The West Wing/Isaac and Ishmael

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Isaac and Ishmael
Special 1
Airdate October 3, 2001
Production Number 227206
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Christopher Misiano
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The West WingSeason Three

Isaac and Ishmael is a special episode that takes place outside of the normal West Wing continuity. It aired as the first episode of the third season, but is considered to be a special, rather than a normal episode.

Starring: Rob Lowe (Sam Seaborn), Stockard Channing (Abbey Bartlet), Dulé Hill (Charlie Young), Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg), Janel Moloney (Donna Moss), Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler), John Spencer (Leo McGarry), Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman)

And Martin Sheen (President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet)

Guest Starring: Ajay Naidu (Raqim Ali), Michael O'Neill (Secret Service Agent Ron Butterfield), Jonathan Nichols (Agent Cleary), Jeanette Brox (Student)

Co-Starring: Cyd Strittmatter (Joan), Frantz Turner (Agent Greg), Susie Geiser (Marjorie Mann), Mongo Brownlee (Secret Service Agent), Josh Zuckerman (Boy #1), Ben Donovan (Boy #2), Marcus Toji (Boy #3), Arjay Smith (Boy #4), Kristine Woo (Girl #1), Chastity Dotson (Girl #4), Dan Horton (Agent #1), Willie Gault (Agent #2), William J. Jones (FBI Agent)


Plot Overview

It's been a long night and Josh has just been pulled into doing a special tour for a group of high school students who won the honor of being part of the Presidential Class Room. But, before he can start the tour, the White House is sent into crash mode because of an unknown security breach. The students and Josh are herded into the mess hall. During this meeting Josh explains things like "Why is America a target for war" and what exactly Islamic extremism is. He draws several comparisons to the Ku Klux Klan and extremists and gives a few reasons for why extremists see America as such an easy target. After this explanation, he gets up and attempts to find some other staff members to help him answer the questions of the kids.

Meanwhile, in another room, the secret service break in on Raqim Ali who is smoking by a window. They detain him, saying that they want to ask him a few questions. The secret service has discovered that Ali may be an alias for a man connected with a terrorist who attempted a bombing at Laguardia airport. They bring in Ali, a man with an advanced mathematics degree who works in the White House, for interrogation.

Back in the lunch room, Toby Ziegler has been brought in to pick up the thread of "Why not just kill all of the terrorists?" He continues the KKK is Islamic Extremism analogy with a political direction by comparing the Taliban to the Nazis because they took over the recognized government of Afghanistan. He also answers questions like "What was the first terrorist incident." During Toby's explanation of that incident, Sam Seaborn interrupts and brings up things like how terrorism has a 100% failure rate, yet it still occurs. Back in the interrogation, Ali is questioned over his father's involvement with suggested terrorist groups.

In the lunch room, C.J. Cregg stirs up the debate by defending spies and the CIA. She takes a different side of the subject by following a different opinion by saying that America needs wiretaps and other similar intelligence techniques in order to stop terrorist attacks because they aren't a centralized force in a nation or region. Toby argues against this position, saying that draconian measures have never been effective.

During the interrogation, Ali is interrogated about his previous arrest over holding a demonstration without a permit. He was protesting U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, and he gets into an argument with McGarry over the ethics of having troops near sacred grounds and using female soldiers to protect these grounds where women don't have equal rights. Emotions flare further when McGarry attempts to pin the reason why Ali has been questioned over bomb threats and terrorist activity is because he shares the same physical features as the criminals that are being persued.

In the lunch room, a question is asked pertaining to where terrorists come from and Charlie enters the discussion by bringing up domestic terrorists. He talks about how gang violence gives disaffected youth a place to feel a part of something. President Barlet briefly comes to the lunch room looking for apples, but is asked whether or not he believes that there is some kind of honor in martyrdom but he denies it entirely, saying that the world needs heroes, not martyrs. Abbey Bartlet stays with the kids while the president goes off in search the apples that he was looking for. The secret service find that the Ali they were interrogating wasn't the one who they were looking for and let him go. He brings up the valid point that the shooting at Rosaland was by white people who were shooting because someone in the staff wasn't white.

While Mrs. Bartlet explains the biblical roots of terrorism, the all clear is given and she leaves. Josh is asked one last question, "Do you favor the death penalty?" He tells the group that he doesn't but there isn't much choice in the matter during a war. He explains that he would rather have them locked up in a tiny cell watching home movies of the people that they killed. He leaves the group with one ultimate message: To keep doing what you're doing. The interrogation plot is subsequently wrapped up by McGarry apologizing to Ali.


Arc Advancement




  • In the Shadow of Two Gunmen: Josh mentions an incident about him getting "kind of shot." This is a reference to when he and the President were shot in the second season premiere.


The Show

  • Very Special Episode: This episode is an out of continuity look at the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It was written in order to discuss some of the issues raised after the attacks and in order to educate the public.
  • Music: The song that plays during the credits is "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield.

Behind the Scenes

Allusions and References

Memorable Moments


  • Student: What do you call a society that has to just live every day with the idea that the pizza place you are eating in could just blow up without any warning?
    Sam: Israel.
  • Josh: You want to get these people? I mean, you really want to reach in and kill them where they live? Keep accepting more than one idea. It makes them absolutely crazy.