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Lies, damn lies, and doing something nice for prostitutes: 'The West Wing' newbie recap

Season 1 | Episode 21 | “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics” | Aired May 10, 2000

Happy West Wing Wednesday! The Newsroom returned on Sunday, so I’m even more grateful than usual for the smart, strong Sorkin writing on this show. This week, C.J. doubts her place in the administration, Sam gets busted as a lover of ladies (well, lady) of the night, and Toby plays god to a bunch of ambassadors.

Sad news for Sam this week. Laurie the high-priced call girl is graduating from law school, but Sam can’t come to the ceremony. He explains that a staffer in the majority leader’s office knows about the two of them and is waiting to use their relationship to embarrass the White House. Laurie says she understands, but she’s clearly disappointed. I haven’t always loved this storyline, but I do feel badly about how much Laurie-shaming goes on.

Toby, meanwhile, announces that he’s found a country: the Federated States of Micronesia, which comprises 607 small islands in the South Pacific. It’s not immediately clear why Toby needs said country, but his plan is to promote the Micronesian ambassador to ambassador of Paraguay, then appoint the ambassador of Paraguay to ambassador of Bulgaria.

President Bartlet likes the sound of this plan. “If everybody gets to move up one, I get to go home,” he says.

In romantic comedy land, the Josh Lyman/Joey Lucas show continues as they raise flirt-bickering to an art, with her poor interpreter stuck in the middle. She tells Josh not to raise his voice with her, and Josh wants to know how the hell Joey knows if he is. Should I find all this as funny as I do?

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In romantic no-man’s-land, C.J. and Danny are anger-bickering. She’s still icing him out for the Mandy story, but Danny identifies the real problem: C.J. thinks everybody blames her for the Mandy memo getting out, and she feels like she let everyone down. Danny Concannon, teller of truths and American hero.

Also this week, the Bartlet Bunch is launching a new phone poll that’s set to gauge public approval of the president. The staffers all speculate on where the numbers will be. Josh says they’ll hold steady. Toby, the office Eeyore, says they’ll drop a few points. C.J. says they’ll be up five points. But when the staff gather to brief the president on the poll, Leo tells the president that they all predicted the numbers would hold steady. C.J. asks Leo about it later, saying it bothered her to be overlooked. Leo tells her not to read too much into it. I’m with C.J. on this; I’d be reading 25 installments of Destiel fanfic into that.

Later that night, Laurie and a friend drunkenly stumble home from graduation, where Sam’s waiting on the street to give her a graduation gift of a briefcase and a fancy pen that writes upside down. And then we’re suddenly in the opening minutes of a “Stalker” episode: Ominous music plays, and we see someone snap photos from of an idling car and then really, really obviously peel out.

The next morning, Leo’s yelling at everybody for not letting him know sooner that Laurie’s friend set up the meeting so London’s Daily Mirror could get photos and spill the whole story. But Toby sticks up for Sam with the president, saying that Sam had been above-board and appropriate about his relationship all along. Bartlet tells Sam to check with White House legal counsel to see if he broke any laws, and then he tells Sam to call Laurie and apologize for the inconvenience. In fact, he wants Sam to assure her that the attorney general will personally make sure she’s admitted to the bar and to offer her his presidential congratulations on her graduation.

“It’s nice when we can do something for prostitutes once in a while, isn’t it?” he muses.

Back in the ambassador shuffle, Charlie announces that Ken Cochran, the ambassador to Bulgaria, has arrived at the White House. However, Charlie keeps saying “Ken Cochran” as if he’s actually saying “Dead Cockroach,” and the president wants to know why. Charlie says it’s all in the president’s head.

During the meeting, President Barlet tells Dead Cockroach to resign. The White House wants to shuffle ambassadorships, for reasons that are still unclear, and Dead Cockroach had an affair with the prime minister’s daughter, so he’s out.

The president leaves after giving him the news, with Charlie standing guard. Dead Cockroach recognizes Charlie as a former waiter at the Gramercy Club. Dead Cockroach says he quit the club because he was never comfortable with its exclusionary policies. Charlie points out that he did join in the first place. This immediately enrages Dead Cockroach, who demands to talk to Charlie’s supervisor. Dude, this isn’t a TGI Friday’s.

Charlie says his supervisor is the president, so when Bartlet returns, Dead Cockroach launches into a defense against whatever unflattering stories Charlie told Bartlet about their shared past. Bartlet immediately yells at Charlie—for denying that there was bad history there in the first place. Man, I want President Bartlet as my boss.

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Back in the FEC subplot, the president sits down with a lawmaker to secure his promise to confirm Bartlet’s FEC nominees so they can go after soft money. The congressman agrees, but he points out that the president needs four votes to ban soft money. He’s got his two nominees, plus an existing FEC commissioner. Who’s the fourth?

Turns out, there’s soon to be a vacancy to fill: the ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia. Ha! What great, interwoven storytelling. The president will appoint a pro-soft money commissioner as the ambassador, then pick an anti-soft money successor, and BAM! Democracy’s safe from the corrupting influence of money and we all live happily ever after.

Finally this week, the polling is done, and everyone waits tensely for the results. Particularly C.J., who admits to Josh that she doesn’t think she can go into the president’s office many more times to say she was wrong. If this doesn’t end up validating C.J., I will RAMPAGE.

C.J. enters the Oval Office, stone-faced, with polling results.

“I was wrong,” she says. “We went up nine points.”

Sweet vindication! And thank goodness. I’m really too old to rampage.