West Wing Wiki
West Wing Wiki

"Previously on the West Wing" spoken by Leo

When a U.S. spy plane is forced to crash by North Korean jets, 5 crew members are trapped deep in the hostile country. Bartlet dispatches an elite Navy SEAL team to retrieve them -- prompting Leo to remember his own harrowing experience when he was shot down as a pilot over North Vietnam. Leo's good friend and fellow flyer saved his life and now is under fire for allegedly paying bribes to defense contractors to obtain military contracts. Meanwhile, C.J. accepts the challenge of dueling on live television with an opinionated and conservative talk show host; Josh fumes when he briefs the President about a contested tax cut for stay-at-home mothers and is undercut by the brash young Ryan, and the Commander in Chief balks at posing for his official portrait.



We see two jet pilots on a mission.  The plane is hit and they eject from the cockpit.

In Chicago, Leo is introducing an old friend, Ken O'Neal, who is being honored by the Chicago Business Conference.  Leo, Ken, and his wife Sally are walking outside and Ken and Leo are talking.  Ken is coming to Washington soon to advocate for a new bomber and Leo tells him they must have lunch - but Ken resists Leo's offer to call Senator Hunt on his behalf.

At the White House, Jed and Abbey are arguing about Bartlet's official portrait.  The President doesn't want to do it.  Charlie informs them that General Alexander is waiting outside.  The General comes in and tells the President that a bomber has been shot down over the Sea of Japan and while there are survivors, it is believed the crew is somewhere in North Korea.

Act I[]

In the Situation Room, the President is being briefed on the downed crew.  They believe they are alive and now on North Korean soil.  It is not easy to go and get them as any rescue attempt would be seen as an act of war by the North Koreans.

C.J. arrives and is greeted by Carol, who gives her the morning wires.  Carol tells C.J. that she has given Ben an appointment to see her the next day.  She arrives in her office to find Toby and Josh waiting.  One of the morning stories concerns a Congressman who is offering incentives for stay-at-home moms, though he doesn't believe in it.  Josh and Toby also believe that C.J. should go on the Taylor Reid show.  Will arrives and tells her that Reid went after C.J. again the previous night - she calls to Carol and tells her to get her on the show.

Josh goes to Leo's office and Leo asks Josh to talk to Senator Hunt about the Ramses project (the one that he and Ken O'Neal were discussing) - Leo asks Josh to look into why it's being held up in committee.  Josh also talks about the Congressman who is offering the amendment for incentives for stay-at-home moms. 

Josh walks back to his office and asks Donna to get him some time with Senator Hunt about the Ramses project and directs Ryan to start looking into the Wendt Amendment so Josh can brief the President.

Back in the Situation Room, Bartlet is advised on how a mission to rescue the airmen would proceed.  The State Department representative urges caution - but Bartlet makes the decision to undertake the rescue.

Act II[]

Josh goes to see Senator Hunt and the Senator tells Josh that Leo and Ken O'Neal are just going to have to wait.  Carol and C.J. are talking about her appearance on the Taylor Reid show, when the First Lady comes by to tell C.J. that she is going to start volunteering at the Washington Free Clinic.

When Josh returns to the White House, he tells Donna to find him Senator Canton - Josh needs him to balance out Hunt on the Ramses project.  Will has come to see Josh to tell him that the Wendt Amendment may have merit - as they walk into Josh's office, Ryan, who has been looking into it, says exactly the same thing.

In the Situation Room, the President is watching the high-altitude rescue operation get underway - Leo has a flashback to his days as a pilot in the Vietnam War, where Ken O'Neal saved him after they were forced to bail out of their plane and Ken carried Leo through the jungle to safety.  Josh comes to see Leo to tell him that Hunt is not going to back down and that Senator Canton knows that Hunt is planning hearings on Ken O'Neal's actions on the project.  Leo calls to Margaret to ask her to tell Senator Hunt that he's coming to see him.  As Leo leaves for the hill - he has another flashback to Ken putting Leo on his back and carrying him through the jungle.

