HEADLINES

Why You Should Be Ecstatic About Mad Men’s Return

It’s the best show on Television. No, don’t worry, I’m not going to count that in the list (but I’m also not going to count that as hyperbole), though I do feel like I had to get it off my chest nice and early. Seriously though, don’t worry, I’m keeping this list gravely serious. Mad Men is the perfect storm of utter genius both in the writer’s room and on set, and the end result is nothing short of a total masterpiece. I could easily list the all the nuances or themes in general that make the show so gosh-darned terrific, but I’d much rather try to convince you why this season in particular, season five, staring March 25th on AMC, is something you should be ecstatic about.

We don’t know what Don’s journey will be this season

Don’s path in this season is more ambiguous, I would argue, then it has ever been. In the first season we saw the man come face to face with his own death wish, which eventually lead to an almost reactionary fear of death in the second season. The third season more complicatedly tackled the idea of responsibility and ownership in the man’s mind, and in season four, when he was left on his own, Don chose to repeat his past mistakes. For season five, however, we have no idea where Don will go, as at the end of last season the man chose to reinvent both himself and his company. Speaking of which…

We have a new company…

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is no more! Well, assuming Cooper meant it when he said he was leaving last season. Don chose, on the behalf of his fellow partners, to completely change their company’s image by releasing a statement confirming they will no longer accept tobacco accounts. This is a huge step towards re-branding what their agency stands for, and could potentially change the entire manner in which the company is run. In the short amount of time between seasons three and four, the team went from working out of a hotel bedroom to a building. By the time season five begins, we’ll see just what Don’s stunt really did for the company.

And new Accounts

Man, is it ever weird that a show exists where the phrase “new accounts” is something to be excited about? It’s true though. Mad Men has always made clever use of accounts and ad jobs in order to parallel what’s going on in the character’s personal lives, and with the company taking a new direction and thus new clients, we don’t have to worry about having to use Lucky Strike in order to show Harry’s bow-tie insecurities. Or something. Oh, and paired with new accounts, we’ll get…

New Characters

Mad Men is a show that has some downright iconic one-season (and even one episode) characters. The ladies Don pursues each season obviously come to mind, but then there’s also the Warden we meet in the waiting room of “The Fog”, those weird swinging hippies from season two, the eccentric Mr. Hilton that domineered much of the third season, and heck, even the air conditioning man from season one leaves an impression! I’m eager for my fix of equally memorable guest performances this season. Though, while we’re on the topic of new faces, we should remember…

Midge was in season four!

Indeed she was! And you know what? I liked Midge, but this point is kind of a cheat, because it’s not really about her. No, this is more a “characters we loved from the past could come back at any moment” point, with Midge acting as the proof. I mean, it had been what, thirty episodes since her last appearance on the show before she showed up last season? This season we could see anyone from Sal to Conrad to Jimmy to the vast pantheon of other much-loved characters that seemingly disappeared into the unknown. Personally? I’ve felt a great, big Paul Kinsey-shaped hole in my heart since the season three finale, and as long as we’re dreaming, I do miss the undying altruism of Suzanne, bless her. Speaking of Suzanne, and abrupt returns…

Suzanne’s brother still has Don’s card

You remember this guy? Of course you do! Don said he’d drive him down to his new job, but ended up just letting him wander off down some lonely highway in the middle of the night. Though admittedly not before giving him his card, and imploring him to call him if he ever needs to. How would Don react getting a call from this guy, years after Suzanne left his life? Count this entry as a much more broad “anything could come back at any moment” point, too. Honestly, I’d advise everyone to expect any dangling threads from previous seasons to come back at any point during season five.

War is coming…

Pretty soon, the Vietnam war will start to become something that everyday Americans were having a harder time ignoring. Ground combat is about to escalate, Thieu is about to take over and the Draft draws ever closer. How will the war affect the world of the show, and Don himself, a veteran of the Korean War?

And we don’t know what that means for Greg, or Joan or Roger

And for that matter, how will it affect the crazy triangle the show has built up between Joan, her husband Greg, and Roger? When we left Joan, Greg was in the army and after rekindling a relationship with Roger, ended up pregnant. This dynamic could go so many ways, and they all leave me fearful for the futures of all three characters involved.

We know nothing about Megan

Not only do we know nothing about Megan, but I don’t think Don does either. Really, that’s why their engagement came as such a huge shock last season. She’s had around half a season of mild character exploration, and even what we learned about her could take an entirely new light by the end of the first episode of this season. For all we know, she’s a complete game-changer.

