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LadyGhosts of TV Past

Two Questions About The West Wing: 3×05 “War Crimes” and 3×06 “Gone Quiet”

Moving along in Season Three, we come to episode 5, “War Crimes” and episode 6, “Gone Quiet.” There’s a military theme through both, although there’s more focus on the investigation going on around the White House cover up of the President’s MS, as well as the Bartlet administration’s chances for reelection.

There’s a lot happening in the these episodes, so this time around I really had to pay attention. Leo is wrapped up in military issues in both episodes. In “War Crimes,” Leo hashes out the U.S. position on an international War Crimes Tribunal with an old Air Force friend. As the discussion gets heated, his friend gives him new information on a mission he flew in Vietnam. Under this new tribunal, Leo would be able to be tried for war crimes. In “Gone Quiet,” Leo advises Bartlet when they lose contact with a submarine near Korea.

Text reads "Two Questions about The West Wing."

Donna is deposed for the investigation into the White House cover up, and is interrogated by her brief (incredibly cute) fling, a Republican lawyer names Cliff. During her session, she lies. She lies about keeping a diary, and Cliff asks her about it that evening. Donna goes to Josh, who arranges a deal with Cliff. In “Gone Quiet,” Abbey spends time with White House counsel Babish. He paints a picture that what she’s done can cause the president a world of hurt, even though he himself didn’t do anything criminal.

In “War Crimes,” talk of gun control is front and center after a shooting in a church (does anything ever change?). When Bartlet says to Hoynes, “Can we all just agree it’s a dumb ass amendment?” you do have to wonder if it’s 2002 or 2013. ANYWAY.

Sally J.: There’s always been an interesting tension between President Bartlet and Vice President Hoynes. When the president asks Hoynes to go to Texas to speak on gun control, both sides state their case. What are your thoughts on this delicate relationship?

Selena: I think it’s an interesting dynamic, and it was eye-opening to me. I’d never considered, before I originally watched this episode, that the VPOTUS and POTUS don’t have to like each other. I’ve seen bits here and there that imply Clinton and Gore had as similar relationship to Bartlet and Hoynes. Bartlet obviously picked Hoynes because he connected with constituents Bartlet couldn’t connect with, including, as we see in “War Crimes,” Texans and gun owners. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Hoynes used more as a prop than a character, and it won’t be the last.

I think this is an example of Sorkin attempting to be unbiased in his presentation of a hot-button issue, and it did touch on finer points neither side really wants to think about. We bleeding hearts tend to only get riled up about gun control after a big tragedy, or when victims are people we deem “innocent.” The other side looks bad for seeming (and that’s the key word) to care more about guns than people. It is the 21st century, and nuance isn’t so much a thing as it used to be, but I think Sorkin is at least attempting to be a mirror.

This is all a bit convoluted, as I am one of those libruls who thinks we have plenty of ways to kill each other without guns. It’s hard for me to be unbiased.

Sally J.: Toby is more endearing in these particular episodes, although as he was approaching the mess to talk to the staffers about the leaked quote, my daughter said, “Mom, he looks freaky. Does he ever smile?” Is his reaction out of character?

Selena: Toby is always endearing. Cantankerous, yes, and certainly not the best at hearing ideas he doesn’t agree with, but I don’t think Toby is ever anything less than endearing. It’s his eyes. Even when Toby is spitting mad, he can’t hide the kindness in his eyes. Then again, Toby Zeigler has been my imaginary boyfriend since this show aired. I can forgive him for anything.

I think the moment you’re speaking about, when he is uncharacteristically gentle while chastising his staff, gives us more insight into who he really is than pretty much any moment we’ve seen him so far. He’s married to the job, like most of the WH staffers, but here we see how seriously he takes that marriage.

Selena: I promise my next question will be about “Gone Quiet,” but there’s one more issue in “War Crimes” I want to touch on. There are three key guest characters in “War Crimes” who challenge our team of regulars. Michael O’Keefe, as reporter Will Sawyer, Gerald McRaney as Air Force General Alan Adamley, and Mark Feuerstein as Cliff Calley, Republican truth-seeker. How do each of these characters reveal sides of our beloved characters we wouldn’t otherwise see?

Sally J.: Will Sawyer forces CJ to look beyond the tip of her nose. When he tells her that he’s stuck in the White House until he gets a real assignment, she’s offended. When he puts Toby’s quote in perspective, she gets it. Rather than argue, I think she’s happy for the pass and goes on to continue juggling what she has in the air. The Air Force General serves to show the other side of U.S. foriegn policy. On the surface, Leo’s points about war crimes and an international tribunal makes sense. All along, we’ve known that he’s an Air Force veteran himself. Perhaps his strong feelings on the subject are due to what he witnessed during the war. The tears in his eyes, when he learns of what his mission really was that day in 1966, seem to indicate that his combat experience is never far from the surface. Cliff helps the staffers to see how the cover up looks to the outside world. Also, he’s an indicator that Donna has a sex life. Who would have thunk?!?

Selena: Bartlet has come a long way from “A Proportional Response” to “Gone Quiet.” How would you describe this evolution in his response to national security issues?

Sally J.: All along Bartlet defers to Leo when it comes to military matters. From the very first season, it’s been obvious that commanding the military is something that he doesn’t know much about, and that he’s unfamiliar with procedures. By Season Three, he’s more comfortable in the situation room, and has learned that there’s a lot more going on at the Pentagon than the average civilian will ever know. Had the submarine gone quiet in Season One, you’re right, he would have wanted to bomb North Korea.

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