"The West Wing" The Women of Qumar (TV Episode 2001) Poster

(TV Series)

(2001)

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5/10
I'll make it past this episode, grudgingly
Ben D5 August 2017
The West Wing is a moralizing, didactic show. Everyone knows this. It's not very realistic, but that's why we love it: it's hopeful about something that inspires so little hope, Washington politics. The characters can sometimes be too certain in the moral supremacy of their policy positions, but that's to be expected in any administration, liberal or conservative. I like the humor and character interactions, and as a centrist (I can still be a centrist in 2017, right?), I'd certainly watch the conservative version of this show.

That said, this episode perturbed me like none in this series has before. CJ is morally outraged at the sale of US arms to a repressive Middle Eastern country with poor women's rights--as CJ says, "they're beating the women." This type of plot is par for the course for the West Wing: a character notices a discrepancy between stated US goals (here, human rights) and reality (selling arms to states with poor human rights), and the episode progresses with the characters trying to resolve this distinction.

Here, though, things felt like a little too ridiculous. Arms sales are controversial, yes. And the way these repressive Middle Eastern countries treat women is anathema to American ideals. But tackling the intermingling of geopolitics and human rights was beyond the potential of this script. Trying to dilute international relations to a categorical imperative-based way of conducting diplomacy is ridiculous. As the national security adviser tells CJ, this country hosts an American base. That should be enough for CJ--a country that allows the forward deployment of the American military, especially in the Middle East, is very valuable to American interests. But CJ is so enraged that she insults some veterans visiting the White House and yells at characters for foreign policy decisions which are way, way beyond their purviews. Her anger is so over-the-top that it really felt like the writers just wanted to win an emmy for character performance, regardless of believability.

I'm no foreign policy expert, but this was just dumb. The way these countries treat women is rooted in centuries of religion and social practice. CJ compares the situation to apartheid in South Africa, which, yes, was successfully resolved due to international pressure. But apartheid was surface-level compared to the institutional history of women in the Middle East. The former was imposed by a minority of whites for about a half century. The latter is much, much more indigenous to the region. The writers really make CJ look naive in this episode.
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8/10
They're beating the women, Nancy.
robrosenberger17 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The U.S. agrees to sell weapons to Qumar, a country that brutally abuses women. The White House men hide from the women. A C.J. top-five entry. The debut of Mary-Louise Parker (WEEDS, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES) as Amy Gardner, women's issues lobbyist. In 23 episodes from now until the end of the run, she never misses a beat. A mercenary Earth goddess with a razor tongue. She and Josh have a high-powered debate on prostitution. They go on to share some of the most hysterical, resonant romantic moments in the history of the show...all while a part of you silently screams for him to get back to Donna. It's a fine line producers have to walk, when introducing a new romantic interest for a character the audience is aching to see with someone else. They have to be compelling...but only to a point. If the chemistry is too good, the larger arc is derailed. If it's too flaccid, the romance is just an obvious stalling tactic. No matter how good the performers and writing are, it's ultimately a crapshoot...but Amy couldn't have been more perfect.
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