Take This Sabbath Day
|"Take This Sabbath Day"|
|The West Wing episode|
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||Thomas Schlamme|
|Written by||Aaron Sorkin (teleplay)
Lawrence O'Donnell & Paul Redford and Aaron Sorkin (story)
|Original air date||February 9 2000|
|Season 1 episodes|
"Take This Sabbath Day" is the 14th episode of The West Wing. The episode addresses the death penalty and the United States government's custom of not scheduling executions between sundown Friday and sundown Sunday in order to avoid conducting an execution on either the Jewish Shabbat or Christian Sabbath days. The episode also introduces the recurring character of Joey Lucas.
After a death penalty appeal is rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, one of the defense attorneys (Noah Emmerich) reaches out to Sam for help, whom he knows because he "used to beat him up in high school." The case involves a drug dealer who killed two other dealers and is eligible for capital punishment under a new omnibus crime bill. The court renders its judgment on a Friday, and the execution is to take place at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning. The convict's only hope is to have his sentence commuted by the President.
Sam was going to leave for a weekend sailing excursion with friends, and sets the defense attorney straight when he rudely orders Sam to make the President commute his client's death sentence, but he stiill makes an effort to persuade Toby to help convince the President to halt the execution. He gives the convict's attorney the location of Toby's synagogue and the rabbi in turn delivers a sermon condemning vengeance. The issue is later laid before the President, who is conflicted. Press Secretary C. J. and media consultant Mandy discuss C.J.'s obligation to learn personal information about the prisoner to share with the press, and the fact that while neither personally has strong feelings on either side of the death-penalty debate, learning this personal information about the man who is to die makes the task more emotional.
Meanwhile, Josh has a meeting with an irate campaign manager from California named Joey Lucas (Marlee Matlin), who is furious that Josh has cut her candidate's funding in a race against a fanatically anti-immigration Republican incumbent. Josh is taken aback by both Joey's brilliance and beauty, and surprised by the fact that she is also deaf. The President, walking the halls to think about the decision he faces, invites Joey to a tour the White House with him and asks her opinion on the death penalty. As a Quaker, she is opposed, and they discuss ancient Christian philosophers who have supported the penalty. Like Toby's rabbi, she believes these older doctrines are outweighed by modern knowledge. She also raises the subject of her candidate, and Bartlet says her guy is an "empty suit" and that he "likes the devil I've got", but adds if she finds someone who has promise he'll be interested.
Bartlet continues to agonize over the death penalty issue and asks for guidance. While he is personally opposed to the death penalty, he recognizes that most Americans support it and does not feel that his personal beliefs can legitimately overrule the wishes of the American public. He expresses concern that if he commutes the sentence due to his personal beliefs and his successor does not commute sentences, a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment" will be created. Leo advises the President that if such a precedent is his only obstacle, then for once, "let that be the next guy's problem." The President indicates to Leo that he will not commute the sentence. Although Sam is waiting in the outer office armed with arguments for commuting the sentence and insists he should be allowed to present them, Leo sends him away, declaring that he has known the President long enough to recognize when he has made a decision beyond persuasion, and Sam says brokenly, "Leo, there are times when we are absolutely nowhere."
Prior to Joey Lucas leaving Washington, Josh arranges to meet with her at her hotel, where he offers the President's apology for any rudeness during their encounter and his renewed offer to support a better candidate. She asks if he had offered any suggestions, to which Josh replied that the President believed Joey herself should run. The episode concludes with Bartlet discussing the matter with his boyhood parish priest (played by Karl Malden, in his last screen acting role before his death), who upholds Catholic doctrine against the death penalty. After C.J. enters with confirmation that the execution has taken place, the priest prepares to administer to Bartlet the sacrament of confession.
The title of the episode is a reference to The Bible, in which God instructs, "Observe/Safeguard the Sabbath day," in the Ten Commandments, Deuteronomy 5:1-22. It makes reference to the scene in which Sam explains to Leo, "We don't execute people between sundown Friday and sundown Sunday". The rabbi also notes that he had hoped his sermon might prompt Toby to "take this Sabbath day" to consider how to advise the president. On the DVD commentary track for this episode on The West Wing: Season 1, series creator Aaron Sorkin notes that the writing staff had urged him to write an episode addressing the death penalty, but that he had not found any inspiration for a plot until he learned of the fact that the government avoided scheduling executions on the Sabbath.
- Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (nominee: Martin Sheen)
- This was the last television or film performance of Hollywood veteran Karl Malden.
- Donna's reason for being late to bring Josh his clothes was that she had trouble on Dupont Circle, something that was also joked about in Sorkin's film The American President.
- Joe Cosgrove, the actor who played bearded defense attorney Peter Hayes is a practicing attorney who briefly served as a judge on the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. Cosgrove was nominated by then-Governor Ed Rendell to serve the remainder of the term of disgraced judge Mark Ciavarella following Ciavarella's corruption arrest in connection with the Kids for Cash scandal.
- The subject of the show's inpending execution, drug kingpin Simon Cruz, is likely a reference to real-life drug lord Juan Garza, who was eventually executed on June 19, 2001 for several murders connected with a marijuana ring in Texas. His execution was the second carried out by the federal government since 1963; Cruz' is described as what would be the first one, which would have been the case for Garza had terrorist Timothy McVeigh not been executed by the federal government on June 11, eight days before.
- Aaron Sorkin. "Take This Sabbath Day" commentary track, The West Wing: Season 1.
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