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Recap / The West Wing S 02 E 14 The War At Home

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The same night of the state of the union address, President Bartlet is standing outside in the White House Portico, smoking a cigarette. Leo finds him, and wonders how he can stand outside in the cold. Bartlet says he's not allowed to smoke inside anymore. Leo tells him he should stop smoking, and Bartlet mocks the possibility of Russian satellites watching him. The two of them walk inside.

In the Situation Room, President Bartlet and Leo walk in, and Bartlet asks for an update. The Joint Chiefs tell him they're ready, although the 19-man strike force being sent in will wait there until nightfall (for cover) to go in and initiate the rescue. They intend to get the agents while they're being moved. Secretary Troop once again asks the President to wait and see if negotiation can continue. Bartlet thinks the agents will be tortured at the place they're being moved to, and gives the okay for the rescue mission.


Officer Sloan is in C.J.'s office, watching Capitol Beat. C.J. comes in and tells him she's set up a satellite interview with him so he can get his story about the incident on the air. Officer Sloan doesn't want to do the interview, but C.J. insists it's the best way to go, and it will work. She then calls for Carol to take Officer Sloan back to his hotel.

In the West Wing lobby, Gottfried thanks all the guests who appeared on his show, as well as the White House for letting them have access, and he wraps up the broadcast. Everyone applauds Gottfried just as C.J. walks in, and he tells them they did a good job before heading over to C.J. He points out he had to wait 40 minutes. C.J. says she got called to a meeting, and also tells him she knows Officer Sloan is innocent, and is willing to do an interview with Gottfried and nobody else in the morning. Gottfried asks why, and C.J. replies, "Because you waited 40 minutes."


In the reception area, Sam finds Toby, who's sitting at a table and smoking a cigar. Sam says he's set up a meeting with Senator Seth Gillette for breakfast. Toby doesn't want to go, because he thinks the senator isn't important enough, but Sam points out the left in general, and environmentalists in particular, like the senator. Toby, exasperated, leaves, and finds C.J. He asks her about Officer Sloan, and she brings up the excessive force incident, but also says she believes him (which gets Toby upset) and also mentions the interview (which Toby likes even less). Toby asks where Josh is, and C.J. says he's gone back to the phone banks.

At the National Strategies Group, Joey (Kenny) tells Josh they should call it a night, and though he's still frustrated, he agrees. Joey and Kenny leave along with the other callers. Donna takes a break from trying to fix up Joey and Josh by asking why the poll is so important to Josh, and he admits the White House poll is asking different questions. Donna then says Joey was ready to be asked out, and Josh tells her to go away.


Outside, in the Portico, Bartlet is playing chess against himself. Leo walks up and reminds him he can do this inside, but Bartlet insists it's not that cold, and calls Leo a wussy for wanting to go inside. After they debate various moves to make, Bartlet says Abbey's pissed off at him, though he doesn't say why. He also mentions an image he has of dead soldiers coming back from Vietnam, though he doesn't know where it's from; Leo says it's from TV news. He tells President Bartlet the commandos have landed. Bartlet dismisses him.

The next morning, Charlie and Mrs. Landingham are walking to the Oval Office, and Charlie tells her he figured out the story behind the $500 check to Jane Robinson. Mrs. Landingham congratulates him and asks if President Bartlet knows he's scheduled to meet Josh and Sam for breakfast; Charlie says the President is on his way.

Josh and Sam are going to that breakfast, and Josh tells Sam about Donna pushing him towards Joey. Sam doesn't see anything wrong with it, and asks Josh how he feels about Donna seeing other guys. Josh claims he isn't jealous, but admits he sabotages Donna's dates when he can, so he doesn't understand why Donna doesn't do the same thing. President Bartlet comes in, and has the chef cook up scrambled eggs for them. Josh doesn't want to eat when he finds out Bartlet isn't eating, but Bartlet waves him off. President Bartlet tells them he can't talk about any rescue plan that may or may not be in the works, and both Josh and Sam say they understand. Josh mentions the possibility of having to release Juan Aguilar, which he says he wouldn't do with a gun to his head, and President Bartlet says he has a gun to his head and still won't do it. He goes on to talk about the War On Drugs (which he inherited from past Presidents), and which he calls a failure, so he asks for Josh and Sam to think about what to do, and leaves.

Ainsley is waiting for Sam in his office. She's still upset about her previous meeting with President Bartlet, so she wants Sam to arrange another meeting. She blames Sam for setting up the meeting without her approval, and wants another one to erase the humiliation she brought upon herself. Sam agrees.

Toby and Senator Seth Gillette (Ed Begley Jr.) are in the Hyatt Restaurant having breakfast, and Senator Gillette is chewing out Toby for the Blue Ribbon Commission and for waffling on Social Security. Toby says there's nothing wrong with just considering other options. Senator Gillette thinks his reform bill deals with Social Security in a better way, but Toby points out 82 other senators voted against it. Gillette accuses President Bartlet of compromising Democratic Party principles to work with Republicans, but Toby denies that's the case. Gillette then brings up President Bartlet going after environmental terrorists, calling it a cheap shot, and Officer Sloan, and asks:

Senator Gillette: Seniors... Environmentalists... African Americans. You tell me which you think has a greater chance of happening, my reform bill getting passed or the President getting reelected without the three groups I just mentioned?
Toby: You just named three groups that'll never desert the President.
Senator Gillette: Not unless I run as a third-party candidate, no. Oh! Those eighteen votes are looking a little bigger now, aren't they, you patronizing son-of-a-bitch!

