The West Wing: Season 3 (2001 - 2002)

SEASON:

Season 3
The West Wing

Critics Consensus

The West Wing still fires off enthralling repartee as if the series' wit was mandated by executive order, but this underwhelming third season finds the series' idealism curdling into a smug self-satisfaction that can't seem to stop wondering why real politics can't be as simple as they are in the fantasy world Aaron Sorkin has crafted.

64%

TOMATOMETER

Critic Ratings: 11

100%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 82

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Episodes

Air date: Oct 3, 2001

The West Wing launches its third season with this special stand-alone episode, designed to address the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Producer Aaron Sorkin briefly interrupts the series' continuity (involving possible impeachment charges against President Jed Bartlett [Martin Sheen]) with a poignant hour-long glimpse behind the doors of the White House during an emergency lockdown in the wake of a 9/11-style disaster. Among those sequestered in the building are a group of gifted high-school students, for whom Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) is conducting a guided tour. In the course of a very tense evening, Josh and the students come in contact with several other staffers, each one offering an opinion or reflection on the national crisis. Much to the students' surprise, President Bartlet himself shows up to field their questions and to mollify their fears (though ostensibly he is wandering the halls in search of a baked apple!). In a pointed reference to possible repercussions following the "real" 9/11 tragedy, one of Bartlet's aides finds his security clearance in question because of his Islamic background. Its title referring to a parable found in the pages of both the Bible and the Koran, "Isaac and Ishmael" was one of the most controversial -- and most memorable -- episodes of the 2001-2002 season.

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Air date: Oct 10, 2001

Its scheduled telecast delayed because of news coverage of the 9/11 tragedy, this "official" opening episode of The West Wing's third season (the first of two parts) finds the Bartlet White House in turmoil after President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) has made public the fact that he has multiple sclerosis. Inasmuch as there is talk of impeachment because the president kept his medical condition a secret for too long, Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) is bombarded with nagging and downright hostile questions from a group of reporters -- an experience that causes C.J. to lose her famous cool entirely. In other developments, Bartlet's decision to run for a second term has caused friction between Jed and First Lady Abbey Bartlet (Stockard Channing); the growing crisis in Haiti is sorely affecting the work performance of National Security Advisor Nancy McNally (Anna Deavere Smith); and Chief Counsel Oliver Babish (Oliver Platt) advises presidential aide Charlie Young (Dulé Hill) to hire a lawyer in case he is accused of complicity in the MS "cover-up."

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Air date: Oct 17, 2001

In the conclusion of The West Wing's "official" third-season opener, political consultants Bruno Gianelli (Ron Silver), Connie Tate (Connie Britton), and Doug Wegland (Evan Handler) cross swords with the presidential staff over the issue of Bartlet's impending re-election campaign. C.J. (Allison Janney) suffers the repercussions of her press-conference "meltdown" and endeavors to keep the press corps from assuming that Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is worried about winning a second term. The situation involving the Haitian dictator comes to a boil -- and a solution. And Leo (John Spencer) is ordered to pull political strings to postpone the FDA's announcement on the controversial drug RU-486. Like the first part of "Manchester," part two is framed in a flashback format, recalling the events leading up to Bartlet's decision to run again despite the controversy surrounding his medical condition.

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Air date: Oct 24, 2001

Sam (Rob Lowe) and Bruno (Ron Silver) set aside their differences in hopes of persuading labor leader Victor Campos (Miguel Sandoval) to throw his support toward President Bartlet's re-election campaign. As Congress battles over the estate-tax issue, the governor of California takes issue with the ecology-driven decision made by Bartlet (Martin Sheen) to let a huge forest fire burn itself out. The staff goes into spin mode to attack Special Prosecutor Rollins (Nicholas Pryor) as he investigates the possibility that Bartlet's cover-up of his medical condition is an impeachable offense. And Donna (Janel Moloney) is set up on a fateful date with a Republican named Clifford Calley (Mark Feuerstein).

