As is mightily apparent, I’ve pretty much stopped posting on this blog. Rather than let it go to waste, I’m going to use it to house writeups of my longtime whim to watch all the episodes of “The West Wing” and write about them. Sounds fun, I hope?
Note: I’m not sure yet whether I want to watch all the episodes in order or hop around through seven seasons and try to make sense of them that way. I’m starting out from the beginning for now, but I’m not ruling out the possibility that I’ll get restless and stray at some point.
Episode Title: "Lord John Marbury"
Season 1, Episode 11
"A" Story: So there’s this small matter of a potential military conflict between India and Pakistan, the crux of which is India flexing its nuclear muscles. This is all rather troubling for the President and his State Department and Joint Chiefs, particularly once a chat with the Chinese ambassador reveals that China might intercede on Pakistan’s behalf. In order to help the young administration’s understanding of the subcontinent crisis, Bartlet calls in the eccentric Lord John Marbury, British diplomat and thorn in Leo’s side.
"B" Story: In the immediate aftermath of the troop movements in India, Leo wants to keep the story away from the press, and Toby advises him not to tell CJ about it for her briefing. So she goes in uninformed and looks like an idiot in front of the press, and later like the President doesn’t trust her with important information. This leads to a rather serious CJ/Toby fight, where he makes the argument that she’s too chummy with the reporters (i.e. Danny), and she saying that she’s either a trusted member of the team or she’s not.
"C" Story: Josh is subpoenaed by a Rep. Claypool, who is running the investigation into drug use in the White House, which is in actuality a fairly transparent witch hunt into exposing Leo’s past Valium addiction. Josh takes in one rather tense session with Claypool, followed by a second one with Sam as his attorney, which gets fantastically punchy, almost literally.
- Zoey asks Charlie out on a date, leading to much comedic, paternalistic consternation from the President. Though when Leo calls him out on maybe having a racial base for his discomfort, Jed objects: “I’m Spencer Tracy at the end of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” The absolute apex of race relations in American history, to be sure.
- Mandy wants Sam to help her to convince Toby to let her take on a Republican Congressman as a client. Sam is sympathetic at first — the Congressman is a moderate, one of the “good ones” — but after accompanying Josh to the second deposition, he’s fairly well radicalized against the Republicans and shoots down Mandy’s request rather harshly.
- Roger Rees as Lord John Marbury. There’s no more problematic West Wing character that I absolutely love than Lord John Marbury. Sorkin presents him as this boozy, womanizing old cad but ultimately lovable. Even Leo’s objections to him take a weird 1950s paternalistic tilt (“You’re going to let him loose in the White House where there’s liquor and women?”). There are not a few times where it seems like Sorkin thinks he’s writing one of those screwball comedies that so inspired him, and Lord John is one of them. And yet … Roger Rees is so incredibly winning in the role! I met Roger Rees once, and he gave me a giant hug because he thought I was the boyfriend of a friend of his. I love Roger Rees.
- Ed and Larry! Bill Duffy and Peter James Smith make their West Wing debut as the interchangeable White House staffers, in this case trying to watch senior staff through the basics of India/Pakistan.
Guest Stars of Note: Oh, lots. Notable Hey! It’s That Guys Erick Avari, James Hong, and Iqbal Theba play the ambassadors from Pakistan, China, and India, respectively.
The Road to Mandyville: For once, Mandy gets to be the least cynical member of the team. Too bad it comes in an episode where the audience sympathy is being heavily weighted towards those assuming partisan battle positions. When even Sam is ceding the idealistic high ground, you know Mandy picked the wrong week to quit being a ruthless operative.
Odds and Ends:
- Lord John constantly referring to Leo as “Gerald” and mistaking (“mistaking”) him for the butler is one of my favorite running gags in this series.
- This episode really speaks to and more clearly defines the division of power in the staff, particularly that Toby is CJ’s direct supervisor and that when it comes to foreign policy, the need-to-know chain of command runs Leo > Josh > Toby > CJ and Sam.
- Mrs. Landingham has a cookie jar on her desk, naturally.
The Verdict: Lord John is a delight, but the real power of the episode comes from the senior staff. The CJ/Toby conflict is a great combination of the professional (CJ’s chumminess with the press would naturally come into question) and the personal (CJ thinks of Toby as a friend, so being lied to by him must sting). And Josh and Sam’s deposition scene with Claypool is incredibly tense and rousingly partisan. It’s tough not to come out of it hoping they crush Leo’s accusers.
Next Up: "He Shall, from Time to Time," where we learn a rather important thing.