Thursday, 17 January 2013

S02E14: The War at Home

Last time on West Wing: DEA Agents in mortal danger! Poll numbers soon to come in! Police officer in PR foul up! Abby annoyed with Jed! See all these plot strands tied up in the next exciting instalment. OK, so maybe The War at Home isn't all that fast-paced but it is nice to get a West Wing mini-movie.

Early on we get a scene where Bartlet has a scene with Josh and Sam which initially seems quite quirky and nice - it's a change of pace and it gives an insight into the various unofficial conversations PotUS may have during the course of the day. Unfortunately after a short time it becomes evident that it's merely an opportunity for Sorkin to give us a lecture on drug policy (pro tip: nothing Bartlet tells Josh and Sam would be news to them, so it's clearly aimed at us). I don't mind Sorkin preaching once in a while, I just which he'd do it with a bit more subtlety. We get another mini-sermon from Leo towards the end too.

When they're in the situation room at the start of the episode and there's one dissenting voice concerning sending people in I remember thinking when I originally watched the show "that guy's going to turn out to be right". For the life of me I can't tell you why I thought that; maybe it's the way the line is delivered, perhaps it's the fact that the camera lingers on this previously unseen character just a little longer than normal. Whatever the reason, it's very well done.

The resolution of the DEA situation is one of a relatively small number of instances in the West Wing where Bartlet clearly does the wrong thing (dealing with a terrorist) because he can't stomach the consequences of doing the right one. Throughout the episode it's repeated again and again that it would be a dreadful move to make, and if that isn't enough Josh spells it out in a conversation with Donna that leaves us in no doubt that under no circumstances can Aguilar be released. By the end of the episode, that's exactly what CJ's announcing at the briefing. Bartlet may be a good president, but he's not infallible.

Random observations:

The "You don't live longer, it just seems longer" quote is actually by Clement Freud.

Is this the first time we see Jed playing chess? I can't think of an earlier occurrence off the top of my head. By the way, considering what we learn further down the line about his prowess at the game, Leo's tutoring of him here seems really off.

Ed Begley Jr. does a really good job as Seth Gillette, junior senator from North Dakota. When he drops the boom on Toby by floating the idea of running as an independent it comes out of nowhere, though in Toby's defence he rallies reasonably well.

We get a trademark Sorkinism in this episode, where a piece of bad news is followed up by the rumble of thunder.

I really like that when Donna leaves for home she says bye to Joey's interpreter, not Joey. She identifies with the subordinate more.

It's a really poignant moment when we see Jed looking at the coffins coming back, heightened by having the man who gave him counsel that could have spared all their lives being stood right next to him.

Episode grade: B-

So what did you all think?

Spoilers for the future follow.

Finally the mutual attraction between Josh and Donna get acknowledged, even though we're still about five years away from them acting on it.

I wonder how many of us watching the conversation between Abby and Jed about his MS really wondered whether it would ever take hold to the degree it did in season seven.

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