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'The West Wing' newbie recap: Don't mess with the grandfathers. Or Bast.

Season 2 | Episode 17 | “The Stackhouse Filibuster” | Aired Mar 14, 2001

The West Wing denizens are in a tizzy this week thanks to an unexpected filibuster of a $6 billion health care bill that’s being held up by one cranky Democratic senator from Minnesota who refuses to back down.

C.J. narrates the events via an email she’s writing to her father to explain why she’s missing his 70th birthday party. She inspires Sam and Josh to write emails to their own parents, which flashes me back to the Sports Night episode “Dear Louise, ” which features Jeremy writing to his sister about his day. Aaron Sorkin’s rule seems to be that if it worked once, it’ll work three or four more times on different shows, bless his heart.

Anyway, everyone’s frustrated that Sen. Howard Stackhouse is filibustering because he wants the bill to include $47 million for autism care. And he has to obey the rules of the filibuster: no eating, drinking, or bathroom breaks; and no sitting, leaning, or stopping.

The bill in question is the Family Wellness Act, which the Bartlet administration finally nailed down into a passable version. But before it was called to the floor, Stackhouse contacted Josh to see if they’d reopen it to add funding for autism research and diagnosis. Josh says no way—the bill is set, and any extra provisions could kill it.

Stackhouse points out that this children’s-health bill now includes funding for glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, and erectile-dysfunction research because of the deals the White House made to get it passed. Josh won’t budge. The bill is closed, and they want the story of its passage to hit the press before they break for recess, he says. Stackhouse warns Josh that there’s not going to be a vote on the bill while Stackhouse is alive.

Josh ignores Sen. Stackhouse at his own peril.Josh laughs it off, Toby agrees that Stackhouse doesn’t have the political muscle to block the bill, and even Bartlet piles on that Stackhouse is a crank, a curmudgeon, and a horse’s patoot.

And yet here he is, 78 years old and starting his eighth hour filibustering by reading aloud from David Copperfield. (Fun fact: Dickens is Sam’s favorite writer after Toby. Awww!)

C.J., meanwhile, starts to worry that she’s invoked the ancient curse of Bast, the Egyptian goddess. See, Hassan Ali gave the president a small ceramic cat statue when he was in Cairo. Ali is set to visit the White House, and the statue needs to be displayed as a show of courteous diplomacy.

Thing is, C.J. broke the statue. Into several pieces, she confesses to Donna. It was handed to her without any explanation that it was a priceless artifact, and she tossed it into her suitcase. Charlie’s horrified to learn that C.J. crazy-glued it back together, and Donna tells C.J. that she’s monumentally screwed.

Speaking of Donna, she’s starting to notice B-roll of Stackhouse in the media coverage of the filibuster, and she realizes that although he’s got seven grandchildren, only six of them ever appear with him on camera. Finally—finally—everyone’s light bulbs go off, and they realize that maybe Stackhouse has a personal reason to try to tank this bill.

As the staff are making this realization, Bartlet and Leo are enjoying a candlelit dinner courtesy of Bartlet’s favorite visiting French chef. (The romantic setup was supposed to be for Abbey, but since she’s gone, Jed’s slumming it with Leo.) Leo spends the whole time on his phone, prompting the president to joke that he’s trying to enjoy a nice meal after a long day while Leo’s still in work mode.

“You know, conversations like this are the reason I got divorced,” Leo says.

Then he gets the call from C.J. confirming that Stackhouse has an autistic grandson. Bartlet’s offended that Stackhouse didn’t clue him in about his reason for the filibuster. And suddenly, everyone in the West Wing is energized, particularly Grandpappy Bartlet.

“Let me tell you something: Don’t ever, ever underestimate the will of a grandfather,” he says. “We’re mad men. We don’t give a damn. We got here before you, and they’ll be here after. We’ll make enemies, we’ll break laws, we’ll break bones. But you will not mess with the grandchildren.”

Donna literally raises her hand with a suggestion, pointing out that Stackhouse can yield for a question without yielding the floor. All they need to do is find a friendly senator who can ask a lengthy question to give him a bit of a break.

Bartlet thinks that’s a fine idea. “Start with the grandfathers,” he instructs. (Gah! Grandmothers, too, Sorkin!)

After he leaves the office, C.J. says quietly, “Oh, and I broke your statue.”

“I don’t think he heard you,” Donna informs her.

Message not delivered, C.J. nevertheless finds a senator who’s willing to ask a question, and they rush him to the floor. Now, the West Wing staff gather around the TV, hoping that Stackhouse is aware that he can yield for a question without losing the floor.

In maybe the most tense scene on The West Wing yet, the senator asks if Stackhouse will yield the floor for a question. The assembled staff watch anxiously, not sure what he’ll do. But he yields! And there is much rejoicing.

NBC/The West Wing

The new senator warns that it’s a question in 22 parts, which might take quite a while, and he suggests that Stackhouse should take a seat and have some water while he asks it, and I’m getting a little teary 24 hours later as I’m typing this bit up—despite the fact that part of me feels a little weird that the Bartlet staff didn’t care about the autism funding until a presumably wealthy and well-connected politician made it personal for them. Does this make me a horse’s patoot?

Whatever. It’s a beautifully done scene that’s told as C.J., Sam, and Toby provide overlapping narration in the emails they’re finishing to their families. In all, 28 other senators walked onto the floor to help, and with the press deadline blown to report on the bill’s passage, they all agree to reopen the bill to add in the autism funding.

And C.J. ends the episode by signing off on her email: Your daughter, Claudia.

Really, it’s worth watching (or rewatching) the last four minutes yourself:

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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