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Recap / The West Wing S 01 E 10 In Excelsis Deo

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Two days before Christmas, in the morning, C.J., Mandy, Sam and Toby are walking in the lobby, discussing the upcoming Christmas ceremony, which Toby couldn't care less about. As everyone but Mandy heads back to their offices, Toby also gets upset at the notion the new millennium is coming, as he says, mathematically, it isn't. Sam tries to argue the point, but gets interrupted when Ginger tells Toby the D.C. police are on the phone for him. As Toby heads off, C.J. and Sam continue to discuss it, and C.J. asks a Secret Service agent to tell the President she's on her way.


A homicide detective is waiting for Toby at a park bench near the Korean War Memorial. A homeless man is lying on the bench, having frozen to death. The detective tells Toby the dead man's name (Walter Hufnagle), as well as the cause of death, and says one of Toby's business cards was in Hufnagle's coat. Toby recognizes the coat as one he donated to Goodwill, and the detective realizes the card must have been in it already, and thanks Toby. Toby, uncomfortable with the casual attitude the detective seems to be taking, informs the detective he should call the VA, as Hufnagle has a tattoo indicating he was with the Marines in Korea.

In Josh's office area, he wishes Donna and her family a merry Christmas. She in turn gives him her Christmas list, all of which relates to skis and ski equipment. As he heads to Leo's office, Josh promises he'll give the list a lot of thought (he lies he's going to see Leo to talk about her Christmas present); naturally, when Donna walks away, he throws it in the trash. Josh goes to Leo's office, where he's signing Christmas cards under Margaret's supervision because, as Margaret sourly notes, "We like to spread holiday cheer":


Leo: Who the hell is this guy and why do I care if he has a Merry Christmas?
Margaret: Leo, just sign the damn thing!

Josh gives Leo a meaningful look, and Leo asks Margaret to excuse them for a couple of minutes. When Margaret leaves (giving Leo a Death Glare as she does), Josh brings up what Lillienfield has on Leo, and mentions he wants to make a preemptive strike without telling Leo too much. When Leo presses him, Josh brings up Sam's relationship with Laurie, which Leo has heard rumors of, but Leo puts his foot down at the idea of Josh asking Laurie to name any Republican clients she had. Leo insists it's not what they do. Changing subjects, Leo asks Josh if he heard about a gay teen in Minnesota who's in critical condition after several young teenage boys beat him up, tied him to a tree and threw rocks at his head. Leo mentions they're going to have to revisit hate crimes after the Christmas break, and says C.J. is going to send up a test balloon at her briefing. He then dismisses Josh and sourly tells Margaret they should get back to the Christmas card signing.


In the press briefing room, C.J. tells the press the President's schedule for Christmas day. A reporter asks about the teenager Leo talked about; C.J. gives his name (Lowell Lydell), and affirms he's in critical condition. When the reporter asks if the Bartlet administration will be revisiting hate crimes legislation, C.J. notes they probably should have done that before Lydell was beaten.

In his office, Toby is on hold, trying to find out information on Walter Hufnagle. Mandy comes by, asking what he's doing, and he tells her. She brings up the Christmas ceremony, and Toby indicates now isn't a good time, so she leaves.

Josh is heading back to his office when Donna catches up to him. Josh assumes she's there to bug him about her Christmas present, but in fact, she knows about Leo. They step inside and he closes the door. She confirms Margaret told her, and asks if it's true. When Josh reluctantly confirms it is, Donna asks what they're going to do about it. Josh says they're going to do nothing for the time being, which upsets Donna, who says Leo would be the first to help them if they were in trouble. Josh accuses Donna of trying to guilt trip him, and she denies it; he accepts that, and says he has work to do.

C.J. leads a group of grade school students into the northwest lobby, and tells them how to ask President Bartlet a question. A Secret Service agent gives C.J. the hi sign, and she tells the students to say, "Good morning, Mr. President!" to President Bartlet as he walks in. They greet President Bartlet, and he puts on a show for them, pretending to forget what he's president of (he says Bulgaria at first, then Luxembourg). A little girl asks what his favorite part of being president is, and as Bartlet kisses her forehead, he says he's doing it right now. Just then, Charlie walks in and signals C.J., who whispers to President Bartlet, who lies to the kids that he's going over to other kids he might like better. C.J. and President Bartlet walk over to Charlie, who apologizes for interrupting, and tells them Lowell Lydell died. Both C.J. and President Bartlet react to the news, and Bartlet tells Charlie to send flowers and arrange to call his parents in a couple hours. President Bartlet then returns to the children as if nothing had happened, and resumes his act for them.

