathy (Sam’s assistant) wants to know why no one can come to the phone. C.J. speculates that they are planning her surprise party and then goes in to see Toby, who is working with Sam on the address that the president will give later that night. C.J. and Toby say words at each other that I don’t understand, possibly about weaponry?, and then C.J. leaves. Sam runs after her and makes a genuine apology about his earlier assholishness. C.J. is cool. I’m glad everyone is friends again, but I really wish they’d made the storyline about C.J. trying to get into the boys’ club more prominent in Season One, instead of letting it simmer in the background so quietly you could be excused for not noticing it.

The press surrounds C.J. and C.J. is awesomely cool and admits to nothing.

Then she’s greeted at her office door by Danny Concannon. We haven’t met him yet but C.J. has. He’s a journalist who makes sure to tell us he’s been in the White House Press Room for seven years. She says she’ll tell him about Syria when she tells everyone else about Syria, but Danny doesn’t want to talk about that. He wants to talk about the $3,000-a-night call girl and asks to come into her office.

(Sam wants to save Laurie from her degrading life of getting $3,000 a night? Damn, girl, and you still have to bartend? How much is rent in D.C.?)

Josh continues to wander around busy people and annoy them. He specifically annoys Donna for a while, then Mandy pokes her head out of his office and says, “Josh, your office sucks!” 3! Mandy already knows everything about what’s going on with Syria so I guess -9. She tells him she has a present for him and after they talk a bit about the plane being shot down, Mandy gives Josh a picture of the two of them, with his face all magic-markered up. 3. She tells him she did the marketing during her period of hating him. 3. She claims it was taken the night they met, and he couldn’t stop staring at her. 3. He says she was wearing “quite the ensemble” that day 2 and she says she doesn’t think it was the ensemble he was looking at which 3 and also that doesn’t really make much sense. Josh gets a call and has to go do something. Mandy assures him on her way out that there is “not a chance” she will be nice to him when she starts working there 3.

MPTF: 21

Danny is telling C.J. that he doesn’t have enough for a story but he’s going to be asking around. C.J. is sticking up for Sam in exactly the way he asked her to, basically, telling Danny that Sam is doing nothing wrong and he should keep his nose out of other people’s perfectly legitimate and legal business. It’s unclear to me if the show wants me to believe that, had Sam not said the things he said, C.J. would be more under-the-bus-throw-y, or if C.J. would always have stuck up for Sam and was just angry that he didn’t tell her she’d have to. The C.J. that we’ve been presented with thus far would absolutely stick up for Sam in just this way but sometimes this show forgets the strengths of its female characters for the sake of plot so I don’t know. Danny warns C.J. that even if Danny drops this, other people might use it when they want to make trouble. C.J. gets a call and then gives Danny a head start on the Syria story in exchange for him not pursuing the Sam story.

Josh is giving Charlie the tour. Charlie probably thinks that they’re walking and talking because they’re on a tour. He doesn’t realize that it is the policy of this particular administration to conduct all conversations while perambulating. Josh says the only thing left is to meet the president and Charlie stops walking. It takes Josh several minutes to notice.

We’re entering the Oval with Charlie and Josh. The president is blustering around all pissed and ornery, yelling at Sam and Toby and shouting to Mrs. Landingham about his glasses and just generally screaming at everyone. While he’s yelling at C.J. he mentions reading something in his private study last night and Charlie gets a light bulb over his head. Josh encourages him to tell the president. The president is pretty rude to Charlie, just demanding to know who he is several times, but Mrs. Landingham catches Charlie’s drift and sends an assistant to the private study for the missing glasses. Chekhov’s Pager has beeped. Josh starts to introduce Charlie but the president rudely says, “I don’t have any time for new people right now.” Leo calls the president out of the room.

Leo yells at the president a little and the president ducks his head, a gesture we will come to recognize as his “I am almost ready to admit you’re right” gesture. He tells Leo that Roman citizens were protected by virtue of simply being citizens of Rome, because Rome would destroy your ass for the sake of one citizen. The president wants the USA to be Rome. Leo doesn’t. They bloviate about politics some, and Leo irrelevants, “Then you are just as stupid as these guys who think capital punishment is going to be a deterrent for drug kingpins, as if drug kingpins didn’t live their day-to-day lives under the possibility of execution. And their executions are a lot less dainty than ours, and tend to take place without the bother and expense of due process.” I mean, it’s a good argument, but it’s also a ham-handed way of shoving this point in to a scene on which it has no bearing. Couldn’t you just write an episode about capital punishment, Aaron? Leo tells the president that if the president wants the US to be Rome, then, fine, but Leo is going to raise an army against him. They argue some more about the proportional response thing and finally the president calms down. Leo says it’s what their fathers taught them. I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but I know I’m supposed to find it deep.

