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December 13, 2008


The greatest West Wing episodes (Season 3)

by quaesitor

ww3In the mists of my memory, the 3rd series wasn’t nearly as good as the 2nd. But having seen it through again now, I think it is still pretty much up there. The humour, drama and intrigue are all sustained throughout, although there were perhaps not as many individual standout episodes. Here are some of my favourite individual moments:

  • Josh revealing that he wanted to be a ballerina (aged 4) – in 3:3 Ways & Means
  • Toby’s speech to his staff after someone had leaked to the press – instead of a rocket, he inspires about what leadership and teamwork are all about – in 3:5 War Crimes
  • Jed deciding that he can recover from his censure by announcing a cure for cancer by the end of the decade  – in 3:11 100,000 Airplanes
  • The chess games Jed plays with Toby & Sam, illustrating the complexities of international diplomacy (especially when China is concerned) – in 3:14 Hartsfield’s Landing
  • Donna discovering that she might actually be Canadian and therefore can’t go to Abby’s birthday party; in the same episode, Marbury makes a stab at explaining Northern Ireland – in 3:15 Dead Irish Writers.
  • CJ having a go with Simon Donovan’s gun in the training centre, and Donna having to listen to arguments for North Dakota dropping the ‘North’ – in 3:20 We Killed Yamamoto

But the episodes that are worth noting are:

  • 3:9 – Bartlet for America – the episode where the heat gets turned up Leo on the Hill over Jed’s MS and he finds himself under attack for his alcoholism. He weathers the storm in true Leo-style, but what sets this episode apart are the various flashbacks he has. We see Jed as New Hampshire Governor, dealing with the most banal and parochial issues – it makes one wonder why anyone would want to get local politics at all. But Leo has the way out for him. And then the conclusion of the episode is enough to make grown-men weep (well it made Leo blubber, anyway).

BARTLET: What do you want to talk to me about? 
LEO: I’ve been thinking about getting back into politics. 
BARTLET: I think that’s great, man. I think it’s about time. You probably mean the House, but I think you should consider the Senate seat in Illinois in two years; I can help raise money. 
LEO: No, I wasn’t thinking about the Senate. I was thinking about the White House. 
BARTLET: Hey, Leo, I swear to God there’s no one I’d rather see in the Oval Office than you but if you run there’s going to be a lot of discussion about Valium and Alcohol. I mean, it’s going to come out; this is the world. 
LEO: Yeah. See, I wasn’t thinking about me. 
LEO: I’ve been walking around in a kind of daze for two weeks and everywhere I go…planes, trains, restaurants, meetings…I find myself scribbling something down. 
Leo takes a napkin out of his pocket, licks it, and sticks it on the posterboard easel. It reads “Bartlet for America.” 

A very revealing comment about alcoholics who relapse when Leo is asked why he kept it quite…

LEO: I went to rehab. My friends embraced me when I got out. You relapse, it’s not like that. “Get away from me” – that’s what it’s like.


BARTLET: Did you get a date with her?
LEO: It’s none of your business… [walks around behind his desk] I just came back to catch up on some work. [joking] See how badly you screwed up this church thing in Tennessee.
BARTLET: I did the church thing in Tennessee okay. I did it without you.
LEO: You mind if I make some calls – see if Tennessee’s still one of the states and stuff?
Bartlet smiles, stands, and picks up a small package with a big red bow from the table beside him.
BARTLET: So anyway, I have a present for you.
Bartlet walks over to Leo’s desk. Leo is surprised and acts like Bartlet really didn’t have to get him anything – although he’s clearly pleased Bartlet hands him the gift.
BARTLET: Merry Christmas, Leo.
Leo removes the bow, revealing a small square black frame holding the “BARTLET FOR AMERICA” napkin from their first meeting in New Hampshire. It’s wrinkled but it’s still legible. Leo stares at it for several moments, then slowly looks up at Bartlet. Clearly, he’s very moved.
BARTLET: That was awfully nice of you.
Leo looks down at the frame again and starts to lose control over his emotions. Bartlet senses this and leaves, walking through the passage to the Oval Office. Once Bartlet is gone, Leo shifts back and forth on his feet and holds the frame to his chest. When he can’t stay standing any longer, he sits down heavily in his chair. And then he allows himself a good cry.

  • 3:12 – The Two Bartlets – West Wing works best when it interweaves seemingly unrelated narratives and this episode is a case in point. Josh has to deal with an old friend who is an environmental protester, Sam is on the case of alien bodies being stored in Fort Knox, Donna has trouble with jury duty and Josh promises Amy a trip to Tahiti, all while Jed is kicking off the last campaign of his career. In the midst of it all, there is actually a sensible discussion about affirmative action – thus West Wing again avoids simplistic liberal bias. And then there is that extraordinarily real conversation between Toby and the President.

