Josh: You know what we’re finally going to have?
Donna: A WASPy old guy on the Supreme Court?
And so begins the ultimately fruitless battle to get Payton Cabot Harrison III, former editor of the Harvard Law Review, on the Supremes, which leads into the introduction of another of my favorite West Wing characters ever, Judge Mendozza, played by the inimitable Edward James Olmos. EJO to those of us in BSG circles. Let’s dig in as we get Admiral Adama on the bench, shall we?
The episode opens, as many do, with Josh being an insufferable dillweed. Merited, perhaps, but cripes that man can take cocky well beyond what is normally palatable for a lady of sensitivities such as myself. Hearing him, Toby, Sam and my beloved Mrs. Landingham refer to anyone as “da men” is just an unfortunate and uncomfortable situation to be in. Nevermind, we’ll let them have their moment when it looks like Cabot is wrapped up in a pretty red, white and blue bow with a big old glitter donkey tag hanging off of him. Toby is made point man on the final leg of the confirmation preparation process, and begins an even more intensive vetting experience for the Honorable Judge Cabot than the two months of vetting they’ve already completed.
While Josh is busy being cocky and Donna is trying to gently warn him towards cautious optimism, the ceiling in his office falls and foreshadows all over him.
President Bartlet is meeting with retiring Justice Joseph Crouch, who is not shy about being bitchy with Bartlet. Justice Crouch chews him up one side and down the other for running a passionate, powerful campaign and then sticking with the yellow line in the center as soon as he was elected. He utters a line which gets a lot of mileage in future “previously on…” segments:
I wanted to retire five years ago, but I was waiting for a Democrat. I wanted a Democrat. I wanted a Democrat, and I got you.
Crouch goes on to tell Bartlet to reconsider Mendozza, and to tell him he thinks Bartlet will lose when he runs for re-election in three years because he doesn’t have any of the guts the American people like so much, and tend to find in spades in Republican candidates.
Meanwhile, Senator Lillianfield, whom Josh refers to as a ‘hair-do’, is giving a press conference where he announces that according to his figures, 1 in 3 White House staffers are doing drugs. The illegal kind, not like aspirin, he’s sure to clarify. Josh is ready to blow it off, Toe Pick wants to piss test the entire staff and Toby is not about to let this nonsense fuck up his Supreme plans, so he’s going to take the accusation as seriously as a heart attack.
Bartlet: What’s going on with Lillianfield?
Leo: You’re staying out of it.
Heh. Sometimes I wish I had a Leo.
Sam gets a call early in the morning, before anyone else has made it into work, and sneaks off to meet a source who may have information which may prevent Harrison from being confirmed. Turns out it’s a position paper, technically something called an unsigned note, which Sam helpfully explains for the audience, defending the right of the government to invade the privacy of the citizens. Shit, meet fan.
CJ, likely Queen of the Persephoneers, is battling the press, who keep asking about who uses drugs when she gets a bit flustered and drops the words subpoena and evidence in a way that, as Danny kindly points out, will likely challenge Lillianfield to provide both. Then he asks her about a Knicks basketball game. I love Danny. He made me forget all about how horrible a character he played on thirtysomething.
CJ: I don’t have time to go to a basketball game!
Danny: Neither do I, that’s why I thought I’d come by and we could watch it in your office while I explain it patronizingly to you. I understand ladies like that sort of thing.
Danny: You understand I’ll talk slow, in that way girls appreciate?
Hee. You crazy star-crossed kids.
Josh catches Danny on his way out, and walks him to his car. Danny doesn’t reveal any information he shouldn’t, technically, but makes some sage points about Lillianfield’s intentions. Lillianfield is a blowhard and an attention whore, but he’s not stupid and wouldn’t swing unless he had something. Danny assumes the drug use accusation is only the tipping point to the information Lillianfield really wants, and Danny is right. Mostly because he has good writers. In exchange, Josh tells him that CJ likes goldfish. “She can’t get enough of them.” Danny grins, surprised, and is adorable.
