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STUDIO: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98
RATED:

Unrated
RUNNING
TIME:

611 Minutes
SPECIAL
FEATURES:

  • Audio Commentaries on each episode
  • Medgar Evers: An Unsung Hero
  • Clearing the Air: The History of
    Cigarette Advertising
  • We Shall
    Overcome: The March on Washington
  • Clearing the
    Air: The History of
    Cigarette Advertising
  • Mad Men
    Illustrated: Meet the mad artist behind the illustrations inspired by
    Mad Men


Mad
Men Season 3
is back in beautiful form, and it is
truly growing up and finding its soul. Copious penile probing (a
reliably tantalizing fall-back for a plot in previous seasons) is almost fully replaced by
tension and upheaval that comes from inside these growing characters,
and isn’t painted on by costume or historical reference. This is the
most gripping season yet, although I wasn’t easily sold at first.



“I can’t wait to rocket up inside the building to a place where men both love and fear my vagina.”


The Gist:

Mad Men Season 3 covers the year 1963 in the lives of a few families and other members surrounding the Sterling Cooper ad agency. The theme is upheaval this season and it’s swirling inside the ad agency, with a British company having bought the agency and flexing their old ideas, and inside the homes of our characters: Joan smiles her way through a difficult marriage and Betty gives birth to an unexpected third child just as she finds her wings. The Kennedy assassination is inescapable and further political rumbling finds one of our main characters’ husbands joining the armed forces. It’s as if seasons one and two have functioned to set a mood with time and place and have merely begun to chart the course these characters will take. This is the season you realize that things have just begun. And it bodes well for the Mad Men franchise.


First class items procured and stuffed in suitcase: peanuts.
First class people procured and stuffed with penis: stewardess.


The Nutshell:

Watchers of Mad Men will notice a shift in focus this season to a few of
the previously minor characters. We’re keen to remember the subplot of
Peggy and Pete’s short term affair and resulting power struggle within
the office. We can’t forget that Don is unable to be happy with what he
has and is always chasing freedom from the expected. We remember
that Betty is chronically unhappy. But this season, we see hi-lighted
performances from Betty’s father who is newly added to the cast, Sally,
the Draper’s eldest child, Pete Campbell, and Betty’s new love interest.



Squirt aftermath. All dressed up.


The Lowdown:

Betty Draper’s father moves in and although I questioned how this would impact the family dynamic, it functions to highlight Sally as an individual character and not just an obligatory “unit” of a three-child family as the son still is. Betty’s father becomes a welcome sub-plot and we smile to see him break a few rules. Unfortunately, he is too soon killed off. I was beginning to fall in love with him and he was a welcome new ingredient to the familiar stew of characters.

Sally, the eldest Draper child is gives the performance I am most proud of this season. Who could have seen this coming? She becomes a microcosmic embodiment of the angst she perceives in her world. Unlike those around her, she wears her fears and her rebellion on the outside, her honesty making her nearly incapable of subtext. She emotes when the other characters can’t or won’t. Kudos to the writers of the show to trust this young actress to be the tilting, tottering scale of changing times.



“I thought tootie pops didn’t exist.”


Pete Campbell’s world this season is beginning to fall apart around him. His marriage and his job title are in jeopardy and in a notable performance we see him struggle as he tries to decide between being very good and very bad. In fact, that’s been the best thing about him since season one. He wants what everyone else wants on the outside, and he’s not sure what to do about the fact that he wants more. In this season alone, we see him rape, and we see him eating cereal in his pajamas. The pendulum swings in its entire range of motion within him.


“Good morning, bitch! My tits are still bigger than that white chocolate truffle on your head!”

Pete and Peggy are again juxtaposed in an angel and demon relationship as they are secretly courted by another ad agency. Pete still desperately clings to loyalty even as it fails him; and ironically, Peggy is the demon, as any woman of that time might have been for seriously considering her options to step toward a place of power. It makes for another interesting subplot and allows us to see whom Peggy is willing to jump in bed with in order to test the temperature of the waters. Her sex, although it unfortunately links her to powerful male characters through her vagina, remains an assertion of power on her own right. We don’t see her taken advantage of. She is a symbolic threat because she plays chess in bed and at work, saying yes and no at the right times.




“Specifically speaking, I think he just moved his bowels from his rectum to the inside of his shorts.”


Don’s reluctant mentorship of Peggy continues. They remain mirrors to one another–a rare jewel of character juxtaposition. In one of the most powerful truth-ringing moments of the season, Peggy tells Don, “I want what you have. You have everything and so much of it.” Peggy will never get it, and Don has it and can’t be happy with it. Round and round they go, and the entire cast rides this merry-go-round.


“I tooted just beneath the sound of the projector!”


John Hamm’s performance as Don Draper is disappointing compared to other seasons. I find this in part to the missing monologues I lived for in the first two seasons. Don, who had been a verbal conduit for the spirit of the age of both 1961 and 1962 in the board room isn’t given the chance much anymore by the writers of the show. That’s a shame. The number of extramarital affairs is toned down, and we see a lot more home-time with this character. The strongest scenes are between he and his wife played by January Jones, and an unlikely dynamic between he and one of his biggest clients who often calls him in the middle of the night by phone.



They politely giggled although it was inappropriate for Cooper to blow ping pong balls
out of his ass before Labor Day.

