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Recap / The West Wing S 02 E 15 Ellie

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During an online chat, Dr. Millicent Griffith (Mary Kay Place), the Surgeon General, is asked whether she favors the decriminalization of marijuana, and while she doesn't come right out and says yes, she does criticize the law categorizing its possession as a jailable offense. While C.J. says the administration supports her publicly, Josh and Leo both tell Dr. Griffith to resign or President Bartlet will fire her. However, things get complicated when Ellie (Nina Siemaszko), Bartlet's estranged middle daughter, calls the media and says President Bartlet would never fire the Surgeon General. Bartlet gets angry at his daughter for talking to the media behind his back, and for seeming to disagree with him in public, but he ends up not accepting Dr. Griffith's resignation, and he and Ellie end up reaching some sort of understanding.

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Toby is trying to get the Blue Ribbon Commission going, but is meeting with heavy resistance. He thinks he can mollify the critics by having Senator Seth Gillette on the commission, but he doesn't want to ask Senator Gillette in case he gets turned down. Toby asks Andy, his ex-wife, to help, but she refuses. However, Toby eventually realizes he can get Senator Gillette to serve on the commission by announcing in the press that he is serving.

Sam finds out the Family Values Leadership Council has taken out an ad congratulating those who denounced the movie Prince of New York, and one of the people they congratulate is President Bartlet. Turns out the producer offered to screen it at the White House, Charlie decided President Bartlet would rather watch something else (Dial M for Murder), and the producer went on Don Imus' show and said President Bartlet was siding with censors. When the producer comes to the White House for a conference on violence and the media, Sam tells him what really happened, accuses the producer of knowing that and exploiting the situation for publicity, and tells the producer in no uncertain terms not to do that to President Bartlet again.

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This episode contains examples of:

