Friday, 8 February 2013

S02E18: 17 People

Is this the most memorable opening few minutes of a West Wing episode? Maybe it's not as jaw-dropping as something like What Kind of Day Has it Been but it's beautiful in its understatement. I love how the sequence shows just how obsessive Toby is. I suppose that to an extent we already knew he was, but the sense of foreboding that builds as we get the cuts to him sitting in his office putting the jigsaw pieces together is wonderful.

So great, so encompassing is the main plot line that I completely forgot about the White House Dinner speech being worked on (though as soon as it was introduced I immediately remembered Toby walking in on their deliberations at the end of the episode, having to play dumb because none of them know yet).

When Bartlet first tells Toby and he walks out of the Oval Office I wonder what exactly is going through his head at that point. It can't be concern over Jed, as is made patently clear when PotUS chastises him for his disinterest. I like to think it's mainly distress over why he has to be the Communications Director at a time when that may prove to be a particularly tricky role to fill successfully.

Honestly, I don't think either the President or Toby come out of this looking good. Toby's reaction is dreadful. Jed may well be his boss but there's a bond of friendship that's been implied between them in spite of their being at odds at times. While he says nothing that is wrong, he doesn't even show the tiniest bit of feeling toward a friend who's ill. Meanwhile Jed uses that as an opportunity to try and take the moral high ground, which is a pretty gutsy move considering he's been deceiving the American public (and the vast majority of his staff) for the past eight years.

The conversation between Toby and Leo about impeachment always reminds me that this is really just a sideways look at the Clinton administration and Bartlet's MS was Clinton's ML. The claim Leo makes about him doing nothing illegal makes the comparison almost impossible not to make.

In spite of Toby not exactly covering himself in glory with his reaction I still think Schiff's acting is brilliant. The bewildering range of emotions that you see him go through is pitch perfect, and for a prime example of that just look at his face when he walks in on the speech discussions. As he sits down he almost cracks a smile and then gives a master-class that is up there with the Pacino diner scene in The Godfather.

The way the episode switches almost effortlessly between the heavyweight discussion in the Oval Office with the dorm room environment just a corridor away is truly impressive. I'd forgotten just how good it was. As an aside, last week Netflix released all 13 episodes of season one of House of Cards, and it's been picking up some pretty heavy praise. One poster on a forum I frequent went so far as to say it was up there with season two West Wing. Now I've watched all 13 episodes, and I've enjoyed them. Spacey and Wright are great and the story is intriguing. Season 2 West Wing level? Not even close.

Random observations:

After four nights Toby goes to Leo about Hoynes being dropped from the ticket and by night six he knows Hoynes thinks PotUS isn't running for a second term. Where's Danny when you need him - he'd have sussed it out in about ten minutes.

"Do you know what they did? They forgot to bring the funny." How many people said that about Studio 60? Too soon?

Is it just me or were they really angling for a relationship between Ainsley and Sam at this point? And if there's sexual tension between the two of them don't even get me started on the "I wouldn't stop for red lights" comment.

On the initial viewing, when Leo tells Toby he's the 16th person to know did anyone else immediately wonder who else was going to find out by the end of the episode?

CJ isn't in this episode at all.

Episode grade: A+

So what did you all think?

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