The West Wing Recap: S1 Ep 2 “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc”

Here we are again with the second episode of The West Wing. Today we’ll be getting a little bit more in depth than last week as we get into the swing of the show after the Pilot. This episode begins with a quick 30 second recap showing a few key scenes to remind us of important events from the previous episode. These include Sam’s night with Laurie, Josh’s job troubles, Mandy’s new job helping Senator Russell, and Sam’s encounter with Leo’s Daughter. Read on after the cut, as always beware spoilers!

The first scene after the Episode Title card is Mandy in her car again. She spots someone, jumps out and proceeds to berate ‘Lloyd’ for a deal he made with the White House, which means he won’t be nominated at the Convention. Lloyd is regretful in the face of Mandy’s wrath, and then she notes that the worst part is “the party they’re having, right now, in the West Wing, at my expense.” Lloyd replies that it’s not likely, because party unity and there’s no cause to gloat. This nicely sets up the scene change to Josh coming out of his office, gloating. It’s a clever narrative juxtaposition.

CJ and Toby go to see the President, stopping at Mrs. Landingham’s desk for permission to see him, and receive snark and sarcasm from her. This sounds bad, but is actually quite clever. Mrs. Landingham is an older woman with a sharp and witty tongue who takes no crap from anyone (yes, I do indeed like her quite a lot, actually). The rest of main cast arrives for a meeting in the Oval Office to brief the President on the events of the day. This sets up the various plot-threads which will be focused on in this episode. We also get the reason for this episode’s title, which is ‘Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc’, Latin for ‘After therefore because of’, a saying meaning that just because one event follows another doesn’t mean the first event caused the second. The President uses it to explain to CJ that they didn’t win Texas (i.e. The South) because he made a joke about cowboy hats, but rather because he speaks Latin (i.e. he’s an intellectual and they don’t like intellectuals in The South). Of course, this is a stereotype, but it’s one that’s often explored (and sometimes subverted) in this show. The problem of anti-intellectualism is a big theme with this show, and one of the many which I believe is still relevant in today’s political climate. There is still a great deal of anti-intellectualism in this country, which is often focused on people with higher educations but can be focused on anyone who is perceived to think they’re “smarter than us” regardless of their education levels. Having an intelligent and questioning mind, never-mind a good education, is seen as something to be ashamed of, not something to take pride in. Naturally, I find this attitude infuriating. Anyway, onwards.

We’re now introduced to a new character, a Naval officer named Morris. He’s of relatively low-rank, but liked by the President, so asked to serve him directly in some capacity in place of another officer. We’re given the information that Morris’s wife recently had a baby, and that he’s flying to Jordan soon. Then the scene shifts to Georgetown. Here we find Mandy again, with her assistant in their new offices, worrying about the fact that their only client, Lloyd Russell, is no longer a client. Mandy is clearly some sort of political consultant, though it’s not specified exactly what sort at this point.

Now we go back to Josh, who is joined by his assistant Donna. We see the first of one of their amusing little side-discussions. These happen periodically (perhaps once every episode or so) and provide depth to the characters, developing their relationship. Sometimes they relate to the main plot-threads, and sometimes they don’t. I’ll probably only mention them when they’re relevant, but as this was the first I’m mentioning despite its irrelevance. It involves a football-pool, and Donna’s being bad at choosing for it on Josh’s behalf. Josh and Toby then discuss the need for a new media director because of many PR snafus lately. Josh demands it’s “Anyone but Mandy!” We stop following Josh to follow Toby, who meets with CJ and we follow her into the briefing room where she gets questioned on a quote from the Vice-President about a bill mentioned a few times before, known as A3C3. CJ plays it cool, but she and Toby are both clearly worried about it. We pull out through a television screen to where Josh is watching the briefing, soon joined by Sam. It’s strongly implied that Vice-President Hoynes and Leo have a strained relationship.

Sam follows Josh into his office, with a false casualness, and rather abruptly tells Josh that he met Laurie, slept with her, and discovered she was a call-girl. Josh is perturbed, though Sam makes it clear he didn’t pay her or anything, and Josh tries to warn him not to see her again. Sam ignores him, with the intention of calling to continue the friendship, and it’s implied that he wants to “save” her. Josh leaves to intercept CJ, who is furious about something. She goes to find Hoynes and have a word with him about the quote. She’s respectful and smooth, but he interrupts, ignores, and eventually shuts her down.

In the Oval Office, Morris is doing a physical examination of the President. They joke and talk, bantering back and forth. Morris tells the President he’s going to Amman, Jordan to lecture at a teaching-hospital. Then Morris gives the President some advice about the Joint Chiefs (the military leaders) who the President seems to be having difficulty connecting to. The two men are obviously friends, in a working-relationship sort of way. We get a little background on the President’s career, namely that he was the Governor of New Hampshire. I should note, that to this point, he has not yet been addressed by name or spoken about as other than ‘The President.’

The scene changes, now it’s evening. Work is still going strong in the West Wing, and in Georgetown, Mandy and her assistant have gotten to the ‘drinking wine out of paper-cups’ phase of dismay about their business prospects. We get some of Mandy’s background here during their discussion. She’s highly educated, clever, and a little cocky. Back in the White House, Sam finishes writing a speech and oh so casually goes in to see Toby in the next office. He tells Toby about his, ah, Prostitute Problem. The exchange is just one example of the snappy dialogue throughout the show.

Sam: About a week ago I accidentally slept with a prostitute.

Toby: …Really?

S: Yes.

T: You…accidentally…slept with a prostitute?

S: Call-girl.

T: Accidentally.

S: Yes.

