LadyGhosts of TV Past

Ladyghosts – The West Wing, Season 1, Episode 4

We’re going to try and come in under 3000 words today, readers.   We’ll see how it goes.  Today we’ll be talking about the fourth episode in season one, “Five Votes Down.”  Like most of the episodes this season, Five Votes balances several plots around a central theme.  Let’s dig in!

The episode begins with President Bartlet giving a speech, Toby fretting about said speech and Leo getting a phone call.   Leo’s call reveals that the Bartlet administration has lost five votes for an upcoming piece of gun-control legislation.  Toby calls out Bartlet for playing it fast and loose with the D-section of the speech, and repeatedly reminds all of us that Sam wrote 2.5 paragraphs and Toby wrote 37 pages.

Bartlet: You know what, Toby? You’re what my mother calls a pain in the ass.

Toby: Yes, sir, that’s what my mother calls it, too.

In other business, as the staff gathers to discuss who has jumped ship and why, Leo forgets his anniversary until well into a conversation with his wife, Jenny.   Toby discovers that the $5000 worth of stock he bought in a tech company owned by a friend of his is now worth $125,000 and he’s as surprised as anyone.   Apparently the stock price jumped after Toby arranged for his friend, the owner, to speak to a committee.   Not one to be bogged down in details he doesn’t totally understand, Toby is annoyed that he has to deal with the issue at all.

Also revealed in the financial disclosure circus is that Josh is the office winner for most expensive gifts over $50, for an $1100 smoking jacket and $350 cigarette holder from a Ms. Sarah Wissinger.   There’s a funny moment following this revelation when Sam and Josh walk and talk, only to discover they’re following each other to nowhere.   Heh. During their conversation, Josh tells Sam he’ll handle Chris Wick, one of the congressmen who’s changed his vote on the gun control bill.   Apparently Josh got him elected, so Josh is not altogether pleased Wick is being a tool.

Leo is scrambling to get back in Jenny’s good graces by having Margaret put together an expensive dinner, possibly with a violinist, and having Harry Winston send down a choker.  It’s a good try, Leo.  Josh enters and outlines his plan to go to Congressman Katzenmoyer (another of the five votes they lost) with the intention of playing hardball.  Leo wants to sell tickets to the meeting.

Josh meets with Katzenmoyer, who tells him that since Katzenmoyer only won with 52% of the vote, he has to raise $10k a week from day one to even have a prayer for re-election, and if he’s made a target by the NRA, he’s sunk.

Josh: Forgive my bluntness, and I say this with all due respect, Congressman, but vote yes, or you’re not even going to be on the ballot two years from now.
Katzenmoyer: How do you figure?
Josh: You’re going to lose in the primary.
Katzenmoyer: There’s no Democrat running against me.
Josh: Sure there is.
Katzenmoyer: Who?
Josh: Whomever we pick.
Katzenmoyer: You’re bluffing.
Josh: Okay.
Katzenmoyer: I’m in your own party!
Josh: Doesn’t seem to be doing us much good now, does it?
Katzenmoyer: Against an incumbent Democrat. You’ll go to the press and endorse a challenger?
Josh: No sir. We’re going to do it in person. See, you won with fifty-two percent, but the President took your district with fifty-nine. And I think it’s high time we come back and say thanks. Do you have any idea how much noise Air Force One makes when it lands in Eau Claire, Wisconsin? We’re going to have a party, Congressman. You should come, it’s gonna be great. And when the watermelon’s done, right in town square, right in the band gazebo… You guys got a band gazebo?
Katzenmoyer: Josh…
Josh: Doesn’t matter, we’ll build one. Right in the band gazebo, that’s where the President is going to drape his arm around the shoulder of some assistant DA we like. And you should have your camera with you. You should get a picture of that. ‘Cause that’s gonna be the moment you’re finished in Democratic politics. President Bartlet’s a good man. He’s got a good heart. He doesn’t hold a grudge. That’s what he pays me for.

Back at the White House, Sam is telling Toby he technically committed a felony that could earn him a few decades in prison and cost him millions of dollars.   Toby is panicking a bit, so Sam pushes a little harder, obviously enjoying himself.  C.J. pops her head in the door:

C.J.: Hey, Toby, I was going to head out and get some lunch, but I’m a little short.  Do you have $125,000 I can borrow? (She walks away, cackling.)

Sam: I’ve got your back on this, buddy.

Toby: I am so completely screwed.

C.J. is holding court in the press room, where she answers questions about what gifts Bartlet declared, including an Armani cravat from his brother-in-law that he donated to the Salvation Army.   When asked about the value of the President’s farm in New Hampshire jumping about $750k in value, she responds that the increase is due to Secret Service enhancements, including “a heliport and the ability to run a global war from the sunporch.”  She finishes by giving the press corps a heads up that they’ll be talking about Josh next, and that they should save some column inches for him.  Josh is standing in the sidelines and laughs.  He tells C.J. they’ve gotten Katzenmoyer back in the fold, as well as O’Bannon and Lebrandt.   He’s about to meet with Wick, who he’s pretty sure he can sway, so he’s at his cocky Josh best.  The fifth, Tillinghouse, is going to require intervention by the VP, so Josh is waiting for Leo to work his Leo magic.

Josh kept Wick waiting for about 20 minutes, but Wick tries to swing his, um, Congressional privilege, around by bringing an entourage.  Josh is not impressed.  The smackdown is scathing and delicious. Wick wants a round of golf with the President, but settles for a game of chess.  (Oh, Congressman Wick, that’s a terrible idea.)

In Leo’s office, he’s showing off the Harry Winston choker to Sam, C.J. and Toe Pick.  It is made of the biggest pearls I’ve ever seen, and it quite frankly, atrocious, and looks like it would be right at home around Wilma Flintstone’s neck.  Josh comes in demanding Leo go to Hoynes to get Tillinghouse on board, but Leo is going to try to talk to Richardson.   He has Margaret arrange an out-of-office meeting, and in the next scene we see them meeting on the Capitol steps.  Richardson, rightly, calls out the series of events that lead Leo to seek him out and stands his ground on the ‘no’ vote.  Not because he thinks the bill is too restrictive, but because it’s not nearly restrictive enough.  Leo, not at his best, tells Richardson (who is black) that he should be concerned because it’s black men who are being killed by these guns.  Richardson sharply tells him that if the White House drafted a gun control bill that would actually save lives, he would gladly sign it.  He then tells Leo not to tell him how to be a leader of black men, because it makes Leo “look like an idiot.”  No arguments there, Congressman Richardson.

Since Richardson is obviously a wash, Leo is set up to go meet with Hoynes.

Leo returns home to find a Taxi in his driveway and Jenny’s bags packed by the door.  Unless his pearl necklace is magic, it’s not looking good for Leo.   Jenny wants a divorce, and there’s nothing that will change her mind.  Jenny leaves quietly after a conversation that is more sad and resigned than angry. As she’s walking out, Leo says “Call me before you go to sleep?” and his voice breaks just a little.

Since there’s no rest for the wicked, Leo has to go meet with Hoynes immediately after his wife leaves him.  Hoynes can tell there’s something wrong, and Leo confides in him.  Throughout this series, I never feel the same way about Hoynes two weeks in a row.  For someone who spends so little time actually on screen, Hoynes is just as complex a character as any of the headliners.  He promises Leo he’ll speak to and deliver Tillinghouse, without so much as a compelling argument why from Leo.  He then asks if Leo has been going to meetings, which we can easily suss up means a twelve step program.  Leo, being rather famous and easily identifiable, doesn’t think there’s a meeting on the planet he could go to.  Hoynes tells him he hosts a weekly meeting himself, all friendlies, all heavy hitters, and Leo is more than welcome to come.

Wednesday.  Toe Pick lies in wait and pounces on Josh with a snide “Sarah Wissinger?”  Josh rolls his eyes and explains that yes, Ms. Wissinger gave him a smoking jacket and a cigarette holder.  Toe Pick is good at math and realized Josh was getting fripperies from Ms. Wissinger while he was technically dating Toe Pick.  Whoops.

The senior staff gathers in the Oval for the morning meeting.  Leo enters and everyone asks how his big anniversary make-up dinner went.  Awkward! Leo smoothly lies his way out of it like a dog.  A very smooth dog.  The staff asks where the President is, Leo says his back is pretty bad, so he’s decided to stay in bed for the morning.  Just as he finishes, in wanders Bartlet, looking kind of adorable in a sweatshirt and jeans, and popped out of his right mind on painkillers.  What follows is one of my favorite scenes in all of TWW history.

Bartlet: [on pain medication] What’s going on here?
Sam: Nothing you need to concern yourself with, Mr. President. Merely a perception issue regarding Toby and the financial disclosure.
Bartlet: Well, I like to roll up my sleeves and, you know … get involved.
C.J.: Mr. President. Did you by any chance take your back pills?
Bartlet: I don’t mind telling you C.J. I was in a little pain there.
Leo: Which did you take, sir, the Vicodin or the Percocet?
Bartlet: I wasn’t supposed to take ’em both?
C.J.: Okay, Mr. President, we’re going to have someone take you back to bed.
Bartlet: No no no. Sit sit sit. One of you’s got a problem, and I’m here to help. You guys are like family. You’ve always been there for me. You’ve always been loyal, honest, hard-working good people, and I love you all very much, and I don’t say that often enough. [to Sam] So, tell me what the problem is, Toby.
Sam: I’m Sam, sir.
Bartlet: Sam, of course you are.
Toby: Sir, the situation basically is this. I arranged for a friend to testify to Commerce on Internet stocks, while simultaneously, but unrelated to that, bought a technology issue which, partly due to my friend’s testimony, shot through the roof.
Bartlet: Toby. Toby, Toby, Toby. Toby’s a nice name, don’t you think?
Toby: Can we possibly do this meeting at another time?
Bartlet: No no no, I know my body. I know my muscles aren’t, you know, but my mind is sharp. I can focus. I’m focused. You all know that about me. Here’s what I think we ought to do. [beat] Was I just saying something?

Martin Sheen should really do more comedy.

Sam, in a moment of brilliance, comes up with a plan to save Toby.  Toby will reduce his salary to $1 for one year, and immediately cash in his tech issue to relieve the taxpayers.  Everyone but Toby thinks it’s a fantastic idea.  Toby thinks “it stinks.”  So Bartlet gives him a hug.  Aw.

Hoynes is having breakfast with Tillinghouse, who we learn loves guns.  If the criminals have guns, Tillinghouse wants guns for his wife, his kids, his grandbabies and his dog.  Hoynes, slipping right back into slick mode, tells him to vote yes and share their conversation with LeBrandt, Wick, Katzenmoyer and the other guy.  Tillinghouse raises his eyebrow and gives Hoynes a bit of dap, recognizing that Hoynes is going to use this a victory for himself, not a victory for the White House.   When Tillinghouse asks what’s in it for Tillinghouse, Hoynes replies, “I’m going to be President of the United States one day, and you’re not.”

We see a shot of the Capitol at night and hear a radio voice over talking about the vote.  Congressional democrats (especially those who were insulted when Josh told them what’s what) are giving full credit for the bill’s passing to Hoynes.  The senior staff is gathered around a TV, looking a combination of defeated and pissed.  Leo reminds Josh that they won, but Josh sees the bigger picture.  He quietly exits, looking like serious business.

The next scene is in Hoynes’ office, and we figure out where Josh was headed in a hurry.  The two of them banter, covering for all the unspoken stuff they’re conveying to each other.  If I were to translate, it would go something like this:

Josh: So you totally screwed us and made us look like assholes, huh?

Hoynes: I shit rose petals and eat cut glass for breakfast, Josh.

Josh: You’re running against us in the next election, aren’t you?

Hoynes: Neener neener neener.   Made ya look weak!

What Hoynes actually says, as he’s headed out the door: “Welcome to the NFL.”  heh.

The episode ends with Leo going to Hoynes’ AA meeting in the basement of the OEOB, telling the Secret Service Agent at the door that he’s there for the card game.

The themes this week were a tasty blend of hubris and keeping up appearances.  Several of the issues, from Leo’s marriage to the vote to Toby’s windfall, are addressed only in terms of how the problem will look to everyone else.  Even the most innocent of actions can be used as fodder that affects not only the individual players, but the ability for the Bartlet White House to function at all.  This is the first episode where we see the scurrying going on underneath the surface, and this is where Sorkin begins to take some of the shine off of the fairy tale government he’s been creating in the first few episodes.

Next week, it’s one of my least favorite episodes, so that recap should be loads of snarky fun.

*Special thanks to our tumblr friends TWWcaps for the lovely picture of Mrs. Landingham I’m using as this week’s featured image.

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.

3 replies on “Ladyghosts – The West Wing, Season 1, Episode 4”

I’ve been lurking here for a week now and with TWW recaps, you’ve officially sealed the deal for me. I love this series so hard, own all seasons on DVD and I’ve re-watched most (if not all) of the episodes.

I love this one in particular because of the President-Bartlet-is-on-pain-meds exchange, but Josh runs a close second, with all the politicking he has to do to regain lost ground. He does an impressive amount of messy, often difficult work in a pretty BAMF manner that is incredibly interesting to watch.

Coming to The West Wing as a non-American, I think what appeals to me most was the “service to a higher ideal” aspect of it all. What motivates the characters isn’t money or even a passion for something specific (e.g. sports or television) but just aspiring towards the ideal of a better country. That’s just so radical to me. And even when they get beat down, you hear Leo saying “We live to fight another day”, and the sheer optimism and hope they feel, despite the things they say – those things just blow me away.

Anyway, Selena, thank you so much for the recaps again – there are far too few people who watched this show and it’s nice to read about it from a feminist perspective too.

My favorite part of this episode is when Bartlet says, “Before I go, please let me just say this……..[exhales] I’m seriously considering getting a dog.” Gets me every time.

Also, I love the idea of these recaps, but if they’re for people who have already watched the episode, could there maybe be some discussion/commentary rather than straight-up retelling? Just a suggestion, as a West Wing nerd who lacks other addicts with whom to discuss the nuances.

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