The West Wing: “College Kids” and “The Red Mass”

After Toby, Josh, and Donna finally make it out of Indiana, the consequences of the events at the end of season three begin to play out. 

Text reads "Two Questions about The West Wing."“College Kids” juggles several plots. Toby and Josh try to save America with tax-deductible college tuition. President Bartlet speaks to the NEA. Leo brings in his old friend/lawyer/lover Jordan to discuss her possibly defending Bartlet against charges of war crimes. He flirts with her while displaying her NSA file on the big screens in the situation room. As far as advances go, that’s one I’d probably pass on, but to each her own. Meanwhile, Charlie and Mrs. Fitterer (Lily Tomlin, national treasure) are adorable, and I’m reminded that Lily Tomlin may have been the only actor I would accept as a replacement for Mrs. Landingham. (RIP.) Yet another plot involves the fallout from the pipe bombing at the end of “20 Hours,” as the meth-making off-the-gridders responsible trigger a stand-off with the FBI. The Bare Naked Ladies and Aimee Mann were also there. All of this should have added up to a better hour of television than we actually got.

“The Red Mass” continues most of the plots in “College Kids,” and is an equally passable hour of television.

Selena: Clearly Shareef is a stand-in for Osama Bin Laden, although somewhat easier to kill. When originally watching this episode, did Shareef’s assassination seem justified to you? Did your opinion change on rewatching? Did the death of Bin Laden in the real world color your perception at all?

Neil: It’s interesting, I consider myself a liberal, but having grown up with a family member in law enforcement, you realize there are just bad people in the world who are going to do bad things if you let them, and there is no such thing as rehabilitation. Sorkin simplifies the Shareef plot to this simplistic idea, and in this instance, I always felt it was justified. However, as it related to the real world, nothing is this black and white. Sorkin compares the Bahi to Al Queda, but it’s not as simple as they are bad and want to attack us, so we need to kill them first. My belief is this is the argument Bush presented to the American people, and Sorkin, Liberals and Conservatives bought into it, even though it bears no resemblance to the truth.

Selena: “The Red Mass” includes a plot about a compound under siege by (insert proper gov’t acronym here). This is a popular subject to mine for any fictional entertainment about law enforcement or the inner workings of government. What message do you think Sorkin wanted us to walk away with from this plotline?

Neil: Yes, Sorkin did the Waco plot-line. I’ve been thinking about this. Sorkin likes to put the government in a good light, like they are always trying to do what is best for the people. I think this was his way of trying to justify Waco and other government incursions that we have seen in modern day. That we should trust government, that they have smart people who know what is best. Unlike Waco, though, Sorkin always has to have it end well so everyone can walk away with a good feeling about government.

Neil: Do you think “College Kids” is the episode where Sorkin jumps the shark? As this is the episode they introduce that the President might be charged with war crimes, which is an implausible and unlikely scenario. It’s a scenario in a series of scenarios to come which are all implausible.

Selena: No, I think that comes later this season, but he may have been using this episode to build up the necessary shark-jumping speed. I don’t know if the issue is with the events being implausible, I can swallow plenty of implausible, I watch Scandal. But it’s implausible and boring, and that’s what makes it hard to watch.

Neil: In modern history, presidents have made decisions which in one form or another violated either US law or International laws. Nixon was the only one directly linked, in all the other modern scandals – Iran/Contra, Torture Gate, Abu Ghraib, Plame Gate, etc. – someone from the administration would always take the hit, protecting the presidency itself from being implicated. In the assassination of Qumari defense minister, Sorkin writes it in such a way that no matter what happens, the President would take the fall. Is he being naive to the modern history of cover up or is this his liberalism shinning again, that the buck stops with the President?

Selena: I think it’s more the second, and interpreting The West Wing as anything aside from a political fairy tale just sets the viewer up for disappointment. Or at least that was the tone for the first two and a half seasons. I’m not sure if Shareef was a way of tarnishing up Bartlet a bit, as in “see, even this saintly man can be corrupted by power.”

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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.

One thought on “The West Wing: “College Kids” and “The Red Mass””

  1. I just re-watched these!

    What astounds me is not that they decided to kill Shareef, but that they didn’t see the Israeli angle coming. If they had, and had decided that killing Shareef to save American lives would be worth any damage to Israel as a result, then that would have been one thing. But that they didn’t even seem to consider the possibility is laughable to me.

    I think Sorkin uses the Shareef storyline to laud Bartlett even more, if that’s possible. He’s now presented as the no-longer-naive president protecting his people, at personal cost to him. No-one – as far as I remember – presents serious opposition to the idea of killing Shareef except the president.

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