‘Mad Men’ Season 5 Premiere Review

Published 2 years ago by

Jon Hamm as Don Draper Mad Men Season 5 A Little Kiss Mad Men Season 5 Premiere Review

How big is the return of Mad Men? Well, after a 17-month hiatus, the proverbial red carpet has been rolled out for the two-hour season premiere. There has been non-stop media coverage of the arrival of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and the rest of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Everyone is seemingly in on the game, trying to pick off a piece of AMC’s flagship program and let the world know how aware they are of a program so innately self-aware.

Creator Matthew Weiner has offered almost nothing beyond an enigmatic image of Don Draper staring through a storefront window at a pair of mannequins, so it’s ironic that a show telling the story of ad men is effectively utilizing the media’s interest in the secrecy of season 5 to sell the premiere.

At the onset of this season, we’re unsure just what will be waiting for us once the curtain is finally pulled back on ‘A Little Kiss,’ parts 1 & 2. Season 4 certainly left more than it’s fair share of questions that have gone unanswered long enough. Has Don gone through with his proposed marriage to Megan Calvet (Jessica Paré)? Did Joan (Christina Hendricks) have, or is she still carrying Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) child? And, most importantly, where does Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce stand after being dealt the blow of losing its primary moneymaker in Lucky Strike?

Perhaps that’s why there has been such a hubbub regarding season 5. Ruminating on season 4 (and earlier) has fans downright nostalgic for a show that often times revels in nostalgia. But it’s a realization born through the ease of watching time effortlessly float by. While Mad Men can take us back or, for some, introduce us to a time when things where different, it is careful to never be only about that time, or that place in history. It’s merely about people, who were like us now: in the moment, while time marched on.

REVIEW

And so with the start of season 5, we are brought into things as Don Draper is welcoming his 40th year – though Dick Whitman celebrated it months earlier. We see a Don that is content in his home life, in love with his new wife and, relatively, happy at work – a fact that has those who know him a little on edge.

Matthew Weiner does a fantastic job of setting up this new Don is such a way that leaves the audience waiting for the other shoe to drop. Don has been aimlessly wandering for so long – he’s a sham, literally living as another man’s life – that for him to display an air of contentment is like coaxing the Mississippi to run backwards. Even more shocking is the fact that Megan knows Don’s real name, and seems okay with it.

That’s what puts Don most at odds with the rest of the characters in ‘A Little Kiss’: he’s seems delighted by the change that has occurred in his home life, while most everyone else seems less accepting of what changes have befallen them.

This is most evident in Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) bemoaning how his wife has seemingly given up on presenting herself in a way befitting of his standards, or at least the way she used to be before they moved out of Manhattan, before having a child. Trudy (Alison Brie) misinterprets Pete’s frustration with home as a longing for something more at work, and tells him dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition. But work’s fine for Pete, he’s successful; and aside from Roger attempting to poach the clients Pete is bringing in, and refusing to switch offices with him, work is where Pete’s joie de vivre comes from – and nearly everyone else’s, for that matter.

Aaron Staton Vincent Kartheiser Rich Somer Mad Men Season 5 A Little Kiss Mad Men Season 5 Premiere Review

Many at SCDP have reached a point where life outside of work doesn’t hold for them the meaning their duties at the agency do. As Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) later says to Joan, “It’s home, but it’s not everything.”

In fact, like Lane and Pete, home is not a place Joan particularly wants to be despite the presence of her new baby. She comes to the office and things have changed; she’s neither recognized in the lobby, nor does she recognize the receptionist who (barely) greets her. This is probably the best way in which Weiner has shown the progression of time, both in between the seasons and in Mad Men overall. Young Kevin is passed around, his presence holding different meaning to everyone, and he eventually lands in the reluctant arms of Peggy (Elisabeth Olsen), who manages to get Pete to take him off her hands. And without a word, we are reminded of exactly where these two characters began their arc four seasons ago, and we are tempted to look back at how far everyone else has come in the process.

It’s in that progression that the sense of being unfulfilled is most pervasive in the episode, but it is also acutely felt during Don’s unwanted birthday celebration. At this point we’re still mostly unsure what to think of Megan’s role in Don’s life. She’s working with him now – something she had mentioned a desire to do during season 4 – and there is a general unease around her in the office, but she is treated with a certain measured respect (to her face, anyway) that seems born of Don’s influence more than it is any knack she has for the work.

The party offers up the first sign that despite the blissful nature of the newlyweds, there is a disparity between the two that no amount of truthfulness on Don’s part will be able to overcome. During the party, Megan puts on a performance that is more to show everyone what Don gets that they don’t, but it also puts Don in the passenger seat, with all eyes on him – something he later confesses displeases him very much.

