I stole this week’s West Wing recap from Sally J., because “NoÃ«l” is probably my favorite episode of the series. Not for the plot, “Two Cathedrals,” which is coming up in a few weeks, wins for best plot. “NoÃ«l” is my favorite episode because of one fifteen-second monologue from Leo to Josh. I cry every time I hear it.
In the previouslies, we flash back to the shooting and the aftermath from the beginning of the season. This is a Josh-centric episode, and Bradley Whitford does some seriously powerful actorin’ throughout. When we open, he’s meeting with Adam Arkin, as trauma specialist Stanley Keyworth.
Keyworth: We’re from ATVA.
Keyworth: That’s the American Trauma Victims Association.
Keyworth: We’re commonly called in by the government to work with trauma victims. I’ll give you some examples. The pipe bomb at Lancaster Middle School. We worked with the parents and the kids…
Josh [interrupts]: Tulsa, Hurricane Beth, the Chatham fires, the Iowa tornadoes, the FBI raid in Rock Creek.
Keyworth: So, you are familiar with us?
Josh: Dr. Keyworth, I’m the Deputy White House Chief of Staff. I oversee 1100 White House employees. I answer directly to Leo McGarry and the President of the United States. Do you think you’re talking to the paperboy?
Josh: In your wildest dreams did you imagine that I’d walk in this room without knowing exactly who you are and what you do?
Josh: Then why did you lie to me right off the bat?
Josh has injured his hand, it’s sloppily wrapped in a loose bandage. Keyworth is here to figure out how Josh hurt it, because he doesn’t believe Josh’s story that he cut it while putting down a glass. Keyworth is training a young woman, a trauma specialist, but Josh correctly identifies her as the person who won’t let him go to the bathroom or his office by himself.
Josh’s story ties into many plotlines, including the primary plot. A young pilot in an $18m fighter jet has ceased communication with his base. There’s speculation he’s died or is unconscious. Josh is tasked with finding out more about him, and he learns that he and the pilot share a birthday, and that the pilot was shot down and severely injured previously.
Toby is trying to shake off his Eyeore like tendencies, and is gamely trying to keep the entire White House in the Christmas spirit. He brings in a series of musical groups, including a brass quintet and a gaggle of bagpipers. (Is there a proper word for a group of pipers? Let’s call them a “bagel.” A bagel of bagpipers.)
Toby: Let me tell you something: the last two Christmases in this White House I’ve been accused of not being in the proper spirit. I was called names. Not this year! For the next three weeks, I will be filling this lobby with music in the mornings and evenings so that we may all experience this season of”¦[turning to musicians with annoyance] Would you people stop playing for one damn minute! [Brass quintet dies out] “¦this season of peace and joy.
The White House is going all out, including this really neat repli-cake of the whole building, minus any tiny icing snipers on top.
CJ, meanwhile, has learned of a woman who “went crazy” on a visitor’s tour when she saw a painting outside of the Blue room. She goes to the chief of protocol and all-around stuffy fellow Bernard to inquire about the painting and the incident. Bernard explains that Bartlet found and fell in love with it on a trip to France, and takes a second to insult CJ’s necklace. (Blasphemy.)
Bernard: [to C.J.] The President, on a visit to the gallery, and possessing even less taste in fine art than you have in accessories, announced that he liked the painting. The French government offered it as a gift to the White House. I suppose in retribution for EuroDisney. So there it hangs, like a gym sock on a shower rod.
Josh is becoming increasingly troubled as he investigates the pilot. Leo learns that the pilot flew into a mountain, but before his death he sent a communication. “It’s not the plane.” The pilot’s suicide upsets Josh even further.
CJ finds an old photo of a young girl and her father. They’re standing in front of a painting, which Josh identifies as the painting from outside the Blue room. CJ uses her mad deductive skills to learn the painting’s origins, with the help of cranky Bernard.
Donna is pestering Josh to let her attend the Congressional Christmas party, where Yo Yo Ma will be playing. Donna has fine taste in cellists. This annoys Josh, but so does nearly every event and person he interacts with this episode. He snaps at everyone, including the president. He doesn’t remember this any more than he remembers how he hurt his hand, until Stanley pushes him.
CJ has located the woman who was upset on the tour, and her son brings her to the White House on the night of the Congressional party. CJ and Bernard meet with them, and CJ tells the woman she’s discovered the painting belonged to the woman’s father, a French Jew. Under Vichy France, the Nazis stripped her father of his belongings, including the painting, before they sent him to his death at Aushwitz. She and Bernard return the painting to her, after telling her it has increased in value from around $300 USD to over $400,000. Bernard offers to continue hanging the painting in the White House, which will continue to increase its value, but the woman refuses and takes it home.
C.J.: You see, you try very hard to be mean, but then you see that being nice is better.
Bernard: You’re a freakish tall woman.
C.J.: So that moment’s over?
Yo Yo Ma turns out to be too much for Josh, who becomes increasingly shaken as the concert progresses. We flash back and forth to his meeting with Stanley, who finally gets Josh to admit he didn’t cut his hand on a glass, he broke out the window is his apartment.
Stanley diagnoses Josh with post-traumatic stress disorder, which makes Josh worry about his ability to be employed by the president. Stanley assures him he’ll get better, and recommends a therapist for Josh to talk to before leaving. Josh is a bit anxious, but lets him leave.
As he’s leaving for the night, he meets Leo in the lobby. (Get your tissues, if you’re as much of a sap as I am.)
Josh [turns]: Did you wait around for me? [Leo takes off his glasses.] He thinks I may have an eating disorder.
Leo [gets up]: Josh.
Josh: And a fear of rectangles. That’s not weird, is it? I didn’t cut my hand on a glass. I broke a window in my apartment.
Leo: This guy’s walkin’ down a street, when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up: “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes him a prescription, throws it down the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up: “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole! Our guy says “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here!” and the friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.” [Josh looks at Leo.] Long as I got a job, you got a job, you understand?
To quote Sally J, when we were talking about this episode, “And Leo wonders why Josh tried to go in for that hug at the end of last season.”
Sally J will be helming the Good Ship Bartlet for the next two weeks. Join us here at the same time, same station next Wednesday.