So much of The West Wing happens at night—late at night. Long evenings with Leo and Bartlet in the Situation Room. Sam calling his father alone in his office. Josh and Amy’s impromptu trip to Tahiti in an apartment. Days are full of interrupting phone calls and brutal press conferences; the nights are reserved for what little “important” business hasn’t been taken care of. Clarity is elusive when you’re running the country and dealing with 100,000 things simultaneously, and it’s only after all of that shit has bounced around your brain for 12 hours that your mind can actually turn on, working the way it’s supposed to—proactively, not reactionary.
Anyway, you know how sometimes when you have a big problem looming over you, and you dream about suddenly solving it? Feels awesome, right? Catharsis dream FTW. Only you wake up and realize you haven’t actually solved anything; the problem’s still there, but now you have a mental taste of what it’ll be like when it’s no longer looming over your head. It’s both motivating and anxiety-provoking. Because it’s going to feel so good once you win that election or pass that bill. And it feels so sucky right now.
Not to get all psychological principle-happy on you (it’s becoming a trend in these recaps), but there’s one that I forget the name of, that essentially says that humans overthink how good something will feel that they’re looking forward to, always. On the flip side though, at least they also overthink how bad something will feel that they’re dreading. Ace that final exam? Sure, you’ll feel great, but not nearly as good as you think you’ll feel. Same goes with how down in the dumps you’ll be when, say, a relationship ends, or your cell phone gets stolen.
“Process Stories” is essentially this principle come to life. The election is over, Bartlet has won. And damn if it doesn’t feel good. He’s spreading caviar on crackers for his beautiful wife as if he doesn’t have a care in the world, getting ready to make sweet love to her for what feels like hours, but is actually…yeah it’s hours. (The guy has mastered the art of foreplay.) There’s a party raging in CJs office too, if by raging you mean that a few red scarves have been placed atop lights so it looks like what a hormonal college boy would imagine is “sexy.” Amy shows up to the White House wearing a dress that leaves Josh Lyman, the most verbose human in all of television, literally speechless. Will Bailey has pulled off the impossible: He’s won an election for a Democrat in California’s 47th—and his candidate wasn’t even alive. And because it’s nighttime, these events can all be fully appreciated and processed; there’s relatively less going on than there normally might be.
And so we get to Sam Seaborn, staring down the barrel of the gun that might end his career in politics. He made a promise to the widow Wilde that he would be the candidate should Bailey pull off a miracle, and thanks to a confluence of events nobody could have predicted, Bailey did it. So now he has the distinct pleasure of looking at his own face on television, horrified, rushing into CJ’s office to watch her, Toby, and Josh take in the news for the first time. And to their credit, they take it in stride. It’s been a long day. They might not have the capacity to handle yet another thing that demands their 100 percent attention. They just wonder if the president is going to endorse him, and politely listen as Sam runs down all the reasons why he did it, and all the reasons why he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to actually carry out his promise.
There are a lot of tired people in “Process Stories.” Bartlet is in his bedroom asking Abbey who her Commander In Chief is, walking her through all the states he was able to win in the middle of the country and the South, attempting to woo the pants off her. And Abbey, to her credit, listens, but you can tell she’s about to nod off at any moment, and probably wishes he’d just get on with it already. Though she lets him have his moment to gloat, as does Jordan as she dances with Leo outside the office, listening to the same facts Abbey’s enduring in another part of the White House. Cut to the party, now slowed to the pace of a wine-and-cheese type gathering, and Bruno is talking to a pretty woman all about the “plain states” Bartlet was able to win. It’s the most calm I’ve ever seen Bruno. Clearly, this kind of thing is old hat—the last step of a process he’s done before. When CJ pulls him aside and lets him know Chris Whitaker, some pollster, is claiming credit for his energy strategy, he can’t even get the name right, let alone lift so much as a finger to care. He just wants to talk to Ashley. It’s the kind of conversation you might have with someone you woke up in the middle of the night just to say there’s a leaky faucet.
Leo’s also roused from his slumber, but for something legitimately scary: There’s about to be a coup in Venezuela, and he, new guy Jack Reese, Jigsaw from the Saw movies, and “some other guys” have to take immediate action.
But first, an important side note. I think Christian Slater is kind of a chatch. I interviewed him once for some stupid show that I don’t even remember (nor does anyone else in America), and he was so patronizing and unkind to me that now whenever I see him on screen, I wonder how it’s possible anyone could find him charismatic or likable. I am literally the only person who feels this way, as that Christian Slater sure is popular on those “television programs.” Plus, this show was shot years before I ever came in contact with him, and you know, maybe I caught him on a bad day or something. Whatever the case, even though it’s sweet that Donna takes out her tool kit and wrenches up his broken radiator, part of me watches that scene and thinks, “Why is she doing that for that douche?” I know, it’s silly. I’m going to try and soldier, like when I got sick eating Chipotle so I had an aversion to it for a really long time. I FORCED MYSELF TO LOVE THAT PLACE AGAIN (it was not fun eating all those meals)!
Anyway, there’s about to be a coup in Venezuela. Leo handles in stride. He dances more with Jordan. Something something Christian Slater.
Speaking of the luster wearing off, Andy is realizing that she has to issue a statement about her pregnancy as soon as possible. She put it off long enough; she won her district in Maryland by 85 percent, but not only is she completely sober, she’s worn out and finally ready to listen to Toby’s concerns. Not only that, but Toby has finally found the courage to tell the Bartlets about the pregnancy. Sure, he has to do it very late at night and almost as an afterthought, but he does it anyway. The night on The West Wing is not only a time for clarity, but also a time to sneak in something important when it has the potential to really, truly be heard.
It’s no surprise that the team comes around to the idea of a Sam Seaborn candidacy in California’s 47th. The election math doesn’t make sense for everyone (well, just Toby), but Sam points to an election in Manhattan where the crazy non-Democrat candidate ran solely to voice opinions, not even caring about winning. “I came this close to voting for him,” Sam recalls. Because if we’ve learned anything about elections over the last few episodes, they’re not about winning.
“The process matters more than the outcome, and that’s what we wanted,” Leo says to Jordan before they dance under the moonlight. And because he said it after the madness had subsided, you know he not only means it, but he truly believes it in that moment. And it feels good—maybe not as good as he thought it would; maybe Toby and Sam finally getting their secrets out doesn’t feel as good, or as bad, as they thought, either—but it’s out there. The night forced it out of them.