Flashback review – The West Wing 2×09: ‘Galileo’

Courtesy of NBC via leavemethewhite.com

What a lovely little episode. Policy debate and political squabbling can often provide for some enticing drama on this series, but there’s just something about the unabashed optimism for the future that the staff displays in this episode that makes it one of the most pleasurable episodes to watch time and time again.

“What’s next?”

Find out after the jump…

The title of this week’s episode literally refers to the Galileo V, the unmanned spacecraft sent to explore the surface of Mars for the first time. Yet it also invokes the scientist himself and the challenging questions he raised in the face of historical consensus, and provides the theme to this week’s hopeful episode: that we as humans cannot simply assume what is commonly accepted to be true or right and that we shouldn’t ever be satisfied with what is already accomplished. We should always be looking forward for the next great discovery, the next big idea.

Such an earnest message almost sounds like it could be any one of the messages Danny Tanner imparts to his daughters before enveloping them in a group-hug on Full House. But Sorkin counterbalances the positivity with enough genuinely funny beats that it never crosses the line into overly sentimental feel-goodery. CJ’s (Allison Janney) protests against giving any political importance to the news story that the President (Martin Sheen) doesn’t like green beans, and does so because of a belief in the intelligence and rationality of the American public. Yet within minutes of her profound statement about democracy, she also admits to the senior staff that there might be a story in tomorrow’s paper about her being good in bed. Because she is good in bed, as Janney states with assurance and perfect comic timing.

Courtesy of NBC VIA leavemethewhite.com

We even witness some classically funny and flirtatious joking between Josh (Bradley Whitford) and Donna (Janel Moloney), all over the selection of a controversial stamp. Donna becomes determined to get Marcus Aquino’s face on the next stamp, as recommended by the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee, or CSAC Dorksquad, the name Josh lovingly gives to the group. The scenes between them shift on a dime between lighthearted – Josh teasingly suggests to Donna that “we should put you on a stamp” and she replies with a sly smile and a coquettish “okay” – and substantial, as Donna at first argues unsuccessfully that honoring the Korean War hero does not automatically mean that the public will assume a promotion of his political beliefs about statehood for Puerto Rico. Again, what could have been a Heartfelt LessonTM on “Trusting the Public” becomes an earnest moment made sweeter by Josh and Donna’s playful and undeniable sexual tension.

Other considerations:

  • President Bartlet explains to CJ that he can convert Fahrenheit temperatures to Celsius in his head. Just keep in mind that the formula for doing so is (°F – 32) x 5/9 = °C. Yeah, I’m pretty jealous too.
  • Is it just me or does the way that the Russian Ambassador speaks and looks at Leo (John Spencer) seem like the stuff that juicy fan fiction is inspired by?
  • Sam (Rob Lowe) is always adorably hilarious whenever he becomes flustered. But his reaction to seeing Mallory for the first time in months, throwing his champagne glass into the trash before realizing what he’s done, and then deciding to just roll with it, is a particularly fantastic visual gag.

Now it’s your turn. Were you too able to “feel the adventure” just from the name Galileo V? Sound off in the comments below!

And join me next Wednesday as the bells (and sirens) of Christmas come early this year in “Noel.”

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