Mad Men Season 5 Preview
Why do we do the things that we do?
Are we strong enough to overcome the hand we are dealt in life, or are we destined to be products of our upbringing and nothing else?
Mad Men has raised questions like those and many others. What questions will the critically acclaimed drama ask viewers when it returns Sunday for its fifth season?
I have some questions of my own to ask and answer about the show. Some from the perspective of a fan, and some that folks who have never seen the series might ask.
Q: Is the show just about drinking and womanizing?
From the opening credits of the first episode of the series, it was clear to me that this show was about the fall of Don Draper. His was an endangered species. He was a vaguely racist, overtly sexist man in a society where racists and sexists were about to be looked at very differently.
In addition to dealing with the rapidly changing society, Don was also outrunning his past. He was spinning too many plates. He had a multitude of affairs and a battle with alcoholism. There was also the matter of his California connections.
The show began to change last season with the episode "The Summer Man". For the first time, Don looked inward. He became more self-aware. He started to open himself up to people that cared about him. He saved his floundering business.
I think the show is now about the importance of self-awareness, living with purpose, going through life with open eyes and willingness to change.
Q: Is Mad Men better than AMC's other critical darling, Breaking Bad?
The show draws a smaller audience than Breaking Bad, but that show doesn't get issues of Newsweek dedicated to it. It doesn't spawn rip-off shows, countless parodies or themed viewing parties. Why?
(I guess it would be difficult to have a Breaking Bad-themed party. "Everyone bring enough meth to share!")
Breaking Bad asked one question of its audience at the outset: Would you do something illegal and unethical to ensure your family's financial stability in the event of your death? No matter how we answered the question, we answered it. Once Walter answered the question as well, the rest of the series became about watching his devolution. It's a spectacularly entertaining devolution, but that's what the show is. It's a car crash. It doesn't intellectually engage the viewer beyond the most basic level of entertainment.
And from a basic storytelling standpoint, who are we supposed to root for in Breaking Bad? Walt has no redeeming qualities at all. Jesse? What about Jesse is sympathetic? He's a cold-blooded, drug-addicted loser who has no hope of ever changing. Don Draper is beyond flawed, but there is hope that he will change. He tries. He doesn't stand still.
And Season 4 demonstrated that Mad Men is a show that is not content to stand still and ask the same thing of its audience that it did at the outset. Breaking Bad is the best burger joint in town. Mad Men is a steakhouse.
Q: If I haven't seen the show, is it too late to dive in now?
If you haven't watched much of the show in the past, it may be difficult to start at Season 5. But all 4 seasons are available on Netflix. There have been 52 episodes and all are around 50 minutes in length. Knock out a couple in the evening over a month.
Q: Can January Jones act?
A: No, as evidenced in 2011's Unknown.
But from watching Mad Men, you would never know that. She is rarely asked to do any heavy lifting and is perfectly fine in the role of Betty Draper. I refuse to ever call her Betty Francis.
(If you have not watched through Season 4, there are some important plot points discussed below.)
Q: Don and Megan were engaged at the end of season 4. Did they marry?
There was a premiere event in Los Angeles last week and screeners have been sent out to critics, so we know some details of the upcoming season. We know that at the very least, Don and Megan are cohabitating.
Q: What year will Season 5 begin in?
A: That detail that has not yet leaked, to my knowledge. We know that Don is about to turn 40, which would put the year at approximately 1966.
There are still many questions that I have no answers for. What became of Joan’s husband and her baby with Roger? How is Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce doing? Did Cooper really retire at the end of last season? We’ll have to tune in to find out. No screeners will be sent to critics for the remainder of the season, meaning that everyone will find out together.
Just one final question. Mad Men is back after a long hiatus. Are you as excited about it as I am?
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