The day ends with Sam and Toby in the Oval, when it’s decided there is likely no way the administration can put Harrison on the bench with his feelings on privacy. Bartlet asks to meet Mendozza.
President Bartlet meets with Harrison, giving him the out to play the young and stupid card. Harrison does not play this card, and he’s sent on his way. Meanwhile, Mendoza has been invited to visit under the pretense of participating in the President’s Commission for Hispanic Opportunity, which ToePick just invented a short time ago, and made a letterhead.
Toby and Sam grill Harrison, and we see poor Sam experience a bit more of the disillusionment that tends to hit him so hard. Josh is pissed that Toby didn’t tell him about the issues with Harrison, and reminds him that Harrison was never, in fact, their guy.
Josh, insufferable dillweed and really rather smart fella, puts two and two together and comes up with Leo. It’s a poorly hidden secret that Leo is an alcoholic, but it’s about to be revealed that he also had a problem with pills. Lillianfield has this info, which came from a facility where Leo received inpatient treatment. Josh breaks it to Leo, and damnit if I don’t love him again already. Josh may be a giant asshole, but he will turn that asshole against anyone who stands against those he loves. His relationship with Leo throughout this series is touching, raw and honest. Begrudgingly, I’d say this is the heart of the series as a whole.
Danny brings CJ a goldfish, in a bowl. He explains that Josh told him CJ likes goldfish, CJ laughs hysterically in his face. Apparently, she’s a fan of the crackers, not the swimming, living kind. CJ keeps the fish, who is named Gail. Gail is a recurring character for the next nine years. I’m unsure if she was always played by the same fish. There were like 12 Lassies.
ToePick, who in two episodes will be railing against the Bartlet admin for being pansyasses, takes Josh to task for going with the more controversial Mendozza, who believes gay marriage is a state and not a federal issue and believes in the widest possible interpretation of free speech. She gets all Ivy snob, listing all of Harrison’s private school and well-connected experience to Mendozza’s public education, former blue-collar job and night school law degree, which gets Josh’s liberal hackles all up and prickly. He points out that Mendozza did everything the hard way, and that he’s brilliant and compassionate and everything America should want in a jurist. ToePick threatens that it could set the team back as much as a year, Josh is all “Fuck that noise, pansy ass no more! It’s 110% Mendozza now, ToePick!”
We finally meet the man himself in the next scene. I am completely biased because I think Edward James Olmos hung the moon, but I love him as Mendozza. That man oozes gravitas, fire and wisdom, and I’ll be damned if that’s not sexy as hell. Toby asks him how he would rule in a hypothetical case where a White House employee was fired after taking a drug test on order of the President. Mendozza doesn’t pause, he says that without knowing any other details, it sounds as if the employee was the victim of an illegal search, and would order that the employee be reinstated. Toby beams in that way he does. Bartlet offers the nomination to Mendozza, who accepts. I may have teared up just a little. I already called bias.
Leo calls Bartlet away to break the news about Lillianfield’s news. Bartlet, like the rest of the staff, responds with unconditional support.
Bartlet: Did you have a drink yesterday?
Leo: No, sir.
Bartlet: Do you plan to have a drink today?
Leo: No, sir.
Bartlet: That’s all you ever have to say to me.
The episode ends with Bartlet announcing Mendozza to a crowd outside the Oval.
“The Short List” is one of my favorite early episodes, not only because of EJO. This episode sets up several storylines that we see evolve for years, demonstrating Sorkin’s ability to tell a long story in the middle of a series of short stories, and in a way few, if any, other television writers have been able to master.
Thus ends my guest spot as West Wing fangirl this week. Tune in next Wednesday to talk about the Episode That Kills Selena Every Time, “In Excelsis Deo.” As always, HUGE THANKS to our friends at TWW caps on tumblr for the handsome devil in the thumbnail.