Friday, 28 September 2012

S02E01: In the Shadow of Two Gunmen Part I and S02E02: In the Shadow of Two Gunmen Part II

"Who's been hit, who's been hit?" How long did it seem we had to wait to find the answer to that question? Pre-credits what do we find out? PotUS: OK, though apparently injured in some way. Zoe: Throwing up but supposedly OK. CJ: Knocked on the head but looking alright. Sam: Fine. Gina: Fine. Toby: Fine. Charlie: Fine. Leo: In a car, apparently fine. Josh: Uh-oh.

As regular readers will know, Josh was my favourite character in the show, and had been from really early on. I very rarely (and by rarely I mean almost never in living memory) shout at the screen while watching TV, but this got an anguished "NOOOOOOOO!" the first time I saw the reveal of Josh's injury. You see, at the end of season one I figured that one good guy would probably end up dying as a result of the cliffhanger, but I guessed it would be someone on the periphery - Gina, Zoe, maybe Charlie. Anyone really, as long as it wasn't Josh. At that moment things weren't looking good.

Anyway, Josh's delirious state was a good way to segue into a flashback from three years earlier, when Josh is working for Hoynes' election campaign. Straight away we see the discussion that I'm guessing Hoynes was referencing earlier in the series when he spoke about being President if he'd listened to Josh. This is perfect timing for Leo to swoop in and dangle an idealistic candidate in front of Josh's nose. Turns out that Josh and Sam go way back, so he ropes him in easily.

For some reason Toby starts having flashbacks too, and as luck would have it to the exact same time period as Josh. Messy writing, but I suppose necessary considering these are events that Josh isn't a party to. It's interesting seeing that Toby is on the outs, even amongst people who we know aren't in the President's setup now. I guess Toby just likes being the unpopular kid in the room. Interestingly, if you take things back to fundamentals, Toby should take the credit for Bartlet's election. It's the answer Toby tells him to give which brings Josh on board, and it's Josh who brings Sam. Toby personally ropes in CJ. Would Jed have won without Toby, Josh, Sam and CJ? I don't think so.

At this point we leave the episode, with Josh's fate still hanging in the balance. No big deal - the next episode was shown right after (hence the double length review), but IIRC in the UK we only got the first episode, and had to wait yet another week to find out if he lived or died. That was a long week I can tell you.

After sidetracking briefly to let us known that the baseball cap wearing neo-nazi involved in the shooting has been taken into custody, we get back to our flashbacks. Josh gives Sam the face and just like that, he's in. Then CJ starts having flashbacks of her own (actually, she doesn't, they just cut from the ringing phone in her office to the ringing phone in her apartment three years ago, so they at least handle that jump in a better way than Toby's). I always found it fascinating that both Sam and CJ came from totally non-political former jobs. Yes, they'd done political stuff before, but the idea of CJ going from being Harvey Weinstein's gopher to a presidential candidate's main PR bod is delightful.

The motivations of the shooters are revealed and I'm sure it's meant to be one of those shocking moments, but to me it seemed so irrelevant. I really didn't care about their motivations - whatever they were they sucked, and whoever would do something like that isn't worthy of any deep consideration by me.

So what did I make of the episode? Well Josh survives, so that's a good start. I'm a sucker for origin stories, so this kind of show plays right into the stuff that I love. I can't say I'm as bowled over by presidential candidate Bartlet as I am by President Bartlet, but I like that there's a recognition of the fact that he's just an imperfect man doing his best. I think the scene between him and Josh at the airport is really nicely done too, if a little too fairytale for my liking.

Random observations:

The West Wing went widescreen from this episode onwards.

There's a real Godfather vibe to Jed's kiss of Leo.

Hearing Nancy mention Bin Laden in an episode that aired less than a year before 9/11 is chilling (even more chilling for UK viewers, as it was broadcast less than three months before the attacks).

Why does Donna come in to the hospital but none of the other secretaries do? It's not like she knew about Josh before she arrived. I think it indicates once more that the relationship between her and Josh is more than simply boss/assistant.

The one reporter at the briefing is Jane Lynch, from Party Down and Glee.

The who's in charge question is an interesting one. I don't think it's a massive leap of the imagination to think there could be a fair amount of infighting under these circumstances.

How does someone who handles award campaigns for a movie studio not known when Golden Globe nominations are out?

CJ's fall into the pool provides the biggest laugh of the episode (though Margaret's "I can sign the President's name" comes in a close second).

The idea that someone with the mind of Bartlet can't remember the names of his four main staffers is ludicrous, regardless of how recently he made their acquaintance.

As I pointed out in the last review, Sam doesn't save anyone - it's a secret service agent.

How does the secret service know the gunmen were down in 9.2 seconds and not 9.1 or 9.3?

Episode grade: A

So what did you all think?

Spoilers for the future follow.

The tanker deal Sam is working on will have significance further down the line when one of them goes disastrously wrong.


  1. Part I is one of my favorite WW episodes. I like it better than, say, Two Cathedrals, which I know a lot of people hold very high.

    These two episodes episodes are rather different in their pacing. Part I is so intense and packed, it feels like having watched two episodes.

    CJ's first briefing in Part II has some really nice camera work. The timing between what's happening and where the camera is and is pointing is magnificent.

  2. [Posting this in both places you mentioned this.] Sam pushed CJ down. The Secret Service agent bumped into her, she grabbed Sam, he saved her.