The West Wing: Five Votes Down   Rewatch 
July 8, 2014 10:09 AM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

While staff members strive to regain five crucial votes on a gun bill, Leo McGarry is told by his wife that their marriage is in trouble.

Presidential Chief of Staff Leo McGarry needs five more House votes to pass a bill restricting the sale of automatic firearms -- but the cost might be too high, especially if he has to go to the unpredictable Vice President to help put them over the top. The staff's annual financial disclosure statements prove to be thorny for Toby, whose innocent technology stock purchase last year proved to be wildly profitable, which raises eyes due to his association with an expert in the field. In addition, Leo's long hours on the job cause an unforeseen crisis at home, and the President unintentionally mixes up the potent medications he receives for his ailing back.


Airdate: October 13, 1999
Director: Michael Lehmann
Writer: Sorkin (Story by Lawrence O'Donnell & Patrick Cadell)
19 Hours of Rod Stewart's 'Mandy' would be less annoying than the next 19 episodes of Mandy Hampton.
posted by ApathyGirl (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
A-Girl, I am beginning to suspect you are not a fan of Dr. Madeline Hampton.
posted by Etrigan at 11:41 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Personally, I actively want to be a fan of Mandy, as I will never stop loving Moira Kelly for the glorious cheese that is The Cutting Edge. But I just can't bring myself to be.

I am, on the other hand, a fan of Josiah Bartlett getting a dog. I can't remember, did he ever get a dog once he came down from the pain meds? I hope so. If not, I bet there's a lot of fanfiction pretending he did.
posted by Stacey at 12:15 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thing that always sticks with me from this episode is Leo telling Jenny that right now, being arguably the second most powerful person in the world is, in fact, more important than his marriage. It's a tremendously unusual thing to hear someone say.

Politicians create this kind of fantasy that nothing is more important than family, that their marriages and their children come first, because that's the sort of family values that they're expected to champion and uphold, but the reality is, if they're successful, the things they'll do in their career will be hell on their marriages and hell on their families. There can be amazing perks to counteract the things they lose, of course, but it's got to be tough on the relationship unless everyone is absolutely in it together.

And for the people behind the scenes, they get a lot of hell and a lot fewer of the perks.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:13 PM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


I've gone back and forth on Jenny and Leo. The first few times I watched this one, I blamed her completely. Of course being Chief of Staff to the President is more important than an anniversary dinner.

Lately I've come around to the fact that it probably wasn't the first one Leo missed. Plus, the staff does all the work, but the President gets the glory, so it may not seem like much to brag about. Not to mention that we don't really know whether and how much Leo's drinking hurt his marriage, but it's almost certainly not "none."
posted by ob1quixote at 7:25 AM on July 9, 2014


I don't think I blame either of them, really.

Jenny has a right to want a marriage that is, in fact, the most important thing her spouse does. She may have agreed to it in the conversations Leo mentions, but that doesn't mean she really knew what it would be like when it was actually happening, or that she isn't allowed to change her mind about whether it is acceptable to her.

Leo has the right to want to do the best job he can of the most important job he'll ever do.

It's not that either of them is wanting something unreasonable or horrible, it's just that they want different things.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:16 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's not that either of them is wanting something unreasonable or horrible, it's just that they want different things.

And this is at the tail end of a life filled with war, addiction, high-profile business work, a Cabinet post... thirty years of knowing that Leo is a workaholic who's never going to focus that mania on her.

I had forgotten that this was the episode that introduced Hoynes' AA group, a thing that (at the time) made me even more convinced that Hoynes was at some point going to be the Big Bad.

Fourteen years later, I am still amazed that "Like I just got screwed with my pants on." made it past the network.

Also, Yay! Big Block of Cheese Day is next!
posted by Etrigan at 8:43 AM on July 9, 2014


Not to mention that we don't really know whether and how much Leo's drinking hurt his marriage, but it's almost certainly not "none."

Jenny never made sense to me, either, until I thought about it like this. I don't think Leo sobered up so much as he changed his drug of choice. It used to be alcohol, but then he gave that up. What drug did he let take alcohol's place? Politics.

