1:30am in the Oval Office and Josh is revisiting the ghosts of geography lessons past as POTUS lectures him happily about the American National Parks. There are fifty-four, apparently, and Bartlet has visited all of them (Bartlet family holidays must be non-stop parties). Josh is half-asleep already and doesn’t take his boss’ suggestion of a staff trip to Shenandoah very well, muttering that it would be as good a place as any to dump the First Corpse. I’m with you, Josh. I bet POTUS is a bird-spotter, too.
The first scene of the episode proper opens with Leo and Mallory having a very expensive breakfast together. We find out from dialogue that Leo is still living in a hotel, and that Mallory isn’t much interested in acting as envoy, diplomatic or otherwise, between her parents. A Congressman drops by to congratulate Leo on the upcoming passage of the banking bill they’ve been working on. Leo is tetchy that Mallory won’t tell him news from Jenny, and accuses her of not being supportive about the bill. Mal informs her father that he has gone “round the bend.” The family McGarry clearly aren’t in the best shape these days. Leo lets Mal have a pair of opera tickets that should’ve belonged to him and Jenny, which is quite poignant (to me, anyway, but then I kind of want to adopt Leo). Hmmm. I wonder whose day she’ll ruin with those.
Back at the office, Mrs. Landingham and CJ are having a laugh about POTUS keeping Josh up all night talking about national parks, when the geography buff himself bursts out of the Oval announcing that they’ve “beaten the banking lobby!” CJ seems a little more skeptical. Mrs. L. informs Bartlet that he has a call holding, which luckily saves CJ her very own parks lecture. POTUS proclaims that he has to take the call in order to gloat about the bankers, and Mrs. Landingham just shakes her head fondly.
In the Roosevelt Room, Vice-President Hoynes is chairing a Cabinet meeting. He announces that they only have them every six months and so they should come up with new ideas and opportunities and all that guff, and that their first priority should be to find a way to work with Congress. At this point Bartlet enters, jovially greeting his cabinet and pretending not to notice that Hoynes looks like he’s just bitten a lemon. Bartlet introduces himself to the meeting’s secretary, Mildred, and asks to hear the minutes of what’s been said so far. When Mildred gets to Hoynes’ remark about Congress, POTUS stops her and gives Hoynes a schoolteacher look before asking if their first priority shouldn’t be to serve the American people. And screw what Congress thinks, he doesn’t add, but I’m fairly sure he’s thinking it.
Anyhow, the Cabinet meeting rolls on, but we leave to join Sam and Toby, who are both entrenched up to their necks in writers’ block, and very frustrated. Josh sticks his head around the door to ask if either of them have heard anything dubious about the banking bill. “We’re having difficulty locating our talent,” says Toby. “It couldn’t have gone far, right? Somewhere in this building is our talent.” Sam doesn’t look overly reassured.
My favourite reporter Danny Concannon is still trying to get CJ to give him White House gossip – in this case, that POTUS went off on Hoynes in front of the Cabinet – and to go out on a date with him. Conflict of interest be damned, say yes, woman! Danny’s a sweetheart. Plus, as he tells her, he’s good-looking, likes food, is a great conversationalist, and can kayak. What a catch.
Later on, Hoynes seems to have recovered from his temporary embarrassment, and we find him talking to a group of IT people about how the internet “is not a fad.” Oh Veep, 2011 applauds your prescience. Danny trots up like a particularly persistent Jack Russell to try to worry some news out of Hoynes about the Cabinet meeting, but Hoynes isn’t playing ball.
Danny’s question has CJ somewhat rattled, and she goes to ask Sam if he’s heard any rumours floating around. Sam starts to get into the conversation, but gets distracted when he sees Mallory standing outside his office. She’s come to ask him to the opera – the Beijing opera, to be precise. Sam declares a newfound adoration for Chinese operatic works, but Mal punctures his bubble with a clear declaration it isn’t a date as there will, under no circumstances, be sex for him at the end of the evening. “Hey, you know what’s good about this?” says Sam. “If you hadn’t come along with your offer of Chinese opera and no sex, all I’d be doing later is watching Monday night football, so this works out great for me.” Mal leaves, with the hint of a smile.
