From now on, if
I ever refer to "Mr. Magoo", I am talking exclusively about
President Josiah Bartlet. He's fumbling, folksy, and frustrating, but
in the end, he somehow seems to bring it all together and teach everyone
Not in this episode
Merely minutes into this broadcast, Bartlet is master of his domain.
He walks with purpose from room to room, deftly maneuvering his staff
across his playing field like the pieces on the storied chess boards
he gives as gifts throughout the episode. Sure-footed and goal oriented,
Bartlet knows what all the parameters are and what the consequences
of every action will be. He "
sees the whole board."
We already know that each member of the West Wing staff is smart and
ultra-competent. We didn't know that Bartlet still has a lot to teach
them. His gifts from the Prime Minister of India, chess boards of immense
quality and even greater history, are symbols of the entire plot. He
gives these boards to members of his staff and teaches each of them
not necessarily how to play chess, but how to play the situation.
At the same time, the main storyline of a disruption in relations with
China over missile testing by Taiwan unfolds across the breadth of the
episode. As tension mounting and plot driving as this is supposed to
be, the China story quickly becomes a mere tedious vehicle for the real
plot, the exciting one, of watching as Bartlet's staff plays the game
and wins. After each taking a personal loss two episodes ago, it's great
to see their karma re-aligned.
Poor Toby. He went to blows with Barlet and has been skulking around
ever since. Now, the Prez invites him into the oval office alone. If
I were Toby, I probably would have been brushing up my resume in anticipation
of sudden unemployment.
But Barlet is a lot smarter than that. He knows Toby's previous vitriol
was meant well
it just didn't come out the way it should have.
He also knows that it taught him some very deep lessons. Now it's Bartlet's
turn to teach Toby a lesson
that of forgiveness and respect.
As they sit to play chess on the board once played on by Prime Minister
Nehru and Lord Montbatten, Bartlet stops just short of thanking Toby
for his curt and candid opinion, then goes on to ask Toby for more.
Toby does not disappoint. He asks the Chief to be smart
the game with gusto and intelligence. He asks the President to run his
campaign the same way the producers and writers ask us to view "The
Sam Seaborn proved the most interesting character in this episode.
Even before presenting him with one of the chess boards, Bartlet almost
fawningly thanks him for his work on the State of the Union address.
This is the first reference in this episode to a potential foreshadowing
that makes for magnificent storytelling. As Sam's first chess move unfolds,
Bartlet mentions his Fibonacci opening
a terrific allusion to the
great mathematician and Sam's way with facts and figures.
Even more exciting is watching as Bartlet sits with Sam and throws
out alliterative phases and parables in a very Confucian manner. The
master is clearly sitting with the student
and Bartlet relishes
in it. As the chess game progresses, Sam may be losing on the board,
but he is winning the greater game by learning the lessons being taught.
Eventually, Bartlet states emphatically that he knows Sam will one
day run for President
the second reference to a future that induces
spine tingling storytelling.
Do I need to drone on and on about each and every staff member? OK,
but only because they are so worth mentioning. Josh badgers
Donna into not-so-subtly inducing some primary voters into seeing the
Bartlet way, only to beg off after he learns to "see the whole
board" and tells everyone what a great opportunity it is for each
American to vote with complete freedom. CJ and Charlie go mano-a-mano
in a practical joke rivalry that is aggressive, intelligent, and ribald.
Leo manages the China crises with dilettante and aplomb.
The First Lady is missing in action, as is Josh's new girlfriend and
that sweet, sexy, sassy, Republican basement wonk who appeared all too
briefly in the last episode showing off her stuff and stealing the show.
Why can't we remember her name???
How completely refreshing is it to see television that doesn't pander
to the lowest common denominator? I'm not talking about white trash
shows or public access quality. I'm talking about a show that sets out
to target a sophisticated audience and then stays sophisticated and
doesn't care if the viewer can't mentally follow the nuances and subplots,
much less the main storyline. It shoots for telling a story with truth
and dignity and not by assuming the participant is ill-educated or unexperienced.
It scores with directness.
I am sorry to report that this is only television. One wishes Mr. Magoo
were really running the Oval Office with such charismatic capability.
Instead, we have illiterate and ill-spoken George "leading"
us thru a "war" and shooting our economy in the head. Déjà
vu 1991. Why do I have to look to television for hope? (Oops, was that
too much editorializing? My bad.)