Follow TV Tropes


Recap / The West Wing S 02 E 22 Two Cathedrals

Go To

Two Democratic Congressmen are meeting with Leo in his office, and telling him how difficult it's going to be for the party with President Bartlet announcing he has M.S. and didn't tell anybody. One of them tells Leo, "I don't like to be the first one to say it, but I'm gonna. I think the President has got to strongly consider not running for reelection." A clearly exasperated Leo tells the Congressman he's about the 35th person to say it, and if he wants to know if President Bartlet is running for re-election, he should watch the press conference that night.


Toby is in the Mural Room with Ed, Larry, and a few other staffers, discussing President Bartlet and Abbey's interview on TV that evening. He reminds them the TV cameramen have to light the room from outside the window. Sam calls for him and Toby leaves the room. As they walk towards Toby's office, Sam wonders if President Bartlet should even do the interview in the first place. Toby points out C.J.'s prepping the network, so they're pretty much locked in. He tells Sam they'll have time to prepare President Bartlet for the interview and press conference after the funeral service. Just then, Ginger comes up and tells Toby Leo made her put Greg Summerhays back on his schedule. Toby isn't happy, but accepts it.

In C.J.'s office, she tells Carol to pull several reporters and tell them it has something to do with seating arrangements on Air Force One. Josh comes in as Carol leaves, and C.J. tells him since they're going to have a light day, she figured she'd go shopping. Josh brings up the Justice Department's suit against the tobacco industry, and the fact several senators on the subcommittee controlling the budget for Justice and Commerce oppose giving any more money to the Justice Department for the suit, including two Democrat senators who have ideological problems with it. He gives C.J. a statement Leo told him to write, and when C.J. reads it, she approvingly tells Josh it reminds her of what they used to say during the primaries, but thinks he needs to put it away for a while, pointing out even the troubles in Haiti are going to get bumped to the Lifestyle section. Josh asks C.J. if she's seen the President, and she says she hasn't; he hasn't either.


Sam is meeting with several Democrat Party strategists in the Roosevelt Room. Most of them agree Vice-President Hoynes would be the most viable Democratic candidate for President, given how successful he's been at raising money. One of them says they aren't ruling out Bartlet as a candidate, and another says it would be easier if Hoynes was running as an incumbent. Sam has heard enough, and says, "We don't talk like that here...President Bartlet's not a candidate. He's the President." He walks out.

President Bartlet and Leo are in the Situation Room, where Nancy McNally and several joint chiefs are briefing them on the latest news from Haiti; the embassy still has running water but the backup generator is due to run out in 24 hours, the Deputy Chief, a diabetic, is running out of insulin, and about 1200 Haitian troops have their guns trained on the embassy. As McNally tells President Bartlet she wants to send Admiral Fitzwallace to Haiti, we hear church bells in the background...


...and we go to a Flashback to when Jed Bartlet (Jason Widener) was in prep school in the early 1960's. His father, Dr. Bartlet (Lawrence O'Donnell), calls to him, and tells him to tell his friends not to smoke in the chapel. He also introduces Jed to Dolores Landingham (Kirsten Nelson), who's going to be Dr. Bartlet's new secretary.

Back in the Situation Room, President Bartlet, who's been fingering a cigarette as Leo and McNally talk about Haiti. President Bartlet agrees to send Admiral Fitzwallace to Haiti, and asks if there's anything else. Upon hearing there isn't, he leaves. Outside the Situation Room, he tells Charlie the new Haitian president has spent his two days in office at gunpoint. Bartlet then asks Charlie about the tropical storm that's heading up from Florida, which he thinks is strange for May. Charlie says he'll have someone look into it, reminds Bartlet the motorcade for the National Cathedral will be leaving in an hour, and asks if he needs anything. Bartlet says, "I need pallbearers."

C.J. is in the briefing room giving an update on Haiti. A reporter asks if they've exhausted diplomatic options, and C.J. says they haven't, but have made clear the consequences to Bazan should he decide to enter the U.S. embassy to get the democratically elected president of Haiti. She thanks the press and leaves, while Carol tells the reporters from AP, Reuters and Agent France to join C.J. in her office to discuss seating arrangements on Air Force One. Meanwhile, Sam joins C.J. as she's walking to her office, and tells her they can't have the press conference in the East Room because it has asbestos. C.J.'s upset, but Sam agrees to look for a list of alternatives, and leaves. The three reporters join C.J. in her office, and she tells them she's giving them a story, which will be embargoed for an hour, and will only quote her as "a senior White House official."

