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Recap / The West Wing S 01 E 01 Pilot

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After an Establishing Shot of a Washington, D.C. hotel, we see inside that Billy, a Wall Street Journal reporter, is trying to ask Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), the Deputy Communications Director, if Josh is on his way out, but Sam refuses to answer. It's not just that he doesn't want to answer, it's also Sam is distracted by a woman named Laurie (Lisa Edelstein) who's smiling at him from across the room.


The next morning, Leo McGarry (John Spencer), the Chief of Staff, is complaining to the maid about The ''New York Times'' crossword that morning, while in the background, the phone rings. Leo ignores the phone until his wife tells him, "It's POTUS", at which point he takes the call.

C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), the Press Secretary, is running on a treadmill and trying to make conversation with the man running next to her when he tells her that her pager is ringing. She tries to look at it and almost falls off the treadmill.

Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), the Deputy Chief of Staff, is asleep at his desk when the phone rings, and he answers it.

Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), the Communications Director, is on a plane that's landing, and the flight attendant tells him to turn off his laptop. Another flight attendant comes from the cockpit with the message "POTUS in a bike accident". Toby assures the second flight attendant she got the message right, and takes out his cell phone to call, but the first flight attendant tells him to put it away until they land.


At Laurie's apartment, she's sitting on her bed smoking while Sam is getting out of the shower. She tells Sam he got a message on his pager; "POTUS in a bicycle accident. Come to the office". As Sam starts to dress quickly, Laurie tells him she initially thought it was her pager because hers and Sam's look alike, so she memorized the message. Sam interrupts to tell Laurie while he liked her and liked being with her, he has to go. Laurie doesn't think it looks good, and Sam agrees, and confirms the message is what's making him go, but says he wants to call Laurie later.

Laurie: Tell your friend POTUS he's got a funny name, and he should learn how to ride a bicycle.
Sam: I would, but he's not my friend, he's my boss. It's not his name, it's his title.
Laurie: POTUS?
Sam: President Of The United States. I'll call you.

Leo walks into the White House and greets various people until he gets to the West Wing office area. He sees Donna Moss (Janel Moloney), Josh's assistant, and asks her to get Josh. Instead, Donna yells for Josh, and asks Leo about the President's bicycle accident, which he brushes off. Leo makes his way to Josh's office, where Josh is on the phone. When he hangs up, Leo asks how many Cubans are on fishing boats heading to Florida. Josh points out "boats" is a charitable term, and thinks they should send in the Coast Guard, or any government agency that's going to give them food or blankets. Leo tells Josh he looks like hell, and Josh decides to ask whether the President is upset with him. Leo snaps the President is upset, and Josh had no business going off on the Christian Right like he did. Josh agrees with Leo that "Al Caldwell" is a good man, but he wasn't there, and argues while they need him, they don't need people like John Van Dyke and Mary Marsh. Leo walks away, but admits Josh was right.

In the President's outer office, Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) asks Leo about the President, and Leo tells her the President is a klutz, which she doesn't like to hear inside the Oval Office. Leo tells Bonnie, another secretary, to get the senior staff in for their meeting and to set up conference calls. He then asks Margaret (Nicole Robinson) to call The New York Times crossword to correct them for their spelling of Khaddafi:

Margaret: Is this for real, or is this just funny?
Leo: Apparently, it's neither.

In Leo's office, C.J. tries to ask about the President's bike accident, but once again, Leo doesn't want to talk about it. He asks Sam what they know about the Cubans, but Sam admits he doesn't know any more than Josh. After everyone briefly discusses the fallout, Leo tells Sam to keep Josh in the loop on the story, and everyone agrees they should send doctors and food, but not the National Guard. Leo then turns the focus of the meeting to Josh.

In the press room, Billy tries convincing a colleague the White House is going to fire Josh, but she doesn't believe him. C.J. comes in and tells everyone about the President's bike accident.

