Sunday, 22 April 2012

S01E03: A Proportional Response

The early scene in this episode provides a lovely insight into the character and morality of Toby, as he's often at odds with the rest of the staff when a principle is involved, and while Toby can often be more pragmatic than most of senior staff (Leo excepted), if he gets a bee in his bonnet he really can't let it go.

"What is the virtue of a proportional response?" On the one hand it's an interesting ethical debate, on the other, it's an incredibly familiar phrase, at least it will be if you've ever seen the Sorkin-penned The American President. When you watch it it's almost like seeing the real pilot episode of the show, and it touches on a theme: Sorkin often recycles, be that actors, plotlines, actual lines of dialogue or even episode titles. While I don't have encyclopaedic knowledge of these crossovers, I have seen pretty much everything he's ever written and a pretty good memory to boot, so I'll try to spotlight them as they occur. The proportional response line was a particularly notable example, though while I'm talking about The American President I may as well add for those few that haven't seen it, Martin Sheen takes the Leo role (CoS). In all honesty, I wish they'd reused the "this is the least Presidential thing I do" line too.

"Your transcripts, these grades are better than mine... well, not really but it's close." One of the things I loved about Josh in the early episodes was his cockiness. As much as I loved all these characters, in the early episodes Josh was definitely edging it as my favourite.

While I'm talking about the things I loved about characters, the way Toby rattled off the missile stuff when he's effectively a speech writer was incredibly cool.

We also get to meet Danny in this episode (who would later join Josh at Studio 60 in another one of those Sorkin crossovers). Quite how Sorkin manages to convey that Danny is the bigshot in the press room in the space of a couple of sentences is beyond me, but I guess thats why he's writing award winning series and I'm typing up a blog post.

Random observations:

Charlie takes care of his little sister, so Josh thinks it's a good idea to give him a job that involves 20 hour days? That guy has a serious work/life balance problem.

If the picture Mandy gives Josh is from the first time they met then why are they hugging like they're going out? I get the feeling there was a miscommunication between the writing department and the props department on that one.

I've heaped a fair amount of praise on Sorkin in this episode, but he occasionally throws in these really twee moments that can almost make you cringe. He does it in this episode when everyone in the oval office shuts up and hangs on the words of the black kid that no one's ever seen before. It then gets compounded when Leo (after apparantly letting Barlet get away with several snaps at his wife, to mention nothing of his mauling of the joint chiefs) decides that he needs a dressing down for sniping the new kid. Maybe it's the straw which breaks the camel's back, but even so... Don't worry though, we get lovable Jed back by the end of the episode with the cloyingly sentimental scene where he finds out which gun was used to kill Charlie's mother. Leo's "raise up an army" line also made me wince. On the other hand, Josh's "It doesn't go away" line gave me chills.

Episode grade: C+

So what did you all think?

Spoilers for the future follow.

"I had an interview with Miss de la Guardia..." Wasn't it Debbie Fidderer who spotted Charlie? Of course, Sam later refers to her as Debbie, so maybe de la Guardia was her maiden name and then she was married. Having said that, Lily Tomlin doesn't particularly look like a de la Guardia to me, but we'll give them a pass for at least getting her first name right.

"I've got some real honest-to-God battles here, I don't have time for the cosmetic ones." Still, Fitz will find time to weigh in on the gays in the military plotline further down the road.


  1. When Charlie goes back in the later season to find Debbie he calls her Mrs. De La Guardie and she responds with something along the lines that she is divorced and its Ms. Fidderer now.

    Your grade of C+ seems a little low for this episode. I think it tests out alot of the elements that will be reused in some later, classic episodes.

    I do agree the "raise up an army" line is strange, but the scene wraps up nicely with the two men talking about the democratic senator who threatened the president.

  2. Thanks for the reminder about Debbie. Regarding the grade, I'm going to try and avoid being an easy marker, as especially in the first few seasons it would be easy to grade A after A, but that wouldn't really differentiate the episodes much. Rest assured, a C+ by West Wing standards would be an A- for most series.

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  4. "Charlie takes care of his little sister, so Josh thinks it's a good idea to give him a job that involves 20 hour days? That guy has a serious work/life balance problem."

    I take it that by taking care of his sister, they mean that Charlie is providing for her instead of literally taking care of her. Isn't she already in high school? The job pays better therefore, in my opinion, means it allows Charlie to take better care of his sister.

    Also, it fits Josh's workaholic personality. Work harder + better job + better is always better.

    1. I absolutely agree, and it wasn't a criticism of the writing at all. Josh is definitely a workaholic, but I definitely think he has work/life balance issues. I would guess that this would be true of most of the staff, but it seems most noticeable with Josh (even after taking into account how it messes up the romantic relationships of Leo, Sam, Toby and CJ).

  5. Definately harsh marking! A B at least.

    I always read the bit where Leo decides to take the president to one side as a classic case of "the straw that broke the camels back", like you said. I don't think it was a case of being annoyed because it was charlie who was yelled at.