Monday, 14 May 2012

S01E06: Mr. Willis of Ohio

"There is one fruit..." Yes, it's another opening that doesn't consist of any actual writing, more an exposition of various random trivia. As I mentioned previously though, I love that kind of stuff, and to this day I still know all 14 punctuation marks and regularly ask people which three words begin with DW.

The way I see it, the main thrust of this episode (involving the eponymous Mr. Willis) asks the question of what would happen if you abolished all lobby groups and soft money contributions and simply had two sides state their case to an impartial observer and let the chips fall where they may. Of course, Mr. Willis being a Social Studies teacher is somewhat convenient, but it allows for an interesting constitutional discussion. As someone from the UK, "everything I know about US politics I learned from watching The West Wing", and the 3/5s portion of the constitution was a bit of an eye-opener.

In the B plot we get some character development in the form of a field trip to a local bar, where Zoe gets harrassed by Milo from 24 and a few of his buddies. The purpose of it is to show what a good guy Charlie is, but it does a better job of showing how incapable Sorkin is of writing realistic dialogue for college kids. It's absolutely cringe-worthy. It does allow for some nice one-liners afterwards though, mostly while Josh, Sam and Charlie wait for the president.

Overall this feels like a bit of a nothing episode, where the whole manages to be less than the sum of its parts. There's some nice small talk (the dispute between Donna and Josh is well done, with a humourous coda) and a little bit of character development, but it's hard to really care about much of what goes on. The appropriations bill is about as dry as it gets and no amount of factoids make up for that. It's not a "bad" episode, during the entire run I'd say there are only two episodes that I'd describe in that way, it's just not very good.

Random observations:

If a Congress(wo)man dies in office does their significant other really serve out their term? That seems a tad unbelievable to me.

"It's OK by me, so long as it's not the same people who decide what's on television." Ain't that the truth.

Mr. Willis' parting words to Toby (the "wisdom of Solomon" speech) sound remarkably like something Jed would say.

For a Democratic president Bartlet has some decidedly conservative views on things, as exemplified by his conversation with Leo ("You're the man - fix it"). I know he backtracks later, but from the heart's abundance the mouth speaks.

Episode grade: D

So what did you all think?

Spoilers for the future follow.

CJ's total ignorance concerning the census made me question her later promotion to CoS. Bartlet said it needed to be someone smarter than you, and sorry, but CJ was never the smartest person in the room (except maybe in The Long Goodbye - and yes, I know I'm evil for even thinking that, but there you have it).

Probably the most famous scene in this episode is Bartlet's diatribe at Zoe concerning her potential kidnapping. It's famous due to its almost pinpoint accuracy in its description of the events in Commencement and Twenty Five. I often wonder if Sorkin ended his time on the show in that way to go out with a bang or simply to paint his successors into a hideous corner. I like to think it's a little of both.


  1. "If a Congress(wo)man dies in office does their significant other really serve out their term? That seems a tad unbelievable to me."

    You are correct. If it was in the Senate, it would be possible. If Ms. Willis was a senator of Ohio, then the governor of Ohio would pick somebody to fill the seat. It wouldn't be inconceivable or illegal for the governor to pick the senator's spouse, as long as that person is eligible to serve. However, individual members of the House of Representative are less important than senators, nor do they represent a state - they represent a district. Thus, upon the death of a representative, the seat goes vacant until filled by a special election.

    1. If anyone was going to know the answer to that off the top of their head it was going to be a West Wing fan. :-D

  2. I was really disappointed when they made CJ Chief-of-Staff as it was obviously done for ratings purposes. Clearly Allison Janney was a popular actress and they promoted her character on that basis. How on earth she was more suitable for the job than Josh (who later ran a successful campaign for Santos and became his CoS) I will never know.