The West Wing: Every Episode Ranked
The Bartlet fun never stops. We’ve already ranked West Wing episodes #101-155 in PART ONE. Now it’s time to move on from the awful episodes that Curtis had to carry around, to some truly lovely stories, killer lines, and classic moments. Most of these episodes below have some serious flaws, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile. Get ready to enjoy Chicken Bob, a goldfish pin, and Toby singing.
On we march to the top 100:
100. “Han” (season 5, episode 4)
I have han just watching this episode, even though it’s a sweet little LOST reunion of sorts (or was LOST a “Han” reunion? Time riddle!). Listen, this is an episode where PB and Leo are just wrong and so adrift in an ocean of uncertainty that they missed the obvious inevitability that the North Korean talks would fall apart. They sacrificed the young confused musician, and then PB had the nerve to blame the pianist’s lack of understanding of “freedom”. Really, Jed? Teach him freedom. Ack, the writers have positioned the POTUS as doddering, weak, confused, and myopic. Not cool.
99. “The Lame Duck Congress” (season 2, episode 6)
Zzzzzz. ZzzzzzZzzz. This is one snoozer episode. I don’t care a fig about the drunken Russian getting to see the President. And Donna is petulant and ridiculous in this episode about repetitive stress injuries. Nothing about this episode is particularly offensive, it’s just boring and overly focused on procedures.
98. “The War at Home” (season 2, episode 14)
You know they’re seriously spinning their wheels when the SOTU takes up the better part of two episodes. The speech isn’t exactly a thriller movie, so I can’t believe we’re still listening to Ted McGinley and a very fake Detroit cop who is busy explaining his “Jump to Conclusions” mat while C.J.’s auctioning him off to the friendliest press outlets. The real point of this episode, of course, is the building tension between POTUS and FLOTUS. For the record, I am complete on the side of FLOTUS, and she is the mature, brilliant, feisty voice of reason among a mob of ostriches gathered in a sandbox. Quick bit of trivia: You could skip this entire episode, and apart from a handful of clever lines, you really wouldn’t miss it. Episode 13 to 15. Woosh! C.J.’s running crazy, Ainsley gets humiliated, Toby is frustrated. You’d never notice.
Points Awarded For: In the moment before Donna describes monogrammed towels, Josh gives her a brief look like he might rip her clothes off. And for three heartbeats I don’t breathe.
97. “The Black Vera Wang” (season 3, episode 20)
Alternate Title: “Mark Harmon Episode #2”
Oh, Sam. Sam, Sam, Sam. My cats saw that ploy coming. But this is how much effort the writers are willing to dedicate to the re-elect campaign. After all, we know Bartlet’s going to win. They know Bartlet’s going to win. James Brolin knows Bartlet’s going to win. So a lot of this is marking time until PB can begin his second term (and, *cough*, season 4). That leaves us twiddling our thumbs while Toby argues about balloons, and Josh argues about moose meat, and CJ pouts around a department store with Special Agent Handsome. Our thumbs only stop twiddling when, in the last five minutes, the writers dangle a big, fat, juicy carrot in front of us: Shareef’s plot to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge.
Great Line: “Nah, I’m hoping it’s porn.”
96. “Requiem” (season 7, episode 18)
Alternate Title: “Farewell, Leo”
Whew! That was one exciting season finale wasn’t it? Wait, what? We still have FIVE more episodes? Seriously? Okay. Well then, I’ll put on my pearls and black trousers and head to Leo’s funeral, which is good because A.) You’re expected to wear bottoms at a funeral, and B.) It’s a who’s-who of West Wing faces. John Hoynes. Joey Lucas. Nancy McNally. All three Bartlet daughters. Bingo Bob. Danny. Amy Gardner. Ainsley Hayes. I was almost a little surprised not to see Gail’s little fishbowl sitting in a pew. And it’s a shame Lord John Marbury couldn’t attend to say farewell to Gerald. This is lovely, more of a celebration of life, really. But it isn’t truly great WW.
95. “Shutdown” (season 5, episode 8)
Shut! Down! The drama of Bartlet saying “shut it down” last episodes from such a naive, long-ago time that it doesn’t hold up well on rewatching. Oh, Jed, next thing we know, you’ll suggest that gay marriage is possible and Leo will slap your face. I kid the fake White House, but this episode is actually pretty gripping. I love watching stupid Angela Blake look like a loser, her and that other hydra head, Leo. Why are you guys seriously arguing for negotiating with extortionists? Go home, Leo and Angela. At least Josh wins. I love that Josh wins. Most importantly, though, Donna’s role is highlighted more than ever. She just sat in on a budget negotiation that even Josh wasn’t in on, and now she isn’t rating high enough to keep working during a shutdown. Yet she does anyway. She is ascending and opening her eyes to it. Oh, I love Donna. And Bartlet’s stunt? It was petty but practical. I’ve always said that Dems need to play the same game as their political opponents, and this was at least in touch with reality.
Points Lost For: Marina. I don’t understand what the hell she’s supposed to bring to the show.
Points Awarded For: Welcome back, Abby!
“Women in Government? That’s Crazy!” Moment: Angela complains that she should’ve worn better shoes for a 5-10 minute walk in perfect weather. Plain unnecessary to make that kind of lead-lined joke about the impracticality of women’s fashion…especially since Angela probably walks 10,000+ steps a day in those shoes.
94. “College Kids” (season 4, episode 3)
Alternate Title: “Josh and Toby Take on Tuition Relief”
Oh man, it’s another full episode of Leo hitting on Jordan Kendall. She has to be super creeped out that he only does this when he is in a boatload of trouble, like getting caught turns him on or something. Ick. So let’s ignore Leo getting all hot and bothered over more Congressional investigations and focus on the interesting notion that Leo and Josh have stumbled upon–tuition assistance! Politicians seem bumfuzzled by why more college kids don’t vote, but then seldom throw them any bones. Senior citizens are a courted and pampered voting bloc, and young adults feel ignored. Not that tuition is just a “college kids” thing. It’s an everybody thing on one level or another. So, you can probably gather that I love this idea, and am appropriately frustrated that only two senior officials seem really excited by this. Everyone else is way too preoccupied with covering up assassinations and international games of intrigue. College kids take a backseat again.