C. J.: I’m the wrong Democrat to talk to about [affirmative action].
Toby: Why?
C. J.: Because… After my father fought in Korea, he became what this government begs every college graduate to become. He became a teacher And he raised a family on a teacher’s salary, and he paid his taxes and always crossed at the green. And any time there was opportunity fo career advancement, it took him an extra five years because invariably there was a less qualified black woman in the picture. So instead of retiring as superintendent of the Ohio Valley Union Free School District, he retired head of the math department at William Henry Harrison Junior High.


Toby: Your father used to hit you, didn’t he, Mr. President?
Bartlet: Excuse me?
Toby: Your father used to hit you, sir?
Bartlet: Yeah.
Toby: Not like a spanking.
Bartlet: He hit me. Why?
Toby: He punched you.
Bartlet: I’m done being polite now.
Toby: He did it because you made him mad, but you didn’t know why.
Bartlet: Toby, it was a complicated relationship. Can I help you?
Toby: It was because you were smarter than he was.
Bartlet: It was a complicated relationship.
Toby: He didn’t like you, sir. That’s why he hit you. That’s why people hit each other. He didn’t like you. You were smarter than he was.
Bartlet: Why are we talking about this?
Toby: So maybe if you get enough votes, win one more election, you know? Maybe your father…
Bartlet: You have stepped way over the line! Any other president would have your ass on the sidewalk right now.
Toby: Yes sir.
Bartlet: They’d have had your ass on the sidewalk a long time ago. I don’t know what the hell goes on in a Brooklyn shrink’s office, but get it the hell out of my house! 

  • 3:21 – Posse Commitatus – the series climax, which inevitably ends in disaster, but of a much more personal kind than previously. Finding a new secretary for the President has its moments, while Jed has to work out what to do about the Qumari defence minister which gives him sleepless nights, and the political supersedes the personal for Josh and Amy while Jed and the crew go to watch our beloved RSC perform the bard’s history plays. It’s great that to see Lily Tomlin join the show, while Jeff Buckley’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ seems almost written for the moment.

CHARLIE: Mr. President, this is Deborah Fiderer. I’ll be right outside. [exits]
BARTLET:It’s Fiderer?
MS. FIDERER: Fideler. Fiderer. It’s Fiderer.
BARTLET: [while signing papers] I saw your resume, so we don’t need to talk about that. What have you been doing recently?
MS. FIDERER: I’m an alpaca farmer.
BARTLET: Like the sweaters?
MS. FIDERER: Before they’re sweaters.
BARTLET: Uh-huh. And before that?
MS. FIDERER: [rolls her eyes] Craps and blackjack.
BARTLET: You’re a professional gambler.
MS. FIDERER: I like the way that sounds.
MS. FIDERER: Bally’s… mostly.
BARTLET: Okay. Why did you leave the White House?
MS. FIDERER: Well, Mr. President, if you want to talk about getting screwed with your pants on…
She drops her bottled water, bends down and picks it up.
BARTLET: Charlie!
MS. FIDERER: I guess I… I got pretty-pretty well-doinked.
CHARLIE: [walks in] Yes, sir.
BARTLET: Can I have a minute?
CHARLIE: Yes, sir.
BARTLET: [to Ms. Fiderer] Would you mind waiting outside just a moment?
MS. FIDERER: [as she walks out] No, not at all.
BARTLET: [to Charlie] Is this a joke? If it’s a joke, it’s both funny and well-executed, but I think you and I both know that it’s not. I send you out to replace Delores Landingham, and that’s what you came home with?
CHARLIE: Was she…?
BARTLET: She was an alpaca farmer who needed two tries to get her own name.
CHARLIE: Well, sir, maybe…
BARTLET: Don’t worry about it. I’m gonna get the Personnel Office on it. I got to go change for New York.


Bartlet (to presidential rival, Ritchie): In the future, if you’re wondering, “Crime. Boy, I just don’t know.” is when I decided to kick your ass.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 13 2009

    Hi Mark, hope you are well. Utter geeky trivia but War Crimes is series 3 episode 6 not 5. I think the Toby “you’re my guys” speech is my favourite West Wing moment of all, not least because it is works as a fairly fine definition of church!

    • May 14 2009

      Marcus – yes very geeky but a fair point. It is a great speech…


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