I remember catching the Season 5 premier when it aired years ago. I made time for it. I was living with my parents at the time, and I sat down especially to watch the season premere.
And it sucked. I think I let my dad change the channel after half an hour or so.
The biggest shock is the quiet. No-one has anything to say. No-one is funny. No-one is smart. Brad Whitford and Janel Moloney look choked. Alison Janney wanders around like someone stole her purse. When they do get to talk, it sounds like someone swapped out their brains over the summer. Suddenly none of them are any good at anything. The Secretary of Defense appears to have a whole different personality.
Secretary Hutchinson isn't the only one. Leo isn't listening to any one. Donna barely knows Josh. C.J. can't talk, never mind Toby or Will, who have all the poetry and inspiration of an extra value meal. Three seasons ago, Josh schooled his psychiatrist, then delivered the punchline: "I report to Leo McGarry and the President of the United States. Do you think I'd walk into this meeting without knowing exactly who you are?" This season he debated with a NASA scientist, saying, "I prepare even for the meetings I don't want to be in." But I just watched Josh fall apart in the Oval Office and get his ass handed to him by an intern.
I was watching the extras on the Season 4 DVD set the other night, and Sorkin was talking about the scene where Amy asks Donna, "Do you love Josh?" He said that the first two scenes in that episode with Amy and Donna are notable for the things that aren't said, and that the audience has to trust you to go somewhere with that. Sorkin delivers. Every time.
John Wells seems to have missed the previous four seasons worth of storylines and character development. Nobody is acting like themselves, and that breaks the audience's faith in the characters. When Will takes the fall for leaking sensitive documents, the audience is supposed to know, right that second, that it was the Vice President who actually leaked them. They know this because Toby's judgement is clouded by his resentment of Will leaving, and because Will simply wouldn't leak the documents, and has a track record of falling on his sword. That scene is suppoed to build tension, because we know that the next scene must be a confrontation between Will and the V.P.
But we don't. We just conclude that the writer decided to make Will a dumbass this episode, and then we have to endure the tedium of Josh Malina and Richard Schiff desperately emoting at each other for another fourty seconds.
Dammit, why does every character remind me of a bobble-head?
And what's happening in the California 47th? And wasn't Toby's wife about to get sued? Where's Jordan Kendall? And what the hell is up with the casting? What is this, The Love Boat?
And jeezus, they just completely wasted Glen Close. Glen Close.