T:…I don’t understand. Did you trip over something?

westwings1ep2

Richard Schiff, the actor who plays Toby, delivers his lines perfectly. He plays it cool, deadpan, and disbelieving at first. Then he gets exasperated at Sam, concerned about both the legal and political ramifications should this get out into the public eye. He also warns Sam against trying to “save” her. Sam rises to her defence, angry about the lack of respect she gets because of her profession. Josh interrupts, and Toby asks him about Sam’s situation as they walk to a meeting. Josh expresses a lack of worry about the issue, contrary to his initial dismay. The meeting they’re attending is to convince Leo to hire a media consultant. It turns into an ambush, where they all convince Josh they have to hire Mandy (remember he didn’t want her). The others express a certain amount of…glee at Josh’s discomfort, while he tries to emphasize that she’ll “answer to me, and answer to Toby.” The others disperse and Leo confronts CJ about her encounter with Hoynes. He appears displeased, but she plays it off as not a big deal.

It’s now even later at night, and the President is leaving the office finally. We get another witty exchange between him and Mrs. Landingham, showing the affection and close relationship between them. The camera turns to Mandy’s office, where Josh enters unexpectedly to offer them the position as Media Consultant. She shows her appreciation to him in a violent, spunky, combative way.

In Leo’s office, he meets with Vice-President Hoynes. They have a confrontation over his blowing off CJ. The tension is thick, and Hoynes refers to the President disparagingly, further enraging Leo. We at LAST get his name*, when Leo orders Hoynes to refer to President Bartlet respectfully. He warns Hoynes not to split with the White House, or he’ll regret it. They part in icy calm.

Now we’re back with Sam, in a bar, looking for Laurie. He finds her with clients, and acts like a fool in front of them. They go outside to fight about it. She’s exasperated that he sought her out, when she was trying to give him space so he wouldn’t get in trouble. He calmly begins an unrelated conversation with her, and she tells him she doesn’t need saving.

Laurie: I don’t need saving, Sam.

Sam: Yeah, you do.

L: Are you aware I make more money than you do?

S: You and any kid with a decent paper route.

L: And you understand that I wasn’t abused as a child, that I like what I do?

S: Really?

L: That it’s putting me through law school?

This exchange, and the continuation are important. First, they establish the relationship between Laurie and Sam, their non-sexual friendship. But it also establishes Laurie’s character. She’s a sex-worker, one of the sort who chose her profession with open eyes and she’s not going to let anyone push her around on it, not even Sam, no matter how hard he tries. And he will try, he warns her of that, but she accepts his friendship anyway. Anyway, I think the portrayal of Laurie-as-happy-sex-worker is incredibly important, most notably because it’s such a rarity in modern media. I also think it’s important that she doesn’t give it up before she has achieved the goal she wanted from it (enough money to get her law degree), despite the various amounts of crap she is put through because of other characters’ (including Sam’s) negative perceptions of sex-work.

They walk off into the evening and then the scene changes to the White House, full of scurrying people backed by a more martial music. A casually dressed Bartlet walks along the outside porch and enters the Oval Office. We see a diverse group of the main cast and various military officers in the Roosevelt Room talking seriously about something. Leo leaves to follow the President into the Oval. He tells Bartlett that Morris Tolliver is dead, shot down by a shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missile on his way to Jordan. The shooting was ordered by Syria. The President is rocked back, but he rallies and moves forward with the necessary actions. He’s also coldly furious.

President Bartlet: Leo… I am not frightened. I’m gonna blow them off the face of the earth with the fury of God’s own thunder.

We watch him through the window as he sits and gathers himself to call Morris’s family, and the episode ends. This scene is important from a storytelling perspective. To us, Morris is a throw-away character, only introduced near the beginning of the episode seemingly in order to be killed by the end of it. But to the characters, he is far more than that and their reaction to his death is part of the portrayal of his relationship with the others, as well as an integral part of the main characters’ development. His interactions with the President take place offscreen primarily, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist within the fictional world created. It’s important that the pieces we see of their relationship are consistent with a greater narrative arc, in order to keep the characterization consistent. This is a key to internal consistency within any story-world.

This episode is a lot more focused than the first. We have a few coherent plot-threads, continuations of some introduced in episode 1, and new ones introduced this episode. None are brought to a resolution, exactly, but we do find sort of…resting points if you will. Mandy is brought on board, and Sam’s issue with Laurie is laid to rest for the moment. However, the episode ends by introducing a new, and more serious, plot. We’re left until next week to find out what President Bartlet is actually going to do about it, and whether he’ll carry out his threat. Naturally, this is to keep the audience coming back for more next week, much like the unanswered questions at the end of a chapter are meant to keep the reader turning pages.

We’re exploring conflicts between characters, but also expanding on close relationships. So far inter-personal conflicts include Josh/Toby, Mandy/Josh, Leo/Hoynes, and CJ/Hoynes. The close relationships developing are Leo/Bartlet, Sam/Josh, Mrs. Landingham/Bartlett, and Josh/Donna. Make no mistake, the close relationships have the potential to introduce conflict just as much as the acrimonious ones! This is an important concept to remember for any writer. Conflict and tension doesn’t always arise out of acrimony, but sometimes grows out of affection or close friendship.

That’s it for this week. Next week we’ll explore Season 1, Episode 3 and find out what President Bartlet does after Morris’s death. It’s also the episode introducing Dule Hill’s character, which is quite exciting (for me anyway). I love Dule, and he does a fantastic job with the character from beginning to end. So, see you next week! Thanks for reading.

 *I’ll talk a bit about the spelling of President Bartlet’s name later when we get some more background on him. I have many things to say, but not at this time.

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