In the Shadow of Two Gunmen (The West Wing)

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"In the Shadow of Two Gunmen"
The West Wing episode
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 1 & 2
Directed by Thomas Schlamme
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Production code 226201 & 226202
Original air date October 4, 2000
Guest actors
Season 2 episodes
List of The West Wing episodes

"In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" is the two-part second season premiere of the American political drama television series The West Wing. Both parts were written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Thomas Schlamme.


Part I[edit]

After the shooting at Rosslyn, President Bartlet is rushed back to the White House, but the limo has to turn around quickly when it's discovered he's been hit in the side. Back at the scene of the shooting, Toby discovers that Josh has been shot in the chest. He is rushed to the George Washington University Hospital along with the President. Dr. Bartlet and most of the staff rush to the hospital. Abbey has to tell the anesthesiologist about the President's MS.

Meanwhile, Leo goes back to the West Wing and meets with the Vice President, the National Security Advisor Nancy McNally, and others in the Situation Room. Nancy warns Leo that she thinks the country may be under attack from foreign powers and that Iraq might be at the source. There is some confusion over who is in charge, since the President did not sign a letter transferring authority over to the Vice President before he went into surgery. The Vice President defers to Leo, and Leo instructs Nancy to give the Iraqis a warning: "Don't mess with us tonight."

Although Bartlet undergoes minor surgery (the bullet "seems to have gone out of its way not to hit anything"), Josh remains in critical condition and must undergo major surgery.

Through the course of flashbacks, we see how Josh first came to be a member of Bartlet's election campaign. He is working for John Hoynes when Leo comes and convinces him to attend one of Bartlet's early speeches in New Hampshire. Josh believes it will be a waste of time. Along the way, he stops in New York to talk to Sam Seaborn, who is working at the law firm of Gage Whitney Pace, helping an oil company purchase old tankers. Josh asks him to come work for Hoynes; Sam turns him down, but says that if Bartlet turns out to be "the real thing" he'll come with Josh. Both men are clearly feeling unfulfilled in their careers.

Toby also remembers his early days with the campaign. On the night of the speech, Toby is drinking heavily, believing Leo is going to fire him that night. Instead, Leo fires the other, more cynical, senior members of the campaign staff but keeps the idealistic Toby. Leo then sternly tells Toby, "Don't screw up."

Governor Bartlet is unsure if running for president is a good idea, despite his track record of never losing an election (although Leo points out that being elected to the House and then the governorship of a state that his family helped found is not all that impressive). Leo assures his old friend that he is the right man, and that "this is the time of Jed Bartlet."

Back in the hospital, Bartlet comes out of his successful surgery and goes to observe Josh's surgery. The episode ends with Bartlet musing aloud "look what happened."

Part II[edit]

The episode opens with the surviving member of the trio of gunmen from the Rosslyn assassination sitting in the Dixie Pig restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia. He steps outside for a smoke, and is immediately caught in a spotlight and surrounded by dozens of Federal agents, quickly forced to surrender, and arrested.

Charlie later comes by as the President is awake and recovering from his surgery. After being informed that the attackers were white supremacists, Charlie expresses surprise that they tried to kill the President because of Zoey's relationship with Charlie. Secret Service Agent Butterfield clarifies that "the President wasn't the target," and Charlie is horrified to realize the shooters were trying to murder him.

Toby is upset because the President exited the venue in the open air, which was a security change from the previous method of having him leave buildings under a tent or canopy. Toby was the main proponent of this change and wants to reveal this fact to the media. Agent Butterfield refuses to allow him to do so, saying Toby was not responsible for an act of madmen, that the Secret Service would never let anyone prevent them from protecting the President, and that the Secret Service does not comment on security procedures at any time.

