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The West Wing: Galileo

"Wow, that happened fast."

Bartlet is very excited about a new unmanned space probe called 'Galileo V' that's due to land on Mars, and rather less excited about a night listening to new music performed by the Reykjavik Symphony Orchestra.

This is basically an episode about glorious failure, something human beings have got pretty good at celebrating over the centuries. Bartlet is crushed by the loss of the unmanned space probe Galileo, and his frustration is echoed by Sam and CJ, who are both having a really bad evening. Sam spends the evening trying to avoid a confrontation with Mallory, while CJ is being sulked at on all sides by people she rejected for a job. Meanwhile back at the White House, Leo is dealing with a secretive and rather creepily flirty Russian diplomat. Everyone becomes increasingly stressed and frustrated – a feeling pretty much all of us can surely identify with. But, while the point of the episode may be spelled out rather bluntly at the end, it's a point well worth making – we won't always succeed in everything we try to do, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. It's a pretty fundamental point for a show about trying to do good through politics.

What this episode is probably most memorable for in terms of longer story arcs is wrapping up the romance that never was between Sam and Mallory. It turns out that they haven't spoken since the picture of Sam and Laurie came out and she's now dating someone else (though Sam does manage to imply they might have communicated a little around the time his boss and her father's old friend got shot). It's a strange story, and doesn't really go anywhere – much like their entire romantic relationship, really. They have good chemistry together, so I'm not sure why their flirtation was written out – perhaps in favour of Ainsley – but it's nice to see it get a proper conclusion. It may not have been much of an epic love story, but considering the tendency for plots and, indeed, people to just peter out and disappear sometimes on this show, it's always good to see something given a bit of time and a firm, if under-developed, conclusion.

Most importantly, though, in this episode CJ wears an amazing blue and white Armani dress in which she looks absolutely fantastic. It is incredible. When I live in an apartment in Monaco and sail a yacht and own a collection of classic cars plus a really fancy MacLaren, that is the dress I will wear. Mallory looks good too, also in a beautiful blue dress. I love it when these characters get a chance to dress up.

Bits and pieces

 - Bartlet's description of how Galileo contradicted Aristotle's assertion that heavier objects fall faster is much more romantic than my high school physics teacher's version ("Galileo had different sized balls..." It came with the best revision advice I've ever heard, which was to make up a rude story to go with whatever you're trying to revise. That is the advice 16-year-olds need).

 - Bartlet is very proud of Galileo for contradicting Aristotle back in 1609. Aristotle claimed that, when women look into a mirror at a certain time of the month, the mirror turns reddish-brown. It worries me that it took until 1609 for people to start contradicting him.

 - I love that Bartlet wants to write to the composer whose music he enjoyed.

 - The shipping news: Josh (to Donna): Let's put you on a stamp. Donna (smiles adorably): OK. See also Toby's reaction to CJ's confident assertion that she's good in bed.

 - Goldfish bowl watch: The Mars Rover, apparently (I never spot these and certainly wouldn't recognise it! But this handy website lists all Gail's interior decoration in the first five seasons).


CJ: I strongly urge you, Mr. President, to act as moderator and pass the questions off to one of the experts on the panel rather than answer it yourself.

Bartlet: Scott. 'Unique' means 'one of a kind.' Something can't be very unique, nor can it be extremely historic.
CJ: While we're at it, do we have to use the word "live" twice in the first two sentences like we just cracked the technology?
Scott Tate: Look...
CJ: We're also broadcasting in living color, right?
I may start copying and pasting this into essay feedback.

CJ: The Kennedy Center is going to be packed to the Potomac with people I just rejected.
Leo: So is the bar at the Four Seasons.

Leo: Think of the whales.
Bartlet: Do they vote?

Mallory: We went to the moon. Do we really have to go to Mars?
Sam: Yes!
Mallory: Why?
Sam: Because it's next. Because we came out of the cave and we looked over the hill and we saw fire and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the West and we took to the sky. The history of man is a timeline of exploration and this is what's next.

CJ: I'm great in bed!

CJ: ...and depending on who those people were that were standing near me, the possibility of a story about me being good in bed.
Toby: Good in bed?
CJ: Yes.
Toby: Why?
CJ: Because I am.

CJ: Some of them don't go to the black board and raise their hand 'cause they think they're gonna be wrong. I think you should say to these kids you think you get it wrong sometimes, you should come down here and see how the big boys do it.
I might put this on student feedback too.

An important, if on the nose, message and amazing costuming. Two and a half out of four Armani dresses.

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


  1. West Wing reviews are going to go on hiatus for a little while, while I go teach people about ancient history and everyone enjoys all the new and returning shows in the Autumn line-up (I refuse to call it Fall!). We'll come back to the West Wing in 2015.

  2. You've done an amazing job this summer with the reviews, Juliette, so happy hiatus!

    Not much to say about this one (they're all good) but that I love that Bartlet is such a know-it-all. They're so consistent with it and it always makes me smile.

  3. Thanks! :)

    I was tempted to quote his bit about the President looking smart not being a bad thing, but I was too annoyed at the conflation of 'smart' (i.e. intelligent) and 'knowing stuff' so I left it out - but I do love that part of Bartlet's character. I definitely over-identify with him there!

  4. As you say, a bit on the nose but a great deal of fun. I love Donna and the stamp.

    Thank you, Juliette, for doing these reviews. It is always such a joy to revisit this show. Happy hiatus!

  5. I thought this was CJ's episode. The way she dispensed with the stamp issue and the green bean issue in one fell swoop, then came up with all that about Galileo V, all while looking fabulous ... great episode highlighting her talents. I got pretty frustrated with the guy she passed up for that job. He was way out of line and being a real sexist pig. Thankfully CJ got over her flusteredness quickly enough and dispensed with him too (and I liked how un-embarrassed she was by the subject of her bedroom prowess).

    One thing I loved about this episode is its shout-out to new music. I am a composer myself, and know how hard it is to get people to take living composers of "serious" music ... well, seriously. But there is constantly new, amazing music being written every year. So, simply the recognition that that happens was really nice.


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