As if it's not enough that the Kazakhstan elections are about to start -- bringing the threat of a Chinese-Russian altercation, depending on the outcome -- the White House must deal with a possible nuclear meltdown at San Andreo. Vinick feels the heat because he helped open the plant 25 years earlier, and his family is also located in the area. Santos's camp, meanwhile, has decided to not take the high road and not politicize the issue by pointing out Vinick's responsibility, but Josh grown increasingly unsure of this tactic as the night wears on and finally breaks down. Before his decision can blacken the campaign, Donna learns that the cat is already out of the bag, and states begin jumping from Vinick's ship. Still in office and having to therefore actually solve the problem at hand, Bartlet makes a decision that involves venting unsafe levels radiation into the air, and announces it -- even though this would help stall an actual nuclear meltdown, it causes a panicked evacuation of Southern California. Eventually he sends civilian engineers into the building to secure some valves that will solve the problem. On a second try the problem is fixed, but not before one dies of radiation poisoning. Unfortunately, international tensions don't take time off for U.S. disasters, and violence begins to break out in Kazakhstan due to the election outcomes as we fade to black.
9:19 PM. Bartlet walks outside, where C.J. has been waiting, but the camera angle is so funky that I don't realize she's there for the first half of the scene. She's a disembodied voice! She's briefing him on what is happening. Seventeen minutes have passed since sirens went off at San Andreo. The main feed water pump failed. Everything proceeded as expected, but C.J. reports, "Now a valve has stopped functioning and coolant is no longer going into the reactor's core." Kate is following them down the hall, and having seen an old episode two nights ago, can I say how much better she looks with her bangs grown out? She and Bartlet are doing a finishing-each-other's sentences thing. Now that the uranium rods are exposed, they could become combustible, which can cause an entire nuclear meltdown if they get too hot. If that happens, it would affect the entire population of San Andreo, which is 2,000 people. They don't know why it happened, but Kate finally pipes up to say that it's not likely terrorists, since jamming a valve isn't sexy enough for that. The public hasn't been notified, but the reactor shutting down caused a sound "something like the Concorde landing." Wow, C.J., could you have picked a more obscure reference, especially for the people in fictional tiny San Andreo, CA? Regardless, a loud sound near a nuclear facility already has people wondering, and the press has helpfully jumped in with rumors of an explosion. Bartlet immediately calls for the FEMA director and the chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and orders C.J. to stop CNN spreading rumors. He lets them know he will be making a statement. Kate points out that he doesn't want to notify the public until they have a plan, since it would only cause widespread panic. "Then we better get moving on a plan, because I'm making a statement in 15 minutes."
9:21 PM, Tampa. Mr. and Mrs. Santos are perched on stools at the very edge of a swimming pool, which just screams imminent shenanigans. The banners tell us they're at a Rock the Vote function, speaking in front of a rapt crowd of maybe twenty people? He gets the crowd smiling with talk of steak and babies. Aside, Donna observes, "He's good tonight." Josh replies, "As long as he keeps pivoting to the issues I'm fine." A schlumpy college student gets the chance to ask Santos what his favorite Bob Dylan album is. "I guess I should say 'Highway 61 Revisited' and then we can just ease into transportation policy?" Okay, he's actually coming off as very charming and likable right now, despite my heart of coal. "But really, it's 'Blonde on Blonde.'" Helen gives him a fantastic skeptical eyebrow raise, causing the crowd to laugh, as he defends, "Really, there's no policy implications to that!" Donna and Josh are both a bit aghast at the dirty joke: "Jay Leno's going to have a field day with that." Josh is handed a note, and with the way he immediately wraps it up, we know the call probably had something to do with the pesky nuclear accident that's come up. He sends Donna to the closest computer or TV to get him any details at all.