Review of the West Wing Season 4 DVD

Episode Guide:
20 Hours in America: After a speech in Indiana by the President, Josh, Toby, and Donna are left strand by the presidential motorcade. This two-episode set follows their attempts to get back to Washington D.C. by train, truck, and bus. The running dialogues of these episodes frame the upcoming election and the concerns of Toby with the public’s perception of President Bartlett as too liberal and too intellectual compared to his opponent, Governor Ritchie.

College Kids: While Bartlett and Leo try to obfuscate the circumstances around Abdul Sharif’s assassination, the rest of the staff are working on an aggressive new education plan concocted on Josh and Toby’s journey back to Washington in the last episode. Charlie tries to get one of his former bosses (Lily Tomlin) the open position as the president’s personal secretary, but has difficulties when she flubs the interview with Bartlett. Tomlin’s portrayal of Debbie is amusing and a good contribution got the West Wing to fill in the space left by the absence of Dolores Landingham.

The Red Mass: Senator Stackhouse (previously introduced in the West Wing episode The Stackhouse Filibuster) is planning a third party run against Bartlett and Ritchie in order to make them accountable to issues like drug policy and education in the upcoming election. Josh’s relationship with Amy continues its peaks-and-valleys trajectory when Amy works for Stackhouse. In the end, the senator endorses the president because he is satisfied that Bartlett is genuine in his desire to lead the nation.

Debate Camp: While the president is getting ready for the one debate with his opponent, the staff worries about the campaign message, losing the president’s home state of New Hampshire, and how to answer the question of an early administration flub (on appointing a controversial attorney general). Toby’s relationship with his ex-wife Andrea and their desire to have a baby develops in this episode of the West Wing as well as the Season Four story line of Sam’s interest in the California 47th congressional seat.

Game On: The president and Governor Ritchie debate in the second half of this West Wing episode, with the first half devoted to the staff finding people to defend the president’s debate statements in the post-debate gaggle. A particularly amusing bit comes at the very beginning of the episode, where the whole staff tricks Toby into believing the president is not ready for the debate, lightening the mood and proving to Toby that Bartlett is ready to go.

Election Night: On election day, Donna’s mistaken absentee ballot makes her worry that her one vote will mess up the election. As well, Josh encounters retaliation from Toby for his debate day prank when voters around him at the ballot box pretend that they cast invalid votes. The development of the character of Will Bailey, the campaign manager for the Democratic candidate in the California 47th, and his relationship with White House staff begins in earnest throughout this episode of the West Wing when his deceased candidate’s victory means Sam must keep a promise he made.

Process Stories: The White House celebrates their re-election with a series of parties throughout the building. C.J. grows concerned when a Democratic pollster takes credit for the president’s message but discovers that those who do shape the message don’t care, since the president won the election. Sam’s promise to run in the California 47th becomes an issue for the staff and the president.

Swiss Diplomacy: The president’s ebullience following his re-election is short lived. The Iranian ayatollah’s son needs a heart transplant and the only possible place to have it done is in the United States. The president wants to cooperate for the sake of the teenager, but has to contend with staff and international concerns over American cooperation with Iran and its implications. As well, Democrats including the vice president begin to work towards the next presidential election and line up support to the chagrin of Josh and Leo.

Arctic Radar: While the president and the military have to decide what to do with a female pilot’s insubordination, Toby tries to juggle the duties of speech writing without a campaigning Sam Seaborn. Sam recommends Will Bailey and Toby meets Will twice before figuring out that he is up to the job.

Holy Night: Toby’s father, a former member of the New York mob, returns to Toby’s life by visiting the White House. Cracks develop in the administration’s cover up of the Sharif assassination with the return of Danny (Timothy Busfield), one of the more active White House reporters. Danny’s persistence has C.J. questioning whether the United States could be involved.

Guns Not Butter: In one of the best comedy moments of the West Wing, C.J. agrees to have the president take a photo-op with livestock in order to promote a program to fight world hunger. In a scene between Leo and C.J., Leo promises to put snakes in her car if she doesn’t fix the problem and, like the episode Shibboleth where C.J. deals with turkeys, hilarity ensures. Meanwhile, Josh and Donna try to keep a foreign operations bill alive with some leg work and trickery and Charlie tries to impress Zoey by fixing a problem well above his power.