Side Note: Oops, I see London, I see France, I see CJ’s white underpants peeking out of her pants at the rally!
93. “In God We Trust” (season 6, episode 20)
Religion’s role in a national campaign. This is an excellent topic that is deftly handled via Alan (National Fucking Treasure) Alda. The ice cream scene, aside from the spoon issue I mention below, is brilliantly written and manages to encapsulate the entire issue really nicely. In fact, that could have been the entire episode. The rest of the time could’ve been just C.J. doing The Jackal. Or Alan Alda doing The Jackal. Yesssss.
Suspension of Reality Moment: What are those two grown-ass men doing dipping their saliva-coated spoons into seven 3-gallon tubs of ice cream? Now they’re ruined. Don’t act like animals, you “fiscal hawks”, scoop some up into a dish and then eat. 21 gallons of ice cream wasted over maybe twenty bites.
92. “2162 Votes” (season 6, episode 22)
It’s the Democratic National Convention! And it’s a nail-biter! Heh, they settled the speaking order via rock-paper-scissors. I am absolutely enthralled, ensorcelled by the drama of the multiple ballots, especially given the eleventh-hour antics of Al Bundy Baker, the unvetted spoiler. Okay, Leo, now the donkey is exploding. And yes, Aaron Burr does have twenty votes. The frantic energy of this episode makes me want to grab an office phone and start yelling at someone. Anyone. And then quietly hold a phone set in my arms, ala Josh. This is such good television…until the very end. Then the writers lost their goddamn minds. High Priest Leo for Veep? Are you fucking kidding me? How many ridiculous problems are there with this…?:
- Leo couldn’t be Chief of Staff over his health, but he can handle being Veep and a rigorous presidential campaign (or two)?
- He has never been elected for anything.
- He brings no electoral votes to the table.
- He has had zero faith in Santos from the beginning, and was pushing him to quit up until the second they offered him the slot
- He has no charisma for working crowds or delivering speeches.
This is the dumbest twist in the history of this show. And I remember Mandy! Oh well, I’ll have more to say next season, but for now I’m really happy for Josh. (Notice I’m trying very hard not to mention the Greg-Brock-military-space-shuttle thread, because, damnit, they just can’t ruin Toby that way. I won’t let them. Well, at least not until next season.)
91. “Freedonia” (season 6, episode 15)
If I close my left eye and squint really hard and tilt my head just so, I still can’t figure out what the hell was so compelling about Santos’s impromptu ad. But hey, as long as this isn’t the end of the road for Santos, sure. Although…after Matt blew that newspaper meeting so badly, I am starting to question his ability to do pretty much anything. Except throw darts. And drag along Negative Ned. This is a good, if slightly painful campaign story. Oh, and I don’t care what Santos says, I was a big fan of Chicken Bob and Chicken John and I hope they’ll become recurring characters.
Points Lost For: Reappearance of Amy Gardner and her ridiculous oral pleasuring of a chocolate ice cream cone. Why?
Points Awarded For: The chickens.
90. “Inauguration (Part 1)” (season 4, episode 14)
Bibles aside, this episode is all about the Kundu genocide decision–is a Kundunese life less valuable than an American life? I want to say right now that I like Will Bailey in every episode but this one. I don’t care if his heart is in the right place, he should not be creating massive foreign policy shift. Plus, I’d like to think PB would have gotten to the Kundu conclusion on his own anyway, maybe he’ll…I dunno…watch a really old movie or something. But as much as I am irked by Will, I absolutely am head over heels about Leo. Listen, Leo, we’ve had a rocky past (*cough*, season 1), and I have a feeling our future is going to get really ugly. But for now, you are a goddam hero in the Situation Room, standing up to Secretary of Defense Hutchinson like that. That’s all I need to love this episode. GO LEO, GO! Such a good scene. One of the best. Now, because I don’t really care about the Bible shenanigans, or how many [gag] buttons [brrrp] are on Commander Crap Reese’s pants, all this episode really has going for it is that one scene. Excellent television for just two minutes. I would’ve ranked this higher if Josh would carry around a dress saber for no reason. Rawwwwr.
Points Awarded For: Of course a House of Representatives Library Bible comes from a motel.
More Points Awarded For: Oh, Danny, you’re so cute and dumb around C.J. Claudia Jean flirts hard.
89. “Constituency of One” (season 5, episode 5)
Everyone just needs to simmer down. That’s the episode’s new title. Tom Skerritt, whom I still adore from Picket Fences and Steel Magnolias, needs to really simmer the fuck down and pull that missile system out of his ass. But, Carrock is a petty party-jumping scorpion, so his stunt is just part of his nature. Who I’m really mad at is Leo. We’ve arrived at the pivot of the show where Leo goes from being the lovable cult leader whom everyone follows so closely that they sometimes trip on his robes, to being the mean puppet master who shits all over the West Wing and then yells at people for too much feces in the hallways. He was just plain wrong to amend the EPA report and sell out to coal interests. And he compounds his wrongness by erupting on CJ for having principles. In fact, this becomes the theme for the episode. Stand up for your principles and you’ll get beaten to the ground and then kicked repeatedly while you squirm in the dirt. This happened to Will for respecting Bingo Bob. Amy for doing what she thinks the FLOTUS would want. And, of course, C.J. and Josh. You know who the constituency of one really is this episode? Leo.
Points Lost For: “Ben” teasing. Pointless Ben teasing. Episode 1.
Points Lost For: Fitzwallace departing
88. “20 Hours in L.A.” (season 1, episode 16)
Does anyone else think that during the opening limo ride, Leo’s dialogue was supposed to be the First Lady, but Stockard Channing had a scheduling conflict? Okay, that isn’t the point of the episode. Actually, there isn’t a ton of point to this episode in general, except for setting up future plot points. More conflict between PB and Hoynesy. Zoe is under threat. Josh strikes out with Joey Lucas. It’s all watchable and plenty enjoyable, but also forgettable. I’m actually more fascinated by how ugly limousines were in the late 1990s.
