Monday, December 29, 2008

Season 1, Episode 8: "Enemies"

Plot summary
: A crucial banking bill is at risk when political rivals of environmentally sensitive President Bartlet attach a land-use rider to it that would allow strip-mining some of the Montana wilderness while C.J. tries to stamp out rumors -- however true -- that the Chief Executive chastised the Vice President during a cabinet meeting. An overworked Leo isn't too keen on his independent daughter Mallory dating the handsome Sam. C.J. continues to fend-off the romantic charms of a perceptive reporter with a knack for sniffing out juicy stories. Former lovers Mandy and Josh clash over the administration's attempt to jettison the land-use rider that might ruin passage of the more important banking bill.

Click here to watch "Enemies"

Av --

I don't know if it's the absence of Sorkin as a credited writer (first time that's happened so far), but this episode seemed to lack a certain unifying theme or penetrating insight that the others seem to have. That said, there are still bits and pieces worth talking about. Back in "Five Votes Down," we discussed the ramifications of winning the actual battle but losing the PR one. This episode deals with that as well, the difference being that this time the staff is divided over when to concede, and at what cost. While Sam, Mandy, and ultimately Toby are willing to deal with the fact that House Republicans attached a rider to a bill just to rankle the administration, Josh is unable to let it go, and vows to find a way to "win." Then we're left with a conclusion that has Josh re-considering his motivations and admitting to the president that he feels their motivations in these battles has skewed towards vanquishing political enemies. The question I'm asking myself: is that such a bad thing? Granted, if Josh's entire agenda is solely competition-based (as Mandy would have us believe), he'd be hindering his boss's ability to legislate effectively. But within this "ulterior motive" couldn't there just be a desire to not have the White House look weakened (the importance of which is driven home in "Five Votes Down")? In fact, Josh always seems to have that exact principle on his mind: "I do give a damn about hanging a sign outside the White House that says, 'hey, Republicans in Congress, feel free to slap us around anytime you want just to show that you can.'" Josh may be incapable of accepting this kind of loss, but if it's for the right reasons, he shouldn't feel like he has to re-evaluate these feelings.

On a different note, it was interesting to watch some personal developments with Leo and Bartlet. Leo is not above using Sam as a pawn in his battle with Mallory. (Well played, by the way. His daughter trying to go out with one of his staffers was the perfect situation to teach her a lesson about the realities of his job, Machiavellian as said lesson was.) And as for Bartlet... shouldn't he have learned a thing or two about diplomacy by now? Whatever problems he has with Hoynes, how could he think it's a good idea to embarrass him for sport during a Cabinet meeting? Moreover, while we finally learn the background for their animus (brutal primary, followed by Hoynes embarrassing Bartlet by not immediately accepting the VP nomination), shouldn't they have figured out a way to work together? Obviously throughout history presidential nominees have chosen vice presidential nominees not based on credentials or merit but rather political need (nope, nothing recent comes to mind), but if that ticket happens to win in November, shouldn't the first order of business be to work out the differences between the two people at the top? I wish I knew more about president/vice president relationships to know how often - and to what degree - a situation like this comes up (I've read Bartlet/Hoynes has some roots in Kennedy/Johnson), but alas, until I catch up on my reading, I'll just have to watch and learn.

-- Binny


Binny --

I agree that this episode, much like Sam's birthday message, lacked a bit of panache. This could be because of the obscurity of the central issues that the episode deals with: a banking bill, which I don't think we ever have explained to us in any real detail, and the attachment of a land use rider, a move that I still don't fully understand. (If I am a congressman and want to block a bill from passing, can I attach an amendment to it that makes wearing red illegal?) It could also be because this episode does little more than recycle old storylines and themes a little too quickly: the president's petty quarrels with the VP, and Josh refusing to just take the win, instead needing a knockout punch. Didn't we just do this four episodes ago? Most likely, as you point out, it's because it wasn't written by Aaron Sorkin. Let's hope this trend does not continue as we go forward.

Still, there were some fun parts, including Leo using Sam (without his knowledge) to teach Mallory a lesson. Most striking was Leo's comment to Mallory that he "widowed" her mother the day he took the job. It seems like he has finally come to terms with what happened to his marriage and why, and seems remarkably comfortable with his decision. Watching the president's two chief speechwriters - and architects of his public message - struggle over a simple birthday card was lots of fun as well. It furthers the human element that these characters all share: sometimes the talent is just not there on a given day. Most of all, I enjoyed watching the more informal, somewhat playful interactions between the president and others in this episode, be it Josh, Charlie, or Mallory. I'm not sure I could get used to a relationship that allowed me to make jokes to someone about dumping his dead body but still required me to address him as "sir."

I once posted on a message board in response to this episode, observing that it was interesting that Hoynes takes credit for delivering the South for Bartlet when we know from "Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc" that they did not carry Hoynes' home state of Texas (although not because of the "hat joke," according to Bartlet.) Obviously, stuff like this happens, but it's still somewhat unusual, I think.


P.S. I particularly enjoyed watching and recapping this episode in the manner in which we are doing it in light of the Vice President's declaration in this episode that "the Internet is not a fad." We at Blogging "The West Wing" wholeheartedly agree.


Av --

It's not a birthday card; it's a birthday message.

-- Binny