More troublesome still, we catch a glimpse that time has begun to pass Don Draper by. Megan is entertaining a group of friends that Don doesn’t know, and doesn’t want to know. They are the sign of a changing generation, one that he’ll still be responsible to market products to, but they seem almost alien to him. For once, the world is moving forward and Don doesn’t seem to be on the verge of it.

Elisabeth Moss Christina Hendricks Mad Men Season 5 A Little Kiss Mad Men Season 5 Premiere Review

That problem is seen again in large part because SCDP (mostly Don and Roger) take out an ad that’s intended to be poke fun at a racially charged incident involving a group of African-American protesters and some water bombs dropped by ad execs at Y&R. The joke is only funny to Don and Roger, and manages to stir up some panic in Joan that she’s being replaced, but more importantly, those protesting at Y&R see it as an invitation to apply for a job. Naturally, no one in the company has given much thought to the idea of civil rights – as evidenced by the ad having been run in the first place. And so, with that, the men of SCDP are forced to accept the changing era through the blunder of a misguided overindulgence. Whether they are aware of it or not, has yet to be seen, but the incident makes it clear where this season is headed.

As Don Draper finds himself on the wrong side of 40, seemingly content with his new wife and the children he had from his previous marriage, he is forced, or will be forced to confront the idea that, eventually, even his time will be over. And someday, a young ad exec will be clamoring for his office – much like Pete Campbell did while making a sensible plea for the office currently occupied by the aging, and increasingly ineffective Roger Sterling.

And this is when Mad Men truly excels, when it is about the observation of character. However much it may seem, Mad Men is not about history; it simply takes place in our history. Mad Men can do what it wants because it is not tied to the beginning or end of anything larger than the lives and experiences of its characters. Lives that, it quickly becomes clear, have already done most of their living.

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Mad Men continues next Sunday with ‘Tea Leaves’ @9pm on AMC.

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17 Comments

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  1. I love this show despite the irony that, although the show’s producers deal uneasily with racial inequality, as a Hispanic woman I’m also barred from even attempting to approach the show as a professional screenwriter/ director. It’s a dream for me. Like that of those people protesting outside of the agency’s building. There may not be water bombs for me but the end result is the same. No access.

    Migdia Chinea UCLA MFA School of Theater, Film, Television and Digital Media. Professional Screenwriter WGAw 25+ year member and budding director.

    • Is it possible that you’re barred not because you’re a Hispanic woman, but rather because Mad Men is considered one of the best shows on television right now and the competition for the type of position you’re describing is extremely intense? Not trying to deny the possibility of what you’re suggesting, but it’s hard to understand exactly what you mean in your comment without more detail. For instance, you mention that you’re “barred from even attempting to approach” Mad Men, and I’m not sure what you mean by that. Is it difficult to get an interview due to your race/gender? Are you afraid to because of your race/gender?

      I don’t want to seem unsympathetic, but I’d like to know more about what these barriers are. Best of luck.

  2. I don’t remember seeing Don smoking in this episode. Even if I missed something, he certainly wasn’t shown smoking as much as in previous episodes.

    • Lucky Strike is no longer a client, it’s the American Cancer Society. The times they are a changin’, I think that explains it. Next they’ll be a seat belt law, and warning about letting your children play with cleaner bag covers. Part of what this is show is about taking real life happenings and applying to the show and its characters.

  3. I don’t know why in other articles about the premiere people are really hating on the season opener. It was a great start to the season. It started with so many changes that will be discovered during the season. I’m going to watch it again tonight when they re-air it. For major and side characters alike, there was much change and story arc potential. It was a great episode. Lane kept the pic from he mans wallet. Will he be tempted to stray once he got.his.wife back? Pete is gaining power while Roger is losing it. I’m so.glad its back.

  4. So glad the writer mentioned the unease Don’s new persona has on the rest of the gang. “Unnerving” is how it was described last night. Indeed.

    So far so good as I’m hooked once again. I’ll admit thinking again last night as I did in season 3 that, at times, this show seems too grown up for me. But that’s what I admire about Weiner and this show – The ability to reach a wide audience range.

    P.S. Is it me or does Roger Sterling have some of the best lines in an episode?

  5. absolutely he delivers great lines. i noticed that long ago too. i think it’s his great acing that really makes the lines memorable.

    • Yes, he does, I laughed loads on Sunday, mostly at what Roger was saying.

  6. Kevin Yeoman, are you aware that you wrote Elisabeth Olsen as Peggy instead of Elisabeth Moss? Perhaps because you got confused between Elisabeth Olsen and Peggy Olson and also because Moss’ first name is Elisabeth too?

    lol, you confused the hell out of me for a minute.

