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'The West Wing' newbie recap: They execute sorcerers, don’t they?

Season 1 | Episode 7 | “The State Dinner” | Aired Nov 10, 1999

“The State Dinner” is all about the couples. Some good, some bad. Some platonic, some romantic. Some supportive, some destructive. All bumping into each other and spreading ripples that nudge the decisions and actions in this episode.

Mandy is on the previouslies. Ugh, is this a Mandy episode? And reporter Danny is on the previouslies. Yay, is this a Danny episode?

We open on C.J. talking about the First Lady’s fashion choices for that night’s state dinner with the Indonesian president. HOLY COW, IS THIS A FIRST LADY EPISODE?

As with most episodes, this one is full of plotlines: a hurricane threatening the coast, a looming Teamsters strike and an armed standoff at a survivalist compound in Idaho. And, as C.J. wryly points out, the media is only interested in the First Lady’s shoes.

Donna, meanwhile, is concerned about Indonesia’s alleged practice of executing suspected sorcerers with a scythe (aka “that thing that death carries”). Josh blows off her concerns, as he blows off most of them.

Leo is overseeing the final negotiations between labor and management to head off a crippling trucking strike. He chastises a Teamster for saying “crap,” which is my favorite thing in this episode, and then gives them until midnight to work it out. He also tells the President that in light of the impending hurricane, standard procedure is to move a battle carrier group from Norfolk Naval Yard out to sea to get them out of the way of the storm. The President approves.

Danny, the ginger reporter, corners C.J. after her presser and asks C.J. what she’s wearing to the state dinner. For the first time all episode, she’s flustered. Listen, I know that he’s a reporter and she’s a flack, but I like them together. I shouldn’t because it could be horribly compromising for them both, but the heart wants what the heart wants. (In this case, I’m referring to my heart, of course.)

Now, on to a much more troublesome couple. Sam is having lunch with Laurie, the high-price call girl. She gripes about having only an hour to finish her assigned reading before class (then why did you agree to meet him for lunch, dummy?), and Sam is still needling her about her “clients.” To recap: She’s annoyed by his presence, and he’s horrified by her job. This seems like a healthy relationship.

Laurie tells Sam that she’s got a “date” tonight, but she doesn’t know where he’s taking her. Welp, I bet this is a storyline that will absolutely not come up again in this episode, nosiree. Nothing to see here.

Speaking of terrible couples, Mandy and Josh are flirt-squabbling. It’s tiresome. But the situation is tense: The President is hearing from advisers who want an aggressive end to the standoff with the armed civilians in Idaho. Mandy alone advocates for a more measured approach with the use of a negotiator.

Bartlet eventually sides with Mandy, and this somehow turns into Josh being miffed that Mandy has the President’s ear, which makes no sense because he’s the one who offered her the job. Are … are we supposed to be shipping them? They’re awful together. How did the show not immediately see that it’s all about Josh and Donna?

Speaking of adorable couples, she’s tying Josh’s bow tie and talking more about sorcerer executions. You guys, Josh is in TAILS. (So’s everyone else, but Josh! Bow tie! TAILS!)

Josh and Donna

First Lady in the house! Stockard Channing is fantastic, schmoozing and laughing and thrusting the single C.J. at an eligible cardiologist who’s a guest at the state dinner. When Abbey and the President finally have a chance to speak privately, it’s our first glimpse of how they work as a couple. Naturally, they’re dynamite. In just a few short scenes, we see that they have a marriage of equals, with her as his anchor, sounding board and glass of cold water to the face, when necessary.

C.J. and Danny are also edging into coupley territory when he finds her in her office during the dinner, preparing press briefings. In C.J. fashion, she’s direct with him: “When you flirt with me, are you doing it to get a story?”

No, he responds: “I’m doing it to flirt with you.” Then he tells her he likes her dress. His eyes are crinkly and sincere, and I’m now team “let’s throw press ethics out the window” for life.

Back at the dinner, Leo brings over a bigwig to meet Toby, Josh and Sam. And you will never guess who the bigwig’s date is. No really, just try. Just try to guess.

It’s Laurie, the high-price call girl.

shocked_donna_doctor

I know. Contain your shock.

Sam looks like he just watched someone throw a bald eagle egg at a panda cub. By the end of the dinner, he’s alone and eating his feelings when the bigwig saunters over with Laurie on his arm and tries to lure Sam to his company. Sam makes a terrible “I bill by the hour” quip. When the bigwig is called away, Laurie (rightly) tells him this isn’t his business. “You’re just some guy who happens to know me,” she hisses. Harsh.

And then Sam makes this heartbreaking offer: “I’ll give you $10,000 not to go home with that guy tonight.” She silently walks away. Their relationship is dysfunctional, but that doesn’t make me feel less bad for Sam’s crushed heart.

The bad news continues: Mandy’s suggestion of a peaceful resolution to the Idaho standoff failed when the survivalists shot the negotiator and were all taken into custody. Mandy is sick to learn that the negotiator is in critical condition.

Worse news: Hurricane Sarah has shifted direction and is headed out to sea—directly in the path of the evacuated battle group, which contains an aircraft carrier, two destroyers, two guided missile cruisers and two battleships. That’s 12,000 people, all told. Leo predicts this will be catastrophic.

President Bartlet asks to speak to the fleet commander, but the only person they can reach is the radio operator on a small maintenance and supply boat. His voice is tinny, scared and far away. He’s sustained a head injury, and there’s nothing a roomful of the most powerful people on Earth can do for him as he describes the 80-foot waves, the water over the bow, the fire in the engine room, and the larger ships that may slam into him.

The stricken President promises to keep talking to him for as long as the radio works. And that’s how we close, with a critically wounded hostage negotiator heading into surgery, a labor dispute without an easy resolution, and 12,000 souls facing an angry sea.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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