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The West Wing: Mandatory Minimums

"The President ate his Wheaties this morning."

Still fired up from last week, everyone pushes their agenda hard, while dealing with the personal repercussions of Mandy's infamous note.

This episode is all about relationships. In the fallout from last week, CJ is snubbing Danny (literally and figuratively) and everyone is shutting Mandy out (meaning we get only one brief scene with Mandy, which is a positive). Leo sets Toby up on a 'date' (actually a political meeting, but apparently these guys can't meet with a women they find attractive without it being a 'date') with his ex-wife, a Congresswoman he seems to be on pretty good terms with – a little stand off-ish, but Toby's like that with everyone. Meanwhile, Sam is threatened by someone who knows about Laurie and he doesn't even realise he's being threatened, which is kind of adorable if not a very good quality in a political operative.

In the most significant romantic story in the episode, Q and Joey Lucas are back, but no longer together, and Josh has got dressed up in a fancy suit for Joey (it looks pretty much the same as all his other suits to me, but my Dad assures me it is indeed a nice suit). Then he acts like an ass again because that is Josh's way of trying to look like he isn't romantically interested in her. All of which culminates in Kenny yelling "I'm not sleeping with Al Kiefer any more" in front of the entire office, which is very amusing. Luckily Josh later fixes it in an absolutely adorable scene in which he gives Joey a coffee mug (a sign of true love if you're a coffee addict like me) and they talk for a few minutes without Kenny.

As the episode draws to a close, Leo visits the President while he's in bed to worry about his history with drugs and how it affects what they're trying to do with drug laws. This culminates in everyone coming in to the President's bedroom and he has to give them one of his inspirational speeches from his bed (Sheen subtly alters the tone of his voice when he gives these speeches, and hearing him do it from the bed is hilarious). He tells them to let Mandy and Danny back in as well, since they were only doing their jobs.

Aside from being very funny, the scene emphasises the closeness of the relationship between the President and his staff. The show often implies that these people are a surrogate family for each other, something many TV shows do, partly to emphasise how close the characters are and partly in order to avoid needing to explain where all their actual family members are when dramatic things happen. That's why there are Godfather references scattered throughout the episode, because this group of people are becoming a business-focused family. We've already seen Leo lose his wife because of his devotion to Bartlet and his White House, and Charlie is dating Bartlet's daughter, but this is where we see the idea really crystallising, as all the kids run in to Dad's bedroom to tell him about their problems, apologise for a minor mistake (CJ) or tell him about their possible new girlfriend (Josh). Above and beyond all the romantic relationships, these connections between the staff and the President are the relationships that really matter.

Bits 'n' pieces

 - I love Margaret fiddling with her pencils before sitting down. I love how this show gives some of the background characters, especially Margaret, colour and life and their own quirks and characteristics, and NiCole Robinson's performance is great.

 - CJ agrees with a reporter that the F.E.C. is "toothless" and the appointments symbolic, so the real way we've moved on from last week is that instead of accomplishing nothing at all, we're now making symbolic but ultimately meaningless gestures. That's politics.

 - Josh references The Godfather, but it also gets a visual shout-out when Leo tells Margaret "don't worry about it" and shuts the door on her when she asks what seven particular people have in common – though I'm not sure they thought that one through, as the closing shot of that film wasn't exactly meant to be a positive thing.

 - Toby and Andy's 'picnic' is largely an opportunity for some gorgeous location filming on the Potomac.

 - The title refers to the debate about drug laws and their enforcement, and about the racist nature of mandatory minimums, that runs through the episode.


Josh (re his advice to a Senator to "take your legislative agenda and shove it up your ass"): That's how we do things in New England, my friends!
Bonnie: In Indiana, we're not allowed to talk like that.
Ginger: In New Jersey, we encourage it.

Sam: She broke your heart. You know, the way women can do. Where they take your heart and they throw it on the floor and then they stomp on it with their big high heels. She's a very beautiful and interesting woman. I can see why a lot of guys would go for her. You know, there's nothing at all I'm saying now of any value.

Sam: Toby, is this what you meant when you said, "Sam, you're completely in charge of this"?
Toby: Yes, I meant, you're in charge of this, in the sense that you're subordinate to me in every way.

Josh: This is your desk. You got a phone. You got a computer. You got access to a staff. I know how women like to personalize their desks with flowers, and plants, and hand lotion, but I prefer the place to be professional.
Joey/Kenny: Your staff likes to decorate their desks with hand lotion?
The sexism grates, but he gets called on it. I want some hand lotion for my desk now.

Andy: Toby, I've got really good pie. It's homemade.
Toby: You baked a pie?
Andy: No, I didn't mean I made it in my home.

Bartlet: Sometimes I call my wife Dr Bartlet... just for the turn-on (complete with suggestive eyebrows).

The cast is really starting to gel here. Three and a half out of four adorable coffee mugs.

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


  1. Letting Bartlet be Bartlet means Josh is free to tell a senator to shove it. I'm ready for more of that.

    Except then Josh is a total sexist jerk with Joey Lucas because he's peeved that she slept with Al what's his face John deLancie. Josh, please don't be a jerk with your workmates. Be a jerk with Bartlet's enemies only.

    That discussion of mandatory minimums being racist is sad, because Obama finally just did something about it. And how long ago did this episode air?

  2. This is a really fun episode, if only for the introduction of Andy who is a fabulous foil for Toby. I can so see them together.

    I never thought of the final scene as the "kids" coming to see "dad.' Great analogy and dead on.

  3. Billie, if it helps, nearly everything mentioned in 1980s sitcom Yes, Minister is still an issue in British politics and could practically be ripped from current headlines! (We've found exactly three things that have changed, happily all for the better - it's now OK to say that smoking kills people, apartheid ended and the situation in Northern Ireland is nowhere near as bad as it was, so that's something. But from 5 seasons of TV, it's not a lot!)


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