“I like the little things.”
God, the way John Spencer delivers that line in this clip from The West Wing, you can almost script the rest of what he’s about to say. You know it’s going to be ugly, vicious, and potentially career-ending. He practically howls it defensively and ashamedly. You see Leo McGarry’s life written across Spencer’s face and you forget he’s a fictional character.
But after delivering that line, Spencer lets loose a delivish smile. He then proceeds to describe a how it feels to hold a glass in a way that would make some adult film actors salivate. The camera then fades to the memory McGarry has been grappling in the entire episode. He looks absolutely defenseless as Mr. Belding offers him a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue. If someone were to drop a bottle of that on the street by accident, there would be a crowd of scotch lovers tonguing the sidewalk to ensure not a drop was wasted. Non-alcoholics would be hard-pressed to turn this down, but an alcoholic, nervous, and desperate politician? Jesus, setting the guy’s house on fire while taking a dump in his car couldn’t have caused more damage. Hence, he snaps at Johanna Gleason again when she tells him to get to the point.
“That’s what I remember.”
That’s what Spencer says when he has his first illicit sip. It’s so haunting because every first sip of scotch makes you think of all the sips that came before it. My college roommates got me a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black for my 21st birthday based on our love of this episode. It came with two rather nice glasses. I’ll never forget pouring the golden liquid over two ice cubes for the first time. It was as sexual an act as the one depicted in this clip. I believe I had a cigar with my buddy Steve-O that night as well. My mouth was deliciously alive with tobacco and alcohol. Maybe it tasted like I ate week-old cat litter the next morning, but the hour or two he and I spent drinking, smoking, and talking about life was well worth it.
“I don’t get drunk in front of people, I get drunk alone.”
Even if you haven’t seen the rest of the episode, you know what happens next. Anyone who has gone on a self-destructive bender knows the feeling of opening up a liquor cabinet and believing every ounce of booze is going to go down your throat. The consequences aren’t surprising because of how inevitable they become. Whether the world demands repayment immediately, or, as in McGarry’s case, fate decides on a reckoning at the worst possible moment in the future, the piper has to be paid in full.
Spencer was one of the main reasons The West Wing was so great—and why it remains my favorite television show of all time. He had a career’s worth of fantastic moments on the show, but this scene might have topped the list. It’s probably closely followed by the scene at the end of the episode:
“That was awfully nice of you.”
That’s redemption as smooth as Johnnie Walker Blue.
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