When Season Two began with this two-part episode, we learned that President Bartlet and his Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), had both been shot. Bartlet's injuries weren't life-threatening, but Josh's were critical, and the episode unfolds as doctors work to save Josh and the White House and the nation react to the attack. Meanwhile, in flashbacks, we learn how the cast came together in a quixotic campaign to elect a long-shot candidate President.
Throughout all of the flashbacks, much is made of Bartlet's prickly nature, the fact that he's not especially nice to those in his inner circle, and that he simply isn't ready to be President. Aaron Sorkin's script even has a description: "There's something about Bartlet that seems smaller somehow." I don't know how Sheen managed to suggest "being somehow smaller", but at the end of the episode comes this scene.
It's one of the flashbacks. On the very night that Governor Josiah Bartlet wins the Illinois primary, thus becoming the almost-certain Democratic nominee, Josh receives the phone call that his father has suddenly died of cancer. As the campaign celebrates and gets ready for the trip to California, Josh instead has to go to the airport to fly home for his father's funeral. He's sitting at the gate when he notices Secret Service agents forming a perimeter around him...and then there's Bartlet, the last person he expected to see.
In this scene Bartlet finally shows some warmth to the people who have given up other careers to try and elect this guy, and it really is quite a wonderful scene between Sheen and Whitford. But the real amazing thing comes at the end of the scene, when Josh is heading off to catch his flight. Leo McGarry (John Spencer), Bartlet's oldest friend and campaign manager and eventual White House Chief of Staff, comes up from behind and asks Bartlet if Josh will be OK; Bartlet replies, "He's gonna be fine," and then...Bartlet turns around to face Leo.
And in that simple act of turning around and straightening up just a bit, we see that indeed Bartlet had been "somehow smaller", but now...he's not. He turns to face Leo, and he straightens just a bit, and he says: "Leo, I'm ready." I love when actors can create a completely different tone in their characters just by altering their posture in the tiniest bit.
Here is the scene, and Happy Birthday, Martin Sheen!