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Recap / The West Wing S 02 E 18 Seventeen People

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The same night Senator Stackhouse's filibuster finally comes to an end, Toby sits at his desk, throwing his rubber ball against the wall of his office. Two nights later, he's moved to balling up paper and throwing it into his wastebasket. Two nights after that, he's at his computer typing when a thought occurs to him, and seeing the light on in Leo's office, goes there. Leo is surprised to see Toby. Toby is still wondering why Vice-President Hoynes enthusiastically gave a verbal smackdown to the oil companies, and why he put a poll in the field. Leo says it's because Hoynes is an egomaniac politician, and Toby concedes that's not outside the realm of possibility, but he wants to know if Hoynes is being dropped from the ticket. Leo assures him that's not the case, and tells him not to worry. Toby seems to accept this...


...but the next night, he's throwing his rubber ball against his office wall again, and the next morning, he's waiting outside Leo's office, scaring Leo. He asks Leo again about the poll, and wants to know, if Hoynes isn't running for President for another six years, why he's putting a poll in the field. Leo says he doesn't know. Toby again seems to accept this, but that night, he points out Hoynes is giving a speech in New Hampshire (Bartlet's home state) in favor of the clean air industry, and he's using as a cover the fact he's going camping for three days, and the speech just happens to be in the middle of it. Toby guesses Hoynes is under the impression President Bartlet isn't going to run for re-election, and wants to know what's going on.

Later that night, Leo visits President Bartlet in the Oval Office. Bartlet says he's closed embassies in Tanzania and Brussels, but doesn't have to make the domestic call for another hour. Leo says Toby is waiting and they have to tell him. Bartlet wants to know what happened, and Leo explains about Hoynes' activities, and that Toby isn't an idiot (nor the rest of the staff). Bartlet isn't happy, but Leo says it's an opportunity to gauge staff reaction. Bartlet tells Leo to get Toby.


Josh and Sam are in Sam's office, reading over the speech President Bartlet is supposed to make at the White House Correspondents Dinner, and they conclude it isn't funny. Sam says he wants to show a new speech to Toby within an hour. Josh walks out of and sees Toby sitting in his office. Josh tells him he and are going to find a place to work on the speech, and Toby, who agrees it isn't funny, says he'll meet up with them later. Leo drops by, and when Josh asks what's going on, Leo says it's nothing, which satisfies Josh. As Leo and Toby leave, Donna walks by. Catching up with her, Josh asks if she liked the flowers he sent her. Donna says they were pretty, but when Josh tries to fish for a compliment about how he remembered their "anniversary", she points out it isn't, and she also calls Josh the only person she knows who sends flowers to be mean. As they walk towards Josh's office, Josh reminds her while she may have started working for him in February, he's choosing April as the anniversary because she left to go back to her old boyfriend, but came back. Donna wonders if Josh ever gets tired of his own voice, and tells him to shove it. Josh, undeterred, asks if she wants to help make the President's speech funny, and Donna agrees to, even though she says there are times "when, to put it quite simply, I hate your breathing guts".


Ainsley is working in her office, dressed casually, when Sam walks in; he'd been shouting at her, but she ignored him. Ainsley is preparing to go back to Smith College (her alma mater) for a panel about resurrecting the ERA. Sam is shocked to learn Ainsley's opposed to the ERA. He came to see her to see if she wants to help Josh and him punch up the President's speech. Ainsley says she's busy with what she's doing, but when Sam points out there'll be Chinese food, she agrees to come along.

Leo and Toby wait by Mrs. Landingham's desk. Leo brings up the Correspondents Dinner speech not being funny, but Toby says Sam will work on it. Leo asks Toby to take it easy in there. Charlie tells them they can go in. Bartlet is fixing himself a drink when Leo and Toby walk in, and he offers Toby one; after declining at first, Toby takes a bourbon and ice. Bartlet brings up the reason why he closed the embassies; an Algerian terrorist (named Reda Nessam) was arrested at the Canadian border while driving a U-Haul filled with nitroglycerin. Toby asks if there's a time frame on when Bartlet needs to order heightened security at the airports, and Bartlet says he has an hour, but he's hesitant because it's a holiday weekend. He then tells Toby he has MS, which was diagnosed when a pain in his leg he thought he had gotten rid of came back, along with numbness and occasional blurry vision, and a radiologist checking it out found plaque on his brain and spine. Toby is stunned to hear this. After a few moments, he asks what relapsing/remitting MS means. Bartlet isn't sure, but he knows it's the "good" kind of MS, as opposed to secondary/progressive, and it can include symptoms such as numbness, loss of vision and cognitive function. Toby asks if it's fatal; Bartlet says it isn't, but there's no cure, and his kind of MS can turn into secondary/progressive. Just then, Charlie knocks on the door; Leo motions for him to wait, but Toby says he needs a minute and walks outside. Charlie tells President Bartlet the FAA head is on the phone, and Leo tells Charlie to put the call through to his office. Bartlet looks at Toby outside, and then goes to Leo's office.

