Well-written and compelling, this particular episode as the usual great 40-some-odd minutes of more than entertainment, but I always watch it with a little sadness.
This is the beginning of the "writing out" of Sam Seaborn. Yes, I know that Rob Lowe was ready to leave, and I think Aaron Sorkin invents a great way of doing it, but I also know that the show's decay begins as Lowe leaves. Maybe not because he leaves, but it also tells us that Sorkin's powerful influence on the show is leaving as well.
The first three seasons have been delightful. My personal favorite is season 2. But now, in season 4, we begin the dismantling of the most engaging, most powerful series on TV. There will still be a "West Wing" for three more seasons, but not like the one we have loved until now.
This one introduces Joshua Malina, which does a masterful job of making us immediately like Will Bailey, who is brilliant and full of integrity. He will continue to be until, for some reason, he jumps ship and begins to campaign for a lesser candidate who is not worthy of either that integrity or brilliance.
We know that the End is Near. I usually quit somewhere in season 5 and start over at the beginning, because watching season five and forward is like eating ribs: you get some meat here and there, but it's harder to find and a lot less satisfying.
I know a president can't serve more than two terms, that actors and writers and producers must move on as well, so I understand that. But when Sam goes to California to try to quash the campaign of a dead man, you know that great things won't last much longer.
This episode, by itself, is magnificent. But it's hard for a veteran "The West Wing" fan to watch it, because I know what's coming.