The West Wing SE1E03: "A Proportional Response"

I've sort of fallen behind on my West Wing coverage. That is because this is a show I like to devote all of my attention to while watching, and I haven't had much of a chance to do that lately. I'm now on Christmas break, however, so I have about two weeks to do some serious bloggin'. Let's dive in! 

 

 

At the end of episode two, news was brought to the senior staff (and the viewer) that an American plane carrying President Barlet's personal physician and several other folks was shot down en route to a teaching hospital in Jordan by Syrian forces on the orders of the Syrian Defense Ministry. Episode two ends with President Bartlet -- a man who feels inferior in his first year of the presidency for never having military experience -- promising to Chief of Staff Leo McGarry that he is not afraid . . . and that is where episode three picks up. 

 

A few other things happen in this episode -- we're introduced to reporter Danny, who will play a pretty important role in the coming seasons; Charlie Young is hired on as the President's body man; Sam's blooming friendship with the call girl he accidentally slept with in episode one is becoming more widely-known . . . but this is an episode that almost solely focuses on the delicate question posed by President Bartlet in the situation room: "What is the virtue of a proportional response?" It's an interesting question, and one that cannot be answered lightly or without serious thought. 

 

 

A careful line must be walked. Revenge must be extracted on the Syrians -- all the folks on the gunned down airplane perished, and that cannot go without punishment. The Syrian government is trying to start a war with America, and Bartlet wants to do as much damage as possible, often getting frustrated with the joint chiefs and the reasonable responses they propose. They want tit-for-tat; President Bartlet wants to get revenge for his good friend and doctor. The president is hurting. 

 

What's interesting about this episode is it's the first time we see Martin Sheen's character as something more than calm and collected who can spout Latin phrases and memorable phrases off the cuff. We see -- for the first time -- that he is not all-knowing. He doesn't have all the answers. In this episode he's almost always on edge, snapping at his wife, his staff, everyone. This is the first time we see President Bartlet for the complex, versatile character he is. Credit has to go to the show writers and Martin Sheen alike for that one. 

 

 

The situation is eventually resolved -- an attack plan is decided on and carried out. The moment Bartlet says "go" (or, rather, simply nods -- he is unable to speak) is one of the most tense in the early episodes of The West Wing. The viewer truly feels the danger of the situation. He or she sees that being in power isn't always what it's cracked up to be -- tough decisions always have to be made, and it takes a strong person to do it. In light of the recent terrorist attacks, this episode certainly gave me more empathy toward our president and his staff, as well as other governments around the world. It's not an easy job, doing the things people in government do . . . and sometimes they don't get it right (as this series is unafraid to show). Sometimes it comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils. 

 

After the intensity of the majority of this episode, we are given a final, sweet scene in which  President Bartlet meets Charlie Young and talks with him for a few minutes. It's a heart-warming scene, especially in light of all the toughness of the previous thirty-five minutes or so -- it shows that, at the end of the day, President Bartlet is still only human and doing the best he can. Leo, C.J., Toby, Sam, Donna . . . they all are.

 

 

I think this is my favorite episode yet. It combines the heart-warming nature of the previous two episodes while gaining some grit and fire, making for some enthralling TV-watching. I'm going to give it a 100%.