The West Wing: And It's Surely To Their Credit

"You heard the news and you broke the White House"

Ainsley Hayes' first day at the White House does not run entirely smoothly for anyone.

I really hate starting new jobs. No matter how great the job is, no matter how much I want it and no matter how nice everyone is, every time I go in to a new job (which I've done a lot) I feel nervous to the point of nausea, intensely stressed, horribly socially self-conscious and fairly desperate not to talk to anyone in case I say something stupid. I feel more anxious starting new jobs than I do taking exams. A person starting a new job is really vulnerable. So the day Ainsley has in this episode is pretty high up there with my worst nightmares (close behind giant spiders) and I find the actions of several members of the White House Counsel's Office to be bordering on unforgivable.

Everyone complains about Ainsley being a Republican, but the real problem is probably that Ainsley wrote one of the op-eds following the revelations about Leo's alcoholism that complained he was dangerous and shouldn't be working in the White House, for which Leo has apparently forgiven her (probably for the same reasons he forgave the woman who leaked the story), but the others haven't. Luckily, although Sam is pretty rude to Ainsley himself at first (albeit in a less sexist and disrespectful way), our guys come through in the end and help her to settle in, and the Gilbert and Sullivan welcome party Sam, Josh and CJ eventually throw for her in her office is lovely.

CJ is one of the first to decide to give Ainsley a chance because she has decided the general negativity towards Ainsley is a sexism problem, and she's probably largely right. She also points out that it took her two years to wring respect out of some of her co-workers. She then spends half the episode having a screaming match with a four-star general who calls her 'kitten'. CJ wins, naturally (though considering he's wearing a medal he doesn't deserve, she had a pretty good weapon against him). While she doesn't interact with Ainsley directly until the end of the episode, the thread highlights that one of the ways she can help is simply to set a good example, an idea taken up by Abbey as well towards the end.

The fallout from the shooting continues to be handled with sensitivity and brilliantly acted. On the one hand, we have Josh being forced to sue his terrible insurance company and getting dragged into Sam and Toby's continuing attempts to get some kind of revenge on the organisation that shot him. Josh is pretty mad at them too, of course, but we can see from Whitford's performance that Josh is simply too intensely uncomfortable talking about it at all to be able to work up the fire that Sam and Toby have (he also frequently leans against walls and doors for security when talking about it). That doesn't mean he isn't deeply affected though - the reason he doesn't want to sue West Virginia White pride is because a lawsuit is simply too small a response to being nearly killed.

On the other hand, we have the hilarious running thread in which the President finds out he can finally have sex with his wife again after 14 weeks recovering from his own bullet wound, and the two of them spend the rest of the weekend desperately trying to find fifteen minutes and an appropriate location to get it on. It's lovely to see them so happy together and the whole thing is, of course, very funny from the moment Mrs Bartlet gives Charlie a message for the President that "we can have sex now", but it is also another small reminder of yet another of the many ways such a traumatic event continues to have repercussions for a long time afterwards.

The whole episode is drawn together with a theme of feminism and respecting women's achievements, which runs through all the various storylines and which, of course, I am very much in favour of. (This culminates in Bartlet having to wait an extra few hours for sex because he dismisses the woman whose statue Abbey went to Pennsylvania to dedicate; he gets a lecture on great American women instead. Go Abbey). It demonstrates a real willingness to address the problem of sexism in politics - the show might not always get it right, but it's not for want of trying. (And I'm fine with Sam's white knight moment supporting Ainsley, because what Ainsley desperately needed at that moment was someone to offer her some support and friendship. Plus it was awesome). Any episode that highlights the fantastic actresses and strong female characters on this show always gets a thumbs up from me.

Bits and pieces

 - While the way a lot of people treat Ainsley is horrific, I am quite amused by her office being in the Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue, partly because it looks just like the basement where our student radio station was when I was on the student radio committee at uni.

 - The White House Counsel, Lionel Tribbey, appears waving around a cricket bat the Queen gave him (why?!) in a towering rage and complaining that he was going to go on holiday somewhere nice and hot with little drinks with umbrellas sticking out of them and is now unable to. This will become relevant later.

 - The shipping news: Toby tells CJ she's beautiful in order to make a point, but it's also incredibly lovely and awkward and honest and I remain convinced he's madly in love with her.

- In related news, Donna sits in Josh's office to eat her lunch and steals his french fries.

- Donna's full name is Donnatella (I can't remember if that had been revealed already or not - Josh may have used it once or twice). Female version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Or the Renaissance artist, but I think I prefer the turtle.


Bartlet (after Tribbey yells at him in a room full of people): Well, obviously Lionel Tribbey is a brilliant lawyer who we cannot live without. Otherwise there would be very little reason not to put him in prison.

Josh: You could throw out the Bill of Rights.
Sam: Toby tried.
Josh: I was kidding!

Abbey: Your electrolytes and metabolic panels are within normal limits, chest x-rays are clear, and prostate screens are fine.
Charlie: Okay.
Abbey: So, we can have sex now.
Charlie: Okay, that’s not me and you now, right?

Ainsley: I'd like to do well on this, my first assignment. Any advice you could give me that might point me the way of success would be, by me, appreciated.
Tribbey: Well, not speaking in iambic pentameter might be a step in the right direction.

Bartlet (rushing off to have sex): Kids, I am so sorry. I have to go now, to a special meeting. Of the government.

Bartlet: Abbey, you have two minutes or I swear I'm going to get Mrs Landingham drunk.

Funny, sweet and big roles for Abbey, CJ and Ainsley. Four out of four statues of inspiring women.

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


Billie Doux said...

And yet a lot more Ainsley Hayes, whom I at least like more than Mandy. And there was Gilbert & Sullivan. How is it possible that an office like that exists in the White House? Am I hopelessly naïve?

Juliette said...

I thought her office was ridiculous until I saw out student radio studio - but then, the Guild of Students at the University of Birmingham is probably a lot less posh than the White House...

Marianna said...

I'm also a fan of:

Sam: I hate to stick my head in the lion's mouth, but I got to ask you: were you the Recording
Secretary of the Princeton Gilbert and Sullivan Society for two years?
Tribbey: No, but then again I'm not a woman, so?

ChrisB said...

John Larroquette is simply marvelous as Tribbey. Of course the chances that the Secret Service would have allowed him to barge into the Oval Office are nil, but I forgive the lapse as the scene is hilarious.

What I like about this episode is that we are shown that Josh, CJ, Toby, and Sam are all decent people. They may disagree with Ainsley, but they protect her. The final scene with Gilbert and Sullivan always makes me smile.

The President is a good person as well. I like the way he interacts with Donna who is only an assistant, not a member of his inner circle. He is sweet to her without being condescending.

Finally, the look we get at the Bartlet marriage is wonderful. All those years together and they still fancy each other. It's a breath of fresh air on television.