Rather than any major focus, this episode follows several mostly separate stories running alongside each other, establishing the relationships between some of our major Season 1 players.
CJ, Leo and Hoynes
We learn in this episode that the President (and Leo) and the Vice-President do not get on, and that Hoynes resents his role and has been known to try to separate himself from Bartlet’s administration. CJ shows that she is a seriously classy act by defending Hoynes when he treats her like dirt, while Hoynes throws phrases like ‘your pal’ and ‘whipping-boy’ at Leo, who maintains all the authority in their scene by simply sitting and quietly telling Hoynes what’s what. Hoynes comes off as arrogant and belligerent, and this story effectively sets up his difficult relationship with our heroes without going into too much detail.
Sam and the call girl
Sam, having confessed his unfortunate mistake of the previous episode to Josh and Toby, tells them that he wants to contact Laurie again, because he likes her. Josh and Toby quite correctly assume that he wants to reform her and try, unsuccessfully, to stop him. When he visits her at work anyway (in the early part of the evening) it goes about as well as you might expect, but is redeemed a little by their conversation out on the street. He gives her his coat, which is always sweet, and to his credit, he apologises for his behaviour. It’s established that Laurie likes what she does and doesn’t feel victimised or pressured, which allows this storyline to continue to operate on a fairly light level for the moment, all cute smiles and witty banter.
Mandy loses her job when her client/boyfriend decides actually it’s not a great idea to challenge a sitting first-term President for his party’s nomination, and she behaves like a bad-tempered child. She complains about having banged up her BMW (something that was no-one’s fault but her own), boasts about her advanced degrees and squeaks and whines, all while her unfortunate assistant tries to point out that she (the assistant) is much worse off, since without this job she can’t pay rent or buy food. The assistant then tries to think of potential clients they could approach, while all Mandy does is go on about how young and cute she is. This might be one of the most despicable characters on television outside of shows about evil overlords or Nazis.
Mandy ends up hired by the West Wing because apparently no one else can deal with the media fallout from the President’s sense of humour. Josh pretends to be her saviour when in fact he complained loudly about her appointment, and their slightly awkward exes/co-workers dynamic is further developed from the foundations established in the pilot.
Bartlet, the joint chiefs, and Morris Tolliver
Bartlet spends most of the episode worrying that he doesn’t have the experience or the character to be Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, but turns himself around completely at the end, when he discovers that his friendly military doctor has been killed by terrorists in the Middle East. Morris Tolliver walks into the White House with pictures of his new baby and talks with Bartlet about his fears concerning his lack of rage. To misquote Galaxy Quest, does he ever watch the show? He might as well be wearing a red shirt.
This is the story which has seen the most movement by the end of the episode. Mandy has a new job and Sam has a new friend, but it’s Bartlet who undergoes a fundamental change of character, going from a man who couldn’t bring himself to feel violently towards his enemies to the man who delivers the line quoted at the top of the page. Ultimately, though, even this story is more about setting up the following episode, in which we actually see Bartlet navigating his first military attack, than it is about Morris or the events of this episode.
There’s some great dialogue in these forty-five minutes and it whips along quite nicely, but ultimately this isn’t an episode so much as a collection of set-ups for future plots. There’s nothing inherently wrong with serialised television (and the show would produce some spectacular serialised arcs in later seasons) but The West Wing in general tends to be stronger when there’s at least one major individual plot to provide some focus. More importantly, although this is only the second episode, really no episode after the pilot should be entirely composed of set-up with no pay-off.
Bits 'n' pieces
- The title is Latin and means ‘after the thing, therefore because of the thing.’ Although used within the episode, it doesn’t really apply to any of the plots except Bartlet’s, and that story contradicts his own assertion that it’s hardly ever true, as Bartlet’s rage is most definitely caused by Morris’ death.
- Hoynes’ French accent is terrible.
- The title music is slightly different in this episode. It’s strangely disconcerting.
Mandy: I could kill you with my shoes! OK, Mandy’s not all bad.
Lloyd Russell: There are very serious men and women in the White House….
Josh: Victory is mine, victory is mine!... Bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land!
Toby: Sarcasm's a disturbing thing coming from a woman of your age, Mrs Landingham.
Mrs Landingham: What age would that be, Toby?
Toby: Late twenties?
Bartlet: C.J. on your tombstone, it’s going to read, ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc.’
CJ: OK, but none of my visitors are going to be able to understand my tombstone.
Bartlet: Your wife’s beautiful too. How’d you get her to marry you? Did you trick her or something?
Morris: In the event of a military coup, sir, what makes you think the Secret Service is going to be on your side?
Bartlet: Now that's a thought that's going to fester.
Fun but incomplete. Two and a half out of four of the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.