You know you're watching a high-brow (and, yet, oh so entertaining) show when you're given a lesson on Latin within the first five minutes of an episode and it's actually enjoyable. The phrase "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" is brought up by President Bartlett, a fluent Latin speaker, and he quizzes his senior staff on what it means in one of the show's more charming cold openings. In fact, I've decided to post a clip of it so you, gentle reader, can enjoy the scene for yourself. Check it out here. I'll wait.
That opening is important for a couple of reasons. At first glance, the viewer immediately gets a sense of the camaraderie of the staff -- they're not just co-workers; they are almost a family. They are comfortable with each other while giving each other due respect. This was shown a bit in the pilot and is expanded upon perfectly in episode two. As well, that clip shows just how funny this show is -- especially President Bartlett. This is a series that isn't afraid to be serious and isn't afraid to be funny, and in most cases it finds the perfect balance. It's almost uncanny. And finally, that clip lets us, the viewers, in on the fact that President Bartlett is a smart guy -- or, at least I think so. Anyone who can speak Latin fluently (and yes, I know "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" is one of the most famous Latin phrases known by English speakers, but later in the series Bartlett shows he has a firm grasp on the language and can speak it at will). There is just such a warm and inviting sense of community, love, and respect in the open scene which contrasts quite strongly with the final scene in the episode . . . which will get to in a moment.
I'd like to shift gears momentarily back to the pilot episode and remedy something. That something being I completely forgot Mandy! *collective sigh* Yeah, yeah. I don't care for her much either. Mandy Hampton, as played by Moira Kelly, was introduced as Josh's ex-girlfriend who is back in the city and working for the campaign of a local politician. She's seen as being loud, brash, and decidedly unfunny (and Jeeeeezus Christ, that '90s hairstyle!), and if there is anything wrong with the pilot episode of The West Wing, it's her. Her job folds in episode two and she hired on as a White House media consultant, thus putting her in close quarters with Josh and making him quite uneasy. I feel like it's supposed to be funnier than it really is . . . but ugh. It just sort of makes me groan. Honestly, I don't think the character of Mandy would stink so bad if it wasn't against the backdrop of literally everything else in this show -- it all works but her. She's the one cog in the machine.
Now, I don't blame this on Moira Kelly. She has acting chops for sure, and she plays her part well . . . unfortunately, that part is really annoying and a bit of a chore to watch. However, if I'm being honest the opening scene (after the theme song) featuring her and her former employer/boyfriend getting into a fight is funny and almost tricks me into liking Mandy. Almost. (Seriously, who didn't laugh when she threatened to use her shoes as a blunt object?) Her being hired on at the White House has always felt forced to me, as if the show-writers were looking for a way to get some easy laughs and it just doesn't really work. Mandy becomes more grating as the season goes on and then gets written out completely without any explanation whatsoever. Honestly, that's fine by me. Can you picture her in the midst of the MS scandal? Ugh . . .
Mandy after losing her job
Really, this episode's job is building on the foundation laid by the pilot, and it does a great job. We get to know more about the characters, especially President Bartlett and Sam. Sam's subplot with the hooker from the previous episode doesn't quite get resolved here, but the two are on a better note than before by this episode's end. In a way, the two are friends, and the image of the two of them walking down a dark D.C. street after fighting and making up always warms my heart a bit. That subplot isn't done by any means, but this episode is important because it will help later on that Sam and Laurie (the call girl whose name for some reason I keep forgetting) are on good terms because their sleeping together that one time will cause some problems.
Arguably the most important thing about this episode is its introduction of Vice President John Hoynes, as played by Tim Matheson.
Matheson plays the part perfectly. Vice President Hoynes is prickly and not exactly likable, but he's tough (perhaps tougher than Bartlett. . .?) and very competent. It's clear from the first scene he's in that he knows the game of politics and knows how to play it well. This guy is going to be pivotal for the next several seasons, and this episode lets the viewer know real quick what he or she is in for. I did not like this guy the first time I saw this episode, but the more I've watched it the more I have grown to appreciate him. He is very business-minded -- he wants to get things done and knows how to go about that. However, I still do not like the fact that he is so blatantly disrespectful of the president (though reasons for that will be explored in depth in later episodes). I enjoy watching this guy, when it comes down to it. He's not afraid to deliver the proverbial kick in the pants some of his fellow White House staffers need, and he is pretty humorous in his own prickly way.
That's really it for "Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc". It takes what worked in the pilot and builds on it, while introducing a couple of new characters and plot-lines (seriously -- that ending! that cliffhanger!). In a way, it is sort of a filler episode -- not much happens, (at least, nothing happens until the last ten minutes or so) but the show is so enjoyable to watch while nothing happens that the viewer will, in all likelihood, not give care one. This episode is assurance that the Pilot wasn't a fluke; this show is actually gold. And, with that, I am off. See you cats soon for discussion of episode three.