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September 2, 2014

The West Wing: Here Today

by Bob Sassone, posted Oct 23rd 2005 9:31PM

Richard Schiff - The West WingCan someone please explain to me how so much can happen in an hour and yet the episode still comes off as incredibly booooooooorrrrrrring? Toby admits to C.J. he's the leak, he's grilled by Babish, Stockard Channing comes back, they're investigating a political assassination, and Josh might fire 45 campaign workers. That's a lot for one episode, yet it came across as riveting as the typing I'm doing right now.

It's always good to see Oliver Platt appear as Babish, and Oliver Platt is the lone bright spot in the show tonight. He's grilling Toby until Toby's lawyer comes by and tells him not to answer anymore questions. Meanwhile, there's more disruption in the Santos campaign, but it's really rather uninteresting. Maybe it's not the plots that are boring themselves, but the way this show was put together. There's no rhythm, no pace, nothing particularly memorable happens until the very end. And even then the writers kick longtime West Wing fans straight in the stomach. He doesn't let Toby resign, he has to fire him. He doesn't even ask why he Toby did it, he instead chastizes him for always (always?) having a smug superiorty ever since he hired him. He doesn't let Toby leave the Oval Office with dignity, instead he gets in one last shot, saying that if anyone out there thinks he's a hero, Bartlet won't be one of them. Security shows Toby out the door.

This is what Toby's loyalty gets him, and what our fan loyalty gets us? (Yeah, he was at the library opening in the fast-forward future scene in the first ep of the season, and that's heartening, but right now, it's not enough).

If you want an example of how so-so the writing is now, just take a look at the scene between the President and Mrs. Bartlett in the first 15 minutes of the show. It struggles to find that old Aaron Sorkin magic, having the two people walk through the White House and then outside, talking about important political matters and something as quirky as fruit flies, and it comes across as forced and rather silly.

I was actually kinda liking the season so far. Maybe because when they focused on the Santos vs. Vinick battle, it was getting interesting. This is an uncomfortable detour from that plot. And to think earlier this year I was hoping they'd get back to the White House so we could see what Bartlet and C.J. and Toby and Margaret were up to. But if this is how they handle the White House part of The West Wing now, I'd rather see Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits the rest of the year.

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Michael Rubin

Does anybody want to see this from Toby's side? He saved the lives of those astronauts when nobody else could or would do anything. He went for the human element, not political expediency. I would have expected CJ, least of all, to understand that. This is the same woman who broke down in tears when debating the morality of doing nothing to help the women who were being tortured in Qumar with Nancy McNally. The part that made me laugh out loud, though, was the pure look of disbelief on Kate's face when Mr. Frost asked her out. After all that he put her though, he had the gall to ask her out for coffee? Priceless moment.

November 22 2005 at 6:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Jerudong

I'm surprised more of you aren't focusing on the obvious point of the whole episode: the producers launched a cruise missile targeted squarely at Karl Rove's forehead. We just watched the (NBC version of the) White House Communications Director admit to leaking classified information to the New York Times. We also saw the "President" reacting firmly and swiftly. Every line in the "President"'s TV address about the importance of national secrets also apply to the current situation in Washington. That the producers are trying to make the current administration look bad in comparison to their fictional one couldn't be more hit by a two-by-four obvious.

November 12 2005 at 4:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
D. Mill

Don't you think it is time for some "sparks" to happen between Donna and Josh?

November 08 2005 at 8:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael

If you think Toby is covering up for someone, go watch "17 People" from Season Two. Toby is the character who places truth and idealism over realism and political considerations. Toby is the "fight the symbol" guy, the guy who believes in fighting the for the lost cause, the truth at all costs. Other characters might take the fall to protect the administration--never, ever Toby.

November 04 2005 at 2:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Romeyn Prescott

Toby TOTALLY took the bullet for CJ! It's what WASN'T said right after he "confessed" that was writing--and acting--genious. "I'm the only other person who could possibly take the fall for this, and I will because you are more important to this administration than you are. But, to give creedence to the notion of Plausible Deniability, we cannot now, nor ever, actually talk about this. It will simply have to be understood." One never knows where the microphones are and if they're on. The only other person who knows the truth is the reporter. CJ is VISIBLY racked with GUILT over Toby's action. She knows it's the Right Thing to be doing, but he has committed career suicude on HER behalf. She will not sleep well...if at all...for many, many nights, methinks.

November 03 2005 at 9:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill Nasso

I agree that there's another shoe to drop regarding the leak. I flash back a few episodes to a reporter telling her that he was headed to jail. CJ's grimace looked, to me, like the pain of guilt. No, the writing is not the same as Sorkin's. It is, however, more realistic. So the question is, I guess, should The West Wing be dramatic or realistic? Or, is it why can't we have both?

