The West Wing: Take This Sabbath Day   Rewatch 
August 15, 2014 6:54 AM - Season 1, Episode 14 - Subscribe

Bartlet spends the weekend deciding on whether or not to commute the sentence of a man convicted of drug-related murders.

After the Supreme Court refuses to stay the execution of a Federal prisoner convicted of killing two drug kingpins, President Bartlet must decide whether or not to commute his sentence in less than 48 hours, so he calls upon his sagacious childhood priest for guidance. Meanwhile, even Toby feels the heat over the controversial issue when he hears a sermon on capital punishment from his rabbi. Elsewhere, a hearing-challenged, combative campaign manager demands an audience with the President when her Democratic congressional candidate has purposely been underfunded by his party before the upcoming election to unseat an incumbent.

Airdate: Februrary 9, 2000
Director: Schlamme
Writer: Sorkin
Yeah Count: 38
Times Mandy Speaks: 18
posted by ApathyGirl (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Joey Lucas! I love everything about her, especially the twirl away from Josh as she follows the President ("Hey, lunatic lady, trust me when I tell you there is absolutely no way that you are going to see the president!") and the look on her face when Josh queries, "You didn't have a good time meeting me?"

I think this was my introduction to Marlee Matlin, so it's always a bit jarring when I see her in another context and she doesn't sound like Kenny.
posted by casualinference at 7:32 AM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I always... I'll say "admired" this episode, because it was, at least, internally consistent. Preachy? Sure, but at least Sorkin had the self-control not to throw a cartoonish Republican in there a-whoopin' and a-hollerin' about how this here fella needs a-killin' and getting basic facts about the case wrong.

I'm willing to throw TWW the occasional preachifying episode, especially when it has as good a B plot as this one. Joey Lucas and Marlee Matlin are awesome. Kenny, incidentally, has a rather impressive résumé on his own.
posted by Etrigan at 8:14 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Martin Sheen has said that when he was approached for the role, the two things he insisted Bartlet be were Catholic and a Notre Dame graduate. Sheen himself is a religious Roman Catholic. He did not attend college.

Apparently this episode sparked an argument between Sheen, Sorkin and Schlamme. Sheen wanted the sentence commuted, since Bartlet as a Catholic would most likely be against the death penalty. Sorkin and Schlamme argued otherwise and won out.

"Vengeance is not Jewish" is from Leviticus 19:18: "You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." Most if not all modern, knowledgeable religious Jews view this passage as a commandment. To them, it is not humanity's place to take revenge, act as vigilantes or bear a grudge. Those things are reserved only for G-d. Jews are not supposed to celebrate through schadenfreude, either.

I don't know if the "no executions on Sabbath" thing is accurate. But it's worth noting that in practice Judaism has taken the Torah's mandated death penalty for specific offenses and placed so many obstacles and restrictions to it actually being performed that it is almost never allowed. Israeli law bans capital punishment except during wartime and then only for "genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, treason, and crimes against the Jewish People." Also, one of the few times you're allowed to violate the Sabbath is to save a life. Taking one at any time is considered un-Jewish. Doing so on the Sabbath is a big no-no.
posted by zarq at 9:59 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I view this episode as the truly disturbing meat-jello-aspic mold at an otherwise truly delightful 30-course-feast that started around 'The Short List' and goes pretty much right through to season three's 'Ways and Means' (with Isaac & Ishmael serving as the poorly-researched bargain-basement Fernet digestif between the prime rib and the mint sorbet.)
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:02 PM on August 17, 2014

I'm surprised by all the hate for this episode. There's all this preachiness and in the end, there's no hallmark, moral-of-the-week moment -- they execute the guy anyway. I always thought that was a pretty interesting choice. So it has that going for it.

That, and Joey Lucas.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:03 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've always really appreciated the fact that Bartlet doesn't commute the sentence. The final moments of this episode show, more than most any time we're with him, the President as a man rather than the title. Indeed, he discusses this distinction with Father Cavanaugh:
"There are certain decisions I have to make while I’m in this room. Do I send troops
into harm’s way? Which fatal disease gets the most research money?...It’s helpful in those situations not to think of yourself as the man but as the office."
We end up with the most powerful man in the free world sitting idle while a man is executed in his name. Why doesn't he intervene? Really for no other reason than because that's not how the Presidency works. It's a sobering reminder of the humanity behind the office, one that Father Cavanaugh hits home at the very end of the episode when he addresses Bartlet by his first name anyway: "Jed. Would you like me to hear your confession?"
posted by zachlipton at 12:26 AM on August 20, 2014

I said previously that I didn't like this episode, but then I watched it and the B story redeemed it. More on that in a second.

The A story is straight Sorkin sermonizing. I don't mind it here because he A) agrees with me and therefore is B) not wrong. I do like Noah Emmerich as the gung-ho public defender. And I love that little bit where Sam asks about his career at some supposedly big law firm and Emmerich tosses it aside with something like "Yeah, they gave me a corner office". There's something there. Sorkin's really good at having the guts to put a natural interaction like that into the scene. No awkward recounting of how they went to school together or lost touch or what have you. Just a scene we're watching that has some details on the side.

Speaking of on the side, two themes that will come up often: 1) CJ is the Democrat or Liberal who is a little bit ambivalent about certain core liberal issues. Here, she doesn't care about the Death Penalty, but does care about a man dying. Later, she will be very critical of affirmative action. 2) The idea that Sam Seaborn is the one who has the President's ear.

And then there's the B story: all comedy and light. Josh can't drink. Sexist assumptions kick you in the pants (that you wore yesterday). The sparkling presence of Marlee Matlin. In the extended, went-on-forever West Wing, Representative Joey Lucas is the Nancy Pelosi of her timeline. But, you know, awesome.
posted by aureliobuendia at 7:32 AM on August 20, 2014

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