Donna and Josh are in the Roosevelt Room with Ed and Larry, eating Chinese food and discussing the speech, which Ed and Larry agree isn't funny. Donna jots down what she calls "go-to" dead audience jokes ("Wow, I haven't seen an audience this dead since...") just in case, which she thinks they'll need. Josh reads aloud part of the speech ("I expect I'll be stuck here tonight with my fair share of verbal harpoons. I don't mind, just don't stick me with the dinner check"), and he and Donna both agree it's bad. Ainsley and Sam enter, and Sam agrees how bad that joke is. Donna, Ed and Larry discuss a line where President Bartlet lampshades his frequent use of Latin, which Donna says isn't much better. Ainsley asks about the flowers Donna received. Josh mentions it's his and Donna's anniversary, but when Donna says she doesn't want to talk about it, he shuts up; Sam, however, tells the whole story, and when Donna looks upset, defends himself by saying he's a spokesman. Sam comes up with a joke about the Speaker of the House needing to use a line-item veto for his pre-nuptial agreement, and Josh thinks that's a good one. Sam splits them up into two groups, and says he wants to be able to make Toby laugh.

Leo brings a glass of bourbon to Toby, who's standing in the Portico. Leo mentions he found out about Bartlet's MS before his second State of the Union address, when he collapsed in the office. Toby thought it was the flu, but Leo says it was an attack. As the two of them head back into the Oval Office, Toby asks how it was possible this was kept a secret, and who else know. Leo says Toby's the 16th person, but he won't tell Toby everyone else who knows, because it's not his business. Toby's not satisfied with that answer. Leo tells him Abbey and their daughters know, along with the doctors who initially diagnosed him. Toby points out Bartlet took a physical since then, but Leo says the disease goes into remission, and no one lied about Bartlet's health. Toby doesn't believe that, and thinks the Navy doctors who are Bartlet's current doctors will get court-martialed. Leo insists no one was asked to lie. Toby thinks even Surgeon Generals might have been coerced; just then, Bartlet comes back in, and corrects Toby that it's "surgeons general". Bartlet adds that no one was asked to lie, and updates everyone on the situation; apparently, there's another rental car that crossed the border, and the FBI thinks they can nab the suspect driving it in 24 hours, but all of this depends on whether the person they have in custody is telling the truth, and Bartlet will have to talk to the FAA again in a few minutes to determine if there's a credible threat.

Josh goes to the Outer Oval Office and finds Charlie. He asks Charlie how long Toby will be, and Charlie says he doesn't know. Josh then brings up the Speaker joke Sam wrote, and Charlie likes it, but says it might call attention to the fact the First Lady will be in Manchester, and not at the Correspondents Dinner. Josh asks Charlie what's going on. Charlie just looks at him, and Josh takes the hint and leaves.

Back in the Roosevelt Room, Sam reads out loud the first line of the Equal Rights Amendment. Josh is confused, and Sam explains Ainsley is against the ERA. Ainsley argues the 14th amendment already covers it, so it's redundant. Josh tries to get everyone back on track by bringing up a joke about President Bartlet using the 82nd Airborne to get into an exclusive party. Donna thinks it's going to fail, and Josh yells everyone will lose their jobs if they can't get the speech right. Donna points out how hard it is to "find the funny" when Josh yells, so Josh brings up the flowers again. Josh pulls Sam over to the side and tells him why they can't use the Speaker joke. Sam says they'll nail the speech when Toby gets there.

