Aaron Sorkin returns to the helm in this average episode (which, when compared to most TV series, is first-rate) from Season 4.
Arctic Radar contains generally muted fare, but there are some fine moments. Take the unbelievably terrific scene in the West Wing near the conclusion of the episode when Bartlet and Leo discuss (and disagree) with the handling of a female military officer. I love it when disagreement is written intelligently -- especially when the author contends that there are multiple, intelligent viewpoints on the subject. Aaron Sorkin writes a primarily liberal show, but he is not about to say that there is a correct AND liberal side to everything.
This scene is enhanced by the hilarious subplot of the UN ambassador's complaints regarding parking tickets. So Bartlet, of course, focuses his anger on the UN ambassador. "There are big signs. You SHOULD get towed!" "Well, that was probably his secretary, sir."
The point? Nothing should be too sticky for the White House, except for the knucklehead stuff.
Sam's departure (at least temporarily, in this case) was very well done. It was purposefully anticlimactic (which I thought was nice since the transition was natural and, of course, positive) and also "misplaced" -- i.e., the real drama in the episode was with Toby and his writing troubles. Fabulous last scene with Toby and Will.
Let me digress for just a second. I think the past three seasons of The West Wing have been a travesty (compared to the first four, that is), and my primary example of this is in the ridiculoulsy bad use of Will. His character was trashed early in Season 5 and still has not fully recovered. When re-watching Season 4 episodes like this one, I can't help but wonder how great of a character Will could have turned out to be if Sorkin was still at the helm. Joshua Malina is an unbelievable talent (although he could work on his monotone a tad), and it's a shame that he was not put to better use in this series (past Season 4).
Anyway, back to Arctic Radar. As for the rest of the episode, this was merely standard fare for the Sorkin era. A small subplot involving unhappy press, a minor blip of a plot regarding a Star Trek fanatic (probably some venting on Sorkin's part here), and a good Josh/Fitz scene completed the episode rounds. All in all, a great hour compared to TV in general but an average one by The West Wing standards.