Mad Men’s recently wrapped-up fifth season was possibly its best season yet, and at least its best since season two. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the most ambitious season thus far because it dealt most directly with morality—and was the least preoccupied with subject of happiness.
Most of the time, Mad Men is all about happiness: Is happiness an illusion? Is it ever sustainable? Are the things that make people happy the same? Etc. This can be compelling, but it tends to get self-indulgent and repetitive quickly.
What made Season Five so different, though, was that it took as its starting point the idea that Don Draper, the perpetually self-loathing protagonist, was actually happy. He was finally in a happy marriage; he had a cordial relationship with his ex-wife and he was getting along with his kids; his company was relatively safe, and his relationships with most of his co-workers were good. This was so jarring to some viewers that they seemed intent to find problems where none existed. Every fight with he had with Megan supposedly hinted at the faulty foundation of the marriage—even if the fight was minor and they made up afterwards. People seemed completely unwilling to accept the idea that Don could be happily married and generally content; it was so unlike the Don we were used to. Continue reading
Warning: This review contains spoilers….obvs.
Well, let’s begin at the end: The Mad Men season finale was excellent. Practically every scene had something important, and every plot twist, even the ones you could see coming like Roger recruiting Joan to the new agency, was welcome.
Most great finales are the ones that shake things up, and this one did exactly that. Once news got out that PPL had been sold, and Sterling Cooper with it, Lane Pryce “fired” Don, Roger and Bert so they were free to start their own agency. As a result, much of the episode involved recruiting others to the new company. Many of these recruitments took the form of confrontations that were long overdue: Pete’s worries about his place in the company, Peggy’s about her relationship with Don, Roger’s about how expendable Don now views him. All of these scenes allowed characters to hash out things that had burdened their relationships for a long time, extending back into Season One. And all of them were executed well.
What may have been the most interesting thing of the finale, though, was what it had the potential to set up. With Roger, Bert, Don, Lane, Joan, Pete, Peggy, and Harry all working together—and in the close confines of a hotel room—in a new, upstart agency, the show can integrate the business aspect of the show in a totally fresh way next year.* And while it worked very well in this instance, this is not necessarily the best strategy to pursue in a finale. Continue reading
About a month ago I declared Mad Men “a cool show to like” at least partially due to the fact that it was so critically beloved.
A downside of a show being so critically beloved, though, is that it can often get away with doing things other shows would get slammed for.
Boring dream sequences, hastily drawn relationships, rehashing tired plot-lines and shock value are not features we usually like in dramas, and yet Mad Men has relied on them throughout the first five episodes of its new season.