The West Wing: Season 5 (2003 - 2004)

SEASON:

Season 5
The West Wing

Critics Consensus

Executive producer John Wells admirably attempts to maintain the spirit of Aaron Sorkin's vision after succeeding him, but The West Wing's fifth season is a sloppy changing of the guard that bears the Bartlet administration's agenda but possesses not of its finesse or flair.

62%

TOMATOMETER

Critic Ratings: 13

83%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 67

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Episodes

Air date: Sep 24, 2003

As the White House reels from the kidnapping of Zoey (recurring guest star ELISABETH MOSS), the youngest daughter of Democratic U.S. President Josiah Edward Bartlet (series star MARTIN SHEEN), the government is temporarily passed from the distraught Bartlet to the Republican party--specifically Speaker of the House Glenallen Walken (recurring guest star JOHN GOODMAN - ""Roseanne,"" ""Barton Fink"")--due to the prior resignation of Bartlet's Vice President. First Lady Dr. Abigail ""Abbey"" Bartlet (series star STOCKARD CHANNING) staunchly supports her husband, but the trauma of potentially losing their child forces her to confront Bartlet with the harrowing notion that the crisis was the direct result of the assassination of a dangerous foreign official he ordered months ago. As always, professorial Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (series star JOHN SPENCER) serves as Bartlet's political and emotional buttress. Ever present is highly regarded Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (series star BRADLEY WHITFORD), whose capable assistant, Donna Moss (series star JANEL MOLONEY), keeps him grounded. Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (series star ALLISON JANNEY) remains cool and competent in the media briefing room, and rumpled Communications Director Toby Ziegler (series star RICHARD SCHIFF), focuses on the emergency, even as he quietly celebrates the birth of his twins. Deputy Communications Director Will Bailey (series star JOSH MALIN

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Air date: Sep 30, 2003

The international crisis concerning the terrorist abduction of Bartlet's daughter Zoey reaches a critical point as Speaker of the House Glenallen Walken (recurring guest star JOHN GOODMAN), the acting President, orders the bombardment of Qumari terrorist camps. The kidnappers issue a 24-hour deadline for the removal of American troops from Qumar. Meanwhile, Josh fumes over his perceived notion that the Republicans will exploit and push forward their own legislative agenda. And Toby visits his newborn twins--even as he oversees the drafting of two presidential speeches that hinge on Zoey's fate.

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Air date: Oct 8, 2003

Following a harrowing chapter in the nation's history, the White House celebrates the Fourth of July. Bartlet endures the painful process of nominating a candidate for vice president. But his first choice, Secretary of State Lewis Berryhill (recurring guest star WILLIAM DEVANE - "Knots Landing"), will have a difficult time getting approved. Meanwhile, while the reclusive First Lady tends to personal matters, Amy (recurring guest star MARY-LOUISE PARKER - "Fried Green Tomatoes") champions Abbey's violence prevention provisions for an upcoming bill. Josh and Amy share a romantic moment. And Donna is appalled by a new intern, Ryan (recurring guest star JESSE BRADFORD).

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Air date: Oct 22, 2003

A renowned North Korean pianist is greeted at the White House for a solo performance, but the formalities change when the musician slips a message to the President stating that he wants to defect. Despite C.J.'s passionate argument, others counsel Bartlet that granting the defection would endanger crucial ongoing negotiations with the nation. Also, members of the staff work hard to get the President's new choice for Vice President, Colorado Congressman Robert Russell (recurring guest star GARY COLE - "The Brady Bunch" movies, "Family Affair"), unanimously approved by both houses of Congress--but there's one holdout whose "nay" vote could embarrass everyone.

