Wednesday, 23 January 2013

S02E16: Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail

After the disaster that was Ellie, we immediately afterwards get one of the best episodes of the season. I always love big block of cheese shows and this is easily my favourite. In addition to the real emotional strength of the episode we also have my favourite oddball appeal of the entire show.

It turns out that Sam's block of cheese person is the most intriguing (and has the most emotional resonance given what Sam's been going through). It gets really interesting when we find out that Daniel Gault has been something of a project for Sam, dating back to his college days. I love the way Sorkin pulls us into the story here. He sets the scene with a sympathetic figure (the granddaughter) and follows it up with another one (the dying son). Sam's a pretty switched on guy, so the fact he wrote 23 pages of his thesis defending him means he has to be a good guy, right? The somewhat slippery performance of the FBI agent doesn't give us doubts, but when Nancy McNally wants to see him the brakes come on. As the whole story is relayed to him and he actually sees the file confirming it, another little piece of Sam dies (the last time was when he offered Laurie $10,000 not to go home with her john). In some ways this time things are even worse - he can't do anything about his father's infidelity so he was determined to do something to help this wrongly-accused father, only to find out his failings were even worse, and over just as long a period.

Toby's group of nutters are protesters, who he wouldn't be happy to meet at the best of times, but the fact that in his opinion they're useless at protesting makes it even worse. At one point he even gives tips on doing a better job to their ringleader, something we know he'd only do if he knew for a fact that he had they hopelessly outmatched. There was a really lovely moment for me during this sequence where Toby gives a mini speech writing lesson. "We did repetition, we did floating opposites, and now we end with the one that's not like the others: Free trade stops wars!" As someone who's done a fair bit of public speaking I've never forgotten that sentence. Speeches shouldn't just inform, they should move people, and in seven years of listening to some stunning speeches in this show, what Toby said there was hands down the best piece of public speaking advice I ever picked up from it.

As interesting as both of these are, my favourite ever block of cheese appeal simply has to go to the Cartographers for Social Equality. As they pile reason upon reason why the Mercator map is awful they just sucked me in, and when CJ and Josh lean in to look at the (let's be frank here, bizarre) Peters Projection Map they were only mirroring what I was doing sat in my armchair at home. They almost had me, then they flipped the map upside down and I was out. Even so, thanks to this episode my absolute favourite map of the World even now is the Peters Projection map (even though it means my favourite web comic hates me: ).

You know why this episode is so great? You can watch it a dozen times and never get bored. If you get to the end of it and someone you're with says "Wanna watch it again" you're not adverse to the idea. Even though the only thing that connects the various sub-plots is that block of cheese, they still fit together perfectly, giving every main character a moment to shine. In one sentence it's heart breaking and in the next it's laugh out loud funny. There is literally (Chris Traeger alert) nothing I would change about this episode because I can't think of a way it could be improved; even Jed's unease is a wonderful piece of foreshadowing. This episode is as efficient as it is beautiful, and for that reason probably my favourite one of season two.

Random observations:

In this episode we get probably the first great example of music used to set the tone in The West Wing (I'm not including any specifically composed stuff here), and it also gives us the episode title. Talking of that, Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail is the longest episode title in the show's seven year run.

Margaret's shake of the head as Leo states she spent a great deal of time assigning the crazies quickly followed up with a nod as he turns his head is comedy gold.

The main Cartographer for Social Equality is better known as Dr. Phlox from Enterprise.

Sam's rant on the staircase where he quotes Lincoln is stunning, simply stunning.

After the emotional intensity of Sam's plot to have the nous to finish it with the latitude/longitude crack is brilliant.

Loads of Sorkin crossover stuff can be found in this episode:

(1) Leo goes on about the dreadful traffic on DuPont Circle, which is lifted straight from The American President.

(2) It turns out Sam's father has been having an affair for the past 28 years. This is ridiculously similar to the plotline in Sports Night where Jeremy's father has been having an affair for 27 years (seriously, even if you're not a Sports Night fan, go and watch the episode The Sword of Orion, because even the coping mechanism the two men employ is pretty similar).

(3) Special Agent Casper is Sports Night's saviour in the final two episodes of that show.

(4) When Sam says "This girl's going to find out who her father was" and Donna corrects him with "Sam, you meant grandfather" is reminiscent of an exchange in The American President where Michael Douglas says "She deserves a chance" and Michael J. Fox corrects him with "You mean it deserves a chance; the legislation". Both times the person is being reminded that they can't allow emotions to stop them from doing the right thing.

Episode grade: A+

So what did you all think?

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