CJ is still annoyed that Danny seems to have gotten a lead on the Cabinet meeting story, so she goes to ask Leo if it’s true. Leo says it’s nothing, but both he and Sam agree that it must have been Hoynes who leaked the gossip. CJ asks Leo what to do about it, but he just tells her to deal with it. “You’re a real details man, aren’t you, Leo,” says CJ, as she leaves.
Sam is still sitting in front of Leo’s desk, looking somewhat nervous. When Leo pushes him to spit out what’s bothering him, Sam tries to explain – badly – that Mallory asked him out. Leo can’t quite believe it, and this gem of an exchange occurs:
Leo: Mallory, my daughter…
Leo: …has asked you…
Leo: …to go to the opera using the tickets that used to belong to me and Mallory’s mother…
Leo: …the woman who used to be my wife?
Sam: Leo, for whatever it’s worth, she’s made it very clear we won’t be doing anything tonight you’d have a problem with.
Leo: Like what?
Sam: Why don’t we stay away from that?
Leo: Best that we do.
Sam makes good his escape, and Leo is left shuffling papers and muttering “fine” distractedly to himself. Sam is a braver man than I, here. I wouldn’t ever ever ever want to tell my boss I had even contemplated doing said problematic things with one of their kids. Mind you, I don’t think I’ve ever had a boss with a daughter as cute as Mallory.
Moving swiftly on! Hoynes is pontificating at another group of reporters, this time about space flight and missions to Mars. He is abusing astrophysics mightily, so we won’t go into details. CJ has been lurking in the background, waiting to ask Hoynes about the leak. Hoynes says he’s insulted that CJ would insinuate that the Vice-President would leak anything from a Cabinet meeting, “whatever regard [she holds] for [him] personally”. Cold! CJ amends “sir” to her response and gives Hoynes the side-eye as he bustles off.
Toby and Sam are about to start writing a statement on the passage of the banking bill when Josh comes in with bad news – two Congressmen, Broderick and Eaton, have attached a land-use rider which would give them permission to strip-mine all of Montana. I don’t entirely understand this process, but that sounds capital-B Bad. Sam is nonplussed, announcing that they – the administration, “they” – don’t care, but Josh is determined not to let the Congressmen get away with this. POTUS isn’t going to be happy.
A reporter at CJ’s press briefing has already heard about the attachment of the land-use rider, and she hurries off the podium to get Toby and find out what’s happened. Danny follows her again, bugging her with questions, until she finally snaps at him, “First of all, you’re wrong. Second of all, shut up. Third, I went to Hoynes with your thing and he said he wasn’t the one who talked to you and I believe him and he’s really pissed at me and he’s right, and fourth, shut up again.” To which Danny responds by asking her out again. I love Danny!
The boys, meanwhile, are having an argument in the Oval Office. Bartlet looks like he’s going to flip his lid when he hears about the land-use rider and the threat to the Montana countryside. I’m fairly sure that wherever they are at that moment, Eaton and Broderick feel a cold wind whistle past their necks. Sam is adamant that the White House should plunge ahead with the bill despite the rider, as they aren’t overly concerned with either the environmental lobby or the opinions of Montana voters. Josh, however, thinks it would set a terrible political precedent to let the Congressmen away with this, and that Bartlet should veto. Toby just wants a few hours to work on the problem. Bartlet grants him as much, with the added warning that he doesn’t like these people, and he doesn’t want to lose.
Later on, Bartlet wanders into Leo’s office as Leo is sitting reading. POTUS is in the mood to chat, at sixes and sevens because Abbey isn’t around. Bartlet asks after Mallory, and Leo confesses that his daughter is pissed at him. Bartlet tells him it’s to be expected – Mallory has only seen that her mother has been hurt by Leo and his dedication to his job. No one outside the White House could understand exactly how much Leo has on his plate – even some people who do see it, day to day, don’t believe it. Bartlet’s right, even if he is being a bit Bartlet about it. It’s unfair of Mallory to take things out on her dad, but then again, all she’s seeing is that her parents’ marriage has been broken up by what looks like her father’s stubbornness, and in that, you can’t particularly blame her for her annoyance. Leo seems to accept this too, although he thanks Bartlet drily for throwing a ray of sunshine onto his problem. They look at each other in a somewhat world-weary manner, and swap reassurances that they’ll be “right next door all night”.