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Air date: Oct 29, 2003

After Josh is hailed as the "101st Senator" in a newspaper profile, he clashes with conservative Senator Carrick (TOM SKERRITT - "Picket Fences"), a Democrat from Idaho. Carrick withholds his approval of a backlog of military promotions so he can secure an expensive but faulty missile launcher to be built in his home state. Will gets a flattering offer from the newly approved Vice President, Robert Russell (recurring guest star GARY COLE), while C.J. runs afoul of Leo's temper when she deviates from the administration's scripted line regarding an Environmental Protection Agency report on coal-based energy. Likewise, Amy (recurring guest star MARY-LOUISE PARKER) earns the President's wrath when she aggressively pushes for funding of the First Lady's agenda on violence prevention. Meanwhile, Toby creates a message calendar to maintain focus during Bartlet's second term. LAURA INNES ("ER") directed the episode.

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Air date: Nov 5, 2003

Bartlet is preoccupied with a killer tornado in Oklahoma and flies there to lend his support. But his compassion overrules good judgment, and Bartlet stays longer than planned. Meanwhile, Leo worries about several crises in the capital that need the president's immediate attention. Josh fears the worst after a political miscalculation costs the Democrats dearly. And Donna becomes concerned about Josh's welfare after he becomes Washington's latest target of scorn.

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Air date: Nov 12, 2003

The President's staff wrangles with new Speaker of the House Jeff Haffley (STEVEN CULP) over the pending federal budget. Meanwhile, Toby dispatches former Supreme Court clerk and personal friend Joe Quincy (recurring guest star MATTHEW PERRY - "Friends") to check on the condition of stricken Chief Justice Roy Ashland (MILO O'SHEA), an elderly Supreme Court icon who has Washington wondering if he will finally resign. With the budget deadline quickly approaching, aggressive advisor Angela Blake (recurring guest star MICHAEL HYATT) faces a mighty challenge as she tries to work out an agreement that could compromise Bartlet's campaign promises. But the President is also focused on a crucial national television interview that Zoey (recurring guest star ELISABETH MOSS) has agreed to tape with a well-known newswoman, Diane Mathers (KATHRIN LAUTNER), who has a knack for exposing raw emotions.

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Air date: Nov 19, 2003

A disastrous fiscal crisis looms when the federal government is shut down after the President and the powerful Republican Speaker of the House disagree over an extra two percent in budget reductions that would trim many of Bartlet's key social programs. Opinion polls reveal that the public blames the Democrats for the impasse. As Leo, Josh and Toby send the staff home, the trio remains uneasy as the President refuses to compromise--until he hatches a bold plan to personally and publicly challenge the Republicans in the halls of the Capitol. Meanwhile, Abbey suddenly reappears from her self-imposed exile for a State dinner that she might have to cook herself.

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Air date: Dec 3, 2003

The festive Christmas spirit at the annual White House tree-lighting celebration is dimmed when the President learns that Christian relief workers have been jailed in Islamic Northern Sudan. Bartlet welcomes his three independent daughters, Zoey (recurring guest star ELISABETH MOSS), Liz (recurring guest star ANNABETH GISH) and Ellie (recurring guest star NINA SIEMASZKO), and is surprised to learn that Liz's husband, Doug Westin (recurring guest star STEVEN ECKHOLDT), wants to vie for Congress in New Hampshire. Meanwhile, when the licenses of some doctors in Oregon are suspended after they administer drugs in an assisted suicide, Toby tries to keep the President from being bogged down in a debate--and clashes with Will, whom he sends to convince the Vice President to address the political juggernaut instead.

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Air date: Jan 7, 2004

When a former President of the United States dies, the two remaining ex-Presidents fly on Air Force One with Bartlet to attend the funeral. Onboard, Bartlet's two historic guests partake in a lively debate about their administrations. Their past mistakes haunt the current administration including a recent event--protestors have surrounded a Saudi Oil headquarters, taking 200 hostages, including 50 Americans. Meanwhile, C.J. investigates government experiments on mind control. Leo discovers his ex-wife is engaged to be married. And Josh referees a debate concerning an original copy of the Bill of Rights. Acclaimed novelist JOHN SACRET YOUNG wrote the teleplay.

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The West Wing: Season 5 Photos

Tv Season Info

Entering its fifth season, The West Wing begins as the President -- and the nation -- faces the traumatic kidnapping of his youngest daughter, and that it may be the result of his controversial political actions.