The Long Goodbye: C.J. returns home to Dayton, Ohio, to give a speech at her high school reunion. While in Dayton, she has to reconcile with her father’s growing senility, her stepmother’s absence from the home, and with an unrequited love from her past. In past episodes, C.J.’s struggle with her father’s condition has appeared in cameo but this kicks off an increase in references to her personal struggle in later episodes. This episode of the West Wing also highlights how a position like press secretary can make it impossible to take care of the more important things in one’s personal life.

Inauguration Part I: Will Bailey takes a temporary job with the White House to write the State of the Union. In the few days he is there, he gets into an argument with a colleague at the State Department, fights with Toby over policy language, and convinces the president to make a drastic change in foreign policy. This all occurs with a crisis in the African nation of Kundu escalating. In a poignant scene between Will and the president, the president asks “Why is a Kundunese life worth less than an American life?” and Will responds “I don’t know, sir, but it does.” This kind of writing makes this episode and story arc one of the more compelling in the series.

Inauguration: Over There: The conversation between Will and the president haunts him to the point that he decides to change foreign policy (with a little help from a Hardy Brothers movie) to a more aggressive, internationalist policy. Will’s rapidly growing connection with Toby and his aggressive attitude earns him the position vacated by Sam in the communications office.

The California 47th: Sam’s campaign begins to fail with poor management by the Democratic Party and isn’t helped when White House staff come to town. The president’s motorcade closes down a highway, the president makes a derogatory statement about the French to Leo, and Toby gets into a fight to protect Andrea. Back in Washington, Will has difficulty adjusting to White House life when his staff quits, leaving him with a group of young interns.

Red Haven’s On Fire: Toby becomes the campaign manager for Sam’s campaign, following the president’s directive to the party, and tries to get him back into the mix. The First Lady tries to get more out of her office by hiring Amy Gardener, much to the chagrin of Josh. The crisis in Kundu and the new foreign policy contribute to political woes for the administration when personnel are captured in the Kundunese capitol.

Privateers: The First Lady tries to circumvent the budget process and White House staff in order to prevent a restrictive bill on women’s rights from passing. Meanwhile, newcomers Amy and Will commiserate on the difficulties of life in the White House and C.J. has to deal with a DAR benefit dinner for Zoey Bartlett where the First Lady may not be invited due to her ancestry.

Angel Maintenance: When Air Force One is stuck in the air, the staff continues to work while maintaining concern for the press’ coverage of flight difficulties. C.J. argues with reporters when she prevents them from calling to report the situation and Will grows closer to the president when he becomes his advisor on issues like the drug war. In Washington, Josh has to contend with party leadership when he is seen working on an environmental cleanup bill with a liberal Republican.

Evidence of Things Not Seen: During a slow night for the staff and an opportunity for frivolity with a poker game, the White House goes into “crash” mode when a gun man shoots at the White House. Josh interviews Joe Quincy (Matthew Perry) for an open legal counsel position and finds out that he is a Republican.

Life on Mars: Joe Quincy, newly hired as legal counsel to the president, has a busy first day when a confluence of events (a leaked report on legal settlements, a leaked story on classified Mars reports) leads to the belief that the vice president may be leaking information to the press. In the end, Quincy’s suspicions are correct and it is revealed the John Hoynes gave information to a reporter who he was having an affair with. Hoynes resigns despite the president and Leo’s insistence that they would help him through the situation.

Commencement: On the day of Zoey Bartlett’s college graduation, the president gives the commencement speech as written by Will Bailey. Charlie tries to reconcile his feelings for Zoey on the evening of her graduation, while Danny connects the dots on the Abdul Sharif assassination and lets C.J. and Leo know, to their chagrin. At the graduation party Zoey attends with her boyfriend Jean-Pierre, she is kidnaped despite Secret Service coverage. The haunting final sequence shows Leo running through the White House to find the president after hearing the news of Zoey’s kidnaping.

Twenty Five: The president and the staff deal with uncertainty surrounding Zoey’s captivity and Bartlett, unnerved by his uncertainty in the Situation Room, decides to invoke the 25th Amendment and allow the next in succession to temporarily take the presidency. Without a vice president, the position went to Republican House Speaker Walken (John Goodman) and the final scenes of the season include Walken telling Bartlett he was relieved of duty.

Special Features: On The West Wing, the importance of speech writing is made apparent by the fact that two of its central figures, Sam Seaborn and Toby Ziegler, are the president’s chief speech writers. As well, Aaron Sorkin goes to great lengths to illuminate the behind-the-scenes aspects of speeching writing, including a great feature in Season Four called The Letter of the Word. This special feature discusses how the real life presidential speech writers have fared and their influence upon the show.

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