amadi: Text icon reading: "You want to tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing?" (Tempt the Wrath)
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Episode 1x14: Take This Sabbath Day

Read the Transcript Here

This episode has one major focus: the death penalty.

The blurb from IMDb:
A drug dealer's appeal of the federal death penalty is rejected by the Supreme Court, which upholds the death sentence with execution scheduled for the following Monday. One of the defense lawyers on the case is Sam's old high school bully, and he appeals directly to Sam to involve the president. During a weekend in which he was supposed to be in a yacht race, Sam opts to stay at the W.H. and try to convince his fellow staffers and ultimately Bartlet that the president should commute the sentence. Meanwhile Josh, after a night of heavy drinking at a bachelor party, meets congressional campaign manager Joey Lucas while is hung over. She assails him for having the DNC cut off funding for her candidate, but the decision was deliberate, as the W.H. likes the conservative nutjob currently holding the Calif. seat. Opinions on the death penalty are exchanged throughout the weekend, including those of Quaker Joey Lucas and Toby's rabbi, and Bartlet winds up calling both the Pope and his old parish priest from N.H. for counsel.

Summary: We open on a Friday evening, in the hearing room of the Supreme Court of the United States, where the justices deny the last appeal, and last minute appeal, of a prisoner on federal death row. He is to be executed at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning. The prisoner's three attorneys look like, well, like their client has just been given two days to live. In the hallway, there's a flurry of discussion: who do they know at the White House? One has the answer: Sam Seaborn. He used to beat Sam up in high school. He thinks Sam will take his call.

At the White House, Josh is trying to make his escape in order to get to a bachelor party. Donna reminds him that he cannot hold his liquor. He visits with Sam, who rooks Josh into a meeting with the manager of a campaign, "some guy" named Joey Lucas. Sam is going off to sail, "totally cut off" from the White House. He goes back and forth, take the pager and cell phone, don't take the pager and cell phone. He leaves them, and walks out on as his desk phone begins to ring. Then he walks back in and answers.

Cue credits.

The defense attorney, comes to see Sam for a White House corridor walk and talk. Is the client, a guy named Simon Cruz, guilty? Turns out he is: he killed two drug "kingpins." But the attorney says it's irrelevant, and quotes Justice Blackmun from 1994:
From this day forward, I shall no longer tinker with the machinery of death. I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed.
The attorney is strident in demanding that the President must have this matter on his desk immediately. The President is flying back from Stockholm at the moment. The attorney demands: give this to the President first thing in the morning to review the case. Unless the President commutes the sentence, Simon Cruz will die by lethal injection in roughly 50 hours.

Sam says he'll pass the matter up to Toby. Will Toby put this on the President's desk first thing in the morning? No, Toby will be at temple first thing in the morning. What temple? Sam doesn't know, one on Delaware, he thinks? The attorney strides off. Sam looks perplexed but tries to head off for his sailing weekend. He sees Leo on the way out. Leo notes that their Justice Department briefing indicated that the case would be sent back to a lower court, but the SCOTUS had other plans. It's now up to the President to decide if he wants to intervene, and neither Leo or Sam thinks that he really does. It's politically sensitive and it would've been best handled in the judiciary. Nevertheless, Leo will talk to him first thing in the morning, and Sam promises to brief Toby on the details so that he and Leo can conference. As Sam is leaving, Leo stops him. Why is the execution scheduled for Monday morning? Sam clues him in: executions don't happen between Friday sundown and Sunday sundown.
Leo: Why?
Sam: Hard as it is to believe...
Leo: (incredulously) You're kidding me?
Sam: No.
Leo: We don't execute people on the sabbath.
Sam: No.
Leo: Well that's about the most bizarre thing I've ever heard.
Sam: Leo I think you're going to find as you go through this weekend, there's virtually no part of this discussion that isn't bizarre.
Sam doesn't leave, instead he starts looking up case law.


Donna opens Josh's door to find him snoring on the floor. He has some item of lingerie around his neck, he's dirty, smelly, reeks of booze and is hungover. Donna promises to find him clean clothes to wear, and reminds him of his meeting.

Out at Andrews, Air Force One has landed and C.J. and the President are deplaning, and bickering. Leo is there to meet them. Apparently the President was fixated on fjords through the flight. C.J. and the President resume their bickering, and Charlie whispers to Leo: "It was quite a trip." Leo, who's about to relay the Cruz matter to the President mutters that it's not over yet.

A picturesque snowy exterior of the White House takes us back to Josh and Donna. She offers him the only clothes she can find: the foul weather gear from Sam's sailing bag, and cajoles him into it. He grumbles that he'll look like the Gorton's fisherman.

We move to an ornately decorated temple, where the rabbi steps to the bimah and notes that Passover will begin soon, and with it comes certain lessons. As the rabbi speaks, a pager goes off, and we see that it belongs to Toby. As he works his way out of the sanctuary, the rabbi continues his sermon:
Rabbi: Violence begets violence. Vengeance is not Jewish.
Toby calls Sam from the corridor, irritated that his worship has been interrupted. Sam asks "is your rabbi giving a sermon on capital punishment?" Toby listens in:
Rabbi: No matter how deep our desire to witness the suffering of our enemies, we are commanded to relocate our humanity. Vengeance is not Jewish.
Yes, he is. Toby is about to head back to the White House, but before he can, he interrupts the service by knocking over a stack of metal folding chairs. Toby's life, so very hard.

