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Headscratchers / The West Wing

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  • 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, a 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.
      • Or that they were simply replaced offscreen. Let's face it, how often did we see other speechwriters than Toby and Sam around the place? How many of the audience would even recognize the original speechwriting staff? They were hardly familiar faces.
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    • 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.
      • Bartlet's lack of memory of Kundu could also be a subtle reference to his MS. One of the many symptoms of MS is loss of short term memory... although the I could be attributing too much knowledge of the disease to the writers.
  • 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?
    • It is perhaps worth noting that when Lionel is ranting and raving and waving his cricket bat threateningly, he is in fact heading towards Leo's office, not the President, which is where most of the ranting and ensuing conversation takes place. When he finally enters the Oval Office he is, if not exactly calm, then hardly acting in a threatening or overtly aggressive manner. Also worth noting that Tribbey at no point ever threatens the President directly (he says "I will kill people today, Leo!" and never refers to the President in a violent or threatening manner). Which, granted, doesn't mean the issue goes away, but he's hardly acting like a complete maniac who needs to be taken down right this second around the President.
    • Note also that Lionel does not actually start yelling until he is inside the office, or at least inside the office's antechamber. I imagine that he was fairly controlled (if seething) while walking around the corridors, and the mere fact that he is carrying a cricket bat is no reason for the Secret Service to open fire on him any more than if he was carrying, say, a baseball bat or a golf club.
    • Also, I suspect that the White House is a place that sees its fair share of yelling, histrionics and tantrums from the people who work there, due to being a stressful working environment, and the Secret Service no doubt gives a bit of leeway with this in mind. They’re not gonna shoot-to-kill the White House Counsel just because he’s storming the corridors yelling to whoever will listen about whatever dumb thing the West Wing staff has done this time that has caused him more stress than he needs right now.
    • Plus... Rule of Funny, guys. It's still a TV show, we can give them some leeway for a comedic moment.
  • 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.
    • And anyway, you can't arrest someone for BEING a prostitute. She'd have to be caught in the act and after the crap she'd just gotten into because of Sam's job and politics, they weren't looking to make her life harder.
  • 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?
    • Given that they were described as "a NASA administrator", this is probably just a flub and the writers were intending that the characters in question be considered Deputy/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?
    • If Ann Stark managed to get the quote, she has to have gotten the information from somewhere, so it would absolutely come back to bite her if for example Toby told another staff member about it, and that other staff member is her source.
      • Ann Stark was the source. Toby said it to her.
  • 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.]
      • You never get a good look at Josh shirtless. The first thing he does when he wakes up is put his undershirt back on, so you never see his scar. Read into it what you want about Josh's psyche, the "real" reason is probably so the makeup crew didn't have to apply the scar to Bradley Witford's chest.
      • 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, 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.
    • Is it that rare and unusual a phrase? This troper recalls hearing and using it plenty of times before being exposed to it on the show. We might be dealing with cultural/regional language differences here.
  • Why would Sam think that Leo had a daughter young enough to be in elementary school in the pilot? If he'd worked for Leo since the campaign (which would have been at least two years), surely he would have noticed if Leo had a little girl running around? For that matter, wouldn't he have met or heard of Mallory at some point?
    • Why wouldn't he think that? Leo's not that old, neither's his wife, and Sam and Leo aren't exactly people who spend a lot of time with their own families, let alone the families of their co-workers. Political campaigns and working in the White House aren't generally family environments (so the occasions for Sam to meet Mallory before then would be slim), Leo and Sam don't exactly hang out a lot personally or share a lot of personal information, and Leo's whole character is that he's a complete workaholic who has separated his work and family lives to such a degree that he gets divorced about four episodes into Season One. Since it's established that Sam barely knows Leo's wife, there's a equally good chance that he's never met Leo's daughter and knows only what little scraps of information Leo has revealed about her, which probably isn't that much beyond the fact of her existence. So when he hears that his boss's daughter's fourth-grade class is coming to the White House, he makes the assumption that many reasonable people might make about someone they've never met and know hardly anything about when given that information — that Leo's daughter is a student in the class rather than the teacher.
      • Except that we know that, in advance of the series, that Mallory and Zoey know each other well (evidenced by their relationship as presented, such as the visit to the bar with Charlie) and that they both spent time with CJ, and Sam is very familiar with Zoey also: all prior to the first series’ events. It is heavily implied that they spent a lot of time together during the campaign, so it would be odd for Sam to be so completely unaware of Mallory’s basic existence given his relationships with people who know her reasonably well. I have a sketchy recognition of my colleagues family set-up, even if I don’t know specifics, and with Sam in Communications it seems unlikely given the level of media attention they would likely have had during the campaign that he never ONCE noticed an adult daughter in Leo’s profile.
      • Since most of that takes place after the pilot episode, this is probably just a simply continuity error. Although those points aren't particularly conclusive either: it's worth noting that unlike Mallory Zoey is the First Daughter, who Sam would probably come into contact with more both during the campaign and in the White House than Mallory (Mallory's a grown woman with a job who presumably didn't and likely wouldn't have any reason to follow her father all the way around the country during the campaign, unlike Zoey who was probably a dependent at the time); Mallory and Zoey are likely to be family friends through their fathers so would naturally know each other better than the White House staffers would (I imagine that Mallory probably spent a few evenings babysitting Zoey at some point during their lives); C.J. appears to have some prior connection or awareness of Leo that Sam might not have had before he joined the campaign (Toby merely mentioning Leo asking for her is enough to tempt C.J. into joining the campaign, whereas Josh never mentions Leo's name to Sam when approaching him) which might explain how C.J. knows Mallory where Sam doesn't; and most of Sam's work in Communications would probably involve him dealing with the President and his family rather than Leo's. So while it might strain credibility a bit, it nevertheless is possible that Sam just might not have had occasion to cross paths with Mallory or learn that Leo had an adult daughter until fairly late in the day. I mean, I've worked with some people for years and still have no idea whether they have kids or families or whatever. Sometimes it just never comes up.
  • Am I missing something, or are the laws different in DC that a 19 year old is allowed into a bar?
    • If we want to get Wild-Mass-Guessy with it, it's possible that in the universe of The West Wing the National Minimum Drinking Age Act 1984 was never passed, meaning that the legal drinking age of the District of Columbia is 18.
    • The bar is in Georgetown, a college town. There are plenty of bars in college towns that allow 18-20 year olds in but don't serve them alcohol. The headscratcher in this case is that they specifically show her ordering a drink, which would still be illegal, whether it was for her or not.
  • Gail, CJ's goldfish: You don't have to be a PETA crazy to understand that it's extremely bad for their health to keep goldfish in a bowl. Gail could live to be forty if properly cared for. People being what they are on this show, someone (Danny?) will have told CJ by now (maybe someone clued him in if he went back to the pet shop). Therefore, in or near her office, there is a large well-appointed aquarium where Gail spends most of her time, probably with other fish. She is only in the bowl on CJ's desk during office hours. (She will get too big for the bowl eventually, so some kind of aquarium will be needed anyhow.)
    • It was the 1990s when Gail was introduced, and if memory serves people were a bit less concerned about this sort of thing when it came to goldfish back then. Plus, these people work at the White House — they generally have other things to think about than proper goldfish care.

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