Ladyghosts: The West Wing, Episode 2.13, “Bartlet’s Third State of the Union”

Good afternoon, Sorkinite Persephoneers.  We’re back to talk about The West Wing, and one of my favorite episodes of the series. Grab a cuppa, get comfy, and join me for this pants-optional journey into the fictional White House.

It’s the night of Bartlet’s third State of the Union, as the title quite aptly describes, and the senior staff are in a flurry. The language of the speech is still being tweaked four minutes before the scheduled start time for the speech, as the president is being readied for the car. Sam is on the phone, confirming the support of their Blue Ribbon proposal from a Republican, in exchange for naming a road and a park after him. In the seconds before President Bartlet is invited in to give his speech, Sam and Toby are making the last minute changes.

We see a few moments of the end of the speech on monitors throughout the White House, and hear thunderous applause.

Meanwhile, Josh and Donna are at a polling center, working with Joey Lucas’ team to collect the numbers on the speech. Josh, as he does, is in a tizzy, yelling at pollsters and making Donna make this expression:

Poor Donna, however much this fictional White House pays her, it is not enough.

TV (and Sorkin) staple Ted McGinley returns as the host of Capital Beat, which is filming live in the White House with extended coverage of the State of the Union. First up is our Goddess, CJ, who is sans pants. Not just because she’s awesome and an honorary Persephoneer, but because she sat in wet paint. Which doesn’t disqualify her as a Persephoneer, it may in fact raise her standing. She’s wearing a robe from the White House gym around her waist while she stands.

Sam: They have bathrobes at the gym?

C.J.: In the women’s locker room.

Sam: But not the men’s.

CJ: Yeah.

Sam: Now, that’s outrageous. There’s a thousand men working here and fifty women…

CJ: Yeah, and it’s the bathrobes that’s outrageous.

Sam is concerned about a police officer, Sloane, who was recognized for bravery during the president’s speech.  As it happens, seventeen years earlier the officer was charged with excessive force in an arrest, but both the criminal and the subsequent civil charges were dropped. CJ is sent off to speak with him.

While all of the celebrating is happening, two other important events are happening. Leo is called to the Situation Room after five American DEA agents are captured by the Frente in Columbia. While the agents were dressed as civilians, they were all carrying DEA badges, which makes Leo less than optimistic about their chances for survival. The other important event centers around the first lady, who wrote a check the president didn’t know about for $500. Mrs. Landingham relays to Charlie that the president would like Charlie to speak to Abby about it.

Charlie: And why doesn’t he ask the first lady about the $500 check himself in the normal course of, you know, being married to her.

Mrs. Landingham: When the president inquires into the first lady’s personal bookkeeping, the first lady gets angry at him… and yells.

Charlie: Well, she’s gonna get angry and yell when I inquire too.

Mrs. Landingham: Well, the president doesn’t care so much about that.

Charlie finds Abby in the residence and asks her about it, she tells him she sent a $500 check to a woman who had been the victim of domestic violence. Her abusive spouse had set the house on fire and destroyed their young children’s Christmas presents, Abby had sent a check so the woman could replace the gifts. Abby was visibly upset by the speech, and had strong words with both Leo and Toby about the language. It’s pretty obvious the issue she has is deeper than the language choices.

Aside: As I’m typing this, the promo for the new season of Psych is on, featuring Dule Hill and James Roday singing “Don’t You Forget About Me,” and it is awesome. Secret Selena fact: somewhere, there is a video tape of me singing this exact song at karaoke. I can never run for public office.

CJ meets with Sloane, who explains the incident that got him into trouble. He was chasing an armed robbery suspect on foot. When he caught up to him, the suspect broke Sloane’s hand and nose before Sloane could cuff him. The suspect later claimed that Sloane had kicked him repeatedly and fractured the suspect’s leg. Sloane insists to CJ that the suspect’s leg was already broken when he apprehended him.  He reminded her that the DA dropped the criminal case against him, and that the civil suit was also dropped. CJ asked why he didn’t tell her about the incident, he tells her he thought it was behind him. Before he leaves her office, CJ tells him not to say anything about the incident to anyone, and Leo made sure Sloane was nowhere near the president so there would be not photos of the two of them together.

Ainsley, meanwhile, is having her moment on Capital Beat. She’s a little giddy from the excitement and success of the evening, but it just makes her more delightful. Sam pulls her aside after her spot to give her some talking points and warns her of the effects of all the adrenaline building up in her system.

Sam: Okay, can I talk to you about adrenaline for a second?

Ainsley: Adrenaline?

Sam: Yeah. You’re feeling it right now and it’s gonna get even more cause it’s a big night, and you were a hit and you’ve never experienced anything like this.

Ainsley: And you think I’m going to have a nutty.

Sam: I’m saying don’t drink until you’re off television.

Ainsley: God! Thanks, Sam for that debating tip. You have a feel for nuances. You say I shouldn’t be drunk when I’m representing the White House.

Sam: Yeah. And remember you’re a blond, Republican girl and that nobody likes you.

Sam really knows how to butter up the ladies tonight, huh? During Ainsley’s on-air interview, she tells Ted McGinley that she’s never met the president in person. Sam hears this and tries to arrange a meeting, but Ainsley goes pale with fear at the idea.

Later, Sam finds her in her office in a robe, dancing to “Blame it on the Bossa Nova.” She sat in the same wet paint as CJ did.

She’s also drinking a pink squirrel, which, I might add, is a severely underrated drink. As she’s whipping into a spin, Bartlet pops his head in the door to say hello, causing Ainsley to both yelp and toss her drink across the room. She can’t say she’s never met the president anymore. I have a .gif of this scene, but it’s too big too upload here, and my skill set does not include optimizing animated .gifs, sadly.

At the polling center, Josh is getting testy waiting for results, and is being insufferable to everyone. When he works up the height of his tizzy, the power goes out, and he doesn’t get his numbers.

Back at the White House, Leo has quietly assembled all the big names, secretaries of defense and state, the joint chiefs and a handful of other military brass to brief the president on the situation in Columbia. It’s decided to call back all the senior staff.

The president, while waiting for the staff to return, runs into Abby in the kitchen, eating a sandwich and glaring at him. He makes some excuses for taking out language about stopping domestic violence and putting in language about school uniforms. She tells him she’s not mad about the language, she’s mad because he already decided to run for re-election, and they had a deal. The following episode will go into this in a little more detail, but it’s clear Abby is not happy at all.

This is actually a two-part episode, even thought it’s not marked as such. The main plotlines, Sloane, the polls, Abby’s reaction and the DEA hostages will all be resolved right here, next week, when Sally J. covers “The War at Home.” See you then!

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[E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

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