The president gets the line of the night. “When I think of all the work you did to get me to run, when I think of all the work you did to get me elected, (beat) I could pummel your ass with a baseball bat.” Leo likes the line, too. He laughs and John Spencer laughing is wholly delightful. Leo tells the president about Bertram Coles and how Leo messed with Toby earlier. They both have a good laugh. The president asks Leo about Charlie, but we don’t hear his answer, probably because we already know and it’s time to wrap this mother up.

Everyone’s waiting around the Oval. C.J. sidles over to Toby and asks what he thinks the president and Leo are doing, and Toby doesn’t know. But of course they’re the ones making casual, irrelevant conversation with each other because they’re doing it ! Then C.J. asks if Toby knows about a story going around about the Secret Service investigating Bertram Coles. Toby says he doesn’t. C.J. says they’re quoting Toby from earlier, about not commenting about investigations, and did he say that? Toby says, all false innocence, “Yeah. Hey, you don’t suppose that’s how the story got started, do you?” Then he tells C.J. to tell Bertram Coles there’s a new sheriff in town, and they share an incredibly intimate smirk, probably thinking about the amazingly hot sex they’re going to have later. Because they are.

Josh is explaining to Charlie that the president is not usually such a major dickhead. The camera is swirling around their heads in an effort to make me vomit. Then the president, now his usual genial self, comes out to charm Charlie a little and talk to him about the gun legislation they’re going to push in honor of his mother, and does he want to join their team, and Charlie says, with enormous eyes and earnest tones, “Yes, sir, I do,” and I just melt into a little puddle because I LOVE Charlie. Leo and the president joke a little. Charlie tells Josh, “I never felt like this before,” and Josh assures him it doesn’t go away, and the president starts his address with the orchestra swelling inspirationally behind him.

You guys, I LOVE Charlie.

Misongyny score: 21 and largely due to Mandy! This episode was not so bad!

Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin – “The West Wing”, 1.02 “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc”

Welcome to blog post #2 about my recaps & misogyny tracking for “The West Wing”! Here is the list of things we’re watching out 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.

As a reminder, I will be scoring each episode in terms of its misogyny. One point for every item on the list, and a negative point for every counter-example, for instance, when a male character plays Exposition Fairy. Also as a reminder, for item 7, the screw-up has to be a genuine screw-up, not a “Well, it might look bad to others but it was noble!” screw-up.

Ready for maybe the first episode on television to be named a phrase in Latin (citation for this totally unresearched claim needed)? Here we go!

Our first scene after the previouslys contains such an extreme amount of Mandy feistiness I feel like I need to pepper this paragraph with 3s. And you know what? It’s my blog; I think I will. Mandy is aggravated in traffic and honking her horn and looking around the windshield. 3. Mandy drives up on the sidewalk, perpendicular to a parallel parking spot. 3. She starts shouting at Lloyd Russell, her client/boyfriend who she was going to help take the presidency from our man Jed Bartlett. for the level of “feist” displayed in this interaction, what with the “Are you crazy?” and the shoulder-punching. He and his henchmen are condescending and rude to her while explaining that they’re keeping some bill he likes in committee until after the mid-terms in exchange for letting him make a big speech at the nominating convention. Also 8 because this whole time Lloyd and his boys are perfectly calm and all, “There, there, crazy lady,” while she’s screaming. BTW, it is not at all clear from this scene that Lloyd and Mandy have a romantic relationship, which is odd because such a big deal was made of the romantic relationship the week before. Anyway, a Random Dude plays Exposition Fairy, asking Mandy if she’s alright and prompting her explanation of what’s going on, but I’m not giving it a -9 because she’s not explaining, like, what taxes are. She’s just explaining her life. And telling us stuff we already know from the last episode (she had a big important job in the private sector) and from two minutes ago. Also she yells at one of the dudes for getting opera trivia wrong, and I’d say it’s a little elitist and show-offy, but really, you didn’t know Wagner is not an Italian name, doofus? And she’s screaming at Random Dude and Random Dude rolls his eyes and walks off in the middle of the conversation. Women, amirite? 8. Then Lloyd leads her off away from my henchmen, where they continue to display all the intimacy and chemistry of two blades of grass, and he condescendingly tells her that the job for which he hired her, the job for which he lured her away from her very high six figures, was always a fool’s errand. Then why’d you hire her, d-bag? Then he tells her she has “spunk,” like, for real, so 3. She threatens to kill him with her shoe. 3. Then she says that the worst part is knowing how her ex-coworkers/ex-boyfriend are going to be gloating over this. Really, Mandy? The worst part isn’t how you don’t have a job anymore and your boyfriend/client was just jerking you around? Okay. Lloyd mansplains that they will of course not be gloating, despite the fact that Mandy actually worked with these people for, like, a year. 5. It strikes me that the very concept of “mansplaining” might never have gotten the traction it did if not for Aaron Sorkin. 

