Sorkin ends “The War at Home” with a marriage on the brink and a campaign on the rise. What does he follow it up with? Pot jokes, petulant daughters, and lunatic mapmakers Cartographers for Social Equality.
“What’s next?” Find out after the jump…
Just when the series tests the waters of a presidential election cycle and marital crisis, The West Wing dials things back with a couple of stand-alone episodes in “Ellie” and “Somebody’s Going to Emergency…” And while the momentum that’s been building is upset, there are some interesting things going on in them (even if they all aren’t entirely successful). It’s in that spirit that I thought I would bitch this episode out bullet-point style.
- Jessica Yu, director of “Somebody’s Going to Emergency…” (and also the director of the visually stunning Parenthood episode “Road Trip”) knows how to craft a mood. Within seconds of the episode starting, we know exactly where this episode is going, with the opening chords of the eponymous song playing and that intense blue glow haunting the halls of the West Wing.
- The relationship between Ellie (guest Nina Siemaskzko) and her presidential daddy Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is one of the more interesting familial dynamics that we’ve seen on the show. It’s clear that they love each other deeply as family does – as Bartlet states, all she needs to do to make him happy “is to come home at the end of the day.” But that love is more complicated than most, as we see that these are two people who function differently. Intellectually they approach problems differently: one as a politician and the other as a scientist. Even how they present themselves physically is different, with that brilliant detail of the President striding into the Oval Office as Ellie slumps onto the sofa with her hair hanging in front of her face. Although they love each other, they have to really try to relate to each other, and I wish that we would see more of them together.
- Speaking of complicated family dynamics, in the latter episode Sam (Rob Lowe) processes the heartbreaking news that his father has been hiding away a second family from him and his mother. It almost feels a little unfair that his father gets compared to Daniel Gault, the White-House-Staffer-turned-Cold-War-Russian-Spy, without showing him to the audience once or getting to hear an ounce of his side of the story. But as an episode that deals with family members indirectly affected by these kinds of betrayals, this one is well-done. The usually upbeat Sam gets hit hard, and understandably unravels ever so slightly as he uncovers the truth about the extent of Gault’s betrayal, even if the world believes he’s innocent.
- Despite abandoning a majority of the emotional through-lines and story lines from the past couple of episodes, it is good to see that at least one is maintained, as Toby (Richard Schiff) scrambles to assemble the Blue Ribbon panel on Social Security. And for once it is an actual setback for the staff – Toby can’t even get the panel started without Seth Gilette’s participation, despite his grandstanding the week before. It’s a humbling realization, and one that provides an opportunity for Toby to show his smarts without acting as smug as he has lately.
- Not all of the issues the staff deal with this week were as well-executed, though. The Surgeon-General (played by the charming Mary Kay Place)-supporting-marijuana-decriminalization storyline isn’t actually resolved in “Ellie.” Sure, it’s a nice moment for the President when he decides that he won’t fire the Surgeon General for speaking honestly on a controversial issue, but that doesn’t make the ensuing protests magically disappear. It’s an issue that’s too big for one episode, or at least one that’s too big for the feel-good ending that it gets.
- Even if the decriminalizing storyline isn’t all that great, Josh’s (Bradley Whitford) pot jokes are. I especially liked the names of the groups that support the Surgeon General’s position: “E Cannabis Unum, The American Hemp League, and the Friends of Mary Jane.”
- “Andrew Jackson, in the main foyer of the White House, had a big block of cheese…” Do I even need to go on?
And now, I turn it over to you. Can you recite Leo’s “Big Block of Cheese Day” speech by heart yet? Are you as intrigued by the daddy/daughter drama of Ellie and the President? Sound off below.
Join me again next Wednesday as the campaign takes a sudden turn in “The Stackhouse Filibuster” and “17 People.”