The West Wing: Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

“I’m not frightened. I’m gonna blow them off the face of the earth, with the fury of God’s own thunder.”

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

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.

Quotes

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: Hypnosis.

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.

7 comments:

sunbunny said...

I like watching older shows and seeing what recognizable faces pop up. Captain Montgomery! Francie! Cuddy!

Josh is just adorable in this episode, like he manages to be in most episodes.

I love how the president is constantly trying to explain useless but interesting things to his staff and they just get annoyed. It adds something to Bartlet's character and shows how close he is with his staff.

Mandy needs to go away. Now.

ChrisB said...

Great review, Juliette. Re-watching this episode again, I was struck by how little actually happens, but it is important in setting up the relationships that will only develop as the first season continues.

I agree with you completely about Mandy. The only reason I can come up with as to why Sorkin added her to the cast is that there was a lot of testosterone flowing and he wanted another strong woman character. Unfortunately, she is so unpleasant that it rather negates what he was hoping to achieve.

You caught all of my favorite quotes, except one. It is the tag at the of Josh's gloating. Donna, while hanging up her coat, says almost to camera, but with a smile, "It's going to be an unbearable day." I always think this sums up their relationship beautifully.

Juliette said...

I'm so glad people feel the same way about Mandy! I feel bad for hating on her so much but she really is awful. I think Sorkin got better at integrating more female characters as he went along, writing people who don't have to be exes of male characters or go on and on about themselves all the time. It always bothered me a bit that the women were all in media roles too, like we can maybe handle arranging the way we get the men's message out to the world, but not actually forming that message. That got better in later seasons too of course!

Billie Doux said...

Sorkin created CJ, arguably one of the best female characters ever. So I forgive him for Mandy.

Iago said...

The only explanation I can conjure for Mandy is that Sorkin wasn't sure what direction he was going to take the West Wing in originally: whether it was going to be idealistic/moralistic or a more cynical take. Mandy fits in with the latter, the problem being no-one else does. Mandy is just awful, so out of step with the others.

The early WW episodes do take some time to bed in but they do a good job at establishing the basics of the characters.

Have to say having my favourite TV show featured on one of my favourite websites is pretty fun.

Billie Doux said...

I'm doing a rewatch, so I have a comment!

That long scene with the president confiding in Morris and Morris giving him advice was lovely, beautifully acted. Morris was so obviously a red shirt, but it still made me sad.

Hate Mandy. Such a shame, too. I hate it when I don't like a strong female character. Maybe because she was an uncomfortable caricature. Or the actress played her that way.

Bradley Whitford's Josh Lyman is so wonderful, and Sam Seaborn was a jerk in this episode. Why is Rob Lowe getting top billing?

Josie Kafka said...

This was good, but I'm still not feeling the love yet. Morris was obviously a red-shirt Magical Negro. He practically had an "expires within 45 minutes) tattoo on his forehead. And I thought Rob Lowe's actions and his attempt at apologizing were really creepy.

Is this just not the show for me?