“Stirred”/"Enemies Foreign And Domestic” (season 3, episodes 18-19; originally aired April 3, 2002 and May 1, 2002)
Hoynes reveals his alcoholism to the president as the team seeks his replacement; CJ’s remarks require Secret Service intervention.
The truth is hard to come by on The West Wing, especially during an election year. Last week, I talked about how the truth became hard to discern, since often people on the show don’t know if they’re speaking to someone as an elected official or as just a person. So, very often, truth is couched in subtext. There’s been a noticeable shift this season, as more and more characters are becoming comfortable voicing their true opinions, no matter whom they might anger, including the president himself. In short, the characters can handle the truth. Or, in the parlance of last year’s best film, The Tooth Fairy, they can handle the tooth.
It’s painful, then, to watch a scene like the one in “Enemies Foreign And Domestic” where CJ is asked about the situation in Saudi Arabia that broke earlier that day. See, a group of 17 girls wasn’t allowed to leave a burning building, nor was anyone allowed to enter and rescue them, because they weren’t dressed properly. Was CJ outraged, every reporter wanted to know?
“Outraged? I'm barely surprised. This is a country where women aren't allowed to drive a car. They're not allowed to be in the company of any man other than a close relative; they're required to adhere to a dress code that would make the Maryknoll Nun look like Malibu Barbie. They beheaded 121 people last year for robbery, rape, and drug trafficking; they've no free press, no elected government, no political parties, and the royal family allows the religious police to travel in groups of six, carrying nightsticks, and they freely and publicly beat women. But 'Brutus is an honorable man.' Seventeen schoolgirls were forced to burn alive because they weren't wearing the proper clothing. Am I outraged? No, Steve. No Chris. No, Mark. That is Saudi Arabia, our partners in peace.”
So touching, so brutally honest, so CJ. So much so that she starts receiving death threats, and now a Secret Service officer is following her around.
This is the age we live in, and it doesn’t change much on The West Wing. Words are still misinterpreted. Facts are skewed. Crazy people are usually the vocal ones.
At least in “Stirred” we can pretend that’s not the case for a brief moment. Hoynes finds himself at the center of the episode, which is the first time that’s happened in quite a while. And like most figures on this show, the episode portrays his public and private sides. It doesn’t get much more private than the way he behaves at his AA meeting at the top of the episode. He’d originally invited Leo to the meeting, and now, people are starting to become wary of Leo’s presence, since the world knows about his alcoholism and might suspect the people he “plays cards” with are also alcoholics—hence, no more “anonymous.” Hoynes, however, insists that Leo stays.
Hoynes gets a bad rap. Most of what we’ve seen of the vice president has been one antagonistic angry exchange with the president, followed by another antagonistic angry exchange with one of his staffers. They talk about him as an asset when it’s convenient, a burden when he’s not. From what I know about the VP so far, he was a man with grand ambitions to be president, who settled on VP because a man he doesn’t like beat him by lying to the country. I can understand if he’s just a little resentful.
“Stirred” shines new light on the vice president, and it begins with the Leo thing. Hoynes puts the needs of a fellow alcoholic before the political needs of those in the room and is willing to put even his own secrecy on the line. Later, Sam sits with Hoynes to work out a bill Hoynes proposed: $58 million toward getting computers with Internet access into low-income homes. He feels so passionate about the bill, actually, that when Sam reveals that the only way to pass the bill would be for Hoynes to take his name off of it—to forfeit taking credit—Hoynes agrees. Of course, what we all know (including Hoynes, it turns out) is that a few conference rooms over, the team is legitimately considering replacing Hoynes on the Bartlet ticket.
So the question of the episode becomes: Is Hoynes suddenly acting selflessly to keep his position, or is it his farewell address of sorts? From all I’ve come to know about Hoynes, he’s somewhat bitter about being the vice president but grateful in a way because the title could increase his chances of running for president himself once Bartlet’s done. So I guess it’s a little of column A and a little of column B: He’s probably given up on trying to please the president or anyone who’s watching him, so he’s just doing what he can, however he can, whenever he can. He’s decided to be selfless for himself, not the president, and this isn’t so much farewell as it’s an action to prove to himself that he’s still got it. Hoynes is looking out for Hoynes, but weirdly, it’s not selfish.
