With reelection firmly behind us now, The West Wing delves into its traditional holiday episode, always a fine mix of revelry, world issues, and the personal issues of the staff. Oh and music, there’s always some kind of live music. As CJ notes, this year’s accapella group makes you “just want them to take you back to their place and…have them sing,” Oh yes. Please have them sing to us.
In “Holy Night,” we learn a little more about Toby’s past. More specifically, about his father, former Murder Inc., hit man. (Raise your hand if this seems a bit out of left field. *Raises both hands.* ~ Selena.) Try as Toby might to ignore him and shun him, when Josh tells him that he would do anything to have a father who was alive and a sister with a past, he gets it. Toby actually gets it! Danny comes back as Santa Claus and sweeps CJ off her feet, and Zoe introduces Charlie and the President to Jean Paul, the most beautiful man either of them have ever seen. (With an accent straight out of the Keanu Dracula School of Fancy Talk. ~S.)
The personal lives of the staff, however, are overshadowed by Danny’s hunches that something else entirely happened to the leader of Qumar (he’s smart), and the cover up is starting to wear on the President and Leo in different ways. The President comes up with a plan to reduce infant mortality, and suddenly Josh and Donna are working late on the last office day before the holidays.
The holiday lights and cheer are gone in “Guns Not Butter,” and the senior staff is ready to battle for votes on the budget. Donna goes on a hunt for a first-term senator who can sway the vote to Bartlet’s side, but she’s dodging the President’s call, and Toby deals with the senator who wants $115,000 for a study on remote prayer. Charlie grabs a letter for the president from the rope line, and ends up accidentally ordering a memo from the Department of Defense, which is CC’d to pretty much every important person in the administration. French royalty milling around make Charlie and the President a little edgy. Danny continues to ask questions about Qumar. But he also gives CJ a good way to spin the foreign aid bill that was defeated. Will Bailey gets introduced to the senior staff, who seem intent on forgetting him. There’s also a good plug for Heifer International, which means more animals in the White House (we should really make a chart of the animals that parade through the west wing).
Sally J: In “Holy Night,” all sorts of personal issues come up with the choir singing in the background. Do you like it when the plot veers away from the typical fast-paced, crisis type plot? Do we need to know about the parents, siblings and personal lives of the senior staff?
Selena: I’d be more interested if “family stories” didn’t automatically translate to “father issues.” But this is Sorkin, and that’s kind of his thing. Interestingly, this parallels with our other favorite White House show, Scandal. Apparently every single high-profile person in fictional Washington has father issues. It is Toby, and he is especially broody in this episode in that way I find so utterly compelling, so there are definite pluses. I think this show does a better job of character development when it’s in the context of the larger, fast-paced plot. Sorkin does a better job than most of allowing us to infer things, which I respect about him even when I’m throwing my hands up about the women. When he stops, and starts spelling things out in small words and pictographs, I think he can get a little heavy handed.
Sally J: In “Guns Not Butter,” we see the senior staff hustle for votes on the foreign aid bill. Donna spends her day tracking down a senator the President was hoping to speak with. She ends up giving the staffer a speech, pointing out that while Josh asks a lot of her, she’s never been asked to hide him. What does this tell you about our dear Donatella Moss?
Selena: Donna knows how to tell a lady what’s up. She’s also filled with a Veronica Mars-like ability to girl detective the shit out of Washington. Somebody get her a Backup.
In “Guns Not Butter,” Ron, the photogenic, non-milk-giving goat, provides a lighter side to the inevitable failure of the foreign aid bill. It’s argued that part of the reason the bill failed was because foreign aid isn’t sold properly to the American people. Rather than encourage us to support foreign aid for humanitarian or charitable reasons, the real trick is to sell us on how foreign aid is good for our economy, or advantageous to our national security. Do you agree? Do you think the typical American is concerned about the nuances of foreign aid?
Sally J.: I thought Danny’s view on it was brilliant, and I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it that way. I think people who believe in smaller governments aren’t going to be enthusiastic about sending American dollars overseas, but that this spin would be a good way to get them to at least listen.
Selena: Of all the cast members who are welcoming Will into the fold, with bicycles, posters, and the photogenic goat, which one would you declare the champ in “Guns Not Butter”? My answer is CJ. I wish there was a YouTube of her walk and talk with Will (Bill?) in the hall. She has the best poker face. I love her.
Sally J.: Of course CJ wins! CJ wins everything.