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Headscratchers: The West Wing
  • In a rare research mistake, the entire late Season Six/Season Seven subplot about the military Space Shuttle could have been avoided if someone had remembered that every space station ever launched, from Skylab to Salyut to Mir to the ISS, always had an Apollo or Soyuz ship docked to it whenever it was manned, for use as a lifeboat just in case something like the space station leak ever happened.
    • It is possible that the problem with the station extended to the docked Apollo/Soyuz, or in some other way prevented the use of it. Or, due to differences with our universe from the time of Nixon's resignation onwards, such precautions aren't being taken.
    • After MIR suffered a docking collision, few of its sections were permanently depressurized, but the station went on fine for many more years until it was decommissioned for fairly unrelated reasons. A malfunction that threatened the entire station and disabled the aforementioned lifeboats should have been described less as an "oxygen leak" and more as a "prolonged encounter with a meteor shower".
  • Unless you're one of the very senior staff (by which I mean basically Leo, Toby or the President), the west wing of the White House seems to be a horrible place to work - particularly the Communications Department. I mean look:
    • On Ainsley Hayes' first day as Associate White House Counsel, two members of the Communications department leave a dead plant on her desk along with a note reading "BITCH".
      • This is acknowledged as workplace harassment and the guys responsible were immediately fired.
    • In his first couple of weeks as Deputy Communications Director, Will Bailey's office is used by junior members of his department as a makeshift bikeshed. But this was no amiable hazing, because after this they all quit, the day before the President was due to unveil his budget. That's right, this group of dedicated public servants quit the day before the President - their President - was about to unveil his budget, and needed their help to do so. They quit jobs working in the very heart of government, because they were annoyed that the job went to an external candidate.
      • Did you miss the part where Toby told him it was a test to see how he (Will) handled it?
      • Apparently. I thought the test was the President disagreeing with him to see how he handled telling the truth to power. Not the staff all leaving.
      • I hadn't noticed that, but it actually does make sense that the speechwriting staff didn't actually quit. First of all, one cannot simply quit such a job - you have to give notice. Second, the makeshift staff (the four interns) don't remain active members of the staff afterwards - given that they had been given airtime, and the fact that Will manages to work effectively with them at the end of the relevant episode, it is likely that Will would have offered them permanent staff positions if they had to rebuild the staff, and they would have made reappearances. That this didn't happen implies that the speechwriting staff came back, and thus didn't actually quit.
    • Rena, Toby's assistant in the fifth season, is seen crying because none of the other Assistants will talk to her, something which Donna seems to tacitly confirm.
    • This is Truth in Television with a lot of organisations, though; even in the West Wing of the White House, some people will be liked more than others, some people will have a happier time working there than others, and bullies and jackasses will still turn up somehow. It's a fairly big organisation, not everyone's going to be as noble and idealistic (or idealised) as our heroes.
  • The first time we hear about the Republic of Equatorial Kundu, its president is at the White House, and Toby and Josh try to help him negotiate with drug companies to get free or discounted HIV medication for Kundunese citizens. Later, he talks to Bartlet in the Oval Office, and Bartlet tells him that a coup d'etat has occurred in his country. Bartlet tries to convince the Kundunese president to stay in America where he's safe, but he insists on going home— and is summarily executed in the airport's parking lot upon arrival, as Bartlet warned him he would be. Later in the series, Kundu undergoes a Rwanda-like genocidal civil war, and Bartlet says, "What's this about Kundu? I was told about uprisings in the Republic of Equatorial Kundu, and I had to go look at a map!" He's implying that he's never heard of Kundu before, but how the hell could he have forgotten that meeting?!
    • It's a sad but very deliberate Shout-Out.
    • Bartlet probably hasn't forgotten the meeting, but that doesn't mean he's an expert on African geography or political relations. Meeting the leader of a country — even under such traumatic circumstances — doesn't necessarily mean being able to pinpoint that country on a map; there's lots of countries in the world, there's lots of countries in Africa, Bartlet's no doubt met a lot of world leaders and he can't reasonably be expected to geographically place all of them. Especially when, in circumstances such as a crippling civil war-slash-ethnic cleansing, national borders tend to get a bit hazy; for all he knows, Equatorial Kundu has moved 100km up the map since he last heard about it. Furthermore IIRC, the plot of that particular episode involves Bartlet being deliberately stymied and denied information by certain parties involved in the situation in order to prevent him or his administration from acting on what's happening in Kundu (for whatever reason — it's been a while since I've seen it). I think Bartlet might also just be expressing his frustration about not being informed anything of substance by his aides and having to find out what he does know himself — "I had to look at a map!", in this case, is shorthand for "I basically had to find out everything I currently know about this situation all by myself because everyone else has told me precisely dick-all about it." Plus, he's the President of the United States; he's got a fair bit on his plate, which means he can probably be excused from not having complete recall about every single situation he's ever been in.
