Synopsis by Hal Erickson
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.