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Air date: Oct 31, 2001

The staff tries to prevent President Bartlet's estate-tax veto from being overridden by the GOP. Bartlet (Martin Sheen) himself turns on the old charm with Jack Buckland (Kevin Tighe), a Democratic governor who is thinking of running for president against Jed. Presidential aide Charlie Young (Dulé Hill) is encouraged by one and all to accept an immunity deal when called to testify in the investigation of the MS "cover-up." And C.J. (Allison Janney) crosses swords with obstreperous TV entertainment reporter Sherri Wexler (Mary Mara).

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Air date: Nov 7, 2001

During the investigation of the MS "coverup," Donna (Janel Moloney) is questioned by Republican counsel Clifford Calley (Mark Feuerstein), whom she has been dating -- and to whom she tells deliberate lies. In the wake of a fatal church shooting in Texas, President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) squares off against Vice President Hoynes (Tim Matheson) on the issue of gun control. Leo (John Spencer), likewise, has a confrontation with an old friend, Air Force General Adamley (Gerald McRaney), over details of an international war-crimes tribunal. Foreign correspondent Will Sawyer (Michael O'Keefe) gets wind of an embarrassing statement made by Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff). And Sam (Rob Lowe) is whimsically sidetracked by an effort to abolish the penny.

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Air date: Nov 14, 2001

President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) finds himself in another rock-and-a-hard-place crisis when an American spy submarine goes silent in North Korean waters. How, he wonders, can the U.S. mount a search and/or rescue mission without alerting the Korean authorities? Complicating matters is the presence of curmudgeonly, advice-dispensing Assistant Secretary of State Albie Duncan (Hal Holbrook). In other developments, Abbey's (Stockard Channing) previous malpractice suits may hurt her husband in the ongoing MS cover-up investigation. Toby (Richard Schiff) butts heads with an Appropriations Committee representative over the issue of funding avant-garde artists. And C.J. (Allison Janney) finally has something to be happy about vis-à-vis the re-election campaign.

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Air date: Nov 21, 2001

On Thanksgiving Eve, C.J. (Allison Janney) tries to find someone to mollify a pair of Native Americans (Gary Farmer, Georgina Lightning) who intend to camp out in the White House lobby until a 15-year-old dispute is settled. Meanwhile, Josh (Bradley Whitford) is forced to broker a political deal with a high-ranking death-penalty advocate in order to expedite a 13-year-old American boy who fled to Italy after killing his teacher. Sam (Rob Lowe) tries to put a positive spin on a new OMB poverty formula that would negatively reclassify millions of Americans. And President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) will not be swayed in his resolve to prepare a proper Thanksgiving dinner for his family.

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Air date: Nov 28, 2001

C.J. (Allison Janney) passionately objects to an arms-sale deal to build an airstrip in the Persian Gulf state of Qumar, where women are subjected to deplorable treatment. President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) tangles with feminist lobbyist Amy Gardner (Mary-Louise Parker, in her first series appearance) over the wording of a treaty addressing the issue of prostitution. Toby (Richard Schiff) tries to mollify a group of veterans who are angry over the Smithsonian's Pearl Harbor exhibition. Sam (Rob Lowe) ponders the possibility of a national seatbelt law. And casting a sinister shadow over all these events is the likelihood of a mad cow disease outbreak.

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Air date: Dec 12, 2001

It is two days before Christmas, and all through the White House, no one is sleeping, not even....Well, to get down to business: Leo (John Spencer) engages the very expensive services of lawyer Jordon Kendall (Joanna Gleason) in preparation for his testimony before the committee investigating Bartlet's (Martin Sheen) failure to disclose his MS. During the hearings, it becomes obvious that Leo is the specific target of a ruthlessly ambitious congressman. Elsewhere, the FBI joins forces with the White House staff to investigate warnings that several black churches will be firebombed on Christmas Eve.

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The West Wing: Season 3 Photos

Tv Season Info

Series 3 begins with President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) announcing that he intends to run for re-election. Parallel storylines include Bartlet being accused of committing electoral fraud by concealing his MS, a death threat against C.J. and terrorist attacks against the US.