Toby, however, is unconcerned, and as he signs the check, tells Senator Gillette, "Come at us from the left, I'm gonna own your ass."

Abbey is in the residence bedroom as her assistants pack for her trip that night. Charlie comes in and asks permission to draw $500 in cash to give to Jane Robinson, and Abbey sincerely thanks him. President Bartlet comes in as Charlie leaves. He tries to joke about the packing Abbey does, and Abbey asks her assistants to step outside for a minute. When they leave, Bartlet tries to bring up the night before, but Abbey doesn't think they should talk until the situation in Colombia is over. Bartlet, angry, says he can concentrate on several things at once, but Abbey, just as angry, snaps he has several things on his mind in addition to Colombia, and they should wait until the situation is over until they talk. Bartlet storms out.

That night, Josh is in his office, on hold. Donna comes in and asks how he is, and he says he's on hold. She then asks why Josh is so worried about this particular poll, and he explains part of the State of the Union involved a crime package that includes a five-day waiting period to buy guns. Josh adds there are five districts he's particularly concerned about, and Donna correctly guesses those districts have Congressmen who are sitting on the fence when it comes to the bill, and the polling results will dictate how they ultimately vote. Josh wants to know why Donna is trying to fix him up with Joey. Donna just says if they get together, their initials would be the same, and that would make things easier. Before Josh can answer, Josh finally gets to talk to someone, who tells him the power's back on, and they can wait for the poll results.

Ainsley comes into the communications area, and tells Sam to call off the meeting, because she's too scared, but Sam insists it's going to happen now. They walk to Leo's office, and he points out her skirt is on backwards. Ainsley ducks into what she thinks is a bathroom, but it's actually Leo's closet. President Bartlet walks in, and Sam explains the situation. Bartlet calls for Ainsley, and she reluctantly steps out. Bartlet then tells Ainsley, "I appreciate you coming to work for me, Ainsley. You're an exceptionally bright young woman. Is your father proud of you?" Ainsley smiles and answers yes, but before they can continue that conversation, Leo and Charlie both tell Bartlet he has to go to his office, and Sam escorts Ainsley out.

Inside the Oval Office, Bartlet meets with the staffers from the Situation Room, who have bad news; the hostages were never where they thought they were, the whole thing was an ambush, and one of the helicopters carrying the commandos was shot down. Bartlet thinks there are simply more hostages, but Leo realizes right away what happened - the nine people inside the helicopter are dead. After absorbing the news, President Bartlet tells the military officers to set up a secure phone call with President Santos of Colombia, and to have a translator ready. President Bartlet walks out to the Portico and screams out loud. Leo joins him a few seconds later.

Bartlet: How the hell did that happen?
Leo: It was bad intelligence.
Bartlet: YOU THINK?!?
Leo: Frente left behind a radio and a soldier at the outpost. And they were deliberately sending misinformation.
Bartlet: We've never anticipated the possibility that somebody might try that?
Leo: Sir-

Leo just looks at him, and Bartlet eventually calms down, asking where the bodies are. Leo says they're being brought back, and will be at Dover airport at 4 am. A staffer comes out to tell President Bartlet his phone call is ready, and someone is translating on the other end. President Bartlet and Leo step inside. On the phone, President Bartlet greets President Santos, and tells him about the failed rescue attempt, which Santos is sorry to hear about. Santos tells Bartlet he has confirmation the hostages are still alive. Santos also appreciates Bartlet not asking him to release Juan Aguilar, but at this point, he's willing to do so. Bartlet appreciates the offer, but he's not willing to have Aguilar released. Santos thanks him and says he'll leave it up to Bartlet.

A little later, Bartlet is meeting with several staffers, including the senior staff, in the Roosevelt Room to discuss the issue. Sam thinks they should release Aguilar, but Toby says they shouldn't give in to terrorists. President Bartlet agrees with Toby, and says he wants military options. He leaves the room, and everyone stands.

As Donna and Josh walk out of the Roosevelt room, she tells him Joey expects the poll results in an hour. Donna also feels the same way Sam does because she feels the primary thing is to get the hostages home safe, but Josh essentially agrees with Toby. Donna leaves.

In the situation room, Secretary Troop tells President Bartlet the DEA agents have been moved into a jungle area. He also tries to dissuade President Bartlet of any military options, pointing out they would need ten soldiers for every one Frente soldier, and in battle, they'd probably lose as many as half the soldiers. President Bartlet wonders what the point is of being a superpower, and leaves.

