In the Shadow of Two Gunmen (Part 1): The continuation of the cliff hanger Season One ending of the West Wing, in which President Bartlett (Martin Sheen) and Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) are wounded by gunmen later linked to a white supremacist group. This two-part episode shows how all of these people came to know each other through well written flashbacks, showing the Bartlett campaign for president and the staff’s journey to the future president.
In the Shadow of Two Gunmen (Part 2): President Bartlett recovers from a superficial bullet wound, but Josh remains hospitalized and in critical condition. A particularly emotional scene, and perhaps one of the most emotional scenes in the entire series, comes at the end of this episode when Josh’s father dies after a critical primary win for Bartlett. At the airport, Bartlett and Lyman have a conversation about Josh’s father and Bartlett’s love for his close knit staff is shown by his support for Josh even on the night of his greatest political success.
The Midterms: The gridlock of modern government and the tenuous balance of power in Washington is detailed in this episode of the West Wing. One story line has Sam recruiting a potentially strong Democratic candidate for a House seat, only to have to pull the White House endorsement because of his questionable background as an attorney. Another story line deals with the explosion of Bartlett’s poll numbers and how responsible it is for government to use tragedy in order to forward policy agendas.
In This White House: The character of Ainsley Hayes (played by Emily Proctor) appears for the first time in this episode of the West Wing. Hayes, a Republican operative who schools Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) on national television, is seen by some on the staff as an aggressive attention grabber while the president sees her as a potential member of his team. This character develops throughout the episode from a callous partisan to an individual appreciative of the pressures faced by White House personnel in a constantly changing political environment.
And It’s Surely to Their Credit: Ainsley Hayes is given an office in the basement of the White House and faces some first day difficulties with her boss (John Larroquette) and with other members of the legal staff who are particularly partisan, seeing her as the enemy within the gates. But Hayes gains acceptances from the inner sanctum because of their appreciation of how difficult it is to adjust to White House life and the concept of honor is used throughout this episode of the West Wing(via the music and plays of Gilbert and Sullivan).
The Lame Duck Congress: Another episode of the West Wing about the dilemmas facing a president, particularly between effective politics and good government. The particulars involve a nuclear test ban treaty that is doomed to failure when a senator from Pennsylvania, who has lost re-election, decides not to vote with the Bartlett White House during a lame duck Congress.
The Portland Trip: West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin’s idealism and its representation under the guise of Jed Bartlett shines through in this episode, in which the White House staff spend an evening flight discussing how to reform American education. In part, the idealism is refreshing, especially considering that the source for the education reform comes from presidential aide Charlie Young but it also reeks of Hollywood fantasy that the staff could conceive of this as an idea that would be embraced by very many people (the idea being that college education would be paid for in exchange for a commitment by students to work in inner city schools).
Shibboleth: In this episode of the West Wing, Thanksgiving festivities are complicated by the defection of Chinese Christians seeking asylum in America. Bartlett’s religiosity is further developed in his attempt to figure out if the asylum seekers are genuine in their faith, as he asks them to prove their commitment to Christianity. But this episode on the whole is amusing, especially the scenes dealing with the pardoning of the turkey (a ridiculous White House tradition rife for comedic results in this show).
Galileo: A wide range of issues are raised in this episode of the West Wing, including the condition of remaining Russian nuclear silos, the problem with space travel and exploration on Mars, and the problems of delegating responsibilities to a wide range of staff members (in particular, Charlie’s gaffe when he says that the president does not like green beans and the ensuing uproar in the media).
Noel: While the immediate shock of the assassination attempt on the President and the collateral damage to his staff was felt in the earlier episodes of this season of the West Wing, the more substantial and longer lasting psychological effects are revealed in this episode. Josh’s past problems with trauma (the death of his sister) are combined with the guilt and responsibility he has put on himself for the recent problems in the White House.
The Leadership Breakfast: The White House staff’s (especially Josh, Sam, and Toby) aversion to doing nothing when an opportunity arises is expressed in this episode. When planning for a breakfast between party leaders in Congress and the White House results in extremely cautious rules about what can be discussed, the staff wonders how they can get anything accomplished when they aren’t able to take advantage of a meeting of the political minds.