President Bartlet and Leo are in the Oval Office with two advisers who are coordinating what to do about the stock market. While they're briefing President Bartlet and Leo, the door to the Portico blows open. Bartlet asks Charlie what's going on; Charlie tells them they're repairing a latch, and there's a wind tunnel in the Oval Office when the right doors are open. Margaret comes in and tells them the motorcade's ready. President Bartlet jokes that Leo can drive up the stock market by buying some tech stocks. The advisers thank President Bartlet and leave. Leo asks if Abbey is meeting them in the car, and Margaret replies, "Yes, it's a non-denominational service." Leo tells Bartlet about Abbey, and as Bartlet flips his suit jacket over his head... does the young Jed Bartlet. Jed is debating with Mrs. Landingham whether it was a non-denominational service - Jed says "Our Father" isn't non-denominational - while both of them walk out of her office. Mrs. Landingham wants to know why Jed is working at the school, and Jed points out since he gets free tuition, he feels he should give something back. Mrs. Landingham also wants to know why he calls his father "sir"; he says he doesn't want to make his classmates feel uncomfortable just because his father's the headmaster. She walks away.

Back in the present, Bartlet and Abbey are in the presidential limo as it rides to the cathedral. Abbey tells Bartlet they released the driver from the hospital, and she's going to be charged with vehicular manslaughter. Bartlet doesn't respond. Abbey gently tells him she's heard about the meetings that morning that suggest if Bartlet comes out behind Vice-President Hoynes, they can keep the White House. Bartlet stares out the window, but says to her, "The world'll rest easier." Abbey looks as if she's going to cry. Bartlet points out they've arrived. Everyone gets out of their cars.

Inside the cathedral, after Bartlet and Abbey sit down, Father Monohan gives the traditional funeral blessing as Bartlet, Abbey, the senior staff, Carol, Donna and Margaret all look on. As Monohan continues the service, we hear the younger Mrs. Landingham call for Jed...

...and then we see Jed hosing down several sculls for the crew team. He tells Mrs. Landingham he's trying to get through an honest day's work. She tells him he's missed a spot; he says he just hasn't gotten to it yet, and good-naturedly complains Mrs. Landingham often corrects him for something he's about to do but hasn't gotten to yet. Mrs. Landingham says she has a project for him, which she thinks will show off his leadership skills. She tells him the women who work at the school get paid less than the men. Jed says he didn't know that, and Mrs. Landingham asks if his father does.

Back in the Cathedral, Father Monohan announces Charlie will be reading from the Book of Wisdom. As Charlie steps up to the pulpit...

...Mrs. Landingham is waiting for Jed to get out of school. When he does, reading while walking, Mrs. Landingham brings up the pay issue again. He asks if she has a husband. She tells him to mind his own business; he points out she's minding everyone else's, and that in his family, they don't talk about money. He tells Mrs. Landingham to bring him numbers if she wants to convince him.

Charlie gives the reading while Bartlet looks on, sad and distracted.

As Jed tries to start his car, Mrs. Landingham comes up to him again, and asks if he knows what he's doing. Jed admits he doesn't really. She tells him she's got numbers; Florence Chadwick, an English teacher, has been there four years longer than Mr. Hopkins, another English teacher, yet she makes $1200 a year less than he does. As she continues to bring up more examples...

...we go back to the cathedral, as the service finishes and Charlie, Josh, Sam, Toby and two other men pick up the casket and carry it out the church while C.J., Carol, Donna and Margaret look on, tears streaming down their faces, and Bartlet also looks on, upset and lost in thought.

Jed continues to work on his car while Mrs. Landingham continues to give him examples. Jed points out Mr. Hopkins has a family of four to feed, while Mrs. Chadwick is married without dependents. Mrs. Landingham points out if people with more children were really paid more, the groundskeeper would get triple what Dr. Bartlet makes. She insists Jed knows she's right, and tells him to bring it up to Dr. Bartlet. Jed points out (a) he's not a woman, and (b) he doesn't really work there. Mrs. Landingham points out the women who do work there are afraid of getting fired if they bring it up.

Jed: Why do you talk to me like this?
Mrs. Landingham: Cause you've never had a big sister and you need one. (Beat) Look at you. You're a boy king. You're a foot smarter than the smartest kid in the class. You're blessed with inspiration. You must know this by now. You must have sensed it. Look, if you think we're wrong...if you think Mr. Hopkins should honestly get paid more than Mrs. Chadwick, then I respect that. But if you think we're right and you won't speak up because you can't be bothered, then God, Jed, I don't even want to know you.

