quinfirefrorefiddle: CJ leaning on a couch. (West Wing: CJ)
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The Crackpots and These Women- Transcript!

Blurb from IMDB: On the series' first "Big Block of Cheese" Day (nicknamed "Total Crackpot Day" by Josh), staffers meet with reps of various organizations causes, e.g., C.J. hosts a group that wants $900 million for a "wolves only" highway. The president has everyone to the residence for a homemade chili party, we learn about Mrs. Landingham's past, and Zoey is introduced to the group, including Charlie, for whom the intro soon becomes fateful.

Summary:

Toby, Josh, Charlie and the President are playing basketball with some other guys (Ed and Larry in the background?)- and Josh and Charlie are a little concerned about accidentally giving him a heart attack.  Bartlet insists on playing, and Toby, in the midst of some fairly polite trash talking, says the poets will write of Bartlet that “he had the tools for greatness but the voices of his better angels were shouted down by his obsessive need to win.”  Bartlet then shows how good it is to be President by calling in a ringer (played by Juwan Howard, of the Portland Trail Blazers) and hiding behind him- and, I think for a moment, sniffing his armpit?  And apparently he has a history of doing this kind of thing.  (Toby and CJ playing Bartlet and Steffi Graf in mixed doubles would have been hilarious to watch, though.)

Opening credits.

Very pretty establishing shot of DC at dawn.  Donna and Josh are walking and talking and Josh uses the phrase “local gomers” to describe Donna's dates for what may be the first time in the series (he is so jealous) and Donna puts him neatly in his place.  Josh wanders off to Staff and is met by CJ who wants him to read about smallpox.  They enter the Roosevelt Room.

And it's the Big Block of Cheese Day!  This is apparently the third time that they've done it in a year, despite Leo's ultimate goal of having it every month.  For those playing along at home who are new at this sort of thing, the senior staff meets with folks from groups who wouldn't ordinarily have access to them- and the staff is not thrilled about this.  Sam is looking forward to listening for a minute, giving them a souvenir pen and sending them on their way.

Leo walks in and gives the BBOCD speech about Andrew Jackson and cheese.  Or he would, if everyone would stop interrupting him.  After making some threats, they finally calm down and get their assignments.  Josh calls it “Total Crackpot Day” and Leo smacks him as he walks Josh to his office where he's met by a strange guy in a suit who hands him a card.  Josh now has access to the secret nuclear bunkers in case of an attack on Washington- and his naivete at apparently thinking that all of his coworkers do as well is... well, very Josh-like.  And freaked out, he leaves the room.

Commercial break.

There's a nice reference to Helen Thomas as Sam, Leo, Toby, Mandy, Mrs. Landingham and the President are practicing for a press conference.  They're talking about the economy, and it's so boring that Mandy comments on it.  The President does not want to talk about guns, and is not happy with Toby.  Josh is standing at the doorway, staring blankly at his friends.  CJ enters as Bartlet yells at Toby, who wants to make a stir about an apparently useless gun bill they just passed.  Mandy tell him why that would be stupid and nobody listens to her.

Sam leaves for a cheese appointment and everybody admits how unimportant the press conference is.  Sam enters his appointment with the United States Space Command guy, who we'll see again in a season or two, and they chat about UFOs.  Also, the First Lady apparently has a Ouija board.  The USSC guy scares the crap out of Sam with a story about a current UFO but he sort of manages to hide it.  Sam gives him a pen.

Mandy and CJ are talking about fundraisers in Hollywood while wandering through the bullpen.  CJ got accidentally pushed into a pool at one and is not happy at the thought.  Leo and Bartlet are talking with some guys about the budget and Bartlet does his “I'm an economist” act, and Zoey is coming to dinner.  Which means that it's time for Bartlet to make chili- and I get the feeling that that was going to be an ongoing thing for him, but I don't think it ever happened again.  And it turns out that Bartlet makes up numbers when he feels like it.  The staff is not thrilled about the chili news, but they can fake it when scared for their jobs.

There's a staff meeting about their upcoming trip to California, with a side order of violence on TV and whether they should care.  Toby does, Mandy doesn't, and Sam only wants good movies.  The President can't seem to bring himself to care but sort of sides with Sam.  Which leads to this exchange:

Toby: ...If I were an actor or a writer or uh, uh, uh, a producer in Hollywood and someone were to start coming at me with lists of things that were American and un-American I'd start to think that this was sounding eerily familiar.
Bartlet: Do I look like Joe McCarthy to you, Toby?
Toby: No, sir. Nobody ever looks like Joe McCarthy. That's how they get in the door in the first place.

 And honestly I'm pretty sure that Bartlet wasn't actually suggesting censorship, but I like Toby's line, so I'll let that go.  Also, lots of people look like Joe McCarthy these days, but this was filmed in a sunnier time.  The meeting closes, and Sam asks Josh if he's okay- Josh is still freaked out about the card, and Sam is freaked about the UFO.  Josh finds out that Sam doesn't have a card after a weird conversation about their respective assistants which involves both mentioning the concept of them being naked and comparing them to being younger sisters... which is mildly creepy.  And Josh is totally blown away by knowing Sam doesn't have one.

Commercial break.

CJ is learning about wolves from her BBOCD appointment, and they are a LOT more serious about it than she is.  They want to build a road for wolves, and CJ is skeptical and also apparently really loves ranchers.  They do have a nice little moment of silence for the dead wolf, though.  And as they move on to talk about grizzlies, Mandy knocks on Toby's door.

