Okay, folks, as my way of thanking Linda Holmes (of NPR's Monkey See blog) for reviewing two "Sports Night" episodes last week that she didn't like much, I'm letting her(*) review the next two episodes, the latter of which is her favorite episode of the series.
(*) Yes, your definition of "letting her" may vary, to include concepts like "begging her to," "imposing upon her to," etc.
Linda's thoughts on "Dana and the Deep Blue Sea" and "Sally" coming right up...
The worst thing about "Dana And The Deep Blue Sea," for my money, is Dana and the deep blue sea – in other words, her paralyzing fear of fish. This theme was done a lot; this business where Dana goes down the rabbit hole of obsessing over some weird side issue. And the fear of fish is the dumbest example. Every time I watch this episode, I think, "If I have to hear the word 'snorkeling' one more time, I am going to just drown myself and get it over with."
What I do like about the episode is that if you MUST have these stories where men prove their love by ignoring the requests of women to be left alone, it's much more palatable to have it played for comedy, as it is here, than for drama, as it mostly was on "Studio 60." The way Casey disbelievingly and mercilessly mocks Dan throughout the episode ("Have you tried telling her at least…twenty times?") and the way Jeremy's attempt to persuade Rebecca goes (mostly) horribly wrong make the story easier for me to take.
Side note: I've never bought the "all covered with cheese" blunder, because that line doesn't sound like anything anyone would remotely say with "trees" in it either.
I really like the fact that there are things in this episode that are funny here that will take on a really different tone later in the series as Dan considers, for instance, the fact that when he wants people to like him, he wants them to watch the show. I admire the character consistency where that's always true of Dan, and sometimes it's funny, and sometimes it's kind of sad. That makes it an organic fact of his character and not something invented to serve a particular plot point on a one-time basis.
Final note: Natalie goes so far as to give Casey a talking-to in this episode about how foolish it is of him to stop pursuing Dana just because she asked him to. Aaron Sorkin is REALLY committed to this idea, no fooling.
Okay, let's talk about "Sally." Like most Sorkin episodes where nothing is happening, there is an air of something big about to break. And the pieces of this story click into place one by one.
We first learn that Casey's shirt is missing, which Dan deduces is a sign that he has had sex with someone. This is a significant and somewhat surprising complication, because according to normal television rules, we are supposed to be following a love story (kinda) between Casey and Dana, and his sleeping with someone else, especially someone he tells Isaac he doesn't much know, is a swerve from the usual.
We also learn that Gordon stood Dana up last night. File that away.
Dana, while talking to Natalie, is the one who introduces the possibility that Casey slept with Sally. Sally hasn't appeared for several episodes, so you wouldn't necessarily assume he left his shirt with her; this plants the seed. Natalie's response that Casey would never do that, in part because he's close to Dana and knows it would hurt her – accompanied by Dana's warm, grateful smile – underscores just how vulnerable Dana is on this point.
So now, naturally, Sally drops by Dan and Casey's office and discloses – through a series of comments I can buy as an attempt to speak in code, except for the "someone else's laundry" line, which should have been left out – that indeed, she slept with Casey.
Side point: The likelihood that professional writer Dan Rydell would not know the word "diminutive" is, I think it's safe to say, nonexistent.
Casey's sleeping with Sally is a very big deal. Gordon and Sally have both been set up as jealousy obstacles. The normal trajectory of a love story like this would be that Dana would feel threatened, but just as we believe Dana will not marry Gordon, we expect that Casey will not sleep with Sally – something he clearly did out of physical attraction and loneliness. Another common light-romance notion upended, by the way: Even nice people sometimes have sex for reasons that have little to do with, and that perhaps even fly in the face of, their feelings.
Side note: At this point in the story, it's hard to interpret Sally's behavior; normally, I would consider Casey's "I will sleep with you in private but pretend I barely know you in public" attitude to be a classic violation of Sexual Ethics 101, but since she and Casey may well be in this for the same reasons and he hasn't apparently made any pretense of caring about her, this may just be mutual itch-scratching, in which case Sally is fine.
Anyway, knowing about Casey and Sally bothers Dan for two reasons: (1) He doesn't like Sally; and (2) he immediately recognizes the implications for Casey's relationship with Dana.
That brings us to the totally surprising final shoe-drop. After watching him canoodle with Dana, Casey asks Gordon whether he's met Sally. And there is hemming and hawing and a bit of dancing around, and then Gordon figures out that something is very much up.
"What's on your mind, Casey?"
"You're wearing my shirt, Gordon."
I can't speak for anyone else, but when I first saw this scene, my mouth literally dropped open. There is actually a long pause in the show where they wait for you to figure out what just happened.
This episode already had a shock, right? Casey slept with Sally. That alone set up a perfectly respectable set of complications. The discovery that Gordon also slept with Sally multiplies the complexity by a factor of ten.
From here on out, Casey cannot distinguish selfishness from unselfishness. He has both selfish and unselfish reasons to both come clean and stay quiet. He can save Dana from a faithless boyfriend (unselfish friend motive) and potentially clear the way for himself (selfish motive), but only by demolishing his own relationship with Dana (selfish problem) and causing her a lot of pain (unselfish friend problem).
BUT WAIT! There's more. In calling Gordon out, Casey reveals that he has also slept with Sally. Gordon and Casey both leave this story in very complex positions, because they both understand that they are stalemated. Gordon understands as well as Casey does why Casey doesn't want to rat him out.
The escalating nature of the episode, in which there is a cascade of "oof" moments – Casey slept with someone; oof, Casey slept with Sally ; OOF, SO DID GORDON – is a real feat of character-driven writing. We've talked before about how carefully these people are written so that you know them and you know what they'd do. Casey doesn't like to get involved in drama, doesn't believe in grand gestures, doesn't like to talk about his personal life – Casey might genuinely decide in this situation to say nothing, for both selfish and unselfish reasons, but he'd suffer.
So here is Casey in anguish and frustration, gritting his teeth through a conversation with Dana about how happy she is with Gordon. And then in comes Elliott: "The games have started." A typically unsubtle but effective Sorkin flourish.
And Dana leaves, and the show's single best music idea ever kicks in, with the opening of "Crimson and Clover." What on earth, other than that, would have been as good? We are right on Casey's face as the music dramatically sighs: "Ahhh…" The mood of this closing is so important, because rather than focusing on the intrigue – what Casey will or will not do, the way it would have ended if we'd closed on Casey watching Dana and Gordon and pacing over tense music – it focuses on Casey's confused sadness.
That, my friends, is a pickle. Not a pickle that requires anybody to be stupid or a bad person. That is just a pickle that was set up over quite a long period of time, in terms of setting up all the pieces that make it feel important and agonizing.
Coming up: "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?" (which is not the episode involving "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?", but the episode involving Alberto Fedrigati) and "The Sword Of Orion."
Thanks again, Linda. And, indeed, my hope is to get my review of both of those episodes done by the end of this week, since I'll be on vacation for much of the next two weeks. And after that? I dunno. We'll have five episodes left post-"Sword of Orion," and once I'm back from vacation, I'm going to be caught up in reviewing the start of the fall season. So there's a chance we may not get to finish season one until later this year (possibly doing them as holiday specials?), or even next summer. Ah, well. Next time I tackle a show with 22 (or, in this case, 23) episodes in a season, I'm going to double up from the start.
What did everybody else think?