Abbey is in the residence, finishing packing. Bartlet comes back and makes another joke about Abbey packing. Abbey asks her aides to excuse her, and they step outside. Bartlet tells Abbey what happened in Colombia, and she offers to cancel the trip and stay. Bartlet, however, wants to talk. He tells Abbey he didn't make the decision to run again, as he wouldn't do that without her. Abbey, upset, tells him he and the staff have been in re-election mode the last several weeks. Bartlet tries to point out that's part of the process. Abby points out she and he made a deal, which he admits, though he doesn't look happy. Abbey then points out Bartlet has MS, and even though she's a good doctor, she doesn't know why it's happening, and she also doesn't know if the kind he has (relaxing-remitting MS) will turn into secondary-progressive MS, which would mean he would get worse. She also reminds him the deal they made was how he justified keeping his condition a secret. Abbey's assistant comes in and reminds Abbey she has to go; Abbey offers once again to stay, but Bartlet avoids looking at her and just says, "Okay," and she leaves, but not before both of them say, "I love you" to each other.

Josh is in his office with Donna, Joey and Kenny, and he's dejected about the poll results; turned out the five districts he was concerned about didn't poll as well as he'd hoped on the five-day waiting period. Donna asks if she can go home, and Josh says she can, but to come in early. After Donna leaves, Joey points out that the five-day waiting period tested well nationwide, but Josh was worried about those five districts, and thinks they'll have to dial it down. Joey, however, isn't convinced, and says the numbers lie all the time:

Josh: (looking surprised) Believe me when I tell you that's not true.

Joey (Kenny) goes on to point out the numbers simply mean there are people Josh, and the Democrats, need to persuade, and cautions them not to be like the radical who tries to find out where the people are going so he can lead them. Joey and Kenny say goodbye and leave.

President Bartlet walks outside towards the Oval Office. He sees Charlie, who asks if there's anything he can do, but Bartlet says no and thanks him. Leo is in the Oval Office waiting for him. President Bartlet says tobacco should be the next target, but Leo isn't having any of it, saying he fought in one jungle war and has no desire to fight in another one. He points out they're spending money on both sides of the drug war and won't win it that way. Bartlet points out he can't reverse his position, but Leo points out Santos will be the one to release Aguilar, and he can do it quietly. Bartlet worries about the 14 staffers who were in the room, and Leo points out they've kept bigger secrets. Bartlet again wants to pursue a military option, but Leo tells him they've lost, and he should accept it and move on. Bartlet agrees to make the deal, but warns what will happen if the agents experience even turbulence on the way home.

We go back and forth between President Bartlet visiting Dover airport and watching as the bodies of the soldiers being brought out of the plane - as well as getting confirmation from Secretary Troop about the agents being released - and C.J. briefing the press on the situation in Colombia.

This episode contains examples of:

  • The Exit Is That Way: Panicking about meeting the President, and wearing her skirt backwards, Ainsley requests to use Leo's bathroom. Upon gaining permission, she turns and enters the first door she sees... which happens to be the closet. And at the exact moment she enters it, the President enters Leo's office to meet Ainsley.
    Bartlet: Where is she?
    Sam: She's in the closet, Mr. President.
    Bartlet: ... Why?
    Sam: She thought it was a bathroom.
    Bartlet: ... Why is she still in there?
    Sam: That's kinda hard to say, sir.
  • Foreshadowing: Bartlet and Abbey's argument about his keeping his MS a secret, and deciding to run again, will become very important for the rest of the season.
    • In the immediate future, Senator Gillette and the Blue Ribbon Commission also are important.
    • At the end, Bartlet contemplates sending in CIA black-ops operatives to assassinate Juan Aguilar, only to be dissuaded from doing so by Leo. It's not the first time he'll consider doing a covert assassination of a leader of an anti-American terror group, only next time he'll actually give the order.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun:
    Toby: I was just thinking about this cartoon I once saw. A bunch of tiny fish are swimming through the leaves of the plant but then one of the fish realizes it's not a plant, it's the tentacles of a predator. And the fish says, "With friends like this, who needs anemones?"
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: Invoked by Sam when discussing whether to release Aguilar.
  • Mood Whiplash: From Ainsley Hayes’s second humorously awkward encounter with President Bartlet, to the news of the ambush in Colombia.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Senator Gillette seems to be based on former US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI); like Gillette, Feingold was a Democratic Senator from a Midwestern state who served during the 1990s famous for having an independent streak. Feingold/Gillette were also both popular with progressives, and often opposed/voted against the centrist policies of the Democratic administration in power at the time (The Clinton Administration in real life, the Bartlett administration in The West Wing universe).
  • Shout-Out: When Ainsley wants another meeting with President Bartlet because she wants to erase the humiliation she brought upon herself and her father, Sam thinks she sounds like someone from a Euripides play.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Toby certainly seems to consider Senator Gillette this; Gillette certainly seems to like throwing his weight around and making demands, but while he's popular with the left wing of the Democrat Party Toby also notes that he's still just a junior senator and so "doesn't get script approval on the State of the Union".
  • Sorkin Relationship Moment: In addition to Joey's line above, there's also Josh asking Sam and Donna why Donna is so interested in fixing Josh up with Joey.
  • Too Much Information:
    Leo: How you doing, Ainsley?
    Ainsley: I'm concerned about peeing on your carpet.
    Leo: Okay...well, now I am too.

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