Mandy wants to not fight, and neither does Toby.  And as a compliment, she offers that she's glad David Rosen passed on the Communications Director job because Toby's better than Rosen would have been.  This is clearly the first time Toby's heard about anyone else being offered the job- and he's ticked.  CJ was apparently unaware that Rosen was offered it.

Josh is having an appointment with his therapist- no, not that therapist, that comes next season.  Josh is freaked about the idea of a smallpox epidemic and is humming the Ave Maria- because his sister Joanie used to play it a lot.  This all links back to the card he was given and the idea of his outliving his friends in the event of an apocalypse- just like he survived the house fire when he was a kid and Joanie didn't.  He's evasive and his thoughts wander a lot and he accidentally mentions his sister- it's all very standard Josh neuroses that we'll get used to as the show continues.  The therapist finally manages to get Josh to tell the story of Joanie's death, apparently for the first time.

Commercial break.

It's nighttime, and Josh is listening to the Ave Maria in his office.  CJ knocks and invites him to chili.  And Josh tells her about the card, and how Sam and Toby and she didn't have one.  “I didn't want to be friends with you and have you not know.”  And CJ is touched, but kind of thinks he's an idiot.  Also, she's Catholic, and bemused by Josh's obsession with the music.  Josh describes the end of the world by smallpox, and CJ shakes it off and invites him back to chili again.

Bartlet is having fun a the chili party and lecturing Sam on the fundamentals of basketball.  CJ is telling stories about how cool wolves are.  There's nice jazz in the background, it's all very familial.  Toby approaches Bartlet and they talk about Rosen, and Bartlet admits he's an idiot for having wanted Rosen in the first place, and Leo and Josh were in Toby's corner all the time.  And Bartlet brings up the “better angels” comment and admits Toby was right- and Toby says for the first time in a long while, the US might have a President who has a fair fight between the them and the demons.

Zoey and Josh have a very big-brother/little-sister conversation and Josh introduces Charlie to her, and he calls her ma'am- he's very sweet.  And she corrupts him into revolution and messing with the chili.  Go Zoey!

Leo and the President wonder at the marvelous-ness of the women present- particularly CJ, Mandy and Mrs. Landingham.  I'm a little bothered by the comparison of CJ to a fifties movie star- but any capable assertive redheaded woman is going to get compared to Katharine Hepburn at some point, and CJ's sense of humor does sort of match those movies.  This all turns out to be a lead up to Josh handing back his NSC card:

Josh: I serve at the pleasure of the President, and it's a great privilege that I will never forget. I can't keep this. I think it's a white flag of surrender. I want to be a comfort to my friends in tragedy. And I want to be able to celebrate with them in triumph. And for all the times in between, I just want to be able to look them in the eye. Leo, it's not for me. I want to be with my friends, my family, and these women.

And Leo and Bartlet pat him on the back.  The episode closes with Bartlet making a warm and fuzzy speech- one of my favorites.
 
Bartlet: Uh, excuse me! Thank you. Uh, friends, please... Well, chili's ready and I hope you all enjoy it. In fact, since I told you you would enjoy it, I'm reasonably certain that you will.

You know, of course, the first lady's in Pakistan. I'm not entirely sure why, but I have learned it's a pretty good idea not to ask my wife too many questions as it seldom leads to anything but further confusion. I miss her very much, but I'm delighted our beautiful daughter, Zoey is here. You know, she's starting Georgetown in the spring. This, prior to medical school and a life of celibacy.

It's an incredible adventure you're starting on, sweetheart. An amazing four years full of people and experiences you haven't yet dreamed of. And if you will allow me just one minute of business, please. I hope that by the time we're done with our four years here, we'll have seen to it that every young person who chooses can go to college and beyond, regardless of their economic status.

I understand that today was another one of Leo's 'big block of cheese' days! You all start out so cynical, but it never fails. By the end of the day, there's always one or two converts, right? And today was no exception. C.J. Cregg is gonna be up all night writing a position paper for the interior department on the necessity of wildlife protection.  C.J., I don't mind the cost of this wolves-only highway. It's the segregation. The ACLU is gonna file a petition on behalf of some reindeer and then we're all screwed.

Sam Seaborn had a guy who spotted a UFO today, am I right? Sam laughed him out of his office, but you've been thinking about it ever since. But you can rest assured, Sam. It was not a spaceship from another planet, just another time. A long since abandoned Soviet satellite, one of its booster rockets didn't fire and it couldn't escape the earth's orbit--a sad reminder of a time when two powerful nations challenged each other and then boldly raced into outer space.

What will be the next thing that challenges us, Toby? That makes us work harder and go farther? You know, when smallpox was eradicated, it was considered the single greatest humanitarian achievement of this century. Surely, we can do it again. As we did in the time when our eyes looked towards the heavens, and with outstretched fingers, we touched the face of God.

Here's to absent friends, and the ones that are here now.


Questions:
1. This is really the first view we get of Josh's childhood trauma. How does finding out about this now change how we view him? How do the writers use it to explain his behavior as the show continues?
2. What do you think about the treatment of women in this episode, particularly the last scene? Is it condescending, or standard for the time which Bartlet and Leo grew up, or something else? How does Josh's own treatment of women- Donna specifically- resonate with you, especially as he's a generation younger than Leo and Bartlet?
3. What do you think of the balance of drama and comedy in this episode? The juxtaposition of the "crackpots" and apocalypse is... well, unusual.
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