Points Lost For: David Hasselhoff and Jay Leno cameos. Gross
87. “Gailileo” (season 2, episode 9)
First, Sam is right, that was some awfullllllllll writing. Why can’t NASA hire me? Eh, fuck it, they probably discourage wine drinking during working hours. Second, I would like to go on record (write this down) that I would worship a night listening to the Reykjavik Symphony Orchestra. Okay, those are my only two main points about this episode. Seriously. It’s just a parable for a gap in communication–not just between Galileo and NASA, but also between PB and his constituents and kids, and so much else. This episode is okay, but I feel somewhat…disconnected from it. (See what I did there?)
86. “Internal Displacement” (season 7, episode 11)
Alternate Title: “Doug Westin Does the Nanny”
An exciting episode written by BRADLEY WHITFORD! Just so you know, CJ, fish is never a dumb thing to get in a restaurant. Though, Gail is probably proud of your aversion. Well, in spite of peaks of brilliance in this episode, it is bogged down with so much international dickering that Kate Harper is sporting a constant lady boner. Really, the only reason to watch is for all of the moments shared between CJ and Danny–and the San Andreo news that breaks in the closing moments. This episode is chock full of promise.
Points Awarded For: CJ’s heroic fishbowl catch, saving Gail’s life.
Great Line: “Men are like salmon, swimming upstream, hosing down the riverbed with their indiscriminate seed. Until they die. Bloated and spent belly up in the sun. Unless they get taken out by a bear paw in the waterfall, as they deserve to be.”
Great Line #2: “If I’m gonna jump off the cliff and you’re gonna get pushed off the cliff, why don’t we hold hands on the way down?”
85. “Debate Camp” (season 4, episode 5)
Forget debate camp, this episode is all about the flashbacks to the Bartlet transition four years earlier. The Josh, Donna, and CJ gags and misunderstandings are winningly Bambi-esque. Toby’s tale, though, is just sad. I know it has a happy ending with the out-of-nowhere twins announcement, but how depressing it is anyway. The whole episode is just a little out of place–it’s title hardly matches the content, the flashback is oddly situated, and the character evolution that might have been illuminated fell flat. Cute, but not great.
Points Awarded For: Sam’s awesome Bartlet impersonation!
84. “On the Day Before” (season 3, episode 4)
Alternate Title: “Toby and Josh Take On the Dynasty Tax, Part 2”
Holy smokes do I want some hot pumpkin soup with cheese gnocchi and chèvre brioche! The Dems who honked this over on the administration deserve to get spanked just for causing some of that food to go uneaten. The spanking in this episode was an enjoyable cat-and-mouse game that made up for how snoozy last episode was. By the way, Toby and Josh, if you want to fix the branding on the “Death Tax”, call it what it really is: A Dynasty Tax. If you want to secure a dynasty, you get taxed. Oh, and point of order: Money doesn’t get taxed. Transactions of money get taxed. Yes, you of the wealthy sort, when your employer or financial institutions handed you money, it was taxed. And when you hand the money to your douchey kids so they can have more implants and sports cars, it will be taxed. That’s how it works. You pay taxes each time the money changes hands. Tax 101, bitches. Any sidestepping of that, and the country gets a much of wealth concentrated in dynasties.
Points Awarded For: C.J. smacking down the fashion reporter. She’s earned it.
83. “The Women of Qumar” (season 3, episode 8)
Welcome, Qumar, a new foil in the West Wing universe! C.J.’s outrage at their treatment of women is poignant and heart-wrenching, even though it seems a bit out of left field. This surely isn’t the first time the Bartlet White House has done business with countries with terrible human rights records. So one cannot help feeling that her anguish is merely a device to introduce us to a new show villain. On the other hand, she makes a very good point, and one that needs to be addressed publicly more often. I’m split on this. Thank goodness for Toby’s gesture of love toward her at the press conference, as it anchors the entire thread emotionally. We’re just going to ignore all the stuff where Sam wants a seatbelt law. Seatbelts. Pennies. Tell-all books. Sam is a dumpster fire of inanity and small things. So his thread and all others, mad cows included, fizzle pretty quickly. Were it not for C.J.’s passion this episode would be entirely skippable.
82. “He Shall from Time to Time…” (season 1, episode 12)
Ruh-roh! Something’s wrong with the President! I’ll give you a hint…it starts with an “M” and ends with an “S”. This is a big revelation right in the middle of season one, so I want to give this episode some leeway, but once you know the big SECRET then this episode is fairly bland. Leo lovers will really appreciate his back and forth with POTUS, but since Leo is only 15% awesome, I’m only “meh” on the whole thing.
Side Note: Have you ever really noticed how ugly P.B.’s Oval Office is? There’s no cohesion of color palette, and that blue rug is pretty hideous. Also, the candy cane couches don’t look very comfy. In case you hadn’t noticed.
Points Awarded For: Appearance of Buffy’s Mayor Wilkins as Roger Tribbey.
Points Lost For: This is the 4th crappy episode where we wring our hands over Leo’s trouble with addiction. Which is going nowhere fast.
81. “Ways and Means” (season 3, episode 3)
Alternate Title: “Toby and Josh Take On the Dynasty Tax, Part 1”
Oh, Oliver Blabbish. What I wouldn’t give for John Larroquette to come back! Moving away from a lot of the personal and emotional drama of the last several episodes, we’re shifting back into procedural mode, save for Donna’s tryst with a very cute Republican named Cliff. I’m with you, Donna. Besides, being naughty is fun. You go get that conservative junk, girl! Eh, the procedural stuff is fine and a little interesting, but nothing special either.
Oops! Moment: The Grand Jury should really get it right, his name isn’t “Toby Zachary Ziegler”, it’s “Tobias Zachary Ziegler”. Tobias. Little Toby.
