LadyGhosts of TV Past

The West Wing 4×07 and 4×08

Sally J. is back in the co-host seat for Two Questions About The West Wing. Today, we’ll be chatting about “Election Night” and “Process Stories.”

Text reads "Two Questions about The West Wing."Spoiler alert! In “Election Night,” Bartlet wins. It’s only seven episodes into the season, there’s no way Sorkin would write fifteen episodes of President Ritchie before riding off into the sunset. Or if we consider the more noble route, because there’s no way we’d have the same fella in the real White House and in our Liberal Fairy Tale White House. Since there are no surprises at the top of the ticket, we are treated to a different election night miracle, when poor, dead Horton Wilder wins the California 47th. Beloved, bespectacled Sam is left in a pickle, as he nobly promised Wilder’s widow he would run on the off, off chance her late husband held on to his seat.

That’s not all that happens! Donna adorably votes for the wrong person like a complete dumbass, and completely out of character for the smart, professional, extremely competent woman we’re supposed to believe her to be. That’s okay, because at least she meets a boy. *sigh*

Scene from Wonderfalls television show, with blonde woman making a gesture of extreme bafflement and irritation at the state of things.
Breaking: Adorable, clumsy, easy to relate to girls-next-door tropes are fantastic! But! They don’t have to care the banner of Everywoman in the Sorkinverse alone.

“Process Stories” continues to tell the stories of Bartlet’s second election night, and carries through on much of the plots set up by the previous episode. We get to know Christian Slater as Donna’s Temporary Man Interest a little better, as well as Joshua Malina as Will Bailey.

Selena: First, welcome back! I’ve got the good box wine ready, let’s talk about The West Wing. As we’ve hinted, the fourth season is Sorkin’s last as showrunner-slash-sole writer. Your sub, Neil, and I discussed Sorkin’s obvious burnout a bit during earlier episodes, do you think the strain is beginning to show? Does season four West Wing inspire/elate/delight you like previous seasons? Why or why not?

Sally J.: Well, by this time during its original run, I would have watched the cast, on the set, read insurance policies. That said, the build-up to the election is oddly timed (of course he’s going to win in a mid-season episode), and well, (spoiler) Sam leaving broke my heart. But then Christian Slater showed up briefly, which made me happy.

Selena: Let’s talk about Donna. We both love Donna. Donna is kind, smart, dedicated, loyal, compassionate, wise, and loved by everyone around her. She’s one of the few characters who never gets her hands dirty, throughout the run of the show. She’s also the cast member average Janes and Joes like you and me are supposed to identify with and relate to. Clearly, as my rant above shows, I’m really irritated when Sorkin makes her do really stupid things. I’m jaded by all the ladymedia I consume, however, and am willing to cop to the fact that I might be reading too much into her foibles. Do you think these rom-com heroine quirks add or subtract from Donna as a character?

Sally J.: I think her quirks make her more human. You may be reading into Sorkin making her do really stupid things, because over the course of the series, every single character does a dumb thing or two. Or seven.

Here’s a question for you in, my dear Selena. In watching “Process Stories” again, does it seem like maybe The West Wing jumped the shark with Sam leaving the White House for a congressional race? Or do you think that comes later in the season with other things that happen?

Selena: That’s a tough one. It was never the same for me, post-Sam. I actually was somewhat invested in The Thing That’s To Come, but more for the Charlie focus, the use of songs I like, and Surprise! John Goodman than for the actual events that unfold. I did think it was odd that after season four, no one ever mentioned Sam again. (Is that a spoiler?) I’d say my shark-jump was mid-season five, for sure. And then it came back, parts of season six and almost all of season seven were not only watchable, they bordered on compelling from time to time.  I do think Sorkin was smoking some of the good stuff when he created the Horton Wilder, Will Bailey, and Elsie Snuffin trifecta, so maybe that was his “I’ve already checked out” moment.

Sally J.: In “Process Stories” we see Toby trying to “spin” Andi’s pregnancy. He drafts a statement for her to read to her constituents, and he visits the First Couple in the wee hours of the morning to share the news. Do you think he’s overthinking things?

Selena: Oh, Toby, you big, anxious, bearded man, I love you so. He was a complete lunkhead about all of it, and I’m glad Andi continually stands up to him. I watched ahead a little bit, and I think his motivations for being such a lunkhead are about to become clearer. Remind me to bring this up again when we watch the holiday episode. Ultimately, I think he’s overthinking things because he’s scared of becoming a parent, not because he’s scared of what his and Andi’s political adversaries are going to do about the pregnancy.

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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