Welcome, Wednesday Ladyghost fans! Today we’re talking about one of the more infamous episodes of The West Wing, the one where CJ lip syncs to “The Jackal.” And a bunch of other stuff happens, too. Grab your noon coffee and settle in for “Six Meetings Before Lunch.”
It’s the evening of Mendoza’s confirmation, and Toby doesn’t want to jinx anything until all the votes are in. He takes away all the booze from a celebration forming around watching the results on TV until they meet the required number of “yay” votes to get Mendoza on the bench. Then he opens the champagne himself.
While we’re riding along for the set-up of the rest of the many plot lines in this episode, CJ is about to perform “The Jackal.” Rumor has it, Allison Janney comma Goddess comma badass whipped out her lip sync on the set of TWW one day, and Aaron Sorkin liked it so much he wrote it into an episode as a “thing” CJ does when she’s a little boozy and in the mood for whimsy. “The Jackal” is a somewhat obscure (less so, thanks to CJ) spoken-word acid jazz piece from the ’80s by Ronnie Jordan. CJ is, of course, divine. The embedding is disabled on the YouTube clip of the scene, but you can see if you click the link. While CJ is being smooth as silk, Leo and Toby are grinning and Josh and Sam make some sad attempts at dancing. Josh may have had a seizure.
After bringing down the house, CJ is in her office when Danny finds her, flirts, and tells her that the son of a prominent figure was arrested outside of a frat party with a mess o’ drugs. To make things more interesting, Zoe was at the party and reporters are starting to sniff around. I kind of wish I had a CJ in college, I might still be able to run for public office someday.
This brings us to the next morning, and the six meetings alluded to in the title of the episode.
Meeting #1 – Sam Seaborn, speechifier and Mallory, teacher
Sam and Mallory have been dancing around the idea of stuffing each other’s ballot boxes, but Leo, Mallory’s father, isn’t making it easy. He’s slipped Mallory a copy of a position paper Sam wrote in favor of school vouchers. Mallory, as a public school teacher, is not amused with Sam’s fascist tendencies. She corners him at the Mendoza celebration, and then schedules an appointment with him the next day when he doesn’t satisfy her need to yell at him. Sam runs through a list of conservative talking points in favor of school vouchers, and Mallory glares at him. I wish they’d given Mallory more lines, the majority of her arguments are made off-screen, and it feels like cheating a bit. Especially in response to a point Sam makes about liberals not being opposed to rich kids going to private prep schools and middle class kids going to private parochial schools. Mallory’s response is it’s not typical for Sam to be treating liberals as The Other Guy. Anyway, Sam is wearing glasses in this scene, and we’re going to focus on that for a minute.
Their argument is eventually resolved when Mallory drags Sam into Leo’s office to ask her father if she can have lunch with a fascist. Leo fesses up that Sam wrote the paper as opposition prep, wherein smart folks write arguments for the other side. Sam is totally pro-public school, he’s been yanking Mal’s chain this whole time. He speechifies about how schools should be palaces and teachers should be paid six figures, and Mallory gets all Bieber-eyed and goes off to lunch with him.
In a marginally creepy moment, Sam stays behind to raise his eyebrows at Leo, who tells him he’s doing fine. Because the smiling ginger lady who keeps looking at him like I imagine many of us would look at him isn’t confirmation enough, he has to get the straight poop from smiling lady’s dad.
Meeting #2 – Josh, Congressional Outlaw and Jeff Breckenridge, potential nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights
Josh is the poster boy for white people this episode, when he goes from weird emu seizure dancing to talking with Breckenridge about a blurb Breckenridge wrote in a jacket for an upcoming book on the history of slavery and reparations. As Breckenridge states: “Someone owes me and my friends 1.7 trillion dollars.” (PSA: If there’s anyone who still needs evidence that we don’t live in a post-racial society, search “reparations” in the Googles.) Breckenridge emphasizes that no amount of money is going to undo the horrors of slavery, but we live in an unfinished society that is meant to grow into something better. Becoming better means having these conversations, and learning from them. Josh is on the defensive for most of the conversation, and employs several derailing techniques which probably make him really good at his job. It’s a complicated scene, and I think Bradley Whitford and Carl Lumbly are both fantastic in it.
The lighting in the scene was wonky, and I’ve been trying to figure out if it was intentional. Josh is lit a bit like the messenger angel in a Christmas pageant, while Breckenridge is in the shadows. I normally doctor my screenshots with some brightness/contrast and subterfuge filters to cover the fact most of them are blurry, but I didn’t do anything but resize these:
Meeting #3 – Zoe, 19-year-old, and Charlie, best college boyfriend ever.
This is just a few seconds, but they’re adorable seconds and there’s kissing. After which, Charlie makes a series of awesome faces and struts down the hall.
As part of Zoe’s storyline this week, we see the Secret Service continue to be pretty incredible. Zoe’s agent protects her from a sleazy reporter and refuses to spill any details about the party to CJ, even after CJ tries to throw her weight around. They continuing to follow leads about white supremacy groups targeting Zoe and Charlie, and we get to see Zoe’s entire detail in the secret Secret Service underground (I’m presuming, with little evidence) lair. I hope the real world Secret Service is both as badass and diverse as The West Wing version.
Meeting #4 – Toby Ziegler, Communications Director and Toe Pick, Sad Panda
Rumor has it, Sorkin originally wanted to hire an actual panda bear to play the part of Mandy, but it all fell apart in negotiations.
Mandy has come to Toby per Josh’s instructions because the National Zoo needs pandas. The last one passed away two weeks before, and over three thousand people have written the White House to ask when the zoo will be getting new pandas. It’s a big deal, because pandas are endangered and they only come from China, so a lot of paperwork and schadenfreude have to happen before the zoo can get its hands on some bears. Toby is predictably cranky that he’s being bothered about bears on his day of jubilation, and quickly puts together that Josh is pissed about having to talk to Breckenridge, so he sent Toe Pick to Toby.
Meeting #5 – CJ, Goddess and Danny, ginger; CJ, Goddess and Charlie, Best College Boyfriend Ever; CJ, Goddess and Gina Toscano, Secret Service/Wonder Woman; CJ and Zoey
CJ is trying to get ahead of the story about Zoey attending a frat party with a drug bust, so she speaks to Zoe. Zoe told the reporter who ambushed her at school that she didn’t know the drug dealer dude was going to be there, but then Charlie tells CJ Zoey was going to take the drug dealer dude his car keys after she’d stopped him from driving wasted the weekend before.
She’s also pressing Danny for information, and it gives us this great Tracy/Hepburn-esque shot of the two of them.
After all this, and trying to get Gina to talk, CJ realizes Zoey is a nineteen-year-old kid with a big heart who wants to do the right thing. Sam tells her she needs to go to the president and get in his face, since the president is not going to handle the news of reporters talking about Zoey well at all, let alone reporters talking to her. CJ is wry, then she bites the bullet for…
Meeting #6 – CJ, Goddess and President Bartlet, leader of the free world and father.
Before CJ ambushes him, Charlie finds President Bartlet in the Oval, reading a book by George Washington on how to be civilized. He declares Washington must have been a real dud, then asks Charlie if Charlie thinks Bartlet could take Washington.
Charlie: Take him in what, sir?
Bartlet: I dunno, a war?
CJ begins her meeting with the president gently, but ends up yelling at him when he loses his temper and threatens to give the entire press corps a strongly worded talking-to.
In the end, everyone is on their way to eat lunch and life goes on in the White House.
I’ll be back next week with “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” and Sally J will take the next two before we team up for the finale.