West Wing Recaps: S1 Ep6 “Mr. Willis of Ohio”

Hello again fellow West Wing watchers! Sorry for the delayed episode, there’s been some craziness in the house the last couple of weeks. But here we are again, with a new installment. This is a good one, but before we get started I have a few links. You see, I found Twitter-profiles for several of the characters! So far, I’ve found Charlie Young, Zoey Bartlet, Danny Concannon, CJ Cregg, Toby Ziegler, and President Bartlet. Be warned, those links contain spoilers for the entire series. However, I found them interesting and amusing as a fan of the show.

So now, on to  the recap.

This episode opens with a card-game being played among the senior staff, CJ dealing the cards for Poker. They all check or bet and then the camera swings around to President Bartlet, also playing but who is currently silent. After a moment, rather than “check or bet” he comes up with a trivia question. This is apparently not totally unexpected. It seems the President is ever the Professor-in-Chief. In this instance he appears to be trying to throw the others off their game with various trivia. Incidentally, this section is the only reason I know that there are only three words in English starting with the letters “dw.” Internet-cookies for anyone else who knows them all! The game finally breaks up with Bartlet having won. Leo mentions leaving for home and Bartlet offhandedly tells him to “kiss Jenny for me.” Evidently, Leo still hasn’t mentioned the separation to one of his oldest friends. The others begin to disperse to offices and homes, but before they make it out of the oval, serious-faced men in suits enter and ask them to stay in the room, saying the building is not secure. The Secret Service have detected a threat, and want to keep the principles in place under direct supervision. The SS is usually pretty discreet unless there is a direct threat, and then they become quite blatant. This threat is apparently resolved quit quickly as the staff only stand around awkwardly for a few moments, then credits roll.

After the credits, Toby walks into his outer office asking for a copy of Article 1 Section 2 of the Constitution. He’s exasperated that his staff can’t immediately lay their hands on the Constitution (he suggests Amazon.com!). CJ bumps into him on her way in to see Sam, who is talking to someone on the phone about the Census. He hangs up and CJ very roundaboutly asks Sam to educate her on the Census. Apparently, she’s been faking it when she talks about it in the press-room and to the President, and she doesn’t quite understand what it’s all about. Now this is one of those times when a character’s ignorance is a little…stretched. We find out in a later episode that CJ had no Press-Secretary experience prior to this, but she HAD been working in politics for quite some time. Furthermore, she’s a pretty smart, well-educated woman, and she’s been Press Secretary for approximately a year now. It seems unlikely that she wouldn’t understand anything about the Census. But that’s the prop they’re going with, so we have to live with it. Sam is slightly shocked at this ignorance on her part, but he agrees to tutor her on it.

The other issue under discussion in this episode is the budget surplus. This plot-point is introduced by Donna, asking Josh a question about it. She wants to know why the Republicans want to give the money back as tax-relief and the Democrats don’t. Josh gives her a flippant answer, and Donna lets him know they’re not done with the issue. Josh goes into a meeting with Mandy, Leo, Toby, and Sam. They are discussing an appropriations bill which is being…shall we say…inflated with amendments, one of which the White House objects strenuously to. Mandy lays out their strategy, which is going to involve two Congressmen, Gladman and Skinner who are swing-votes on the Census-vote. The third swing-vote is referred to as “Janice Willis’ husband.” The White House intends to lean on them to get concessions about the Census which would also allow them to pass the appropriations bill properly.

The scene shifts to Bartlett and another man discussing what happens to people who threaten the White House. Fun fact: if you hop the fence surrounding it, you’ll go to jail, regardless of your intentions. This discussion is clearly in reference to the previous evening’s threat. We quickly find out that the other man is Ron Butterfield, the head of President Bartlet’s Secret Service detail. It turns out the culprit was a woman bent on attacking Zoey (the President’s daughter). This revelation shakes Bartlet up a little. Leo enters and Ron excuses himself. Leo uses the time to reassure the President, and to try to tell him about his impending divorce. Before he gets it out, Ron returns. Ron also tries to reassure the President, who is thoughtful as the scene ends.

