Confession: I do not watch The West Wing. I have hardly ever watched The West Wing. To me, Wednesday night on my TV is home to Bernie Mac, South Park, and occasionally Birds of Prey when I'm feeling lonely and need a little jiggle in my life. So what qualifies me to recap this episode, which I'm told is part of an annual tradition of mushy, emotional, yet heroically stoic Christmas episodes? Nothing. Not a damn thing. No, wait: I have voted in two presidential elections (and voted in an informed way, I might add), and I once met Robert Bork. Say what you will about Bork, but that is a man who knows how to grow some serious facial hair. "How do you do that?" I asked him admiringly, in my own pre-goatee days. "Frequent watering," he told me, and winked.
So here we go. Feel free to think of me as your Christmas lump of coal for not appreciating Deborah enough. If I get any details or character names wrong, feel free to harp on it in a very strongly worded email sent to your own address.
The episode begins with drums and an American flag set against the White House. Whoa. This is very patriotic already. I think I should be standing or something. "Previously"s reveal that Donna wanted Josh to introduce her to some guy she probably likes (I will forever contend that Donna looks like she should be in a Wallace & Gromit cartoon); Christian Slater somehow stole Rob Lowe's soul and ended up on this show as the guy Donna likes; and Toby gave a lady I'm assuming is his ex-wife some serious under-eyes and they probably slept together given everything I know about the rest of this episode and how babies are conceived.
Wow. That's it? I figured this show would have some backstory or something. "Silver Bells" plays as the camera swoops down from the rooftops onto the nighttime street set of Road to Perdition. We pan past an apartment window where some folks are watching some black and white television. "Brooklyn Heights Christmas Eve," reads a title card. Bulbous cars roam around. "1954," reads another title card. You really could have put that with the previous title card and saved a little title-card money. Come on, Sorkin! Stop bleeding NBC for every penny they've got! They need that money to keep ER limping along like a cancerous greyhound for another three seasons!
A guy gets out of a cab and walks into a bar. He's being watched by someone across the street -- three guys, actually, all in a car together speaking a language. It's Yiddish, or Polish, or Russian, or Creole, or something. I do know it's not Spanish. They laugh at something, but we don't know what it is yet. The guy in the back seat is suddenly translated with subtitles. He says that Cole Porter is a great American songwriter for the Broadway shows. Word. If we flash forward forty years to a subtitle that says, "Aaron Sorkin is a great American screenwriter for the network shows," I'm going to have to resign my post here. The guy in the back -- who wears glasses and has a bit of the nebbish in him -- says that Cole was in a singing group at his university, a name he can't produce. A guy in the front tells him to say it in Yiddish. Okay, I'm guessing now that the language is Yiddish. He says there is no Yiddish word for it. "Whiffenpoof?" back seat guy says. Hee. That just made me hungry for pastry. They ask if he's been to a show. The Cole Porter fan says he has an album. He starts to sing a little. The guy in the driver's seat tells the other two to shut up. Passenger Seat asks Driver's Seat why the Whiffenpoof fan can't be happy -- his wife just had a baby. Driver's Seat says the guy's not in there. Passenger Seat assures him that the guy is in there. He motions toward the bar across the street. Passenger Seat -- who looks a bit like the guy who has a crush on Lois on Malcolm in the Middle -- says he scouted the place. Driver's Seat says he's calling Anastasia. They start to bicker about whether the guy is in the bar or not. Driver's Seat asks if there's a phone at the back of the place. Passenger Seat says there is. Dangerous music plays. "You got a nickel?" Driver's Seat asks. That's some Emmy-caliber writing right there, y'all. Yes. It seems that Passenger Seat has a nickel. But can you spare a dime? Brother? Driver's Seat tells Passenger Seat to come with him. They leave the car while Back Seat -- who they call "Julie" -- is told to wait. Is that like when Dr. Cox calls J.D. "Cassandra" or "Margaret" on Scrubs? Julie (tee hee) waits and smokes a cigarette. A woman pushing a stroller across the street stops in front of a bookstore and attends to her crying baby. "Tobias," Julie says to himself, and laughs a little. We hear a few gunshots. Julie, alarmed, walks briskly toward the corner. Driver's Seat emerges and tells Julie to get back in the car. "Where's Zev?" Julie asks in Yiddish. Zev's dead, baby. Zev's dead. "What can you do?" Driver's Seat answers. Does that mean Julie gets to ride shotgun now? "What can you do?" Driver's Seat explains again. Oh, "What can you do!" Now I understand the murder. In the car, Driver's Seat asks what Julie named his son. "Tobias," he says. "Little Toby." They drive off.