The West Wing S02E04: In This White House

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The themes of embracing the enemy and big pharma screwing the world are ambitious, and easy to trivialise.

Picking Emily Procter as the faux Southern Belle Republican who embarrassed Sam Seaborn on morning television almost failed at the outset. The dialogue she gets, and the scene in which she talks over Seaborn, make her seem less like a serious person than a spoilt brat with no manners rather than a serious rhetorical opponent. But maybe the ethic of talking louder and faster has always passed as impressive in American politics.

... Sam's getting his ass kicked by a girl!
… Sam’s getting his ass kicked by a girl!

Procter is a limited actress, never deviating from playing herself in years of CSI Miami or anything else in which I’ve seen her. For the West Wing she was relatively lively, but hardly what I would have thought of as ‘leggy’.

The message that the president likes smart people who disagree with him almost gets lost in the cutesy antics that illustrate Ainsley Hayes’ character, like the ill-mannered propensity to run her mouth over the top of everyone else without listening. And her self-righteousness about issues she knows nothing about was as annoying then as it is now, when it appears to be a standard for Millennials—especially their Hipster battalions.

Hayes turns out to be a less objectionable character than Mandy Hampton, but lightweight, and hard to take seriously. I don’t know whether this is show creator and lead writer Aaron Sorkins’ inability to conceive of female characters that are not like his mother or his juvenile erotic fantasies, but it’s a recurring pattern in his writing well beyond the West Wing.

I do confess enjoying the scene in which Hayes cuts down her silver spoon Republican friends, played to perfection as cruel little brats by Brigid Brannagh as Harriet and Tom Gallop as Bruce.

CJ Cregg’s goldfish, Gail, is kept company in her fishtank by an elephant figurine with an extended trunk, as if sounding off. The elephant is the mascot of the Republican party. Ainsley Hayes’ party.

Zakes Mokae as President Nimbala of Equatorial Kundu
Zakes Mokae as President Nimbala of Equatorial Kundu

More credible and heart-rending is the narrative about big pharma and the symbol for AIDS-ravaged Africa, introducing not just greed and antipathy, but also the impossibility of addressing a third world dynamic with first world assumptions. In aggregate the third world is plagued by endemic corruption, civil unrest, and uncertain health infrastructure. Such factors make it uncertain whether aid of any kind will reach its intended recipients rather than being stolen by governments or warlords to be sold or consumed for other purposes.

Indeed, the episode ends when a coup in the fictional Equatorial Kundu leads to President Nimbala’s return despite knowing what will happen. He is shot in the airport carpark straight after arriving home.

Strikingly enough there wasn’t much mention here of the obvious criminal lack of care for AIDS in the USA itself, where the bigotry about homosexuality and drug addiction, plus the expense of medical treatment, remains a proxy death sentence for the poor—regardless of sexual orientation or recreational habits—is handed down by Congress, but executed by medical practitioners whose Hippocratic Oath and personal ethics apparently don’t extend to treating patients who have no money.

Credits

  • Written by Aaron Sorkin from a story by Peter Parnell and Allison Abner. Directed by Ken Olin. First aired on 25 October 2000.

  • Headline cast in opening credits: Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn, Dulé Hill as Charlie Young, Allison Janney as CJ Cregg, Janel Moloney as Donna Moss, Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler, John Spencer as Leo McGarry, Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman, and Martin Sheen as President Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlet.

  • Guest starring Zakes Mokae as President Nimbala. Michael Chinyamurindi as President Nimbala’s interpreter, Michael Cavanaugh as pharmaceutical executive, Len Cariou as Alan Damson, Ted McGinley as Mark Gottfried, NiCole Robinson as Margaret Hooper, Sam Jaeger as Bill Kelley, Brigid Brannagh as Harriet, Tom Gallop as Bruce.

  • Co-starring Melissa Fitzgerald as Carol Fitzpatrick, Kim Webster as Ginger. Kris Murphy as Katie Witt, Mindy Seeger as Chris, Charles Noland as Steve, Jerry Sroka as a reporter, Randolph Brooks as Arthur Leeds, Tracy McCubbin as Lily, Sean Patrick Murphy as floor manager, Lorenzo Callendar as George, Tom Hall as Officer Mike, Bill Stevenson as Jarworski, Molly Schaffer as aide.

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.

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