  • How the heck did a black man end up with the name Percival Fitzwallace?
    • You write a script before you cast the actor.
    • Adoption.
    • Most black Americans have surnames that are white/European in origin — English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, French, Spanish, Portuguese. Unless you've never heard of colonization or the slave trade, I don't know why this would confuse you.
    • How do you think Shaquille O'Neal got his name? Is it the "Percival" part that mystifies you?
    • I'm not sure what the issue here is at all, to be honest; so a black man has the name Percival Fitzwallace. Is there some kind of ruling I'm unaware of that states that black men are not allowed to have a name like this?
  • Yes, it was funny, but how in the world could Lionel Tribbey get anywhere near the Oval Office while brandishing a cricket bat?!
    • The Secret Service no doubt recognise him — he is the White House Counsel after all — and are aware that he does not actually intend to bash the President's brains in or anything.
    • Either that or they're too scared of him to stop him.
    • How many people — among the senior staff and outsiders brought in to assist senior staff — threaten Bartlet without so much as a batted eyelash by the Secret Service?
  • The first season Laurie plot always bugged me because prostitution is in fact illegal in Washington, D.C. They continually treat Laurie like a huge victim in the entire affair when she's the one knowingly and repeatedly breaking the law with the non-judgemental acknowledgement of everyone around her. Now, it may be reasonable to assume that the staff and even the local law enforcement choose not to enforce that law against the women of the trade...but when the President finally gets wind of it: he goes out of his way to apologize (again) for the dreadful inconvenience the press has caused her, which is of course entirely Sam's fault; he pledges to throw the weight of the Attorney General's office behind get ting her admitted to the bar after passing her exam, to avoid any complications caused by this unfortunate past, of which she is the victim; and he offers her his personal congratulations while brimming with pride at the obstacles this young woman has overcome. I'm not saying she should've been vilified, or that it wasn't reasonable for Sam to see her as a person rather than a hooker, but...really?
    • Because she is a victim, kind of; okay, yes, she knowingly and willingly working as a prostitute, but her relationship / friendship with Sam was completely innocent and almost totally divorced from that. In any case, just because she's a prostitute doesn't mean she deserves to have her past and livelihood smeared all over the front pages due to the betrayal of a supposed 'friend', all for what seems to be little reason than to cause some temporary embarrassment to the current administration and thus enable the opposition to score some cheap political points at their — and especially her — expense. The President's and everyone's reactions might have been a little over the top, but it's acknowledging that in this case she really wasn't to blame.
  • One thing that bothered me for a long time was the odd absence of several key figures in a presidential administration. Shouldn't the Secretary of State have been a major character? Look at pictures of real life presidents, you'll notice they tend to appear a LOT. Seems like an odd omission, especially since the show often deals with foreign policy.
    • There's good reason for this - the Secretary of State is primarily a political position, in that they act as the face of the government on certain issues. However, it is likely that much of the real interactions between president and secretary of state would be done by their chiefs of staff, with the Secretary being seen with the President during photo ops, etc. Note that the remaining interactions between them would occur during Cabinet meetings, of which we only saw a few during the series.
      • In the real world, although the Sec State is indeed an important and influential appointment, in practise he has exactly as much power as the President decides he will have. Richard Nixon's Sec State was little more than a stooge as the President intended to handle foreign affairs himself, and Bartlet seems pretty hands on with foreign affairs. Similarly Santos (Obama) appoints his rival Vinick (H. Clinton) to the position of Sec State, which might indicate the Secretary will have more influence in the future.
  • Given how many people were referred to as being "a NASA Administrator" over the course of the series, did the writers not get that there's only one Administrator at a time, the head of the agency, or should we assume only one was actually the Administrator and the others were his/her Deputy and Associate Administrators?
