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LadyGhosts of TV Past

Ladyghosts: The West Wing, S1:Ep.2 : Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Welcome back to week two of our retro recap madness.  We’re switching up the order a little, as I explained in Jordan’s 9:30 post, and today’s is delayed so I made sure to have enough time to write it with the level of attention and detail it deserves.

This week’s episode is titled “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” which in Latin means after the fact, therefore because of the fact.  For example, if I were to say, Gawker was hacked yesterday and now my posts are late because I spent too much time rubbernecking yesterday, I would be applying the principle of post hoc, ergo propter hoc.   My posts were late after the hacking, therefore my posts were late because of  the hacking.   But enough about the hacking, we’re here to learn about The West Wing.

After the previouslies, we get to see Toe Pick first.  Oh yay.  Also, heh, I described this scene as happening last week.  Do you see what Toe Pick does to me? She turns my downs into ups and my nows into thens.  Anyway, blah, blah, blah, Toe Pick is mad at her client because he’s not running against Bartlet, thus putting her out of a job.  So she does the right thing for her party and tries to drive her Mercedes into him.  Blah, blah, blah, there’ s more yelling, and Toe Pick continues to be the most obnoxious character ever to appear on television, including anyone ever played by Charlie Sheen.   Nellie Oleson herself would roll her eyes and tell Toe Pick to STFU.   At the end of the scene, Toe Pick claims the worst part of the whole ordeal will be Josh and his buddies at the White House gloating.  Cut to the White House, Josh is gloating.  Opening music swells.

{Toe Pick takes flight.}
{She thought he was a shoe-in.}
{Donna, the matron saint of insufferable dillholes.}

In the West Wing, CJ and Toby are discussing someone who won’t pose for a photo op with the President because of “the joke.”  That leads into this delightful exchange:

Toby: Mrs. Landingham, does the President have free time this morning?

Mrs. Landingham: The President has nothing but free time, Toby. Right now he’s in the residence eating Cheerios and enjoying Regis and Kathie Lee. Should I get him for you?

Toby: Sarcasm’s a disturbing thing coming from a woman of your age, Mrs. Landingham.

Mrs. Landingham: What age would that be, Toby?

Toby: Late twenties?

Mrs. Landingham: Atta boy.

Toby: Can I have a cookie?

Mrs. Landingham: No. [Sam walks in]

Mrs. Landingham: Good morning, Sam.

Sam: Good morning.

Mrs. Landingham: Have a cookie, Sam.

(Thanks to Wikiquote for making sure I get these right.)

It turns out “they” are the Ryder’s Cup team of champion golfers.  The golfers are mad because the President made some jokes at Texans’ expense, and they believe he makes a habit of it, leading to CJ suggesting the following, and eventually explaining the title of the episode:

C.J.: Sir, this may be a good time to talk about your sense of humor.
Bartlet: I’ve got an intelligence briefing, a security briefing, and a 90-minute budget meeting all scheduled for the same 45 minutes. You sure this is a good time to talk about my sense of humor?
C.J.: No.
Bartlet: Me neither.
C.J.: It’s just that it’s not the first time that it’s happened.
Bartlet: I know.
Toby: We’re talking about Texas, sir.
Bartlet: I know.
C.J.: USA Today asks you why you don’t spend more time campaigning in Texas and you say it’s because you don’t look good in funny hats.
Sam: It was big hats.
C.J.: What difference does it make?
Bartlet: It makes a difference.
C.J.: The point is we got whomped in Texas.
Josh: We got whomped in Texas twice.
C.J.: We got whomped in the primary and we got whomped in November.
Bartlet: I think I was there.
C.J.: And it was avoidable. Sir.
Bartlet: CJ, on your tombstone it’s gonna read ‘Post hoc ergo propter hoc.’
CJ: Okay, but none of my visitors are going to be able to understand my tombstone.
Bartlet: Twenty-seven lawyers in the room, anybody know ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc’? Josh?
Josh: Ah, post, after hoc, ergo, therefore… After hoc, therefore something else hoc.
Bartlet: Thank you. Next? Leo.
Leo: ‘After it, therefore because of it’.
Bartlet: ‘After it, therefore because of it’. It means one thing follows the other, therefore it was caused by the other. But it’s not always true. In fact it’s hardly ever true. We did not lose Texas because of the hat joke. Do you know when we lost Texas?
C.J.: When you learned to speak Latin?
Bartlet: Go figure.

