Sunday, December 11, 2011

Evidence of Things Not Seen

The West Wing, Season 7 (not 4, okay, but I like this picture)

This morning, while enjoying some finals-season procrastination, I re-watched my favorite episode of one of my favorite TV shows: The West Wing, Season 4 Episode 19, "Evidence of Things Not Seen." In case you are unfamiliar with this episode, allow me to illuminate you.

This episode takes place on the night of the Vernal Equinox. It opens with Josh and Leo preparing for an office poker game, while CJ is trying to convince Josh and anyone she else she comes across that, at the exact moment (and it must be the exact moment) of the equinox, you can stand an egg vertically. Of course, she is met with rampant skepticism by everyone, especially Toby. Nonetheless, the episode begins with the picture of a perfect White House night off.

A ginormous wrench is thrown in when an un-manned spy plane crashes off the coast of Kaliningrad. The spy plane was taking spy pictures, as spy planes are wont to do, and President Bartlett is forced to call Russia and ask for them back. This proves to be a fairly difficult task because, well, you know those Russians... Meanwhile, Josh is occupied interviewing a candidate for the associate counsel position left open by Ainsley Hayes. Midway through the episode, some guy shoots at the White House, causing the West Wing to go on lockdown.

Like all other West Wing episodes, this one entwines layered inter-personal relationships, fast-paced conversions (sprinkled with words I don't quite understand) and down-to-earth, personable characters I feel I can relate to. This episode is my favorite because it combines all of my favorite things about The West Wing. Allow me:

1. It is the Matthew Perry's first appearance as Joe Quincy, a candidate for the associate counsel position that Josh (Bradley Whitford) has to interview. Since I did not catch Perry's post-Friends, Lifetime-esque movie, this is the only time I have seen him in a non-comedic role. He is subtly humorous, smart, and adorable in his back-and-forth with Josh. This episode is the first of two featuring Joe Quincy. I wish there were more.

2. It takes place in the post-Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) age of Will Bailey (Joshua Malina). It's not that I dislike Sam, because he is smart, funny, and fun to look at. But I prefer Will. He is geeky, yet confident with a healthy dose of sarcasm, something every member of Barlett's staff is equipped with. Will also begins in the Vice President's office, and because apparently in WW USA, VP and P are not BFFs, he often gets intelligently combative with the Barlett staff, which is very entertaining.

3. There is ample Josh/Donna (Janel Moloney) flirty banter. The sexual tension and unspoken love between Josh and his assistant Donna is one of my favorite things about this show, and this episode depicts it excellently, as Donna explains that Joe Quincy might be thought of as handsome by others, but not her, "because you're the only one I think is handsome." After the shots are fired, her joking manner quickly turns to concern for Josh, who had long suffered from PTSD. In a similar fashion, the relationship between Barlett and personal assisstant/son-figure Charlie (Dule Hill) is highlighted when Charlie bursts into the Oval Office, apparently after zealously overcoming several secret service agents, to make sure that the President is alright.

4. CJ (Allison Janney) is definitely one of my favorite characters on TV, ever. She witty, sharp, and adept at taking names in a man's world. She also has a certain element of whimsy and optimism, which sets her apart from the male counterparts. This episode displays that unique whimsy in the form of trying to get her co-workers to believe in the impossible -- getting an egg to stand on its head.

As I said, she faces no non-believer as rigid as Toby (Richard Schiff). This is one of the overwhelming themes throughout the show, which is also why this episode is, in my opinion, archetypal. Constantly, optimism must battle with cynicism, as the characters try to balance what must be done with what they wish could be done.

The writing and issues on the show keep the audience on a mental and moral high wire. If you haven't watched The West Wing, I highly recommend it, and when you get to Season 4, Episode 19, give me a call.

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