It’s almost Turkey Day and in the West Wing of the White House, Communications
Director Toby Zeigler (Richard Schiff) and his deputy Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) are working on the
President’s annual Thanksgiving address to the nation. Toby isn’t
impressed with Sam’s early drafts.
President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen) wants a new knife for carving the Thanksgiving
turkey, so he sends his personal aide Charlie Young (Dule Hill) out
shopping for one. Charlie struggles to find a carving knife that meets the President's exacting standards.
On a more serious note, a container ship carrying 100 Chinese refugees has
been detained off the California Coast. The refugees claim to be
evangelical Christians who have fled to America seeking religious
asylum. When Pres. Barlet is told of this, he’s reminded of the
Pilgrims’ journey to the New World where they sought to worship according to
Bartlet is sympathetic to the refugees, but the complex nature of U.S.-China relations and immigration laws prevent the President from welcoming them to America. There are also questions about the veracity of their claims of religious asylum. Bartlet interviews one of the refugees, a professor named Jhin-Wei (Henry O), in order to determine if they are truly fleeing religious persecution.
C.J. starts to grow attached to the turkeys, who are named Eric and
Troy. She learns that the President will pardon the turkey that is more
photogenic and send it to a petting zoo. C.J. decides Eric is the more
attractive turkey and he will receive the pardon.
Unfortunately, C.J. soon
learns that Troy has been purchased and will be served as Thanksgiving
Dinner! This prompts C.J. to seek a Presidential Pardon for both
Will the Chinese refugees be allowed to stay in America? Will Troy be pardoned? Will Bartlet finally settle on a carving knife?
J.A. Morris says:
“Shibboleth” is an enjoyable episode of a now-classic series.
Immigration is still a serious issue and this episode handles it in a
respectful and realistic manner. The parallels between the Chinese
refugees and the Pilgrims’ voyage in 1620 are obvious, but never come off as
The plot involving the turkeys provides a nice contrast to the serious parts
of “Shibboleth.” Allison Janney is my MVP for this episode, since she has
the difficult task of acting beside a duo of turkeys.
I don't want to spoil too much of this episode, but Bartlet and Charlie's interactions are touching. Charlie was dating the President's daughter Zoe and Jed uses Thanksgiving as a time to welcome formally welcome Charlie into his family.
Like other episodes of The West Wing, “Shibboleth” reminds viewers that
White House employees don’t have a lot of free time. Toby, Sam and Josh (Bradley Whitford) are spending Thanksgiving together watching football, presumably because their
demanding jobs don’t allow them time to visit family.
|Toby chases down C.J. in one of The West Wing's patented "Walk-And-Talk" scenes!
A note about this episode's title:
Webster's dictionary defines the word shibboleth as "a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning." In the Old Testament Book of Judges, it was used as a password for those who wanted to cross the river Jordan.
“Shibboleth” is a memorable episode of a great series that’s full of drama, comedy and holiday sentiment and it’s highly recommended.
4 pumpkin pies!
There's some great absurdist comedy here, like when C.J. is very seriously trying to determine which turkey is the most photogenic or arguing the legality of a second turkey pardon. (I also quite like the solution to the conundrum that makes use of Presidential Powers, but I won't spoil it.) C.J.'s utter horror at having to lead the children in song (with lute accompaniment!) at the turkey pardoning ceremony is also pretty funny.
Poor Charlie is being run ragged in aid of Bartlet's obsessive search for the "perfect" carving knife, which has quite a sweet (but not cloying) payoff.
There's a nice balance of the serious and the comedic in "Shibboleth" and as J.A. Morris says, it manages to skip most of the typical turkey-day TV tropes, while still managing to preserve the sense of tradition and family (in this case, a work family) associated with the holiday.