While Josh continues to undergo surgery, further flashbacks show how the entire main Bartlet team came together and pulled off a miracle:

  • Sam becomes disillusioned with his corporate law job and particularly with protecting an oil company from liability in their plan to purchase out-dated, single-hull oil tankers. In the end, he has a change of heart and tries to convince the oil company to purchase state-of-the-art tankers, only to be harshly rebuked by his firm's chairman. When Josh returns to Sam's office and points to the grin on his face, Sam realizes that his friend saw "the real thing" at Josiah Bartlet's rally in New Hampshire, and quits his job on the spot to join him on the trip to Manchester.
  • C.J. has a very high-paying job at a Hollywood PR firm. When she isn't able to secure award nominations for a studio's bad films, comparing them to New Coke and calling them "just bad", the studio chairman (played by Allen Garfield whose costume in the episode was the actor's actual clothing) tells her boss that he will pull all of his business from them if C.J. is not fired. The newly unemployed C.J. returns home to find Toby waiting for her. She promptly falls into her swimming pool, and while she dries off, Toby tells her that Leo McGarry was impressed with her work with EMILY's List and wants her to come work for them.
  • Donna is a campaign volunteer in Manchester. She lists her checkered and uncompleted undergraduate work to a skeptical Josh, who tells her they can't afford to bring her to South Carolina. She says she will go for free, sleep on the floor and sell her car. Impressed by her talk about finding her place again, Josh gives her his staff badge so she can begin her work on the campaign.
  • The team has a hard time dealing with Jed Bartlet's hyperfocused style, but they gain momentum after a surprising third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. They then discuss a plan to stay close to John Hoynes and earn delegates and donors from another candidate, banking on a win in Illinois that will lead them to run the table on the way to the nomination. Jed is irritable throughout these discussions, consistently asking, "What's next?" When one of his staff insists on elaborating, Jed snaps,"When I say 'what's next?" it means I'm ready to move on to other things."
  • On primary night in Illinois, Josh finds out that Jed has won, but his celebrations are interrupted when Donna gives him the news that his father has died. As Josh waits for a flight home for the funeral, Jed meets him at the airport, assuring him that his father was proud of him. Jed acknowledges that he has failed to make his staff feel appreciated, and offers to join Josh on his trip home. Josh reminds Jed to focus on the campaign but thanks him for the offer. As he watches Josh board the plane, Jed, who had been doubting himself until that night, tells Leo "I'm ready," and makes a stirring victory speech in voiceover.

As we return to the present time, Josh wakes up for the first time after his surgery, and whispers "what's next?" to the President.


  • When Nancy McNally makes her point about the attackers being possibly foreign, she specifically names only one person, saying "...including bin Laden". Originally aired October 4, 2000, before the September 11th 2001 attacks (but after the 1998 US Embassy bombings and other threats).
  • In a discussion about who is in charge while Bartlet is under general anesthesia, Nancy refers to § 202 of the National Security Act of 1947, which may put the Secretary of Defense in charge. This section was repealed by Congress in 1962. Furthermore, during the discussion, Nancy and Leo misconstrue a key provision of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, saying that the President is required to draft a memo stating his temporary deferral of power to the Vice President. Actually, Section 4 of the Amendment allows for the Vice President and the "principal officers of the executive departments" (traditionally taken to mean the Cabinet), to declare the President incapacitated without input from the President.[1]
  • This episode shares many similarities with the Reagan assassination attempt in 1981. According to the DVD commentary, the show's Secret Service consultant contacted the Secret Service agent who rode in the car with Reagan after he was shot. He described seeing blood coming from President Reagan's mouth, then discovering that he had been shot.
  • John Spencer submitted this episode for consideration after his nomination in "Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series" at the 2001 Emmys.
  • "The economy stupid" can be seen written on a whiteboard in Bartlet's campaign headquarters, a nod to the catchphrase penned during Bill Clinton's real-life Presidential campaign.
  • Throughout both episodes CJ searches for who it was that pulled her to the ground at the shooting and knocked off her necklace, eventually discovering it was Sam. During "What Kind of Day Has It Been", a secret service agent is pushing CJ aside in slow-motion while rushing to protect the President; two shots later, Sam can be seen, through the window of a car, pulling CJ to the ground and coming down with her.
  • Allison Janney and Bradley Whitford submitted this episode, along with "Galileo" for Janney and "Noël" for Whitford, in their respective categories for the 2001 Emmys. They ended up winning the awards.

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