Subscribe for 33¢ / day
Two Cathedrals Bartlet

A screen shot of President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) in "Two Cathedrals," the second season finale of "The West Wing." 

This has been a perennial tradition: As the temperatures get cooler and the days get shorter, I fire up Netflix and begin watching "The West Wing." There are few shows I will watch over and over and over again. "The West Wing" is in that group. 

Recently, I started to think about my favorite 10 episodes. That list is tough to compile. There were so many good ones, especially in the show's first couple of seasons. 

While that's difficult, it's easy for me to single out my favorite. Coincidentally, as I write this, it's the next episode in my queue. I'm talking about "Two Cathedrals," the final episode of "The West Wing's" second season. 

I have a few reasons why "Two Cathedrals" stands out as my favorite and the best of "The West Wing's" 156 episodes. 

The plot: This episode was an emotional roller coaster. President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is reeling after the death of Mrs. Landingham, his longtime aide. Not only is he dealing with her funeral, but he's dealing with his own crisis: The revelation that he has multiple sclerosis. 

There's also the question of whether Bartlet will seek re-election. Poll numbers we learned in a previous episode showed that he would face an uphill battle with voters, even members of his own party. 

You put those elements together and you have a dramatic, suspenseful episode. You add the flashbacks to Bartlet's younger years and how he met Mrs. Landingham and the emotions pile up. 

That scene: Bartlet's time alone in the National Cathedral was television at its best. It's even more incredible when you consider how big that building is. (The cathedral is an imposing structure on the inside and out.) 

Throughout the episode, you see a shaken Bartlet. His conversations are short, if he says anything at all. Even as he prepares to tell the country — and the world — that he won't seek re-election, his mind is clearly focused on the loss of Mrs. Landingham. 

And then he delivers his epic speech (rant?) inside the National Cathedral. When you think of "The West Wing's" biggest moments, this was one of them. In fact, this episode has a few of them. 

The cliffhanger: This was the second season finale and the episode was obviously building to some sort of cliffhanger. That cliffhanger revolved around this question: Would Bartlet seek re-election? Throughout the episode, we're made to believe that decision is final. Bartlet, citing his multiple sclerosis diagnosis, won't run for another term. 

The lasting image from this episode is how it ends. Bartlet is at a press conference and his press secretary, CJ Gregg (Allison Janney), tells him to call on a medical reporter. Instead, he calls on another report who asks him whether he'll seek re-election. 

Bartlet doesn't answer the question (that comes at the start of the third season), but he doesn't look off to his left and smile. You know something big is about to happen. You'll just have to wait until the next season to find out. 

Back in 2001, when the episode first aired, that meant a three-month wait. In the age of Netflix, it's only a few seconds. 

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.