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Mad Men: Season 5
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Of course, Mad Men is mostly about the characters who work at the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising agency, as well as those in their orbit. Don, who remains the most compelling character and is still at the center of this universe, has a hot young wife, Megan (Jessica Paré), who seems to have tamed his wandering eye for now; but although she shows a genuine flair for the ad game, she still wants to be an actress. Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), who's grown from an obnoxious little twerp into a marginally less obnoxious, slightly older twerp, has issues at work, at home… and outside the home. Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), a likable sort trying to keep her head above water in a world dominated by arrogant, entitled men, makes some serious life changes. Roger Sterling (John Slattery), still a cad and still cracking wise ("Listen honey," he tells a prostitute, "I'm not going to bore you with compliments"), enters into a most unexpected affair. Joan (Christina Hendricks) deals once and for all with her soldier husband. And Lane Pryce (Jared Harris)… well, suffice to say that it's not a good year for SCDP's money man.
As always, the show's production values--art direction, sets, clothes, music--are brilliant and spot on. So is the writing, especially the dialogue ("You're a grimy little pimp," Lane says to Pete, knocking him silly in a fist fight). The writers also manage to seamlessly interpolate current events like the Richard Speck and Charles Whitman murder sprees, England's victory in the World Cup, and author Truman Capote's Black and White Ball (the subject of a separate bonus feature, as is the Uniform Time Act of 1966, which formalized daylight savings). The best show on TV? That's arguable, but there are very few worthy competitors. --Sam Graham
• 26 Cast and Crew Commentaries
• "Mad Men" Says the Darndest Things
• The Uniform Time Act of 1966
• What Shall I Love If Not the Enigma?
• Party of the Century
• The Music of "Mad Men"
• NEWSWEEK Magazine Digital Gallery
• "Mad Men" Easter Eggs
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This season takes place between Memorial Day 1966 and Spring 1967. The season focuses on Don Draper and Megan's relationship and how distracting it is from his job, and most of the main characters are facing painful new beginnings and realize it's a "dog-eat-dog" world. The season starts out light (probably because of how dark season 4 was), but by the end of the season things are gloomier than ever. So never fear, Mad Men isn't going soft.
Don - one reason I enjoyed season 4 so much is that we had a break from Don being in a dramatic, serious relationship. He was just casually dating and we were able to see more of SCDP. Now he's married to Megan, and that opens up a lot more storylines. You'll either love or hate Megan. She shows signs of being very independent and mature, but then will surprise you by suddenly doing something very stupid and childish. The big question is: how long is it until Don cheats on her? I don't believe that Don will be in a monogamous relationship for the rest of his life. It's also interesting how it's reminiscent of the beginning of his relationship with Betty. Betty was a beautiful young model and Don swept her up. When Betty got older and he got bored, he lost interest. Megan is also a very young girl, an actress, and pretty (in Don's eyes). What's going to happen to his fidelity to Megan in a couple years? Or 10? Or even by the end of the season? When Don loses respect for someone, a lot of feelings for them deteriorate quickly.
Don also has to deal with Megan's Canadian parents, who have a very bizarre marriage and her father is not a total believer in Don. He thinks Megan took the easy way out by marrying a rich guy. Megan's mother is also incredibly insecure, which is a recurring theme throughout the season.
Betty - since January Jones is pregnant, they decided to put her in a fat suit to hide it, and turn that into a storyline. Perfect Betty has to deal with being overweight, which makes for some interesting television. Her appearances are very sparse, however, and you can go episodes without seeing her at all. There is a lot of pressure on Betty to compete with Megan, especially when her children are involved. As far as Sally goes, she goes through a lot of childhood development this season. Glen the creepy kid also makes a couple appearances, and their relationship is really open for interpretation. Kiernan Shipka is also a great young actress. We also get to see Henry Francis' mother a little bit, especially when she babysits Sally.
Pete - Pete is...well, Pete. But cockier than ever. He feels that all is owed to him, even as only a junior partner. He gets incredibly demanding this season and enters into some interesting affairs. Pete is honestly one of the most difficult characters for me to empathize with, especially this season. Almost every thing he does is just obnoxious, not to mention he is a total hypocrite. Vincent Kartheiser is great, however.
Peggy - as my favorite character, I liked what they did with her this season. She has to balance romance and work in a very sexist society, and makes some life changing decisions several times throughout the season. I love how strong Peggy is, and in these days she would easily be a partner already. Peggy also is Megan's boss...which is really quite inappropriate and causes a lot of awkwardness in the office.
Joan - remember that jerk she's married to? Yeah. They're still married when the season starts, unfortunately. Joan is strong though, and without spoiling anything, she makes some very questionable and life altering decisions this season regarding her romantic and work life. I think her and Peggy learn the most this season about how when it boils down to it, it's every wo/man for themselves.
Lane - bitter about not getting the greatest deal out of this partnership, Lane makes some...questionable business decisions this season. He becomes much more prevalent later in the season, and without spoiling much, he gets into a very....entertaining "discussion" with Pete. I think Jared Harris is amazing for this role.
Roger - talked into taking LSD with Jane, Roger has a very memorable and insightful trip. Although the acid trip was a little stereotypical, there's nothing funnier than watching Roger doing acid. The trip also has longer implications for him in the season. Additionally, Roger enters into a very odd romantic relationship with an unexpected character.
And it's not just the characters that will suck you in and keep you watching. The context of show is amazingly interesting. We get to see references to the Richard Speck murders, Charles Witman's shooting rampage, toxic clouds of smog over NYC, the Hare Krishnas, and the Rolling Stones. Also some interesting clients this season: Heinz, Jaguar, Mohawk Airlines, American Cancer Society, Manischewitz, Dow Chemical, and Virginia Slims.
You could watch this show for the amazingly intricate characters, the interesting portrayal of life in the 60s, or both. This show is highly entertaining, addictive, and one of the best on television today.
The episode highlights the differences for women and working women in particular without preaching or being heavy-handed. All of the female characters are asked to prostitute themselves in some way, either literal or metaphoric and their femininity is still their defining characteristic to the men in their world, despite what they do and how they function. Don is surprisingly moral and Pete unsurprisingly adds pander to his many slimey accomplishments. Lane is pragmatic and fond of Joan and advises that if forced to sell oneself to get the best possible price and to get it up front. Roger and Cooper are as ineffectual as ever. The editing of Don's pitch and Joan's decision about what to do is a brilliant bit of filming. The depth of Don's feelings for Peggy are finally revealed and end by being as sad as the rest of tonight's show.
These characters were never paragons but tonight they all participated in the corruption that would emblematize America as it went forward into the seventies and eighties; they did it for understandable reasons and they remain good but flawed people but the worm is in the apple. A brilliant, brilliant episode that shows us why Mad Men is not only one of the best shows on television but is destined to be remembered as a classic. Watch this episode at your earliest possible convenience.
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