Flashback review – The West Wing 2×19-2×20: ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and ‘The Fall’s Gonna Kill You’

Courtesy of leavemethewhite.com

There’s a reason why the ninth circle of hell is reserved for those who betray. Bartlet (Martin Sheen), who’s been the champion of moral leadership, has been outed to the staffers who’ve trusted him most all these years, and I put it lightly when I say that they aren’t taking it well. But on the upside, it makes for fantastic television for us viewers.

“What’s next?” Find out after the jump…

What I loved about “17 People” and these two episodes, is that they show us the individual responses of the staffers to the knowledge that the President has M.S. and has hidden it all these years. Last week we saw Toby (Richard Schiff) get directly in the President’s face and demand accountability. But Sorkin smartly realized that Toby, easily the most idealistic of the bunch, wouldn’t be sated by a bitch session with the President, and spends most of “Bad Moon Rising” exploding at whomever he encounters at the slightest provocation.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Josh (Bradley Whitford), whom has been described by the President as someone who wants to be “the guy the guy counts on” (a fitting description). Josh is Leo (John Spencer) and the President’s man through and through, and of course is immediately on board with doing whatever he can to make sure that the public announcement goes as well as possible. Sorkin makes the right choice in “The Fall’s Gonna Kill You” by not showing the scene in which Leo and the President tell Josh the news. It’s not that Josh is unaffected by it, but he is such a team player that even though he only finds out between the end of “Bad Moon Rising” and the beginning of “The Fall’s Gonna Kill You,” he already feels guilty for being party to the cover-up – what Josh reacts most to is the off-hand comment made by a staffer about a federal suit against the tobacco industry, that “these people perpetrated a fraud against the public.”

But probably the most impressive display from these episodes were the scenes between White House Counsel Oliver Babish (Oliver Platt) and the President. Sorkin and Platt have the difficult task of not only introducing a new character, one who will feature prominently over the next few episodes, but also showing how he reacts to the news as well without feeling heavy-handed. And they fulfill it fantastically. Babish jumps right in to the task of uncovering exactly how far the lies have gone and how pure the president’s intent really is, all the while recognizing how far over his head all this is. And Platt plays the emotions perfectly, being justifiably angry, but staying professional throughout. It’s the right response to Bartlet’s “pissy” attitude, which Sheen rightly plays up that hints at the President’s growing guilt and insecurity.

Other Considerations:

  • While CJ (Allison Janney) has every reason to be defensive in her meeting with Babish in “The Fall’s Gonna Kill You,” it was out of character for her to bring up the fact that he’s been sued four times for divorce. CJ isn’t the sort of catty person who would bring up something personal like that.
  • The return of the Indio story that was introduced in the season premiere is a fantastic idea, but wasn’t followed through as well as I had hoped it would be. Sam (Rob Lowe) finally sees the effects of his ambition as the ship the Indio, for which he wrote the liability shield, crashes into a coast in Delaware, which is a great moral quandary. But he is simply told that it happens in “Bad Moon Rising,” and that is all that comes of it. It just seems like a wasted opportunity.
  • The cold open for “Bad Moon Rising” is simply memorable:

Bartlet: Well, Oliver, it really boils down to this. I’m gonna tell you a story, then I need you to tell me whether or not I’ve engaged 16 people in a massive criminal conspiracy to defraud the public in order to win a presidential election.

Babish: (smashes malfunctioning dictophone on his desk) Okay.

Your turn! Who’s response to the President’s M.S. was most interesting? Is the President justified in being so defensive? Sound off in the comments below!

And come back next week for our flashback finale as I review “18th and Potomac” and “Two Cathedrals.”

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