C.J. is heading back to her office when Sam catches up to her and tells her to dial things down on hate crimes. C.J. responds she barely said anything, and brings up the horrific nature of Lowell Lydell's murder, but agrees to his request. She then brings up her Secret Service name, which she thinks is ridiculous, and Sam decides he'd rather not get involved. He then tells Ginger he's off to Bermuda, and looks for Toby, who is out of the office. Josh is waiting for Sam, and they go to his office. Once inside, Josh brings up Laurie, and starts to ask Sam if she'd divulge the names of any Republican clients she had when Sam cuts him off, telling him there's no way. Josh brings up Lillienfield, and Leo's drug history, and says they need to stand by Leo. Sam thinks a moment, then agrees to call Laurie and set up a meeting for that night.

In the Oval Office, Mrs. Landingham tells Charlie he needs to remind the President not to drink eggnog, as he's allergic. Charlie admires all of the decorations and the festive atmosphere, and wonders why Mrs. Landingham seems so down. She explains she misses her sons, who were killed in Vietnam. They were med students, and despite the fact they could get a deferment because of that, they wanted to go when they were drafted:

As Charlie says "Okay", and walks out, Mrs. Landingham goes back to arranging papers on her desk.

Toby is back at the Korean War Memorial, near the crime scene. He sees a man named John Noonan who's operating an information stand about the war. Toby asks if Noonan knew Walter Hufnagle, and Noonan says he did. Toby asks where he could find someone else who knew Hufnagle, and Noonan suggests a place around the highway where other homeless people usually hang out. Toby thanks him, they shake hands, introduce themselves, wish each other merry Christmas, and Toby leaves.

In the Oval Office, President Bartlet tells Josh to blow off whatever he's doing and come with him, Charlie, Leo and Mandy, as they're sneaking to a rare bookstore to go Christmas shopping. Mandy bugs President Bartlet about having a couple of photographers come along for publicity purposes, but he waves her off.

C.J. is walking to her office when Danny catches up to her. He notes that the President is sneaking out to go Christmas shopping, and she jokes he's getting Danny's gift. Danny mentions he's made a list of reasons why she should go out with him; C.J. retorts that she wants time to come up with a list of reasons why she shouldn't, and he leaves. C.J. sees Sam and asks what he's doing that night, as she was thinking of inviting him and Josh over; Sam, thinking she's asking about Laurie, evades the question. C.J. gets suspicious, but Sam is able to put her off.

In the bookstore, Mandy continues to complain about not having photographers, and Josh tells her to give it a rest. President Bartlet asks Leo to spend Christmas with his family, but Leo would rather be alone, and even plans to work. After joking about how President Bartlet really wants Leo to come so he can bore him by reading to him, Leo turns serious and brings up Lillienfield. Bartlet says he's not worried about it, and tells Leo he won't hear of him resigning. Charlie comes up to Bartlet, telling him it's time to go. As President Bartlet leaves and Charlie goes to pay for the books, Leo brings up his conversation with Josh earlier, and Josh lies and says he won't do anything.

That night, underneath the Washington bridge, Toby finds a line of homeless men and asks if they knew Walter Hufnagle. One of them tells Toby Hufnagle's brother George, who's a little slow, is sitting by a fire. Toby thanks him and heads over. Toby tries to explain to George, who is a little slow mentally, that Hufnagle died by freezing to death; George mentions he was at a shelter, and guesses Walter couldn't get in. Toby brings up Hufnagle's service in the Marines (he won a Purple Heart), and says he wants to arrange a full military funeral for Hufnagle. The homeless man who pointed out George tells Toby he'll make sure George is there so Toby can bring him to the funeral. Toby thanks him and starts to give the man all of his money, but the man refuses, saying Toby doesn't know the neighborhood.

In C.J.'s office, she's telling Danny her list of reasons why she shouldn't go out with him, which she's written down. Danny can't believe she's made an actual list, and says his was in his head. He also gives C.J. a Christmas present, which is food for the goldfish, and says he's going to ignore C.J.'s list. Leo comes in and admires the fish. Danny thanks him, they wish each other happy holidays, and Danny leaves. C.J. assumes Leo is going to ask about her and Danny, but Leo instead, like Sam, wants her to take it easy talking about hate crimes. C.J. again says she didn't do much, and reminds Leo of what happened to Lowell Lydell. Leo testily tells her he knows, but it's a complicated issue, and they'll take it up after Christmas break. C.J. asks Leo what he's doing for Christmas, and he says he's doing nothing. She asks if she wants him to cook him something, and he's amused and touched, but says no.

Josh and Sam show up at Laurie's apartment as she's getting out of the shower. She invites them in. Without mentioning Leo by name, Sam alludes to his troubles, and Laurie guesses what they want from her. She asks if they're joking, and when Sam assures her they're not, asks them firmly to leave and she'll forget they ever asked. Josh interrupts and asks if they've met; Laurie brings up Carl Everett, the Democrat she was with at the state dinner, and says she can't believe them. Josh, who admits this was his idea, starts to yell at Laurie, and says because of Lillienfield's tactics, he's resorting to what he agrees are less than civilized tactics; plus, he doesn't want to take civics lessons from a hooker. Sam tries to intervene, but the two of them start yelling at each other until Josh apologizes for his behavior. Sam, conciliatory, does the same, and they leave.

