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 was.
  • 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 the messenger.
  • 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 philosophy.
  • 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 Danny...
  • Last but not least, Debbie has a stuffed alpaca on her desk!
  • "For an Anglo-Saxon, you were darned funny."

    Back to episode guide