When Don Draper et al shut their office doors in October of 2010, no one thought it would take close to 18 months before they would open them again. We've all heard the gripes the network had with the show (too expensive, too many characters) and the kick back from Mad Men's creator and detail maniac Mathew Weiner (fine, we'll go to another network then), and we have probably made all of our own assessments of what actually happened. Who cares? Don Draper is back and March 25 inaugurated the fifth season of the show that has reminded the world of just how cool drinking scotch during the day and chain-smoking Lucky Strikes could be.
Pick up any entertainment section of any newspaper or magazine in the past month and you can get a full-blown recap of the past four seasons, but for those of you that have been really drinking too much scotch and need a quick refresher, here goes:
Don spent the majority of last season in an alcohol-induced funk. His swinging lifestyle became a pathetic shell of its former self, hiring prostitutes and wearing unpressed shirts. Much of his depression had to do with the death of his only true friend, the real Mrs. Draper. He manages to pull himself out of the rabbit hole with the help of his comrade Peggy and the looker Dr. Faye Miller, who worked with the team on R&D and with Don in the bedroom. She was smart and well-spoken and had a lot going for her, so it is only natural that Don would totally ditch her for his young, naive secretary. He proposes to his Girl Friday in a shocking end to the season.
On the other side of the coin was the always-wiry Peggy, trying to forge ahead in a man's world, good-time guy Roger Sterling, who manages to lose the company's biggest account, and then there is Joan. Joan finally shows her vulnerable side by sleeping with, getting knocked up and then lying about an abortion to old flame Roger. Babies and cigarettes and Don's engagement, and now you are basically caught up.
Season 5 started off filling its audience in on the past year and a half. It is June 1965 and nothing is business as usual. Don and the new Mrs. Draper are living the sweet life, working together, being inappropriately gropey and showing a bit too much PDA for everyone they are around. Those with turned-up noses to the happy couple include both of Don's "other" girls, daughter Sally and Peggy, who says she is "concerned" over Don's new attitude.
Other things worth being concerned about are the little Joan baby, whom she is pretending belongs to her doctor husband, which we all know is totally not true.
The other shocking thing that kicks off the episode is Don's 40th surprise party and his new wife's awkward and slightly inappropriate French zoobie zoo song. Don is none too pleased. Even I know not to throw Don Draper a surprise birthday party and I barely know the guy! Regardless of the '60s, retro, pastel-colored fun that may have been had, there is finally some trouble in Draper paradise. Thank God.
Roger, since having lost the company's biggest client, has been knocked off his high horse and become something of a mockery. Pete Campbell, who has quickly become the SCDP's go-to guy for winning clients, demands that Roger give up his office and his masculinity. But in his usual fashion, Roger weasels his way out of it.
And then there is Peggy, whose ever-developing balls have grown even bigger. For better or worse.
Overall, the focus of the show was little more than a marital spat gone awry and not a particularly stellar one, either. What will this foreshadow? Potentially we will see Don and his new boo coming up against a continual age-defying battle. She is not Betty and while she is not Don's equal intellectually, she is certainly not going to put up with Don's overbearing and self-possessed BS. That being said, she is very well aware of the sexual control she has over Don, which is dangerous because she just might be a little crazy.
The episode had its highs: a sad and pathetic Roger, a tender moment between Joan and Layne Price, and the introduction of the civil rights movement that will undoubtedly be a theme of the season. Overall, though, the two-hour episode was a bit of a letdown. The relationship between Don and his wife was the weakest link in the episode, yet sucked up most of the time. And a happy Don does not make for a brooding, miserable Don and a brooding, miserable Don is what makes this show so successful.
Naturally, this is the first episode of the season and not the first disappointing season opener for the AMC show. The season surely needs a few episodes to find the brilliant place it left off. Just don't take too long, guys. We'll give it a 3 out of 5 Lucky Strikes.
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