Josh is at his office, watching the footage of his appearance with Mary Marsh (Annie Corley) that got him into trouble in the first place. Donna comes in and brings him coffee. Josh tells her to close the door, and points out in the year and a half Donna has been his assistant, she's never brought him coffee. He acts unconcerned about whether he's going to get fired, and she urgently reminds him how much he helped the President get elected. Toby knocks on the door, and comes into the office as Donna leaves. After chiding Josh for his performance, Toby says he's scheduled a meeting between himself, Josh and C.J. with Mary Marsh, Al Caldwell and another member of their group (America for Better Families) to talk about the President's upcoming Sunday radio address on family values. Josh isn't happy with this, and points out again while Caldwell is a good man, he's friends with bad people. Toby retorts that this meeting is the best way to save Josh's job. Josh swallows his pride and says he'll be there. Toby then shows Josh a picture of Mandy Hampton, Josh's ex-girlfriend, who has apparently left a well-paying job to do consulting work in D.C.

Mandy (Moira Kelly) is driving her convertible and on her cell phone, telling a reporter not to screw her over. A police officer pulls her over for driving too fast.

Leo finishes up a meeting with economic advisers when Josh and Sam join him. After Sam mentions there's a storm moving into South Florida, which Leo thinks will make the Cubans think twice about going to Florida, Josh says they need to worry about re-election in general and Senator Lloyd Russell in particular. Leo thinks they're worrying about nothing, even if Russell's numbers are getting interesting, until he hears Mandy is working for Russell, at which point he yells for Margaret to call Russell.

At a diner, Josh and Mandy are having lunch when two young women approach him for an autograph. After he complies and they leave, Josh asks Mandy if Russell is going to run, and how much trouble he's going to be on the budget surplus. Mandy is more interested in telling Josh how much he screwed up on his TV appearance, while Josh is distracted by the fact Mandy called Russell by his first name, and correctly figures out Mandy is dating Russell. Mandy admits it, and tells Josh about a New York Times poll that says the President's unfavorable rating has gone up.

Leo is on the phone with the ''Times'' crossword editor complaining about their mistake, to no avail. C.J. comes in, and after they dispense with a couple of brief matters, C.J. tries to ask about Josh. Leo doesn't want to answer, but admits he really doesn't know what the President is going to do.

On the way to his office, Sam is arguing with Ed and Larry about gun stats when his assistant Cathy (Suzy Nakamura) joins them, and Ed and Larry leave. She tells Sam Leo's wife wants Sam to meet with her daughter's fourth grade class and tell them a little about the history of the White House building. Sam's not happy with this, because Leo's wife has had a grudge against him since he tried to hit on her at a party, and also because Sam doesn't know anything about the history of the White House building. His pager beeps, and he calls the number, which turns out to be for an escort service. Sam tells Cathy to page him and put through whoever calls; sure enough, it's Laurie, who's excited to hear from Sam, but less happy when he tells her they accidentally switched pagers.

C.J. walks through the lobby, fending off reporters who are asking about Josh. She finds Toby, who tells her Josh has agreed to the meeting later.

Leo walks through Lafayette Park with Reverend Caldwell (F. William Parker), pointing out how religious the President is, even when it's cost him politically. The reverend wants to know why Leo demonizes him, and Leo brings up Josh's point about Caldwell being friends with bad people. Caldwell says he needs Mary Marsh for political muscle, and also thinks Leo isn't making a big enough deal about what happened. Leo points out the President wants to fire Josh, and he's been trying to talk him out of it, but isn't sure if he can. Reverend Caldwell, who says he doesn't want a holy war, says he would regret that, and agrees with Leo the meeting Toby organized is a good idea.

At Laurie's apartment, Sam tries not to bring it up, but Laurie admits she is in fact a call girl. They exchange pagers, and Sam says he can't see her again, which Laurie understands.

