Season One – Episode Three – A Proportional Response
Original Air Date: October 6, 1999
Roundtable: KP moderates with: Lindsay and Lauren (the “Rookie” viewing each episode for the first time!). KP chimes in from time to time too.
NBC SYNOPSIS: Still seething over the downing of an fully loaded American jet in the Mideast, a vengeful President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) overrules the joint chiefs’ plan for a “proportional” military strike and demands a more severe attack that would result in thousands of enemy and civilian casualties. While Leo (John Spencer) and other advisers try to cool off the Commander-in-Chief, Press Secretary C.J. (Allison Janney) scolds a wayward Sam (Rob Lowe) over his potentially explosive private crusade to rescue a well-known call girl from her profession. Feeling overlooked during the hubbub surrounding the military options, Josh (Bradley Whitford) interviews a shy African-American teen (Dulé Hill) as a potential personal aide to the President.
C.J.’s looking for you.
C.J.’s looking for you.
WHO DO WE MEET THIS WEEK?
Who is new to The West Wing Universe this week?
Admiral Percy “Fitz” Fitzwallace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (John Amos)
Our first site of Fitz is in the Situation Room (SitRoom). One of the most powerful men in the country is introduced to us by saying: “You know what I was thinking? …. This is different coffee than we usually have.”
Lindsay: I felt the casting of Fitz was perfect. His voice, his stature, the way he looked in his uniform. All the pegs fit. His opening line reminds us that just because we might command the most powerful army in the world, we notice when someone changes our coffee.
KP: John Amos lends credibility to any project. Add that to the power be brings with his acting, and you have a wonderful character in Fitz. Starting him with a fun coffee line and calling him “Fitz” shows that he’s not just a uniform – he’s a person. That’s important to all characters.
Charles “Charlie” Young, Personal Aide to the President (Dulé Hill)
We meet Charlie, a nervous young man, sitting in the Roosevelt Room. He showed up to interview for a messenger job, but ends up interviewing with Josh to be President Bartlet’s personal aide or “body man”.
Lindsay: How Charlie made it through that interview without vomiting all over the Roosevelt Room is beyond me. His terror is all over his face and I don’t blame him. He sent in his resume for a low-level, entry-level job and ends up with a job that stations him 5 feet from the most powerful room in the world. Not bad, not bad at all.
Lauren: It feels like meeting Morris last week primed us for meeting Charlie. He’s another person we fall for right away, someone we want to succeed. He’ll obviously be taken under the wing of the rest of the staff (no pun intended!), which makes him seem even more humble and precious. I love him right off the bat.
Danny Concannon, senior White House correspondent for The Washington Post (Timothy Busfield)
With the rest of the press corps hounding CJ for information on a possible military strike, Danny is waiting by CJ’s office – he has information for her.
Lauren: He seems to respect CJ, which I like. I just hope he keeps his word.
KP: When the show first aired, many of the lead actors weren’t well known to many. Add in the very TV friendly face of Timothy Busfield, and once again, you get some credibility. His delivery and sincerity as Danny really shows through. He’s a wonderful pairing with CJ – she needs someone who pushes her buttons AND calms her at the same time.
1. CJ Wants to See You
CJ learns about Sam’s dalliance with the call girl. First she yells at Josh for not telling her. Then she mentions to Toby that he’s next. It ends with a heated argument between CJ and Sam.
Lauren: This definitely worked as an intro, and as more character development for CJ. My problem with this story, though, was that the “Sam seduces a call girl” story is the main thread connecting the first 3 episodes when other, bigger stuff is happening. Also, CJ seems more like a little sister to the boys, fighting for ground and for respect. That’s combated a little when Josh tries to avoid her and Sam apologizes to her later, but it’s a weird mix of her running the show and her fighting to be taken seriously.
Lindsay: CJ’s ambush of Josh is amazing. Even better is Donna not giving up that CJ is already in Josh’s office waiting for him. Ya know, girl code and stuff. I like that she headed up the ladder on this one, she didn’t start with Sam since he is the main culprit but she wanted the rest of the boys involved to know that they were also in trouble for not coming to her.
2. Proportional Response
President Bartlet is still on fire about Morris’ plane being shot down. In the SitRoom he disagrees with a proportional response and wants to order a bigger attack. After some time, Fitzwallace is able to convince the President to re-think a “$5000 punishment for a 50 buck response”.
Lauren: This is greatness. I love that we see Bartlet angry and vengeful, and then I love that we see him humble and accepting. It really serves to show that he is trying to do the best he can. And the whole storyline is underscored by the rain, by the nerves of everyone else. It makes me feel stir crazy and anxious. Brilliant storytelling all around.
Lindsay: In my opinion, Bartlet’s response is exactly what any of us would do if it was one of our friends. You want to go big because you don’t want to go home. Bigger bombs, bigger flames will make us feel better for the loss that was suffered not only by us but his family as well. I’m not saying that we’re right in our response – but it will make us feel better.