Act III[]

In Senator Hunt's office, Hunt and Leo argue about the Ramses Project, Ken O'Neal and the procedures by which the contract was awarded.  Leo tells the Senator that if he's drawing up witnesses - he better put Leo's name at the top.

In a TV studio, C.J. is getting ready for her appearance on the Taylor Reid show.  Reid starts in on C.J. instantly - at the White House, Josh and Toby are watching.  Josh tells Toby about Leo's meeting with Hunt and that Leo asked to be subpoenaed - Toby tells Josh that somebody needs to tell the President.

In the Situation Room, the President arrives and learns the rescue team has reached the downed airman and they are all now in the woods just off the shore, waiting for nightfall before heading out to sea.

In C.J.'s office, Carol is talking to Ben, who has arrived to see C.J. - who is still fighting off Taylor Reid on his show.  She gets in a good poke at Reid and at the White House, Toby and Josh comment that C.J. won that round - they are outside the Oval Office waiting to talk to the President about Leo.

The President comes to see Leo and asks him about Ken O'Neal and if there is a chance that any of the things that Senator Hunt is investigating may be true.  Leo says no - the President tells Leo he can't testify, regardless of his loyalty to O'Neal and that Leo should talk to Ken and make sure there is no truth to what Hunt believes.

Act IV[]

Josh and Ryan come to the President to brief him on the Wendt Amendment (the President is scheduled to fly to Wendt's district - which may be part of the reason that Wendt proposed it).  Josh and Ryan tell the President there should be more daycare tax breaks and not just for stay-at-home moms.

C.J. comes back and Carol tells her that she did great on the Taylor Reid show, but she missed Ben.

Josh and Ryan return to his office and Josh yells at Ryan for correcting him in front of the President.  Donna tells him that Senator Hunt is in his office.  Hunt tells Josh that he needs to get Leo to back down from his defense of Ken O'Neal.  Hunt has another witness, who used to work at DoD but now works for O'Neal's company.  Josh heads out to find Leo - but Margaret tells him that he is out of the building - he's gone to see Ken O'Neal, who called.

In the Situation Room - the President is anxiously awaiting word from the rescue team.  Radio silence is broken and the rescue team reports they have found and brought out all five airmen - they, however, lost one of the rescuers in the jump.

Leo meets O'Neal and they talk about the investigation.  O'Neal tells Leo that he didn't follow the proper procedures - including offering the DoD employee an advance and a job.  He tells Leo that he is planning to take the Fifth Amendment when he is called to testify.  Later, back at the White House, Leo is upset about what has happened - the President comes in and tells Leo not to worry.

Trivia / Goofs[]

