Season three of The West Wing breaks the series' established continuity with the opening episode, "Isaac and Ishmael," hastily assembled to address the terrible events of September 11, 2001. Thereafter, the principal storyline picks up where season two left off, with President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) facing possible impeachment because of his failure to make public his multiple sclerosis. Also dragged into the turmoil is First Lady Abby Bartlet (Stockard Channing), who as a doctor may face accusations of malpractice or at least dereliction of duty because she did not reveal her husband's condition. Season three is marked by a number of international crises, beginning with unrest in Haiti, continuing through the ominous disappearance of a nuclear submarine in North Korean waters, and ending with the U.S.'s possible complicity in the assassination of the terrorist foreign secretary of Qumar. Additionally, Bartlet and his staff work overtime to martial up support for the president's upcoming re-election bid (a decision made despite Josh's promise to Abby that he would serve only one term). Adding to the intrigue is the fact that there is no love lost between Bartlet and his vice president, John Hoynes (Tim Matheson), making the latter's placement on the re-election ticket questionable at best. Meanwhile, Press Secretary C.J. (Allison Janney) uncharacteristically loses her cool with the media in her efforts to "spin" the MS issue, and later must call upon the Secret Service to protect her from a demented stalker. And Josh's assistant, Donna Moss (Janel Moloney), finds herself in a bind when, after dating the head of the congressional investigation committee looking into charges of Bartlet's "medical coverup," she herself is summoned to testify. Further travails await Donna when, during a security checkup, she is not cleared because she is technically not a U.S. citizen! The season ends with a tense showdown between Bartlet's staff and the president's chief Republican antagonist, Robert Ritchie (James Brolin), and with the introduction of Lily Tomlin as Bartlet's new, infuriatingly efficient secretary, Debbie Fiderer.
by Hal Erickson synopsis