As one staffer escorts Reverend Caldwell, Mary Marsh and John Van Dyke (David Sage) into the Mural Room, Cathy goes into the Roosevelt Room and tells Mallory O'Brian (Allison Smith) and her fourth grade class they'll be ready in another minute. As Donna, in Josh's office, convinces Josh to change his shirt, Sam walks into the lobby, and Cathy reminds him about the meeting. Sam reminds her he doesn't know anything about the history of the building, and asks Cathy to tell him which one Leo's daughter is. Cathy says she doesn't know, and leaves. Sam walks in and introduces himself to the class, and starts to tell everyone about who he is and what he does when Mallory reminds him the class came to hear about the history of the White House building. Sam tries to bluff his way through the question, but fails spectacularly (among other things, he mixes up which Roosevelt the room was named for), and Mallory asks the class to excuse her and Sam while they step outside. Outside the room, Mallory calls Sam a moron, and Sam admits in this particular area, he is. He then asks Mallory which of the class is Leo's daughter, because it would help if he could make things easier for him if he could get her to have a good time. Mallory doesn't want to let Sam off the hook.

Sam: Ms. O'Brian, I understand your feelings, but please believe me when I tell you that I am a nice guy having a bad day. I just found out the Times is publishing a poll that says that a considerable portion of Americans feel that the White House has lost energy and focus. A perception that is not likely to be altered by the video footage of the President riding his bicycle into a tree. As we speak, the Coast Guard are fishing Cubans out of the Atlantic Ocean, while the governor of Florida wants to blockade the port of Miami. A good friend of mine is about to get fired for going on television and making sense. And it turns out that I accidentally slept with a prostitute last night. Now, would you please in the name of compassion tell me which one of those kids is my boss's daughter?

Sam, of course, is gobsmacked.

As C.J., Josh and Toby walk towards the Mural Room, C.J. reminds Josh not to let Mary bait him. Josh is too distracted by the thought of Mandy and Senator Russell, but agrees. As they walk into the room, Toby and the others greet Reverend Caldwell, Mary and John, and apologizes for running late. Toby starts to bring up the President's radio address when Caldwell interrupts, bringing up Josh's TV performance the day before. Josh sincerely says he's honored to be Caldwell's friend, and apologizes to him and Mary for what he said to her. Everyone looks relieved until Mary says she wants something in return; the radio address needs to be about public morals, specifically school prayer or pornography. Toby's doesn't want to make a deal, and when Josh tries to step in and says he's willing to discuss one, Mary points out Josh is on way out and she's rather deal with Toby. Toby, however, is done being conciliatory, especially when Mary refers to his "New York sense of humor", which he thinks is attacking him and Josh for being Jewish. Things spiral further out of control when John and Toby have a shouting match over whether "Honor thy father" is the First Commandment or not, and John asks what is. At that moment:

President Bartlet, who's walking with a cane, greets everyone and tells Reverend Caldwell he needs to denounce a fringe group called the Lambs of God, and though Caldwell denies it, insists that it's his responsibility. As Leo and Sam come into the room, the President remembers how he was so angry one time, he backed his car out of the garage when the door was still closed, and mentions the reason why he got into the bike accident in the first place was because he was just as pissed; his granddaughter Annie gave an interview in a teen magazine where she expressed her views on abortion, and in retaliation, the Lambs of God sent her a doll with a knife in its throat. Caldwell and the others are shocked to hear this, and the President kicks them out, but not before ordering Caldwell again to denounce them. As Caldwell leaves, he assures Leo he'll fix the situation, and Leo urgently tells him to do so.

As the staff heads into the President's office, Josh is laughing at the fact he was the calmest person at the meeting, and that C.J. didn't say a thing; C.J. admits she was distracted by the thought of Mandy and Senator Russell. As Sam starts to ask about this, the President reminds them he's there, and speculates they've all been taking a break. He agrees they deserve one, as they work hard at their jobs. He then reads them a note about how a tenth of the Cubans who left have reached Miami despite all the obstacles they faced, including the bad weather, and tells the staff, "Break's over". The staff thanks the President, and everyone leaves; before Josh can leave, the President tells him not to screw up like that again.

President Bartlet: Mrs. Landingham; What's next?

