The West Wing revisited: Shhhh! Men Are Talking

Above: Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) tries to “save” high-end call girl Laurie (Lisa Edelstein) in one of three mansplaining plot lines this episode.

Welcome back to Kheiro Magazine’s West Wing recap, where we frantically run down memory lane screaming “DEAR GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO MY COUNTRY?!!!”

By Bethy Squires

The synchronicity is too real.

Last week, we revisited The West Wing pilot — an episode about not bowing to right-wing pressure — during the Graham-Cassidy health care repeal fracas. In this week’s episode (S1E2: “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc”), a major sports team is refusing to visit the White House due to Pres. Bartlet’s ill-considered media presence. Granted, in TV land it’s the Ryder Cup golf team and not every basketball and football player ever, like in real life. And they’re refusing a White House visit because Bartlet made a Dad Joke about golfers, not because he has yet to condemn white supremacy in any meaningful way. We never actually hear Bartlet’s golf joke, so I can only assume it was something about golf course’s drain on water resources and/or the stupid pants.

Later in the episode, the Ryder Cup fiasco prompts Leo to hire Mandy Onlyinthefirstseason as a media consultant. But first she has to get fired/dumped by her current boss/boyfriend. Once again we are treated to Mandy’s highly improbably riot grrrrl driving music as she jumps the Capitol curb to give Sen. Lloyd Russell a talking-to.

I yelled, “Spit in his stupid face for betraying you!” at the TV during this scene. Drinks may have been involved.

Apparently Russell had made a deal to keep a bill in committee until after midterms in exchange for getting to name Pres. Bartlet as the party candidate at the DNC. That’s no good for Mandy, seeing as she quit her high-powered consulting job to help Russell challenge Bartlet’s re-election bid, not to hand the nomination over to Bartlet. Mandy yells and yells at Russell, while Russell uses his best “you’re being hysterical dear” voice to try and get her to stop making a scene. The thing is, Mandy is right to be pissed. Russell asked her to quit her job to help him become president. Then he gives up on that goal without even telling her. What the actual fuck? More than most Sorkin joints, this episode is full of women being interrupted, talked down to, and generally delegitimized. Three women are fucked over thusly in this ep.: Mandy, CJ and Laurie the nice sex worker from the pilot. (We haven’t discussed Laurie yet, but oh we will.) And their stories aren’t even the weirdest mistreatment of a minority in “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc,” because we have a wisdom-dispensing Magical Negro to contend with as well.

Dr. Morris Tolliver has been serving as interim physician to the president, but Leo wants to make the posting permanent because the president likes him. Tolliver says he’ll start the position as soon as he’s back from a visit to a teaching hospital in Jordan.

It’s hard to tell if this is just the gift of hindsight, but when Tolliver enters The West Wing showing off pictures of his newborn baby girl, he seems almost pre-destined to bite it. He might as well be wearing a red shirt and yelling about taking on the whole Empire by himself — Tolliver isn’t coming back.

Tolliver gives Bartlet a checkup while he kvetches about being intimidated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Bartlet says he feels like a little kid at his father’s dinner table. Being a Navy man himself, Tolliver advises the president to let the Joint Chiefs get to know him.

“You have a once-in-a-generation mind, sir. Ultimately, they’ll respect that,” he says. “In the meantime, you outrank them. So don’t worry about it so much, and cut back on the dairy.”

And with that, he leaves to die in an off-screen plane explosion like Colonel Blake before him. So long, Only Black Man On This Show Until Dulé Hill Becomes A Series Regular Next Episode. Sorry you had to die for our sins.

Meanwhile, CJ is getting disrespected by the Vice President and his Chief of Staff, played by Whedonverse regular Andy Umberger. I first saw Umberger as the vengeance demon D’Hoffryn on Buffy, and he was vastly more pleasant as a guy who regularly disembowels folks than as the VP’s lackey. Apparently Vice President Hoynes is mad he’s not the president and responds by trying to freeze out the senior staff like a big baby. He’s been running his mouth off to the press pool, giving off-message quotes. CJ tries to talk to him about it, but Hoynes repeatedly interrupts her to start conversations with other people. It’s maddening. We’re supposed to hate Hoynes, and this is a good way to set that up.

Later, Leo chastises him for being a cock, but Hoynes isn’t having it. He accuses CJ of running to Leo with her problems, and Leo informs him that CJ actually tried to cover for him, calling her a “good girl.” Gross. The VP is played by Otter from Animal House and it seems he’s learned pretty much zero civics since the Deltas had to cheat on all their finals.

“How long do you expect me to stick around here [the g-d White House] and be his [the m-fing president’s] whipping boy [Vice President]?” Hoynes asks.

My dude, the VP sticks around for approximately eight years, if things are go as planned. You knew this when you signed up. Please stop stepping to national treasure Allison Janney because you’re bored with casting tie-breaking votes.

Our last mansplaining plot of the episode concerns Sam Seaborn and his crusade to “save” Laurie (Lisa Edelstein) the sex worker. Jeepers. This plot has not aged well, and not just for the outdated “hooker/prostitute” language bandied about.

Sam slept with Laurie in the pilot and accidentally swapped pagers with her. Because of the pager mix-up, Sam found out that she worked for a place called Champagne Escorts. That meant he couldn’t associate with her anymore, since dalliances with sex workers are generally frowned upon by the American public. But he feels baaaaad about it! He wants to taaaaalk. He calls her, repeatedly. She doesn’t respond.

So Sam goes to the bar where they met, finds Laurie working, and vaguely threatens to have her arrested (by the Attorney General, which is not how it works) if she won’t speak to him. Cool. She tells him she doesn’t need saving and he responds, “Yeah, you do.” She says he humiliated and scared her at the bar, and rather than apologize he says, “I guess that’s just the way it goes.”

What does that even mean? Sometimes you have to threaten a sex worker in order to befriend her? Does he think sex workers are pack animals that respect dominance moves? Sam violates every boundary Laurie sets up and they still wind up bantering away into the night. It sucks. But what do I know? I’m just a good girl. Sam and Laurie walk off as romcom music swells around them.

Cut to 4 in the morning, where everyone is gathered around the Oval Office. There has been an attack on U.S. plane by Syria, and sleepytime casual Pres. Bartlet is about to be briefed in the Situation Room. Sidenote: hoodies on men over 40 are very undignified. Leo informs the president that his doctor friend is dead, and he is pissed. “I’m gonna blow them off the face of the earth with the fury of God’s own thunder,” he says. Talking a lot of bellicose yay is an even worse look than a hoodie.

What’s Next

We end the night with a hard swing into drama. The Syrian defense ministry ordered a strike on Tolliver’s plane. He and the other doctors aboard are dead, and President Dad is pissed. The next episode will focus on calming Bartlet down and finding him a replacement black best friend.

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The West Wing revisited: Shhhh! Men Are Talking was originally published in Kheiro Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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