Two Cathedrals

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"Two Cathedrals"
The West Wing episode
Episode no.Season 2
Episode 22
Directed byThomas Schlamme
Written byAaron Sorkin
Featured music"Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits
Production code226222
Original air dateMay 16, 2001 (2001-05-16)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"18th and Potomac"
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The West Wing (season 2)
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"Two Cathedrals" is the 44th episode and second season finale of The West Wing. It was first broadcast on May 16, 2001. President Bartlet is beset by memories of Mrs. Landingham as her funeral approaches. Meanwhile, the staff deals with a crisis in Haiti and questions from congressional Democrats regarding the President's health, following his disclosure that he has MS. "Two Cathedrals" is widely considered to be one of the greatest episodes of The West Wing and one of the greatest television episodes of all time.[1][2][3]


Leo is talking to two Democrats who are convinced that the MS cover-up will be impossible to campaign with. When asked whether the President will run for re-election Leo says that there will be a press conference that night, and that they should watch.

Toby is preparing the Mural Room for the President's statement when Sam asks if the President is ready, so soon after Mrs. Landingham's death. Toby tells him that they have no choice and despite her funeral they will be proceeding with the plan. During the episode Toby is offered a 'lifeboat' by way of a job offer, but turns it down in a show of loyalty to the President. CJ asks Carol to gather reporters from several news agencies in her office. Josh gives her a brief for a press briefing about an ongoing tobacco lawsuit, but she tells him that with the story the President is about to reveal, even news about the situation in Haiti will be ignored by the press.

Throughout the day, the President keeps visiting his early memories of Mrs. Landingham (Kirsten Nelson) when she was a secretary at the school where Bartlet's father was headmaster. She pushes Bartlet (Jason Widener) to talk to his father about why the women were paid less money than the men. Mrs. Landingham clearly sees something in Jed, "a boy king" who was "blessed with inspiration." She comments that if Bartlet won't say anything because he's afraid or can't be bothered, then she doesn't even want to know him. He then puts his hands in his pockets, looks away and smiles, which Mrs. Landingham knows to mean that he's decided to do it and will talk to his father.

Bartlet and his staff attend Mrs. Landingham's funeral at the National Cathedral. Afterward, Bartlet remains alone in the cathedral, cursing God in Latin. He then lights a cigarette, drops it on the cathedral floor, and grinds it under his foot before angrily declaring that he will not run again ("You get Hoynes!").[4] Later, in the Oval Office, during a pre-season tropical storm, Bartlet has a vision of Mrs. Landingham, who tells him that if he isn't going to run because he thinks he won't win or because it will be too hard, she doesn't even want to know him. Bartlet and his entourage then travel to the State Department to give a press conference. Scenes of the motorcade driving in the rain are juxtaposed with scenes in the cathedral, where a janitor finds the extinguished cigarette. For the press conference's first question, Bartlet disregards advice to call upon a handpicked reporter who will not ask about reelection. The chosen reporter immediately asks the President if he will seek re-election. He puts his hands in his pockets, looks away, and smiles.



Aaron Sorkin explained that the Latin monologue in the National Cathedral was written in the language in order to avoid censorship by network NBC.[5] NBC initially refused to allow a line where Mrs. Landingham describes the President's father as a "prick". Sorkin explained its use: "It was the right word and the slightly startling nature of it was really what you needed.".[6]


Casting director Kevin Scott described the process of casting the younger version of Bartlet and Mrs. Landingham: "We were looking for Martin Sheen at about 17 and Mrs. Landingham at about 22. That was not easy. It wasn't just about a look, but a quality that each actor has, I wanted to hire actors that would make you say, 'Wow! That is Kathryn Joosten at 22. That is Martin Sheen as a teenager."[7] C.J. instructs the President to select medical correspondent Lawrence Altman of The New York Times for the first question, although he does not. While portrayed by an actor (Alfred Hurwitz), Altman is the name of the Times' medical correspondent, who for decades reported on the health of presidents and vice presidents.[8] The episode's producer Lawrence O'Donnell also appeared as Bartlet's father, and Jane Lynch appeared as a reporter in the White House Press Room.

Filming locations[edit]

St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware served as young Bartlet's boarding school. It was the shooting location of Dead Poets Society.[9] During filming in the National Cathedral, in Washington, D.C., Sheen as Bartlet stubbed out a cigarette on the floor prompting the Cathedral to ban filming inside the building.[10][better source needed]


"The reason I think the song worked so well in it, [is] the piece was about rising above something for self, and doing something for the collective, and in The West Wing there was always a battle going on between right and wrong."

