It’s West Wing Wednesday, and this may turn out to be one of the shortest TWW recaps I’ve ever written. (Update: It’s not.) Not because I can’t be wordy about TWW, which we all know isn’t the case, but because this is one of the few Sorkin-penned episodes where not much happens.
That’s okay. We’re gearing up for some really fantastic episodes a little later this season, and this quiet little one-off episode actually has a lot of really nice moments.
As usual, we have several plots going at once. Bartlet is planning a virtual classroom to talk with thousands of elementary school students as NASA’s Galileo V lands on Mars for the first time. Sam is cornered by former quasi-fling, Leo’s daughter Mallory, because he never called her again after the photo of him and his friend the call girl broke in the papers. CJ is guiding the president through the virtual classroom, as well as dealing with fallout from people she didn’t choose for a recent promotion. Leo, the president and the military are dealing with an exploded missile silo in Russia, which the Russians are trying to pass off as a refinery fire. Josh and Donna are deciding who’s going to be on the next stamp, and Toby is Eyeore.
The virtual classroom project hits a rocky point when NASA loses contact with Galileo V, the signal never came back after the radio blackout during the craft’s landing. Before the troubles begin, however, we are treated to several nice bits.
1. Sam in glasses.
2. A shot of the White House using Windows95.
There’s a funny moment after Bartlet reads the text written by NASA’s writer, which is determined to be terrible. Sam, as he does, saves the day.
Bartlet: Sam’s gonna make some changes.
NASA writer Tate: Are you going to clear them with me?
Sam: Probably not. [to the recorder] Write this. Eleven months ago, a 1,200-pound spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Eighteen hours ago… 18 hours, do I have that right? It’s going to be noon Eastern time.
Sam: Eighteen hours ago, it landed on the planet Mars. You, me, and 60,000 of your fellow students across the country, along with astroscientists and engineers from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California, NASA Houston, and right here at the White House are going to be to the first to see what it sees, and to chronicle the extraordinary voyage of an unmanned ship called Galileo V.
Sam Seaborn should totally be writing these recaps. Rawr.
Meanwhile, Leo puts Toby in charge of picking the next stamp, which he promptly delegates to Josh, who promptly passes off most of the grunt work to Donna. Donna is not amused with his glibness towards the endeavor, and she gives him an annoyed look.
After learning that the Russians lied about their oil refinery fire, since there’s no oil refinery within 20 kilometers of where the fire is, Bartlet and the crew determine that a missile silo exploded. Bartlet calls for the Russian ambassador, hoping she’ll ask for America’s help. Leo informs him that Bartlet will be attending a performance of the Reykjavik Symphony Orchestra, because Bartlet pissed off the Icelandic ambassador by skipping a meeting. He wants to bring CJ and Sam along to talk about the virtual classroom, since everyone is hoping Galileo will make contact again soon.
CJ is also dealing with a green bean crisis. Charlie casually mentioned to the press, when asked what the president did and didn’t like to eat, that the president was not a fan of green beans. Apparently, this was problematic in Oregon, where lots of people grow green beans. Charlie confesses to her at the orchestra, she tells him Bartlet has to pander to the green bean growers, Charlie thinks it’s ridiculous, CJ thinks voters are stupid. So Charlie gives her this look:
At the White House, Leo meets with the Russian Ambassador, who is playing everything very close to the vest. Except the part where she hits on Leo, having heard of his divorce. I like to think they had wild pundit sex after the episode, because Leo seems lonely, and the Russian ambassador has a lot of sass.
After CJ breaks away from Charlie, she goes out to the veranda to take a call from Toby. As she does, she’s approached by attractive Canadian actor, Colm Feore. (I once saw him play both Mercutio and Oberon at the Stratford Shakespeare festival, and he was teh sexy.) Here, he is not sexy, because he’s a big jerk to CJ, and vaguely accuses her of being bad in bed.
Like hell, Colm Feore. No one talks about our CJ that way.
Sam is cornered by Mallory at the Kennedy Center, and she gets to try on an annoyed look of her own.
She is clearly not happy about Call Girl Cutty. And she’s moved on, to a hockey player who probably actually has time to talk to her, unlike Sam.
After the symphony, Bartlet goes back to the White House to meet with the Russian ambassador and lays into her:
Bartlet: [to Leo, about a Russian warhead explosion:] Leo, at the time the SS-19 exploded, it was being drained of its liquid hydrogen in an attempt by deserting soldiers to ““ wait for it…
Leo: Steal the warhead?
Bartlet: Steal the warhead! [to the Russian Ambassador ] When were you gonna tell us about that? You realize how dangerous”“
Russian Ambassador: Mr. President, you shouldn’t be concerned with the welfare of the Russian people.
Bartlet: Well, I am concerned with the welfare of the Russian people, but that’s not what they pay me for. You guys fall asleep at the switch in Minsk, and I’ve got a whole hemisphere hiding under the bed. How do you not tell us this is going on? How do you not ask us for help?
Russian Ambassador: We’ll not need help finding the leaders of the black market network”“
Bartlet: Yeah, thanks. We’re sending in NATO inspectors.
Russian Ambassador: Leo and I were just discussing the terms.
Leo: The terms are we’re sending in NATO or he’s taking a walk to the press room.
Bartlet: [to the Russian Ambassador] Get your foreign minister on the phone. [pauses] I honestly don’t know from where you guys get the nerve.
Russian Ambassador: From a long, hard winter, Mr. President.
The episode ends with Bartlet and CJ talking outside the oval office as Bartlet enjoys a cigar. She convinces him to run the virtual classroom even if they can’t get in touch with Galileo V. She wants him to inspire the kids who are afraid to raise their hands or go to the chalkboard, to show them that even the big boys make mistakes.