January 25, 2011

The Canon According To Me - The West Wing, In The Shadow Of Two Gunmen: Part 1

The West Wing - "In The Shadow of Two Gunmen: Part 1"
Season 2, Ep 1

This was the first episode of the second season and it picks up right where the season one finale left off, after president Bartlet, the senior staff, and Zoey were shot at while leaving a town hall meeting in Virginia.  In the first four minutes of the episode we account for everyone and find out that Jed and Josh were both shot. The earliest parts of the episode are chaotic as everyone is located and rushed to the hospital or other secure locations and then, just as the doctors get to work on Josh and he slips into unconsciousness, we follow him into a flashback that shows us how everyone came to work for President Bartlet's campaign. 

There are several standout moments in the episode.  Donna arriving at the hospital, breathless and worried about POTUS after hearing about the shooting on the news, and then Toby telling her "Josh was hit, shot in the chest."  She asks if it's serious and he tells her, in that matter-of-fact, flat way of his, "Yes, it's critical.  The bullet collapsed his lung and damaged a major artery." Something about the awfulness of the news delivered by Toby in that almost-but-not-quite-emotionless way while Donna takes it in, devestated.  It's heartbreaking.  Almost as heartbreaking as when POTUS turns to Leo at the end of the episode, after he's come out of surgery, and says "look what happened." 

As part of the flashbacks from the episode, we find out how and why Leo convinced Jed to run for president as he tells Jed "because I'm tired of it - year after year after year after year - having to choose between the lesser of who cares. Of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences. Of setting the bar so low, I can hardly look at it.  They say a good man can't get elected president.  I don't believe that.  Do you?"

We also see the moment that Josh figured out that Jed was the real deal when, at a town hall meeting, Jed is asked why he cast a vote as a congressman that took money out of the pockets of his farming constituents and he answers very honestly: "Yeah, I screwed you on that one. I screwed you. You got hosed. And not just you, a lot of my constituents. I put the hammer to farms in Concord, Salem, Laconing, Pellam, Hudson...you guys got rogered but good. Today, for the first time in history, the largest group of Americans living in poverty are children. One in five children live in the most abject, dangerous, hopeless, back-breaking, gut-wrenching poverty any of us could imagine. One in five and they're children. If fidelity to freedom and democracy is the code of our civic religion than surely the code of our humanity is faithful service to that unwritten commandment that says 'we shall give our children better than we ourselves received.' Let me put it this way, I voted against the bill because I didn't want to make it harder 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, you should vote for somebody else."

Aaron Sorkin is probably the tickiest writer I've ever encountered and because I so deeply loved Sports Night, the recycled bits of dialogue that made their way into all of his subsequent television shows (and even some movies) and all of his ticks are often very The West Wing, it is pure poetry. 

The second part of this two part season premiere is also very good but it's always been the first part that stuck with me.  I will say though that the second part includes an incredibly touching moment between Josh and Jed after Josh's father has died on the night of the Illinois primary.  There's also a terrific monologue from the head of the President's Secret Service detail, Ron Butterfield wherein he refuses to let anyone blame themselves for what's happened, telling Toby that it was simply an act of madmen.  And the episode ends with a callback moment between Josh and Jed when Josh is just coming out of his sedation after many hours of surgery and weakly whispers to the President, "what's next." 

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