A KKK rally and potential war with North Korea: last week’s West Wing episode was in many ways a throwback. Are the writers running out of ideas? Or are they trying to show us the “Again” in Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again”? For viewers, it was a depressing set of storylines, a far cry from the zany hilarity of CJ falling into a swimming pool and Sean Spicer hiding behind a bush. Much like Trump, we could use a folder of positive news.
Last week’s episode ended with a violent, ugly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. This isn’t the first time the characters have suffered the brutal effects of white supremacy — who could forget when the President’s personal aide, Charlie, was targeted for being in a relationship with Zoey Bartlet (though the President and Josh were the ones who ended up getting shot)? Considering that was 17 seasons ago, the show should have progressed beyond such racism. But instead, it seems the writers can’t shake this theme. A more diverse writer’s room — lacking in much of Hollywood — might offer some fresh ideas to resolve this storyline.
Fire and Fury
Trump promised to rain “fire and fury” down on North Korea; then he said the US military was “locked and loaded” for a confrontation. This is just lazy writing. Did someone feel inspired to misquote Faulkner? Come on. It’s also worth pointing out that President Bartlet had a very similar reaction to his first military confrontation as president. When Syria shot down a US Air Force transport carrying his personal doctor, Bartlet pounded his fist on the table and demanded “total disaster” in response (until Leo helped him see the error of his ways). Will it be revealed in the next episode that Trump is upset because his personal doctor is in North Korea? The man hasn’t been heard from since he pronounced a 71-year-old loon who subsists on Taco Bell and can barely form a sentence, “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Perhaps the doctor has been taken hostage by the North Koreans and used for his propaganda talents? Why else would Trump risk nuclear war over what is clearly just locker room talk from Kim Jong-un?
Trump vs. Mitch
When he was not tweeting threats at North Korea, Trump was tweeting threats at his apparent public enemy number two: Mitch McConnell. Among other things, he berated McConnell for not being able to pass an Obamacare repeal. McConnell isn’t a very sympathetic character, as we’ve seen him cynically stoop to Trump’s level in order to pass his legislative agenda (which doesn’t seem to be happening anyway). I’m reminded of a scene when Josh is struggling with post-traumatic stress after the aforementioned white supremacist shooting, and Leo tells him a story about two men in a hole: a man jumps down into a hole to help his friend, who says “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here!” In Leo’s version, the friend says “Yeah but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.” In the darker scene sure to come with Trump and McConnell, that last line will be cut as they realize they’re both stuck in the hole, and no one’s getting out.
Trump’s Poetic Absence
Though we’ve heard from Trump via Twitter, his character is still supposedly “working remotely.” (This is a bit of a charming wink-wink from the writers. Who hasn’t had a bit of trouble connecting to the office and decided to go golfing instead?) In just the last week or so, rumors have popped up — everywhere except the National Enquirer, for some reason — that the actor who plays Trump is actually taking a hiatus from the show while he films a rom-com in Moscow. If the picture does well, there’s a possibility he may not need the income from The West Wing anymore. In any case, the show’s director of photography has taken advantage of the president’s literal absence to capture some beautiful and poignant shots of the empty Oval Office under construction, implying a figurative absence as well. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.
What will happen next week? Will Trump condemn white supremacy more strongly than he condemns Mitch McConnell? Will the U.S. face nuclear war with North Korea? Will Guam continue to exist? Tune in to see whether The West Wing becomes The Walking Dead.