3. Danny Knows About The Call Girl
Danny tells CJ that he knows about Sam and the call girl – not enough to write yet, but he will. CJ gets him to drop it and gives him the Syria scoop.
Lindsay: Danny could have easily ran the story without CJ’s knowledge and without getting a full understanding of what was going on. His coming to CJ and the trading of the Syrian attack shows a mutual respect among these two.
Angry at being told he shouldn’t see his friend (the call girl) but CJ. Sam loses his mind. He yells at her and punches a wall.
Lindsay: Like a boy being told he can’t play on his Xbox anymore, he throws a tantrum. I am sure that he is struggling with feelings of his own, knowing full well this can not continue and unfortunately he takes those feelings out on CJ.
Lauren: Not knowing Sam’s character, it doesn’t seem out of place for me. But I think it’s interesting how invested he is in this relationship that is sure to bring trouble. I still think she’s not quite on the up-and-up. And he does apologize later, so there’s a sweetness there as well.
Josh is very impressed with Charlie. He’s bright and personable. His story of losing his policewoman mother in the line of duty, five months ago, is touching to all. Josh confides in Leo that he’s a bit concerned about the look of a young African-American carrying the President’s bags. Leo asks Fitz about it, who replies that he doesn’t have time to fight cosmetic battles.
Lindsay: Props first have to be paid to Leo for going to Fitz about this situation. Other people may have been too nervous to bring up a situation like this, but Leo knowing his role and knowing he protects the President, goes ahead with this discussion. One would hope that conversations like this wouldn’t need to take place, but I am sure they are still happening even with a bi-racial president in office. Second props are given to the writers for giving us diversity on the show. Many shows these days consist of all “white” casts. One of my weekly shows has had an all-white cast for as long as I could remember. An observation that came to the public only in the last few months and last week… an African-American character popped up in a supporting role. It’s a shame that in 1999 and in 2013 these conversations and observations are still taking place.
Lauren: This is so telling of how good Josh can be at his job, I think. It never crossed my mind that Charlie’s race would be an issue, and I think it’s presented in an appropriate way here by Josh and Leo being on the offensive rather than the defensive. I love Fitz’s response, too. This was kind of murky territory, but the point was made that this kid is capable and deserving, and that’s all that matters.
ANYONE BUT MANDY
We only see her for a few minutes, but still – why do we hate Mandy this week?
Lindsay: We hate her because she defaced a perfectly nice picture of her and Josh, only to turn around and give it to him, I assume as a gift. Psycho much?
KP: Every week I put this category, yet every week I’m amazed we have more ammo to write her. Every week you just watch her and feel she just doesn’t belong. And, oh, as the girls said above – girl be crazy!
MEETING THE PRESIDENT
Charlie gets to meet President Bartlet before he goes on the air to tell the nation about the military strike. Bartlet is rude and short with Charlie. After a talk with Leo, Bartlet again shows his Folksy Charm and speaks with Charlie again.
Lindsay: Yes, the President should had have better manners in meeting Charlie, we know he is better than that. However, in the hours proceeding this meeting: he found out his doctor/friend had died, had to tell his wife he was never coming home and make the decision to attack another country. This wasn’t ideal situations to meet new people. But Bartlet being Bartlet sees the errors in his ways and does what he knows is right. His approach in asking Charlie to stay on board and help ban the gun that killed his mom tugs at my heartstrings.
Lauren: Poor Charlie. I mean, WE knew Bartlet would come back smiles and praise, but I’m surprised the kid didn’t ask to be pointed toward the exit.
LEO AND THE PRESIDENT
After being rude to Charlie, Leo has had enough. He pulls the President aside and tells him that he has to get over this. “So my friend, if you want to start using American military strength as the arm of the Lord, you can do that, we’re the only superpower left. You can conquer the world, like Charlemagne, but you better be prepared to kill everyone and you better start with me cause I will raise up an army against you and I will beat you!”
Lindsay: Does anyone remember the scene in The American President where Martin Sheen and Michael Douglas are playing pool, get into a fight and Martin Sheen ends the conversation with “You’d be the most popular history professor at whatever school”? I feel like this is the exact same scene but instead of dishing it out, Sheen is the one taking it. Leo could be President and he would be a damn good one too but he isn’t because he believes in Bartlet more than he believes in himself.
Lauren: Again, Bartlet being paralleled with God. I think this was a great reminder from Leo that the President answers to the people. It seemed to take the personal sting out of what Bartlet was going through. Also, so much mention of the First Lady… do we get to meet her next week?!
THE BIG FINISH
As the President goes on the air, Charlie whispers to Josh that he’s never felt like this. Josh assures him that it never goes away!