He'd always been driven, committed to his work, workaholic. But I'm guessing it got way worse, soon as the alcohol was gone. It probably took Jenny a long time to really get a pulse on why things felt off, after he sobered up. After he sobered up, she probably got a great surge of relief, thinking, "It's finally over, we finally get to love each other again." And anyone, looking in from the outside, would be proud of him, happy for her--it is a good thing to be married to a powerful, driven man. But, I'm guessing, something about how he focused on his work felt deeply off. But what was she going to say? Look at how unreasonable, at first blush, she seems in that scene: it is extremely hard to say that the same underlying problems that were destroying your marriage so long ago were still there. I think she just couldn't find the right words. It came out as, "your job governing this country isn't more important than being on time to our anniversary dinner." On its face, it seems so petty and insignificant. She couldn't find the way to express the deeper problem, that he was still an alcoholic but with just a far more socially-acceptable booze.
posted by meese at 9:25 AM on July 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's also worth noting in Jenny's favour, that missing your anniversary dinner because you have a pressing work engagement is quite a lot different from completely forgetting that you have an anniversary dinner to miss. Even seeing the gift isn't enough to remind him of his anniversary when he arrives home having missed the first dinner.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:31 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's also worth noting in Jenny's favour, that missing your anniversary dinner because you have a pressing work engagement is quite a lot different from completely forgetting that you have an anniversary dinner to miss.

It speaks to Leo's workaholism that he (apparently) never told Margaret, "Hey, give me a heads-up on anniversaries and birthdays, m'kay?" (Not that Margaret is without sin in this instance, because she knows that he fucked it up once, and she still straight-up tells Jenny that Leo's going to blow her off for a meeting with the VP.)
posted by Etrigan at 9:44 AM on July 9, 2014


A-Girl, I am beginning to suspect you are not a fan of Dr. Madeline Hampton.


Moira Kelly is fantastic, and I think she does an admirable job with Mandy. I'm offended by the lazy caricature of early Mandy and angry at the wasted potential of later Mandy. She's supposedly this highly-paid and sought after media consultant that is shown to be completely incompetent time and time again.

If only we could have had Joey Lucas from the beginning.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:56 AM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


Aww. Can't wait for Joey Lucas.

Everyone's thoroughly covered the Leo & Jenny debacle. I, too, blamed Jenny initially, but think that her emotions have more to do with the long journey that their relationship has been and the toll that Leo's alcoholism must have taken than about this specific dinner.

This episode's hot one of my favorite Josh speeches ever, though. "President Bartlet's a good man. He's got a good heart. He doesn't hold a grudge. That's what he pays me for." It's so just laughably Josh.
posted by terilou at 9:29 AM on July 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


That is a great line, and it's a great delivery. It's posturing, and he knows it, but deep down he also believes it.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:39 AM on July 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I also initially blamed Jenny, but now just admire both Leo's willingness to say, yes, this is the most important thing I'm doing right now, and Jenny's refusal to accept where that leaves her. He doesn't do it all that often, but Sorkin can write a hell of a good break-up scene.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:23 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can't remember if this is covered in later episodes, but is Bartlet's improv of the speech at the beginning of this episode a sign of the MS? I remember in a later episode he extemps part of speech because he can't see out of one eye, but I don't think that happened this early? I assume the MS storyline was planned from the beginning, which makes me wonder about this incident.

I suppose it's just as likely that this helped set up an expectation that Bartlet is a good extemporaneous speaker so that it doesn't automatically throw up a red flag later.
posted by lilac girl at 8:55 PM on October 1, 2014


I assume the MS storyline was planned from the beginning, which makes me wonder about this incident.

There was a throwaway line from Zoey to Bartlet about whether he's had his shot or taken his pills or somesuch in this first season as well. I feel like they had something in mind early on.
posted by Etrigan at 6:05 AM on October 2, 2014


They build Leo into this great character with interesting flaws. He appears to be a genuine patriot - loves his country deeply. Also has been wealthy, connected, powerful. They had no idea - spoiler alert they'd have to write him out.
posted by theora55 at 12:15 PM on December 19, 2016


given that Sheen wasn't expected to be so much a part of the show, I don't think the MS was planned very early.
posted by theora55 at 12:17 PM on December 19, 2016


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