Good afternoon, Persephoneers! It’s my turn to talk about The West Wing, and this episode is a doozy. Season one of The West Wing was able to achieve a near-perfect balance between plot, character development and larger themes, and “He Shall From Time to Time” is one of the better examples of this strength.
The overarching themes this week are loyalty and secrets. Sam and Josh act rashly because of their loyalty to Leo, we see how far Abby’s loyalty to her husband goes, and we see Toby fight to change the wording of the State of the Union at the last minute because of his loyalty to his idea of the American people. Leo’s secrets come out, the U.S. launches a secretive plan to prevent war between India and Pakistan and the biggest secret of the show drops on us out of nowhere. Also, moar Marbury.
The episode opens with the President practicing for the State of the Union with a teleprompter and a room full of concerned staff. Several mention that the President doesn’t look well. The President cracks wise about typos, Toby looks troubled, Josh thinks he’s cute, CJ rolls with things. After practice, the staff is gathered outside of the Oval when they hear a crash. They run in to find the President has collapsed. Cue credits.
The President is diagnosed with the flu, and is on his way to bed when he’s summoned to the Situation Room because of escalating tensions between India and Pakistan. This isn’t really touched on again until the end of the episode, when Leo and Bartlet meet with Lord Awesome, John Marbury. He explains that the British Empire has always ruled India with a carrot and a stick. Troublesome folks were made Maharaji by the throne, which cooled tempers substantially. Leo mentions that the Constitution doesn’t really let Bartlet make anyone a Maharaji, and Marbury says the modern answer is to help India create an infrastructure so they can become players in the technology industry. When Leo and Bartlet act offended at the thought of paying off India just so they won’t start a war, Marbury reminds them the U.S. has been paying countries off for years, including paying North Korea not to develop nuclear weapons. (We should get a refund.) He also tells them it’s the price the U.S. pays for being “rich, free and alive all at the same time.” In the final scenes, we learn that India is retreating.
Leo’s addiction breaks on the Internet, and CJ is tipped off that it will be on television the following day. She sits down with him to prepare a statement for the press. Sam has prepared a statement of support from the President, which angers Leo. He tells Sam to bury it, he’d rather fall on his sword than risk taking anyone down with him. Sam, of course, has none of his crap and shares the statement with the President. Mallory, Leo’s daughter, kisses Sam full on the lips in the middle of a room full of Washington V.I.P.s after she reads it. As a writer, I would very much like this to happen to me sometime. Mallory has a really awkward scene with Abby where the women talk about Mallory’s “itch” for Sam. Leo is a champ, and even though we see in a handful of shots of him alone that it’s all getting to him, he remains 110% devoted to the President and doing all the things Leo has to do in a day.
CJ, meanwhile, is still on the fence about Danny. CJ spends eight years on the fence about Danny, but these early scenes are still really sweet. They have a steamy kiss in her office after she sees Mallory lay one on Sam. After, she tries to carry her fish to a meeting and walks into a door. I love CJ so much. Earlier, she catches ToePick flirting with Danny, and she is not amused.
ToePick: CJ, don’t you think Danny looked really cute with a full beard?
CJ: I’ve actually never thought about it.
Danny: Take your time.
CJ: [clearly annoyed] What do you need?
Danny: I just came by to see my fish. [points.]
CJ: The fish is fine and I need my office.
Danny: I’m leaving?
Danny: Okay. [I think Danny says this 1,000,000 times in this series, and it’s always cute.]
ToePick: [head tilt, smile] Good night
Danny: Good night.
CJ: [Sitting at her desk, after Danny leaves, looking very Serious Business.] He gave me a fish a few weeks ago. [Nods gravely at fish.] That one there.
Toe Pick: CJ. It wouldn’t kill you to be a little friendlier to him.
CJ: Doesn’t seem to kill you. [Yeeouch!]
CJ: What do you need?
ToePick: Are you kidding me?
ToePick: It doesn’t sound like it.
CJ: I’m very dry.
Toby is fighting putting the phrase “the era of big government is over” in the State of the Union. He’s also fighting with nearly everyone on nearly every passage. We see him meet with a group of Democrats with a laundry list of things they take issue with, but Toby forces them to pick only one thing to bitch about that day. They choose NEA funding.
Smug Democrat: What do I tell people when they ask why Rogers and Hart didn’t need the NEA to write Oklahoma and Arthur Murray didn’t need the NEA to write Death of a Salesman.
Toby: I’d start by them Rogers and Hammerstein wrote Oklahoma, and Arthur Murray taught ballroom dance. Arthur Miller, on the other hand, did need the NEA to write Death of a Salesman, only it wasn’t called the NEA back then. It was called the WPA, and it was Roosevelt’s… [long pause] It was Roosevelt’s….
The patented Toby light bulb of brilliance goes off and he gets up and leaves. One more thing to love about Toby: He knows when to say fuck it.
He meets with the President and Josh later to talk about removing the line. Paraphrasing Toby is much less effective than just letting his words do the talking.
Bartlet: What’s on your mind?
Toby: The era of big government is over.
Bartlet: You want to cut the line?
Toby: I want to change the sentiment. [pause] We’re running away from ourselves and I know we can score points that way, I was a principle architect of that campaign strategy right along with you, Josh. But we’re here now, tomorrow night we do an immense thing; we have to say what we feel, that government, no matter what its failures in the past and in times to come for that matter, government can be a place where people come together and where no one gets left behind. No one … gets left behind. An instrument of good.
The biggest story of the episode, and in fact of the whole first three seasons, is that President Bartlet has Multiple Sclerosis. Until this episode, not even Leo knew. We learn that Abby has been treating him, and has prescribed him medication which she injects. That’s going to come up again. This brings up an important detail about this show. Sorkin, probably more so than any other long-running drama writer, knew how to spin a story that could unfold for years. When I think of other dramas I’ve loved, they’ve each had at least a moment where the writers seemed to forget what happened in previous years, but Sorkin never missed a callback. In the first twelve episodes we’ve foreshadowed four major turning points that will take four or more years to completely unfold. That’s good writin’.
As all of this unfolds in our lap like a bomb, we also see another rare thing for television. A couple older than fifty who are crazy in love with each other. Call me a shmaltz loving romantic, but I think Abby and Jeb are adorable. Their marriage, throughout the show, always felt very real to me. They go through terrible storms, but they always figure out a way to handle them together.
Bartlet: I could jump you.
Abby: I could kill you.
Bartlet: My way seems like more fun.
Join Sally J. next week as she tackles 1.13, “Take out the Trash Day.”
Thumbnail, as always, from our dear tumblr friends TWWcaps and their magical photo enhancing skills.