This episode contains examples of:

  • Armor-Piercing Response: Toby reveals that he's invited the heads of the religious group Mary Marsh is affiliated with to discuss the scheduled Sunday morning radio address on family values.
    Josh: When did that get on the schedule?
    Toby: Listen to me for one second.
    Josh: When did that get on the schedule?!
    Toby: Regular Sunday morning. Listen to me—
    Josh: [Increasingly irate] When did we schedule family values
    Toby: [Snapping] We scheduled it, Josh, after your smug, taunting, you know, calamitous performance on Capitol Beat!
    [Josh hangs his head]
  • As the Good Book Says...: Bartlet describes it best.
    Bartlet: Now, I love my family, and I have read my Bible from cover to cover so answer me this: In what scripture did the Lambs of God find the inspiration to send my granddaughter a Raggedy Ann doll with a knife jammed through its throat?
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Leo's attitude towards anyone who asks how the President got into a bicycle accident.
    Leo: He was swerving to avoid a tree.
    Donna: And what happened?
    Leo: He was unsuccessful.
    • And then a little later:
    C.J.: Is there anything I can say, other than the President rode his bicycle into a tree?
    Leo: He hopes never to do it again.
    • Also happens to Leo, in relation to the Cubans:
    Leo: How many (Cubans) are there?
    Josh: We don't know.
    Leo: What time, exactly, do they leave?
    Josh: We don't know.
    Leo: Do they know when they get here?
    Josh: No.
    Leo: True or false; if I were to stand on high ground in Key West with a good pair of binoculars, I would be as informed as I am right now.
    Josh: That's true.
    Leo: The intelligence budget's money well spent, isn't it?
  • Badass Grandpa: President Bartlet establishes early on that you do not mess with his family.
  • Berserk Button: Toby's patience is clearly getting very strained in dealing with Mary Marsh, but when she makes what he considers a veiled anti-Semitic comment about he and Josh having "a New York sense of humor", that's when it snaps entirely.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Averted here.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Donna walks into Josh's office as Josh is re-watching the TV appearance that got him into trouble.
    Donna: You shouldn't have worn that tie on television. It bleeds.
    Josh: I don't think it was the tie that got me in trouble.
    Donna: Yeah, but I've told you a zillion times.
    • Doubles as an Actor Allusion; Janel Moloney played a wardrobe assistant on Sports Night.
    • During the "New York sense of humor" discussion, Josh points out that he's actually from Connecticut. He later jokingly claims this is why he didn't get offended by the antisemetic undertones.
  • Day in the Life: The episode basically focusses on a more-or-less typical working day in the White House for the characters.
  • Deadpan Snarker: It's an Aaron Sorkin show; of course this trope is used.
  • Death Glare: Mary Marsh, who has been arrogantly throwing her weight around with the senior staff throughout the previous scene, snottily responds to Bartlet's order to C.J. to show her and her colleagues out by muttering "I believe we can find the door." But even she looks a little bit sick when she looks up, sees the look on the President's face, and realizes he overheard her.
    Bartlet: Find it now.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Mandy, who not only runs a red light, but is on the phone the entire time, even when she's pulled over.
    Mandy: Listen, I'm under arrest. I'm going to have to call you back.
  • Felony Misdemeanor / Serious Business: Leo being upset about the New York Times crossword misspelling Khaddafi's name:
    Leo: Seventeen across...Yes...Seventeen across is wrong...You’re spelling his name wrong...What’s my name? My name doesn't matter. I’m just an ordinary citizen who relies on the Times crossword for stimulation. And I’m telling you, that I've met with the man twice, and I've recommended a preemptive Exocet Missile attack against his air force. So, I think I know how to...
    C.J.: Leo!
    Leo: They hang up on me. Every time.
  • Foreshadowing: This won't be the last we hear about Laurie, Mallory, or the bill Mandy was talking on the phone about.
    • Also, the gun stats Sam is arguing about are most likely concerning the gun bill that comes up for a vote in "Five Votes Down".
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: In-universe; the President riding his bike into a tree is played for laughs at the President's expense over what a klutz he is throughout most of the episode, until he appears at the end and reveals why he rode his bike into a tree; he wasn't concentrating because he was incredibly pissed off, and he was incredibly pissed off because his granddaughter had received a death threat from an extremist Christian group after making some pro-choice comments in a teen magazine.
