LadyGhosts of TV Past

Two Questions about The West Wing: “100,000 Airplanes” and “The Two Bartlets”

We’re in the meaty middle of Season Three, readers. Let’s see what happens after Bartlet’s censure after the cut. 

Text reads "Two Questions about The West Wing."“100,000 Airplanes” is, in the tradition of many West Wing episodes, part flashback. We jump into the action during Bartlet’s fourth State of the Union address, which takes place after the censure, but flashbacks tell us about the senior staff’s (and peripheral’s) reactions. We also meet Sam’s former fiancé, and Josh tries to get Amy to break up with a congressman by being an asshole.

In “The Two Bartlets,” set on the day of the Iowa caucuses, we see more of Josh pursuing Amy Gardner, a return from Joey Lucas, and Donna trying to get out of jury duty.

While these aren’t five-star episodes, they do a good job of continuing to expose us to how our laws and policies get made, at least in the idealized Bartlet universe. To the questions!

Selena: What is the significance of the title “The Two Bartlets?”

Sally J.: Toby calls it “Dr. Fluffy and Mr. Hyde,” I believe. He talks to the president about it – the absent minded professor or the Nobel prize winner who is lethal. I think it refers to the two demeanor of the president. One that is very likable but doesn’t stand for much, the other that stands for a lot, but isn’t always likeable.

Selena: It seems the only characters on this show who can have a healthy relationship are President and Dr. Bartlet. Why do you think that is?

Sally J.: Mr. Sally J. and I have talked about this at length. I love Josh and Amy. Andy is amazing, why can’t Toby smile a little more around her? Donna is a rock star, surely there’s a DC lawyer who’d appreciate her. CJ, clearly, needs someone to rub her feet at the end of a long day. Sam is more than an eligible bachelor – why is HE single? I think Leo’s break up in Season One, and the beginning of Josh and Amy this season give us two clues. Leo tells Jenny that at this point, his job comes first. That’s a hard pill for a spouse to swallow. Josh tells Amy that he’s never had a real relationship, since he had his head down studying through adolescence and young adulthood. So we have a crew of brilliant workaholics who may have skewed priorities. Some of it may be self-imposed, but in general, dating doesn’t really fit into their schedules. I think President and Dr. Bartlet can have a healthy relationship because the President is at the top of the food chain. He can tell staffers no, where the reverse is not true.

Sally J.: In “Two Bartlets”, CJ and Toby debate affirmative action. Does CJ’s position surprise you?

Selena: At first, yes, it did. But in CJ’s particular case, her ire isn’t with affirmative action, and I don’t think she’s mad her dad only retired as the head of the math department. I think she’s mad he did everything right, and he’s still slowly slipping away from her because he has Alzheimer’s. At the same time, it goes to show that even our heroes, the ones who always seem to get everything right, are still prisoner to their individual biases.

Sally J.: In “100,000 Airplanes” the staff (still reeling from the censure) is looking for the approval of the State of the Union by the American people. In “Two Bartlets,” in the closing scene, Toby tells the president that he seems to be working for the approval of his father. Do you see any parallels here?

Selena: This is a very interesting question, and something I haven’t considered before now, but yes, I think there are some parallels, but not exactly as you laid them out here. I think the senior staff has a similar relationship, at this point in time, as Bartlet had with his father. They’re all still reeling from the fallout of the MS reveal, and they all still let those feelings affect how they interact with Bartlet and each other, but they still want him to approve of them. They still want to be, in the words of the delightful/evil/quotable Cyrus on Scandal, “at the right hand of the father.” As an aside, all of Sorkin’s Big Characters seem to have father issues, which probably says something about Sorkin I’m not prepared to get into here.

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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