The West Wing went off the air many years ago. But I’ve finally given in and am ready to start the series from the beginning, reviewing each episode as I go. Ready to join me? Let’s do this…
It's an odd day to be reviewing The West Wing Season 1 Episode 7.
It's another day in the real world when all hell is breaking loose in the United States, and therefore the world, making a day in the life of The West Wing seem even more credible.
What "The State Dinner" does is shows how politics must go on even when life in these United States seems to fall apart around us.
Simply put, even if the President of the United States is going something as seemingly benign as having dinner with the President of Indonesia (no offense to what I'm sure is a simply lovely place), and the Press Secretary answering questions as ridiculous as what type of buckle will be on the First Lady's shoes, their eyes are still on the ball.
On The West Wing, we can see how even a presser's simple flirtation (an odd one, to be sure) can throw off the day's events.
What was Danny by finding an odd six protesters so he could disrupt the day of a State Dinner, a hurricane, and a Waco-like situation? Men are weird. It hardly seems like the best flirtation device, nor something CJ or Abbey Bartlet should have been concerned with during an otherwise busy day.
Nonetheless, out of the distraction came one of my favorite lines and a great introduction to the first lady.
To be honest, the issue people were protesting doesn't matter, most especially because I didn't understand it. It had something to do with vermeil (silver covering gold) and the Bartlet family historical collection. As we know, people will protest anything.
Abbey wasn't going to worry about the protestors, nor was she going to worry about their family collection and its history.
It's our history. For better or worse. We're not gonna lock it in the basement or brush it with a new coat of paint. It's our history.Abbey
That's the thing about history. Now, even more than in 1999 (if that's possible), our modus operandi is to brush it under the rug. But learning from history and remembering from where we have come so we understand who we are and why is imperative to our future.
That was apparent when it came to Toby's decision to make more of the Indonesian President's visit than was necessary.
While Sam was writing a nice speech with no point whatsoever, Toby thought it best to make the speech count. He did that by making snide remarks about the Indonesian government's history with human rights.
I didn't necessarily agree with the fellow's views when he compared the US "systematically" wiping out the Native Americans with the comments Toby must have written for the President's talking points, but Toby felt he had no choice to admit he was a hypocrite.
That, in turn, meant his friend was going to stay in an Indonesian prison. Toby wasn't using all of his knowledge about our history, ugly or not, to his advantage while writing that speech. It came back to haunt him.
One of the other subjects the administration was trying to juggle was an incident similar to Waco, pitting Mandy and Josh against each other as she hoped the fringe group could be talked off the ledge to keep from a PR nightmare arising from the FBI selling guns to them during a sting operation.
Josh: I don't think it's unreasonably macho for the White House to be aggressive in preserving democracy.
Mandy: Let me tell you something, ultimately, it is not the nuts that are the greatest threat to democracy, as history has shown us over and over and over again. The greatest threat to democracy is the unbridled power of the state over its citizens. Which, by the way, that power is always unleashed in the name of preservation.
Josh: This is not abstract, Mandy. This is not a theoretical problem. The FBI says, Come out with your hands up," you come out with your hands up -- at which point you are free to avail yourself of the entire justice system.
I was surprised Josh would have the attitude that you raise your hands and acquiesce when the authorities say to do it, but someone had to have that view to appease viewers like me, so why not Josh?
I've never been one to imagine putting up a fight with the police, and anytime I've been pulled over for doing something wrong, for instance, I've admitted wrongdoing immediately. Nobody would have to browbeat my confession. My attorney would have to find a way to get a confession dismissed!
That's beside the point, but on point when it comes to The West Wing covering all bases.
When Mandy's idea to deal with the nuts sent an FBI negotiator to the hospital fighting for his life, everything she believed in was thrown into turmoil.
The final story the administration was dealing with was a hurricane blowing toward the Carolinas. As we know, all the preparations can be for naught because hurricanes will do whatever they damn well please.
So when Leo had ships sent to sea to avoid certain disaster, he had no idea he was sending them to certain disaster.
Abbey had been away for too long, reminding her husband while she's gone he tries to fix the world's problems. Her presence reminds him he cannot do that on his own. That is, until he has to try with a young man in the midst of a hurricane in the radio room of one of the smallest of a giant American shipping fleet.
During a State Dinner with an Indonesian president who didn't like salmon, while President Bartlet was trying to fix the wages of an industry arguing in a conference room, worrying about an FBI agent fighting for his life and a compound full of weapons, he was likely the last man speaking to a soldier who was waiting to either drown or be run over by an aircraft carrier.
He didn't even want to speak to someone of Harold Lewis' rank when he first walked into the room. That's how the life of a President and his staff goes. They never know what is coming, and they act on their feet. They do so with compassion and humor, love and light, darkness and sometimes grievous errors.
They win some, and they lose some.
As the news crawler is counting the mounting number of dead at the hands of a 64-year-old white man who was shooting an automatic weapon upon thousands of people enjoying a concert in Las Vegas, the real West Wing administration is trying to determine what moves to make in the wake of an unprecedented mass murder.
The President is making a trip to hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico tomorrow, which has been devastated to an extent we've never seen before, this shortly on the heels of mainland disasters in Houston and Florida.
Watching The West Wing, imagining the enormity of the issues at hand and trying to place today's events and disasters into the real world is at the very least an unenviable task.
And today, I'm kind of speechless.
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.