The relationships have changed!

Everyone’s have! At the start of season five, no one will really be looking at anyone the same way. Joan has been promoted (if in title only), Sterling is now the company failure, people are going to be talking about Don marrying his secretary behind his back, Harry’s job is going to become increasingly more important as the years roll by, and after Don’s tobacco stunt the copywriter’s are all going to be expected to pull both their own and the companies weight. On top of all this, I’m sure a part of Pete still resents Pryce for not making him head of accounts way back in season three, and the relationship between Peggy and Don has been growing ever more personal and ever stranger since the show began. It’s hard to predict which dynamics have changed the most, and even harder to predict which will be explored.

It’s one of the most beautiful show on television

I spoke previously about my appreciation for cinematography in TV. I feel a lot of show-runners simply pay no attention to the concept, and that’s really a shame. To me, ignoring mise-en-scene is tantamount to admitting your story doesn’t deserve to be framed, or isn’t smart enough to warrant the effort. With Mad Men, this is not the case. Each and every second of the show is so beautifully composed that almost any frame could be taken and used for promotional material. On top of that, the costume work and use of color is unparalleled on TV, making it not only one of the prettiest looking shows on the air, but one of the most authentic.

Sally’s evolution

Children in TV, especially in high drama, are not characters. They’re emotional tools, plot devices (Hello The Walking Dead!) or worst of all, extensions of other characters. They exist just to make the protagonist a “parent”. For the first two seasons of Mad Men, I felt this about the Draper children, but ever since season three, the show has been intelligently and carefully expanding on the character of Sally, Don’s daughter (I guess we can always hold out for Bobby). Whether it be showing how the young deal with tragedy in season three, or darkly exploring the early stages of her inevitable daddy-issues in season four, Sally may very well be the youngest character on television, and I look forward to seeing how she continues to grow up this season.

Pete Campbell as a father

Man, that’s a weird, scary thought, considering Pete hasn’t even really grown up himself yet. How will he measure up, considering his own complicated (to say the least!) relationship with his parents? This will be the year we really get to see what kind of father Pete will turn out to be, and honestly? I have absolutely no idea, and I don’t think Pete does either, and I think that’s kind of exciting.

Pryce will be alone again

After the harsh lesson Pryce learnt from his own father in season four, it is hard to believe that he stayed with his Playboy girlfriend. Pryce has been in the States a while now, but we only ever see him working or with his immediate family. This means that, once again, Pryce has been made a stranger in a strange land. I’m interested in seeing his pursuit of America progress, now that the man is alone again. And for that matter…

Dick is alone again

The real Don Draper, Dick Whitman, is alone again. What do I mean by this? Well, think about it – no one knows he exists anymore. Adam, Faye and Anna where the only ones to know Don’s secret who were sympathetic towards Don for it, and they’re all gone. Betty and Cooper also seem to be out of Don’s life, meaning the only person who knows Dick exists is Pete, and I don’t see him sitting down to comfort Don anytime soon. This raises the question; with no one but Don for company, will Dick simply die?

Don and Joan

One of the only things we know about this season is that it will in some way explore the relationship between Don and Joan. Wait – what? To me, the relationship between these two characters has always seemed to be one of mutual respect for each others professionalism, and nothing more. The idea that there’s some buried history or connection between the two that leads them to take this demeanour with each other is nothing if not intriguing.

Twice the Brie per week!

What? I know I said I’d keep this serious, and I totally am! For a short period of time Community and Mad Men will both be on the air at the same time (shit), meaning Alison Brie will be gracing our TV’s with her smiling visage twice a week. It’ll no-doubt be strange and compelling to watch such radically different performances from the actress – the eternally sunny-if-composed Trudy Campbell, and the slapstick-esque, neurotic Annie Edison. I’m interested to see if any of one character carries over into the next (please let Trudy do this to Pete).

We are moving into a new age of music

Things are changing in the world of music. There was an all too brief mention of The Beatles last season, but this time I can’t imagine the rapidly altering climate will be reduced to a knowing nod. Hendrix is about to start getting some attention for “Hey Joe”, The Beach Boys are beginning to cast their almighty shadow, and (I cannot stress enough) there is the looming presence of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Go ahead and chalk this up a general “times a’ changin’” sentiment as well, as I’m interested in whether Don and the ad team are going to adapt their marketing style to chase a drastically different youth.

