The Butterfield 8
Special Agent Ron Butterfield of The West Wing, take a bow.
Fictional FBI Special Agent Mike Casper (Clark Gregg) told Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), "We don't take curtain calls." Real-life CIA Agent Tony Mendez got the Intelligence Star but could tell no one -- not even his family -- about it. Members of these agencies who protect the public, country, or President from attacks often don't get the recognition they deserve, so this is our way of saying, "Special Agent Ron Butterfield, take a bow."
From a purely shallow standpoint, Michael O'Neill has quiet, unassuming looks. He has slightly too much neck and not enough of a chin to be the kind of actor that gets spread across a teenager's wall on high gloss paper. And yet, there are times when an actor's physical portrayal of a character and what he does with the lines written for that character supersede the shallow and turns a plain-to-unfortunate looking actor into sizzling hot pin-up material. Michael O'Neill's understated Ron Butterfield from The West Wing is one of those times.
On repeated West Wing rewatches, it's clear that Butterfield (though only an occasional character) is kick-ass. Even seven years after the show ended, O'Neill's Alabama-drawly rendition of the quietly intense and solidly capable head Secret Service agent continues to make us tear up, send chills down our spines, and generally make us wish we had our own Special Agent Butterfield covering our asses.
Operating under the belief that everything's better with Butterfield, here's a handful of the Butterfield-smeared moments we'd splice together as The Butterfield 8.
S02E01: "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen I"
Set-Up: Gunmen open fire on President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and his entourage following an appearance in Rosslyn, VA. At this point in the episode, Bartlet and Butterfield are in the presidential motorcade screaming across Memorial Bridge, and the full extent of the casualties at the scene is not known. In the car with the President, Butterfield refuses medical attention for his shot and bloody hand until he gets the President safely inside the White House. Bartlet is railing against Butterfield's "end-of-discussion" face when the agent notices blood in the presidential mouth. Eyes burning with Secret Service fire (seriously, dude could have been Emmy-worthy for his expression in this moment alone; it was like he was X-raying the President's injuries), Butterfield feels the President up for injuries until he pulls a bloodied hand away from Bartlet's midsection.
Baller Quote: "GW! Blue! BLUE! BLUE!" (with an assist from the limo driver pulling a U-turn on Constitution Avenue)
S04E20: "Evidence of Things Not Seen"
Set-Up: Gunshots are fired from outside the White House into the dark and deserted press room where CJ (Allison Janney), Toby (Richard Schiff), and Will (Josh Malina) are flicking cards at the empty seats. As the main cast assembles in the Oval Office where the Secret Service is holding them until the all clear, Leo (John Spencer) reports on several other terrorist-like attacks throughout the world that same night. Bartlet tries to brush these off, but as soon as Butterfield hears that a sniper killed Guam's Head of the Office of Insular Affairs, he leaps into action.
Baller Quote: While pointing commandingly at the other agents in the room -- can an index finger win an Emmy? -- he orders, "Shut it down! Crash it!"
S02E02: "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen II"
Set-Up: In a post-shooting conversation with Butterfield, a conscience-stricken Toby worries about a memo he wrote at President Bartlet's behest, which changed how Bartlet leaves buildings after public appearances. Toby fears the Secret Service is taking too much heat for the shooting, and wants to release the memo to redirect blame away from the guys who took down the shooters, focusing it instead on the West Wing. Butterfield won't let him do it.
Baller Quote: "We got the President in the car. We got Zoey in the car, and at 150 yards and five stories up, the shooters were down in 9.2 seconds after the first shot was fired. I would never let you not let me protect the President. It was the act of madmen. Anyway, the Secret Service doesn't comment on procedure." All of which he delivers while casually holding up a wrapped but STILL BLEEDING HAND BECAUSE OH YEAH HE WAS SHOT!
Set-Up: Zoey Bartlet (Elisabeth Moss) is abducted from a nightclub, and a member of her detail is found shot through the head. Back in the West Wing, Butterfield shows up breathless to tell Leo what's happened. Commanding and unshakable when Bartlet was shot, Butterfield's rattled state in this singular instance shows he's human -- staggeringly, embraceably, lusciously human. But he's clearly still got that shit under control.
Baller Quote: Wiping down his mustache with one hand: "We have a situation. We're at black...Zoey Bartlet is missing and there's a dead agent at the scene."
S03E18: "Enemies Foreign and Domestic"
Set-Up: After C.J. receives a death threat, Butterfield is called in to examine her email correspondence. C.J. flaps around her office, telling Butterfield she gets hate mail all the time since she's the most visible face of the White House besides the President, so a death threat is really no big deal. Butterfield ignores all of this and finally cuts her off mid-flap.
Baller Quote: "Could you type in your password?"
S03E21: "Posse Comitatus"
Set-Up: Following the arrest of her stalker, C.J.'s bodyguard and new love interest is fatally shot in a convenience store hold-up while the rest of the presidential party is at a play nearby. Butterfield has to break the news to C.J. outside of the theatre.
Baller Quote: None that we can hear. He just stands there with C.J. fixed in his unwavering gaze as she protests the impossibility that Agent Simon Donovan (Mark Harmon) is dead. Only after C.J. stumbles away from him in tears does Butterfield allows himself to betray any emotion -- controlled and understated emotion, just a bending of his head as looks down. His restraint makes you want throw your arms around him and wail, "Oh, Agent Butterfield, I'd stop the world and melt with you!"
S05E20: "No Exit"
Set-Up: The West Wing is locked down when evidence of an environmental attack is detected. Charlie (Dulé Hill), Fiderer (Lily Tomlin), and Bartlet are all held together in a medical bunker where they are examined and made to take decontamination showers. Once the lockdown is lifted, everyone else in the West Wing is told it was a false alarm, but Charlie and Fiderer are told it was an "active drill" used to determine the readiness of the evacuation protocol teams should such an attack ever occur. After Charlie and Fiderer leave, Butterfield reveals to Bartlet that it was not a drill, that they actually had been under chemical attack and that a substance called tularemia ("plague," the bunker doctor explains) was found, and a suspicious chemist is being watched.
Baller Quote: "Tularemia won't get through again." Translation: Tularemia better hope Tularemia doesn't meet Agent Butterfield in a dark alley.
Set-Up: In the final episode of the series, Butterfield is seen only in the background as he escorts and protects his new charge, President-Elect Santos (Jimmy Smits).
Baller Quote: There's nothing for him to say. O'Neill no longer needs any lines to make Butterfield's influence felt. Just catching squinting sight of him in the blurry background is all you need to feel safe and protected. That's his legacy.
(Confidential to the poster- and action-figure-makers out there: I'd like Special Agent Butterfield in two poses, please -- one with his gun drawn and the other running. Both with his hand to his earpiece. Both in his quiet, unassuming dark grey suit.)