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'The West Wing' has a blue Christmas

Season 1 | Episode 10 | “In Excelsis Deo” | Aired Dec 15, 1999

It’s Christmas at the White House, and I’m watching this West Wing episode on what’s easily the hottest day of the year where I live. Merry Christmas!

This festive episode opens with Sam and Toby bickering about when the new millennium actually begins, 2000 or 2001. Aww, you guys, remember 1999, when people got all snotty and superior about that?

Toby receives a call from the D.C. police and meets Lance Reddick, playing a police officer as only Lance Reddick can, who explains that a homeless man was found dead on a park bench with Toby’s business card in his pocket. Toby realizes he must’ve left it in a coat he donated to Goodwill. Reddick apologizes for bothering Toby. But you can tell that what really bothers Toby is Reddick’s dismissive attitude toward the man, whose arm tattoo on indicates he was a Marine who served in Korea.

Back at the White House, it’s a beautiful Technicolor Christmas fantasy, and Josh wishes a merry Christmas to Donna and her whole Protestant family. She’s prepared a gift list for him that’s entirely made composed of skiing equipment. As soon as she walks away, he bins it. Rude.

Josh and Leo are trying to figure out a way to neutralize Lillienfield’s crusade against Leo’s pill addiction. Josh, who obviously hates to even bring it up, suggests they use Sam’s fancy call-girl for leverage, but Leo forbids it. Then Leo tells Josh that a high school student in Minnesota is in critical condition after a gay-bashing carried out by 13-year-olds. So, you know, merry Christmas.

C.J. discovers that her new Secret Service code name is Flamingo, which is perfect.

President Bartlet is meeting with school kids in front of the White House Christmas tree. When he enters and they shout good morning, he responds with, “That’s sounded pretty weak. You can do better.” Don’t be that guy, Mr. President. Even little kids hate that guy.

Mid-kid meeting, the president gets the news that Lowell Lydell, the hate crime victim, has died. Merry, merry Christmas

Josh approaches Sam with his horrible idea to ask Laurie for dirt on any key Republicans to shut Lillienfield down. Sam refuses to consider it until Josh explains that Lillienfield knows Leo was in rehab for Valium during the time that he served as Secretary of Labor, then reminds Sam of how much they both owe Leo. Sam reluctantly agrees to Josh’s horrible, no good, very bad plan.


Hey, Mrs. Landingham has Joey’s penguin! Was this a weird crossover thing during the ‘90s on NBC? Did I miss seeing Hugsy in Carole Hathaway’s apartment on a very special episode of ER?

Anyway, Mrs. Landingham tells Charlie that she always feels down at the holidays because her twin sons were killed in Vietnam on Christmas Eve in 1970. “They had to be so scared. It’s hard not to think that right then, they needed their mother,” she says. Oh. Oh, Mrs. Landingham.

A happier scene: The president sneaks out of the White House to go shopping at a rare book store. Just him, a couple of agents, a few staff members, and a store that’s been cleared of customers. I cannot tell you how desperately I wish I’d been invited on this shopping trip. That is, until Leo asks Bartlet to consider accepting Leo’s resignation before the rehab thing gets out. Then it gets awkward.

Toby, meanwhile, has been beating the pavement trying to reach the VA, a family member or someone who would care about the dead vet, Walter Hufnagle. He finally visits an outdoor soup kitchen where he’s directed to Walter’s brother. As gently as he can, Toby tells George that his brother has died. He starts to leave, then turns back.

“I’m an influential person. I’m a very powerful person,” he bites out, then offers to arrange a military funeral for Walter. You can tell Toby hates to play this card, but he’s willing to do it if it gets Walter Hufnagle the funeral he deserves.

Flamingo’s still irked by her Secret Service name, and Danny distracts her by telling her that he has a list of why she should go out with him. Flamingo counters that she’ll come up with one for why she shouldn’t. They agree to reconvene. And here’s why I love C.J.: When they do meet again, she’s written an actual list of reasons she can’t date Danny while Danny’s is more of a mental one. I would’ve written an actual list, too, C.J. And finally, finally she asks Danny to dinner but warns him it’s strictly business, so he should bring his notebook. Flamingo FTW!

After Danny leaves, Leo approaches C.J. (“I’m rebuffing his advances—“ “Whatever.”) Leo asks her to dial down the rhetoric on the hate crimes bill because he’s not comfortable legislating what people think. This will basically be the rest of C.J.’s episode, with her advocating for additional penalties for hate crimes and pretty much everyone else arguing that a crime’s a crime. It’s an interesting and important debate, but it’s a heavy one, and this episode’s heavy enough, OK? Let’s keep going.

Speaking of heavy, Sam and Josh are at Laurie’s, and hooo boy, this is going to be uncomfortable. She’s furious at what they’re asking, as she should be. And Sam is embarrassed, as he should be. Josh, though, keeps pushing, even dropping the word “hooker.” It is terrible, and Josh finally backs down and apologizes, saying he’s trying to protect the man to whom they owe so much. Laurie urges them to start acting like the good guys they say they are. Then she urges them to leave her house.

I’ve gotta say, I hope Laurie decides to never see Sam again. He’s handsome, but he cannot possibly be worth all of the poor treatment she receives from him and his friends.

Hey, Josh got Donna her Christmas gift! It’s a really old book on skiing, which is both jerky and charming. He did inscribe it, though. She’s touched, and Josh peeks around the corner of her office to watch her read his inscription a second time.

We end with the funeral for Walter Hufnagle. President Bartlet is surprised to learn that Toby used his name to arrange a veteran’s funeral and wonders if this will bring legions of homeless vets of the woodwork when they hear about it. Toby says he hopes so, and Bartlet gives him a shoulder clasp.

Mrs. Landingham grabs her coat to come along to this funeral, which is attended by four people, three of whom didn’t know the dead man. This is intercut with the rest of the Bartlet Bunch listening to a children’s chorus sing “The Little Drummer Boy.”

Christmas staff

Mark it: This is the first time The West Wing made me tear up, although based on what many of you have led me to believe, it won’t be the last.

And to end on a slightly happier note, I’ll leave you with this: What would you want your Secret Service code name to be? I’d like to be Ocelot.


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