West Wing 6×05: The Hubbert Peak

6x05_top
[Writer: Peter Noah | Director: Julie Hébert | Aired: 11/17/2004 ]

“We didn’t have the votes.” – Josh

The Toyota Prius is one of the most fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly cars ever made. Not only will it get you where you need to go, but it’ll do so without polluting the air with unwanted carbon emissions. You can look good while driving, and you’ll save a dozen friendly seagulls with each trip. Go green – go Prius!

Do I sound excited? If so, it’s probably because I just watched “The Hubbert Peak,” an episode dedicated to the untarnished glory that is the Prius. Admittedly, I hadn’t given much thought to the Prius at all before this episode showed me what a lovely and perfect vehicle it is. When Josh clumsily crashed the Big Bad SUV into the Little Prius the Could, I recoiled in horror. Thankfully, the crash-resistant framework (not to mention the scratch-resistant paint) of the Prius helped it sustain most of the damage. Still, Josh learned a Valuable Lesson about respecting the Prius, and about not driving cars that are designed to capitalize on white male privilege.

It may seem unusual for a show as layered as The West Wing to build the central premise of an episode around an electric hybrid (complete with all-wheel drive!). But you see, the rest of “The Hubbert Peak” is engineered to be as dramatically un-layered as possible – obviously, to let the glorious Prius take center stage.

Virtually every plot thread in this episode underscores the vapid and superficial side of the White House. CJ offers Charlie (exiting his role as Presidential aide) a new job that amounts to little more than a fabricated nametag. Annabeth tries to make Toby more “seductive” in his new role as Press Secretary, because image is apparently more important than content. And we learn that Bartlet’s love of chess helps stimulate his health, and somehow keeps his MS at bay. Remember how “Hartsfield’s Landing” profoundly explored the way that Bartlet viewed chess as a way of feeding his intellect and solidifying his resolve as a world leader? Yeah, that all gets throw out the window here. But on the other hand, Prius!

Josh spends a lot of time in this episode apologizing for the way he offended the Great Prius, but he inevitably winds up making things worse. Having apparently learned nothing from the LemonLyman debacle in “The US Poet Laureate,” he tries combating an Internet blogger who insults him. (It doesn’t go well.) Then he meets with a group of environmentalists who offer their varied suggestions for energy conservation, in a series of scenes that consist almost entirely of Bradley Whitford’s reaction shots.

This all might sound a bit ludicrous for The West Wing. But ludicrousness is all the rage in these early Season Six episodes. Unconventional plotting is a great way to fool the audience into having a good time, just as repeatedly stating that Bartlet has been President for “seven years” is a great way to convince the audience that the show hasn’t suddenly made an invisible time-jump. It’s all for the best.

“The Hubbert Peak” may be light and shallow, but none of that matters, because it pays good and proper respect to the Prius. Contact your local dealer for details.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Josh realizing that some cell phones come equipped with cameras. Wow, I’ve gotten old…
+ The humorously awkward moment where Russell tells CJ he likes working with “strong women.” Feels like something straight out of the Sorkin era.
+ Charlie’s going-away ceremony (even though he doesn’t end up going away).
+ Toby ripping up Charlie’s resume.

– I can’t tell if this episode wants us to respect the environmentalists who speak with Josh or laugh at them. Probably both.


Foreshadowing

We get our first mention of the 2006 Presidential election, which will dominate much of the remainder of the series. Baker and Russell are set up as the promising Democratic frontrunners.


Score: C+

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