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"Previously on the West Wing" spoken by Charlie

When the flash of a secret nuclear detonation is detected over the Indian Ocean, the President scrambles his inner circle to investigate which nation now has weapons of mass destruction -- and since conventional thinking favors Iran, Bartlet orders bombers into the air to destroy that nation's most likely uranium-enriched targets. Elsewhere, Josh tongue-lashes NASA eggheads on the future of space exploration until he is introduced to the wonders of heavenly bodies by an attractive female administrator. In addition, C.J. fumes when a combative TV talk-show host denigrates her on the air.


Opening - Thursday 3:16AM[]

The telephone rings in the residence, waking President Bartlet.  He answers the phone and sits up in bed.  Moments later, he is in the Situation Room where he is advised there has been an atmospheric nuclear detonation in the Indian Ocean, by a country not previously known to have nuclear weapons.

Act I - 4:06AM[]

In the Oval Office, President Bartlet is meeting with the National Security team, discussing what country could have done this - knowing that it would be detected.  After the advisors leave, Leo and the President discuss Bartlet's treatment of the CIA Director - Bartlet was a little rough on him.  The President then realizes they forgot to include the Vice President - Leo says he will brief him.


Josh arrives for a meeting with NASA officials - Donna tries to prepare him and tells him to be nice.  He tries to end the meeting - by saying he doesn't understand the issues.

Leo comes to the Vice President's office and Leo tells him about the detonation - the Vice President thinks it was Pakistan - but Leo has to correct him, telling him they don't know who it is yet.  When Leo leaves - Will asks for his help in elevating the Vice President's profile - Leo tells Will to take it up with Toby.  Toby and Leo talk - Leo tells Toby he has to give something to Will.  Leo then takes Toby into his office, closes the door, and tells Toby about the detonation.

The National Security Team returns to the Oval Office to tell the President they still don't know who exploded the weapon - but they have intelligence that the two leading choices, Iran and North Korea appear to have not been involved.

Act II - 10:56AM[]

At C.J.'s briefing, she is asked about a talk show host, Taylor Reid, who has named C.J. the "Chicken of the Week."

Leo and Toby are talking about what to do about the nuclear explosion as Leo goes into the Situation Room to hear more intelligence.  In the room, the President is given options on attacking either North Korea, Iran, or both if they can determine they are responsible.

A NASA scientist, who was in the meeting, comes to see Josh in his office to talk with him about their issues and requests.  She tries to sell him on a manned mission to Mars.  She convinces him to go out with her that evening and look at the stars through a telescope.

Will comes to see Toby - who is offering the Vice President the opportunity to be the administration spokesman for "good government."  Will is less than pleased.

The Swiss Embassy - 12:06PM[]

At the Swiss Embassy, Leo, Nancy McNally, and Bob Slattery meet with the Iranian Ambassador, who has been summoned from New York.  The ambassador deflects most of their inquiries regarding Iran's nuclear program, Leo impresses upon the ambassador that if Iran is manufacturing nuclear weapons, the US will not sit idly by.

Act III - 3:36PM[]

Josh comes to see Leo about his meeting with NASA.  C.J. asks Carol to get a copy of the Taylor Reid Show - after Danny Concannon calls and leaves her a taunting message.  As she watches the tape, Toby comes in.  His pager beeps and he gets up to leave, deflecting C.J.'s question about if there is anything going on.

In the Situation Room, the President decides to attack Iran, the moment they are certain that it was them - they have all but ruled out the North Koreans.

Will and the Vice President are discussing the "good government" policy that Toby has given Will.  Over the course of the conversation - the Vice President realizes something.

The President is in the Oval Office - he needs to get ready for an event - Toby comes to see Leo, who tells Toby the B-2 bombers are in the air, awaiting confirmation.  Toby tries to get Leo to go to the UN - Leo points out the UN doesn't want any of this and to just get a statement ready for release.

Josh and the NASA Scientist, Alex Moreau, arrive in a clearing, while she and Josh talk about issues over the space program.

The Vice President calls Leo and tells him he needs to talk, immediately.  Shortly, the National Security team, Leo, the Vice President, and the President convene in the Situation Room - where Russell tells them about a junket he was on the previous year - and one of the hosts casually mentioned to Russell about their nuclear submarines.  The host country was Israel.  The President asks for the Israeli Prime Minister to be summoned immediately and to stand down the bombers until they confirm this.  Leo, the Vice President, and the President walk out of the Situation Room together and the President thanks Russell for figuring this out.