Mrs. Landingham tells him she'll call Triple A. As she walks inside, Jed brings up the last figure she told him about (Mr. Ryan gets twice as much to coach crew as Mrs. Ryan does to teach music). Mrs. Landingham gets excited because she realizes since Jed stuck his hands in his pockets, looked away, and smiled, he's made up his mind. Jed protests it doesn't mean anything, but Mrs. Landingham insists it does. She walks away...

...and we Smash Cut to President Bartlet in the cathedral, looking pissed. The cathedral is almost empty, except for Abbey, a few Secret Service agents, and Leo, who tells Bartlet how beautiful the service was, and adds, "She was a real dame, old friend. A real broad." Bartlet agrees. Leo tells him they need to get back to the office, and that they've got some decisions to make. Bartlet asks Leo to ask the Secret Service agents to close the chapel for a few minutes. Leo agrees, and he does so. When everyone is gone except for him, Bartlet walks towards the altar, and begins an epic rant against God:

You're a son of a bitch, you know that? She bought her first new car and you hit her with a drunk driver. What, was that supposed to be funny? "You can't conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God," says Graham Greene. I don't know whose ass he was kissing there, cause I think you're just vindictive. (voice breaking) What was Josh Lyman? A warning shot? That was my son. What did I ever do to Yours but praise his glory and praise his name? There's a tropical storm that's gaining speed and power. They say we haven't had a storm this bad since you took out that tender ship of mine in the north Atlantic last year...68 crew. You know what a tender ship does? Fixes the other ships. Doesn't even carry guns. Just goes around, fixes the other ships and delivers that mail. That's all it can do. Gratias tibi ago, domine ("Thank you, Lord"). Yes, I lied. It was a sin. I've committed many sins. Have I displeased you, you feckless thug? 3.8 million new jobs, that wasn't good? Bailed out Mexico, increased foreign trade, 30 million new acres of land for conservation, put Mendoza on the bench, we're not fighting a war, I've raised three children. That's not enough to buy me out of the doghouse? Haec credam a deo pio? A deo iusto? A deo scito? Cruciatus in crucem! Tuus in terra servus nuntius fui officium perfeci. Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem! ("Am I to believe those were the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To hell with Your punishments! I was Your servant on earth - I spread Your word and did Your work. To hell with Your punishments. To hell with You!")

Bartlet takes out a cigarette, lights it, takes a puff, throws it on the floor, stabs it with his feet, and yells up, "You get Hoynes!" He storms out.

C.J., Josh, Sam and Toby are in Toby's office a little later. C.J. says they'll call them "Answer A and Answer B", to the question, "Will you be seeking a second term?"; Answer A being, yes, Bartlet will run again, and Answer B being, no, he won't. Sam again thinks they should call it off because they don't know what President Bartlet is even thinking. Toby reminds him the story's been leaked, and says it'll be fine. Ginger opens the door, and Toby dismisses everybody, saying he has a meeting with Greg Summerhays. The others walk out, and Summerhays walks in. He expresses his condolences about Mrs. Landingham, and then asks to get down to why he's there. Toby knows Summerhays is buying Atlantic Intermediate, and starts to talk about what the FCC thinks, but Summerhays isn't there for that; he's launching a 24-hour cable news channel, and he wants Toby to be the news director. Toby, who's pissed, thanks Summerhays and storms out.

Josh is in his office, shuffling papers, when Donna comes in. After saying how nice the service was, she tells Josh she's checking for President Bartlet about the storm. Her voice breaks as she asks a distracted Josh if this is how it's going to work (Leo and the President talking over whether or not President Bartlet will run again). Josh says simply it's how it'll work today. The phone rings, Donna answers, and tells Josh it's Leo. Toby, meanwhile, is storming towards Josh's office, and starts to yell at him about what he's going to do to Leo when Josh calms him by telling him, "It's Answer B." Toby, stunned, follows Josh and Donna as they walk out.

That night, we see various TVs in the West Wing showing a newscaster who updates everyone on the press conference, which will now be held at the State Department, despite the pouring rain. In Leo's office, Leo tells President Bartlet to sit and relax for a few minutes while he gets C.J., even though Bartlet insists he's fine.

Toby's in his office watching a broadcast of Bartlet's interview. Leo comes inside, looking for C.J.; Toby says she's gone back to her office. Toby asks if Leo got him a lifeboat. Leo confirms it, and says he did it to prove to Bartlet Toby wouldn't take it. Toby thinks Bartlet's going to change his mind about not running, but Leo simply clarifies C.J.'s in her office, and walks out.