After this, we meet Morris Tolliver, a military doctor who give the President his daily check-up. Leo meets him, and they chat.  Toliver feels under qualified as a Captain, but Leo reassures him the President likes him and is very comfortable with Toliver as his doctor.  The two men look at a picture of Toliver’s new baby, the Leo uses the photo to distract Margaret from chiding him about scheduling things without her.  Unfresh, Leo.  Keep Margaret in the loop if you want your day to go right, for one; and for two, Leo can be kind of a sexist prick sometimes.

Toe Pick breaks it to her business partner, You Can Do Better Than Toe Pick, Lady (YCDBTTPL) that they no longer have any clients.  YCDBTTPL is not happy about this.  Understandably.  There is sharing of Mandy’s impressive background in Powerful Political Things with Impressive Degrees and huge salaries as she and YCDBTTPL get drunk on wine in paper cups.

Back at the office, Josh catches up with Donna and the D-plot, where he learns she has entered him in a football pool and he lost, so he owes her $100.  She bet on Central Indiana State (no such thing, BTW) against Notre Dame.  Well of course CIS is going to lose, it doesn’t even exist.  They don’t stand a chance against the completely corporeal Fighting Irish.   This is not the last time Sorkin pokes a bit of fun at Indiana, and we’ll get into that more later.  I may be able to poke at this state with a stick until I get blisters, but I live here.  I’m allowed.

Josh seamlessly flows into a walk and talk with Toby, where they discuss the need for a Media Director to more effectively drive the message of the Bartlet administration, what with him driving his bike into trees and making jokes about people from the South and all.  I can hear the foreshadowing, can you? It’s singing a sad, sad song that sounds a lot like Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.”  No, Sorkin, no!

The press room, and Ms. CJ Cregg, badder than you or I, holds court. She’s tossed a question which catches her by surprise, about a comment the Vice President made recently. “This is a time when the President needs our support.”  CJ and Toby exchange a brief, meaningful glance, and CJ tells the reporter she has not spoken to the Vice President.  With grace and wit, she changes the subject to the Ryder Cup team, saying the President was owned by 12 guys name Tippy.  After, Toby gives her this look of respect that melts my heart.  I love the friendship these two have throughout the course of the show.

{I love you, bearded man.}

In the hallway of Walking and Talking, Sam and Josh begin to explain why what VP Hoynes said was so significant, by mentioning that it’s the fifth time in several weeks that the VP has said something similar.  This establishes a common pattern in Sorkin storytelling.  He’ll drop a small hint about a significant plot point between two characters, who will look at each other meaningfully.  Later, other characters (or sometimes one of the original chatters) will talk about this point, adding a few important details.  Later, the entire point is revealed, usually by Leo or Bartlet.  Experienced Sorkin viewers may enjoy viewing his new (or new to them) works by playing a rousing game of Wheel of Sorkin!, trying to guess the point on the first two clues.   Here, the point will be that Hoynes is undermining the President subtly, with the hope of sliding into the nomination to be his successor in the next general election.  Intimating the guy in the big chair is weak and needs help is a good way to make marathon runner (and Golden Boy from Texas, the guys who hate Bartlet for knowing Latin) Hoynes look tough, vital and ready to lead where Bartlet has not appeared to do so.  Sorkin makes politics as rich as Greek drama.

Sam continues to walk with Josh, claiming to be stretching his legs, but using the excuse to tell Josh he accidentally slept with Dr. Cuddy, the hot prostitute, but not in a transactional sort of way.  Of course impossibly cute Sam Seaborn doesn’t have to pay.  Any other character on TV, I would be a little offended.  Sam Seaborn gets away with anything, and I hope it’s more about what a noble, endearing character he is in this show more than the fact that he’s unspeakably cute.  Josh is not impressed.

