[While filming the cathedral scene,] I was introduced to a minister and said, “You know he’s about renounce God, right?” The minister said, “Yeah, I saw rehearsal, it’s gonna be great.” I said, “That’s fine, but am I going straight to hell?” He said, “Maybe for other stuff, but not for this.” Then he gave me a pretty good talking-to about how true people of faith are supposed to question God. …

Bartlet’s the son of a man who, we learn, is an intellectual Fredo. The father, obviously convinced that he married some Catholic b*tch, treats his son terribly for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the son has adopted and clearly loves his mother’s religion. The speech in the cathedral directed as much to his father as it was to God. Thus the cigarette. 

Bartlet has a degenerative disease. He’s lied about it and has to reveal it to the country. His presidency is in jeopardy. He has a job that’s virtually impossible to do well, one in which he’s responsible for people dying all the time. 57 people are trapped inside an embassy. Mrs. Landingham was senselessly killed. As she said, he’s having a bit of a day. 

He made his peace with God. Mrs. Landingham’s appearance in the penultimate scene wasn’t a ghost. He was talking to himself, using her memory to coax himself in the right direction. Tommy was sure to show you the wide shot of Bartlet talking with nobody else in the room. And when the scene was done, he looked out at the storm that he was sure God had sent just to mess with him, and realised it was God sending him His strength. And he baptised himself in it. And as he passed by the church in the motorcade, a custodian, a child of God, picked the cigarette butt off the ground, and we cut back to Bartlet, who sensed something move inside of him.

It’s never my intention offend anybody or be reckless with things that are important to others. I meant the episode as a tribute to faith.

— Aaron Sorkin

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