  7. Zou Bisou Bisou. i don’t know why this show appeals to me, but i watched all 4 seasons on netflix when it first came on there, and i was hooked. great characters, great acting, and season 5, for me, started off with more of the same. too bad there was no betty.

    • I did the same thing and feel the same way! The only drawback to watching on netflix and then watching in the regular season … Commercials!

  8. I thought it was a good way to get the season going. Like others I only started watching via streaming so for me I didn’t have to wait.
    The best part of the premier for me was the fact that Betty wasn’t seen or heard of.
    But I’m curious about something, I thought I read more than a few times that Jon Hamm was directing the 1st episode? The title sequence said Directed by Jennifer Getzinger.

    • Hamm said in an interview that he directed the first episode that they filmed for the season, but the first episode they filmed wasn’t the season premiere.

  9. I have missed this show with a passion. Thank Goodness it is back! I did miss Betty. You love to hate her. Beautiful yet cold. Awful parenting skills. In some ways like my own mother.

  10. This show has really been on hiatus for nearly a year and a half? If true how can they expect to retain viewership? I know if they had tried to pull something like this with The Walking Dead about 8 million people would have hunted down the AMC Execs and beat them with shovels.

    I still don’t get why stations like ABC can manage to put out a full 22 episodes in a season (ex. Once Upon a Time) while others like AMC, HBO, Starz, and more can get away with producing an endemic 6-13 episodes comparatively.

  11. In the first two seasons, Matt Weiner was making some very pointed commentary on the world as it existed in the 1960′s, and indeed, as it still exists today.

    Billed as Madison Avenue’s premiere advertising man, Don Draper was supposedly better than anyone at selling America what it wanted most: happiness and security. But ironically, these are two things that Don has failed to find in a rather spectacular fashion. How can Don sell so well that which he himself has never possessed? Therein lies the point: what Madison Avenue has always sold to America is just as fake and hollow as Don himself. It’s an indictment of our entire society that we’ve been willing to buy this hypocrisy. This is seriously heady stuff that goes far beyond the fluff of most programming.

    This commentary was told mostly through the contrast between Don’s home life, professional life, and the fact that he isn’t really Don Draper at all. Understandably, Don’s hypocrisy causes the failure of his marriage and he and Betty split up. This made perfect sense and was necessary and inevitable, however, this is also where the analogy breaks down. With Don and Betty living increasingly separate lives during the third and fourth seasons, it seemed as though Weiner had finished saying what he intended to say when the show began and had begun casting about, looking for something else to say, perhaps the next logical thing. Over the course of these latest two seasons he didn’t appear to come up with anything solid.

    Enter the opening to the fifth season. Unfortunately, it’s a bit prosaic, and everyone but Don and Roger don’t quite seem to be themselves. Specifically, they seem quite a bit kinder and gentler. They don’t play the type of hardball they once played with each other. For example, the plot involving Harry and Peggy upsetting Megan has gone soft. Harry is remorseful and is set up by Weiner to believe he’s getting fired by Roger, meanwhile Peggy offers a very sincere apology. In the old days, upsetting a woman was not a big deal, even if it was Don’s wife. Pete was strikingly out of character when he accepted the “skirt” of responsibility for Joan’s baby from Peggy. Why have these characters gone so twenty-first century on us by only 1966? Lane’s false dealing with the applicants in the lobby was the only glimmer of hope Weiner might recover his mojo.

    While I suppose the show can continue to cash in on kitschy cool, unless they can find a way to continue what they were onto in seasons 1 and 2, it becomes pointless, empty drama. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I guess, except they’ve already set my expectations so much higher. Well, that and now it just isn’t so much different from a soap opera, or anything else on TV for that matter. I would love for Mad Men to have stayed in its niche. It was in such a wonderful niche.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t hear Weiner saying much in the kickoff of the fifth season to justify the continued existence of the show. For the most part, it seems the reason it continues is merely because it hasn’t been cancelled yet. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal…

  12. While I agree that the opening of the season was spectacular in all aspects, subsequent episodes have not risen to the same level. Once central characters wander in and out of scenes. Mutter a few simple lines and disappear from further view. I’m sorry but Don’s life is simply not enough to sustain the show. There was little drama in last nights episode. Don had a cold. Joan and hubby break up over supper. Roger….well Roger.Not sure what his role is anymore. Don’s ex had at least fifteen seconds of air time asking where her daugher was. The script was not up to par. I look forward to the spirit and the depth of season one and two. I really want to like the show. I am a fan. At least for now.
    JLO in Kingston Ontario

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