We shift to Josh, Mandy and Toby’s meeting with the three Congressmen. Technically two and a Congresswoman’s widower. Mr. Willis is an older black man, with a deep gravelly voice and the sort of folksy mannerisms one usually associates with not a lot of intellect.

Mr. Willis.

Mr. Willis.

He says he’s just an 8th Grade Social Studies teacher, and the congressional thing is just temporary. They all sit down, and Toby enters with four huge binders on a cart. They are the appropriations bill, weighing in at 55 lbs and 7,000 pages.

It give's one a sneaking sympathy for the Republican refrain of "smaller government."

It gives one a sneaking sympathy for the Republican refrain of “smaller government.”

Toby goes on a bit of a rant about the sort of things included in it. The Congressmen laugh it off and try to move the meeting to the original purpose of the census. The men represent a committee offering an amendment to the bill. The amendment prohibits the use of sampling in the census, and the President wants it off the bill, hence the meeting.

We move to CJ and Sam walking through the halls, headed to their educational lunch where Sam explains the census to CJ. He proceeds to do so, in the simplest possible way. He also explains why the usual way of counting is inaccurate and disadvantages the poor, the homeless and minorities.

Scene switch again, and Leo enters his office to find Mallory (his daughter) waiting for him. She’s brought him stuff from home, and we find out Leo has given his soon-to-be-ex the house. He tells her “it’ll all blow over” and she corrects him that it really won’t.

Now we’re back to the census-amendment meeting. Mandy and a Congressman are arguing, with him asserting that it’s just a partisan attempt to win back the house by the Democrats. Donna pulls Josh out of the meeting to see someone else and along the way they discuss the budget surplus some more. Donna wants to know why they aren’t giving “her” money (and by extension, everyone else’s money) back via tax-relief. Josh explains she (and everyone else) won’t use it right. The Democrats want to use it to pay down national debt and stimulate the economy. Donna argues she would stimulate the economy by spending it. Josh returns that she wouldn’t spend it right. The discussion ends unsatisfactorily as Josh enters the Oval Office. The President asks Josh to take Charlie out for a beer. Bartlet is worrying “the kid” has no life and does nothing but work, so he’s trying to look out for him. Charlie and Josh agree to go out in Georgetown, and on the way out Josh is ambushed by Zoey and Mallory who want to go too. They beg and tease Josh into agreeing to take them along, despite Zoey being underage. Mallory insists Josh invite Sam as well.

Sam and CJ are still discussing the census, and have now moved on to sampling and the pros and cons of same. Pros are: it’s better, cheaper, more efficient and more accurate. The cons are: technically it’s unconstitutional. Sadly, much as our Constitution is an amazing and ground-breaking piece of legal literature, sometimes it’s a little short-sighted. This is one of those times. This scene is setting up the switch back to the census-amendment meeting, where Mandy is laying out how the last census was inaccurate in ways that disadvantage minorities. But before we move back there, Josh pokes his head in and invites Sam out for a beer. CJ asks to be invited as well, and is given a sort of back-handed invite. We now have quite the White House party headed to a college bar this evening.

So, back to the big meeting. Mandy and Toby are working as a team, laying out arguments. The Congressmen return with the unconstitutionality argument, that unless the Court rules sampling is constitutional, they can’t experiment with it. This next exchange is important.

Toby: The article is arcane.

Skinner: Come on Toby, the article is NOT arcane!

Toby: Lets take a look at it.

S: No. No. We don’t have time-

T: Let’s take a look at it!


Mandy [reading]: Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states, which may be included in this union according to their respective numbers. Which shall be determined by adding the whole number of persons including those bound to service for a term of years.

Skinner: Well you said it right there! It says which shall be determined by the whole number of persons. The whole number of persons! Not the end of an equation that some statistician got off of a computer. It says so, right there!

Toby: Actually, that’s not what it says.

S: What do you mean?

T: Mandy left out a few words. Didn’t she Mr. Willis?

Willis: Yes.

T: Mr. Willis teaches 8th Grade social studies. Mr. Willis knows very well what the article says. It says which shall be determined by adding the whole number of free persons. And three-fifths of all other persons. Three-fifths of all other persons, they meant you Mr. Willis, didn’t they?

W: Yes.

