The West Wing: The White House Pro-Am

"A dozen bodyguards. Everyone wants to get close, everyone wants a thing. Plus, and I say this standing fifteen feet away from the Oval Office: life with father couldn't have been a real company picnic. If it was me, just for now I'd make sure I was the one guy who was hassle-free."

The First Lady's agenda conflicts with the President's, and the threats against Zoey and Charlie are starting to take a toll on their relationship.

This episode is all about how difficult it is to be a family in the public eye, with a very public role. Bartlet, in a shocking display of lack of priorities, allows the stock market to go down by taking an extra day to name the replacement for a man who's just died purely because the obvious candidate is his wife's ex-boyfriend. Abbey pursues her own political agenda without checking whether it will compromise her husband's (and as Sam points out, it's he who has been elected, so his agenda should probably come first in this case) and sends messages to him via the press that have half the staff running around in circles all day. Meanwhile, Zoey is forced to cancel a date with her boyfriend because going out to a club opening together will put their lives at risk.

As you can probably tell from that summary, it's Zoey and Charlie's story that is the most compelling in this episode. Credit is due to Bartlet for the sensitive way he handles having to tell his daughter that people have been threatening her life and that of her boyfriend purely because of the colour of his skin. Bartlet is always joking about how he doesn't want Zoey to date anyone, but when a serious situation arises, not once does he suggest to her that they shouldn't pursue their relationship - only that they shouldn't attend a specific event because of a particular set of circumstances. He's also incredibly calm and reassuring in the way he talks to her, despite facing what must be every parent's worst nightmare - people threatening the life of his child.

Zoey herself also remains remarkably calm throughout, probably because she's still recovering from Bartlet's epic rant earlier in the season. Charlie is initially less calm, probably because it's his colour the white supremacists have a problem with (and because Zoey appears to be a somewhat demanding girlfriend even outside of the First Daughter thing - anyone who told me what suits to wear and expected me to read their mind as to what they wanted of me would probably not be around for long, whoever they were!).

However, he has a great moment with Gina in the restaurant as she points out that it's she who has to take the bullet. Although Charlie initially storms off, he's smart enough to realise that, while he might be willing to put his own life on the line for a principle, he's less willing to be so free with other people's lives. The sequence in which he comes to Zoey's room with videos and apologises is brilliant - Charlie focuses on his girlfriend, but the camera repeatedly flicks over to Gina, who is watching and listening to everything. The flowers Charlie brings are for Zoey - the videos are for Gina, an apology to her too and an opportunity for her to relax overnight, and it's very sweet.

There's a thread running through the episode about a book everyone has been reading, about what life was like a hundred years ago. It's a really nice way to unite some of the different scenes, and it highlights some of the important themes of the episode - both how far we've come (women are certainly much better off) and how far, as Charlie points out, we haven't. It's also nice to see the First Lady getting fleshed out a bit more with concerns of her own beyond her husband and his health (of which there was a nice reminder during their fight, as he light-heartedly says "I'm a man of questionable health"). Sam is right and Bartlet's interests do have to come first while he is President, but it's nice to know the First Lady has her own as well.

Bits 'n' pieces

 - British (?) people problems: I have absolutely no idea what the title means, and The Internet isn't helping.

 - Mandy is completely absent for the second episode in a row. No one misses her.

 - We see several First Lady's Chiefs of Staff over the course of the series, and they're all female. I can't decide if this is a positive portrayal of career women, a realistic portrayal of First Ladies who want to support career women and therefore deliberately hire female Chiefs of Staff, or kinda sexist. Possibly all three.

 - The shipping news: Josh and Donna have a rather charged moment discussing women's sexuality. Danny tries to have a moment with CJ but she's too busy.

Quotes

Josh: Why would anyone want to diminish a woman's sexual desires?
Donna: We can get out of hand.

Gina: You're looking at the girl whose job it is to jump in front of a bullet. I like it when she stays in the dorm and watches videos.

Danny: Sir, if makes you feel any better I just gave some very sage dating advice to Charlie Young.
Bartlet: You're coaching my Personal Aide on how to best score with my daughter? Yes, Danny, that does make me feel better.
Danny: Well, anything I can do to help, Mr. President.

A nice exploration of the difficulties surrounding life in the public eye (I feel really sorry for Obama's kids right now). Three out of four popular history books.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

4 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Interesting conflict between the president's staff and the first lady's staff. And the president and the first lady. "We just had our first oval office fight."

Danny gave Charlie some absolutely excellent romantic advice -- be the man in Zoey's life who is hassle-free, and it's not about you, Charlie.

The hundred years ago stuff was so clever, and woven so well into the story.

Juliette, "pro-am" is, I think, "professional and amateur". Would that refer to Zoey's bodyguards (professional) and Charlie (amateur)? That's a guess. I really don't know what the title means, either.

Juliette said...

Ah, OK. Does it mean the First Lady, maybe? As in, she's a professional amateur, doing political work without being elected or (presumably) paid for it? They reminded us she's a medical doctor in this episode as well...

Billie Doux said...

Could be. Maybe it's both?

ChrisB said...

A "Pro-Am" is a sporting event in which professional athletes and amateur athletes compete either against each other or together. The title becomes clear when you think of the scene between Sam and Abbey.

She is an amateur, trying to play with the professionals. Sam calls her on it and tells her in no uncertain terms that neither she nor her staff play at the same level as Bartlet and his staff.

As a doctor, I am sure that Abbey has never been called an amateur in her adult life. The look on her face is priceless and it, of course, leads directly to that first Oval Office fight.

I think the fight is a wonderful snapshot of the Bartlets' marriage. They fight; each concedes a point; they walk away from it with their arms around each other. This is a couple who obviously deeply care about the other.

Donna's response to Josh that you quote is one of my favorite in the first season. I love the little look she gives him as she sips her drink.