Misogyny Points Thus Far: (Wow, this is going to make it a lot easier to score)

Anyway, of course Josh is gloating. Josh gloats when he’s in the wrong; imagine how insufferable he is when he’s done something right. He declares, “I drink from the Keg of Glory, Donna,” and demands she bring him “the finest bagels and muffins in the land.” She notes that it’s going to be “an unbearable day.” -5? No. Because Josh is not even paying attention to her, and if a rude comment falls on a blockhead and he fails to hear, it did not make a sound. Staff clap for him, which I wanted to give a 6, but it’s probably not unrealistic.

After the credits, Toby and C.J. walk and talk about a group declining to have their photograph taken with the president because of some joke we don’t know about yet and how they “need somebody”. Toby is incredulous but not rude to C.J. and their patter is just a little !.

Toby asks Mrs. Landingham if the president has free time and Mrs. Landingham replies, “The president has nothing but free time, Toby. Right now he’s in the residence eating Cheerios and enjoying Regis and Kathy Lee.” Snerk, and also -5 but then Toby earns it right back with a rude comment about Mrs. Landingham’s age 5 which he then retracts -5. Then Mrs. Landingham denies him a cookie and offers Sam one. -5. Sam comes in and they all talk some more about the joke that we don’t know about yet. Josh comes in gloating and gets filled in on the joke as senior staff head into the Oval Office. Leo and the president approach the Oval Office from another angle and they tell us what our plotlines for the episode are. Josh reports his successful victory over Mandy. We learn that the Ryder Cup team – which C.J. helpfully explains is a group of golfers, which I probably should have known but didn’t – is the group not posing with the president because of the joke, and the president is rejects the idea that discussing his sense of humor might be necessary at this juncture. 4. C.J. points out that there was also a Texas joke that cost them the state in the elections, both primary and the general election. The president accuses her of “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” thinking and only Leo knows it means “One thing follows another, therefore one thing causes another,” which is a logical fallacy. (BTW, the poster I just linked would make an EXCELLENT present for me.) The president claims it was not the hat joke that lost him Texas and C.J. correctly guesses that it’s the being able to speak Latin thing. So either he’s saying Republicans are anti-intellectual (which many of them are), and ignoring the fact that he also lost the primary, or he’s saying Texans on the right AND left are anti-intellectual. I guess that’s possible but it’s kind of snotty, anyway.


A man in Navy uniform is greeted by Mrs. Landingham and then Leo as he comes out of the Oval with the rest of the staff. His name is Morris Tolliver and Leo steers him away from some more walking and talking. Morris Tolliver has recently had a baby and has a photograph to show Leo. Not a picture on a smartphone, kids, but an actual, printed-out photograph. Margaret, Leo’s assistant, comes out to reproach Leo for not giving her some information about a meeting she needed and Leo disgustedly throws the baby picture at her to distract her, the way you’d throw a treat to a dog. 5 for dismissing the concerns of her job and 4 for the “Chicks love babies” sentiment when Leo is the one who asked for the picture of the baby. And an extra 4 for the way the distraction is successful and Margaret coos at the picture.

MPTF: 11

Leo tells Morris Tolliver that even though he was just the substitute doctor the president likes him and wants to keep him on. Morris Tolliver says he’d like that but he’s leaving for Jordan for a week in a few hours. If you’re curious, military doctors are the ones who provide care for the president and the president’s family and everyone, and they do tend to be Navy.

We’re outside watching Mandy’s car get towed, although I don’t think it’s parked where it was before. Mandy goes into her office to tell her assistant that they don’t have a client anymore. Her assistant is perturbed and Mandy is keeping it peppy and feisty 3. Mandy is also being elitist and snotty. 5. By the way, Mandy’s assistant is female and they just spent a few minutes talking about their jobs, so even though their job was Lloyd Russell, a man, I’m going to go ahead and declare the Bechdel test passed for an episode! -10!

MPTF: 12

Donna informs Josh that he’s lost a football pool she played on his behalf, and stupidly. Women! They understand neither football nor betting! I’m going to give this a 7 even though it’s not technically her job to enter football pools on Josh’s behalf. If women continue to screw up in non-job related ways, I’ll add an item.