    • The sight of Bartlet limping around the Oval Office with the help of a walking stick is funny in this episode, resulting as it does from his klutziness. In later seasons, however, he'll be forced to heavily rely on a walking cane for more serious reasons.
  • High-Class Call Girl: What Laurie turns out to be.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Discussed:
    John Van Dyke: Show the average American teenage male a condom and his mind will turn to thoughts of lust.
    Toby Ziegler: Show the average American teenage male a lug wrench and his mind'll turn-
    C.J. Cregg: Toby!
  • Incoming Ham: Hmmm, how should we introduce the President of the United States as a character in this show? How about having him walk into a room declaring:
    President Bartlet: "I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other God before me." Boy, those were the days, huh?
  • Irony: As Josh points out, after being lectured by everyone to not lose his cool in the meeting with the Christian coalition members he turns to have been the coolest-headed and most conciliatory person in the room. It was actually Toby who ended up getting into a shouting match with them.
  • Just Plane Wrong: Toby mentions when trying to use his cell phone that the plane is a Lockheed L-1011 that "just came off the line" 20 months ago. The last production model L-1011 was built in 1984, 15 years before the setting of this episode.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: John Van Dyke is a supposed religious leader who doesn't seem to know the correct order of the Ten Commandments.
  • Lame Comeback: Josh's disaster on TV.
    Mary Marsh: You don't believe in any god that I pray to, Mr. Lyman.
    Josh: Lady, the god you pray to is too busy being indicted for tax fraud!
  • Let Me Get This Straight...:
    Mallory: You’re the White House Deputy Communications Director and you’re not good at talking about the White House?
    Sam: Ironic, isn't it?
  • Literalist Snarking: Mary Marsh makes a barbed remark about Toby and Josh's "New York sense of humor", Josh points out that he's not a New Yorker, which does nothing to improve Marsh's temperament.
  • Mathematician's Answer: In addition to the Leo/Margaret example listed above, there's also this part between Leo and Mrs. Landingham:
    Mrs. Landingham: (asking about the President's condition) Is anything broken?
    Leo: A $4,000 Lynex Titanium touring bike that I swore I’d never lend anyone.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Josh feels this way about Senator Russell, though whether he really believes this or is just doing this to piss of Mandy after he finds out Mandy is dating the senator is left up to the viewer.
  • Monochrome Casting: This was one of the criticisms of the pilot, that there were almost no minorities on the show, even in supporting roles (except for Bonnie and Cathy, two of the secretaries). That was rectified in the next few episodes.
  • Parental Bonus: Sorkin is fond of this. For example, in the opening scene, Sam tells Billy, "Algier Hiss just walked in with my secret pumpkin."
  • Servile Snarker: Cathy and Margaret.
    Cathy: Leo's wife called.
    Sam: That woman hates me.
    Cathy: Yes.
    Sam: What'd I do?
    Sam: Yes. I meant recently. I meant why did she call.
    Cathy: She wants you to-
    Sam: For the hundredth time, I didn’t know who she was, and how long am I gonna be crucified for that?
    Cathy: Well, a little while longer anyway, cause-
    Sam: Most women, I would think, would be flattered that-
    Cathy: Yeah, I think Leo was especially touched that you-
  • There Is No Try: Discussed as Mandy is on her car phone with the reporter:
    Mandy: Look, I don’t want to hear you’re going to try, Bruce. This isn't gym class...I said, gym class. Gym class!...Bruce, Bruce! Cause it's important in gym to try, but it is not necessarily - look, Bruce, it was a simple metaphor.
  • Society Marches On: When this episode aired, POTUS standing for President of the United States was a Wham Line. Now, this is "Common Knowledge".
  • Those Two Guys: Ed and Larry are the ones arguing with Sam about gun stats.
  • Walk and Talk: Used early and often. This show (along with Sports Night) is, after all, the Trope Codifier.
  • Wham Line: Our brief introductions to the characters give us a sense of who they are, but little about exactly what it is they do. They're linked by mentions of someone or something called "Potus", however, the exact nature of which is given to the audience with one of these:
    Laurie: Tell your friend Potus he's got a funny name and he should learn how to ride a bicycle.
    Sam: I'd like to, but he's not my friend, he's my boss. And it's not his name, it's his title.
    Laurie: "Potus"?
    Sam: President of the United States.

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