The next morning, in Leo's office, he's continuing to sign Christmas cards:

Leo: Who is this?
Margaret: Elizabeth.
Leo: Who's Elizabeth?
Margaret: Your sister.

C.J., meanwhile, is continuing to try and convince Leo about the benefits of talking about hate crimes. When she brings up that it's good politics, Leo admits she's got a point, and promises again they'll deal with it after the break. Josh and Sam come in, and Margaret takes her leave, as does C.J. (after Leo firmly asks her to). Once that happens, Leo yells at Josh and Sam for bothering Laurie (turns out he had them tailed), and tells them to apologize to her for even asking. When Sam says he did, Leo tells them to apologize again, and says it's not what they do. Josh tells him he meant well, and Leo admits that counts for something. They both leave, and Leo calls Margaret back in.

C.J. reminds the press of the President's Christmas schedule, and then dismisses them, wishing them a merry Christmas. She then calls for Danny, and he follows her into the hallway. She then asks him about hate crime legislation, and he says people shouldn't be punished for what they're thinking when they commit a crime. C.J. disagrees, but tells him to take her out to dinner and convince her. Danny thinks she's asking him out, but she clarifies she's saying yes to him, and insists it's going to be a business dinner. She walks away, and Danny stands near Josh's office area, looking stunned. Josh sees him, and they say hi to each other before Danny walks away. Donna is sitting at her desk, looking less than enthused at the gift Josh got her, which is a rare book about skiing. Josh tells her he wrote her a note inside. Donna opens the book, starts reading the note, and starts to cry. Josh tells her not to get emotional, but she continues to cry, and stands up.

Donna: You see!? You spend most of our time being, you know, you. Then you write something like this to me. Thank you. (Josh and Donna hug each other) Skis would have killed you?
Josh: Yeah. (they break the embrace)
Donna: Okay.

Josh starts to leave, but then looks on as Donna, unaware, reads Josh's note again.

In the Mural Room, a choir is getting ready as President Bartlet walks in and greets everybody. Toby, meanwhile, goes to the Oval Office, and Mrs. Landingham asks about the funeral he's arranged. She tells him he shouldn't have done it, but doesn't look too upset even as she tells him President Bartlet wants to see him. In the Mural Room, the choir starts to sing "Little Drummer Boy" as Mandy continues to bug President Bartlet about the bookstore trip. He tells her to give it a rest, and then excuses himself to talk to Toby. In the Oval Office, President Bartlet asks what's going on, and Toby admits he arranged an honor guard funeral, using the President's name, for Hufnagle, and explains how Hufnagle died. President Bartlet says other homeless veterans will come out of the woodwork if he allows this, and Toby replies, "I can only hope, sir." Mandy comes in and says President Bartlet's absence from the Mural Room is conspicuous. Bartlet pats Toby on the arm and leaves. As Toby prepares to leave, Mrs. Landingham asks to come along, and Toby gestures for her to join him. We then cut back and forth between the Mural Room - where the choir continues to sing and Sam, C.J., Charlie, Leo, Donna and Josh eventually come in and join the President and Mandy - and the funeral, where Toby, George and Mrs. Landingham are, and a military honor guard gives Hufnagle a three-volley salute and folds up a flag, which they give to George. He puts flowers on his brother's grave.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Big "NO!": Played for Laughs; whenever President Bartlet claims to the visiting grade school children he's the president of a country other than America, they yell out, "No!"
  • Call-Back: President Bartlet had mentioned in "The Crackpots and These Women" earlier in the season Mrs. Landingham's sons were killed in Vietnam.
  • Christmas Episode: It does follow most of the tropes of this kind of episode.
  • Expy: Lowell Lydell is based on Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was also beaten up and killed by teens for being gay.
  • Funny Background Event: More like a funny foreground event, but; in the rare bookstore, when President Bartlet tells Charlie about a rare and esoteric book he wants to get Zoey for Christmas, Leo looks at Charlie and rolls his eyes in disbelief.
  • I Want My Mommy!: Discussed by Mrs. Landingham in her speech to Charlie about her sons dying in Vietnam.
  • Idiot Ball: Leo accuses Josh and Sam of having this when they went to see Laurie:
    Leo: I had you (two) tailed.
    Josh: You had us tailed?
    Leo: Yes.
    Sam: Why did you have us tailed?
    Leo: On the off chance that you’re as stupid as you look!
  • Serious Business: Toby is very upset about the fact the year 2000 is called the beginning of the millennium, and C.J. in turn is upset her Secret Service code name is "Flamingo".
  • Ship Tease: If anyone ever had any doubts Donna and Josh had feelings for each other, those doubts should have been quickly dispelled after this episode.
  • Three-Volley Flinch: Toby arranges a military funeral for a homeless vet, and flinches when the rifle salute is fired.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Laurie after Josh and Sam's visit.
    Laurie: You're the good guys. You should act like it.

How well does it match the trope?

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