[Review by Jeremy Grayson]
[Writer: Rick Cleveland, Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr., Patrick Caddell, Ron Osborn, and Jeff Reno | Director: Alan Taylor | Aired: 11/17/1999]
It can perhaps be chalked up to eerie coincidence that the only episode of the first three seasons without Aaron Sorkin’s name on it ends with a note that preludes a dominant theme of the last three seasons (which don’t have Sorkin’s name on them at all) – that the political world makes enemies just as it makes friends, and that the reasoning of the former can sometimes have hurtful effects on the latter. I say “coincidence” because much of “Enemies” is not about coping with the opposition. In fact, the final exchange of the episode feels a little tacked on, almost an afterthought meant to justify the title.
No, most ironically, “Enemies” is an episode about friendship, and the burdens and boundaries that come with it. And as it toys with several interesting relationships – Bartlet and Hoynes, Leo and Sam, CJ and Danny – we can’t help but watch and murmur, “With friends like these…”
Between the average President and Vice President, there appears to be an automatically integrated friendship. Yet a closer look can reveal potential animosity between the holders of these two positions. The President is, of course, in charge of the country, and makes crucial, life-changing decisions as ordinarily as you or I would decide whether or not to put sugar in our coffee. But the Vice President can just stand idly by, the most important job in the country just inches from his fingertips, yet unable to hold any position of power himself aside from acting as a Congressional “whip”.
Bearing this in mind, the tension between Bartlet and Hoynes – so thick you could slice it – is made instantly palpable, even disregarding the rough history they’ve shared. Given the excellent character work this show features, though, emphasis is put on the history, and the lingering aftereffects which echo even to the present. It’s only touched upon in this episode, but there’s clearly more to these two than mere political strife.
For much of the series, John Hoynes is depicted in two-and-a-half dimensions. He holds a level of hostility towards the President – and by extension, his immediate staff – but while the show never makes him out to be a truly sympathetic character, he’s never treated as a pure villain, either. Hoynes is the guy who gets invited to the party, but spends the whole time standing quietly in the corner. He does little to invoke trouble in the White House, but he won’t hurry to the rescue if something does go wrong.
Bartlet recognizes this, and is thus careful to keep Hoynes reined in whenever the Vice President begins to forget about the “Vice” in his title. In this episode, when Hoynes prematurely puts words in the President’s mouth, Bartlet lightheartedly mocks him in front of the Cabinet. The President is depicted as a father figure to his staffers, and here he admonishes Hoynes as though the VP were a mischievous son who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
And yet when Hoynes finally approaches Bartlet to discuss the incident, he does not apologize. He wishes to address the controversy of the incident (of which I’ll speak more in a moment), clearing his name of any culpability. And this is where the conflict between POTUS and VPOTUS reaches its impending boil.
The relationship between Bartlet and Hoynes is a rich one, rife with character material well worthy of discussion. Much of it will be related in future reviews, but this scene contains one line especially worth mentioning. “You shouldn’t have made me beg, John,” Bartlet says, alluding to the day he approached the defeated primary candidate with the offer to be his running mate. “It weakened me right out of the gate.” Bartlet, still testing the waters in his first year as leader of the country, here foists a level of the blame for his uncertainty onto Hoynes. He’s not entirely wrong – a cooperative Vice President could add bounds of moral support. Yet this little statement is telling that Bartlet got off to a rough start at his job, and even now acknowledges it. Subtle character development that also solidifies the relationship between two key characters – this is good stuff.
It’s clearly the highlight of the episode, but there are certainly other things worth enjoying. The interaction between CJ and Danny, for instance, which works not because it lends especially dramatic weight to their relationship, but because it so slyly subverts the romantic-pairing cliché that many serialized dramas fall victim to. Danny Concannon could have easily fallen into the “Fawning Male Counterpart” mold, a guy who flirts with his romantic interest time after time, but never has any luck and winds up looking like a loveless schmoe. But the scriptwriters deftly avoid this trap, making Danny into a well-rounded individual whose interest in CJ is curbed by his reporter’s detecting nose. As he makes perfectly clear in this episode, when he receives a tip regarding some friction between the President and the VP, Danny is a reporter first, and a lover second. (If at all. Heh heh.)
Danny threatens to publish his story if anyone is fired for leaking the tip to him, which firmly cements him as more than just window dressing, as a capable supporting character in his own right. His relationship with CJ is fueled by more than just witty banter, and it’s this fact which makes the more serious turn their relationship takes in the final season all the more grounded.
The romantic sparks between Sam and Mallory aren’t quite as absorbing, but then again, their relationship never develops too far in the series. Perhaps that’s all for the best, though, as I never really bought into Mallory’s attraction toward Sam. Sure, he’s handsome and all, but after their extremely awkward first encounter in the “Pilot” [1×01], it seems a little implausible that the two would begin dating so quickly. (It also doesn’t help that, with her constantly alternating tones between serious academic and bubble-headed girly-girl, Mallory isn’t a very well-written character.)
But that’s all beside the point. The real juice of the story here goes to Leo, and his own discomfited relationships with both Sam and Mal. Leo’s actions in this episode may initially come off as uncharacteristically selfish, but let’s examine them closer in the context of his seasonal development. At this point in the season, Leo is aching from his still-recent divorce, and is trying desperately to connect with his wife through his daughter – but Mallory won’t give him much more than the time of day. So in keeping Sam confined to his office, Leo is not just looking out for his little girl’s safety, but projecting some of his frustrations toward Jenny onto her. Recall that Leo is a recovering alcoholic, and it’s not difficult to imagine that some lingering effects of his earlier trauma would cast a negative light on later social upsets.
Perhaps the most amusing aspect of the storyline is the revelation that Bartlet is, as Mallory puts it, “a co-conspirator” to Leo’s plan. We saw in “Mr. Willis of Ohio” [1×06] how fiercely protective Bartlet is of his own daughter, and it’s easy to see him sympathizing with his best friend regarding this issue. Jed is also there when Mallory confronts Leo, prepared with a kind word about her father and a plea to give him a break. Some friendships in this episode may have their difficulties, but the Jed-Leo rapport remains fast and true, a shining example of what makes the two of them so lovable.
If there’s one major caveat I have with this episode, it’s that the plot could have used a little more meat. The tumult over the Banking Bill rider, while thematically relevant, feels awfully thin for a running story. Given that the final line of the episode is built around this plot and its implications, one would expect more development to be lent to this chunk of the episode. (Perhaps it could have taken some screentime from the redundant scenes in which the characters over-worry about the little tiff between Bartlet and Hoynes.)
Still, “Enemies” is a likable episode, vetting several friendships for later seasonal developments, and maintaining the bright sense of humor which the first season is known for. Sorkin may be absent from the writing credits, but it’s assuring – particularly when taken in context with the last three seasons – that the show can manage fairly well without him.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Bartlet telling Josh about the joys of national parks, and Josh (respectfully) calling him a nerd.
+ Sam, and later Toby, trying to nail the birthday message.
+ “Father,” Mallory said flatly, “you’ve gone ‘round the bend.”
– Hey, look, Mandy’s berating Josh! I’m glad this show keeps finding new stuff to do with her.