In the Oval Office, Toby and Bartlet are alone. Toby brings up Bartlet's attack before his second State of the Union, and remembers also he got called to the Situation Room afterwards to deal with the India/Pakistan situation. Bartlet responds, "I know. I can’t believe we’re all still here.." They give each other a Death Glare before Bartlet points out the episode, as he puts it, was over, and Leo, Admiral Fitzwallace and the Secretaries of State and Defense were all there. Toby asks if he receives medication, and Bartlet confirms he receives injections of Betaseron. Toby guesses since none of Bartlet's current doctors know his condition that Mrs. Bartlet is the one who gives him the injections. Leo comes in, hands Bartlet a folder, and says the FAA wants a few minutes. They briefly discuss the heightened security measures the FAA wants before Bartlet brings up Toby's concern about Bartlet being in the Situation Room right after an episode. Leo echoes Bartlet about how he and others were there, but Toby points out none of them were elected. Toby also brings up when Bartlet was shot and was under anesthesia, no one had signed a letter giving Vice-President Hoynes authority to rule, and guesses the reason why there was no letter is somebody would ask why. Getting angrier, Toby also guesses Leo was in charge of the country, and had effectively pulled off a coup d'etat for 90 minutes. Bartlet, just as angry, says, "And the walls came tumbling down. I feel fine, by the way. Thanks for asking." He goes on to tell Toby he's full of crap, and throws the folder across his desk. Just then, Charlie comes in and says the FAA is on the phone for him. Bartlet temporarily calms down and thanks Charlie, but when he leaves, Bartlet yells at Toby, "Are you pissed because I didn’t say anything or are you pissed because there were 15 people who knew before you did?" Leo says he and Toby will step out for a minute so Bartlet can take the call.

In the Roosevelt Room, Sam, Ed and Larry agree they need to make jokes about the staff. Ainsley suggests they start with Sam. Sam denies there's anything to make fun of him for, but Donna, to get back at Sam for telling Ainsley about the flowers, brings up Laurie. Sam brings up the flowers again, and Donna smacks Josh in the back of the head, saying it's his fault. Sam says there's a speech he wrote back in October called "Government-Wide Accountability for Merit System Principles," and Josh, who agrees it was funny, says he'll go look for it and exits. Donna tells Sam when she came back, Josh acted like he didn't even notice she was gone, which she thinks is passive-aggressive of him. Sam says he's going to go to the mess to get coffee, and Ainsley says she'll come along to see if there's any cheesecake. As they walk to the mess, they continue to debate the ERA.

Outside in the Portico area, Toby correctly guesses Vice-President Hoynes is one of the 16 people who knows, and that's why he's making a move towards running for President. Toby also brings up Abbey being upset about the speech, and correctly guesses she assumed Bartlet wasn't going to run again. Leo insists Bartlet's still going to run. Leo then admits the anesthesiologist who helped operate on Bartlet also knows, and Toby wants to know if he's under surveillance. Leo insists he isn't, and that even though he's free to talk to whomever he wants, he won't leak the story. Toby thinks someone will, given how Hoynes has been acting, and he also thinks Hoynes is the most responsible person in the party at the moment. Charlie comes in and tells them Bartlet's on his way back. Leo says they'll be the ones to break and control the story, but Toby thinks Bartlet will be impeached. Leo says it'll never get that far, and Toby tells him, "Write down the exact date and time you said that."

In the Roosevelt Room, Donna reads another joke that she and the others agrees isn't funny. Sam and Ainsley come in with the coffee, and Sam wonders where Josh is. Donna says he's trying to find the speech, and she'll go get him. Sam and Ainsley continue to argue about the ERA, until Ainsley says she finds it both humiliating and unnecessary. Sam claims he wasn't really listening.

Donna walks over to Josh's office, and sees him standing on a chair trying to grab something on the top of a bookcase. Sure enough, when Donna calls for him, he accidentally knocks down a number of books and folders. As the two of them try to clean the mess up, Donna points out the speech he's looking for is on computer. They look at each other for a moment, and Josh wonders what's happening. Donna says she thinks the whole anniversary thing he's fixated on is because he thinks he was her second choice. She reminds Josh when she came back, she had a bandage on her ankle, but she lied about why; she really was in a car accident, and when she called her boyfriend to come pick her up from the hospital, her boyfriend stopped to have a beer with his friends, which is why Donna left him for good. Josh can't believe she lied, or what really happened, or how dumb her ex-boyfriend was, and Donna says Josh only needs to remember she came back and he took her back, no questions asked.

Josh: I'm just saying, if you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for a beer.
Donna: If you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for red lights.

Donna thanks Josh for the flowers, and walks out as Josh stares at her.