  • Armor-Piercing Response: "I don't know how to make you happy, Dad. For that you've got to talk to Zoey or Liz."
  • Author Catchphrase / Self-Plagiarism: In their first scene together, Ellie tells President Bartlet she doesn't know how to make him happy. At the end of the episode, when they've reconciled somewhat, he tells her, "The only thing you ever had to do to make me happy was come home at the end of the day." Aaron Sorkin used that same line in the first season finale of Sports Night.
  • Berserk Button: Once again, Bartlet is not happy at the idea of the press talking to his daughters without his knowledge.
  • Call-Back: Dr. Griffith mentions to Josh she watched the doctors operate on him, and also asks how he's feeling.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Poor Margaret.
    Margaret: Let me ask you this; Red meat has been found to cause cancer in white rats. Maraschino cherries have been found to cause cancer in white rats. Cellular phones have been found to cause cancer in white rats. Has anyone examined the possibility that cancer might be hereditary in white rats?
  • Continuity Nod: Though Danny and Zoey haven't been seen in several episodes, they both get mentioned here. So does Senator Gillette.
  • Establishing Character Moment: For Ellie. She's sitting in the outer office to the Oval, nervously and quietly awaiting her father and an anticipated talking-to regarding her comments in support of the Surgeon-General. Charlie is there, and tries to break the ice by asking about her studies. She momentarily begins to relax and tell him about a lecturer she admires, only to instantly shut up and shrink back into herself the second she hears her father's boisterous voice coming down the corridor. We learn that she's shy, doesn't open up easily, and has a difficult relationship with her father.
  • Eureka Moment: Toby finds out from reading in the paper he's on the benefit committee for the Child Leukemia Foundation. Turns out Andy gave them a press release submitting his name without asking him first, and she jokes, "I find that when I skip over the first step and move right to the second step, it becomes a lot harder for people to say no." As soon as Toby hears that, he figures out the best way to get Senator Gillette to serve on the Blue Ribbon Commission is to put out a press release saying he's accepted already... much to Andy's mortification, since she's just been doing all she can to prevent this from happening.
  • Exact Words: In-Universe: When Josh pretends to be a reporter asking C.J. about what Dr. Griffith said about marijuana, C.J. goes back to her answers, specifically the fact when she was asked about policy, she said, "It's not for me to say."
  • The Exit Is That Way: A rare time that it's Played for Drama: after Ellie and Bartlet argue with each other in the Oval Office in their first scene together, she asks which way she exits because she's never been there before.
  • Gratuitous Japanese: Averted; it makes sense Charlie would want to practice Japanese when coming back from Japan.
  • Hypocrite: When Sam gets into an argument with the film producer who accused Bartlet of denouncing his movie, he points out that a whole load of medical experts claim that watching violent movies has negative effects on kids and that the White House intends to listen to medical facts from the experts. The film producer, in turn, points out that the White House is clearly intending to fire the Surgeon-General for offering a politically inconvenient opinion on the benefits (or, at least, less negative impacts) of marijuana despite it being medical facts from an expert. While Sam brushes off the point and the White House ultimately doesn't go through with it, he's not entirely wrong to note the dissonance.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: When discussing his relationship with Ellie with Dr. Griffith, Bartlet is astonished when Griffith claims that Ellie is frightened by him. He demands to know what about him she could possibly be intimidated by. Laughing, Griffith points out that they're currently standing in the Oval Office.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: It's surely no surprise that the daughter Bartlet has the most tension with is also his middle daughter.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Done intentionally; Bartlet pretends not to know what Ellie's studying in med school so he can get a laugh out of her.
  • Old Media Playing Catch-Up: Briefly discussed: when discussing the Surgeon General's web-chat, Toby and C.J lay into Josh for not calling them and / or doing anything to stop the Surgeon General before she made her remarks about marijuana. Josh points out that she was communicating live and online in a web forum away from the White House, not doing a traditional-style interview as a one-on-one with a reporter, and there was no way any of them could have stopped her in time.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: According to Josh, the fact Bartlet isn't talking during the movie is a bad sign.
  • Papa Wolf: Bartlet is practically spitting fire when he initially believes that Danny Concannon called Ellie for a quote, rather than the other way around, bellowing at C.J to suspend his press credentials in punishment. We're lucky C.J manages to straighten him out before he launches a missile strike at Danny's paper.
    Bartlet: When did this happen?
    Leo: About six hours ago.
    Bartlet: Why didn't you tell me six hours ago?!
    Leo: Because I didn't want you crash-landing the plane.
  • Parental Favoritism: Discussed; Dr. Griffith accuses Bartlet of this in respect to Ellie, but while Bartlet and Ellie clearly have a somewhat difficult relationship, Bartlet angrily rejects the idea that he loves one of his children less than the others.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: In true "disapproving parent" fashion, Ellie has barely been in the Oval Office with Bartlet five seconds before she's on the receiving end of a nagging "you never call and we never see you" guilt trip. Wonder why that might be, Jed.
  • Punny Name: One of the organizations that comes out in support of Dr. Griffith's stance on marijuana is named "E Cannabis Unum".
  • Running Gag: "The Allman Brothers?" "Keep reading."
    • Also, C.J. threatening to quit.
    • Also, Sam's typos:
    Sam: It (the note Sam wrote) says that we should stand by the Surgeon General.
    Toby: Actually, it says that we should stand by the Sturgeon General.
    Sam: ...I meant Surgeon General.
    Toby: Well, I think we should stand by her too. I just wanted to make sure we were agreed that smoked white fish was pretty much on its own.
  • Shout-Out: The Surgeon General coming under fire and risking her job for expressing a medically accurate but politically inconvenient opinion reflects former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's frequent clashes with the Reagan administration over issues such as abortion and the AIDS pandemic. Although a conservative pro-life Christian, Everett refused to draft politically skewed and inaccurate reports stating that having an abortion posed a health risk to the woman, and earned great controversy for his efforts to educate the public about the causes of HIV/AIDSnote 
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Bartlet tells Dr. Griffith when he heard Ellie had called Danny (telling him Bartlet wouldn't fire Dr. Griffith), his first thought was how good a play King Lear was.
  • Shrinking Violet: Ellie is clearly the shy child of the Bartlet family; the entire senior staff is surprised to learn that it's her who talked to the press rather than Zoey, she's nervous as a mouse in the President's office (although the telling-off she's anticipating from her father can't help much) and she's clearly intimidated by her outgoing, confident and powerful father in a way that her sisters aren't. Bartlet also appears to nurse some resentment that she didn't participate much in his campaign, implying that she kept out of the limelight as much as possible.
  • Too Much Information: Charlie is describing the plot of Prince Of New York, the film he rejected in favor of Dial M for Murder, to Mrs. Landingham:
    Charlie: It's an updated version of Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot, which tells the story of a Christ-like epileptic young man who embodies goodness, but encounters sex, crime, and family dysfunction.
    Charlie: Well, he would have especially enjoyed the scene where the Prince Myshkin character has a seizure while engaging in an erotic fantasy in a Long Island church.
    Mrs. Landingham: Charlie, please don't say the word "erotic" in the Oval Office.
    Charlie: I'd be perfectly happy never to say any of those words anywhere ever again.
  • Totally Radical: Dr. Griffiths gets a fair bit of mockery of this nature for her "Allman Brothers albums" quip during the live chatroom.
  • The Un-Favourite: Ellie, at least according to her (and Dr. Griffith), though Bartlet vehemently denies it. The other side is also shown, as it's revealed that Bartlet clearly thinks that he's The Un-Favourite when it comes to Ellie's parents ("She's always belonged to Abbey.")
  • Whole Plot Reference: Bartlet comments on King Lear at the end for a reason; his whole subplot with Ellie is pretty much taken from that play, being a powerful father learning that the daughter he believes loves him the least may in fact love him the most.
  • With Friends Like These...:
    President Bartlet: I've got to hand it to you guys; you've pulled off a political first. You've managed to win me the support of the Christian Right and the Cheech and Chong Fan Club in the same day.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Sam doesn't like the fact President Bartlet's being congratulated by the Family Values Leadership Council, particularly since it's for denouncing a movie Bartlet's never even heard of.
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