Betty Draper finally finds her wings this season, and she is less annoying for it. I’m glad to see her character grow up. After the birth of her third child, we see her attempting flight from the home, but I won’t spoil it. She remains true-to-character as she carefully, and rebelliously dips her toe in… she’s finally doing it. This part of the plot is unresolved at the end of the season, and any one who has watched this character painfully become full-grown will no doubt cheer her in the next season no matter what happens.

Then there is Joan, played by Christina Hendricks. The buxom red-head yet again manages to wow us with her ability to be completely strong and completely vulnerable. With one expression. She has it nailed. What happens to her this season will no doubt have most audience members crossing their fingers for her.



“The penis cream is on your desk.”


As far as the show as a whole, I have some misgivings along with my praise. The season starts out painfully slow and awkward. The very first scene forces us through a flash-back to Don’s childhood. If you can live through the disjointed beginning and get through the first few stagnant episodes, you will be greatly rewarded. There is not much to hook an audience member at first, and the fact that the writers are setting up the rest of the season feels like a dull betrayal. They add an interesting twist to the plot in the beginning as Don discovers the art director’s homosexuality, yet that is one of the only beginning plot elements that leaves you savoring more of Mad Men. They almost lost us.



Pregnant Betty creates the first politically correct tar baby out of nothing but immaculate smokes.

In one notable scene, which I refuse to spoil, the show is able to create humor with a gore scene. A gore scene. In Mad Men. Yes. We’re talking spraying blood mixed with food… it’s too good. And it’s great in the same the way that Sterling Cooper in season two projectile vomited in the lobby of his own building. This scene earned my high-five for the season. They pulled it off.


“I’ve got another spread in fifteen minutes!”

I miss the focus on the individual ad campaigns that played a more central role to the plots in season one and two. They allowed a unique connection to history and bound the characters poetically. This season, however, achieves a different badge, however when it hints at becoming an epic story. It happened as if by magic. Now the show has  found depth on it’s own, not just juxtaposing characters and history.
 


“The sex you want to have with me is beginning to make sense.”

This season, I realized that I was on a  collective emotional journey with this cast. These are real, flawed people who change their minds and directions.  These are people who want more than they have and because that, they are timeless. This is becoming less and less a period show. It doesn’t use it as a crutch, not that it ever did.

By the time this season ends, the Sterling Cooper ad agency and Don and Betty’s marriage are dismantled as we know it, leaving anyone remotely invested in this show ready to see what these characters will do that will catapult them into the year 1964.


“Sir, keeping lung cancer a secret and women behind their vacuum cleaners is a lot to ask without a paid promotion.”


The Package:

Once again, the creators of Mad Men did not disappoint nor did they tack on mere fluff for the extras. The extras this season are less integrated with the show, but important add-ons nonetheless. I enjoyed them as much as I did the show, and they added valuable hours of enjoyment to this set of discs that enhanced my investment in the show as a whole.

Medgar Evars: An Unsung Hero.
The story of Medgar Evars, as told by his family: his surviving wife, daughter, and brother, found me in tears. I remembered him as a civil rights leader that was shot down in his own driveway, but to hear the story as told by family is heartbreaking. The value in this documentary alone nearly deserves its own DVD case. Thank you to the DVD compilers for including this. In a sense it does embody what Mad Men is: history as experienced by and created by families. To experience the story and re-connect it yourself to the year 1963 you’ve just experienced with the Mad Men ensemble helps that year ring true.


“My loins feel all squishy when you put your peep by my peep.”

Clearing the Air: The History of Cigarette Advertising
Another must-see addition to this DVD set, this was made especially for this release. The ad campaign for smoking is merely alluded to in the show, yet smoking as a habit is pervasive throughout the action. It helps one see that the female characters we know from this show are some of the first in history to smoke in public, as it was only recently acceptable. It uses cigarette advertising to explain how advertising works in general.

We Shall Overcome: The March On Washington
This is the weakest of the extras, but I’m glad it was included. I’ll be thirty this year, and I’ll admit that this is the first time I’ve heard Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in its entirety. What an incredible call to action. And to think all of this was going on in the lifetime of the Mad Men characters. The speech is accompanied by an unimpressive suite of moving pictures that look like someone’s sophomore project in film school, but the choice to cover the speech as an extra gets a thumbs up from me.


“This job will never give way to me spreading for birth!”


Mad Men Illustrated
Here we get to meet an artist that made a name for herself by illustrating the characters and events from the show on her own in a series of illustrations that reflect the style of the period. She began to deliver these via blog format. I wasn’t impressed, but I’m glad that the producers of this disc set included this. I was unaware of how the show influenced popular culture, and this segment allows a little of that insight. 

One last thing:

I’m
starting to think that the fullest enjoyment is going to be gotten by
watching all three seasons in order. There is a depth of character
gained over time and watching it is similar
to the feeling you might get when you allow yourself to be carried through
all of the Godfather movies, or loyally ride along with the characters
in Goodfellas through their epic chain of events. Stick with them long enough, and
you slowly realize that sometimes you’re up and
sometimes you’re down, but the story of a group of people is always long
and nuanced. This ain’t no period show from the 60’s. Mad Men has earned its big-girl panty hose this
season.

9.5 out of 10