Saturday, 2 February 2013

S02E17: The Stackhouse Filibuster


...or to give it my alternate title, A Tale of Three Letters (see how I shoehorned in a Dickens reference as a nod to Stackhouse there?).

While the backbone of the episode is the eponymous filibuster, there's still plenty of other things going on. Cat goddesses, Winifred Hooper, French haute cuisine and the unusual behaviour of John Hoynes all figure too, if only for a few minutes at a time.

The thing I really like about using the plot device of characters writing letters is that it allows you to throw in a huge amount of exposition without feeling like you're being hit over the head with it, and said exposition can be run over footage of stuff actually happening as opposed to filming a load of people sat round a table talking. As a result the running time absolutely flies by, and the various sub-plots weave in and out of each other almost seamlessly. The plotting is so dense it almost feels like a TV movie as opposed to a 45 minute show.

If there's a compliment that I give the show more than any other it's that it's endlessly rewatchable, and this episode is a prime example of that. There isn't a single plot point that takes me by surprise; I know CJ's going to put the cat together with crazy glue, I know why John Hoynes is giving big oil a beating, I know they're going to bring in Senators to ensure the filibuster is successful and I even know the name of the intern who's going to suggest Sam come to her for a job before she says it. None of that matters. When the writing is as assured as it is here and when the performances are as skilled it's simply a joy to watch. There was no way this episode could reach the dizzying heights of the previous one, but it gives it a remarkably good try.

Random observations:

If there's any sequence that may have given the indication Martin Sheen was leaving the show it was the series of clips in the "Previously on The West Wing" segment for this episode.

The main Sorkin regurgitation in this episode is the style of telling a story using the "letter to family member" plot device. He'd previously used it in the Sports Night episode Dear Louise. A lesser one is Sorkin's obsession with dangling modifiers which he mentions all the time, and in this episode manifests itself in a comment from Josh while he's farming out jobs in his office.

Why is it that every time we see Hoynes talking to the press as a West Wing staffer goes to see him he always signs off with a really awful joke?

If Sam's favourite non-fiction writer is Toby and his favourite fiction writer is Dickens then either he just isn't reading enough or he has dreadful taste (though it appears Winifred Hooper sets the bar even lower).

The comment from CJ about confiding in someone with a criminal mind equal to her own followed by a jump cut to a walk and talk between her and Donna is brilliant.

Does anyone else have any idea why Stackhouse would have a Norwegian flag in his office? I'd have quite liked it to have been a Dutch one as a foreshadowing of the filibuster.

I can suspend disbelief as well as the next guy, but I draw the line at Leo not understanding the idea Donna floated in order to give Stackhouse a breather.

The conversation between Toby and Hoynes towards the end of the episode is wonderfully done and sets things up beautifully for the next episode.

Is this the first time we find out CJ's first name is Claudia? My memory's failing me.

EDIT: Forgot to mention Gail, who has a cat in her bowl, in reference to the statue CJ broke.

Episode grade: A+

So what did you all think?

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