Random Thoughts on No Exit
Written by Toniann
Truth be told, I looked forward to this episode with some interest
merely because of the theme designated by the title: no, Toby, Will
is right, it's Sartre who told us "Hell is other people," and in my
youth as a theatre student, there was no play I loved more than Jean
Paul Sartre's "No Exit." Many a television show, drama or comedy,
has done some variation of this plot device of having sometimes
unlikely individuals thrust together and forced to share space, with
no escape, for an indeterminate amount of time. In Sartre's play,
this defines hell. Last night, it defined the White House, but with
varying degrees of success.
The most obviously "hellish" pairing was Toby and Will, two former
partners and now near-adversaries who have done their best
(especially on Toby's part) not to share breathing space for more
than 60 seconds for months, ever since Will went to work for VP
Russell. In this episode we learned that Toby still holds a grudge
against Will for leaving Bartlet's staff for Russell's... though, we
sort of knew that already, going in. I found the most interesting
part of their discussion to be Will's unkind yet on the money
assessment at the end: that Toby for some reason feels it's time for
someone else to "back the guy who should win," and moreover, that he
somehow feels his own tenure in that role is somehow past. For his
part, Toby charged Will to have higher standards in choosing a
candidate, and he's probably right -- but you can't help but think
Toby has been trying since Day 1 to turn Will into Sam, and it's
just not working. No matter who's right and who's wrong, I think
these two would make a formidable team. But for that to happen, Will
would need to have different priorities, and Toby would need to
accept that Will isn't the same kind of brilliant idealist that Sam
Another pairing that truly fit the bill was Abbey and Leo, locked
in the rather comfortable confines of the residence. What I don't
find interesting about these two: Abbey still holding some kind of
grudge against Leo, Abbey apparently flirting with drug addiction (I
don't have a problem with her taking Xanax, but taking it right
before she goes on shift?), and Leo... I don't know what Leo was
doing, exactly, other than I sense trying to help and having little
success. This conflict between them keeps getting dredged up, and
every time I think it's been resolved, the next time, we're back at
square one. What I do like about their scenes is essentially just a
testament to the talent of two fine actors. No matter what the
quality of the material, Stockard Channing and John Spencer have
obviously made a commitment to playing the closeness between their
two characters, even when they're at odds -- in some ways, their
relationship defines "no exit" on a purely psychological level,
better than any of the other examples tonight. I don't give the
writers much credit for that, though.
Josh's incarceration with new Deputy NSA Kate Harper may have been
slightly hellish and frustrating for him, but in truth he spent most
of the episode in the dark, completely unaware of the real
situation, of Donna's state of mind, of how to take another call
(well, not really), or, apparently, of the temperature in the room.
I'm incredibly disappointed with Josh's characterization this season
but, enough said.
As for Donna and CJ, their conversation was something of a set
piece that's been coming down the pipeline all season, with Donna
becoming increasingly frustrated with her job and yet apparently
thus far unwilling to step away from working for a man she's clearly
batty about. And while it's true that someone needed to say those
words to her, and that someone should also definitely give CJ a kick
in the ass about treating a seemingly perfect boyfriend a little bit
better, and while the truth does hurt sometimes, I wasn't quite sure
why these two women ended up so hostile towards each other in the
end. I would have liked to see a little more resolution between them
than a terse good night. Donna may not have liked what CJ was saying
but -- well, it's not the first time someone's confronted her with
the truth about her feelings for Josh. Plus, you know, don't shoot
Completely as a side note: isn't it sort of horrifyingly cruel to
Gail to bring a *fishing rod* into CJ's office?!
Lastly, we had the president, Debbie Fiderer, and Charlie, which,
on a personality level, was the least hellish combination of all.
These three people are extremely loyal to each other, there's no
doubt about that. Clearly it was their situation that provided the
tension, instead. I could have done without the "double fake"
ending -- hey, it was a drill -- shhh, don't tell them it really
wasn't! The best thing about their scenes, aside from the pleasure
of watching three people who truly enjoy working together, was
Debbie's walk to her car in the end, stepping away, and going on to
the other part of her life.
If I had to dig deep and guess what the writers were trying to say
in this episode, it's that all of them, really, have created a "no
exit" situation for themselves within this job, and that Debbie's
example is there to say, you are more master of your own fate than
you may care to admit. In Sartre's play, at the end, the door to
their hell (a living-room with Second Empire furniture, as it were)
flies open, and yet no one leaves. I felt that in this episode,
certain characters (Debbie, Donna) learned to take that step out the
door, while others (Toby, CJ) chose to stay -- which turns a
brilliant bit of philosophy on human nature and existentialism from
Sartre's play into a sort of boringly trite little cautionary tale.
But, you can't have everything, I guess.
In other words, in case I haven't given it a big enough of a
thumbs-up thus far, and if you haven't read "No Exit" yet, run don't
walk. And Beckett's "Waiting For Godot," while you're at it -- Toby
may have his playwrights confused, but with good reason. These two
great plays share a final line, and much of the same structure and
I do have to say, if you're going to get locked down anywhere, I'm
thinking with the president is the best gig. You get the cool
polyester jogging suits, the free health care, and -- board games!
All I know is, nothing like the plague to bring good friends
together, huh? I hear smallpox works just as well, but you'd have to
ask John Wells.
Did we ever find out why Charlie's have trouble paying his bills?
I mean, I just noticed he's appearing in "10.5" this Sunday, so I
would have thought he'd have a little extra cash right now.
Ah, nothing makes me happier than the continued presence of
Rickie -- I mean, Wilson Cruz. Voodoo dolls and all. It's even
better than a Ron Butterfield appearance this week, and Fitz last
week, which is pretty darned cool. Now if they'd just bring back
Last but not least, Debbie has a stuffed alpaca on her desk!
"For an Anglo-Saxon, you were darned funny."