80. “The California 47th” (season 4, episode 16)
Alternate Title: “Sam’s Campaign, Episode One”
Road trip! We’re going to Cali-forn-i-a! And we’re traveling by flying death tube, according to Toby. And for the life of me, I can’t really understand why. Based on Sam’s polling numbers, it seems a little pointless to lean on the 47th, especially when PB has African worries and a tax plan to announce. At a time like that, Toby really should keep his eye on the ball and help Will through the transition. Were it not for Toby and Charlie defending Andy’s honor, I would be just over this episode. When an actor decides to leave a show, they should just GO, and not drag us to California (see also: Jess, Gilmore Girls).
“Women in Government? That’s Crazy!” Moment: “That isn’t a staff, Toby, those are the Robert Palmer girls”. Fuck off, Will. Those women worked really hard to get where they are.
79. “The Drop In” (season 2, episode 12)
Toby is a (still lovable) spiteful dick. He gets shut out of one decision on the heels of his breakfast humiliation, and he starts biting his friends to his left–both Sam and the GDC. If only Lord John Marbury could’ve set him straight the way he figuratively straightened Gerald’s tie on the whole missile defense boondoggle. The Bartlet administration seems to be making bad call after bad call (aside from welcoming L.J. Marbury). I like the sentiment of this episode, and Donna’s sweet royal flirtations, but CJ and Josh are totally wasted and it seems like the show is as rudderless at the White House for right now. Biding time until the season finale?
Great Line: “Okay, well golf’s not a sport. It’s fine, don’t get me wrong. But let’s not, you and I, confuse it with things that men do”
Suspension of Reality Moment: Leo gets PB to the Situation Room in 2 minutes, 10 seconds to witness the missile failure? Nah. That was 15-20 minutes, minimum, unless they invented a teleporter that didn’t miss the mark by, say, 137 miles.
Suspension of Reality Moment #2: Bullshit, Leo’s never heard of Lucy and Charlie Brown and Snoopy. He is supposed to be a crossword master, not to mention that he raised a child and was an adolescent in the 1960s. Put it all together and that’s like him saying, “So this Mickey, was it a rat? Or a mouse?”
78. “The Portland Trip” (season 2, episode 7)
Listen, I have no special loyalty to my home state school, Michigan, but Notre Dame sucks and will get the ass kicking they so richly deserve. Always. Now that that’s over, we can discuss an episode that is mostly about last-minute frantic attempts to change major legislative initiatives: Josh tackles gay marriage, while Toby and Sam tackle education. I don’t know. The CJ & The Press hijinx (which would’ve made a good sitcom, by the way) worked beautifully, but the rest of the episode was a little on the dull side, and worst yet, it was cheese city, even down to the pilot’s symbolic announcement of climbing in altitude. We were spoon-fed lines about poetry and flying through the night. Ehhhhhhhhh. My big take-away is how much I want a club sandwich or a chocolate chip muffin.
Side Note: Little bit of trivia for you, the staff would’ve had to pay for their meals and snacks on Air Force One. I wonder how much Toby paid for that club sandwich and Jack on the rocks.
77. “The Wake-Up Call” (season 6, episode 14)
It’s Valentine’s Day and CJ and FLOTUS are going toe-to-toe over PB’s sleep schedule, which is a horribly unfair situation for both ladies and creates a power inferno within the vicinity of the Oval. Pour on top of that a little Lord John Marbury and Miss World (who proves that sex is still and evermore the greatest weapon–hence why Lord John Marbury is so amazing. Rawrrr.), and it works as a nice crossover of PB’s personal problems and the political front. What doesn’t work is the ill-fitting, clumsy constitutional tutorial. Christopher Lloyd’s talents are miserably wasted, and this may be the first time I ever wished he would just stop talking. Can we bring Lord John Marbury back and have him teach constitutional theory? Mimosas will be provided.
Points Awarded For: My vision that Margaret later had drinks with Miss World.
More Points Awarded For: Lord John Marbury’s poetry recitation
76. “The State Dinner” (season 1, episode 7)
Mandy (aka “The Perm”) has no effing business chiming in on policy regarding the police standoff. The very fact that she is pushing a P.R. agenda, and that it’s taken seriously is pretty gross. But at least we get that heart-wrenching scene where she finally understands the consequences of her words and runs out of the state dinner. The Perm’s only redeeming moment in the whole series.
Points Awarded For: Welcome, Abbey Bartlet! Rizzo’s looking a little rough, but I like in her in this role.
More Points Awarded For: Danny and vermeil, though I’ll confess that I’m not sure how Sorkin managed to wedge in this little bit of embarrassing White House history. Didn’t make a ton of sense. But Danny wins it anyway.
Points Lost For: Sam at the state dinner. Why is he wearing a baggy tux with bedhead going on up top?
75. “Holy Night” (season 4, episode 11)
Oh for fuck’s sake. It’s the Whiffenpoofs. I have a special, special deep-down loathing of a cappella groups, and this is the king of them all. They’re worse than clowns. Worse than carnies. Worse than Australian spiders. Worse than the hard little bits in sausage. And Whiffenpoofs, in particular, aided in my ranking of the worst-ever Gilmore Girls episode. But I need to set that aside now because there’s still an episode to review. First, there is the “Daddy Issues” theme…again. Zoe, Jed, Toby, and even Josh are wrestling with the role of their fathers in their lives. The second theme is the appearance of Ghosts of Christmas Past (Zoe, Danny, Mr. Ziegler, Dr. Adam Arkin, that Bermuda guy’s forgotten cricket bat). The themes are apt for the holiday, but tonally this is an abrupt and jarring pivot from the election to something else, something big, on the horizon. I’m not left satisfied. And I’m a little extra creeped out that Donna’s off with Commander Crap Reese.
Points Awarded For: Santa Danny and the goldfish pin
Great Line: TOBY: “Listen, when you get home tonight, you’re going to be confronted by the instinct to drink alone. Trust that instinct. Manage the pain. Don’t try to be a hero.”