November 02 2005 at 8:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Victor Gottheimer

If anyone has a tape of West Wing that aired on Oct 30, 2005 please let me know. I forgot to reset the time on my VCR when the clocks were set back. thanks. (Desperate Housewives, too if you have it )

October 31 2005 at 10:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bjk

The West Wing is still my favorite tv show. I have enjoyed it from the first episode... Of course it has changes, some not so good. I don't think Toby did it. I do think he is covering for someone. I too thought "Leo"??? We will see, what happens tonight! 10-30-05

October 30 2005 at 2:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael

Apologies in advance for a ridiculously long post from a rabid WW fan. I have just watched this episode for the second time and I think it is one of the finest WW episodes ever. Very few characters on TV have ever been as fully developed, as complex, and as consistent as Toby (and Richard Schiff's portrayal) and his departure from the White House in such a manner was inevitable from the show's beginning. Toby has always been a tragic hero, wrestling with a fatal flaw--idealism, in his case. Remember, before Bartlet, Toby's candidate had never won election, because Toby only supported the "purest" or most idealistic candidate. And the reason that this idealism is a flaw, the reason Toby's moods are often dark, brooding and morose, is that Toby will always be disappointed by the candidate he supports, he will always be let down in the end, just as his mobster father let him down--and worst of all, he knows this disappointment will happen. He has always known that Bartlet would ultimately fail him (recall Toby's response in the episode where he finds out about Bartlet's MS) and when it appears that Bartlet won't reveal the military shuttle, Toby finally decides he must reveal it himself. In a way, Toby acts to make real his hero's (Bartlet's) weaknesses, before Bartlet has even made up his mind, because Toby believes heroes always disappoint. Toby is a tragic figure and this story arc, which really began a year ago when Toby secretly consulted with Senator Rafferty (another too-idealistic candidate), played out his inevitable fall from grace. Toby was NOT covering up for somebody else--it would be completely inconsistent with his idealistic commitment to the truth--and the reason Babish indirectly thanks him for his service, is that Babish, like many of us, wants to believe in the world of Toby's idealism, but knows that it is unrealistic. Toby has always been unwilling and unable to accept realism over idealism--and that is why he is such an interesting character, especially to so many of us who struggle with the same issue. Unfortunately, and here's the real downer, Toby has played such a pivotal role in the West Wing, that the show will have to be quite different without him (I really don't think he will be back, except for the tie-up-the-loose-ends episodes). Two main reasons: 1. Toby has represented the idealism that many fans want to believe in, the kind of Presidency we want to believe is possible. This idealism is what has made the West Wing so enjoyable (okay, that and Sorkin's much-missed dialogue). No one is left on the show to carry that idealism forward. 2. Toby and Bartlet are critical mirrors of one another, each man wrestling with the demons of his dead father and the need to "live-up-to expectations," and their conflicts have helped to illuminate each other's psyches...something very difficult to do on TV and much more challenging without Toby. I do think that the reason Bartlet was so angry might be revealed to be, in part, self-directed because he hasn't always been able to meet Toby's (and his own) lofty expectations, and we know he struggles to feel that he is "good enough." Perhaps there will be a storyline as the President and Toby struggle with this issue, possibly leading to a pardon for Toby, but I think that ground has been covered before. Other reasons this episode was awesome: The filmwork was outstanding, almost as good as Two Cathedrals. The long silence in the opener has already been commented on. I also loved the repeated use of reflection, through-the-window and on-TV shots, especially the focus on the President's hands on the TV screen at the end. I think this was an visual metaphor for how we can only understand other people at a distorted surface level, and that our perceptions of others are often projections of ourselves. Toby and Bartlet are each other's distorted reflections. Also, I love it when the WW takes on current issues. The writers were clearly asking, "What would it have been like if Bush handled the Plame security leak this way--no equivocation, no cover-up or appearance of a cover-up, and absolutely zero tolerance for jeopardizing national security?" Why aren't more people asking these questions? Okay, after all that praise, I have to mention a couple weak points in the episode. First, it's not clear that Toby broke the law. For it to be illegal, he would have had to KNOW that a military shuttle existed, but he only ever said that his brother had hinted at it. Unless Toby knew for a fact that it existed, he was just guessing, and that's not illegal. I wonder if this is why David (Toby's brother) was "written out" in the earlier episode. Otherwise, Toby would have to agonize over whether or not to reveal that his brother, the astronaut, had broken the law to reveal the military shuttle's existence. This could still be an issue, of course, and might even redeem Toby--but I seriously doubt it. And the other weak

October 29 2005 at 1:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dominic Biondi

As for the complaints about how the show is shot - are you guys kidding?? It's BRILLIANTLY shot. Better than most feature films. But hey, I'm a filmmaker, so maybe I'm overly enamored of style!

October 28 2005 at 1:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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