MPTF: 13

Josh finds Toby and they walk-and-talk about the various incidents, like the Ryder cup team refusing a picture because of a joke, that mean they need a new media director. Josh and Toby plan to gang up on Leo about this and Josh asks that it be anyone but Mandy. So there’s your super-obvious projection of a plot point right there. Your Chekhov’s Pager for this episode, if you will.

Josh departs and Toby keeps walking, picking up C.J. as his new ambulatory conversation partner. Toby advises that she uses the humor of the Ryder Cup thing to her advantage and C.J. heads into the press room. A journalist asks about a quote he has from the Vice President on some bill we don’t know about. Apparently the veep said, “This is a time when the president needs our support.” The journalist feels that the language sounds strained and C.J. and Toby exchange significant looks (!) and I will tell you the truth; to this day I have no idea what in the hell is going on with this plot line. I don’t know why it’s weird that the vice president said that; I don’t know why the whole of the White House seems to think it’s a BFD. But I am slow and naive. Anyway, just as Toby advised, C.J. skims over the question and throws up the Ryder Cup thing in defense. Then she and Toby exchange another, totally ! look.

Josh watches C.J. on screen and Sam approaches. They make much of the vice-president’s quote and then make light of C.J.’s deft handling of it by acting as if it was the obvious thing to do. I think I’ll go with a 5 here. They discuss whether Leo should be made aware of this or not, deciding that the answer is not. Sam acts all goofy about coming to see Josh and then, in an office with an open door and tons of staff buzzing about outside, Sam tells Josh he accidentally slept with a prostitute. Also, her name is Laurie. So now you know. Josh is concerned. Sam is trying to brush off his concerns so that he can make friends and reform his prostitute friend. I’m sure the idea of “reforming” a woman who has chosen to make her living with sex work is misogynist but I can’t figure out which item to put it under and it’s terribly specific to this one situation. Donna drops by like your annoying little sister wanting to gossip. Ugh, women, amirite? 4. Josh kicks her out then tells Sam to talk to Toby and rushes after C.J.

MPTF: 15

C.J. is pissed about the vice president and while I still don’t understand why, the other characters do, so no 8. The vice president is speaking stilted French to some dude in a suit while a bunch of people take pictures. The person I have to assume is the vice president’s Leo tries to brush C.J. off. Actually, now that I think of it, that person is more likely the vice president’s C.J. C.J. tries to walk and talk with the vice president, and, despite her anger, is being very deferential and polite, but he’s also brushing her off. He’s being rude to a female subordinate, so 5, but a soft 5, because I don’t think he feels comfortable being rude to her because she’s a woman. I think he’s being rude because she’s there from the president’s office. I’m still giving the point, because she is a woman and subordinate, although not directly, and he’s being rude to her.

MPTF: 16

The president is in the Oval with his doctor, making adorably terrible grandpa jokes. We learn Morris Tolliver is going to Jordan to do something regarding a teaching hospital. More talk about his 10-day-old baby and that ancient technology known as a “photograph.” Morris Tolliver wants President Bartlett to cut back on red meat, dairy, and Scotch, so . . . all the fun stuff, really. President Bartlett starts talking to Morris as if he’s his barber or bartender. The president reveals that he’s uncomfortable with the military because he’s a peacenik who doesn’t feel violence toward his enemies, and Morris reassures him that he’s the commander-in-chief and also a smart guy. Morris preps a flu shot for him and the president jokes that it might not be the flu shot, it might be the start of a coup, and he wants the Secret Service in there right away. Morris gets in the line of the night – maybe the line of the series – when he says, “In the event of a military coup, sir, what makes you think the Secret Service is going to be on your side?”

Donna asks Josh about the next week’s football game and he dismisses her. 5. C.J. comes by and they walk and talk. C.J. insists that her talk with the veep went fine even though it does not appear that it did although, like I said, I don’t understand this plot. Josh reminds her that he wants anyone but Mandy for new media director, in case we didn’t already get where this was going.

MPTF: 17

Mandy is drunk and bragging about her education to her assistant. So more Bechdel test passing. But it’s just a one-point-per-episode thing. But Mandy does continue to be “feisty,” even with no male present, so 3.

