If the last two episodes of season two, “18th and Potomac” and “Two Cathedrals,” showed how tensions were building among the senior staff, these two episodes show how those tensions came to a head.
Bartlet’s re-election team, including newcomers Ron Silver, Charlotte’s Husband, and Mrs. Coach, are helping the regulars create a strategy to win the upcoming election. Poll numbers from our friend Joey Lucas indicate Toby’s beard would have a greater chance of holding on to the White House than a candidate with a serious, potentially fatal disease. The whole team is camped out at Camp David, and present-day scenes are interspersed with flashbacks to Bartlet’s original Presidential campaign.
This episode gives us plenty of juicy backstory for all of the main players, which I plan on getting into more with Sally J. below.
Selena: Everyone, from Sam to CJ to Josh is angry at President Bartlet. How do their individual backstories relate to how they express their anger in the present day?
Sally J.: They are all so mad. Josh is easiest, because we all know his back story revolves around the people in his life dying and leaving him. Clearly that’s where he’s going on this one. Sam’s feeling betrayed, much like his father betrayed his whole family. Toby is interesting because he knows first, and yet doesn’t really buffer the rest of the staff or make it any easier for them. I think he’s the maddest of the bunch. Donna, I think, starts showing her real character when she just takes it and moves on. CJ’s anger comes out in her briefings. She has to be the face of the White House, so she, I think, is the most vulnerable to judgement.
Selena: Toby and CJ flirt with each other on and off throughout the series. How does the flashback scene between them set the tone for their on-going relationship? Do you think they’ve ever crossed a line up until this point? (Don’t let anything you know or don’t know about future episodes affect your answer.)
Sally J.: I love that flashback! I’ve never thought their flirting was over the line; my guess is that Toby’s too busy brooding to consider anything more with CJ.
Sally J.: The President and Mrs. Bartlet have come to an interesting impasse. On the one hand, he announced that he’s running for a second term without consulting her. On the other hand, they need to present a unified front on the fact that she’s been treating his undisclosed multiple sclerosis. Do you have comments on this?
Selena: I love the Bartlet’s relationship, because it’s complicated and a little ugly at times. I love that they’re always equals, even when one or the other of them has to make sacrifices. I love that she’s never afraid to let him have it. I think the anger and resentment between them is very real, and it’s pretty clear that this fight isn’t the first of its kind between them.
Sally J: All of the anger and turmoil of these first two episodes seem to climax when CJ finds the president rehearsing his speech and she attempts to resign. When he tells her, “I wasn’t supposed to win,” do you think that sheds some light on how his health matters were handled? Do you think his pep talk as he gets ready to deliver the speech is enough of an apology for the senior staff?
Selena: Possibly. I think he always wanted to win. Whether or not he was supposed to win isn’t relevant, but I’m pretty sure it was still the goal. I think his apology is enough, in that it does get everyone on the Bartlet for America train again, but I imagine these characters are going to hold on to some kind of resentment for quite a while.