An Unfortunate Episode – The West Wing S5:E18: Access

Oh gawd, more narrating about the history of the White House’s relationship with the press.1 CJ exposits and the narrator picks up the tale of the Eisenhower administration being the first to allow press conferences to be recorded and edited for later broadcast – putting control of the message with the press, not the White House. Before then, apparently, the press were all easily tucked into the administration’s pocket. Glad that’s changed!2

Back to CJ explaining how her day starts well before she gets to the office and mentions an interesting but (I believe) never alluded to elsewhere in the series fact3 that her commute in is the only time of the day where she can be by herself and gather her thoughts. Look, for all the crap I’m going to give this episode, The West Wing did character development really well, and the character of CJ Cregg was always, always watchable. Cut to non-narrated footage of CJ asking how the gate guard’s daughter is doing, because otherwise we’d have the impression that she is a horrible, soulless monster. Back in the chair, CJ half smiles as she notes that walking into the White House never gets old. Well, except for season 7 where things definitely dragged.

CJ pediconferences4 with Carol, trailed by a completely unobtrusive camera guy. Damn I forgot how big professional video cameras were before the advent of DV. Carol notes that Chris (who is chatty, and this is apparently a bad thing) and Steve (who is not/no opinion/need more information) are waiting. CJ spots the FBI director looking very serious outside the Oval. He’s not supposed to be on the president’s schedule. Surely this will not matter as the day unfolds.

Steve wants a quote about tech sector growth5 but settles for some quick catch up about his daughter getting into journalism school. This ep is showing more of the regular, everyday stuff that would happen in these characters’ lives. But regular, everyday stuff is not that interesting. Let’s get back to the totally normal, unexciting day involving the FBI director showing up for no reason. Maybe he wanted to see if the president had decided to join the Justice Department’s new prog rock band Media Explosion.6 Chris, meanwhile, has a source saying FLOTUS accepted her inaugural ball gown as a gift in violation of ethics rules. Much resigned, rapid fire dialogue follows. I miss this show. Then CJ has to revisit that time she made a bad joke and the press was on her for weeks about the first family hating dogs. Sometimes I don’t miss this show.

We’re briefly in the morning7 senior staff meeting where Toby seems half asleep.8 The upside to episodes typically only containing dynamic, important stuff – personal or professional – is that these underpinning character traits like Toby sleepwalking through everything remain cute touches, and not central premises. Then Toby talking-heads9 about how he ‘discovered’ CJ and tells a horribly flat anecdote about her having a modicum of positive impact on some senate campaign. It really didn’t do either character or the show justice. It just made Toby look like a mild schmuck, so maybe mission accomplished?

  1. Also: 66 million people subscribed to daily newspapers when this was shot? Daaaaang.  
  2. I want to have a bunch of undergrad socialists watch Sorkin’s oveur and turn all their shouted epithets into an original rap opera called ‘The Whole System’s Out of Order’. Money, please.  
  3. No, I’m not going to go scan every TWOP recap to find out.  
  4. I will, however, lift liberally from TWOP as I type.  
  5. Some things never change.  
  6. Jed, of course, would have to politely decline, but promised to catch their first show at the Hawk and Dove.  
  7. 7:30am! No one is up this early, people! Not even those who hate our freedoms and our way of life. This can’t be healthy.  
  8. See?  
  9. Why is he cropped so much closer than CJ, and why does it look like he’s turning halfway around?  

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