{If Sam needs hookers, I'm screwed.}
{But I must save the princess! Even if she seems to be doing quite well for herself and acting completely of her own free will.}

Josh leaves Sam looking befuddled and meets CJ in the hall to encourage her to keep the Hoynes story off of Leo’s desk.  CJ is loaded for bear, and is stalking down Hoynes like an elegant jungle cat, ready to pounce on him with her unminced words and rapier wit.  When we see him for the first time, he is speaking French, and appears to be an even bigger dillweed than Josh.  Not just because of the French, but it’s part of it.  CJ asks his aide/CoS for a moment, he’s a dick to her.  She walks with the VP, he’s an even bigger dick to her, and completely blows her off. CJ is left stunned in the wake of his entourage.  My feelings on Hoynes run hot and cold through the course of this show.  I’ve heard rumors the relationship between Bartlet and Hoynes is based on the relationship between Clinton and Gore, which I find endlessly fascinating.

{CJ will fuck you up with the stink eye.}
{You're on the list, Bucko.}

In the Oval with the President and Captain Toliver. We can see that the President is very fond of Toliver, as he is all the members of his core team.  Toliver shows the President pictures of his ten day old baby daughter, and both men behave sweetly.  Bartlet is sure a charmer.  No wonder Rizzo fell for him. The two of them banter for several minutes, and Toliver tells Bartlet his is being sent to Amman, Jordan.   Bartlet admits to Toliver that while he feels comfortable in the company of Prime Ministers and kings, when he sits with the Joint Chiefs, he feels as though he is “back at my father’s table.”  Toliver reassures him that the Joint Chiefs will come to respect his leadership, even as they disagree with his politics, once they have a chance to get to know Bartlet.  It’s a rare moment (in the first season) of vulnerability for Bartlet, and it’s touching and a little sad that he has to seek this level of intimacy from a relative stranger, albeit one he feels a connection with.  We’re made to like Toliver instantly, which does not bode well for him. The banter is some of Sorkin’s best between these two.

Bartlet: I don’t need a flu shot.
Morris: You do need a flu shot.
Bartlet: How do I know this isn’t the start of a military coup?
Morris: Sir?
Bartlet: I want the Secret Service in here right away.
Morris: In the event of a military coup, sir, what makes you think the Secret Service is gonna be on your side?
Bartlet: Now that’s a thought that’s gonna fester.

D-plot, Donna wants Josh to pick between Rocky Mountain State (no idea if this is real) and Purdue (another Indiana shout out.  Go Boilers!) Josh trots off to ask CJ about Hoynes when he sees her dart past, everyone is always dashing and darting all over the set on this show, it’s like the running on Doctor Who.  CJ, obviously still upset, tells him it’s fine and there was just a miscommunication between the President’s and Vice President’s staff.

We’re back at Toe Pick’s office. Fantastic. This first season would have been perfect without her.  I kind of hope Sorkin wakes up in a periodic cold sweat with that thought in his head. YCDBTTPL is still suffering along, completely unaware that after this episode she’s never going to be seen again.  Poor YCDBTTPL.  They shoulda kept you instead.

In the West Wing, Sam passes off the final draft of whatever he’s working on while not talking about his buddy, the Pro, then snatches it back for one more once over.  This show makes writers look so dreamy and detail oriented. He sees Toby, and tells him he’s finished the draft, and that he used tough language.  He hovers, using his line again about stretching his legs, which is Sam-code for “I need to tell you how I really frakked the daggit, by which I mean a call girl.” Toby is delightful, and I am kind of tickled that Sorkin used this particular device to help us get to know all these characters.  Through Sam’s accidental boinking we learn Josh is a sarcastic dillhole, Sam is an idealistic doofus with a white knight complex and Toby is unflappable and badass.