Suspension of Reality Moment: So let me get this straight, the Ziegler family men include a mob figure, an astronaut, and White House Communications Director. Sure. Seems plausible.
74. “The Benign Prerogative” (season 5, episode 11)
Alternate Title: “Donna Takes on Presidential Pardons”
I want to slap this episode just like Meeshell slaps Charlie. Okay, not exactly like that, because that was terrible and ridiculous Carrington-level cheese, especially with the ramped up score. That was an overreaction, and made Meeshell look unable to control her emotions, even in the shadow of the Oval Office. Sure, this is a bit of a feminist take, but since this show has had a track record of lady problems, I believe my concerns are valid. Us women, how we do like to cause a scene! She must be menstruating. Amiright? Thanks, West Wing writers. Oh, and what the hell is up with Rina and Toby?? It isn’t just that they dress her provocatively, it’s that she is directed to give overtly flirty glances and smiles–almost winking and blowing kisses. I really don’t like where this is going. The rest of the episode addresses the war on drugs and the presidential power of the pardon, which is a compelling topic that I wish could’ve had a bigger arc. Ultimately, I think this episode’s biggest failing (aside from Meeshell’s hand) is that it condenses down a mighty topic like Campbell’s putting soup in a little can.
Mega Points Awarded For: Donna. Donna. Donna.
73. “Talking Points” (season 5, episode 19)
Alternate Title: “Josh Takes on Free Trade and C.J. Takes on the F.C.C.”
Angry tractors encircle Josh while he tries to smooth the way for a free trade agreement, which is a very timely and relevant topic today. His problem is the same that Dems have every time–free trade is a big picture win for the global economy and the American economy. It triggers innovation, which does create better higher-paying jobs. But it’s an ugly sell because it allows old-economy jobs to flee to countries where wages are vastly more competitive. That’s ugly. For me, that’s like eating my broccoli. It stinks, I don’t like it, and it gives me gas. But I eat it because, big picture, it might just help me live longer and be stronger. But try selling that broccoli analogy to a bunch of blue collar workers who just lost their jobs based on the promise that it makes room for someone else to advance innovation. Well, Josh is choking on his broccoli, which is tough to watch, just as it is in real life. And while he’s choking, Donna isn’t there to save him because she is taking a stand for her own career, which has been building over the course of the season. Her silent treatment is beautiful and is the type of childish antics that Josh actually responds to. Their fight is touching and funny all at the same time, and the result is that Josh takes her seriously enough to get her a role in the upcoming codel to the Middle East. This is a fantastic victory for Donna! But at what cost to her personal relationship with Josh? Note that when he finally leaves for Brussels, he does not look at her or say goodbye. On the C.J. side of thing, I’m always a little flummoxed by her naïveté. This isn’t her first ride at the rodeo. Which means that we are being spoon-fed this by the writers so that us plebes learn a lesson. And at a sacrifice to C.J.’s credibility with us, the viewers.
Points Awarded For: Military excitement! Fitz is back AND we get to welcome Kate Harper.
More Points Awarded For: Josh and Donna’s Non-Walk-and-Talk.
Side Note: This episode was actually directed by Richard Schiff, which explains why Toby’s absent in a lot of scenes where Leo has to step in to fill his normal role.
72. “Stormy Present” (season 5, episode 10)
This is a fantastic episode for examining a different scope of the Presidency after the death of pretend President Lassiter. It was worthwhile to see P.B. go head to head with past prezes, including (squee!) the return of President John Goodman and his President Pug! Helllllo, Bess! But first, before we get to that, I love all the light banter about the President’s Fords Theatre joke and Toby cowering in C.J.’s office while she’s changing. And then we get to Lassiter’s passing. Oh, how Josh and Toby have fun shredding him and his legacy of malignancy. And yet there is a reverence for the path they traveled. It was a good Air Force One episode and addressed P.B.’s legacy early on (too early on?) nicely.
Great Line: Toby’s entire “Madame Tussaud’s” diatribe prior to boarding the plane.
Super Mega Points For: Toby singing “Suicide is Painless”
Points Lost For: The unnecessary scene at the very end of P.B. longingly staring at the Lincoln Memorial. So cheesy. You can almost hear him whisper, “thoughtful pause”.
71. “No Exit” (season 5, episode 20)
Welcome to another gimmick episode. But unlike “Access”, this one works very well as an entertaining and useful take on the work of Sartre. The surface story, of course, is about a bioterrorism threat within the White House. But truly, it’s a stunt with a twofold purpose: A.) To show us how such a scenario might unfold (fascinating!), and B.) To advance some interpersonal relationships. So let’s start with Toby and Will, the former of whom was gorgeously swept off his feet by a Secret Service agent. Ha. Put the damn pop can on your head, Toby, and get over your perceived slight. Damn, I love how stubborn he is, though. Now on to C.J. and Donna: C.J. offers up some carob-covered truth nuggets to Donna in a way that is called for, but still humiliating for Donna. Maybe she outgrew the job long ago, C.J., but since you’re sitting there in a flannel shirt hiding from your boyfriend and the camping trip during which you were going to pretend to be someone you’re not, it’s pretty ugly of you to unload on Donna that way. I love and hate these scenes. Skipping right over Josh and Kate (since it’s really a basic get-to-know-Kate affair), oh my fucking god, LEO! You just accused the First Lady of pill popping for taking some anti-anxiety meds, projecting your own addiction crisis on to another person (like many addicts do in my experience. Good for you, Abbey, for shutting him down!
70. “Lord John Marbury” (season 1, episode 11)
Oh, Lord John Marbury. You are positively intoxicating. He is the bright shining star in an episode that is otherwise shit to the bull. This is now the third episode during which Sam and Toby quack like ducks because Leo’s “in trouble”. But, guys, he isn’t dying. (Yet.) He isn’t being hunted by assassins. So, again, I’m disappointed that so much time is spent circling the wagons around Leo through a series of fruitless and asinine antics and outbursts. Plus, notice that Toby takes the brunt of C.J.’s wrath for Leo. Leo was the untrusting (probably misogynistic) dickface who weakened the Whitehouse Press Secretary’s position for no conceivably good reason.
