The West Wing – 6×03 – Third-Day Story

It came from the depths…

Here, dredged up from when I first viewed this week’s More4 episode of The West Wing, are my thoughts. I can no longer remember this in enough detail to debate it, so you’re reliant on the slim hope that I knew what the hell I was talking about at the time. Walk with me now, back, back through the mists of time to the heady days of November 2004, a time when Israel still occupied the Gaza strip and George W Bush was somehow winning a second term in office…

The West Wing – 6×03 – Third-Day Story

I was frankly dreading this episode after the ending to last week’s. My conclusion is a qualified “phew”. It’s far from perfect, but neither is it the depressing disaster I might have feared. Indeed, it’s closer to classic West Wing in formula (if not in execution) than we’ve seen in a while. The stupid and offensive cliff-hanger is mercifully dispensed with pretty swiftly, and the episode moves on to juggle several threads.

The most obvious thread is the staff’s concern over Leo, who is still alive even if he’s not in great shape. The scenes dealing with Bartlet coping with guilt and worry over his “best friend” are what I wanted and needed to see. As a result it’s entirely possible that intense waves of relief are blinding me to the quality of the writing, but on a purely emotional level this is what was required to redeem Bartlet. We see a man who is driven to distraction by remorse over his (arguable) role in bringing on Leo’s attack, and who is utterly loyal to the point of ignoring his other responsibilities. Abbey provides both compassion and wise counsel, and we get a rare nod to her medical background.

Equally significant is the aftermath of the historic – not to mention histrionic – peace accord brokered last week. I expected this fragile deal to break down this week, but for good or ill it seems to be holding. Toby and Josh have to get on with the unstoppable momentum of running the country, and end up unwittingly sabotaging one another at every turn – the three way conference call in Haffley’s office was especially amusing. This is extremely broad-brush material, much inferior to Sorkin’s brand of political tap-dance, but not inconsistent with their past working relationship. Only CJ appears to have sight of the big picture, more on which later.

What’s nice is that the whole thing plays out with a lightness of touch despite the grimness of the backdrop. Toby and Josh are not personally at odds, just hopelessly chaotic. Indeed, Toby rather touchingly states that Josh is the best man to replace Leo. And Josh, typically, agrees. 🙂 This plotline has to tiptoe around having the characters appear disrespectful to Leo, but takes pains to point out that *someone* has to fill in for the absent Chief of Staff – even if only temporarily.

Which is something that Bartlet must reluctantly realise as well. What sells this is Abbey’s statement that despite everything that has transpired, Leo will do anything to help Jed – even if it kills him. We know, instinctively, that it’s true, and it’s all the more welcome after the harsh words that have passed between the two men recently. Bartlet’s unreserved apology to Leo is marvellous too. All of this goes a long way to letting me forgive the rather “E.R.”-like melodrama last week.

Other things I liked:

CJ being the new Chief of Staff. I don’t believe this: it’s hopelessly contrived, she’s the wrong person for the job on many levels, and her sudden manifestation of organisational skills this week seems out of the blue, as does Leo’s recommendation. And yet… she’s the best choice dramatically. Toby and Josh get to carry on being Toby and Josh, and hopefully the new role will give CJ more of a chance to shine than she’s had recently. I also very much liked the manner in which Bartlet asked her.

Donna’s welcome return to the office, abandoned mid-corridor by Josh who flits from devoted to blindingly inconsiderate in time-honoured fashion.

Overall – it may be the relief talking, but – I enjoyed this one. Yes, the Toby and Josh antics were cartoony, as were the various crackpot demands the pair ran into, but that’s nothing new for this show. The writing balanced humour, warmth and characterisation just about well enough for me feel some glimmer of renewed optimism.

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