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The West Wing: Enemies

“You’re quite a nerd, Mr President.”

Danny flirts with CJ, Mallory flirts with Sam, Hoynes is (as usual) cross, and Bartlet’s knowledge of National Parks comes in handy unexpectedly.

This is a strange episode. For one thing, it doesn’t have much of an A story. There’s a story about the President and Hoynes butting horns, a story about Sam, Leo and Mallory, something about CJ, Hoynes and Danny, too much Mandy and not enough Donna.

The most memorable story thread is probably Sam, Mallory, Leo and the opera tickets. It’s sweet that Sam checks with Leo before going out with Mallory, and it’s understandable that Leo is slightly discombobulated by his minion and his daughter using his and his ex-wife’s opera tickets. But what he and the President do to Sam is both extremely mean and a little bizarre. Leo seems to be trying to defend himself to Mallory concerning his divorce by ensuring that her date treats her the same way as he treated her mother, which is both cruel and really pointless – all Mallory is convinced of is that Sam is as bad as her father, dumping her for an unimportant task because he considers his job more important than his relationships. Leo ruins what might have been a good relationship for his daughter to make a point about his relationship with her mother.

Sam himself doesn’t come out of this brilliantly either, as although his dedication may be sort of endearing, if my date was a professional writer asked to write a birthday message, I’d expect him to do a bit of research, write the darned thing, and get himself to the opera. OK, the President kept rejecting his drafts, but still… the whole thing is just mean and bizarre. Mallory more or less gives up on Sam after this, and you can’t blame her. She’s better off without any of this lot – there’s a reason they only ever seem to date people they work with.

The title refers largely to generic politicking. Josh seems somehow saddened and a little surprised that they talk about ‘enemies’ so much. Now, maybe I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones and Spartacus lately; maybe The West Wing, with its adorable 1990s soft-focus optimism and low body count, is just a different show existing in a simpler world. But really, these people won the Democratic nomination and then a Presidential election without talking about enemies? That seems… unlikely.

It’s not surprising they have enemies, considering the way Bartlet treats people sometimes (and I don’t just mean keeping Josh up talking about Yosemite until 2am, though that did remind me of the time I tried to enthuse my housemate about The West Wing and she took one look at the scene where Bartlet forces everyone to stay late to eat chili and decided she couldn’t stand him). Bartlet is an utter jerk to Hoynes in this episode. Snarking him over what ‘their first goal’ is? (Hoynes suggests ‘finding a way to work with Congress’ and Bartlet insists it’s ‘serving the American people,’ which is like when you try to say the Pope is the head of the Catholic Church and some holier-than-thou points out that technically God is the head of the Catholic Church). Flat-out contradicting him (and implying that Cabinet meetings aren’t important)? Plus he’s horribly patronising to Mildred the minute-taker, it’s no wonder she tattled on him.

All of that said, take a look at the size of the ‘quotes’ section. And those are just the lines that were too good not to include. Even when the plot veers between unengaging and incomprehensible, even when the characters are at their most obnoxious, this is one of the best-written, wittiest shows on television. Even when they’re being pains in the neck, these people are a joy to spend time with.

Bits ‘n’ pieces

 - There’s a very interesting scene near the end where Hoynes demands to know what he ever did to Bartlet that made Bartlet hate him so much. Bartlet tells him ‘You shouldn’t have made me beg,’ referring to when Bartlet won the Democratic nomination and asked Hoynes to be his running mate. Hoynes refers to how much younger he is than Bartlet, that he’d expected to win – but we’ll learn more later in the show…

 - They’re having their first cabinet meeting in six months? Clearly the Cabinet in the US is not like the Cabinet in the UK.

 - Apparently, being a National Parks buff is a thing.

 - On which subject, this show also mostly predates the era when nerds became cool, though it wasn’t far off.


Bartlet: We’re through with work Josh. But this part’s fun!

Mallory: Father, you’ve gone round the bend.

Bartlet: I have an agriculture secretary who hasn't eaten a vegetable in his life.

Toby: Somewhere in this building, is our talent.

Danny: I’m a very good-looking guy, CJ. I mention that because it’s not something people notice about me straight away.

Sam: Like most people I am an absolute nut for Chinese opera… and what with your guarantee that there won’t be sex how can I say no?

Mandy: You guys are idiots, did you know that?
CJ: In our own defence, we actually do know that.

Mallory to Leo: Don't 'hey baby' me, you addle-minded Machiavellian jerk!

Mallory: You're so exactly like [Leo].
Sam: Well, that is the nicest thing you've ever said to me. Thank you.

Josh: We talk about 'enemies' more than we used to. I just wanted to mention that.

Odd, but the dialogue sparkles as ever. Two out of four tickets to Chinese opera.

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


  1. Nerds have always been cool.

    I barely remember this one. It was pretty much a throwaway ep and I was never a fan of the unnecessary drama Bartlet and Leo create for Sam and Mallory. But I do love it when Bartlet geeks out over something everyone else thinks is stupid. It's adorable.

  2. Although you're right about Bartlet and Leo taking the joke too far, it rings true for me. Here are two men who have not only sacrificed everything to be in the positions they are, they have demanded that their families do the same. It is especially difficult for their children, as we will see much more clearly later.

    Some part of them must be aware that their choices have these effects and they must be uncomfortable about them on some level. I think they are trying to show Mallory that they are not bad or evil men ("you made her mother cry"). The stakes are high; if they fail the consequences are severe.

    I do like the cold open. It always makes me smile. Whitford and Sheen have a wonderful chemistry that just shines.

  3. Bartlet just feels *too* exuberant. Where does he get the energy? And these people never go home. When do they sleep? I guess when you have the job of a lifetime, you don't mind working 24 hours a day.

    Bartlet hates the VP because the VP made him beg. Ah hah. But that can't be all because the VP is such an ass. How much of an ass is he? He yelled at C.J. That's an ass.

  4. Now, maybe I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones and Spartacus lately; maybe The West Wing, with its adorable 1990s soft-focus optimism and low body count, is just a different show existing in a simpler world. But really, these people won the Democratic nomination and then a Presidential election without talking about enemies? That seems… unlikely.

    Juliette, I think you've pinned down why I'm not connecting with this show. All the characters are idealists, and I just don't but that a bunch of relatively naive idealists managed to get to the White House.

  5. They are incredibly idealistic - I often feel like it's a bit like Star Trek set in the present day/the late 1990s, and without the spaceships. It does get slightly less idealistic after 9/11, unsurprisingly - season 3 onwards. It definitely reflects a period in American politics when the most pressing concern (as far as we could tell from here in Blighty) was with whom the President had slept.


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