Monday, 4 June 2012

S01E09: The Short List

Has there ever been a more testosterone-fuelled opeing to an episode of West Wing? I can't think of one. I don't know whether I really like it that much, but I'm prepared to allow the show its little indulgences.

Be aware that this paragraph contains what may be considered mild spoilers for the future season, though it doesn't give away any specific plot points. This is an episode which sets up a lot of plotlines which are going to pay off further down the line this season. We have the supreme court confirmation, which for my money factors strongly in the best episode of the season. We have the plotline I mention in the spoilers section. And finally we have the claim about drug use in the White House, which should have obvious implications given the open secret that is Leo's alcoholism (and as revealed in this episode, pill addiction). Impressively, it remains an exceptionally good self-contained episode.

Perhaps the most far-reaching plot point is something that seems incredibly innocuous: The introduction of Gail the goldfish. To the first time viewer this seems like just a quirky little sub-plot to fill out an episode, but there's a lot more to it than that. The prop department start squeezing Gail into more and more episodes, and each time they put something in the bowl which is a reference to something that's going on in that episode. So here's the deal: Every time I spot Gail in an episode I'm going to endeavour to link what's in her bowl with what's going on that episode. Your job is to spot Gail when I miss her, and point out the reference. Deal?

When we see who Mendoza is we immediately know that they've made the right choice (though we already knew that thanks to Josh's impassioned plea to Mandy). How could Gaff from Blade Runner (or for you younger kids, Adama from Battlestar Galactica, even though us older guys know that's Lorne Greene) possibly be a bad choice? Sorkin decides to really drive the point home by giving us the scene between Harrison and Charlie where we find out he's a member of some exclusive country club where Charlie caddied, and it's clear Charlie doesn't think much of him.

At this point in the show I feel like Mandy is being more and more marginalised. It seems like so far the only thing they've actually taken her advice on wound up with someone getting shot. She doesn't seem to gel as well as the other main players do, including those more on the periphery like Charlie, Donna, Mrs. Landingham, Margaret and even Mallory to an extent.

Random observations:

The interchange immediately before the credits between Josh and Donna is a really early indicator that they have a far more complicated and intimate relationship than employer/employee.

I don't quite know how Sorkin manages to make it completely obvious from the outset that there are going to be problems with Harrison and that they'll likely end up going with Mendoza, but he does it, in spite of it not being explicitly stated until almost half way into the episode.

"You're not gonna be taken down by this... small fraction of a man. I won't permit it." If Josh isn't your favourite character by now then you're just plain wrong. ;)

They vetted Harrison extensively and something came out in the eleventh hour. Mendoza had nowhere near as much vetting, so why are they so confident about him?

Episode grade: B

So what did you all think?

Spoilers for the future follow.

The conversation between the outgoing justice and Bartlet is an interesting foregleam of events much later in the season. It's also interesting to see Bartlet involved in a conversation where the person on the other side of the table can tear a strip off him.

As much as I enjoy this episode it's not my favourite episode which centres around supreme court nominations. No prizes for guessing which one I'm talking about.

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