Mandy turns up for the first time this episode to harass Josh about the banking bill. She tries to tell him that he shouldn’t give a damn about this attachment because he doesn’t care much about the environment. I’m getting frustrated with the staffers’ blindness to Josh’s fundamental Joshness, here. Maybe the issue doesn’t concern him much, but Josh is incapable of taking a political hit. For him, this isn’t about Montana or bankers or lobbyists – it’s about the White House not conceding ground.
Charlie also makes a late entrance, bringing a message from the President for Leo. Charlie is still calling Leo “Mr. McGarry” here, which is cute. POTUS wants Leo to get a communications staffer to write a message for the deputy transportation secretary’s fiftieth birthday, which auspicious occasion is apparently usually marked by a Presidential letter (you learn something new every day). Leo is about to tell Charlie to staff it out, when he gets a glint in his eye and ever-so-innocently requests that Charlie give the task to Sam instead. Sneaky, Leo.
I want to pause for a second here and acknowledge that yes, Mallory is a grown woman, and really Leo has or at least should have no say in who she dates. I don’t think he would’ve gone as far as trying to actively mess with their night if they hadn’t been tetchy with each other earlier in the day, though – and although it didn’t occur to me the first time I saw this episode, I’m now fairly sure that POTUS’ request was an invitation to have some fun at Sam’s and Mallory’s expense. Not that this is particularly nice, but then, it is Bartlet.
Anyway – Charlie wanders out and finds Sam, who’s blabbing somewhat nervously about his date preparations for the “excruciating” night of opera ahead of him. Charlie hands over the message, to which Sam asks if Leo didn’t want someone else who wasn’t “staggeringly overqualified” for the job. Having twenty minutes before he’s due to meeting Mallory, Sam goes into panic mode and whirls into his office, asking an assistant to prepare a quick memo telling him about the guy whose birthday card he’s about to write.
Mandy has moved from annoying Josh to annoying Toby. They’re arguing about the banking bill and it’s all very he-said/she-said, with CJ as something of a grown-up-slash-mediator. Toby says he needs to work, and CJ and Mandy leave, discussing Danny’s leak and story. Mandy tells CJ to offer Danny half an hour of time with POTUS in exchange for leaving the Hoynes story alone, then tries to enlist the other woman’s help with dissuading Josh and Toby from fighting the rider. CJ – FINALLY – makes the point that this sort of fight is exactly what Josh and Toby like getting their teeth into, and Mandy isn’t going to change that. Mandy calls them all idiots and huffs off; CJ replies that in their own defense, they are aware they’re idiots.
Sam has banged out the birthday letter and is showing it to Bartlet in the Oval, hoping desperately to be allowed to leave on time. Bartlet is having fun, however, and says that Sam should take the letter back, really go over it and make it special. Sam is dismayed, but he can’t disobey a direct request from POTUS. On the way back to his office, he runs into Mallory, who’s dressed beautifully and ready to go. Sam asks her to accompany him back to his office, trying to find a way to tell her that he’s going to have to be late.
CJ finds Danny working late in the press room, and offers him Mandy’s deal. He demurs a little, but agrees. He also drops the hint that it was Mildred, the secretary, who had let him in on the story. CJ threatens to have Mildred fired, but Danny asks her not to, and says that if he hears that anyone’s gotten fired because of the incident, he’ll write about it. It’s an uncomfortable moment and a good little illustration of the conflict of interests that exists between them.
Sam’s night, meanwhile, is getting worse by the minute as he tries to explain to Mallory that POTUS has asked him to write a second draft of a birthday card. Mal thinks Sam’s making it up in order to chicken out of their date. He’s distraught, and asks for another half hour to finish the job, saying that they’ll still get there in time for plenty of “death and shrieking.” I’ve only been to one opera, but in my unqualified opinion, Sam’s unqualified opinion isn’t far off.
Toby is fed up with his day, fed up with the banking bill, and especially fed up with the attachment rider, so when Josh drops by to tell him that it was probably Crane, a representative with whom Toby is friendly, who was behind all the trouble, he is too apathetic to get properly angry. In general: Toby is done.
