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The West Wing: The Lame Duck Congress

"I hear things, I don't understand most of it but I hear it."

Everyone considers whether to call a session of Lame Ducks, what to do with a drunken Ukrainian and how to avoid carpal tunnel.

Now well into recovery from the trauma of the shooting and with Ainsley firmly introduced, in this episode The West Wing settles back into the sort of episode that made up much of season one, featuring a selection of stories covering a day in the life of the White House.

The title refers to Toby's attempt to persuade the President to call an extraordinary meeting of the Senate during a period in which many Senators are lame ducks, in order to push through a new nuclear test-ban treaty, something Bartlet eventually decides against. I particularly like the scene with the Senator who refuses to vote because his constituents voted him out of office because they disagreed with him on this particular issue, though the story itself is becoming rather familiar by now (Toby sets himself a mission, everyone else has to talk him down).

Elsewhere, Josh is trying to deal with a drunken Ukrainian who wants to meet the President, which is quite funny, but I'm not quite sure why the guy needed to be drunk – this seems unlikely behaviour in a diplomat, even a minor one. Not during the day, anyway (fancy dinners or evening mixers are another issue all together). Still, Leo's explanation of the Dalai Lama method of accidentally meeting inappropriate people is well delivered and it allows Josh to have a bit of fun for the first time in a while.

Fortunately some decent but not overly exciting politics is livened up by some activity on the shipping front. It's not movement, exactly, because most romantic relationships on this show move at the speed of Internet Explorer, but there's definitely activity.

Sam and Ainsley are put together for the third episode in a row, and while they worked well together before, there seems to be a more distinctly flirty vibe to their interactions in this episode. Ainsley negotiates favours with Sam – which sounds dirtier than it is, but only by a little – and gets her way partly by doing him a favour, but mostly by telling him she "wants to learn from the master". And then does better at dealing with the guys on the Hill than Sam does, of course, because Ainsley rocks. She also reverses his position on a bill amendment instead of summarising it. She's the perfect foil for Sam's preferred form of flirting (intellectual sparring).

In a slightly more serious and rather less positive development, CJ is hurt that Danny refused a job offer that would have taken him out of the White House press room, while Danny can't see what the problem is. Both positions seem equally unreasonable, really; Danny can hardly arrange his career around a woman who keeps kissing him and then kicking him out, but at the same time a relationship between CJ and a White House reporter is not likely to end well, as they demonstrated in the previous season, and Danny seems to dismiss CJ's concerns on that front a little too easily. It's all very sad, really, but nicely played between Allison Janney and Timothy Busfield.

We also see a lot of Josh and Donna together, which could be said of most episodes, but this one does play up the particular closeness of their relationship. At one point it looks suspiciously like Josh slapped Donna's butt, but it was probably just the small of her back which is... slightly less harassy? I'm choosing to read it as a cute shippy moment rather than massively inappropriate office behaviour anyway, Josh and Donna's relationship is... special.

Bits and pieces

 - Danny is still alive! Leo didn't have him taken out back and shot after all. Not fatally, anyway.

 - This episode also introduces Ainsley's obsession with food, which, shall we say, does not show on her figure, but it's an amusing running thread.

 - British people problems: I am grateful to this episode for introducing me to the concept of a 'lame duck' – our entire government changes overnight when we have elections (which is fun if there's a hung parliament, for five days there in 2010 I'm not sure what was going on), so this was an entirely new idea to me.

 - Josh mentions the drunk guy is with a hooker and Sam looks worried and has to be reassured that it's no one he knows – but wasn't Laurie planning to leave the business after taking the bar exam? Maybe she wasn't able to work as a lawyer after being outed as a call girl...

 - Charlie is ogling and apparently considering whether or not the probably-a-bodyguard-not-a-hooker could kill him, which may imply that he and Zoey are no more.

 - Donna organises most the West Wing assistants to carry out a slow-typing protest against Josh and Leo dismissing repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome, because she is awesome.

 - Why is Bonnie taking a tour group round the White House? Isn't that the job of the "We're walking" people?

 - Bartlet asks Toby back to the residence to smoke cigars and play chess with him, which is nice.


Bartlet: Leo, would it be possible for just two of them to speak at once?

Bartlet: Charlie! Could I have a couple of aspirin, or a weapon to kill people with?

Donna: My value here is that I have no value.
Josh: You have enormous value to me. You have no value to Eastern Europe.

Danny: Look, I leaked your damn story for you.
CJ: You leaked it for me? I leaked it to you, pal. I used you like so much whatever.

Fun fluff and a little melancholy. Three out of four drunken Ukrainian diplomats.

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


  1. Another fun episode filled with, as you say, shipping news. I think Sam and Ainsley are a lot of fun to watch together. I like the way she is able to talk him around in this episode. It just emphasizes how smart and capable she really is.

    Josh hitting Donna's butt has always bothered me a bit as well. But, as you say, their relationship is "special."

  2. I agree that Bonnie's job probably does not include giving tours. Then again the same could be said for just about everything we see Ainsley do. I've accepted it as a strategy to keep the number of characters from getting overwhelmingly large.

  3. What did I learn from this one? That apparently the idiots in Congress know more than the American people do about nuclear arms tests? (Yeah, right.) That Ainsley Hayes just realized that she is working in an Important Place? (Duh.)

    Maybe it's just that it's somebody's job to turn off the lights after the President leaves the Oval. I never thought of that. The president doesn't have to turn off his own lamps. (Okay.)


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