69. “Bartlet For America” (season 3, episode 9)
Joyeux Noel! It’s a Congressional Hearing that explores themes of alcoholism and loyalty! Plus, we get church bombings! Leo fans will think this episode is brilliant for a poetic narration of Leo’s battle with booze, but I’m not sold on it. Yes, it’s well-written and well-acted, but getting shit-faced is hardly as humiliating as this episode implies. He had a bunch of alcohol, got confused, and…nothing happened. No cars in the bottom of a lake. No dead hookers. No weiner pics. And he wasn’t even “on duty” when this happened. It wouldn’t be the end of Leo, and that means that we have wasted some holly-jolly seasonal cheer watching Leo hit on his attorney and flashback to the most harmless drunken moment ever. I mean, if we’re going to give this a whole episode, I want to be cringing as Leo takes off his shirt and gives a reporter a lap dance onstage in the middle of the televised debate. I want him being hauled off, naked, by Secret Service while singing “I Fought the Law and the Law Won”.
68. “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” (season 1, episode 19)
Alternate Title: “Sam Takes On Gays in the Military”
As I look out over this magnificent vista, I see Margaret’s calorie-packed raisin muffins. And they’re tasting pretty stale right now, because this episode seems realllllly old. This may be the most quintessentially dated episode in the series, since we’re tackling “don’t ask, don’t tell”, and FEC’s stance on money as free speech. Obviously, Margaret’s muffin/email escapades happened long before Citizens United. Oh, and there’s a thing about Mandy’s memo which I give zero shits about because Mandy has always been a terrible fit in this show and I’m annoyed she’s still around. Blah. The main point of this episode though isn’t about Mandy, or gay soldiers, or campaign contributions, it’s about Bartlet being stuck in political neutral. Leo, who is surprisingly likable this season, gets PB all fired up to go crazy and open a can of whoopass on the country, the world, and probably raisin muffins as well. This is an okay episode, but much like the Bartlet administration, this season is spinning its wheels a bit. Time to get rolling!
67. “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics” (season 1, episode 21)
This is a clown car of an episode. So much packed in here, and most of it just fine. But none of it extraordinary. The FEC tug of war and the game of musical ambassadors is a little interesting and, at times, even amusing. The polling thread, intertwined with CJ’s ongoing battles between Leo, herself, and Danny, makes this episode a little more nuanced though. It’s good drama, it’s good theatre, and yet it feels like it’s building toward something bigger. Hmmmmm.
“Women in Government? That’s Crazy!” Moment: C.J. has some kind of insight into how the mood of the people may be gyrating? That’s just plain nutty. Almost like it’s her job. Stupid Leo.
Points Lost For: Joey Lucas giving the raspberry to Josh, especially in the Oval. It’s just gross, you guys, that blatant, awkward, and really immature flirting. Just gross. Grossssssss.
66. “The Short List” (season 1, episode 9)
Ugh, this is an otherwise great episode with a horrible opening scene. You not “da man”, Josh, Toby, or Sam. And why the hell are Josh and C.J. so elated you’d think that they both just got their undercarriages feather tickled? As we find out, Harrison is the most bland WASPy dickface nominee they could find, and he is depressingly eager to join the Court. The good news is that the show acknowledges this turd early on and we get to watch P.B. come around to Judge Mendoza. Plus, blah, blah, Leo was a pill popper. Overall, this is a solid episode that deals with the realities of the court and a sweet, hilarious goldfish named Gail. Oh, Danny! You sweet bastard. By the way, C.J., what parties do you go to where they serve children’s cheese crackers?
Meta Moment: Harrison is played by Ken Howard, who I am a huge fan of from his role as Thomas Jefferson in the musical movie, 1776. So you see? Thomas Jefferson was there sitting in the Oval Office debating the intent of the Founding Fathers with the President. If only William Daniels had crashed in to the meeting and Harrison had yelled at him to “Sit down, Mr. Adams!”. Just go watch the musical.
Points Awarded For: Josh gets drunk and ends up at Donna’s apartment yelling at her roommates cats? Love it. This is a visual I really need every day of my life. I wish I had a GIF of it.
65. “Arctic Radar” (season 4, episode 10)
Damnit, Josh! Leave the Trekkies alone. She’s a temp so it isn’t worth even pestering her over a pin. And maybe I take a little umbrage with his characterization of fetishizing television shows since I am very clearly, by his definition, doing that very thing with The West Wing. Don’t you judge me, Joshua Lyman! Don’t you judge me. This whole episode is about picking your battles, (another reason Mr. Lyman is ridiculous coming down on a temp like that) but the best part is how fired up PB is–not letting CJ back down on her reporters and challenging Leo, even though he’s technically in the right. I love the push and pull of this episode across the board. Even, I guess, Mr. Lyman. Aw, cripes, it’s just hard to say angry at him when he so clearly demonstrates his love for Donna around Commander Crap Reese.
Side Note: Am I the only one who has considered writing a draft of Toby’s assignment for Will: A 500-word stanza on American leadership in a globally interdependent age that goes beyond triumphalism? Just to gauge if you would pass the Toby test? No? Yeah, well I think my shot at that fantasy went out the window the moment I typed, “Commander Crap Reese”.
Points Awarded For: “There are BIG signs. You can’t park there! They should get towed to Queens!”
Points Awarded For: Will. He is one of you, Toby!
Worst & Best Quote:
JOSH: “I’m a fan….but here’s what I don’t do, tell me if this sounds familiar:’Let’s list our 10 favorite episodes’, ‘Let’s list our least favorite episodes’, ‘Let’s list our favorite galaxies’…that’s not being a fan, that’s having a fetish.
