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

Let’s attend the daily briefing, shall we? Rapid fire questions from reporters and standard responses from CJ, but shot documentary style. You know what I’m also noticing? A lot of very good actors come off differently when they’re framed in this cinema verite style. Not per se bad or good; definitely different. Anyway, CJ is handed a note by Carol which causes her to abruptly leave the podium and head for the door. Oh god! It’s Gail, isn’t it? Is she sick? Oh I hope not.

Actually it’s breaking news from the scene, and CJ walks to the back of the room to watch – watch – the FBI spokesman tell TV cameras about a development. The bad guy1 is letting an ambulance approach the cabin to evacuate one of his kids who was wounded earlier. The spokesman has nothing further to say. Despite the fact they all just watched the same exact statement with CJ, the press corps absolutely clamors for more answers. Anything! Make it up! Our readers are too dumb to know the difference! CJ leaves the briefing room, presumably to slap Josh, Leo, and the FBI director upside their heads.

Said slapping will take a moment as CJ is told by Donna that Josh is in with Leo, then told by Margaret that they’re both in the Oval, so she’s basically living out a Benny Hill sketch right now.2 CJ, with a hint of exasperation in her voice, talking heads that the 24/7 news cycle may maybe kinda not provide a chance to think about the news. Then she’s boxed out of the meeting by an apologetic looking Charlie, paces a bit, and mutters ‘Fine.’ and walks away. This episode is doing a decent job of showing the difficulties present in interacting (or not) with the press and the public, but it’s also portraying the only significant female character on the show at this point as not important enough to know the important things.3

Toby talking heads about the concept of a ‘close hold’ noting that all staff members, himself included, have, at one point or another, not been told things until information is fully ready for the public. It’s a smidge of an improvement in balancing this episode, which is then bizarrely undermined by CJ on the phone with her father (who is not doing well) and more cuts to the home movies again. Oh, the movies are of her as a kid on a roller coaster. I get it. It’s a metaphor.4 CJ takes a deep breath and strides back to work.

  1. Screw innocent until proven otherwise.  
  2. Sans music. Man this show could have benefited from some Yakety Sax.  
  3. Again, it’s a flaw in this episode’s style – normally CJ could just obliquely mention that sometimes she can’t know things, but when the episode is really about something she, for her job, can’t yet know… well, real life is kinda boring, and possibly chauvinist.  
  4. Decent band name.  

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