Critic Reviews for The West Wing Season 5

All Critics (13) | Top Critics (11)

[John] Wells may have less sensationalistic plot turns in mind for the coming season, but he must first see his way out of Sorkin's misguided twists, which have also included Bartlet's multiple sclerosis story line.

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…

Season five is shockingly horrible, even worse than you remember, packed with about eighteen different bad ideas designed to make the show into another show altogether.

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…

After years of seeing these hopelessly ethical characters one-up each other relentlessly, it's not just nice but dramatically satisfying to witness them at a serious crossroads.

Jul 12, 2019 | Full Review…

Written by John Sacret Young and Josh Singer, with the density and intelligence one expects from this exceptional series...the [finale] episode ends the season in style.

Nov 6, 2018 | Full Review…

The departure of Sorkin and director/producer Thomas Schlamme after Season Four caused a stumbling block for the show and led to a muddled and generally uninspired transitional year.

Sep 25, 2018 | Full Review…

This remains superbly entertaining TV, but is best viewed as a transitional bridge between the chaotic genius of the early years and the more structured, narratively superior season six.

Jul 6, 2018 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Really, if it weren't for the professionalism of the cast, you'd think The West Wing had turned into its own Saturday Night Live parody.

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…

It shatters the complacent amity of the Bartlet White House, giving room to all the tensions that flourish around a real Oval Office and that had been smothered in the show's glow of second-term fellowship, banter and high moral principle.

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…

Executive producer Aaron Sorkin has handed his title and creation to John Wells, who in tackling the cliffhanger he inherits, adds adroit touches of political sniping.

Feb 27, 2018 | Full Review…

... With Aaron Sorkin gone, it's become a half-speed hobbling from obvious pillar to predictable post, with long walks, slow reaction shots, repetitious flashbacks, underlined signifiers...

Jan 26, 2018 | Full Review…

Another memorable highlight of Season 5 laid out the process of putting someone on the Supreme Court...Glenn Close puts in a prototypically great performance as the very liberal federal judge set to be the first female Chief Justice.

Sep 25, 2018 | Full Review…

This was not a series that got worse, or a simple matter of bad writing in comparison to Sorkin's inspired writing. It wasn't that the moments that made the show great were fewer and far between, it was that this was no longer the same show.

Jun 27, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The West Wing: Season 5

  • Dec 21, 2019
    The season of transition, so to speak. With Sorkin and co jumping ship after S4 the noticeable shift in writing styles is all too apparent for season 5. From a foundation of solid drama and subtle wit from earlier season, we now find a confused season 5 where all the lead characters seem to have grown massive chips on their shoulders, bickering and arguing with everyone; while also watering down the tight drama into a wishy-washy melodrama fit only for a second rate TV soap. That said, there are a handful of stellar episodes in "The Supremes", "Separation of Powers" , "Slow News Day" and "The Warfare of Genghis Khan". It is just a shame these are in the minority compared to the relative poor offerings from the remaining episodes.
  • Jun 15, 2017
    What pervades the airs of the West Wing is greater distrust in each other, for accomplishing whatever is on the agenda. Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and Donna Moss (Janel Moloney) bicker more frequently, Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) and Will Bailey (Joshua Molina) are each other's red alert, Abby Bartlet (Stockard Channing) gives close to zero shits about what the public thinks of her, and, generally, no one character seems to be able to find joy, even when the resources are right in front of them. And this is most true for President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), who is far less compromising with his staff, Congress, his family, his constituents, in the wake of a family tragedy. Not on the issues you might expect, though. Individual episodes still resound, be it for phenomenal performances by this now all-star cast, compelling topical discussions, or appreciable storytelling techniques. Still a great show, continuing to grow subtler in its development.
  • Aug 28, 2014
    The season when the writers jumped the shark. Started well enough but it gets quite silly and overly preachy (again) towards the end. Plus, they killed off one of the best and most likable characters in the series, Admiral Fitzwallace. If they had killed off Toby and Will Bailey instead, it would have been a great season.

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