Sam: About a week ago I accidentally slept with a prostitute.
Toby: Really?
Sam: Yes.
Toby: You accidentally slept with a prostitute.
Sam: Call girl.
Toby: Accidentally.
Sam: Yes.
Toby: I don’t understand. Did you trip over something?

{Toby wins everything.}
{Glasses on Sam are like ribbons on puppies.}

In Leo’s office, we’ve come to the moment of doom.  Toe Pick will be the new Media Consultant.  Josh isn’t happy it’s Toe Pick either, but I mean it a lot more than he seems to.  He tosses down some ground rules about how Toe Pick will only answer to him and to Leo.  He trots off to the offices of Toe Pick and YCDBTTPL to offer them a big, new job with the leader of the free world as their client.  Toe Pick accepts, YCDBTTPL is apparently eaten by zombies offscreen.

Back in the Oval, the President is on his way to the residence for the night.  Mrs. Landingham stops him with a gift bag, which contains a t-shirt.  The President gives her the side-eye, and says there should also be steaks in the bag.  Mrs. Landingham reminds him that Dr. Toliver (are military doctors called doctor or by their rank?) says he needs to cut back on the red meat.  Bartlet calls her a spoilsport, and Mrs. Landingham keeps using variations of Toliver’s name, which again is all sorts of foreshadowing.

Leo meets with Hoynes and lays into him for being a tool.  The two of them spat, and it’s not pretty.

{Leo seems to be afraid of nothing.}
{Mine is MUCH bigger!}

In a fancy club of some sort, Sam is on a mission to make a total ass of himself.  He finds Lauri at a table with what we assume is a powerful client and makes a huge, embarrassing scene, ending with a special flourish by threatening to call the attorney general.  Oh, Laurie, run.  This well intentioned yet terribly misguided fella is going to try and save you from yourself and he’s really going to fuck some shit up.   Laurie makes some compelling arguments in favor of her not needing anyone to save her, she makes great money, she likes the work, she can do it while she goes to law school.  Sam counters that if she gets busted, she won’t be accepted into the bar.  She’s planning on not getting busted, as long as big damn heroes like Sam stay out of her way.  Despite being a complete tool earlier in the evening, Laurie is won over by Sam’s boy scout thing.  I, on the other hand, am starting to rethink my crush on unspeakably cute Mr. Seaborn.

{This is a capital S Shitstorm, and he was so cute, too.}
{This can't be good.}

Leo has to wake President Bartlet to shock both him and the audience with the news that Captain Toliver, several other doctors, volunteers and crew died when his plane was shot down on it’s way to the teaching hospital in Amman.  Originally reported as an accident, a terrorist group later took responsibility, but as it turns out it was the responsibility of the Syrian government.  I’d like to state what may be a common theme in these pieces as we go along – Sheen was robbed by never receiving an Emmy for this work.  Bartlet goes from stricken to crushed to as angry as Zeus with his hands around a pair of high voltage lightening bolts when he issues this chilling line to Leo.

Leo.  I am not frightened.  I’m going to blow them off the face of the earth, with the fury of God’s own Thunder. Get the commanders.

Leo’s face speaks for all of us as we’re torn between our American instinct of seeking vicarious vengeance for all the Morris Tolivers of the world and hoping this smart, idealistic president we’re growing to love is above meeting violence with violence.  We see another glimpse of this larger than life character, this tragic hero who will be able to go toe to toe with any Oedipus or Hamlet by the end of his run, we see him as a flawed, injured and completely fallible human being. And we see that scare the shit out of Leo.

It is a rare moment when we see either of these men as vulnerable as they are in this scene, and perhaps the only time we see them vulnerable at the same time.  The relationship between Leo and the President is one of the most complex male friendships I’ve seen on television or in the movies, and it speaks to the talent of both Sorkin and the two actors.  We cut away with the President on the phone with Captain Toliver’s widow.

Special thanks to our Tumblr friends TWWCaps for the lovely shot of Toby we’re using as a thumbnail.  It’s not from this particular episode, but it’s a lovely shot of Mr. Ziegler.

By [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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