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

All this success is SPUAPS’s cue to show up and say that someone called from the remote island to tell a Seattle morning drive radio show that federal agents are trampling his neighbor’s lawn. This is why I got out of radio. And politics. Investigation reports from previous FBI boondoggle Casey Creek – presumably this universe’s Ruby Ridge – are on her desk. Staff now have a window of <45 minutes before news cameras can be on scene; CJ bets aerial coverage in 20. The cheer, it is gone from the office. CJ tells SPUAPS to try and look surprised when the news breaks. It’s all about the appearances.

Things heat up rapidly and CJ seems exhausted already telling the bullpen press that she doesn’t have any answers yet. One says he has a source that says the FBI shot the family’s dog. This administration has already struggled with the dog issue, so we know we’re into very dicey territory for CJ. Off the record, CJ tells the reporter she hopes this doesn’t become another Casey Creek, and our narrator, plus ‘archival footage’, helpfully fills in why. It’s all completely retconned, and never mentioned again. Was this episode filmed during a summer break or something and the writing staff was on vacation? Whatever. Important to note, though, that Casey Creek1 brought the wrath of Congress down on the same FBI director currently overseeing this matter, and was a major stumble early on for CJ. Apparently it took her months to get the press back on her side.2 And AGAIN CJ talking heads about this idea of telling the truth and informing the press. Commercials. Thank gawd. This is an absolute mess of storytelling.

We return to blaring coverage from all channels of Standoff on Shaw Island, because alliteration helps deepen our understanding of current events. Josh and CJ quietly watch in her office and Josh unhelpfully apologizes for not briefing her about the dog. Well, she probably would have just cracked a terrible joke and dropped them eighteen points in the polls, so no worries. CJ very validly points out that, had she been fully informed as to what was actually unfolding, she could have told Josh and Leo et al that this story was not going to go quietly as everyone (Director Smartypants especially) thought/hoped/prayed it would.

What the hey? Why is there a living cadaver portraying a retired reporter? And why is he giving a Grandpa Simpson-length soliloquy about how White House news used to be gathered? Was this all just to demonstrate that the press secretary is now caught in a constant rush of questions and difficult balancing acts when big news breaks? Because we see that from the rest of the episode and most other (better written) episodes. What. Ever. Back to the bustle of the gaggle trailing behind CJ like she’s a mama goose. Nope, now Martin’s back to tell us how thankful he is he’s not in that scrum any more. Right here, this, this is why this episode format is a dud. Not only do I get a rush of details delivered so I can’t retain them (unlike a typical, packed but digestible, West Wing) but the flow whipsaws between that bustle, the (nice) quieter moments between staff, and this totally tonally different stuff.

  1. Not his real name.  
  2. And then Manchester: Part I happened.  

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