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The West Wing blew the hatch with Charlie’s assassination attempt

Josh Lyman and Donna Moss

The first season of The West Wing was some great drama. Mixing political and social commentary with deft humor and pop culture references, the show gave us a number of entertaining and thought-provoking episodes. There were hints of bigger and more dramatic events during the season, but nothing so earth-shattering that it changed the dynamic of the series.

That is, until the second season premiere. With the assassination attempt of Presidential aide Charlie Young, the series Blew the Hatch and became a different show. Not in a bad way, mind you. On the contrary; what the multi-part episode “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen” did was set the stage for a more vibrant program, with an enhanced cast of characters.

The whole thing began with the season one finale “What Kind of Day Has It Been.” It’s a typical day for the President and his senior staff as they deal with a number of crises, including an American pilot shot down over Iraq, and trouble with Toby’s astronaut brother, who’s currently on a Space Shuttle mission. Mild stuff compared to the events that took place after a Town Hall meeting in Virginia. Soon enough, viewers were at the edge of their couches as the President and his staff ran for cover amidst a hail of bullets. In the end, both the President and Josh were injured, Josh the more serious of the two.

For a first season finale this was a powerful cliffhanger. However, it was the two-part, second season premiere that really did the job. While we knew some of the character backgrounds in the first season (Jed’s MS, Leo’s past addictions), we didn’t get a real feel for who these folks were before they took on their current roles. Aaron Sorkin and his gang rectified that soon enough, with a series of patented Sorkin flashbacks that took place while the characters waited to find out the fates of Jed and Josh.

Thanks to these glimpses of past times, viewers got a sense of what these people did before coming to the Big Show, and how they got there in the first place. This, in turn, gave viewers a three-dimensional look at the White House senior staff. They became real people to us. And, once that happens on a TV show, you gain fans for life.

In addition, the assassination attempt opened up a whole slew of stories for The West Wing to examine. For instance, Josh’s PTSD after the shooting, the re-election campaign of Jed Bartlet, and the President coming clean about his MS. Heck, even the death of Mrs. Landingham had traces of the assassination attempt story linked to it.

Would the series have been as successful without the assassination story line and flashbacks? Sure, but the show would have had a different feel. Luckily, we can thank Aaron Sorkin and his keen sense of character development — as well as his use of the same plot devices from series to series — for giving us such a Blow the Hatch moment.

Photo Credit: NBC

7 Responses to “The West Wing blew the hatch with Charlie’s assassination attempt”

October 2, 2009 at 12:03 PM

I’ll point out what someone will say, that if you wanted to kill Charlie then they could have easily have done that, why do it with the president around and blah blah.

They tried to kill Charlie with the president around to get on the news! Duh!

However I see the shooting differently than you, it’s not what started the whole MS storyline that started the whole re-election, it was just a step. Looking back how the MS storyline came out was priceless, the president gets the flu and Leo finds out. The president was asked “Do you have any medical conditions?” and his response was “I’ve been shot”. It all flowed together nicely leading up to more and more people finding out about the MS.

October 2, 2009 at 1:05 PM

This had to have been the best season finales I have ever seen. There are too many shows who do not do season finales well but this show nailed it.

October 2, 2009 at 2:18 PM

I should point out that at the time, response to the first season finale was not this positive. Viewers (like me) and critics who had been enjoying the relatively low-melodrama, cerebral first season of “The West Wing” were startled and kind of appalled at such a big “TV show”, action, guns-blazing ending. It seemed overdramatic and cliched for a show that had been trying so hard to be realistic (if idealistic) about the White House. I remember reading many articles over the summer on what a wrong turn the assassination attempt was. It seemed very out of character for the series.

I agree that the 2nd season premiere was a good one, and that the ripples off the event, over the next few years, were worth it. But it still feels jarring, like the producers of “24” took over “The West Wing” for a few scenes.

October 2, 2009 at 6:02 PM

Scott: I really don’t remember that response … Though, I will admit my TV/Internet relationship wasn’t nearly as evolved then as it was now.

Would you perhaps still have links available to any of those articles? I would love to read them.

October 2, 2009 at 2:26 PM

Totally agree that this was the “Blew the Hatch” for The West Wing. I believe I started watching the show with this ep (after it won a bunch of Emmys) and it was a great way to be introduced to all the characters.

On a different note, I was just thinking about this ep last night while watching the Private Practice premiere. Anybody else watch it? I guess I shouldn’t post off-topic spoilers, but it was a blatant rip-off of this West Wing ep. One character was near death and in surgery and it was intercut with a bunch of flashbacks to the early days when they all met. It was pretty good, but nowhere near as great as the original.

November 6, 2009 at 1:40 PM

I have just finished watching the west wing dvd.It’s weird. But it’s fun! I love it!

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