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'The West Wing' newbie recap: Surviving the holidays

Season 2 | Episode 10 | “Noël” | Aired Dec 20, 2000

This West Wing episode may be a bit lacking in cheer for an entry that’s wall-to-wall Christmas music, yet it’s one of the most emotional holiday offerings I’ve ever seen. In other words, buckle in.

Josh, carrying himself like a wounded animal, is nursing a bandaged hand and sitting in a room with two strangers, therapists from the American Trauma Victims Association who are there to talk to him at the request of his coworkers. Stanley, the lead therapist (played by Adam Arkin), starts by asking Josh what happened to his hand. “I cut it putting down a glass,” he lies, then asks if Stanley and his associate Kaytha are there because of the incident with a pilot.

And we flash back to three weeks ago. Toby is shouting to be heard over the brass quintet he’s installed at the White House to enhance the season of peace and joy. Naturally, it leads to him screaming at the musicians to shaddup for a second so he can talk.

The pilot Josh mentioned had disappeared from his formation during an exercise at a New Mexico Air Force base. The White House runs down all the grim possibilities: He lost consciousness; he’s dead; he’s defecting with the plane.

In the therapy session, a knock on the door causes Josh to flash back to him standing in his apartment with a bloody hand.

Now it’s three weeks ago, and Donna and Josh walk and talk (loudly over the brass Christmas music) as she wheedles an invitation to the congressional Christmas party, where Yo Yo Ma will be playing. Josh distractedly agrees; he’s rocked by the realization that he and the missing pilot have the same birthday.

Three-weeks-ago Leo fills more information in for Josh on the pilot. He died when his plane hit the side of a mountain, but he was alive at impact. In fact, the pilot’s last transmission was, “It wasn’t the plane.” Furthermore, Leo tells Josh, the pilot had a Purple Heart after getting shot down over Bosnia. As Josh remembers this exchange in his therapy session, the sounds of screaming and chaos creep into the audio mix. Poor, poor Josh.

Post-commercial break, there’s more aural assault; a bagpipe group has replaced the brass instruments to serenade the White House denizens with Christmas music. (But be thankful for small mercies, as the episode skipped over the banjo Christmas band.) Striding to his office, Josh shouts that he can hear the damn sirens all over the building. Toby makes Concerned Face™, particularly when Josh then yells at everybody in the hallway to shut up and slams his door. The entire West Wing staff then joins Toby in making Concerned Face™.

Back in therapy, Josh snaps at the therapist that this session is starting to feel prosecutorial. Nevertheless, Stanley insists on asking what happened five days ago. If you think Josh is angry and defensive in this therapy session, you should see him in this meeting at the Oval Office. In therapy, Josh denies raising his voice to the president. That’s not a line you cross, he insists. “Ever. You don’t ever cross that line.” Oh dear. I don’t think I want to see this flashback.

And sure enough, there’s Josh yelling at Leo, Sam, and the president, a torrent of angry words flowing from his mouth. The tirade ends with him breathing hard and pleading, “Listen to me!” Leo kicks him out. Oh, Josh, bunny, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself.

This is exactly what Leo does once he’s got Josh in his office. He tells Josh that he needs to meet with someone from ATVA because he doesn’t think Josh was fully conscious while he was yelling at the president. (I believe that’s called Red Ross, Leo.) Despite all of this evidence about how out of control his reactions have been, Josh still denies that the glass-breaking incident was unusual.

“You’re in nine kinds of pain,” Stanley tells him. “You don’t know what’s gong on inside of you. You’re so locked into damage control that you can’t—”

“You diagnosed me in eight hours?” Josh snaps.

“I diagnosed you in five minutes,” Stanley replies gently. He says Josh has PTSD, which Josh thinks sounds like something you can’t have while working for the president.

And then we cut to the night of the congressional Christmas party, which is white tie. (Shallow side note: Charlie looks foine in his bow tie and tails.) Whatever precipitated the breaking glass happened at the Christmas party. Oooh, does Josh fight Yo Yo Ma?

Josh slowly tells Stanley that he doesn’t know how it all began. As Yo Yo Ma plays, the Bartlet Bunch all listen rapturously, except for Josh, who’s flashing back to the shooting. In the audience, Toby notices that Josh is glassy-eyed and breathing hard. Kaytha correctly guesses that he tasted something bitter, which she says was adrenaline.

But to Stanley, Josh denies, denies, denies. Then Stanley links this to the pilot: They’d both been shot down and injured; they shared the same birthday. Did Josh worry that he was suicidal, too? No, Josh says. No, that’s not what it was.

And then finally, finally, as Yo Yo Ma’s glorious music plays in the background, Josh admits that it wasn’t a glass he broke. Instead, he punched through a window in his apartment.

With this admission, there music stops. Silence.

“OK then,” Stanley says in a brisk tone.

“I’m cured?” Josh asks hopefully.

He is not. Stanley says he’ll recommend a therapist. Josh wants Stanley, but Stanley says Josh is too easy a case.

“I broke a window!” Josh protests.

“Yeah, stop doing that,” Stanley deadpans.

Finally, Stanley tells him that it wasn’t the pilot that triggered all of this. It was the constant music, which turns into sirens in Josh’s head, shunting him back to the night of the shooting. A worried Josh asks if this is going to be his reaction every time he hears music from now on.

“No,” Stanley says, “because you’re going to get better.”

Leo’s been waiting for Josh to finish his therapy session. When Josh emerges and confesses how he actually hurt his hand, Leo promises Josh that as long as he’s got a job, Josh does, too. And then he says Donna’s going to take Josh to the ER to get his hand wrapped properly. And of course, it was Donna who guessed how much trouble Josh was in. They are so obviously each other’s lobsters.

As Josh and Donna leave the White House together, they encounter carolers. Josh starts to hear the sirens again, but Donna calls his name and pulls him back. And this West Wing episode ends with carolers and sirens performing an uneasy duet.

Merry Christmas. I think we could all use a hug.

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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