The West Wing: S01E05: The Crackpots and These Women


Probably my least favourite episode of the first season, this one just didn’t inspire me. Maybe because the script tried too hard to expose all the characters as noble at heart.

First by warming to the Big Block of Cheese Day lunacy of Leo pairing each of them off to consider proposals they all know will never see the light of day. Awwww Shucks.

Then for Josh agonising about being anointed to survive Armageddon. Double shucks. But the Schubert Ave Maria is magnificent, and I ain’t no Catholic.

And then by the president explicitly restating it for the women. Sickened shucks!

Perhaps the only serious note in the entire episode was the re-emergence of an ethical tension between Toby Ziegler and the president. Not that necessarily I agree with Ziegler, but in a cartoon metaphor he is the angel perched on the president’s right shoulder, countering the seductive rhetoric of a Bartlet mini-me on his left shoulder. The metaphor is all arse-about: Ziegler is the Left, and expediency has always been Republican in post war American politics.

It’s scene setting for more substantive disagreements, and the grounded everyman likability of Ziegler in a White House apparently staffed exclusively by infuriatingly young people.

Zoey Bartlet and Charlie Young meet over chilli.
Zoey Bartlet and Charlie Young meet over chilli.

The first time I saw this episode I also ignored the California references, which actually become an important entrée to one of my favourite episodes of the season – S01E16: 20 Hours in LA. The banter that skated over the aesthetic difference between bad, violent films that are bad, and violent films that are popular no matter how bad they are is a neat condemnation of Hollywood as a branch of a Wall Street franchise without ever needing to say so.

In the same vein, the meeting between Charlie and Zoey Bartlet over the witch’s cauldron of chili is easy to overlook this early on if you don’t know about the critical nexus between these characters in later episodes. I just wonder just how much Sorkin knew about that nexus at this early stage, or whether it just snowballed after the events of the next few episodes.

Whether I liked this episode or not, it does become integral to the development of plot, sub-plot, and character for the entire season.


  • Written by: Aaron Sorkin; Directed by Anthony Drazan (coming off Hurly Burly); first aired: 20 October 1999.

  • Regular cast members are listed for the first episode.

  • Guest Stars: Guy Boyd as Dr Stanley Maxwell (josh’s shrink); Janel Moloney as Donna Moss; Elisabeth Moss as Zoey Bartlet’ Suzy Nakamura as Kathy; Renée Estevez as Nancy; Sam Lloyd as Robert Engler.

  • Co Stars: Kathryn Joosten as Dolores Landingham; NiCole Robinson as Margaret; Melissa Fitzgerald as Carol; Michele Marsh as an economist; Juwan Howard as Eddie Grant.

For discussion, see my Google Plus post and Randy Resnick’s Google Plus West Wing collection.

For a complete list of West Wing commentary see my West Wing index page.