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RUNNING TIME 585 minutes
• 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
The world’s cheapest time machine ride back to the sixties.
Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Matthew Weiner
Mad Men‘s fifth season explores Don’s marriage to Megan, while Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce struggles to stay above water.
To say that Mad Men has been a critical success would be an understatement. It’s a bona-fide critical darling, having won numerous awards every year since it premiered in 2007. The show’s fifth season had the highest viewership yet, and this AMC juggernaut shows no signs of slowing. With Mad Men and The Walking Dead being among the most watched shows on TV, AMC has a truly killer lineup.
That being said, I have a confession to make: I think Mad Men is overrated.
Yes, it’s good. It’s loads better than the vast majority of utter dreck on TV these days. Yet at its core, Mad Men isn’t much more than a soap opera. Not unlike the gleefully trashy Nip/Tuck, Mad Men revolves around a deeply flawed, highly talented professional womanizer. Mad Men has a great deal more class than the frequently distasteful Nip/Tuck, but the two shows bear more than a passing similarity.
So, let’s talk about what happened this season.
Peggy was a character with tremendous potential from the very first episode, but the series has never truly explored the depths of that potential. She’s frequently used for comic relief in this season, which certainly helped to brighten up the show’s increasingly dour tone. Yet with her exit from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, it’s hard to tell if we’ll see more or less of Peggy. Could she become an important foil (or rival) for Don? Only time will tell. A Mad Men without Peggy isn’t something I would enjoy.
Pete is given more to do this season, allowing him to take a more dangerous position on the show. He had become somewhat harmless in seasons three and four, and it’s interesting to see him become more morally ambiguous. His actions in this season echo the smarmy, cavalier behavior he displayed in season one. It might be making Pete less likable, but it allows actor Vincent Kartheiser to explore a larger range of emotions. His gentleman’s fistfight with Lane Pryce was one of the highlights of the season for me.
Joan has finally become more than just office eye candy, giving the talented Christina Hendricks some drama to sink her teeth into. The scenes with her doting mother and military husband Greg are some of the most fascinating interactions Joan has had on the show. Seeing her out of the office is refreshing, as the series tends to feel stuffy when we’ve stayed in the office too long.
Despite not winning any Emmys this year, Mad Men‘s fifth season has drastically improved on the formula, look, and feel of the show. The two most significant improvements are the humor, and the more varied, open locations. The first several seasons cut from one dark, stuffy interior set to another. Now that the budget is a bit bigger, we are finally awarded with a brighter, roomier, more open feel. Better CGI even allows us to get a rare exterior shot of 1960’s New York. Mad Men has finally struck the right balance of exquisitely decorated interiors and period-correct exteriors.
Direction is very tight in this fifth season, as it has been with the majority of Mad Men‘s canon. Jon Hamm makes his directorial debut with Tea Leaves, a Betty-centric episode. Hamm has proven himself not only a great performer but a competent director as well. John Slattery also returns to direct the episode Signal 30, making this his third directorial effort on Mad Men. Considering their strong efforts here, I hope we’ll see both Hamm and Slattery directing future episodes. They seem to be just as confident behind the camera as they are in front of it.
This season’s best episodes include Mystery Date (Episode 4) and The Other Woman (Episode 11). Both episodes deal almost exclusively with gender politics, objectification, and sexual violence. These heavy themes are dealt with overtly, but deftly. Don Draper’s past infidelities and transgressions are coming back to haunt him, and it weighs heavily upon him. These two episodes tackle Draper’s demons in a very effective, even shocking manner.
Not acknowledging this season’s biggest spoiler is nearly impossible, so I’ll say this: a major character dies, and his death is handled a bit clumsily. The death certainly comes as surprise, but a lack of foreshadowing in earlier episodes makes the death feel like an impulsive decision by the writers. The aftermath and fallout are surprisingly minimal, and the season’s final episodes quickly move on to other issues. I feel deprived of a proper mourning.
Even though it may be a soap opera, Mad Men is still a fascinating character study of Don Draper (a.k.a. Dick Whitman). But even after a fifth season, Draper doesn’t really seem to be moving forward. Yes, he has remarried, and he seemed to be making strides in his interpersonal relationships this season, but we’re no closer to Don reconciling with his past. I hope the sixth season will let Don evolve, but I have a sneaking suspicion that AMC doesn’t want to risk alienating Mad Men‘s audience. I think a large percentage of Mad Men‘s audience likes to see Don behaving badly. One could argue that his drinking, smoking, and philandering caught up with him when Betty divorced him, but is Don really that different after his divorce? I would say he’s the same drunk, miserable bastard. With the 1970s looming close ahead, Don will have to evolve to survive on Madison Avenue.
This is an impressive set, no doubt. Video quality is fine for DVD, but there is a lot of noise present, and it’s especially apparent when looking at walls. Sharpness is okay, and the show’s dark palette is just dark enough. The 5.1 Surround audio is a thing of beauty, with lots of office and city ambiance in the rear channels. Dialogue is nicely audible, and David Carbonara’s lovely score always comes through.
Every episode boasts two commentaries, and three out of four discs have several featurettes. The featurettes range from an awfully boring presentation on Daylight Saving Time to several impressive pieces featuring the show’s composer, David Carbonara.
If you’re a fan of Mad Men, the Season 5 set is a must-have. Go for the Blu-Ray.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars