LadyGhosts of TV Past

Ladyghosts: The West Wing, Season 1.10 “In Excelsis Deo”

The moment has arrived, Persephoneer West Wing fans.  It’s time to talk about the episode of our beloved show that may be the most poignant, as well as the most heartbreaking, of the entire series.  I know some of  you will argue with me, and that’s fine, I have plenty of room to defend my choice up here.

Important note! The West Wing flavor of the Ladyghosts series will now be tackled on alternating weeks by Sally J. and me.  We’re going to get boozy for the big episodes and write the recaps together, just like when we were in college.  She gets to write about sexy, sexy Lord John Marbury next week.  I love a drunken Englishman in a tux.

On to the episode that may be killing Selena slowly, one rewatch at a time.

“In Excelsis Deo” is the first Christmas episode in the West Wing run.  It’s where I think I first truly started to despise Mandy, which has since bled over into hating her in earlier episodes, too.  My reasons are petty, it’s how she says “Dickensian costumes.”  I watched this time with my finger on the mute button, but I could still hear it in my head.  Curse you, ToePick.  It’s also the episode that forever sealed the deal on my crush on the Bearded Man, Mr. Toby Zeigler. *Sigh* Come along as we celebrate the first Christmas in the Bartlet White House.

At least she isn't wearing a Dickensian costume.
At least she isn't wearing a Dickensian costume.

Like most episodes of The West Wing, “In Excelsis Deo” revolves around multiple plots at once. The main plot is about Toby, who is called by the DC police when one of Toby’s business cards is found in the coat pocket of a homeless man who died across from the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial.  (Thanks Isopad!)  The secondary plot is about a teenager, Lowell Lydell, who was tortured and beaten by a group of 13-year-old kids because Lowell is gay.  The argument about hate crimes legislation that always happens – “A crime is a crime, no murder is worse than another,” v. “If we say we’re going to protect people’s civil rights, let’s actually protect their civil rights,” happens on the show as well, with our Goddess, CJ, leading the charge in favor of punishing crimes motivated by bias and bigotry.  The tertiary plot involves Josh and Sam trying to save Leo from Lillianfield by finding dirt on a kinky republican from Sam’s friend Laurie.   The minor plots: Josh’s Christmas gift to Donna, CJ and Danny flirting,  and ToePick’s stupid Dickensian costumes.


I would help Toby save the world whenever he asked.

In Toby’s plot, after he meets the police across from the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial, he notices the dead man has a military tattoo, which indicates he was a Marine in Korea. Toby investigates and discovers he was awarded the Purple Heart. He tracks down the dead man’s brother, who is also homeless, and arranges for a proper military funeral with an Honor Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.

I just wanted to post another CJ picture.

CJ, meanwhile was asked to float a balloon about hate crimes legislation, which she does, but then is asked to dial it back. CJ, always the voice of the bleeding hearts like me on this show, stands up for her argument with all the aplomb we’ve come to expect from her. She also sniffs out, first, that Sam and Josh are planning on doing something stupid, but she doesn’t figure out what. We also see CJ ask pretty much everyone to come have dinner with her for Christmas Eve, but everyone says no. Which I don’t even get. If you have the chance to spend a joyous holiday with CJ Cregg, you freakin’ take it.

Her Secret Service name is 'Flamingo.'
Her Secret Service name is 'Flamingo.'

Additionally, we learn that CJ is really good at flirting and her Secret Service code name is “Flamingo.”

NBC double-dipped Joey + Emma's penguin from Friends.


When liberal dudes go wild.

On a mission, Josh and Sam visit Laurie, where Josh is a big, giant dick to her. She is rightfully pissed, as you can see by the death glare in the screencap above. She kicks out the men, reminding them that they’re supposed to be the good guys, and also that plenty of Democrats pay for kinky sex as well.

"Dear Donna, Do you like me? Circle Y or N!"

Donna asked Josh for ski supplies, because, as she says, “I like equipment.” I can relate, I took up scrapbooking for the same reason. Now I have a shelf full of dusty equipment. Instead, Josh gives her a book he picks up while shopping with the President at a rare and antiquated book store.  He writes something special inside, that makes Donna go to mush and then makes both of them make sappy faces. (SPOILER: It takes them eight years to kiss. Eight years.) The following photos are for the Josh ‘n Donnas among you, I know you’re out there, hiding behind the avatars.

Josh's gushy face makes him look a little like Nixon.
It's the love that makes her glow.

Are we all feeling warm and fuzzy now? Very good. I’ve got you all warmed up so I can yank the rug out from under you.

Mrs. Landingham can't lie with her eyes.

Mrs. Landingham tells Charlie that she always gets a little down during the holidays, because she misses her boys. Her twin sons, medical students, went to Vietnam in 1972, in spite of the fact they could have gotten deferments to finish med school, because they wanted to go where doctors were needed. She tells Charlie they were pinned down on Christmas Eve and killed.

CHARLIE: I never knew you had kids.

MRS. LANDINGHAM: Twins. Andrew and Simon. I tried not to you know, I dressed them differently, but they still did everything together. They went off to medical school together and then they finished their second year, and of course their lottery number came up at the same time.

CHARLIE: For the draft?


CHARLIE: Well, I would’ve thought they could get a deferment to finish med school.

MRS. LANDINGHAM: They didn’t want one. Their father and I begged them, but they wanted to go where people needed doctors. Their father and I begged them, but you can’t tell kids anything. So they joined up as medics and four months later they were pinned down during a fight in Da Nang and were killed by enemy fire. That was Christmas eve, 1970. You know, they were so young, Charlie, they were your age. It’s hard when that happens so far away, you know, because with the noises and the shooting, they had to be so scared. It’s hard not to think that right then they needed their mother “¦  Anyway, I miss my boys.

When Toby is called in to talk to Bartlet after using Bartlet’s name to arrange the Honor Guard, Mrs. Landingham stops him with a, “You REALLY shouldn’t have done that, Toby.” We can all see in her face that she doesn’t mean it. In a beautiful moment, she goes with Toby to the funeral.

I love him too, Mr. President.

Bartlet is only mildly annoyed, and most of that is for show, when he talks to Toby about the funeral. When he tells Toby that his actions mean every homeless veteran is going to come crawling out of the woodwork, Toby seals my love for him by replying “I can only hope, sir.”

As the funeral scene plays, it’s scored with a choir of children singing “Little Drummer Boy.” I don’t know if there are words that can describe the scene, so I’m not even going to try. You can see it (embedding is disabled) on YouTube: “In Excelsis Deo”

Special thanks, as always, to our friends at TWW Caps, for their very lovely screencaps, including the one of Donna in today’s thumbnail.


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.

16 replies on “Ladyghosts: The West Wing, Season 1.10 “In Excelsis Deo””

The exchange between Charlie and Mrs Landingham always breaks my heart, especially when Mrs Landingham says “because with the noises and the shooting, they had to be so scared…”

There’s just a lot of dust in this room right now.

And. Oh. So much love for Toby (and I will never forgive whoever was responsible for all that character assassination they performed on him in the last season).

Because of these recaps + my boyfriend’s endless nerdery about the show, we got the entire series when the DVDs were on sale and we watched this episode last week! The bit that got me most was when everyone was gathering one by one to hear the children’s choir and we got that long, beautiful staggered profile of everyone standing together. Just gorgeous.

We watched Lord John Marbury like two hours ago. Can’t wait for next week’s recap!

My parents and I watched the entirety of West Wing together (after the series had ended…they got into it during the 7th season, and when they played the series premier back-to-back with the series finale, my dad was like, “Woah, this show was obviously WAY better in the early years, let’s watch it”) over the course of one summer. This is apparently how my family bonds, because in high school my mother and I watched Friends all the way through. Yes, all 10 seasons. Anyway, I’m so glad that Mom and I weren’t the only ones who yelled, “IT’S JOEY’S PENGUIN” in the middle of a heartwrenching West Wing episode. Because it is totally Joey’s penguin.

Also, the Little Drummer Boy montage makes me bawl every. Single. Time. Hand to god, this is the episode I watch after break-ups and other sad times in my life, when all I need is a good cry.

Being a rather ridiculous nerd, I have to say-the vet doesn’t die by the Vietnam Wall, he dies by the Korean War Veterans Memorial. That’s why you see all those statues of men and that the wall has faces that resemble mountains when you step back.

I love this show so much, and this episode is practically iconic.

I forget how good this show was.

I also have mad love for Toby, and I would totally spend Christmas with CJ.

I disagree with you about this being the most heartbreaking episode ever, though (as you knew I would). No, the most heartbreaking scene of the whole series is Bartlet in the cathedral after Mrs. Landingham’s car crash. (sorry about the spoiler, but we’ve got a ways to go before we get there and you’ll probably forget it by then)

That is a very, very close second for me, and I’d say “Two Cathedrals” is a better episode overall. This one hits me harder, though. It’s the sandwich of Mrs. L’s speech to Charlie with the shots of her and Toby starting at the gun shots during the salute. “Two Cathedrals” makes me cry, “In Excelsis Deo” makes me do that snot bubble sobbing thing.

Mrs. Landingham died right around the same time MacGregor died on… You know I don’t even remember what show that was or even what his first name was, just that I was devastated. I could hardly stand to turn on my tv for a while after that out of fear that they’d kill off another of my favorite characters on some other show.

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