PRESIDENT AND STAFF CONFRONT CRISIS; TIM MATHESON GUEST-STARS IN SEASON FINALE -- A stealth fighter is shot down over Iraq, leading to Bartlet ordering a military rescue as Toby worries about his brother trapped on a space shuttle orbiting the Earth. CJ deals with the ramifications of misleading the press about the rescue as the staff prepares for a town hall meeting that night. The town hall meeting goes well until the President leaves...and shots ring out.
LIVE TOWN HALL MEETING THE NEWSEUM ROSSLYN, VIRGINIA
President Bartlet is on-stage at a "town hall" meeting, while the staff continues to move behind the scenes to make everything flow smoothly: Charlie is pleased that the President used some material that he had given the President, and thanks Josh for encouraging him to share the information; Sam takes a phone call from a man named Peter Jobson intended to for Toby, which results in the staff passing a mysterious signal around, ending with Leo relaying the signal to the President while he's still on-stage; CJ shares a tip with Danny ahead of the rest of the press, telling him to contact his Science Editor about the Space Shuttle Columbia. The Secret Service prepare for the President's exit from the meeting, and Agent Toscano realizes that something is amiss.
12 HOURS EARLIER
In the Situation Room, Admiral Fitzwallace tells Leo that a plane has gone down in Iraq, but he needs 10 minutes to confirm the details before they involve the President. President Barlet discusses with Charlie his desire to watch a woman's softball game when he returns from the town hall meeting later that night, then goes into the Press Room to rehearse for the Town Hall meeting. The President asks Sam to find out why the Columbia shuttle didn't land the previous night, suggesting that Toby would know because his brother is on the shuttle flight. When Sam asks Toby about his brother, Toby shrugs the question off, asking Sam to focus on a critical question he expects will come up during the Town Hall meeting instead. Josh prepares for a meeting with the Vice-President, which will be held while they go jogging together, much to Josh's consternation. Leo interrupts the Town Hall preparation to inform the President they need to head to the Situation Room, where the National Security Council explains that it will be race between the rescue team they're sending in and the Iraqi National Guard, and the President mentions that the Iraqi government has put out a bounty of $14,000 USD for any American soldier captured, and instructs Admiral Fitzwallace to proceed with the rescue operation.
Leo tells CJ about the downed airplane and the pending rescue mission. Leo gives Josh some advice about his meeting with the Vice-President, while various staffers wonder about how a stealth fighter was shot down. Sam informs Toby that the Columbia hasn't landed yet because there is a technical problem with one of the payload doors, and tells Toby that he's been in contact with Peter Jobson, and we learn that he's the Mission Commander at NASA for the Columbia mission.
Josh and Vice-President Hoynes are jogging while Josh discusses the issue of "soft money", revealing that the West Wing is concerned that Hoynes is coming down on the wrong side of campaign finance reform. Hoynes reveals that two years ago, Josh had tried to advise him on his campaign to become President, expressing regret and the belief that perhaps - if he had listened to Josh - he might be the President, and Josh agrees. As Leo watches, CJ briefs the press about the downed airplane, deliberately misleading the press about the rescue operations.
Zoe comes to visit and expresses some concern over the President's health, noting that he's sweating, but the President brushes it off. She mentions that Charlie has something he'd like to mention, and the President agrees to hear him out, and asks Zoe to come to the meeting, to which she reluctantly agrees. Sam suggests they introduce some kind of signal so they can inform the President in case the pilot is safely recovered while he's on stage, and they agree on the signal seen during the teaser.
Leo expresses outrage that Josh suggested that recovering the downed pilot might be a political victory, and Josh apologizes, then misreads Leo's body language as wanting a hug, creating a brief moment of awkwardness between the two. Josh overhears Charlie and Zoe having an argument in his office about Zoe mentioning Charlie's idea to the President, and he asks her not to do it anymore. Sam informs Toby that there is another problem with the shuttle, causing a failure in the engines. Toby tells Sam that his earlier reticence was because he had forgotten that his brother was even on this mission, and takes the call from Mission Director Jobson.
The President confronts Charlie about Zoe's comments, and Charlie reveals that he read a report that has some material relevant to topics they expect to hear in the Town Hall meeting, but before Charlie can get out the details, they are interrupted by Admiral Fitzwallace who wants to wait for a call informing them that the pilot has been recovered, which impresses the President. CJ informs the press about the recovery, and has a bit of a row with Danny about her misleading the press, and CJ defends her decision. The President has a brief conversation with Toby about the Columbia mission, telling him to get over his pride and talk to his brother, but Toby appears to remain discomforted.
We return to the scene of the Town Hall meeting, and we see the staff spreading the same signal discussed earlier, even though the pilot has long been recovered. We see Agent Toscano scanning the crowd, and we see a view from inside an office with a window facing the President's exit where a man is loading a gun. At the last moment, Agent Toscano realizes sees the shooters and knocks Charlie to the ground. Shots ring out from both sides, and the staff scatter. As the episode ends - we hear a voice crying out "Who's been hit? Who's been hit?"
- Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn
- Moira Kelly as Mandy Hampton
- Dulé Hill as Charlie Young
- Allison Janney as C.J. Cregg
- Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler
- John Spencer as Leo McGarry
- Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman
- and Martin Sheen as President Bartlet
Special Guest Stars
- Aaron Sorkin took the title for this episode from the Sports Night finale, he also later used it as the title for the finales of Studio 60 and The Newsroom.
- President Bartlet's supposed ancestor Josiah Bartlett (written with two "t"s), of whom the president speaks during the town hall meeting, was, in fact, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. He later also served as Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and as Governor of the state.
- President Bartlet mentions the 1972 Presidential Election, which means the change in election years must have happened sometime after this.
BEHIND THE SCENES
- In real life, The Space Shuttle Columbia, which Toby's brother is on and which has technical difficulties in the episode, would go on to disintegrate upon re-entry on February 1st, 2003, killing all seven crew members on board.
- The leg of actress Jorja Fox, (Agent Gina Toscano), was accidentally run over during the final scene. She was rushed to the emergency room but was fine and came away with only bruises.  According to Aaron Sorkin, Fox later apologized, saying it was her fault for missing her mark.
Notes and references
- Last appearance of Moira Kelly on the show. The last we see of Mandy Hampton is during prep with the President. She never appears or is even mentioned again
- NASA - Space Shuttle Columbia