For a holiday-themed hour, The West Wing Season 1 Episode 10 was a little more scattered than I would have expected, but the main story was thoughtful and left a beautiful impression.
After recently noting I don't feel I know quite enough about Toby, he was featured in depth here, but other than his compassion and awareness of what should be offered by the government he loves, there is still a lot to learn about the man.
I have a lot of time to get to know him better, and what I know so far is impressive. I only wish he was a happier man.
First, I want to talk about what other items did and didn't work for "In Excelsis Deo."
Donna was the brightest spot outside of Toby's story. Not only did Janel Moloney look particularly fetching, but she was acting the same. I had to laugh at her Christmas wish list for Josh consisting of everything ski related. She'd like to learn to ski because she "likes equipment."
Maybe next season she'll be interested in something a little bit less expensive like scuba, complete with a three-week vacation to Maui test her skills.
Josh's soft spot for her was evident not only in his final gift for his assistant but when he didn't want her to use "that face" when speaking about Toby's issues with Lillienfield. She assures him, quite seriously, it was her regular face.
His face, though, when he peeked back to see her flipping happily through her gift was the face of a man smitten with his assistant. There is a reason he winds up on her couch after his drunken nights out whether he will ever admit it or not.
The Lillienfield story is so over-the-top, though, it's almost hard to watch. The guy is going after Leo for a valium addiction? In this day of opioids, the thought of worrying about someone taking valium and wanting to expose them is silly.
It was even worse that Josh wanted to drag Sam's friend, Laurie, into the picture as a way to get some dirt on a Republican to get Lillienfield out of the picture. There was so much wrong with that line of thought given the circumstances, it's not even worthy of discussion.
Hate crimes didn't seem to fit into the scenario anywhere and would have been better left for another time. December 1999 was a full year after the Matthew Shepard crime in Wyoming, but maybe those stories were just making it to television. I don't remember.
Still, the seriousness of it deserved to be more than dating fodder, wouldn't you think?
It was odd that CJ was the only person who believed in "hate crimes" given the left's view of them overall and even worse that she was open to Danny taking her out to dinner to convince her a crime was a crime and people shouldn't be additionally punished for their beliefs.
How much more than that could he possibly say on the issue? They don't see it the same way, this issue that, in CJ's mind led to the death of a homosexual teenage boy, but she wanted to flirt about it over dinner. Talk about inappropriate dating chit-chat.
Despite it being Christmas, Charlie reached out to Mrs. Landingham when he noticed she was blue, and we learned she had two sons she lost in the Vietnam war. Twins who she never treated as identical did everything together anyway, including dying the day before Christmas.
That would be enough to take the color out of the holidays, but it also tied her main story in a meaningful way.
The story about the death of Walter Huffnagel, though, was well worth the watch.
We learned Toby gives unused items to Goodwill, so he's charitable, and he has an incredible knowledge of history. His ability to identify Walter Huffnagel's military service by the tattooed insignia on his arm was impressive.
I'm also keen on seeing as much coverage of war memorials on television as possible. Many people don't have the opportunity to visit our nation's capital, and they never see the overwhelming displays of gratitude we offer to those who have served our country.
In particular, the Korean War Memorial is one of my favorites. If you're ever walking nearby in twilight, it can sneak up on you, and it feels very powerful.
In no way as powerful as it must feel for those who lived it, and I'm sure it doesn't satisfy in any way the needs of those like Huffnagel who served and who are left wanting in their later years.
When you think of the money and pride that goes into creating beautiful, reflective places to thank those who have served our nation, it's a shame to think of countless veterans who find themselves in circumstances similar to Walter and George Huffnagel.
That didn't escape Toby, and by happenstance, he found himself a part of their life.
Toby gets so easily flustered when around people, and even when telling his brother that he's a very powerful, influential, person who wanted to arrange for Walter's funeral, he was very ill at ease when they treated him so well.
His earlier offer of money to George's friend was at once returned when the man discovered Toby wasn't from around there. He was worried Toby might not get home safely, and it was hard for Toby to comprehend, the goodness in these men who were so down on their luck.
President Bartlet called Toby to task for arranging a funeral at Arlington Cemetery using his name, and Toby wasn't flustered when he said if it came up again he'd do it again.
It's unsettling to think of the money we spend on things like memorials when we'd otherwise bury a decorated veteran in an unmarked grave because he was homeless and without someone to stand up for him. Is that how it should be?
While Toby didn't say that, he had to be thinking it. He mentioned to President Bartlet that Walter had been treated better while at war in Korea. Yikes.
Toby was joined by Mrs. Landingham for Walter's funeral. Funerals at Arlington are reverent affairs, and when you happen to see one, there is a feeling that comes over you that's difficult to explain.
By intercutting the staff listening to a boys' choir singing Little Drummer Boy and watching the military funeral with the song playing, it brought me to tears.
It may not have been what I was expecting from a West Wing Christmas, but it worked.
If only Mandy can learn to keep her mouth shut in the future, it might even be called serene.
Richard Schiff won an Emmy for his performance in this episode. While I don't necessarily think he was any better than usual, he was finally given the opportunity to carry the full weight of a story, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of Toby as I continue to watch.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.