 — W. G. Snuffy Walden[11]

The episode featured the song "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits. The show's composer W. G. Snuffy Walden explained that Sorkin had specified the use of the song: "There was no question that this song was going to end the show which is really quite rare."[11]

Sorkin, however, explained in 2017 that he initially had some reservations about the use of the track:

Driving around in my car trying to work on the episode was really the first time I listened to the words and thought 'this is too good to be true. This is gonna really work well.' And on the one hand I felt like, ‘am I handing off the end of the second season of The West Wing to Dire Straits and then saying you guys take it away?’ And then I thought, or rationalized, no, that this was all gonna be OK.

— Aaron Sorkin, speaking to The West Wing Weekly about "Two Cathedrals"[12]



In an essay entitled "The White House Culture of Gender and Race in The West Wing: Insights from the Margins" Christina Lane argued that the influence of "peripheral" female and African American secretarial characters, such as Mrs. Landingham in "Two Cathedrals", was evidence of a feminist theme in the series. Lane highlighted the influence of Mrs. Landingham over Bartlet's actions in flashbacks, in challenging gender pay inequity at the school where his father is headmaster, and when she appears to him in the Oval Office, writing that the episode "provides yet an even more poignant reinforcement of male feminist values". She argues that, in "Two Cathedrals", "for the first time, the series makes it clear that Mrs. Landingham has helped mold Bartlet into the leader he is today, that it is his own alignment with the women of the world, and specifically the secretaries of the world, that propels him to conduct the work of the presidency."[13]

Critical reception[edit]

'"Two Cathedrals" is widely regarded as one of The West Wing's greatest episodes and as one of the greatest television episodes of all time.


Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result
2001 Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directing – Drama Series Thomas Schlamme Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Episodic Drama Aaron Sorkin Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards[16] Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Martin Sheen Nominated
Creative Arts Emmy Award[17] Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Series Bill Johnson Won
2002 Banff Rockie Award Continuing Series Episode Nominated
Humanitas Prize[18] 60-minute Aaron Sorkin Won (tied)


  1. ^ Saraiya, Sonia (May 21, 2014). "10 episodes that show The West Wing was drama first, politics second". The A.V. Club. Onion, Inc. Retrieved March 21, 2017. 'Two Cathedrals' is widely held to be one of the show's greatest hours, [...]
  2. ^ a b Weiss, Dov (2017). Pious Irreverence: Confronting God in Rabbinic Judaism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-8122-4835-7. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Geier, Thom; Jensen, Jeff; Jordan, Tina; Lyons, Margaret; Markovitz, Adam; Nashawaty, Chris; Pastorek, Whitney; Rice, Lynette; Rottenberg, Josh; Schwartz, Missy; Slezak, Michael; Snierson, Dan; Stack, Tim; Stroup, Kate; Tucker, Ken; Vary, Adam B.; Vozick-Levinson, Simon; Ward, Kate (December 4, 2009). "100 greatest movies, TV shows, and more". Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  4. ^ "A multilingual tirade on 'West Wing'". Deseret News. May 17, 2001. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  5. ^ McCabe, Janet (2012). "Politics of Quality Primetime TV: Network Politics and Broadcasting Context". The West Wing. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 16. ISBN 0814334369.
  6. ^ Rutenberg, Jim (September 2, 2001). "As Cable Applies Pressure, Network TV Spouts Expletives". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  7. ^ Gillespie, Bonnie (November 1, 2001). "Assembling ensembles: from The West Wing to Citizen Baines, CD Kevin Scott has become proficient at identifying that indefinable "it."". Back Stage West.
  8. ^ Altman, Lawrence K. (2001-10-09). "THE DOCTOR'S WORLD - Very Real Questions for Fictional President". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-19.
  9. ^ Potts, Kim (September 2, 2010). "Famous Movie Locations: St. Andrew's School From 'Dead Poets Society' (Middletown, DE)". Moviefone. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  10. ^ "Cathedral Staff Ban Filming After Sheen Smoking Gaffe". May 30, 2005. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  11. ^ a b "Brothers in Arms: the sound of The West Wing". BBC Radio 4. BBC Online. September 18, 2012. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
  12. ^ "2.22: Two Cathedrals (Part II, with Aaron Sorkin and Kirstin Nelson)". The West Wing Weekly. March 21, 2017. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  13. ^ Lane, Christina (2003). "The White House Culture of Gender and Race in The West Wing: Insights from the margins". In Rollins, Peter C.; O'Connor, John E. The "West Wing": The American Presidency as Television Drama. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. pp. 32–41. ISBN 978-0815630319.
  14. ^ "TV Guide's Top 100 Episodes". Rev/Views. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  15. ^ Roush, Matt (April 2–15, 2018). "65 Best Episodes of the 21st Century". TV Guide.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  16. ^ "The West Wing". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  17. ^ Ankeney, Jay (October 17, 2001). "Bill Johnson's Presidential Editing". TV Technology. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  18. ^ Brownfield, Paul (June 26, 2002). "'Iris' and 'West Wing' Win Humanitas Prizes". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 4, 2015.

External links[edit]