Fasten your seatbelts and make sure your tray tables are in a locked and upright position. We’re taking off on an Air Force One-based adventure for this week’s The West Wing, and we get to enjoy some grade-A aeronautic set porn.
We have several plots dancing around each other this week. Bartlet takes some reporters, a cabinet member, Sam, Toby and an in-the-doghouse CJ (she made a crack about Notre Dame right before a Michigan game) on a midnight flight across the country to Portland, Oregon. Sam and Toby try to whip up some new education policy. Donna has a great dress and a shitty date. Josh confronts a gay Republican congressman who is pushing for a federal gay marriage ban. Leo is dealing with a rogue ship. CJ spats with Danny and is forced to be adorable in a Fighting Irish hat. And Charlie invents Teach for America. It’s just another day in the Bartlet White House, where all the politicians are above average.
After the previously, we see Bartlet and Charlie in the motorcade, approaching the air field. Bartlet is amazed that the Assistant Energy Secretary is flying with them to Portland, just so he can meet with Bartlet on the way back.
CJ reveals her Fighting Irish folly to a busload of reporters, once they collectively agree to go off the record at Danny’s urgings. Danny, you adorable ginger instigator you.
Leo is on the tarmac when Bartlet’s limo pulls up, because he has magical powers. Leo can be anywhere he needs to be, like a human TARDIS. As the scene between Bartlet and Leo is established, we get an exterior shot of Air Force One. It is large, and shiny, and I wondered for a moment if it was one of the real Air Force Ones, or a regular old Southwest jet with stickers on it.
Our brave sailors are going to have to take a ship, which hails from either Cyprus or the Isle of Case. Leo fills Bartlet in on the details and takes a dig at ND. As Bartlet and CJ board the plane, he chides her for her “funny, funny jokes” and makes her put on an ND cap, then whips her around for a photo op.
It’s late in the evening, and everyone not on the Portland trip is still working hard at the White House. Josh is about to meet with Matt Skinner, a congressman who is coming to push a federal definition of marriage. Donna is trying to wrap up her day, while wearing this fabulous red dress:
Josh is making her cut her date short and come back to work right after dinner. She is not pleased. Donna tells Josh that she has a good vibe about Todd, her date, and he’s a big jerk.
Donna: I have an excellent sense about these things.
Josh: Actually, you have no sense about these things. You have no vibe, you have terrible taste in men, and your desire to be coupled up will always and forever drown out any sense of self or self-worth that you may have.
Donna: You’re a downer, you know that? I’m calling you Deputy Downer from now on.
Up on Air Force One, Sam has writer’s block and a club sandwich; everyone is walking and talking through the seemingly endless corridors of the plane. Bartlet chats up CJ, then tells her he’s going to need her to lead the reporter pool in all five verses of the Notre Dame fight song while they fly over South Bend. Charlie grins smugly.
CJ distributed an early draft of Sam’s education speech, which sends him into a panic. He claims the writing is bad “and it’s got my fingerprints all over it.”
Back at the White House, Josh is meeting with his friend the Republican congressman, who we quickly learn is gay. Josh is befuddled that Skinner would even be a member of the Republican party, but we’ll get to that more in a minute. In the meantime, the two share a beer.
Ainsley’s trapped in the F-plot tonight, her office in the steam distribution room is boiling hot. Later, she’ll talk with Donna about interesting men and whether or not they look alike. (They sort of do.)
In the situation room New Military Guy is breaking down the crisis with the boat to Leo. The Sudanese captain wouldn’t let the Navy board, blocked them from landing their helicopter, and shot AK-47s at them. It seems they are not looking for a diplomatic resolution. Leo calls Bartlet to update him, Bartlet wants Leo to just take the ship. (Can he do that?)
Leo has more than angry boat captains on his mind. His divorce papers came and she’s worried he’s going to want to drink. Margaret, being Margaret, has recruited everyone in the building to help keep Leo away from the bottle.
Sam and Toby are working on the education fix. Sam wants to be a poet.
Sam: Oratory should raise your heart rate. Oratory should blow the doors off the place. We should be talking about not being satisfied with past solutions. We should be talking about a permanent revolution.
Toby: Where have I heard that?
Sam: Permanent Revolution?
Sam: I got it from a book.
Toby: What book?
Sam: The Little Red Book.
Toby: You think we should quote Mao Tse-tung?
Sam: We do need a permanent revolution.
Toby: Still, I think we’ll stay away from quoting Communists.
Sam: You think a Communist never wrote an elegant phrase? How do you think they got everyone to be Communist?
Toby drags him out to walk up and down the plane to get their blood flowing.
In the White House, Donna is back after what appears to be a crappy date. Leo compliments her dress, Donna sweetly makes sure he’s okay.
Josh and Skinner are in the mess, consuming what appears to be a lot of beer. More power to them, they’re having a sticky conversation.
On Air Force One, CJ is asking the press corp for the draft of the education speech back, and we see that Reporter Class is definitely not Coach.
Danny doesn’t want to give the draft back. CJ promises there will be not major policy changes or announcements in the new draft. Danny is not convinced.
The Navy has boarded the ship, but the crew threw the manifest and all the other good stuff overboard.
CJ asks Bartlet why they took off so late in the evening, and he spins a great tale about finding the best new ideas while traveling across the night sky, like poets. Truthfully, he had a late meeting.
Josh and Skinner are now pretty buzzed, and Skinner pushes Josh to ask him why he’s a Republican. He gives a very Sorkin answer. He likes local government, he likes small businesses, being gay isn’t everything he is. The last part is delivered a bit wistfully. Do with that what you will.
When CJ learns Danny won’t relent, she tries to bully him into giving up his draft, he still refuses.
In one of the apparently dozens of Air Force One conference rooms, the team is again talking education. Charlie scribbles on his notebook and invents Teach for America. Bartlet initially wants the money to get 100,000 new teachers in the classroom in exchange for student loan forgiveness, but they end up compromising on 100.
Toby eventually gets the draft back from Danny, by telling him Sam is having a slump. Danny grins at CJ, who figures out Danny went to Notre Dame. Heh.
Margaret continues to worry about Leo, and he calls her a “good girl.” He’s a cuddly old sexist, our Leo. Margaret, being awesome, enjoys the praise for just a second, and then gets back to work.
In the final scene on that really expensive AF1 set, CJ asks Bartlet why he went to Notre Dame. He tells her he wanted to become a priest, until he met Abby. Aww! CJ asks why he never tells her these things when she’s trying to get him elected. He tells her he likes to pick on her.
We learn more about CJ’s dad later in the series, which adds a lot of heart to this particular moment, but going into it is more spoilery than I want to get, just in case there are any of you reading along who are watching for the first time. Leo is a father figure to most of the men in the cast, which Sorkin and his successors work in a lot of beautiful ways, but Bartlet is partial to CJ, and treats her very much like a daughter. A competent, badass, whip-smart daughter who knows her shit.
Sally J. takes on one of the most infinitely quotable TWW episodes next week, and Bartlet pardons a turkey. Join us right here next Wednesday for all the excitement.