The Drop-In: This episode of the West Wing deals with two fairly important, if under-reported, issues: environmental terrorism and the missile defense system. Sam’s activism on behalf of environmental protection runs up against Toby’s caution in shaping the president’s agenda, when Toby changes Sam’s speech before donors after a rash of environmental terrorist acts. Leo’s love of the missile defense system runs counter to the president’s pragmatic approach to the budget, when the system’s latest test fails to hit the target by an astronomical margin.
Bartlett’s Third State of the Union: The State of the Union address’ success is countered by a blunder by Ainsley Hayes (saying that a presidential proposal to encourage school dress codes was unconstitutional), the frustration of the first lady with her husband’s moderate approach toward the agenda, and a State of the Union guest’s questionable past.
The War at Home: The president contemplates how to deal with the capture of Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Colombia while facing the wrath of his wife. Bartlett’s frustration with the drug war, with how to deal with military governments, and with how to balance home and work life when they become one in the same in this episode of the West Wing.
Ellie: The Surgeon General (also a Bartlett family friend) advocates for the legalization of marijuana in an online discussion, creating discord within the West Wing. Further complicating the situation is that Bartlett’s daughter Ellie (who has steered clear of the public spot light) makes a comment to reporters saying that her father wouldn’t fire the surgeon general. The president’s attempts to deal with his daughter and his friendship with the surgeon general shows how difficult it is for the president (real or fictional) to balance all of the responsibilities in the average person’s life with the extraordinary tasks facing the leader of the free world.
Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail: The return of Leo’s favorite day, known as Big Block of Cheese Day, means a day of far flung theories in the West Wing. One of the better moments in this episode has Josh and C.J. listening to cartographers who feel map making is racist and needs to be adjusted to be unbiased towards the Third World. On a more serious note, Sam struggles with presidential pardons and crimes of the past (the grand daughter of an alleged Communist sympathizer) and the present (his father’s infidelity).
The Stackhouse Filibuster: As Sam, Josh, and C.J. tell their respective parents about life in the White House via email, a determined senator engages in a marathon filibuster in order to delay a vote on the administration’s Family Wellness Act. It is found out that the senator wants money for special needs children because one of his grandchildren is mentally challenged.
17 People: Bartlett’s struggle with multiple sclerosis is revealed to Toby, but Toby also believes that someone who could harm the White House has this information. Eventually, he figures out that one of the 17 people who knows about the president’s ailment is the vice president, whose rivalry with Bartlett makes his possible presidential candidacy a potential danger to the Bartlett administration.
Bad Moon Rising: The legal ramifications of Bartlett’s non-disclosure of his ailment and the White House response to this cover up are addressed in this episode of the West Wing and the following three episodes of the West Wing. Charlie’s knowledge of the Bartlett’s lack of disclosure on college application forms for their daughters has the potential of being legally dangerous for the president.
The Fall’s Gonna Kill You: White House Counsel Oliver Babisch (played by Oliver Platt) engages in rigorous cross examination of C.J. and the First Lady, whom he finds out has been giving the president medication in contravention of her medical license. The issue of how serious the president’s disclosure will be seen by the public and the frustrations of the staff are exposed throughout the episode of the West Wing and into the next episode of the West Wing.
18th and Potomac: Bartlett’s closest advisors meet in the White House basement to figure out how to break the news of the president’s disease to the public. Meanwhile, the business of the country continues with a crisis in Haiti. In an emotionally striking moment, presidential secretary Dolores Landingham is killed in a car accident at the end of the episode of the West Wing, creating an emotional story line for Bartlett in proceeding seasons.
Two Cathedrals: On the day of the burial of Mrs. Landingham, President Bartlett confronts past demons and present problems. In a series of flashbacks while in church, Bartlett ponders upon his relationship with Landingham, the contentious relationship he had with his father, and whether or not he would be up for re-election. Much like the end of Season 1, Aaron Sorkin and the writing staff do a great job in setting up the next season with a cliffhanger. At the end of Season Two, it is unknown whether or not Bartlett would run again for office as he is seen taking time to respond to that question by a reporter.
Special Features: The best special feature of this West Wing set is the Constructing Two Cathedrals feature, which reconstructs how they went about putting together the end of season cliff hanger and the depth to which the writers gave Bartlett and the staff their emotional connections to one another.