64. “The Fall’s Gonna Kill You” (season 2, episode 20)
It’s Episode #3 of the Oliver “Blabbish” Inquisition, and everything is getting very real and very serious. The nuance and patience of the characters (not to mention the writing) is astounding. But much like C.J.’s titular plummet, I see it coming, but we’re still standing on the edge–and that’s the hardest and most exciting place to be. This episode is all tension and drama, but I just want to get through it to the final break of the storm. And you know it’s coming.
Points Awarded For: When PB’s in a fight, he calls his wife “hot pants”.
Meta Moment: I’m watching this episode for about the eighth time for this review, and there is seriously, legitimately a Chinese satellite that is predicted to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and break apart at any moment between now and two days from now. And SE Michigan–where I am encamped–is a likely landing pad for large pieces survicing re-entry. So I’m on Team Donna for this one. Don’t laugh! I could be crushed at any moment!
63. “18th and Potomac” (season 2, episode 21)
Preparations are being made, cars are being purchased, everything is lining up for the big season 2 finale. I could talk about how impressive the plans are, how the inner workings of a PR machine are at crisis time. “The water’s exactly at my head.” It’s magnificent television (and blissfully Mandy-free!). But if you’ve seen the full episode, you know that there’s only one voice I’m really listening to: That beautiful, weird, crepe paper nasal voice that belongs to Delores Landingham. As I sob for her, because I’m a big baby, all I can picture is the hope of her hugging her two boys again.
Points Awarded For: “People are, in fact, eating more beets!”
More Points Awarded For: Donna: “Sagittarius”
Questions: Did Mrs. Landingham know, the way Charlie knew? Did she suffer? Oh, I hope she didn’t suffer.
62. “Election Night” (season 4, episode 7)
Okay, the previous episode already did the cold open fake-out gag, and it did it better. The flashmob-style acting troupe was pretty lame. But Josh is right, they’re gonna win. Ritchie even said as much at the debate. Yet somehow the gang manages to carve out their own special pieces of anxiety on this day, as if the day just couldn’t pass peacefully because it shouldn’t. Some of the stresses are real–PB and his medical challenges, and Will and Sam’s California election. But some are manufactured–Josh and his memo, Donna and her sweetly insane vote swapping scheme, and Charlie’s quest to get a football player to vote. I guess whatever gets you through the day. It’s a fine episode, but it isn’t riveting either.
Side Note: You know Will’s miraculous and awesome rain moment? I did that once. I was imitating Will Bailey standing on my front porch as clouds gathered, and I did it! My husband witnessed it. It happened.
61. “17 People” (season 2, episode 18)
Toby has a brown plaid deerstalker cap on his head and a magnifying glass in his hand, and he’s figured out that the warehouse phantom is actually Ol’ Man Killington! Oh, I mean, he figured out that the Prez has M.S. I love his reaction, from writing to acting, as it feels real. Visceral. Angry. Confused. Curious. Angry again. And where the hell does PB get off being so indignant? Everything else in the episode is comic relief that makes me hungry for Chinese food. Except…except for Josh and Donna’s sweet story of their anniversary and some beautiful flowers. I swear they were about to jump each other five times while they argued in the empty bullpen. This is my way of saying that this is a good episode, but clearly something that is ramping up to a much, much bigger deal. And in its role, this episode can’t be missed–even though there are no particularly exceptions scenes or lines, this is one of those pivotal episodes that make the series worthy.
60. “The Red Mass” (season 4, episode 4)
I’ve found the light switch, and I am live my life outloud, which is exactly why I’m a little taken aback by this really scattered episode. Josh, C.J., and Toby are trying to thread the re-election campaign needle with messaging and debates, while Leo and PB are hopelessly, if appropriately, distracted by the Qumari assassination blowback. On the campaign side, what Josh and C.J. don’t realize is that they’re so busy trying to play the Ritchie game–stalking his motivational speakers, managing primary talking points, tempering debate expectations–that they forget to play the Bartlet game. This episode is an important one to watch if you like to watch The Three Stooges run around in a panicked ring, wearing a circle pattern in the the rug yelling, “Woob, woob, woob, woob!” Everyone’s freaking out, man, and no one has the answers. Not yet.
59. “Gone Quiet” (season 3, episode 6)
Alternate Title: “Toby Defends Artistic Expression”
Oh me-oh, oh my-oh, oh Cleveland, Ohio! I am positively ecstatic over C.J.’s reaction to the Majority Leader trying to describe his desire to be president in a very Palin-esque way, until I, too, start to stumble over what the right answer should be. I mean, why the hell does someone want to be president? Listen, we’ve had some dry toast episodes lately, so we got a little humor with P.B. banging his head on his desk and Toby crushing a woman trying to squeeze art for more pork. It’s all just plain lovely. Except for stupid Blabbish.
Points Lost For: Oliver Blabbish
58. “Gaza” (season 5, episode 21)
Holy hell, Donna got blowed up! No seriously, this is a heartbreaking episode on two main levels: First is the humanitarian level and the very real crisis going on in Gaza, on which the writers thoughtfully try to put a human face. And then there’s my personal heartbreak over Donna’s oh-so-brief tryst with Lucius Malfoy, who is absolutely ridiculously hot here. Sorry, Josh, but I’m a little heartbroken that Lucius doesn’t come back for the long haul. I like him and Donna together! Their time together was well-written and moving as hell. But what is really memorable from this episode is the level of heartbreak is for the fictional characters whom we’ve gotten to know so well over the past several seasons (years). Toby’s face. Josh’s face. Both of them after they hear about the explosion and don’t know if their loved ones live. Most importantly, just as Donna has told us, you have to get Josh. He’s perpetually afraid that he’ll turn his back and someone he cares about will die. So the cymbals and trombones have to be crashing and whining all around him right now. This episode is beautiful, soulful, and everything that I could ask for from a one-hour drama trying to tackle this deep chasm of war and division. I can almost feel the heat, taste the juice. Because this transported me in such a magnificent way, this is a surprising favorite of mine.
Points Lost For: This was well-done television, but stray too far from the White House, and it isn’t the same show.
