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'The West Wing' newbie recap: The state of the union is emotional upheaval

Season 2 | Episode 13 | “Bartlet’s Third State of the Union” | Aired Feb 7, 2001

Remember last week when I joked about the next West Wing episode pointing out that we haven’t made much progress over the last 15 years toward workplace gender equity? IT HAPPENED, YOU GUYS.

Anyway, this episode runs through an incredible range of emotions: humor to despair, joy to humiliation. It’s basically perfect.

We open on the president approaching the congressional chamber as onlookers applaud. The president crosses himself, the doors open, and you hear, “Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.” I defy you not to get goose bumps at that point.

Postspeech, Capital Beat is broadcasting live from the White House. First up is C.J., who isn’t wearing any pants under the broadcast desk. (There was a bench with wet paint in the sculpture garden. These things happen, okay?) She shrugs into a bathrobe over the commercial break, and Sam asks where she got it, leading to this exchange:

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Preach on, Sister C.J.

Now to one of the serious parts of the night: C.J. has learned that the police officer recognized by the president during his speech wasn’t properly vetted, and 17 years ago, he was given an official condemnation for breaking a suspect’s leg during his arrest, even though the civil suit was dismissed.

So she sits down with the kindliest-looking police offer ever, who quickly moves from buoyant delight at being at the White House for the State of the Union to the crushing realization that his past is once again wrapping its bony fingers around his neck. He tells C.J. that he would never have been able to capture the suspect, a track star, if the suspect’s leg hadn’t already been broken. In fact, the suspect broke the officer’s hand and nose during the arrest. There was no excessive force, he insists.

C.J. asks why he didn’t say anything before the speech, and he said, “I assumed it was okay now, that I was okay.” Near tears, he begs C.J. to keep it from the press, hoping they won’t find out. But they do, and she gets the Capital Beat host to hold off on running with it until she can talk to him.

My heart can’t take this, you guys. This poor man. Everything about this is so beautifully underwritten. We don’t know what heroic thing he actually did to be honored at the speech (something about being off-duty at an elementary school), and we don’t know exactly how much that censure hurt him all those years ago. But we do see his joy at being singled out as a good cop crumble.

Back at Capital Beat, Ainsley Hayes (yay!) has stepped in for C.J. Unfortunately, she says on air that she’s not sure whether the president’s call for school uniforms is constitutional. A concerned Sam pulls her aside during the commercials to remind her that she works for the White House, and she reminds him that she’s never actually met the president.

But, she tells him, she’d rather not meet him right now. “I just want to keep having a good night. I don’t want to live in fear of the inevitable bumbling of the English language that will occur and the mortification that will ensue.”

So we all know what’s going to happen, right?

Yup. Sam asks the president to introduce himself to Ainsley, and he gives very specific suggestions about what Bartlet could say to her. When Sam later finds Ainsley in her subterranean office, she’s full of adrenaline and wildly dancing in a bathrobe (because she sat in the same wet paint as C.J., duh).

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And of course, that’s when the president says hello and delivers Sam’s word-for-word speech.

“A lot of people assumed you were hired because you’re a blond, Republican sex kitten, and, well, they’re obviously wrong. Keep up the good work.”

The president leaves, and Sam turns to her.

“That could’ve been worse.” A beat. “No, probably not.”

Also wacky this week are Josh and Donna, stationed at Joey Lucas’ polling center. He’s as jumpy as a cat in a rocking-chair factory. Everyone else is chill. Long story short, there’s a power outage so Josh doesn’t get his numbers, and Donna thinks he and Joey should date. They remain adorable.

Josh Donna Vogue

Back at the serious plot, Leo learns that five badge-carrying U.S. DEA agents have been abducted in cocaine country, Colombia, so now they have to conduct a hush-hush operation to rescue them from the clutches of 600 Colombian drug runners. Bartlet has to decide whether scrambling Blackhawk helicopters for a rescue is worth the resulting violent reprisals.

At the residence, Abbey is rewinding a portion of the State of the Union on what appears to be a VHS tape (hee!), clearly unhappy with it. By the end of the night, the president finds her scarfing leftovers in the White House kitchen. And here’s where they become every married couple ever: He asks what’s wrong. She says “nothing” (although there obviously is). He starts to walk away frustrated because she won’t tell him. And then she spills, sounding more than a little like Rizzo. First, it’s because he took some of her pet projects out of his speech without telling her, but then she gets to it: He kicked off his reelection campaign with that speech.

“We had a deal,” she tells him, holding back tears. Again, it’s underwritten and lovely. Whatever their deal was, she now feels blindsided and betrayed. She’s working into a full-on hurt/mad when the president tells her about the DEA agents in Colombia. She immediately pushes aside her own frustrations, promising, “I’ll stay up with you,” before composing herself to return to the postspeech party. That’s a marriage, folks.

Abbey Bartlet composes herself after a fight with her husband on The West Wing.

And that’s all she wrote. What happens to the police officer, the DEA agents, the bathrobe inequities, Josh’s polling numbers? Like the best moments of this episode, we’ll have to fill in those details for ourselves.

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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