Act IV[]

Alex and Josh return to Josh's apartment and he asks her to make the pitch for Mars - he tells her that it's not going to happen - but to tell him about it anyway. 

Friday - 7:26AM[]

At the White House, Toby gives C.J. a cover story to explain why the Israeli PM is coming to the White House. Elsewhere, Will comes to the Vice President to reiterate that he shouldn't do the "good government" thing - Russell tells Will he is going to do it.

Josh asks Donna to get him budget numbers for NASA - Donna wants to know if he is doing this only because Alex is attractive.

The Israeli Prime Minister arrives at the White House and is brought into the Oval Office.  The President dispenses with the pleasantries and asks the PM point blank if they conducted the test.  The PM confirms it.  The PM tells the President that the US [and the rest of the world] are just going to have to trust Israel.

Toby comes to see Leo, who tells him that it's over, Israel has admitted it and the bombers have been turned around.  At Josh's apartment, he receives a delivery of a telescope of his own.  In the White House Situation Room - the President watches a replay of the detonation caught on satellite and contemplates what it all means.

Trivia / Goofs[]

  • The main plot of this episode closely resembles the Vela Incident, although in the real-life incident the responsible party was never found, nor was it ever confirmed there actually was a detonation.
  • The President mispronounces Hans Bethe's last name. The correct pronunciation is Bay-ta.
  • Josh discusses the tragic life of Blind Willie Johnson and his inclusion on the Voyager Golden Record. It is not certain that he was blinded with lye by his stepmother, but that is one theory - biographical details are sketchy.
  • The NASA officials talk to Josh about needing to launch soon to take advantage of a gravitational slingshot at Jupiter for the purpose of exploring the Kuiper belt. While not named, the real-life New Horizons mission was facing administration opposition at the time, and likewise had a 2006 launch window to be able to use Jupiter’s alignment to reach Pluto and the Kuiper belt. Fitting the theme of this subplot, the New Horizons encounter with Pluto in July 2015 garnered significant positive publicity for NASA, including display of Pluto images in Times Square.
  • The Mars Direct described by Alex Moreau is a real-life concept for crewed Mars exploration.
  • Josh mentions Voyager 1 crossing the termination shock, which occurred in February 2003.
  • Leo claims that the Swiss don't have to pay for a national defence, which isn't really true; Switzerland paid 4357 CHF per capita on defence in 2004, 0.9% of its GDP, similar to Austria or Japan. (Source)
  • Josh talks about NASA crashing a probe due to mixing up metres and feet. What actually crashed the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999 was a mixup between pound-seconds and newton-seconds, units of impulse, not length.
  • Bartlet claims that Genghis Khan killed every inhabitant of Persia - an exaggeration, but not by much - the Mongol conquest of Khwarezmia killed about a quarter of the population.


Leo McGarry:  There's a new member of the club.
Josh Lyman: Listen, I... appreciate your coming in, but you may be meeting with the wrong guy. My knowledge about space is like the old joke about the official announcing a new program. He says, 'We're going to go where no one has ever been. We're going to land on... the sun!' Reporter says, 'But, sir, the sun's a burning mass of fire.' The official replies, 'Ah! Thought of that. That's why we're going to go at night.' What I know is politics. Public perception. And the image of NASA is not good. Telescopes launched that can't focus. Planetary probes that crashed because engineers mixed up meters and feet. The only time NASA makes the front page anymore, is when something goes wrong. You need to get off the front page. This administration has only one space priority: that you guys stop screwing up. Thanks for your time.
Iranian Ambassador: I know what terrifies you: an Islamic bomb.
Leo McGarry: And I know what concerns Iran: a Jewish bomb.
Iranian Ambassador: Einstein, Oppenheimer, Teller... They're all Jewish bombs.
Leo McGarry: My generation never got the future it was promised. Thirty-five years later, cars, air travel's exactly the same. We don't even have the Concorde anymore. Technology stopped.
Josh Lyman: The personal computer?
Leo McGarry: A more efficient delivery system for gossip and pornography? Where's my jet pack, my colonies on the Moon?
President Bartlet: It's telling that the physicists involved in the creation of these weapons became the most fervid opponents of their use. Einstein, Oppenheimer, Szilard. Hans Bethe wrote: "If we fight a war and win it with H-bombs, what history will remember is not the ideas we were fighting for, but the methods we used to accomplish them. These methods will be compared to the warfare of Genghis Khan, who brutally killed every last inhabitant of Persia."



Special Guest Stars[]

Guest Starring[]



"The West Wing" The Warfare of Genghis Khan (2004)