57. “King Corn” (season 6, episode 13)
This episode is brought to you by Holiday Inn, corn, and Edwards the Friendly Fascist. I actually find this episode riveting; I love the ethanol debate, corn smut jokes, and of course the first round of Santos children to appear on this show. Seriously, the ethanol subsidies that we front are merely social welfare packages disguised in sheep’s clothing. Not that I have a problem with welfare programs, but you can’t embrace ethanol and then hang socialists in effigy. This season all of a sudden has some amazing musical backdrops. Johnny Cash may be the perfect soundtrack for pretty much any scene on any show.
Points Awarded For: A man named Fern
56. “Eppur Si Muove” (season 5, episode 16)
Alternate Title: “Ellie Bartlet Takes on Science Persecution”
This is just a sweet, innocent episode that it makes me smile with the childhood joy of watching Elmo and Big Bird harass Abbey and C.J. Hallelujah, did we need this levity! Oh, but poor C.J. She gets teased about her almost-visible cloud of Obsession perfume and endures several Big Bird jokes by a bunch of men who deserve a good nut tap for even thinking that was a good idea. As a woman who is very nearly 6 feet tall, I completely sympathize with her exhaustion. But maybe I did giggle a little at the line “Tallstreet Journal”. Ha.
Missed Opportunity: What I wouldn’t have given for Oscar the Grouch to harass Leo with some snappy garbagey insults.
55. “The Two Bartlets” (season 3, episode 12)
Alternate Title: “Uncle Fluffy Takes on Daddy Issues”
Here we go with the daddy issues again. Never mother issues. The writers even dusted off Bob Engler and his UFO paranoia (or is it?) just to cement the theme of paternal legacies. Now, in PB’s case, his paternal legacy is that no one likes a man who is too smart. Geez, Jed, you should try being a smart woman! Then we can talk. And C.J.’s flying around the country all bitter as hell because her ill father never got the promotions he (may have, but I doubt it) deserved. On one hand, I appreciate the attempt to dive deeper into PB’s character and motivation, and it truly does tie into the notion of what makes a good president–should (s)he be the smartest in the land? Or someone with whom to have a beer? But…the way that Dr. Toby decides to dive in and rip open the wound that never healed correctly, in order to banish forever the shadow of Uncle Fluffy, seems way too heavy-handed. Did Toby really need to do that? Would he have dared? Wasn’t there another way to shake PB out of his stupor? Oh, and I guess Sam is off his “penny” kick and has moved on to UFOs stored at Fort Knox. What are they doing to his character?
54. “Leadership Breakfast” (season 2, episode 11)
Benny Hill would be proud of a lot of the humorous interjections into this episode. Sam and Josh start a fire in the White House and calmly read placards about their folly, while Donna drops her underwear in front of a reporter after Leo insulted her shoes. And then Sam starts the nutty notion of kicking the press out of the White House and maybe even opening the pool? It’s all sweet and well-intentioned, but boy does the Bartlet White House look like a bunch of boobies. And come to think of it, Sam is the ringleader. The King Booby. Well, almost. The titular, very unfunny epitome of this theme is Toby’s flirtatious misstep with the new CoS to the Majority Leader, Ann (the One-Hit Wonder) in giving the GOP a platform to humiliate PB as a partisan bully. Can’t even blame this one on Sam. Toby’s penis clearly did all the thinking. The whole message to the audience is, “Oh, how will these boobies ever get their shit together in time to win another election? Stay tuned to see how it goes!” Funny, sad.
Points Lost For: Felicity Huffman, and the stunt casting that never went anywhere and is distractingly over the top.
53. “Manchester: Part 1” (season 3, episode 1)
The thunderstorm is still rumbling and PB is still damp from his most triumphant declaration to run again. But the electricity that I felt all through the last episode is missing, mainly because we are in some kind of choppy time vortex hopping back and forth between the week after his announcement and…I don’t know…maybe two weeks later? Somewhere between the time hopscotch and the eighteen different settings we explore to demonstrate the staff’s season-opening angst, my moment of jubilee just evaporates. Or maybe that’s because I’m feeling so protective of CJ.
52. “Take Out the Trash Day” (season 1, episode 13)
Alternate Title: “The White House Takes on Sex Education”
I’m just completely over this season-one-Leo garbage. I just want him to quit and put us out of our misery. Thank goodness the writers were kind enough to throw us a bone here. A sexy bone. The gang goes back to sex education, and the awkwardness is delightful. Between that and Toby standing up for Fozzie Bear, this episode is a classic in spite of itself.
“Women in Government? That’s Crazy!” Moment: Mrs. Landingham chides a group of female coworkers, calling them “girls” while reminding them that they work for very important people and it is no place for gossip. While I get what she was going for, that was one of the most 1950s/1960s scenes I’ve witnessed since Mad Men. No sir, I don’t like it. In an episode that is heavy with remarks on gender and sex, this felt really gross, writers.
Great Line: “…and so the ‘sticky wicket’ joke was”…”a regrettable pun.”
Points Lost For: Leo insulting everyone in Minnesota, and also the midwest by assuming all such men are unenlightened baboons. Then again, the people of Minneconsin are almost as bad as damn Ohioans.
Points Awarded For: Gilmore Girls reunion episode! Welcome, Headmaster Charleston and Paris Gellar!
51. “Mandatory Minimums” (season 1, episode 20)
This is a fun, peppy episode where Josh is really charming and stumbling over his Joey Lucas suit–which for my money, is only okay. Meh. But that’s beside the point. It’s also the episode where I really hate Al Kiefer, and I wish the Secret Service would sit him down when he stands in the Oval right over the President, shouting at him. What a creep. I can’t believe Joey Lucas wanted to see him naked. Ewwww. Anyway, Andy is a brand-new addition who is charming and wonderful, and there isn’t any member of the staff who isn’t a winner here. The problem is that for all the energy the staff seems to have, this episode was just inert.
Now that we have some pie and we got to meet Big Bird, I think we’re set for the Top 50! Ready?
On to PART III ———>
(Or look back at Part I)