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'The West Wing' newbie recap: Don't buy that car, Mrs. Landingham

Season 2 | Episode 21 | “18th and Potomac” | Aired May 9, 2001

Remember back when we thought the worst thing that could happen to President Bartlet would be to become a one-termer following the reveal of his MS to the public? Turns out that was an optimistic assessment of how this season of The West Wing would end. Alas, poor Mrs. Landingham; we knew you, although not as well as we would’ve liked.

It’s not like this episode starts off on a cheerful note to begin with. The senior White House advisers are gathered in the newly appointed super-secret basement meeting room to hear the results of Joey Lucas’ polling. (Said room is where they planned some of the “millennium things,” apparently, and I’m grieved that we never learn more about that. What did the Bartlet administration expect to happen on January 1, 2000, at 12 a.m.? The world will never know.)

Anyway, the polling results are not good. When asked about a hypothetical governor hiding a degenerative illness, 1,170 Michigan voters overwhelmingly said that lying about it was wrong, that they wouldn’t vote for the candidate, and that they think MS is fatal. Forget about Republican support; Bartlet’s not even going to have the Democrats.

So that’s the mood-setter on The West Wing this week.

Other bad news: The Haitian military has risen up to oppose the winner of Haiti’s recent free election, who’s been smuggled into the U.S. embassy. Barlet evacuates all nonessential personnel, but the military storms the plane, leading to casualties. This adds stress to an already stressful situation, is what I’m saying. Thanks, Haiti.

Meanwhile, C.J., Sam, Toby, and Josh wrangle over how and when to break the news to the public about the president’s MS. There’s some extremely meta talk from Sam on not giving a damn about the May sweeps, and we see what you did there, Aaron Sorkin. (Side note: Every time an aide enters the room with a note in this episode, everyone shuts up. The junior staff must be wild with curiosity.)

They finally decide on Dateline live in the Mural Room with the candlestick—er, with the first lady—followed by a press conference. What the staff don’t know is how to handle the inevitable first question from the press corps: Will the president seek reelection? Toby in particular is bothered at not knowing the answer.

Toby and the rest of the White House staff prepare for Bartlet

But hey, Mrs. Landingham is buying a new car! This sounds exciting and not at all like it’s going to lead to tragedy and heartbreak! Charlie is horrified to learn that she paid sticker price. She primly tells him that she didn’t talk the salesman down because it’s illegal for a government employee to accept a gift over $20, bless her.

Abbey Barlet is now in the millennium basement room, running through her story with Sam to put it in layman’s terms (and to make sure it matches the president’s). Oliver Babish interrupts, kicks Sam out, and starts his conversation by addressing her as “Mrs. Bartlet.”

Doctor Bartlet,” she corrects him. “When did I stop being Dr. Bartlet? When in the campaign did I decide that women were going to like me more if I called myself ‘Mrs.’? When did I decide that women were that stupid?”

Babish has no answer for that, but he is there to encourage Abbey to hire her own attorney because she violated several AMA and state medical board regulations on the campaign trail. In fact, he urges her not to appear with the president at all that night.

“I’d like to be next to my husband when he does this,” she tells him. He’s not happy, but at least he calls her “Dr. Bartlet” as he goes.

I need somebody to create a spinoff show about Abbey and C.J. traveling the country and solving crimes. It’ll be called the A+ Team, and it’ll run for a decade at least.

We’re now back with Mrs. Landingham and her very first new car. She and the president bond over its safety ratings and that new-car smell, and then he, too, gives her grief for paying sticker price. She threatens to beat him up; he threatens to have the Secret Service take her down like a calf at a rodeo. Then he calls her Dolores and gently chides her for not telling him about her purchase.

Before she leaves to pick it up, Bartlet asks her to come back afterward, presumably so he can tell her about his MS. (Even though I’m watching the show for the first time, I was spoiled on the broad strokes of this episode, and his request made me gasp, knowing how it ends. This then spoiled the plot twist for my perceptive husband. Sorry, babes.)

On top of everything else this week, Josh is still wrangling the underfunded tobacco lawsuit. The president wants to move forward with a $30 million bill to continue the case, but it’s stuck in the subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary because of Republicans with tobacco donors and Democrats with ideological qualms about the lawsuit. Josh questions whether it’s smart to alienate anyone on the Judiciary Committee right now, but Leo tells him not to pull any punches on any of their actual goals, so they come up with appropriately fiery rhetoric to light up the subcommittee members.

Oh, and Donna became the first person on the assistant level to know about the president’s MS because Toby told her. Josh has emotions that he wasn’t the one to do it, but Toby assures him that she took it well.

And finally, the episode ends with Charlie taking a phone call about an accident at 18th and Potomac, where a drunk driver ran a red light and killed Mrs. Landingham on her way back to the White House in her very first new car.

President Bartlet is already shouldering heavy burdens, and a shaken Leo takes the long walk to the Oval Office to place one more on his back.

We don’t hear the news being delivered, though; we can only watch through window glass as the president absorbs the news.

Leo breaks the news about Mrs. Landingham to President Bartlet

Please join me next week, where we’ll all practice yelling in Latin.

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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