Thursday, 23 August 2012
S01E19: Let Bartlet Be Bartlet
If there's an episode that challenges Celestial Navigation for the season's best, it's this one, though it starts out oh so innocuously. Little do we know in the pre-credits sequence that a little piece of paper is going to throw the entire series a curveball, which will sow the seeds which produce the best ever season of The West Wing (season two).
While there are disparate elements in the episode they all tie into the main theme beautifully. The scene where Josh meets with the leadership guys is phenomenal, and the moment where he suddenly decides he's not playing anymore makes my hair stand on end. The equivalent plot strand for Toby and Sam involves gays in the military, and once again they know they're on a hiding to nothing. All this is just a preamble to the barnstorming final act.
Danny's confrontation with CJ is another exceptional scene, as it validates the memo and drives home the point that we've been gradually fed throughout the episode that Bartlet is indeed all bark and no bite, and the opening scene suddenly has us thinking that maybe Leo has been shepherding him to the centre. The rising sense of resignation in Leo's office as they all report back to him on their day's activities is enough to make you die a little inside.
And then we get "You drive me there." That sets up the jaw-dropping conclusion which changes everything. I'll sometimes be critical of the sentimentality the show occasionally drops into, and the "I serve at the pleasure of the President" scene is certainly laden with a heavy dose of the most syrupy kind of sentimentality, but here it just feels right, don't ask me why.
I guess the thing that floors me about this episode is that up to now I'd really liked PotUS, and thought he was doing a pretty good job under less than ideal circumstances, but this episode just shatters that illusion, while at the same time making us feel optimistic about what's to come.
Hand on heart, I'd have to say that I probably enjoy watching this episode even more than Celestial Navigation, but the thing that tips it in the latters favour is that I know just how devastatingly hard it is to nail comedy, and both Sorkin and the cast deliver in spades. However, you'll struggle to find 44 better minutes of drama anywhere than what we observe in Let Bartlet Be Bartlet.
Gail's bowl has a load of Easter eggs in it, which is pretty self-explanatory.
In a less densely plotted episode I'd wax lyrical about the raisin muffin fiasco, but this was just jam-packed with awesome.
Episode grade: A+
So what did you all think?
Spoilers for the future follow.
As much as we all may hate Mandy (and I think that's pretty much universal) and were thrilled that she vanished in season two, we have to concede that the foul-up which was the memo proves to be a catalyst for a real improvement in a show which was already great. We need to be grateful to her for that at least.