LadyGhosts of TV Past

Ladyghosts: The West Wing, Season 1, Episode 3

Previously, on the West Wing, President Bartlet’s personal physician, Captain Morris Tolliver, was killed when his plane was shot down on the way to a humanitarian mission at a teaching hospital.  The President is out for some old school eye-for-an-eye justice to retaliate.  Also, the unfortunate Mandy has been hired to be the Director of New Media. A note on my screencaps – the video on my copy of this particular episode was really crappy.  So I played with stuff in photoshop.  Some results are better than others. Moving on.

The third episode of the first season is titled “A Proportional Response,” which is an appropriate title for not only the plot that name checks it, but also for the various sub-plots happening around the international crisis at the center.  The episode opens with Josh’s routine as he enters the White House on the morning of the day on which most of this episode’s events transpire.   This morning reveal is a common tactic of Sorkin’s, we’ll see it again several more times with Josh, as well as with other characters, as the series goes on.  Josh runs into Donna, who tells him CJ is looking for him.   There is a brief scene between the two of them where she asks for a raise after he pumps her for possible reasons why CJ is seeking him.  At the end of the scene, Josh decides to hide in his office.  When he opens the door, he finds CJ sitting with her feet propped on his desk, drinking coffee and reading the news paper.  He’s very surprised, and she turns to him and says, “Boy, are you stupid.”

C.J. Cregg (portrayed by Allison Janney) sits with her feet on Josh Lyman's desk reading a newspaper and looking disgusted on the 1999-2006 television drama The West Wing. Season 1, episode 3 "A Proportional Response."

CJ knows about the call girl, and boy is she pissed.

Josh: A couple of things for you to bear in mind. First of all, he didn’t know she was a call girl when he slept with her. He didn’t pay her. He didn’t participate in, have knowledge of, or witness anything illegal. Or for that matter, unethical, amoral, or suspect.
C.J.: Okay. A couple things for you to bear in mind. None of that matters on Hard Copy!
Josh: You’re overreacting.
C.J.: Am I?
Josh: Yes.
C.J.: As women are prone to do.
Josh: That’s not what I meant.
C.J.: That’s always what you mean.
Josh: You know what, C.J., I really think I’m the best judge of what I mean, you paranoid Berkeley shiksa feminista! …whoa, that was way too far.
C.J.: No, no. Well, I’ve got a staff meeting to go to and so do you, you elitist Harvard fascist missed-the-deans-list-two-semesters-in-a-row Yankee jackass!
Josh: Feel better getting that off your chest there, C.J.?
C.J.: I’m a whole new woman.
Josh: You look like a million bucks, by the way.
C.J.: Don’t try to make up with me.

As they walk from Josh’s office to the senior staff meeting in Leo’s office, they are joined by Toby, who is grumbling about the President being in a horrible mood to the extent he is scaring Fitzwallace, which Toby didn’t even think was possible.  In addition to frightening one of the Joint Chiefs, the President snapped at Berryhill (we’ll see him off and on throughout the series) and even fought with the First Lady.   Toby is predictably grumpy.

On what I refer to as the West Wing’s smoking porch, as they make their way to the staff meeting, the President and Leo are chatting about Cashman and Berryhill, and the President is clearly loaded for bear.  Cashman and Berryhill are apposed to a security bill to allow action, and Leo is trying to convince the President that the Security Council is working as fast as it can, even though time isn’t critical at this point.  The President will not be soothed, and snaps at Mrs. Landingham about his missing glasses while demanding swift and furious action be taken today against Sudan.  Leo gently reminds the President he keeps saying ‘him’ instead of ‘them’, which shows the President is obviously taking this very personally and not acting in the most Presidential fashion.  Indeed, and what a series of moments we get from Bartlet as he hovers on the edge of acting on his emotions instead of his intellect.

In the staff meeting, Josh asks Leo about the Presidents mood, and Leo brushes him off.  He has Sam read a transcript from a statement made by southern Democrat Bertram Coles:

Sam: [reading a newspaper article, quoting a congressman]  Folks down here are patriotic, fiercely patriotic. The President better not be planning on making any visits to this base. If he does, he may not get out alive.
Toby: He said that? Sitting there with military officers?
Josh: Don’t take the bait.
Toby: Josh.
Josh: Don’t take the bait!
Toby: You’d better believe I’m going to take the bait.
Leo: There ought to be a law against it.
Josh: Why’d you get him started?
[Leo shrugs]
Toby: There is a law against it! How about threatening the life of the President? He was talking to other people: how about conspiracy? They were military officers, how about treason? That was a member of our own party, Leo. That was a Democrat who said that!
Leo: It’s bad, I know.
Toby: That’s it?
Leo: What are you going to do?
Toby: Have the Justice Department bring him in pending felony charges.
Josh: Toby’s right. What’s the good of being in power if you’re not going to haul your enemies in for questioning?
Toby: We’re really not gonna do anything about this?
Leo: Yeah, cause what we really need to do is arrest people for being mean to the President.
Toby: There is no law. There is no decency.
Josh: He’s just getting that now.

