[Review by Jeremy Grayson]
[Writer: Aaron Sorkin, Michael Oates Palmer, and William Sind | Director: Christopher Misiano | Aired: 02/05/2003]
“I like to think I have a certain flair.” – Will
The two-part “Inauguration” begins, appropriately enough, on Inauguration Day, plunking us down in the middle of the proceedings that herald the dawn of Bartlet’s second term. This setting is only temporary, however; following the teaser, we are whisked back to the week prior and the events leading up to the big day. Yes, “Inauguration” is told in the famed in media res style, a narrative form that’s previously been employed in “What Kind of Day Has It Been” [1×22], and will used a few times more during the remainder of the series.
As I discussed in my review of “What Kind of Day Has It Been” [1×22], the “How we got here” mode of storytelling is often used as a lazy plot device. Though I question the necessity of it in “Inauguration,” I do admit that the use of a lengthy flashback for the bulk of the episode underscores an important theme of the king-size episode: Reflection.
The Bartlet administration has come a long way in its last four years, but it remains debatable whether its many shifts and changes have amassed to something more positive. The staffers have tried pushing their agendas to both good and bad effect, and there are still times in this fourth season when they’ve found themselves retreating to the middle. When genocidal war breaks out in Equatorial Kundu (the fictional nation introduced in “In This White House” [2×04]), Bartlet primarily concerns himself not with how many thousands of natives are at risk, but over how many American soldiers will be lost if he sends them in.
The moral complexities of American global intervention are heavy and numerous, perhaps too much for even a series like The West Wing to handle. Fortunately, the episode nicely gets its message across through the character of Will Bailey, who at last emerges as a necessary part of the show’s ensemble. It is Will who, in attempting to familiarize himself with Bartlet’s speech history, comes across an old statement of his that makes his current mindset of Kundu seem downright hypocritical.
Will, of course, was not a part of Bartlet’s crew during his first term, and thus is viewing the Presidential figure with fresh eyes. Whereas Toby has watched the President grow and change for years, Will has no preconceived template with which to understand Bartlet’s mentality. That he digs up an idealistic 15-year-old speech to provoke Bartlet into action seems ludicrous – until we remember that it was speeches like that which got Bartlet on the political map in the first place.
Many times in the past has The West Wing contrasted Bartlet’s words with his actions, as hopeful speeches give way to ineffectual policies. And his staffers have struggled just as mightily, as each new vision brings with it a whole slew of new complications. But Will, the fresh-faced outsider, is able to offer a candid opinion of the administration, one that ends up resonating with the President.
Granted, Will’s fresh idealism will not last forever, and later episodes and seasons will see him bearing just as much of the White House burden as the original staffers. But his function here is key, as this is Inauguration Day. It’s the day that Bartlet outlines his plans for the next four years – plans that must sound bold, hopeful, and genuine.
It’s a crucial day, to be sure, even if much of Part I is devoted to showing the lighter side of its buildup. Bartlet’s search for a Bible is among the show’s funnier running subplots in a while, and provides a welcome balance to the episode’s more serious subject matter. (Josh’s remark in the teaser about how the President could just as logically be sworn in on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue sets an… interesting precedent for the Inauguration itself.)
There are aspects of Part I feels languid in their tone, reminding us of how slow the pre-Inauguration stretch has been. But the material is nonetheless a step up from the last few episodes. Part of this can be attributed to some great character moments – a memorable scene features CJ, continually gaining confidence from the reelection win, avoiding Danny’s inquisitive questions and playfully pretending to seduce him. But much of it is also due to the eventual payoff. “Inauguration (Part I)” and “Inauguration: Over There” [4×15] complement each other very nicely, and the latter retroactively winds up improving the overall quality of the former.
In fact, why don’t we just jump into “Inauguration: Over There” [4×15] while we’re at it? It’s not merely a great episode on its own, but one that turns “Inauguration” itself into a grand two-parter that rivals the Season Four premiere. Just scroll past the Minor Pros and Quotes here, and we’ll dive right into Part II…
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Come to think of it, I would just once like to see an Inaugural ceremony where the President gets sworn in on a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
+ The return of Toby’s rubber ball! Truly, one of the show’s most underappreciated characters.
+ CJ mocks Danny without realizing he’s standing right behind her. Old joke, but Janney still makes it work.
+ Charlie accidentally referring to Jean-Paul as “Jean-Pierre.” Or… was it an accident?