  • In "The Leadership Breakfast," why doesn't C.J. just deny that anyone in the White House ever spoke the quote that Ann Stark uses to attack them? It's not like she can prove it really happened, since she and Toby were the only two people in the room.
    • Because that would be a lie, and she makes a point of not lying to the press unless it's absolutely necessary?
  • How does Josh end up getting shot in the season one finale? The gunmen are firing at Charlie who isn't anywhere near Josh.
    • And for that matter, if Josh underwent more than twelve hours of surgery which included bypass, how come he doesn't have a scar later on? Same thing goes for Donna, who is apparently scar-free from her season six surgeries.
    • IIRC the gunmen are using handguns (notoriously unreliable at long range) rather than rifles, suggesting they aren't exactly marksmen, and while they have a specific target in practice they're basically just firing wildly into the crowd; essentially, there's a lot of bullets flying around all over the place. Josh was probably hit by a stray.
    • As for why we didn't see a scar... well, we probably have to chalk this one up to real life pressures of production; considering how rare it was to see either Josh or Donna outside of anything but a smart suit (or, indeed, anything that would reveal scars on their chests), they probably either forgot all about it over time or decided that trying to remember exactly where Josh or Donna should have a scar on a consistent basis for what would only amount to a handful of shots that weren't expressly intended to show the character's injuries for plot reasons anyway (which in turn would have meant more time for the actors in make-up, which in turn would snowball into how much time they had to shoot the scene(s) in question) just meant more effort with little to show for it; in the latter case, they gambled that most people wouldn't notice anyway and the ones who did just shrug and let it go without it affecting their overall enjoyment. [See also: why Kate Beckett in Castle seems to have a magically reappearing/disappearing scar as well.]
      • Adding to that theory: IIRC, Josh mentions having a scar in a later episode - so it seems as though it's just dropping the ball on make-up continuity, here, as opposed to actual continuity.
  • In a combination Headscratcher/Wallbanger, in Season Four's Evidence of Things Not Seen, after the Secret Service clears the building and Josh and Joe Quincy get back to their interview, there's this exchange (paraphrased by me):
    Joe: ...Wow, I didn't even hear that, did you?
    Josh: No, but I did hear brass quintet playing 'The First Noel' so I assumed someone somewhere was locked and loaded.
    Joe: For the record, the people you think don't know that story, and the people you'd like don't care.
If I'm just not getting the context then could someone explain it to me? Because what it comes off as is Joe calling out Josh for...whatever about Josh's PTSD episode in Noel. First of all, how the hell would Joe evening know about that? It would be confidential information; and second, what the hell business is it of Joe Quincy's that Josh has PTSD anyway?! His tone and the words he use just bother me. It comes across as out of nowhere victim blaming and it steps way over the line of things you say to anyone, much less to someone you hope will hire you, and all it serves to do is, (IMO) paint Joe as an ignorant Jerkass offering an unwarranted opinion.
  • I think you got the quote a little wrong. According to IMDB, the line is, "You know, not for nothing, but the people I talk to don't believe that story, and the people you'd like don't care." "The people I talk to" should probably be read as code for "conservative Republicans." The point is merely to re-assure Josh that his enemies don't believe the story enough to use it for ammo, and his friends don't think any less of him for it. And, not coincidentally, it doesn't make Joe think any less of him. As for how it got out...eh, maybe a hundred ways. By this conversation Josh seems to be using it as a punchline, and there's a chance he's mentioned it similarly to other people as well. The story makes the rounds in the usual Washington DC cocktail party fashion and eventually gets to Joe.
  • Not for nothing, but...
    • With reference to the Headscratcher involving Joe Quincy above - the entire staff of the West Wing use the phrase "not for nothing" sporadically. It's an unusual phrase, and while it could easily have spread round the senior staff in a close-knit group, Joe Quincy uses it - and at this point he's never worked in the White House at all. Obviously the Fourth Wall reason is that Aaron Sorkin likes the phrase - but what in-show reason can there be for the phrase to be in common use?
    • It's a fairly uncommon phrase, but it's not a Sanskrit invocation taken from a cuneiform tablet. It's hardly noteworthy that someone outside of the White House would use it once. If one is inclined to read deeply into minor character traits, it could be seen as a way of demonstrating how similar Quincy is to the folks at the White House and what a good fit he'd be with the culture there, ideology and party affiliation notwithstanding.

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