The meeting breaks up, and the various staffers make the requisite walk and talk back to their respective offices.  CJ tells Sam she’d like to talk to him, leading Sam to ask Toby if he thinks she knows, referring of course to Dr. Cuddy, call girl.  There’s a hilarious dry moment as Sam panics slightly when Toby explains that he thinks CJ knows because  CJ told Toby she knows.  Sam asks for a word, and Toby agrees but asks for a moment.  He grabs a stack of clipped papers from a staffer and approaches a group of press.

Reporter #1: Toby! Have you guys heard what Bertram Coles said about the President?
Toby: Yes.
Reporter #2: And?
Toby: The Secret Service investigates all threats against the President.  It’s White House policy not to comment on these situations.
Reporter #1: Are you telling me there’s going to be a criminal investigation?
Toby: I really can’t comment on that right now.

Heh.  I loves me some Toby.

Sam meets up with CJ in her office and there is a tense and beautifully acted scene between the two of them.  CJ starts out smug, but smug on CJ is actually pretty charming. It quickly gets heated, with CJ rolling her eyes at Sam showing Dr. Cuddy, call girl, “the error of her ways.”   Sam ends up snapping that CJ is too cowardly to stand up to special interest groups and say the administration knows the difference between right and wrong, and that everyone should mind their own business.  CJ is hurt, and the tone in the room quickly becomes ice cold.

Still from TV show "The West Wing." A woman types away at her computer.

Sam stomps off and punches a wall.

In the situation room, we’re about to be formally introduced to Admiral Fitzwallace, played by John Amos.  Fitz is one of my all-time favorite recurring WW characters.  There is never too much Fitz.   In my fantasies, when I become flush with millions after winning the Power Ball, I pay Mr. Sorkin to go all George Lucas on it and replace every Mandy scene with a Fitz scene instead.  That would be a West Win!  Anyway, this is our first shot of the Situation Room. (Random trivia question: Is this the same set Sorkin used in The American President?)

Military men in the Situation Room on the 1999-2006 television drama The West Wing. Season 1, episode 3 "A Proportional Response."

Fitzwallace explains the plan, Pericles I, which will hit three low-level military targets.  The plan is proportional, doesn’t endanger Americans or American assets.  The President interrupts him with the following:

Bartlet: What’s the virtue of the proportional response?
Admiral Fitzwallace: I’m sorry?
Bartlet: What is the virtue of a proportional response? Why’s it good? They hit an airplane, so we hit a transmitter, right? That’s a proportional response. They hit a barracks, so we hit two transmitters.
Admiral Fitzwallace: Yes, that’s roughly it, sir.
Bartlet: This is what we do. I mean, this is what we do.
Leo: Yes sir, it’s what we do. It’s what we’ve always done.
Bartlet: Well, if it’s what we do, if it’s what we’ve always done, don’t they know we’re going to do it? I ask again, what is the virtue of a Proportional Response?
Admiral Fitzwallace: It isn’t virtuous, Mr. President. It’s all there is, sir.
Bartlet: It is not all there is.
Admiral Fitzwallace: Just what else is there?
Bartlet: The disproportional response. Let the word ring forth, from this time and this place, gentlemen, you kill an American, any American, we don’t come back with a proportional response. We come back with total disaster! [He bangs the table]
General: Are you suggesting that we carpet-bomb Damascus?
Bartlet: I am suggesting, General, that you, and Admiral Fitzwallace, and Secretary Hutchinson, and the rest of the National Security Team take the next sixty minutes and put together an American response scenario that doesn’t make me think we’re just docking somebody’s damn allowance!

Admiral Fitzwallace addresses the President in the Situation Room at the White House on the 1999-2006 television drama The West Wing. Season 1, episode 3 "A Proportional Response."