  • It is unlikely that Leo would have arrived at Dulles on a flight from Chicago.  He would have most likely flown into National Airport.
  • In the Situation Room, the admiral explains that the US pilots rescued by Navy SEALs in North Korea will be flown back to the USS Cowpens in a Sea Stallion helicopter. However, a Sea Stallion is too large to land on a Navy cruiser such as the USS Cowpens.
  • Leo explains to the president that the Navy SEALs will be jumping from an altitude of 40,000 feet. However, the SEALs are seen on the video in the Situation Room jumping out of the airplane without oxygen masks, which would be necessary at that altitude.
  • The video screen in the Situation Room shows the SEALs jumping out of an MC-130E airplane, but the MC-130E has a service ceiling of 33,000 feet (10 km), which means it wouldn't have been able to drop the SEALs from 40,000 feet (12 km), as Leo indicated.
  • When President Bartlet is in the Situation Room receiving an update on the rescue mission in North Korea, he is told that the rescue has been halted because the sun came up. CJ was told by Carol that she was scheduled to appear as a guest on the noon segment that day of the TV show "The Whole Truth with Taylor Reid". Because there is a clock in the Situation Room that reads 2:06 (probably from a different time zone), we can safely assume it is 12:06pm local in Washington DC due to the fact that CJ is currently on air. Because North Korea is 12.5 hrs ahead of Washington DC, that would mean it's 12:36am in North Korea where the rescue is taking place, which is far too early for the sun to have come up.
  • Over the radio, the SEAL Team Leader indicates to President Bartlet that one of the SEAL rescuers, CAPT Zeretsky, died of hypoxia. However, it is highly unlikely that a Navy O-6 (CAPT) would have participated in a tactical rescue mission. It's possible the writers accidentally used the Army rank for O-3 (Captain) instead of the correct Navy rank (Lieutenant).
  • Vice Admiral McGill is played by actor Carlos Gomez, who was 41 years old when this episode was filmed. It is extremely unlikely that someone this young could achieve the rank of Navy Vice Admiral (O-9).
  • Very little is revealed about the title of the episode. The only reference to the name is in the opening scene, when Leo, as a Vietnam War fighter pilot, tells ground control that he is approaching An Khê. An Khê, pronounced [ʔaːŋ˧˥ xej˧˥], was an actual base camp in Vietnam during the war.
  • The plot line about the defense contracting controversy is apparently based on a real-life incident. A 2003 lease agreement of 100 Boeing K-767 tankers by the US Air Force led to the imprisonment of a Pentagon staffer and the forced resignation of Boeing CEO Phil Condit. The main opponent of the deal was Senator John McCain – from Arizona like the fictional Senator Hunt; in addition, Hunt has been presented on the show as a maverick who is amenable to bipartisan projects, not unlike Senator McCain. McCain, when informed about the West Wing episode, was amused.
  • Bartlet's quote at the end: "Corruptio optimi pessima", which he then translates "Corruption of the best is the worst" is an old Latin maxim. It can be found in David Hume's "Of Superstition and Enthusiasm" (1741).
  • Josh calls Ryan "Eve Harrington" after his perceived betrayal. This is a reference to the self-serving protagonist of the 1950 movie All About Eve.
  • At the end of the episode, Bartlet is playing a tape given to him by Crosby Stills & Nash, visiting the White House to receive the National Medal for the Arts (correctly the National Medal of Arts). The song "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" was in fact recorded by Crosby & Nash and can be heard on the album Crosby & Nash (2004).
  • Leo says that the US is still at war with North Korea, "we haven't signed an armistice." This is wrong: an armistice is merely an agreement to end hostilities for the time being - like the Korean Armistice Agreement signed in 1953. Leo means that we haven't signed a peace treaty.
  • General Alexander says "The Republic of North Korea," which is not the correct name. It's the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea for short.
  • Ryan is compared to Jimmy Olsen
  • During the situation room briefing, Barrow refers to SEALs as "armed American soldiers." They are Navy personnel, not soldiers.


Leo McGarry: We were out in the jungle for three days. Kenny carried me on his back, hid me under piles of leaves while he went to find us water. I was delirious. I lost a lot of blood. He coulda left me, he shoulda left me. He never did. We, uh found a clearing where we could send up a flare, and a couple hours later these two Hueys show up taking all kinds of AK fire. Men died for us. We had a responsibility to live our lives with integrity and honesty to honor their sacrifice.
President Bartlet: Corruption of the best is the worst. You've done more, much more, all on your own, to honor their memory, Leo. They'd be as proud to know you as I am.



Special Guest Stars[]

Guest Starring[]


  • Melissa Fitzgerald as Carol Fitzpatrick
  • Brian Catalano as USS Cowpens Officer
  • Mara Casey as Lauren
  • Roger Hampton as Floor Manager
  • Anna Holbrook as Sally O'Neal
  • Dev Johnson as Raven One (Leo in Vietnam_
  • Matt Huhn as Raven One Co-Pilot (Ken in Vietnam)
  • Dat Phan as NVA Officer
  • Tang Nguyen as NVA Soldier


"The West Wing" An Khe (2004)