West Wing

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Smoke 'em If You Got 'em

Over near Charlie's desk, Eleanor waits. The general feeling is that of a kid called to the principal's office. It's hard to tell how much, if any, prior interaction these two have had. We assume Charlie's been around the Bartlet family socially a fair bit, especially at holidays, since both his parents are gone. You would think he must have met Eleanor a couple of times at least, even if she's away at school. But there's a fair bit of awkwardness, and it's hard to tell if it's because they're unfamiliar with each other, or because Eleanor's in trouble. Charlie tries to make small talk: "Zoey said you were thinking of oncology." Eleanor seems to be somewhere else mentally and Charlie has to repeat himself. She then says, "Yeah...or neurology." She gives a small smile. Charlie gets up to look out in the hall, saying that Jed's just tied up in a meeting. She says she's fine. He says that POTUS should be back any minute. She insists that she's good. Charlie asks if she likes medical school. She says she does. She mentions that she likes her professors, and starts to talk warmly about a pathophysiology professor when a Secret Service guy comes through, telling his microphone that "Eagle's moving." We can hear Jed's voice well before we see him, ranting loudly about the cost of saving these jobs in the steel industry. Ellie had started to look happy when talking to Charlie about school, but now she looks sad and scared again. Jed is saying as he arrives at the door, "Anyone wants to check my math, they're more than welcome to. Anyone wants to shove the Golden Gate Bridge up Japan's ass, they're more than welcome to do that, too." Charlie meets Jed and kind of gestures to Eleanor. Jed sees her and dismisses the military brass to whom he was ranting. Jed says, "Ellie, thanks for coming." He gives her a peck on the cheek, but they're pretty stiff with each other. She says, "Hi, Dad."

Ellie and Jed go into the Oval Office. Jed asks if she got down there okay. She says she did. He asks if she took an airplane. She's confused: "An airplane? No." He asks, "A helicopter?" Ellie: "No, the agents drove me." He states, "That's 'cause you go to school at Johns Hopkins, right? And Johns Hopkins is in Baltimore, right?" She looks exasperated and sits down as Jed continues, "I'm asking because Baltimore's a forty-five minute car ride from Washington, D.C., and we hardly see you anymore. So I thought, either you transferred to a different medical school, they moved Johns Hopkins, or they moved Baltimore. Are any of those things true?" He says all this in a kind of fake-jovial manner that lets us know he's just getting started. Having been on the receiving end of very similar rants, I can assure all parents that the best way to get your kids to come home is to harangue them about not doing so. I mean, who wouldn't enjoy that? Who wouldn't find that motivating? Who wouldn't want to get more of that? Anyway. Ellie says none of those things are true. Jed then picks up a newspaper and reads from it, "Okay, and this is accurate, right? This quote: 'My father won't fire the Surgeon General. He would never do that.'" He hands her the paper; she takes it without looking at it and tosses it on the coffee table. She sits there looking down, her long hair obscuring her face. This is not lost on Jed, who complains, "Eleanor, when you put your head down, your hair falls in your face, and I can't see your face and I can't hear what you're saying. Now look at me, and talk to me!" She brings her head up and says, "Yes. The quote is accurate." Jed bursts, "What the hell are you doing talking to a reporter? I have set up monumental, unprecedented, unbreakable rules about my children and the press! I have gotten White House reporters transferred to Yemen for approaching Zoey and Elizabeth! It is the law!" He's pretty worked up; she says nothing but looks sad. He paces a bit and then says, first taking it down a notch, "Well, I'm sure before you gave the quote you cleared it with the Communications Office. I'm sure you went over the exact wording with C.J. Cregg, and coordinated with White House strategy so that the timing was right in the news cycle. I'm certain you consulted the appropriate party leadership because you're a pretty knowledgeable operative having spent so much time with me. Ellie..." Throughout all this Ellie is struggling to check her impulse to put her head down, and eventually loses. She starts to say, "Dad, she was, she was doing..." Jed orders her to pick her head up. Ellie says, "She was doing exactly what she is supposed to do. I'm sorry, she was asked a question and she said what she knew to be true. And when you start firing doctors for that, you've crossed a line somewhere." Jed replies, "There is politics involved in this, Ellie, and you knew it would make me unhappy, and that's why you did it, and that's cheap." You should see some of the scary freeze-frames I'm getting of Martin Sheen's facial expressions as he delivers this harangue. Yikes. Ellie: "I didn't do it to make you unhappy, Dad." He retorts, "Well, you sure didn't do it to make me happy!" She stands up. "I don't know how to make you happy, Dad. For that, you got to talk to Zoey or Liz." Ouch. ["Djb yelled 'middle child' at this point." -- Wing Chun] Jed looks pretty mad, but doesn't have a comeback for that, and suggests that they drop it. He walks behind his desk and says, "Mom gets back first thing in the morning, and we're running a movie tonight, if you want to stay over." She says, "I can stay over if you want me to." He says, "Yeah, thanks." She looks discouraged and walks out, or tries to, but is confronted by the many doors to his office. She turns around and gestures helplessly: "I go out...?" He indicates the correct door, but refrains from adding something to the effect of "you'd know that if you ever visited us. Zoey knows which door to use." But you know he's thinking it. She leaves, and Charlie sticks his head in to tell Jed that the Labour Secretary is waiting to see him. Jed says okay, but then asks Charlie to give him a minute. Jed stuffs his hands in his pockets and stands looking out the window behind his chair as we go to commercial.

Back in Toby's office, he and Andy are arguing. They're not really listening to each other, and Andy tells him to hang on. He says he won't; she says, "Yes, you will, you will summon your strength and listen to me for a moment." He's tossing his rubber ball around. She states, "You guys made a hairpin turn at the State of the Union, and you did it without consulting a whole lot of members of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party." Toby retorts, "Sad to say, Andrea, there aren't a whole lot of members of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party!" She replies, "So you'll forgive some people if they're concerned that one of the options you're going to explore is raising the retirement age!" Toby points out that people are living decades longer than anyone anticipated they would in 1935; he adds that they want to consider everything, but they can't consider anything, unless....Andy suddenly asks, "Why does this have to happen in secret?" Toby bellows, "'Cause it's the only way it's gonna happen! 'Cause you can't solve Social Security and ask people to run for election at the same time. So why not give politicians some cloud cover and let them be lawmakers for a while? Fifteen people in a room with the door closed. Seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and the President of the United States, who will not have a vote, and they walk out of that room and with one voice, they make a recommendation to Congress and the American people. And nobody knows who was where." Andy looks like she's remembering why they got divorced. He sighs, bounces his ball, and says, "The only way it's gonna happen is in secret, and the only way it's gonna happen is if all the sides are confident in their representation; otherwise, it's dead. And so I need Seth Gillette on the Commission, but I can't ask him 'cause if he says no, there'll be no Commission." He bounces his ball again and says he appreciates her coming down and talking to him. I wonder if he ever let her have her Danish.

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West Wing




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