For the first time in the series, The West Wing is teasing the side of Hoynes that probably attracted Bartlet to the man in the first place. Not just his stats or the states he can bring in during campaigns but the caliber of the man he is. It’s fitting that the moments is happening counter to discussions about his replacement (namely Fitzwallace), which take place entirely in the logical, math-based realm. It doesn’t matter who the person is, only that they can carry specific states the Republican nominee won’t have locked down. This is a cause put upon the team by Bruno, who doesn’t listen to his gut, only his projections. He’s the Nate Silver of The West Wing, in that he comes up with formulas to tabulate things that shouldn’t ever be tabulated by formulas, like how people feel about a person and whatnot. Thus is the way elections are run: quantifying the qualitative.
“Stirred” puts a lot of that in the background. Instead, it’s about what characters do when the chips are down, and Hoynes handles himself wonderfully—leading to a joyful exchange with Bartlet, where the two reveal they like and respect each other more than they give off. And though much of the episode focuses on Hoynes’ legacy, it’s also about Bartlet coming to grips with his own mortality. He performs a ton of nice gestures throughout the episode: First, he helps Charlie file an income tax return (also purchasing the entertainment center that Charlie felt screwed out of by the IRS), then he calls Donna’s teacher, retiring after many years, to thank her for a job well done. At first, I just thought this was Bartlet being Bartlet, but then the episode shows us what Bartlet meant, via a piece of paper he hands Hoynes—paper that also spells out why Hoynes should stick around. “Because I could die,” it says.
“Enemies Foreign And Domestic” is centered around an equally dark realization—that CJ is in real danger because of what she said in a press briefing room—but manages to find a ton of heart and unexpected joy. The president is planning a trip to Russia, and before he arrives, Sam is working out the details with the Russian ambassador in the White House. Most of it’s pretty innocent, like whether or not the president should wear his coat (if he doesn’t, it makes the Russian president look “frumpy”). In the other room, though, Fitzwallace is briefing the president on an escalating situation: Satellites have picked up a heavy water reactor being built in Iran, using Russian technology. Now the president has to decide whether or not to go to Russia at all, since he doesn’t want to condone the leasing of such plutonium-building technology.
But Sam discovers something wonderful. In the end of negotiations, the ambassador presents Sam with a document to have the president sign, and it reads, “Together in partnership, we must stem the tide of nuclear proliferation, for why should our two nations still possess the power to destroy themselves 10 times over; surely once is enough.” That’s fine, but it’s full of idioms; the president of Russia knows them, not his lackey. “Wait a second! Hang on… you're telling me that foreign policy of this magnitude is conducted through Sam, and I'm still alive?” Fitzwallace wonders. The message is loud and clear: Everything is going to be okay, and it arrived in code, which is pretty awesome. It’s the second nuclear scare in two episodes, and at least this one suddenly feels far less realized.
Then, right after the president has a dreadfully serious meeting in his office that could determine the start of an all-out war, he’s taking pictures with a man who wrote Franklin Roosevelt a letter as a kid but never received a response. The guy who holds the nuclear launch codes can also fulfill the dreams of a little boy, now all grown up.
It’s not that one leads to the other, but there’s a duality to “Enemies Foreign And Domestic” that can be applied to all its key players. CJ is a hero in America for saying what she believes in, but she’s now scared for her life. She can stubbornly refuse the Secret Service because it might make her look weak (and she doesn’t think a man in her position would be treated so sensitively), but it’s the Secret Service that’s enabled her to do her job this whole time. “Well, I guess it’s going to have to be the little things now,” she says at the end of the episode, meaning that although her job deals in broad strokes, it’s now about the tiniest minutiae.
Both “Stirred” and “Enemies Foreign And Domestic” are about acceptance. Things are the way they are for a reason. Hoynes is the vice president because he’s always been the vice president, and there’s no one else who should be. There are two Bartlets, and there always will be. Actions, especially public ones, have repercussions. And the sooner characters on The West Wing accept how things are going to be, the sooner they get to the truth, but the process makes for some incredible fuckin’ TV.
- “It’s one of my five number one priorities.”
- I’ll never think of “shaken, not stirred” the same way again.
- “When is it not an election year?”
- Interesting to see the men in the White House button up their jackets before entering the Oval Office—even Leo, the president’s closest friend.
- As soon as Bartlet mentions the speech FDR gave, Charlie pauses, bracing himself for what comes next.
- Also interesting: Sam says he thinks the Russian president is trying to send a message. The president agrees, then everyone else does. Since when did the team become a bunch of yes men?