Throughout the scene, Fitz and Leo try to get the President to calm the hell down and look at the plan, but he’s having none of it.   Bartlet is a bit of a bombastic dick in this scene, stubborn and angry in the face of his advisers.  The slightest flicker of alarm in both Leo and Fitz’s faces is fantastic, and this scene sets up a friendship between the two men that we see flickers of for seasons.

In the next scene, after a pan down an enormous painting of Teddy Roosevelt, we see the very frightened face of Mr. Charlie Young.  I will argue, as these recaps three people read go on, that Charlie is the heart of this show.  Dule Hill was pitch perfect in this series.  I’ve read arguments that Donna is the Everyman of this series, the person who makes sure all of us in the audience understand what’s going on, but I think Charlie fills that role better than Donna.  This could be my crush on Hill talking, but let’s keep an open mind.

Charlie’s interview scene with Josh is one of my favorites in the series.  Whitford and Hill have great chemistry, I’d love to see either of them cross-over on the other’s current show.  At the end of the scene, we learn that Charlie is taking care of his little sister because his mom was shot and killed in the line of duty as a DC police officer.

The next scene opens with an exterior shot of the White House.  This is not a shot where you can see the snipers on top.

The White House, full exterior front-on shot, on the 1999-2006 television drama The West Wing. Season 1, episode 3 "A Proportional Response."

We’re back in the Situation Room, and President Bartlet makes a joke about a group of arrogant cardiologists in the Blue Room.   Fitz shows him the new plan, which is substantially more devastating than Pericles I.  This is the first of many shots in the series of Fitz front lit by a projection of shit the US is about to blow up.  John Amos is a man of a lot of gravitas naturally, lighting him with military targets makes him look seriously badass.  He manages to talk the President into going with Pericles I instead of the newer, harsher plan, after the President bums a square from a general.

Still from TV show The West Wing. A man stares with a skeptical expression.
This is flavor country.

On his way out of the Situation Room, Bartlet drops his half smoked cig into a glass of water.

Back with Charlie and Josh, Josh is asking him some pretty personal questions as part of his screening.  Sam wanders in and adds to Charlie’s confusion by going a little off the rails.  Josh pulls him into the hallway before Charlie decides to look into become Canadian instead of continuing to apply for a messenger job no one else seems to know anything about.  One bit I noticed that we’ll be coming back to in about three seasons, Sam says “Debbie has an eye for personnel.”  As Josh and Sam are arguing about right and wrong, Toby grabs them both and pulls them into Leo’s office, telling them “It’s happening.”   In his office, Leo outlines the plan and rallies the troops to do everything necessary to prepare.  Sam and Toby are writing remarks for the President’s address to the nation later that evening, CJ is preparing what she’ll tell the press, and there isn’t really anything for Josh to do.  Everyone is told no calls in our out, and to keep everything low key so the press doesn’t find out too soon.  After the others leave, Josh approaches Leo to ask about the appropriateness of hiring a young, black man to hold the door open for the President.  Leo assures him it’s okay, then qualifies his statement by saying his almost sure he’s right about it.

Fitz enters as Josh is leaving and pulls no punches before telling Leo he needs to sit the President down.  Leo agrees, and asks for advice.  In his very no-bullshit way, Fitz tells Leo to tell Bartlet he’s doing fine, and it’s always like this the first time.  Leo looks less than convinced, but moves on to ask Fitz what he thinks about the President being attended by a young black man, and Fitz tells him as long as Charlie will be paid fairly and treated with respect, he’s got bigger battles to fight.

Toby and Sam retreat to Toby’s office, where they banter about words and sentence structure.  I could watch an hour of this.  Toby talking about writing makes me feel all warm and squishy inside.  Look at this, is there anything hotter than two smart (if sometimes misguided.  Sam.) people who know how to make plain ordinary words into magical, moving combinations?  For me, no.  YMMV. Even in my crappy, over-filtered screen shot.

Toby and Sam sitting in Toby's office, writing public remarks for the President on the 1999-2006 television series The West Wing.

CJ pops her head in to ask about a correction that needs to be made and to ask what a particular kind of weapon is.  Toby quickly gives her a rundown and she leaves.  Sam follows her in a few seconds and apologizes.  CJ replies in a way that lets him know she accepts his apology, but he isn’t off the hook.  I love her.  So, so much.  She is striding back to her office in the way only the badass can when she’s stopped by Curly Hair, a regular reporter on the show.   Calling her by name will always require a parenthetical saying she’s the reporter with dark, curly hair and the smokey voice.  We’re saving time in an already bloated recap by calling her Curly Hair.   CJ deflects with a verbal tap dance and a cocky grin, only to be stopped by Timothy Busfield, scruffy ginger, as Danny Concannon, one of perhaps four people on the entire planet who can fluster the unflappable CJ.   I hated every ginger hair on Busfield’s character’s head on thirtysomething, I reluctantly grew to love Busfield on the West Wing.