Bartlet is still in Leo's office, looking at the rain, when Margaret comes in and says Donna is there to see him. Donna walks in and Margaret leaves. Donna congratulates President Bartlet on his televised interview. Bartlet says that was the easy part, but Donna doesn't think it looked easy. She tells President Bartlet what a tropical storm is defined as (a cyclone in which the maximum sustained surface speed of the wind is 34 nautical miles per hour) and when it usually takes place (between June 1 and November 30), and adds one hasn't been in the D.C. area in the middle of May at all in the last century. C.J. knocks, and Donna leaves after Bartlet thanks her. He tells C.J. the storm is considered a non-recurring phenomenon, which is code for "we don't know what in the world is going on, but we're stocking up on canned goods". C.J. reminds him about the procedure at the press conference; if President Bartlet takes the first question from Lawrence Altman (the Times' chief medical correspondent), it'll be a medical question, and that'll mean a few follow-up medical questions until he has to get to political questions. She reminds Bartlet Altman will be in the front row, first seat on Bartlet's right. As she leaves...

...Jed knocks on the door of his father's study, and Dr. Bartlet calls for him to come in. Jed tries to bring up what Mrs. Landingham told him, but Dr. Bartlet is more interested in the article Jed and his friends wrote condemning one of the professors for banning books. Dr. Bartlet points out Jed is a guest at the school, and Jed points out the teacher (Dr. Loomis) is an English teacher banning books such as Giovanni's Room (by James Baldwin) and Fahrenheit451, which is about banning books. Dr. Bartlet asks if what Jed said was supposed to be funny, and before Jed can reply, his father slaps him in the face. Dr. Bartlet asks if there's anything else, and Jed brings up the fact it wasn't a non-denominational service. Dr. Bartlet doesn't want to hear it again, but Jed insists Catholics believe faith is tied in with good works. Dr. Bartlet points out Jed is only Catholic because his mother is, and is only at the school because his father's the headmaster. He asks again if there's anything else, and Jed glumly says there isn't. As he starts to walk out...

...President Bartlet walks into the Oval Office. He walks over to his desk. Just then, the Portico door blows open again. Bartlet automatically yells for Mrs. Landingham before he realizes what he's doing. Just then, Mrs. Landingham walks in, and tells him not to shout.

Bartlet: I was...
Bartlet: It's not that I don't know how to use it, it's just that I haven't learned yet. (they smile at each other) I had M.S. and didn't tell anybody.
Mrs. Landingham: Yeah. So you're having a little bit of a day.
Bartlet: You're gonna make jokes.
Mrs. Landingham: God doesn't make cars crash, and you know it. Stop using me as an excuse.

Bartlet points out he's never been the most popular person in the Democratic party, and they won't want him to run. Mrs. Landingham assures him he can get the party back, and even though he's in a tough spot, there's plenty who are worse off.

Bartlet: Give me numbers.
Mrs. Landingham: I don't know numbers. You give them to me.
Bartlet: How about a child born this minute has a one in five chance of being born into poverty?
Mrs. Landingham: How many Americans don't have health insurance?
Bartlet: 44 million.
Mrs. Landingham: What's the number one cause of death for black men under 35?
Bartlet: Homicide.
Mrs. Landingham: How many Americans are behind bars?
Bartlet: Three million.
Mrs. Landingham: How many Americans are behind bars?
Bartlet: Five million.
Mrs. Landingham: And one of five kids in poverty?
Bartlet: That's 13 million American children. (from an overhead shot, we see the chair where Mrs. Landingham is sitting is really empty) Three and a half million kids go to schools that are literally falling apart. We need 127 billion in school construction, and we need it today!
Mrs. Landingham: To say nothing of 53 people trapped in an embassy.
Bartlet: Yes.