Critic Reviews for The West Wing Season 3

All Critics (11) | Top Critics (8)

It made up for its cheap sentiments and preachiness with a few very strong episodes.

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…

This remains the smartest, snappiest, most ambitious entertainment around, and features the most evenly matched ensemble on TV.

Jul 6, 2018 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Are these folks just a wee bit over-impressed with themselves or what? Has Sorkin perhaps just slightly overestimated the importance of what he has to say?

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…

What was once impassioned and earnest became patronising and self-righteous, and what had seemed effortless began to overreach.

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Now that three seasons of the show have passed, I completely understand why people are so obsessed with Jed Bartlet... He's infectious, is why.

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…
Top Critic

I've grown increasingly underwhelmed by the profoundly disappointing third season of The West Wing... I tried to accentuate the positive for as long as I could, but eventually, the show's chronic shortcomings just wore me down.

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…

It was intelligent, acutely relevant and well acted, yet populated as always mostly by characters on speedspeak with one glib, witty voice, as if Sorkin were a ventriloquist.

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…

Earnest in its tone, admirable in its charitable intent and God-awful in its condescending pedantry - if irony had been dead, it has by now clawed itself out of its coffin and is roaming the moonlit countryside looking for revenge.

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…

By far one of the most exciting political seasons of television that also featured the widest leading cast the show would ever have.

Sep 25, 2018 | Full Review…

The West Wing always raised the bar when it came to end-of-season finales and the closer for the third season was an absolute classic.

Sep 25, 2018 | Full Review…

By the middle of Season 3, it was clear that Sorkin was trying to give Rob Lowe more to do-to have an actor of his caliber playing a speechwriter was limiting to be sure, and some storylines worked better than others.

Sep 25, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The West Wing: Season 3

  • Oct 08, 2019
    3rd season is the darkest season... like literally, I think it was an intentional choice? to have many of the episodes set at nighttime. This season followed 9/11 and so it must have been a difficult to write what is in essence a really optimistic and idealistic show. The final episodes of Season 3 has less of a major storyline compared to other seasons. Season 1 and 2 both end the seasons with Bartlett in a major crisis. Season 3's endings focus on CJ and Bartlett with equal? weight, so the impact is a little divided and the last few episodes seem a little too heavyhanded and kind of out of nowhere. Still, S3 is no less enjoyable than 1 or 2 and all the characters are well written, consistant and 3 dimensional. My favorite episode is Bartlet for America... its shows like this that really makes me miss the 90s.
  • Aug 30, 2019
    It was a great show. Entertainment is what TV does best. Did RT really think they'd try to portray a real working West Wing.
  • Mar 24, 2017
    The first season was not awful. In fact, it was still very good in establishing our main characters and the most scandalous problems that the executive branch faces. Where it faltered is a rush of romantic problems for, well, every character. Josh and his ex who also worked in the West Wing, Toby and his ex wife, CJ and a Wall Street Journal reporter, Leo and his wife, Sam and a sex worker AND Leo's daughter, President Bartlet and Abby, and Charlie and Bartlet's youngest daughter. Good grief. It was not entirely overwhelming, but in retrospect, it was quite typical of late nineties programming to be sure every character had some romantic interest. The second season slowly filtered out that crap, and at this third season, we are treated to a much deeper focus of our main characters. We know what everyone has to face, and the problems do not go away, no matter how many other large-scale issues arise or how much effort they make in brushing away the problems. Sound familiar? The fine details are even more enthralling, culminating in one of the most intense season finales I have seen in years. The West Wing has greatly distinguished itself from other dramas by not only foregoing the romantic and gossipy garbage that sinks other shows, but also sets up an environment where law comes first. No sudden fits of physical rage, no death threats, no permanent goodbyes. Rhetoric will prevail.
  • Jun 17, 2014
    The best of the first three series. Much less smugness and preachiness, more character-based and incident-based stories. Unfortunately, however, Toby was still there...
  • Feb 19, 2014
    Outstanding musical writing, compelling characters and storytelling--what else has topped this on network television?

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