A US nuclear submarine has abruptly lost contact with the outside world while undertaking a covert mission in North Korean waters. While President Bartlet wants to send in the rescue teams immediately, he is advised that the craft may simply have "gone quiet" to avoid detection by North Korean vessels, and is persuaded to monitor the situation with his advisors for four hours in order to determine precisely what is happening. As one of these advisors is the cranky veteran State Department official Albie Duncan, this ends up being a rather uncomfortable afternoon for President Bartlet.
Meanwhile, Sam and Bruno debate over the ethics of exploiting campaign finance laws to fund political advertising, while Toby spars with a congressional aide over a scheme to defund the National Endowment of the Arts. And C.J. rejoices over a disastrous answer given by the Senate Majority Leader about why he wants to become president, only to discover that the White House might not be prepared to answer that question either.
Provides examples of:
- Actually Pretty Funny: When beginning to prepare some actual issue adverts rather than campaign adverts disguised as issue adverts, Bruno remarks that it's actually a good idea and wonders out loud why he's uncomfortable about it. Sam, who has been arguing with Bruno all episode, quips that it's because doing so is actually ethical, prompting an appreciative chuckle from Bruno.
- Blowing a Raspberry: Donna does this when C.J. and Josh come up with boring, boilerplate answers for the question why Bartlet wants to be president.
- Brick Joke: C.J. literally dances with joy when the Senate majority leader, on being asked why he wants to be president, gives a completely incoherent reply. Just to be safe, she asks Sam "We've got an answer, right?" Sam replies that he's sure they do. As the episode goes in, it becomes increasingly evident that none of the senior staff know what Bartlet's answer would be, and how C.J. responds to the majority leader's answer depends a good deal on what Bartlet himself would have said. C.J. and Josh try to write an answer, but can't come up with anything convincing. Finally, C.J. gets a moment with the president, who has spent a thankless day listening to Albie Duncan's depressing war stories while waiting to hear from a possibly endangered submarine.C.J.: The Majority Leader got the question last night.Bartlet: I heard.C.J.: He went to the zoo.Bartlet: Yeah, listen. I want you to go easy on him. He's a conscientious and dedicated guy. It's not an easy question.C.J.: Can you answer it?Bartlet: Why do I want to be President?C.J.: Yeah.Bartlet: [sighs] I've been thinking about it for the last couple of hours. I almost had it.
- The Eeyore: Bartlet considers Albie Duncan to be this. An impression which, granted, is not helped by Duncan's tendency to fill the time they're sitting in the Oval Office waiting for news of the submarine with ominous stories of various submarine-related disasters. Lampshaded by Bartlet:Bartlet: Also, he'd be good to have around for morale, 'cause he's Mr. Happy Fun Guy.
- Head Desk: Bartlet ends up doing this on the Resolute desk after reaching a breaking point with Albie Duncan's dour war stories.
- Hypocritical Humour: After spending the episode gloating about the Senate Majority Leader's disastrous response to a question about why he wants to be President, the senior staff eventually realise they don't have a prepared answer either, and their attempts to come up with one — while more coherent — aren't exactly the stuff of inspiration either.
- I Have This Friend...: Discussed with its limitations when it comes to state secrets, specifically the missing sub off the North Korean coast and Bartlet has to inform an abrasive curmudgeon from the State Department:
- Bartlet: I've gotta tell him I lost a submarine. Can I make something up, like "say a friend of mine hypothetically..."
- Insufferable Genius: Bartlet has a chip on his shoulder about Albie Duncan's years of experience at the State Department, and believes that Duncan looks down on him and considers him a child due to his lack of military experience. This is, by and large, the truth.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Tawny is rather snotty, dismissive and patronising in her approach to the argument over the National Endowment of the Arts, but while Toby argues passionately for the existence of the plays and artwork she dismissively lists, he is forced to acknowledge that he personally has no interest or fondness for it.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Tawny Cryer from the Appropriations Committee seems to have this.note Toby: There is a connection between progress of a society and progress in the Arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo da Vinci. The age of Elizabeth was the age of Shakespeare.Tawny: Ain't none of these guys Da Vinci or ShakespeareToby: Says you!
- Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: A downplayed example; Albie Duncan isn't exactly rude to President Bartlet (at least, not in the manner usually associated with the trope), but he is a grizzled old warhorse who has clearly reached a point in terms of age and experience where he doesn't have many qualms about talking down to the President of the United States as if he was a misbehaving schoolchild.
- Stunned Silence: Sam isn't exactly stunned, but he's stuck for a respose to Bruno's arguements about the campaign using soft money. He even asks for a few seconds.Bruno: Now Bartlet should obey a law that doesn't exist? What's next, imaginary street signs?Sam: Excuse me, but there's such a thing as...Bruno: What?Sam: There's such a thing as...Bruno: What?Sam: Okay, we're gonna sit quietly for a moment.Bruno: Okay.beatSam: Leadership by example. There's such a thing as leadership by example.
- Take a Third Option: After Sam and Bruno spend the episode sparring over the ethics of exploiting loopholes in campaign financing laws to create a "soft money" campaign advert disguised as an issue advert, Toby ends up suggesting that they play to the spirit and the letter of the law instead and just create actual issue adverts that will benefit them.
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: In-universe; while we don't see any of them, judging from the descriptions we hear the director of the National Endowment of the Arts has a fondness for funding somewhat pretentious and incomprehensible performance art pieces. Played with, however, in that Toby — while clearly not particularly interested in them — passionately argues that it's not up to either him or Tawny, his opponent, to decide what is or isn't art, and that a culturally rich society is obligated to fund forms of artistic expression that not all members of that society might approve of. Tawny also frequently comes across as a bit snotty about the subject.