Danny Concannon (Timothy Busfield) confronts C.J. Cregg while standing and leaning against a door frame on the 1999-2006 television drama The West Wing. Season 1, episode 3 "A Proportional Response."

CJ and Danny banter a bit before he drops that he’s well aware of Sam’s friendship with Dr. Cuddy, call girl.  CJ asks him into her office.   I must apologize to Mr. Busfield for making him look like a combination of Benson Honeydew and Adam Savage from Mythbusters.  [Rule 34 break: And the Google says…. Busfield/Honeydew/Savage slashfic does not exist.  End of days postponed.]

Josh is loitering around Donna’s desk, as the legislative dude, military actions leave little on his plate.  He is, of course, insufferable.  My feelings on Josh run hot and cold.  I know a few fellas with more than a little Josh in them, and God bless ’em, sometimes they’re hard to love.  I can not for the life of me imagine being couples friends with Josh and Mandy.  Speak of the devil, there she is, hiding in Josh’s office.   I’m so glad they give him better foils.   There’s a conversation I won’t waste words on, she gives him a framed photo of the two of them with his face scribbled out.  We’re supposed to think it’s cute, I’m looking for an aspirin.

Still of the show "The West Wing." A table with a portrait of a man and a woman hugging.

In her office, CJ rails on about privacy and right and wrong (see, Sam, she is your best defense.) until he says he won’t run it, but he paints a fairly grim picture of what could happen of someone with fewer morals than Danny caught wind of it.  He creates a bit of foreshadowing (Sorkin f’ing loves foreshadowing.) about a political foe finding out and holding onto the information until the Bartlet administration wanted to pass a critical piece of legislation or even at the convention.  (dum dum DUM.)

Josh is taking Charlie on his first tour of the Hallway of Walking and Talking, and slyly drops that Charlie is about to meet the President among several other points.  Charlie stops dead in the hallway and looks as though he might just turn and run as fast as he can.

Charlie Young (portrayed by Dule Hill), looking apprehensive right before he becomes the President's personal aide on the 1999-2006 television drama The West Wing.  Season 1, episode 3 "A Proportional Response."

In the oval, the President is mean and scary.  Josh and Charlie look on as Bartlet yells at Mrs. Landingham (for shame, Mr. President, that’s twice in one episode.), yells at CJ and still can’t find his glasses.  After hearing the President tell pretty much everyone, as he’s yelling, that he read a report on the Phoenix (the weapon they used to blow up the defense targets in Syria.) in his private study with Hutchinson, Charlie leans in and whispers something we can’t hear to Josh.  Josh nudges him and says “Tell him.”  After another prompt, Charlie says “Mr. President?” and the entire room turns to him in what would make me do bad things in my pants before running as far as my legs would take me moment.

Toby Zeigler (Richard Schiff), C.J. Cregg, President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), Leo McGarry (John Spencer) and Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) stare open-mouthed at off-screen Charlie Young on the 1999-2006 television drama The West Wing. Season 1, episode 3 "A Proportional Response."

Charlie, made of much better stuff than me, soldiers on.  He tells the President he was in his private study, clearly meaning ‘Hey, dude, you probably left your glasses in that place where you were reading the last time you knew where your glasses were.’ Mrs. Landingham does her fairy godmother thing and send a few aides off to search under the papers in the study.  Meanwhile, the President gets lippy and snaps at Charlie, and for the last time in the series, 100% of the audience thinks President Bartlet is a bitchy douchenozzle.  Charlie stands his ground, still looking like a deer caught in the headlights, but not saying anything else or running away crying.  After a final tongue lashing from Bartlet, he quietly walks away, looking absolutely defeated. Team Charlie!

