The West Wing: In This White House

"The people that I have met have been extraordinarily qualified, their intent is good. Their commitment is true, they are righteous, and they are patriots. And I'm their lawyer."

Bartlet is impressed by a Republican lawyer who shows Sam up on a TV show and orders Leo to hire her for the Counsel's Office, over everyone's protestations.

Oh my feelings about this episode, how they are mixed. On the one hand, we have Ainsley. Who is awesome. I love her. She is smart, caring and hilarious, and I love her accent. She's so perceptive, she realises what's up with CJ even before she's met her properly. And Mark the TV guy's patronising of her at the beginning of the episode is, of course, deliberate, since she's about to show just how much he's underestimated her by wiping the floor with Sam.

On the other hand, the sheer volume of references to Ainsley's gender, hair colour and legs is just... too much. A certain amount of jokes about Sam getting his ass kicked by a girl might have been OK, on the grounds that this is how these characters talk (and I'm not a total wet blanket, some of them are funny - it's all in the delivery). But the sheer number of these jokes, plus Bartlet's odd emphasis on the word 'woman', goes way overboard, not to mention C.J. of all people telling Sam there's 'a whole bunch of women over there' who can tell him where Kirkwood is, which sounds completely wrong - no woman would ever say that. Even Ainsley's friends assume she's being hired for her looks. And Sam gets so jumpy about the teasing he starts to react to 'Hey, Sam' and thinks everyone's having a dig at him, which seems extreme for one slightly embarrassing TV appearance. We're back to almost embracing feminism, but not quite - the will is there, but there's a lack of awareness of the really insidious, subconscious undercurrents of sexism that need fought too.

Of course, Ainsley's purpose in the show is not actually related to her gender (or hair colour), much as the dialogue is often determined that it is. The actual point of Ainsley's character is to provide a Republican voice on a solidly Democrat show. She is there to provide something resembling balance on a show that is proudly left-wing and set in a definitively Democrat White House. She's there to remind us that not everyone who supports a right-wing political party is a racist, sexist, homophobic gunslinger and that is a really important role. It can be too easy to demonise the opposition, especially in a show that wears its political heart on its sleeve as clearly as The West Wing does, but Ainsley reminds us that neither side is right about everything and that most of us are just doing the best we can.

Bits and pieces

 - President Nimbala, in the White House to fight for AIDS medicine for his country, is really awesome and therefore, of course, really doomed. (See also: Maurice the doctor from season one. I'm better at picking up on sexism than racism, but black characters don't always have a long life on this show - even Charlie was shot at. Hopefully we'll see more of the ace Nancy McNally soon).

 - It's interesting that Bartlet is the one who wants Ainsley and Leo objects (mildly) - but to everyone else, Leo presents it as his idea and he is the one they're all complaining to. This continues their dynamic from 'Let Bartlet be Bartlet', when everyone thought Leo was holding back but Leo complains to Bartlet that it's actually the President who's holding back.

 - CJ got lost on her way to work, which I would be fully capable of doing. In fact, I have done. My work is a five minute drive away. (In my defense, a road was closed).

 - Mark the TV guy asks after Josh in the cold open, which is a nice way of acknowledging that no, we haven't forgotten his recent life-threatening injury, plus it humanises Mark the TV guy.

 - Bradley Whitford also plays Josh's muted, controlled but intense reaction to Sam and Ainsley's argument about gun control beautifully.

 - Gail's bowl watch: I missed it, but apparently it's aeroplane fuselage.


Josh: Toby. Come quick! Sam's getting his ass kicked by a girl!
Toby: Ginger, get the popcorn!
This is so sexist on several levels, but it is funny.

Bartlet (to Charlie): When they close the book on me and you, it will say that at this moment you were not there for me, and for that, obviously, there'll be some kind of punishment.

CJ: I rode the Lifecycle this morning for an hour and a half. If it was a real cycle, I'd be in Belgium by now.

Ainsley: You have my FBI file? I have an FBI file?!

Ainsley: I'm not going anywhere, I'm standing up, which is how one speaks in opposition in a civilized world.

Great introduction for a promising new character - just dial back on the 'girl' jokes, please. Three out of four FBI files.

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...

Wow. It must be time for a token rational Republican who actually cares about education. I only wish today's Republicans were anything -- anything! like Ainsley Hayes.

I had more -- a long rant written out -- but I'd better not post it. :)

Billie Doux said...

Let me add -- I've gotten lost trying to get home from work. And that was because (a perfect comment for an episode of The West Wing) the President was in town (Los Angeles) and traffic was tied up in every direction. I kept going further and further west trying to find a street that wasn't gridlocked, and ended up wandering for quite awhile. I think that was the day it took me over two hours to drive seven miles home.

So I get C.J. getting lost, too.

Juliette said...

I had similar problems when the Tory part conference came to Birmingham!

There's a lot less difference between the political parties here in the UK (the main three are almost identical at this point) so I think it's hard for British viewers like me to understand just how deep the divide is in the States.

Juliette said...

party, not part. I can't type lately!

ChrisB said...

I completely agree with all your comments about the sexism in this episode. Yet, one of the things I love most about Ainsley (she’s one of my favorite recurring characters) is that (a) she is fully aware of what people say about her, (b) she is fully aware of the sexism rife in those comments, but (c) she rises above it all by being smarter than just about anyone in the room. She is awesome.

I think this episode does a better than usual job of showing both sides to a variety of arguments. The drug companies, so often portrayed as evil incarnate, get to tell us their point of view and some of what they say makes sense. How the money should be spent on education is valid. Even the gun debate works because both sides are represented; although in this instance, Ainsley is just wrong.

Like Billie, I will refrain from my usual Second Amendment rant.


Marianna said...

This is one of my favorite episodes even though I completely disagree with everything Ainsley says.

FYI, in reality the White House Counsel's Office is supposed to be nonpartisan so hiring a Republican to work there wouldn't be a big deal because there would already be many Republicans working there. In the past people have gotten in trouble for trying to weed out people from the opposition party in the Counsel's Office. But, hey, that's TV. =)

Kathy said...

Actually, I think a lot of Americans are confused with the deep political divide that's going on now. Most normal Americans, although they do tend to support one political party over the other, just wants to see our government accomplish something! Anything! The divide is all over the government and a few fringe groups. However, they're the ones who get the most attention!

Now, going to The West Wing--

I always loved how TWW (and Bradley Whitford) played Josh's reaction to his shooting. He was always so understated, yet you could definitely see the cracks in the facade that Josh keeps putting up. So, what will end up happening in the end of the first half doesn't come out of left field--the groundwork was in place from this episode.

(By the way, I love Ainsley as well!)