Sunday, 29 April 2012

S01E04: Five Votes Down

Once again, Sorkin goes to The American President well, but what a corker of an episode. The Monday caption at the outset along with the episode title tell us this is going to be a race against time to get back five votes that they've lost which is the difference between passing a bill or not. The President's speech where he promises success in the issue raises the stakes. Then we get the wonderful walk and talk with playful banter (which introduces a recurring theme of Toby's less than ecstatic reaction to the President's delivery of Toby's lines), and guess what - we still haven't hit the opening credits yet.

So who are our five defectors? Katzenmoyer and Wicke are our first two, though both Josh and Sam find Wicke an unlikely defector for some reason. O'Bannon makes three, and Sam guesses Tillinghouse and LeBrandt as four and five. The scene makes it clear that all these people are staggeringly in the know when it comes to the literally hundreds of members of the house. We'll deal with each of these and their various motivations in the course of the review. As a side issue, this encyclopaedic knowledge comes at a price, exemplified by Leo's failure to remember his own anniversary.

Katzenmoyer is Josh's first target, and he goes in hard against him. Just as we found out earlier that Leo is in actuality more powerful than Hoynes, so Josh is more powerful than any congressman. His whole shakedown is great writing, and Whitford nails it. One down, four to go. Actually, three down, two to go. Josh's performance was so great that O'Bannon and LeBrandt fall into line too.

Chris Wicke is next, and as it turns out all he wants is a game of chess with Bartlet. While it makes Josh sick (Wicke was a personal friend, which explains Josh's incredulity over his defection), at least it means four down, one to go. Tillinghouse is out due to Leo's feud with Hoynes, so off goes Leo to the previously unmentioned Richardson.

With the introduction of Richardson we see the first honourable congressman of the episode. He actually has a valid reason for voting down the bill, and as much as Josh displayed an in-depth knowledge of the bill in the previous scene, Richardson leaves him in the shade. He puts Leo in his place, which just goes to show that when you have the facts on your side all the power in the world doesn't mean a thing (something Bartlet alluded to in his speech at the start). Yes, in this episode a lowly congressman manages to accomplish what the VP couldn't, and all because he's right.

As it turns out, they need Hoynes to go to Tillinghouse after all (another congressman that is actually voting his conscience, though that soon changes when Hoynes wields his "I'm going to be president" stick), and that's that. Five votes grabbed, which saves Bartlet's face after the Monday speech.

The stoned Bartlet scene is fantastic - there's really nothing else to say about it. I defy any West Wing fan to dislike it.

Of course, with the VP coming into save the day, he ends up making all the political hay out of the events of the past 48 hours, and looking at this episode with the hindsight of familiarly with the Josh/Hoynes relationship, Bradley Whitford does a fantastic job when Leo says "Listen, we won" to him. Just look at his eyes during that sequence. Brilliant acting.

I guess the thing I really love about this episode is the realism that gets injected into it. The manouvering and political chicanery all feel eminently believable. Hey, it has to be good, because I haven't even mentioned smoking jackets, stock options or Leo's alcoholism, the first two in particular being lovely and whimsical subplots which will never be mentioned again yet really add something to the episode.

Random observations:

Leo get upset about the mis-spelling of a dictators name, but when he gets asked for names he "don't got 'em yet"?!

According to Sam, between Tillinghouse and LeBrandt, if they got one then they'd get both. So why was LeBrandt so easy and Tillinghouse so hard?

Things not to say to your wife: "X is more important than my marriage." I'm not married, never have been, but even I know that.

The sudden reconciliation between Leo and Hoynes feels really strange and out of place. I don't think Tim Matheson does a particularly good job in the scene, though the whole thing seems weird to me.

Episode grade: A-

So what did you all think?

Spoilers for the future follow.

"I'm going to be President some day..." Oh John, how wrong you are.

"Welcome to the NFL." This coming from the man who lost the Presidency because he didn't listen to Josh. Maybe "The pupil becomes the master" would have been more appropriate.

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