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Two Questions About The West Wing: 3×03 “Ways and Means” and 3×04 “On the Day Before”

This week’s serving of The West Wing includes two episodes about how the government makes the sausage. 

In “Ways and Means,” C.J. comes roaring off the bench by opining about the need for a vicious entity to lead the investigation into Bartlet’s non-disclosure of his MS. Her choice: the House of Representatives.

Leo, we need to be investigated by someone who wants to kill us just to watch us die. We need someone perceived by the American people to be irresponsible, untrustworthy, partisan, ambitious and thirsty for the limelight. Am I crazy or is this not a job for the U.S. House of Representatives?

C.J. Cregg, season three, episode three of The West Wing, “Ways and Means.”

Test reads "Two Questions about The West Wing."It’s funny because it’s still true.

In “On the Day Before” Bartlet & Co. are also providing a live action counterpoint to the inimitable classic, Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill.”  Carrying over from “Ways and Means,” Bartlet vetoes the “death tax,” but realizes there are enough votes in the House to override his veto. Meanwhile, C.J. stuffs a mouthy gossip reporter, and Charlie is offered immunity in the case against Bartlet.

Here’s what Sally J. and I asked each other:

Selena: The estate tax, cleverly named “the death tax” by its political opponents, plays heavily in both of these episodes. Like many partisan issues, TWW tries to present both sides of the argument. Were they successful in this episode?

Sally J.: Hmm. Right out of the gate, in “Ways and Means,” it’s clear that the White House is against the repeal. When the meeting about  compromising on the death tax is canceled, the Republican’s motives become clear: their side is stated, but it’s certainly not debated. I did like that they discussed the issue via conversations with Donna’s Republican date, as well as a representative of the Black Caucus. But man, Donna’s date is cute. He’d probably convince me of anything.

Selena: This is a more general TWW question, spurred by Donna’s C-plot. Considering only S1, S2, and the first four episodes of S4, can we consider Donna’s character a feminist icon or role model for women? Why or why not?

Sally J.: Funny you should bring Donna up because I’m noticing her more this time through than I have in the past. She does everything from tie Josh’s bow-tie to answer his phone, which wouldn’t be the job of a feminist icon. She does, however, handle all her tasks with grace,  and I’ve been impressed with how she reacts to the news of the president’s MS. She embodies Bartlet’s “What’s next” mentality. I am also loving her because she attempts to have a social life despite her career as asssitant to the Deputy Chief of Staff. I think she is a good role model for women: she strong-armed her way into her position, she’s respected by her peers and superiors, and she’s cool in a crisis.

Sally J.: In “Ways and Means”, the president has a moment where he’s in need of a good pen. Mrs. Landingham’s death hasn’t been in the spotlight this season, but her absence has been felt. Why do you think the president is avoiding finding her replacement?

Selena: Grief, mostly, I suppose. He’s worked alongside her since he was a teenager, he trusted her counsel, she was as much a part of his career as he was for what, forty years? Plus, she had faith in him when no one else did. Of course it’s going to be almost impossible to replace her. Hell, it took me five or six episodes to warm up to her replacement, and she’s played by one of my favorite actresses.

Sally J.: Our goddess C.J. shines in this episode, from finding a better enemy for the president’s investigation to telling a gossip reporter where to stuff it. Which C.J. do you like better? The one that methodically plots or the one who shoots from the hip and leaves her prey dazed and confused?

Selena: In my personal opinion, C.J. can do no wrong, ever, period, exclamation point. That being said, I like sly C.J. better. One of the character’s finer points is her ability to suss shit up and make a decision (which is, of course, always right). While the from-the-hip BOOM is fun, it’s more satisfying to watch C.J. play the long game.

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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