Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving with the Bartlets

It's basically a given, among both dreamy-eyed liberal lovers of the show and Clinton-hating conservative mockers of it, that The West Wing was fundamentally a kind of civic myth, a vision of the federal government as we (or at least some of us) idly wish it could be: powerful and competent and intelligent but also human and humble and filled with humor. Sorkin's star has plummeted far enough that his style of drama now draws mostly mockery, and I mostly agree with that judgment--but still, I can remember watching this particular episode, "Shibboleth," thirteen years ago, and really pretty much adoring it for the thoughtful fantasy of American identity and responsibility which I knew it was. So here are some free clips:

It starts with Toby and Sam and Josh, being brilliant goofballs, as usual, picking on C.J.-as-straightman, as usual.

One of the primary plots of the episode is C.J.'s struggle to take on the ritual obligations of the Thanksgiving holiday that are visited upon the White House, which she comes to really enjoy, despite her own resistance.

Another plot consists the discovery in a storage container of a large number of refugees from China, who claimed to have fled their home to escape religious persecution.

As is always the case with Sorkin, he brings all these plots together, throwing out all sorts of short random scenes which serve to hammer home the merged themes of the episode. Which, in this case, is that America is a wonderful place, whose every action reflects its complicated, sometimes ugly, but always (on one level or another) glorious history, and which remains, in the end, a blessed land to which all those who love God and/or freedom will want to come.

Great Thanksgiving propaganda, and great television. And kind of a great story too.

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