Mandy is the job. Nothing but the job.
Donna stares at her, all compact energy and perfect skin, professional hair and knee length skirts.
Mandy is at home in the West Wing the way Donna fears she will never be.
Donna asks questions and it's only partly to stroke Josh's ego (she knows how much he loves to hear himself talk, to teach, and she secretly enjoys the attention). She wants to learn, needs to know everything.
Knowledge is power. It's a clich because it's true. Mandy has the knowledge, the degrees and the connections. And she is nothing but the job.
Donna has the endurance to outlast almost anyone, a desire for knowledge that impresses even the President, and a will to succeed that she only admits to in the gray pre-dawn light as she dresses for work in her off-the-rack suits and Payless shoes.
She looks at Margaret, at Mrs. Landingham, and sees hidden power, but it's not enough for her. She wants someday to be the one in charge, the one making the decisions instead of the copies.
Then she looks at Mandy, and wonders if she can suppress her personality and focus on the job to the exclusion of all else. Work already takes up all the room in her life; she's not sure she can give it all the room in her head, too.
After Rosslyn, she decides it's not worth it.
She decides to be Donna, not Mandy.
Mandy wonders how Donna does it. How she can go through life being that gullible, that uninformed. During the campaign, she'd thought it was an act, a way to get Josh's attention, but Donna is the kind of woman who doesn't need to talk to get attention.
In fact, in Mandy's experience, Donna's the kind of woman for whom talking just detracts from long blonde hair and longer legs.
Donna's the kind of woman who drives Mandy insane, and not in a good way, because she makes it harder for them all.
Mandy has made herself into a consummate professional -- she is accomplished and brilliant and she's not shy about telling people that. She works twice as hard as everyone around her, because she knows she will only be taken half as seriously, until her hair is gray and she begins wearing her mother's pearls to work every day.
Mandy looks at CJ and longs for her sense of balance, her ability to let her emotions show while still maintaining a professional demeanor.
She looks at the First Lady, a brilliant, capable woman who nonetheless has had to put her own career on hold in deference to her husband's.
Mandy vows never to do that, the way she vowed at the age of eighteen that she wouldn't be like Donna, since she doesn't have long blonde hair and longer legs to attract and hold attention.
She plays with the big boys, and if she has to act like a man to do it, she does.
She is ashamed at her response when Josh tells her that the FBI negotiator is in critical condition. The President took her advice --her advice (she was so proud) -- and it ended badly. It ended the way Josh said it would, and though she can see the tightness of his lips and the sadness in his eyes, he doesn't run out of the room, bile rising in his throat.
She wonders if CJ ever goes home and drinks a bottle of wine by herself, huddled under a ratty old afghan her mother crocheted for her before she went away to college. Drinks so she doesn't cry, and then cries in the shower anyway.
It's unlikely Donna hides her tears. She probably lets Josh or Sam comfort her when things get to be too much. They like playing big, strong men, and Donna often looks as if she's going to break.
Mandy swears she will never break.
Not until Rosslyn.
She goes to see Josh, but bandages, tubes, and Donna's body shield him from her. Donna's clutching his hand, shoulders shaking visibly, and muttering, "Don't you dare die on me," in a steely tone Mandy doesn't recognize. Mandy backs away, knowing that it's not for her ears, though she shares the sentiment.
Mandy can spin with the best of them, but she's finally learned that some things can't be spun.
She's sick in the public restroom. Afterward she leans her forehead against the cool metal of the stall door, arms wrapped around her chest, sobbing. No one can see her break, but she does.
She is brilliant and accomplished and not afraid to tell people so. But even she can't walk out of that hospital unfazed and act like the world didn't just turn upside down.
She hands in her resignation and moves back into her office on K Street. She decides that being Mandy can mean being more than just the job, and focuses her considerable intellect and talent on making it so.