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'The West Wing' newbie recap: In which we meet Ainsley Hayes

Season 2 | Episode 4 | “In This White House” | Aired Oct. 25, 2000

This week’s West Wing episode opens with a cocky political talk-show host mansplaining to a young, blond Republican adviser how to debate Sam Seaborn on the air: Don’t overreach, don’t say you know more than you do, and don’t be scared.

No need to worry, though. Once the cameras roll, Ainsley Hayes delivers unto Sam an epic verbal smackdown on education funding, and she does it with the most charming Southern accent since Suzanne Sugarbaker.

When the stunned host cuts to commercial, Ainsley sweetly asks, “I’m sorry. Did I overreach?” Sam, meanwhile, mutters that he hopes nobody at the White House is watching.

Sam’s luck is not that good. Josh runs in to summon Toby to the television: “Come quick! Sam’s getting his ass kicked by a girl!”

Man, is Sam lucky that YouTube wasn’t a thing in 2000.

President Bartlet, meanwhile, is so impressed that he tells Leo that the White House should hire her.

“What, you mean as a joke on Sam?” Leo asks.

The president is serious; he likes her passion and her sense of civic duty, and he’d like to bring that into the White House. We then cut to Ainsley at home, and she’s absolutely an Aaron Sorkin heroine because she’s whip-smart but she can’t figure out her caller ID.

Speaking of Sorkin heroines, C.J. is beating herself up over letting it slip to a reporter that a grand jury has been convened to look into an American company selling drilling equipment to Iraq. She tries to bring it up with Sam, but she can’t quite force the words past her lips. Uggghhh, I emphasize. Who hasn’t been in one of those situations where the possible repercussions are so, so awful that you can’t even bring yourself to consider them, let alone loop anyone else in on the situation?

While she’s dithering about not telling Sam, Leo drags them both into the hallway to break the news about the Ainsley job offer in public so they won’t yell. This tactic does not work.

When Ainsley arrives at the White House, Margaret offers to stay in the room with Leo “in case something happens.” Margaret is my favorite.

Ainsley immediately goes on the defensive at Leo for summoning her to the White House to reprimand her for voicing opposing opinions, then is flummoxed by the job offer. She tells Leo that she finds this administration smug and patronizing. She then admits that she’s wanted to work at the White House since she was 2 and is bereft that it’s this White House that’s making the offer. Leo digests this in true Leo style.



Now, let’s talk about the heavy plot this week. It’s a summit to get big pharma to lower the cost of HIV-fighting drugs for the 26 million Africans who need them. Representing the coalition of African nations being ravaged by AIDS is President Nimbala of the Republic of Equatorial Kuhndu. (And I cannot tell you how sad I am that I recognize this country not from having watched The West Wing when it first aired, like a rational person, but from having slogged through The Newsroom, like a masochistic person.)

Nimbala has served his people for 28 years and, according to Toby, is basically holding his country together with two hands. Nimbala speaks passionately of Africa’s need for a miracle. “My country’s dying,” he says baldly.

Big pharma, meanwhile, defends selling African countries the drugs at twice the price they sell to Norway. Toby flat-out tells the pharma guys that they care more about white men getting erections than black men getting AIDS. But big pharma is not done yet; they also say that Africans don’t understand how AIDS works and that even with unlimited free drugs, it wouldn’t make much difference—because taking the precise combination of pills at the proper intervals would be too difficult for Africans who don’t own wristwatches and can’t tell time.

Let’s just … let’s just all look at this for a second.


Ainsley is still hanging out at the White House, convincing herself to turn down the job offer. The reporter to whom C.J. confirmed a grand jury investigation fills Ainsley in, so she swings by C.J.’s office and tells her that talking about a grand jury is 18 months in a medium-security prison.

Ah, she’s just messing around. C.J. is legally in the clear, although Ainsley chides her for not running it by the counsel’s office. That was mean, and I loved it. I don’t think C.J. did, though.

As the summit participants hammer out a deal to get more affordable drugs to Africa, the news breaks that Nimbala’s government has been toppled by the AFRC, who’ve taken control of the media, killed Nimbala’s brother and sons, and demanded Nimbala’s arrest.

President Bartlet immediately offers him asylum, but Nimbala insists on going home, even suggesting himself as a trade for the Americans trapped at the embassy in Kuhndu.

“They will shoot you the moment you step off the plane,” Bartlet implores, but Nimbala is resolute. Ainsley watches this all from a distance.

President Bartlet urges President Nimbala to stay in the United States

That night, my new favorite Sorkin lady meets her terrible shrill friends for dinner, where they refer to her as a Gap dancer, WHICH IS THE BEST AND MOST EARLY-AUGHTS REFERENCE I HAVE EVER HEARD EVER. They also mock the Bartlet administration for its worthlessness, and Ainsley hotly defends them.

“Their intent is good. Their commitment is true. They are righteous, and they are patriots. And I’m their lawyer.” BOOM GOES THE GAP DANCER.

Back at the White House, President Bartlet learns that Nimbala arrived home and was executed in the airport parking lot.

Seriously, we need one more of these.


Allow me to close this week with an observation: Unlike many other West Wing plots where it seems like nothing has changed or gotten better over the last 15 years, there’s some good news regarding the treatment of HIV/AIDS on the African continent. Drugs are cheaper and easier to take, and lifespans are increasing. Let’s cling to that until next time.

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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