MPTF: 18

Sam comes out of his office to give his assistant a finished speech that he then adorkably checks over one more time. Then he ducks into Toby’s office to tell him that he accidentally slept with a prostitute. Toby gives a fantastic pause and then says. “I don’t understand, did you trip over something?” Which ought to be the line of the night except that the Secret Service thing happened. Toby determines that Sam didn’t pay her, because OF COURSE Sam doesn’t get charged by the high-priced call girl. I want to give a 6 but I don’t want to deny Laurie’s right to have the sex of her choice when she’s off hours, and Rob Lowe is hella hot, even if my . . . heart . . . only responds to Toby, so I won’t. Toby also determines that Sam will want to reform her, and Sam gets up on his high horse about how he shouldn’t be judged for hanging out with her. We’ll hear a lot more of this in episodes to come.

The gang gathers in Leo’s office where it becomes clear very quickly that Leo was already on board with hiring a new media director and this was all really just to ambush Josh by immediately approving the hiring of Mandy. Josh insists many times that Mandy answers to Toby and to Josh. So now in the future when Josh is snotty to her we can give it a 5. And he will be.

Leo stops C.J. on her way out and C.J. continues to pretend everything is fine. Leo pretends to buy it.

The president is ready to go home. He discovers that Mrs. Landingham has confiscated some steaks that a delegation from the University of Nebraska left for him. She insists it’s doctor’s orders. Neither of them is particularly rude to each other. The president is annoyed but joke-y, and Mrs. Landingham can hold her own. The president wonders, if he has her and Morris Tolliver, what he needs a wife or a mother for? Because wives and mothers are the same, right? And their job is to annoy you with their trying to care for your health? 4. 

MPTF: 19

Mandy and Daisy continue to bemoan their lack of clients when Josh busts in and suggests, arrogantly and obnoxiously, that they come work for the president. Mandy pretends to be grateful and then punches him in the shoulder. 3. Listen, writers everywhere. Women punching men is not cute just like men punching women is not cute. Cut it out. Daisy is extraordinarily grateful and nice, so much so that I’m throwing up a 6 because even though this is a lifeline for her, she’s still over-the-top, to contrast Mandy’s continued feistiness 3. Josh tells her about his chain of command and she says, “In your dreams,” so 3 again. Basically every line Mandy speaks and every move she makes is a 3.

MPTF: 23

Margaret ducks into Leo’s office to announce the vice president and they are cordial enough for two minutes until Leo asks about his conversation with C.J. and the veep gets snotty. Leo calls C.J. a “good girl” for not telling him that the veep was rude, so 5. It becomes very clear that the vice president has a beef with the White House in general, so I’m still reluctant to give his earlier rudeness to C.J. a 5, but with this whole Leo-as-white-knight thing, I’m not comfortable taking it away.

MPTF: 24

Sam enters some swanky bar looking for Laurie. When he finds her at a table with two men and one woman who is presumably also an escort, he proceeds to get dangerously rude and weird and threatening. He introduces himself by his real name to the random dudes at her table and then threatens to call the attorney general. Laurie pulls him the fuck out of there but quick.

She’s furious with him and he’s clueless, asking her why she didn’t return his calls and offering to reimburse her for her fees that night. She storms away and he follows her because Aaron Sorkin also contributed to the idea of the Nice Guy. Then he tries to start a normal conversation with her about his day but she’s not having it, telling him she doesn’t need saving. He doesn’t care; he’s going to anyway. She eventually softens, for reasons passing my understanding. I think it’s when he tells her he doesn’t intend to sleep with her. This scene is so many kinds of wrong that I’m going to throw every number I can find at it. 3, 4, 6 (because his attitude doesn’t warrant her easy forgiveness), 8. If I could find more numbers, I would. What’s more, we haven’t seen Sam be this obnoxious before. In fact, he’s been the more awkward and sweeter of all the staff. So either Aaron Sorkin doesn’t realize this is obnoxious, or this scene is mirroring something Aaron Sorkin’s own life that he’s trying to justify, making Sam the Aaron Sorkin avatar that’s usually Josh’s job. Either way, seriously off-putting and misogynist scene.

MPTF: 28

A chyron tells us it’s 3:35 am and some part of the West Wing is abustle. That can’t be good. President Bartlett strides down his, like, outdoor hallway? in his sweatshirt. Josh, Toby, and Sam are with Leo and some military dudes. Then Leo leaves them to go talk to the president. Morris Tolliver is dead, along with several colleagues. The plane he was taking to Jordan was shot down by the Syrian defense ministry. The president is calm but terribly sad, and also, has lost his distaste for violence. He promises Leo, “I’m going to blow them off the face of the earth with the fury of God’s own thunder.” Leo does not look pleased by this promise.

Misogyny score: 28. Mainly due to the extreme feistiness of Mandy and that last awful scene. I mean, with Sam and the prostitute. Not the one that was a well-done but sad scene to set up the next episode.

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!


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!