Josh's office door slams open. "Are you the unmitigated jackass who has the DNC choking off funding for the O'Dwyer campaign in the California 46th?" A man is speaking, but it's Joey Lucas asking, standing in front of Josh's desk, hands moving emphatically as she signs at him. Josh is confused, to say the very least.
Josh: What in God's name is happening right now?
Joey: (signing) & Interpreter: (speaking) I'm Joey Lucas!
Josh: (to the interpreter) You're Joey Lucas?
Joey: (signing) & Interpreter: (speaking) NO, I'm Joey Lucas!
Josh: Help me, 'cause I don't...
Joey: (speaking aloud) You idiot, I'm Joey Lucas!
Josh: Oh. Uh. Okay! I'm Josh Lyman.
Joey: (signing) & Interpreter: (speaking) I know who you are!
Josh: You're Joey Lucas?
Joey is not a woman to be trifled with and she is angry but she'll have to wait. Donna's back with Josh's clothes and she informs him that Sam's there because the appeal's been denied.

Toby's arrived, and he's trying to figure out why there was a sermon written especially for him. Sam gives him the brief on the case. The two are joined by Mandy and Josh for a brief discussion of what to do next. Toby is pretty sure that the President will not commute the sentence. He's also steamed at Sam for disclosing where he goes to temple, but that's a fight for another time.

In the residence, Leo is briefing a very uncertain President, who asks Charlie to arrange for his parish priest from New Hampshire to come to the White House -- from the President's personal funds, not White House money. Also? He'd like to talk to the Pope. (It's good to be President.) And he has a question for Charlie.
President Barlet: What happened to the guy who shot your mother?
Charlie: They haven't found him yet, Sir.
Barlet: If they did, would you want to see him executed? Killing a police officer is a capital crime, I figure you must have thought about it.
Charlie: Yes, Sir.
Bartlet: And?
Charlie: I wouldn't want to see him executed, Mr. President. I'd want to do it myself.Barlet: Yeah.
There's a lot of thinking for the President to do.

Joey Lucas isn't done venting on Josh. Her candidate is running against a conservative Republican who has been in office for 30 years and stands for everything the Bartlet administration vehemently opposes. She can't understand why the DNC has stopped funding her guy. Josh informs her that they want the Republican right where he is, because every time he opens his mouth, the DNC can use the preposterous things he says to raise a lot of cash. Joey is incensed; she wants to see the President. Josh insults her in his refusal to even suggest that she gets to see the President -- right as the President steps into Josh's office. Over Josh's objections, the President offers to take Joey on a little tour of the White House.

Inquiring about the origins of Joey's name, the President learns that she's a Quaker. He invites her into the Oval Office, and asks her what she thinks about the Cruz case. She suggests that the President should stay the execution. The state shouldn't kill people. Great thinkers of the past were pro-death penalty, but they weren't from this century. That a majority of Americans are in favor of the death penalty is a political problem, but the question of actually using it is not political. "I'm a politician," the President reminds her. Before leaving, Joey pleads her case with the president on behalf of her candidate. She's rebuffed. Her guy, the President tells her, is an empty shirt. Oops. Dismissed.

Title Card: SUNDAY MORNING 9:10 A.M.

Toby is back at temple to talk with his rabbi, who explains why he wrote the sermon, as a cantor practices a mournful song in the background, preparing for a funeral. The rabbi and attorney hoped that Toby would take the sabbath day to consider his position on Simon Cruz. Toby argues that he doesn't help shape policy, that he can't tell the President that "vengeance is not Jewish." The rabbi asks pointedly "why not?" They have a back and forth about the Torah versus modern thinking, but the rabbi has been persuasive.

Mandy and C.J. talk about the process of a lethal injection, and both admit their ambivalence in the case of Simon Cruz. He's a killer. Whether he lives or dies is not a big deal to either of them on a personal level, but C.J. is bothered by her knowledge of Cruz's biographical details, and having to be the one who reports to the President when the deed is done. It makes the abstract a little too real for her. Like Toby and Bartlet, she's conflicted.

Title Card: SUNDAY 6:15 P.M.

Toby comes to the Oval Office, telling the President about his experience in temple. They talk about the history of executions in Jewish law. He tells the President that executions should be impossible. Leo comes in to talk, and they poke at the political and constitutional implications of a commutation. Sam wants his turn with the President but Leo denies him, saying that the President has made up his mind, and venting at Sam for how the White House "bungled" the matter. If it had been up to Leo, the President would've stayed in Stockholm over the weekend and the matter would never have been his to deal with at all.

Josh meets Joey at her hotel to apologize on the President's behalf for being rude about her candidate the day before, but to point out that he is a schmuck. Joey agrees, but says that she has to do her job. Josh tells her that the President thinks that she should be running for office.

Back in the Oval, Bartlet is watching the snow fall as he prays with his rosary. His priest arrives, and gives Bartlet some grief for his decision not to commute the sentence. Bartlet says that he prayed for wisdom, but none arrived, as he notes that it's midnight. The priest tells a parable about the many different ways God answers prayers, and notes that the President had a priest, a Quaker and a rabbi all giving him direction. C.J. enters and informs the President that the execution is complete. Responding to an offer from his priest, the President kneels on the Presidential Seal on the rug in the center of the Oval and offers his confession.

  1. Did the President seem really conflicted over the advice he was given, or was he just being a politician, as he told Joey?
  2. This episode marks one of the strongest representations of the occasional intermingling of religion and the work of the administration. How does that come across?
  3. Another woman, another instance of Josh being a jackass. Was he totally over the line with Joey Lucas because that's Josh, or was it the booze in his "delicate system" doing the talking?
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