I was wondering how they were going to handle 9/11 since before even starting the series. I was also wondering if one of the storylines from S60 was influenced by Sorkin's experience on TWW with 9/11. Now coming off of the best episode I've ever seen of any show, it was kind of tough to fairly judge this episode. Add to that, that this episode was written and filmed in two weeks and it gets even harder. But keeping that in mind, I'll try to judge it as I would any other episode.
I wasn't crazy about the entire storyline with Leo and the White House staffer, Rakim Ali, suspected of being a terrorist. It just had a feeling of forced drama to me. Even with tensions running very high and Leo's short fuse when it comes to issues of national security, I still find it hard to believe Leo would have acted like that in the interrogation. He's just too intelligent to be that ignorant. Basically I don't think he would have needed to come to that realization at the end of the episode because that would have already been Leo's mindset. Now obviously they wanted to do that story line to hopefully convince viewers to also maybe shed some of their prejudices, but altering a character's personality and behavior to do it, doesn't sit well with me. The scenes were still well acted and the dialogue itself was good, my only problem is I just don't think Leo's character would have acted that way.
On the positive side, I loved the scenes involving the Presidential Classroom students. It did still have the feeling of, "we wouldn't be doing this if it weren't for 9/11" but the scenes were so well written and acted that I really didn't mind. While all the characters gave amazing performances, there were a few standouts. Charlie's comparison of terrorist camps and gangs was really well written.
Charlie: "Gangs give you a sense of belonging and usually an income. But mostly they give you a sense of dignity. Men are men, and men'll seek pride."
But Bartlet of course had to steal the show with only a couple minutes of screen time.
Bartlet: "We don't need martyrs right now. We need heroes. A hero would die for his country but he'd much rather live for it."
I also enjoyed hearing Abby tell the story of Abraham and his sons. Josh did an exceptional job as well, especially in the final scene with the students. His idea for how to punish terrorists was perfect and his final advice to the students was really moving.
Josh: "You wanna get these people? I mean, you really wanna reach in...and kill 'em where they live? Keep accepting more than one idea; it makes 'em absolutely crazy."
Leo's stuff brought it down(for me at least), but the main plot was still excellent.