Mrs. Landingham walks out and closes the door. President Bartlet walks through the open door to the Portico and stands in the rain until Charlie, holding a coat, yells to him that it's time. Bartlet ignores the coat, but walks into the office and Charlie follows. As "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits plays, Bartlet walks towards his limo, while Josh, Leo, Sam and Toby follow. As C.J. takes questions from reporters in front of the State Department - including whether a special prosecutor will be appointed - we see Bartlet staring into space while in his limo, as Leo watches him. As the limo passes by the National Cathedral, we see a janitor pick up the cigarette Jed had stumped out. As C.J. tells the press she assumes the senior staff will most likely receive subpoenas, the limo arrives at the State Department. An agent hands Bartlet a towel, which he dries himself with as he, Charlie, Josh, Leo, Sam and Toby follow him to the press conference. Carol nods to C.J. and she introduces President Bartlet, who walks up to the podium while everyone watches in silence. Bartlet sees Lawrence Altman where he's supposed to be, but instead, he takes a question from Sandy, another reporter, who naturally asks if he's going to run again. As the staff (including Donna and Margaret) look on, and Leo says, "Watch this," President Bartlet puts his hands in his pockets, looks away, and smiles.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Calling the Old Man Out: Word of God confirms Bartlet's rant against God was as much a rant against his father.
  • Captain Obvious: The Congressman who thinks he's the first person to bring up the fact that, in light of his MS revelations, the President should seriously consider not running for reelection:
    Leo: You think you're the first person to say that? You are, at minimum, the thirty-fifth.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Averted in the discussions Jed has about a "non-denominational service."
  • Dare to Be Badass: "If you don't run 'cause you think it's gonna be too hard or you think you're gonna lose...well, God, Jed, I don't even want to know you."
  • Darkest Hour: Bartlet's deception regarding his MS has just been publicly exposed, there's a major crisis going on in Haiti, an unprecedented tropical storm heading to DC, and Mrs. Landingham just died in a stupid accident (partially because Bartlet asked her to come back to the office that night), and it's starting to look like there's no point in even trying for reelection.
  • Foreshadowing: We hear a lot more about the trouble relationship Bartlet had with his father next season.
  • He's Back: Bartlet in the last scene.
  • Heroic BSoD: Bartlet and the senior staff spend most of the episode locked in one. Bartlet snaps out of his at the end of the episode.
  • Like a Son to Me: Bartlet refers to Josh as "my son" during his rant.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The vision of Mrs. Landingham who talks to Bartlet in the Oval Office while he's wrestling with his doubts is most likely just a visualisation of Bartlet's own thought processes as he debates whether or not to run again (as indicated by a quick shot of the chair she is apparently sitting actually being empty while Bartlet talks to the air), but there's enough ambiguity there for those who want to take a more magical interpretation to do so.
  • Origins Episode: For Jed Bartlet. Young Mrs. Landingham's speech to him back in school comes across as the moment when Jed not only decides to speak up for equal staff pay, but also to become the man who would one day be President...
    Young Mrs. Landingham: Look at you. You're a boy king. You're a foot smarter than the smartest kid in the class. You're blessed with inspiration. You must know this by now. You must have sensed it.
  • Parental Favoritism: Inverted. Bartlet's issues with his father seem to stem from Jed showing favoritism towards his mother, even following her Catholic faith against his father's preference. This almost makes Bartlet a Generation Xerox; as we see in "Ellie", he's a bit harder on his middle daughter because she always preferred her mother (though Jed never resorts to abuse of any kind).
  • Precision F-Strike: From Mrs. Landingham, of all people:
    Bartlet: I've got a secret for you, Mrs. Landingham. I've never been the most popular guy in the Democratic Party.
    Mrs. Landingham: I've got a secret for you, Mr. President your father was a prick who could never get over the fact that he wasn't as smart as his brothers.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Bartlet takes a moment to chew out the Lord Almighty for letting Mrs. Landingham die in a senseless accident.
  • Redemption in the Rain: After his Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter moment in the National Cathedral, it is not without significance that Bartlet's angst over whether or not to run for re-election is ended after he walks out to the White House terrace and lets the freak storm pounding Washington D.C at the time wash over him.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The freak tropical storm subplot. Much is made of how a tropical storm isn't just a general term but an actual, specific classification of weather that this event meets, at a time far outside the usual season for this kind of weather, which hasn't happened since they started recording and classifying weather. All of which is occurring when Bartlet is wrestling with his doubts about running for reelection, his guilt for concealing his health issues from his staff and the public, and his anger at Mrs. Landingham's death, all of which leads to his Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter moment in the National Cathedral. And this all ends in the visual image of Bartlet, the most powerful man in the world, allowing the tropical storm — something he has no control over — to wash over him, following which his torment is washed away as well.
  • Shout-Out: Jed also quoted Fahrenheit451 in his article condemning Dr. Loomis ("If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn").
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Bartlet's yelling to God in the National Cathedral.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: After his Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter moment, Bartlet initially decides he's not gonna run for re-election.
  • That Came Out Wrong: As C.J., Josh and the others discuss "Answer A and Answer B":
    C.J.: Answer A is, "You bet. I will absolutely be seeking a second term. I'm looking forward to the campaign, there is great work that is yet to be done."
    Josh: Yes.
    C.J.: Answer B:
    Josh: "Are you out of your mind? I can't possibly win re-election. I lied about a degenerative illness, I'm the target of a Grand Jury investigation, and Congress is about to take me out to lunch. I'd sooner have my family take their clothes off and dance the tarantella on the Truman Balcony than go through a campaign with this around my neck." (the others look at him) Think that's too on the nose?
    C.J.: I do.

Example of: