Sunday, 13 January 2013

S02E13: Bartlet's Third State of the Union

First up, my apologies for the very delayed nature of this review. Partially the holiday and partially a horrendous virus have conspired to put me way behind schedule. Hopefully over the next month or so I'll catch up on at least a couple of episodes.

If there's one thing Americans know how to do it's put on a show. Make no mistake, this episode is about a speech. As a British person I tend to think "so what"? Probably the most famous political speech over here in the UK isn't even delivered by the Prime Minister, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer (it's the Budget speech). Now there's no denying, the UK has history on its side (for instance, it's quite cool that the Budget speech is the only time someone is allowed to take a drink into parliament (it's the Chancellor who gets it, and he normally chooses whisky)). Sadly, Americans have us beat when it comes to pomp and circumstance. "The State of the Union" has such a great ring to it, and the idea that millions of people around a country sit on the edge of their seats as their head of state sets out a plan of action for the next 12 months is almost romantic when you think about it.

Of course, all those viewers mean the reaction to the speech is pretty important, hence Joey Lucas being bought in to handle polling. It's always nice to see Josh thrown off his game somewhat, and he's even more frantic than usual around Joey. While the power cut pushes the envelope of believability it's certainly entertaining.

I don't know how realistic the idea of a three hour news programme involving senior staffers debating various Republicans following the speech is, but I love the notion of it. While all of the debates are interesting, the real stand out is the one involving Toby where they discuss the second amendment. What with Sandy Hook so recent in the memory it's amazing how often you'll find yourself watching an episode of West Wing only to hear a snippet of dialogue which relates to something currently in the news. I can't think of another show which has aged nearly so well (and Toby's argument would have been just as effective if he'd given an accurate figure for gun deaths instead of the ridiculously exaggerated 32,000).

The main non-speech related plot is the capture of DEA agents in Colombia. It seems to exist mainly in order to give something for Leo to do while Josh, CJ, Sam and Toby stress over the fallout to the speech. It also means Jed doesn't really get much of an opportunity to bask in the glory of his rip-roaring speech which virtually launched his re-election campaign...

...which brings us to Abby. She's not just a pretty face, she knows what's just happened, and she's not a happy bunny. Sorkin does a bit of a juggling act here because he gives us about three reasons for Abby being upset with Bartlet, but saves the real one for the final scene. She clearly doesn't think he's up for another four years of political hoopla, and it means tension on the home front for Jed.

On the plus side, this episode had decent performances, some nice one-liners and quite a cinematic feel to it. On the downside, it felt like a little too much was going on and it could really have done with being a two-parter as the DEA situation doesn't get resolved and Josh never gets his numbers... hang on, this effectively is a two-parter, because The War At Home is going to give us all that and more. Hooray!

Random observations:

Josh gets so bored waiting for polling figures he reads Vogue.

Emily Proctor dancing to Blame it on the Bossa Nova = Awesome. Martin Sheen delivering Sam's line to Ainsley straight after = Awesomer.

Episode grade: B+

So what did you all think?

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