Rob Lowe says goodbye to The West Wing (well, at least until the series' last episodes) in this disappointingly modest episode.
Although the last scene between Sam and Toby is fairly touching, I thought Sam's departure on the show was inappropriately vague and disappointingly quiet -- in other words, unacceptable. It was hard not to appreciate, however, some of the comedic scenes surrounding him -- such as Toby on the beach, C.J. and Charlie talking about bad things they have to tell the First Family, and Toby and Charlie getting out of the jail jam. But Sam was given little to work with (unlike the previous episode), and that's more than a little disappointing.
However, my problems with Sam's departure aside -- there were many good things about the episode. For example, I love the Will storyline involving the writing interns (and his interaction with Elsie continues to shine -- love Danica McKellar). I also appreciated the family of one of the hostages visiting the White House (although some of the results were ineffective moralizing -- not to mention unnecessary melodrama). The tense Situation Room scenes were also keepers.
The best storyline of the whole episode was the Josh-Abbey-Amy confrontations. Gotta love Amy when she insults unabashedly a First Lady "supporter", to the horror and to the admiration of Abbey herself. When Josh decides to put a figurative hand to Abbey's face given her "amateur" staff, Abbey one-ups him by hiring Amy. Perfect. Mary Louise-Parker is just a blast to watch.
The episode as a whole, however, was a little overstuffed and felt somewhat lost in itself. This was one of the more serious problems with Season 4, maybe no more evident than in this episode where the number of characters seemed to cause a loss of useful and necessary screentime for all of them.
While "Red Haven's on Fire" was indeed a good watch, it was also uncharacteristically lagging in quality from most of the episodes of the series to this point. This would become a front-and-center problem after Aaron Sorkin's departure after this season.