Back in Sam’s office, Mallory is growing more and more annoyed the longer Sam writes. Mid-argument, the penny drops and she figures out that her father may have had a part to play in the evening’s lack of success. She storms out to go find Leo, and Sam continues his distracted scribbling.
Leo is taking a meeting with his assistant Margaret when Mallory bursts into his office and calls him an “addle-minded Machiavellian jerk.” As they’re arguing over Mallory’s treatment of Leo, and Leo’s treatment of Sam, Bartlet breezes in and tells Mallory she looks very nice, almost as if she was dressed up to go somewhere. She narrows her eyes at him and calls him a “co-conspirator.” This whole thing makes me inordinately gleeful, I have to admit. Micro-scaled Machiavellian jerks indeed.
Bartlet asks Margaret for a copy of Leo’s schedule and proceeds to outline to Mallory exactly what it is that her father has to handle day-to-day. She asks him what exactly he’s trying to prove, and he tells her to go easy on her father. It’s gentle, and I’m reminded that Bartlet and Leo have known each other a long time. They must, at this stage, be uncle-figures to each other’s kids, no? Either way, Mallory is more subdued as she and Leo resume their talk, and she offers to let him accompany her to the second half of the opera. Leo seems to take this as more a punishment than a treat, so they settle on coffee and cake instead.
On their way out, they swing by Sam’s office, where Mallory pokes a reluctant apology out of Leo and tells Sam that he doesn’t have to finish the birthday card. Sam, however, has the bit between his teeth, and refuses to leave his project even when Leo tells him that POTUS was in on the joke. Mallory looks exasperated and tells Sam that he is “so exactly like [Leo]”. Sam is massively flattered; Leo’s face is an absolute picture. Have I mentioned that I really like when Mal shows up?
Hoynes shows up in the Oval Office to talk to Bartlet about their disagreement that morning. He wants to make sure that Bartlet knows that he wasn’t the source of the leak, but when he starts to talk, a tide of resentment pours out at how he feels Bartlet has treated him since the campaign. Bartlet doesn’t budge: he says that Hoynes shouldn’t have made him beg for Hoynes to take the VP job. The egotistical friction between these two is something else; they seem to function well enough as a campaign ticket and an administration, but it’s really hard to see how there aren’t more screaming arguments. They part tight-lipped and angry, bottling up the resentments once more.
Mandy is in Josh’s office, still annoying him (has Mandy done anything in this episode except annoy people? No, right?). Josh just wants her to go away so that he can keep trying for a solution for POTUS. He asks Donna to hurry up with some research but, she says, the computer files are antiquated. At the word “antiquated,” you can almost see a lightbulb go on in the Lyman head. For the first time all day, he looks almost victorious. He tells a confused Donna that he’d like to see POTUS whenever he has time. Donna has no idea what’s going on. Truth be told, neither does the audience.
On the way to the Oval, Josh stops by Toby’s office to tell him about his antiquities brainwave. He finds Toby and Sam both staring at Sam’s laptop, trying to write the birthday message. Josh says “Antiquities Act,” and Toby gets it. “The President is empowered to designate any federal land to be a national park.” Big Sky, says Josh. He invites them along to help deliver the news to POTUS, but neither of them are happy enough with the birthday letter to leave it. Josh advises them both to put their heads down on their desks for a while, and departs to declare triumph.
Bartlet is, aptly enough, lecturing Charlie about proper hiking trail precautions – specifically, making noise to scare bears. Charlie doesn’t seem to be taking this very well. “You’re saying, if I see a grizzly bear, I’m meant to sing to it, sir?” He looks massively relieved when Josh shows up, and makes a very quick exit. Josh explains his plan, which is really quite brilliant in its simplicity – POTUS declares the endangered land a national park, forbidding anyone from mining on it, and suddenly the rider has no power. It’s a win for both the White House and the environmentalists.
As Bartlet prepares to head home for the night, Josh calls him back. “We talk more about enemies than we used to,” he says. Bartlet’s shoulders sink a little. It’s a sobering thought for both of them.