LadyGhosts of TV Past

Ladyghosts: The West Wing 2.1 “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen”

Welcome back, TWW fans, we’ve made it through our first cliffhanger; we’ve seen the rise, fall and disappearance of ToePick; and we’ve gotten to know the delightful idealists who inhabit Aaron Sorkin’s version of American government.  In my opinion, season two is one of the strongest of TWW‘s seven year run, I’m really looking forward to these recaps.

Bartlet: And not just you. A lot of my constituents. I put the hammer to farms in Concord, Salem, Laconia, and Pelham. You guys got rogered but good. Today, for the first time in history, one in five Americans living in poverty are children. One in five children live in the most abject, dangerous, hopeless, backbreaking, gut-wrenching, poverty, one in five, and they’re children. If fidelity to freedom and democracy is the code of our civic religion then surely, the code of our humanity is faithful service to that unwritten commandment that says, “We shall give our children better than we ourselves had.” I voted against the bill ’cause I didn’t want it to be hard for people to buy milk. I stopped some money from flowing into your pocket. If that angers you, if you resent me, I completely respect that. But if you expect anything different from the President of the United States, I suggest you vote for somebody else. Thanks very much. Hope you enjoyed the chicken.

The current landscape of American politicians is, frankly, sad.  This isn’t a partisan argument. Between the weiners on the Twitters, the erosion of the fiscal strength of the middle class, the inability to get anything substantial or even remotely related to the economy in motion, the back-stabbing, the shit-talking and the collective outrage about all of it, nobody’s winning me over.  It’s nice to escape to Sorkin’s West Wing, where people talk about things rather than try to out-shout each other.

At the end of season one, we saw the senior staff scrambling for safety as two gunmen opened fire on President Bartlet’s entourage.  In the chaos of the opening moments, we learn that Bartlet, Josh and Butterfield have all been shot, Bartlet in the abdomen, Josh in the chest and Butterfield in his right hand.  Bartlet is unaware that he’s been shot, at first, until Butterfield notices blood in his mouth.  Toby finds Josh slumped against a wall, and calls for help.  CJ hit her head when she was pushed out of the way, and Zoey was physically ill from the shock, but the rest of the team are uninjured.

I’d like to pause to reflect on how extremely badass the Secret Service is in this episode.  Within what appeared to be seconds, several groups were mobilized to secure the hospital, the VP and the First Lady, as well as maintaining a team at Rosslyn to track down the third member of the shooter team, the fella on the ground.  The two gunmen are dead, we’ll learn in season three which handsome TV actor and nationwide mom-crush was one of the Big Damn Heroes who took them out.  Hint: Not Charlie Sheen. Bartlet is wheeled in two minutes after the Secret Service clears all non-critical patients from GW, and he’s cracking wise, like he does.  When a nurse leans in to ask if he has any medical conditions, he leans forward secretively and deadpans, “Well. I’ve been shot.”

Leo and Zoey each have a moment with Bartlet.  He tells Leo the series of people he needs to contact, and that he needs to close the markets.  He jokes with Zoey to ease her mind.  When Abby arrives, she makes a beeline for Dr. Lee, the anesthesiologist, and tells him that Bartlet has MS, he’s the fifteenth person on the planet to know this information, and she doesn’t give a fat shit if he tells the press or not after this is all over.  Abby is pretty formidable, I bet he doesn’t even tell his cat.

As the chaos around Bartlet subsides and he’s wheeled to surgery, the doors to the ER burst open and Josh is rolled in, followed closely by Toby, Sam and CJ.  Frankly, it looks like they’re all kind of in the way, but it’s TV medicine, so whatever.  Josh is mumbling that he’s not supposed to be at this meeting, because he needs to get to New Hampshire.  Sam, at his bedside, tells him he already went, and that he picked Sam up first.

This leads us into the second arc of these episodes, which is a series of flashbacks of the early days on the Bartlet campaign trail.