In the Oval Office, Toby asks Leo what the downside is to heightening security at the airport. Before Leo can answer, Bartlet comes back in, and tells Charlie he's ready to talk to the FAA again. Leo brings up Toby's question, and Bartlet says the delays heightened security will cause are the downside. Bartlet gets on the phone and tells the FAA president to go ahead and heighten security. After he hangs up, Bartlet tells Toby, calmly, he's not going to apologize for keeping his MS private, because he considers it personal. Toby points out the voters might see it differently, and might think Bartlet was trying to defraud them. He adds they'll have to talk to lawyers, and Bartlet jokes lawyers are the ones who normally cause the episodes.

Toby: It's 17 people, by the way.
Bartlet: I'm sorry.
Toby: You knew. We weren't counting you. It's 17 people.

Bartlet looks surprised by this, admits it might have been stupid of him, and then, to Leo's surprise, he does apologize. After several moments of silence, Toby says he has to go to the other room, and he and Bartlet say goodnight to each other. Toby walks to the Roosevelt Room, where Ainsley, Donna, Ed, Josh, Larry and Sam are working in earnest, and they greet Toby and toss out joke suggestions to him. Unbeknownst to anyone, Bartlet and Leo look on, and we hear a sound similar to Toby bouncing his ball against the wall at the beginning.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Absentee Actor: C.J. doesn't appear in this episode as Allison Janney was unavailable during filming.
  • Acceptable Political Targets: In-Universe. In a Democrat White House, of course:
    Sam: We're not making fun of the host.
    Ainsley: Who are we making fun of?
    Sam, Josh, Ed and Larry: Republicans!
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment:
    Josh: Sam and I are going to punch up the thing for tomorrow. Hey, we need funny people.
    Donna: Yeah?
    Josh: You know of any?
  • Berserk Button: Bartlet resents the entire conversation with Toby, but particularly the fact Toby doesn't ask how he's feeling. Of course, Toby resents the fact that Bartlet kept his MS from the country, the staff and him personally, so it's pretty much even in this case.
  • Bottle Episode: Word of God confirms they needed to keep this episode simple, without guest stars, location shooting, new sets or extras, to combat budget overruns.
  • Call-Back: In addition to all of those listed above, Toby also reminds Leo of the pilot shot down in the no-fly zone in Iraq and the two of them forming the Committee to Re-Elect Bartlet for President.
  • Forgotten Anniversary: Subverted; Donna's upset because Josh *remembered* this particular anniversary, which she thinks is just him being mean.
  • Heroic BSoD: Toby has a minor one when he first hears the news about the President's MS; he has to leave the Oval Office and step outside for a few minutes, and when he gets out there, it looks for a minute like he's crying.
  • I Resemble That Remark!;
    Sam: You know, something like 40 percent of all women oppose the ERA, and in my entire lifetime, I've never met one of them.
    Ainsley: Ainsley Hayes. Nice to meet you.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: In-universe, Toby mainly finds out about Bartlet's condition because of the conspicuous clues that Hoynes left behind. Leo calls this "a jackass move", but Toby disagrees, thinking that the Hoynes was acting more responsibly than the President by preparing the Democratic party for the possibility of Bartlet having to step down after one term.
  • The Klutz: Once again, Sam.
    Ed: What the hell took so long?
    Sam: We got the coffee but then I spilled it coming up the stairs, you know, the first couple of times.
    • Josh, too, when he pulls down a shelf full of old speeches onto his head.
  • Self-Plagiarism: The anniversary subplot is similar to a subplot about Casey not remembering the anniversary of his and Dan's first show (without the flowers and the UST, or course) on an episode of Sports Night.
  • They Call Me Mr Tibbs: When Toby asks Bartlet if "your wife" gave him injections, Bartlet says since tempers are high, he'd appreciate it if Toby referred to her as either "Mrs. Bartlet" or "Dr. Bartlet".
  • UST:
    • As usual, between Donna and Josh.
      Donna: I'm gonna give you a little gift right now which you don't deserve.
      Josh: Donna, if you've got your old Catholic school uniform on under there, don't get me wrong, I applaud the thought, but...
      Donna: Okay, what I need is for you to stop being, like, *you* for a second.
    • Also, to a lesser extent, Sam and Ainsley. They spend a good amount of time debating each other, as per usual. Also, he convinces her to help punch up the speechwriting with the promise of Chinese food.
  • Wham Episode: Toby figures out Bartlet's secret illness, and points out that it is something - because of possible cover-ups and legal evasions - that could lead to the President's impeachment.

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