Weiner fought for his art

AMC wanted the episodes shortened. Weiner said no. AMC wanted six (SIX!) cast members to be cut from the show. Weiner said no. AMC wanted more product integration. Weiner said no. This is because Weiner respects both his art, but more than that, he respects his audience. He won’t let season five be anything other than season five, as it needs to be.

Don may not chase a dress this season

Whether it be the dignified Rachel of season one, the imposing Bobbie of season two, the pillar of kindness that was Suzanne in season three or season four’s intelligent and confident Faye, Don has spent every season of Mad Men thus far chasing some ideal (okay, not so much Bobbie, but his issues there are a WHOLE other kettle of fish). What we have with season five a chance to see – will Don commit to his new life – his new bride? The writers have an excellent chance to explore further the central mystery of Don’s character – does he really change, or just reorganise the outside? And, keep in mind…

Don only likes the beginnings of things

To quote season four’s smart and charming Faye, Don Draper is a man who only likes the beginnings of things – and really, if we look at his history, I think she’s dead on. Even if Don’s sudden marriage does bloom into the life-altering, soul saving gasp of fresh air he hopes of it, there’s no guarantee he’ll stay interested in it.

Ken and Peggy are finally going to have a thing, right?

Ken is a character who really confuses me. He hasn’t ever really had an episode to call his own – he had his short story published in “5G”, but that was mainly to anger Pete, and he had Sal over for dinner in “The Gold Violin” – but that was mainly to torture Sal. Still, Weiner wants him around – of all the characters to save in season four, the writers chose Ken. My prediction? His and Peggy’s relationship is going to build (after all, ever since they first met, Ken’s been nice to her, at least to her face), though perhaps not into anything sexual. It was pretty cute to see them so happy to get that account at the end of the last season.

Betty might have chilled out (but it’s fine if she hasn’t!)

A lot of Mad Men fans really hate Betty, and I honestly don’t think that’s fair. Look at the series as a whole, focusing on her character, and it’s a story about how Don’s dishonesty slowly beats the pleasantness out of her. In season four she had to come to terms with the fact that changing everything around you is not a quick fix to make things perfect. By the end of the season, I think she began to realize that (it also helps that Henry simply does not put up with any of her shenanigans). I consider the conversation she and Don have in last year’s finale one of the most honest and adult exchanges the two ever share, and I honestly hope this is the year Betty is able to find some happiness amongst the disappointment, and with it, some tranquility. But it’s cool if she doesn’t, because Betty is at least a character who is compelling when they’re angry (Hey again The Walking Dead!)

You will not get everything on your first watch.

Seriously, you won’t. Mad Men is a show that has already proven itself so layered, deep and rich that each season pretty much demands multiple viewings in order to really fully appreciate. As someone whose watched the series multiple times… I still haven’t got everything! Every episode I re-watch, I’m discovering new character dynamics/interactions, symbolism and dialogue that went right over my head before. It’s a show I see as having near-infinite re-watch potential – even if you think you’ve figured everything out, it’s rewarding to just sit back and marvel at the show. Season five will not be thirteen episodes long, it will be an epic that you will want to revisit. Basically, what I’m saying is…

Shakespeare is coming back

Okay, this time, I’ll admit to maybe a little, maybe just a bit, of hyperbole. Maybe.

The thing is though, and I didn’t really notice this until recently, that almost every single line of dialogue in the show is important. I mean it, watch an episode of the show and count how many lines should be cut. Count how many lines aren’t beautifully phrased, outlandishly witty, loaded with subtext, suggestive of character, speaking to an overall idea/emotional truth, allegorical or simply poetically significant. It’s next to none. Mad Men has the best team of writers currently working on TV, and by God it makes them earn that title. Oh, and it also doesn’t hurt that this dialogue is being delivered by one of the most versatile, charming and magnetic casts the medium has ever seen. It’s so refreshing to watch a show where a simple back-and-forth between characters can just be so damned enthralling. What other show in recent memory (Okay, Deadwood) so unapologetic allows its characters to be so outright poetic?

I’m looking forward to every casual exchange, every heated argument, subtle exchange, heart-breaking monologue, roll of the eyes and turn of expression season five promises to deliver. That’s just me though! Be sure to let us know why you’re excited for Mad Men, and if you’ll be tuning in March 25th.. I think I’ve already made clear that for me, the date cannot arrive fast enough.

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