Josh is working for Hoynes, with a team of really annoying people.  Sam is defending oil companies from litigation.  Toby is trying to be a crack political operative with a different team of really annoying people, working for Bartlet.  Leo recruits Josh, telling him to simply come hear Bartlet speak.  Josh doesn’t think an intellectual academic from New England has a chance, but he doesn’t think Hoynes is “the real thing.”  He stops on his way to hear then Governor Bartlet speak at the VFW to see Sam, and tries to convince him to work for Hoynes’ team.  Sam is reticent, but Josh asks if he’d reconsider if it turns out “the real thing” is in New Hampshire. Aw, I love their bromance.  Josh and Sam can almost make the word bromance not sound obnoxious.  Almost.

Back in the present, Bartlet comes through surgery like a champ, the bullet missed all the important stuff so they were able to sew him right up.  A doctor explains this to Abby in doctor-talk, then Abby explains it to the rest of the staff in less clinical terms.  The news on Josh isn’t as promising, the bullet nicked his pulmonary artery, and the surgeons will need 12-14 hours to repair the damage.  The same doctor who spoke to Abby comes into the waiting room to tell the staff to go on home or to work, the hospital will call them if there’s any change.  As he’s beginning to explain Josh’s condition, Donna comes in, only aware that the President has been shot.  Toby tells her what happened, and her face crumples as she slumps in a seat.

Back at the white house, Mrs. Landingham and Margaret are doing the walk and talk no one else is in much condition to do this episode, Margaret spies a special report.  Before the announcer finishes the sentence “shots were fired at President Bartlet,” Mrs. Landingham is running to go to the hospital.

In the next flashback, we see Bartlet speaking to the VFW, at the end of which he gives the speech in the quote at the top of this piece.  It’s enough to get Josh’s attention, and it pisses off all the members of Bartlet’s team except Leo and Toby, so Leo fires all of them except Toby.

In the present, CJ is struggling.  She’s disoriented, and probably in shock, and she’s (understandably) visibly shaken during the first press briefing after the shooting. Danny asks her who’s in charge while the president is under anesthesia, and she doesn’t know, so she dodges.  Another reporter asks why there wasn’t a protective canopy over the rope line, as is apparently typical for this sort of event.  CJ replies that it’s policy not to report on security measures.  What she doesn’t say is “because that would be really stupid.”  Danny presses her later for an answer, and it’s clear she doesn’t know who, exactly, is in charge.

Meanwhile, Hoynes and Leo are in the situation room.  NSA Nancy McNally has been called from somewhere fancy, and her gold evening ensemble does nothing to detract from the fact that she’s made of pure steel and gravitas.  There’s Republican Guard activity near the Iraq border, and McNally smells no good.  Leo tells Hoynes it’s not as big a deal as Nancy seems to think, and Hoynes decides to go with Leo’s advice.  McNally doesn’t argue, but she gives Leo some serious side-eye.  We’ll be coming back to this moment a few times in the upcoming seasons, and having seen how it unfolds, it’s really interesting to look back at the moments where it appears Leo was running the country.

Back (in time) in New Hampshire, Bartlet asks Leo why he’s working for him instead of Hoynes, who’s currently outrageously ahead of Bartlet in the polls. Leo tells him it’s because he’s “tired of picking between the lesser of who cares.”  He wants a democratic candidate he can get excited about, and he’s already decided Bartlet is that man.

In the present, we see the various staff members, all obviously shaken, go about their business.  At the hospital, and awake Bartlet wants to look in on Josh, so Abby and Leo help him to a viewing area above the operating room.  In contrast, or perhaps answer to Sorkin’s stock question “What’s next?” Bartlet says, voice filled with emotion, “Look what happened.”

Join Sally J. next week for the exciting conclusion of “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen”!  Apologies to any of the dozen or so readers of this column who might enjoy having pictures, I ran out of time to make any, and they do increase the already unusually high amount of scrolling required to read one of my blabberfingers recaps.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

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