The reason this scene is so important in my mind is that it brings up some important issues. The biggest is the racism, sexism and other problems inherent in the original Constitution. It was an amazing document and a great stride forward towards equality and freedom. But it was also a product of its time, and there are some abhorrent attitudes inherent in the very language it is written in. It is the duty of lawmakers and the courts to update the document and make it resonate with modern values. The Constitution is a work in progress, and not a static document like some old-fashioned people like to imagine. It is the basis for our entire system of government, and if we don’t work towards rooting out the bits of blindness and prejudice codified in it, then our government and our laws will reflect that blind prejudice. This is not merely an academic thing, because people die from such problems in the law. This scene is oddly appropriate this week, given the loop-hole in a State law which has allowed a child-murderer to walk free this weekend, and the racial issues associated with that case.

Anyway, the scene continues with Skinner and Gladman (the two experienced Congressmen) unmoved by Toby’s argument. However, Mr. Willis is moved. He changes his mind, and agrees that he thinks they should remove the amendment from the appropriations bill. Toby is visibly nonplussed. As everyone else begins to file out, Toby asks what changed his mind, and laughs a bit to discover logic and a good argument won the day. That’s an unusual experience in Washington, and Toby is clearly charmed. Mr. Willis displays more astuteness for the workings of the world and Washington in particular, belying our initial impression of him. He’s actually rather practically, and humbly, wise. If men (and women) such as Mr. Willis could get elected to Federal government, it might actually work instead of limp along as it does now.

After Mr. Willis takes his leave of a charmed and thoughtful Toby, the scene shifts back to the Oval Office, where the President is preparing to leave the office for the day. He’s a bit snippy and short-tempered with his secretary, Mrs. Landingham (she rebukes him like an elder aunt might). Leo enters and is finally able to tell his old friend about the split with his wife. Bartlet does NOT take it well, actually yelling at Leo and then telling him to “Fix it! You’re the man, you fix it!” before storming out.

At last we get to the bar scene. Mallory, CJ, Sam, Josh, Zoey and Charlie are all sitting around a table in a crowded bar with drinks. There is a certain amount of friendly ribbing and chatter, then more drinks arrive. CJ’s is left out, and Zoey volunteers to go up to the bar to get it for her, leaving her panic-button behind. While there, a couple of guys start pressing her, clearly too drunk and unplugged from current events to recognize her. They’re doing that half-flirting half-aggressive thing too many guys do to young women in bars (and other venues). Zoey takes it calmly, and in good spirits, until Charlie comes up to rescue her. The guys turn entirely belligerent and block Zoey in against the bar, threatening and verbally abusing Charlie. Charlie tries to be conciliatory until he starts to snap. At that point Sam and Josh notice the altercation, coming over to help. Along the way, Josh scoops up the panic-button. When he gets closer, he presses it, bringing Zoey’s Secret Service detail down on the bar-punks’ heads. The punks are escorted off in handcuffs, and the scene ends.

Back in the White House, the President is giving a “dad-talk” to Zoe. What happened? Did she provoke them? Was she flirting? That sort of thing. Zoe shoots back that she wasn’t flirting, and even if she was it was no justification for their behavior. That line makes me want to cheer a bit. Too often the woman in this situation is blamed, and not the jerks whose bad behavior caused the scene. Zoe refuses to take that, even from her beloved father. But the conversation moves on as the President tells her he’s upping her protection. She protests that she’s “Starting college” and doesn’t want the intrusion. They get into an argument, and the President spins her a story demonstrating exactly why she needs closer guarding. It has little or nothing to do with the bar-incident, but rather is a what-if scenario about her being kidnapped from the bath-room of a public place and held for ransom. It scares her into agreeing, and they make up. She leaves and Bartlett goes over to see Leo and apologize to him for being an idiot. Then they call Josh in to receive his “beating” for taking Zoe to a bar. The President is a bit of a prude where his children are concerned, but he thanks Josh for helping, then thanks Charlie and invites him to join the poker game while the Vote plays on the tv in the back-ground. The rest of the cast enters, and Toby waxes eloquent about Mr. Willis and his charms. He goes over to watch Mr. Willis give his “aye.”

wwe6 poker game


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