Leo pulls Mean Mister President into his office for a come to Jesus meeting.  After giving Bartlet a bit of what for, they have this conversation:

Bartlet: Did you know that two thousand years ago a Roman citizen could walk across the face of the known world free of the fear of molestation? He could walk across the Earth unharmed, cloaked only in the protection of the words civis Romanus — I am a Roman citizen. So great was the retribution of Rome, universally certain, should any harm befall even one of its citizens. Where was Morris’s protection, or anybody else on that airplane? Where was the retribution for the families, and where is the warning to the rest of the world that Americans shall walk this Earth unharmed, lest the clenched fist of the most mighty military force in the history of mankind comes crashing down on your house?! In other words, Leo, what the hell are we doing here?!
Leo: We are behaving the way a superpower ought to behave.
Bartlet: Well our behavior has produced some crappy results, in fact I’m not a hundred per cent sure it hasn’t induced it.
Leo: What are you talking about?
Bartlet: I’m talking about two hundred and eighty-six American marines in Beirut, I’m talking about Somalia, I’m talking about Nairobi-
Leo: And you think ratcheting up the body count’s gonna act as a deterrent?
Bartlet: You’re damn right I-
Leo: Oh, then you are just as stupid as these guys who think capital punishment is going to be a deterrent for drug kingpins. As if drug kingpins didn’t live their day to day lives under the possibility of execution, and their executions are a lot less dainty than ours and tend to take place without the bother and expense of due process. So, my friend, if you want to start using American military strength as the arm of the Lord, you can do that. We’re the only superpower left. You can conquer the world, like Charlemagne! But you better be prepared to kill everyone. And you better start with me, because I will raise up an army against you and I will beat you!
Bartlet: He had a ten day old baby at home.
Leo: I know.
Bartlet: We are doing nothing.
Leo: We are not doing nothing.
Bartlet: We’re destroying-
Leo: Four high-rated military targets!
Bartlet: And this is good?
Leo: Of course it’s not good. There is no good. It’s what there is! It’s how you behave if you’re the most powerful nation in the world. It’s proportional, it’s reasonable, it’s responsible, it’s merciful! It’s not nothing. Four high-rated military targets.
Bartlet: Which they’ll rebuild again in six months.
Leo: Then we’ll blow ’em up again in six months! We’re getting really good at it… It’s what our fathers taught us.
Bartlet: Why didn’t you say so? Oh man, Leo…when I think of all the work you put in to get me to run and all the work you did to get me elected…I could pummel your ass with a baseball bat.

They laugh, and then Leo tells him about Bertram Cole’s plan to go all Yosemite Sam on his ass, and the two laugh some more, especially about how Toby reacted.  Bartlet asks about Charlie, and Leo tells him that Charlie can be his new body man, if Bartlet wants him.  Bartlet asks “What’s his story?” and we cut to another scene.  CJ and Toby are in the oval, and CJ casually asks if he knows anything about a Secret Service investigation into Bertram Coles.  Toby fesses up to both lighting that fire and tossing gasoline onto it.  Heh.

Meanwhile, Josh is in one of his more endearing moments, trying to convince Charlie the President isn’t always such a jackass.  I get the feeling Josh would do anything to fight to get Charlie the job, and his dedication and the good heart underneath the normal, obnoxious Josh persona is one of the reasons I can never decide how I feel about him.

Josh: I have to tell you, he’s ordinarily an extremely kind man, placing a very high premium on civility. Today…it’s just been a very difficult few days for him.
Charlie: I think I should probably go.
[Bartlet comes in]
Bartlet: Excuse me, Charlie? Can I see you inside, please? Come on, it’s okay.
[Charlie walks toward him hesitantly and Bartlet sticks out his hand]
Bartlet: I’m Jed Bartlet.
Charlie: I’m Charles Young, sir.
Bartlet: But you prefer Charlie, right? Listen, Leo McGarry filled me in on the situation with your mother. I’m so very sorry. I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of calling Tom Connolly, the FBI Director, and we had the computer spit out some quick information. Your mother was killed by a Western .38 revolver firing KTWs, or what are known as cop-killer bullets. Now, we have not had a whole lot of success yet in banning that weapon and those bullets off the streets, but we’re planning on taking a big whack at it when Congress comes back from recess. So, what do you say? You want to come help us out?
Charlie: [smiling] Yes, sir, I do.
Bartlet: Thank you, Charlie. [shakes his hand]

And… cue Kleenex! I’m not even going to try to screencap how beautiful Charlie’s face is as he accepts the job.  It’s an open book of about 30 emotions, and I am shocked and appalled Hill never got any of the big awards for this show. ROBBED.

The President and Leo banter, and we get the feeling everything is back on track.  Charlie says, “I’ve never felt like this before.” Josh tells him that feeling never goes away.  We cut to credits as the President begins his address.  And thus ends the longest recap yet.  This is why you don’t read them, isn’t it?  *sigh.*

Special thanks to our Tumblr friends TWWcaps for the lovely picture of Toby.

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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