Tag Archive: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 3

So, this is out of the ordinary. Long time readers know that when I review seasons of television programs after they’ve stopped airing, I generally review them on a disc-by-disc basis (or I guess if the DVD isn’t actually out yet based on previous seasons). No one would want to read me do an episode-by-episode breakdown of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Doctor Who (actually, those are the two older shows I watch that people would have enjoyed that because the fandoms are so nerdy). I choose disc by disc reviews because some stretches of a season are good and some aren’t. For example, during the first season of Mad Men, it took me to the final disc of the show to finally understand what Matthew Wiener was trying to accomplish with this program. Similarly, I mostly enjoyed the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the first couple of episodes where the Potentials showed up were nearly unwatchable. I like to capture the ebb and flow of a season of television if at all possible. However, for multiple reasons with the third season of Mad Men (mostly that I watched all but one of the five episodes of the first disc before I went to Bonnaroo and then I watched the other episode when I got back and much of the action had became hazy in my head, plus I had written 4000 words for two articles for work and I was just feeling lazy), I decided to simply review the entire season at once. Even though this was the weakest season of Mad Men (two is my favorite), I regret that decision because Mad Men remains one of the most thematically complex programs on American television.

One of the reasons that I like to review a disc at a time is that my natural inclination to go on at length about the plots of TV shows (because of subconscious training I’ve received by reading Entertainment Weekly review/recaps) is restrained if there are only three or four episodes. Trying to cram a season’s worth of plot for Mad Men into one or two paragraphs will be interesting. Essentially, the season begins by focusing on the fall-out of Sterling Cooper’s sale to a British advertising agency and the new leadership of their British overseer Lane Pryce (Jared Harris). Although Don and Betty seem to have put their near marriage meltdown behind them from last season, it’s not long between Don’s infidelity and Betty’s general bitchiness start to tear their marriage apart. Don has remained rakish throughout and begins an affair with Sally’s teacher, Suzanne (Abigail Spencer), while Betty begins a romantic involvement with an adviser to Governor Rockefeller (soon to be Vice President Rockefeller), Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley). When Betty discovers the truth of Don’s past as Dick Whitman, she finally decides to end the marriage and to be with Henry. Sterling Cooper is sold again. This time’s it’s by the British company. Because Don, Roger, and Bert Cooper don’t want to work for the agency that they’ve been sold to (and Bert knows that his old age means his career is over with a new company), they decide to pull a fast one under the Brits by having Lane fire them, poach as many of the accounts as they possibly could, and start their own new agency. Except now, Don’s name is on the metaphorical door of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

I left out leagues and leagues of subplots there but that’s what happens when I don’t review a show in a more serialized format. TV isn’t movies and it doesn’t lend itself easily to highly condensed reviews. Honestly though, I just wasn’t crazy about this season.  It’s still great TV, and intellectually, it’s leagues beyond everything else on TV. However, Mad Men always moves at its own, very deliberate pace. That’s fine. It gives stories a chance to truly develop at a natural pace rather than occurring at TV time. However, season 3 took the deliberate pace and turned it into a glacial pace. It took nearly seven episodes before I felt anything especially significant started to happen and it wasn’t until the final two/three episodes that major changes began to finally occur. And honestly, so many of these events carried such a weight of inevitability (Don and Betty’s divorce primarily) that it seemed like they were dragging things out for dramatic reasons. On other programs, that wouldn’t be so bad, but on Mad Men, much of its appeal comes from the way that things seem to happen so realistically. There were moments this season where I felt like I was being reminded I was watching a scripted TV program and it robbed the show of some of its magic. Also, the general lack of engaging dynamic character development (particularly on the Peggy Olson front til the final two episodes) lessened the impact of what is generally the greatest part of the show, its characters.

Thankfully, the acting was as top notch as always (except for January Jones anyways. She, and by proxy Betty, is the weak link in this program). Jon Hamm remains the second best leading man on television (behind Bryan Cranston). And I honestly think that Don Draper is a far more engaging character than Walter White. I just think Bryan Cranston is the best leading man in the history of the television medium (I can’t wait for Breaking Bad to come back). His performance as Don Draper this season was potentially his best yet as we finally saw Don at his breaking point. He’s often the definition of cool composure, but we saw his carefully maintained facade crack several times this season and it was wonderful. John Slattery continues to be the scene stealing ensemble dark horse of the program as Roger Sterling, and he had a lot of great scenes with Christina Hendricks towards the end of the season. Bryan  Batt left the program this season (a mistake on the part of the show’s writers I believe unless he wanted out), but Sal also had a lot of great moments where he finally came to terms with his homosexuality only to be fired after someone from Lucky Strikes made a pass at him that he rejected. Elisabeth Moss kept her place as my favorite cast member even if she didn’t get to do a whole lot this season. Though the moments where she finally stood up to Don were some of the most engaging of the season. However, January Jones remains the worst leading lady on serious television so she weighs down the otherwise fantastic acting of the program considerably.

I’ll draw this review to a close because it’s much more difficult for me to write in-depth about 13 episodes of TV at once than it is for me to gleam insights from a single episode at a time. I still don’t quite understand why except for the fact that when you watch that much TV in a row, it all starts to blur together. I’m finally finished with this season of Mad Men though which means it’s time for me to return to the land of Joss Whedon and Angel. I actually watched the season premiere last night with my dad. There was a new character introduced who has the opportunity to be my new favorite character on the show. We shall see. So, we’re going to take a 22 episode break from Mad Men and then return for Season 4 after I finish the second season of Angel. A lot of changes did finally occur at the end of Season 3 of Mad Men so I’m excited to see what all of the fall out from these decisions will be. Also, among my friends who are fans of the show, there’s a general consensus that the fourth season is the best so that’s as good a sign as any. So, let’s say goodbye to Sterling Cooper (or should I say Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce) and say hello again to Angel Investigations.

Final Score: B+

When watching Mad Men, I am consistently struck by the realization that Mad Men is constructed like almost nothing else on television. With its serialized nature, television is a format rife for the possibilities of literary storytelling. However, with rare exceptions, the realm of character driven, mature storytelling has become the purview of genre fiction (fantasy programs like Game of Thrones or science fiction like Lost). Before you throw prime-time soaps in my face, they aren’t mature, intelligent storytelling and also, more often than not, on network dramas (prime-time soaps or other mostly procedural dramas), lessons are learned and episodes are almost entirely self-contained. HBO has had a monopoly on programs like Mad Men in the past (Six Feet Under and The Wire), but there’s a reason why Mad Men is one of the most celebrated TV programs of the last five years, and that’s because it’s proven that cable TV (and maybe, hopefully someday network TV) can do everything that the premium cable channels can do and more.

Betty and Don continue their separation though when Betty’s father has a stroke, they attempt to put their differences aside for a couple days and stay at her father’s house (who thinks Betty is his dead first wife and even feels her up at the kitchen table. Yeesh.) They have sex one evening but when they return home, Betty still asks Don to move back out of the house. Pete Campbell is facing marital problems of his own. He and Trudy are still struggling to conceive and Trudy brings up the possibility of adoption. Pete begins to warm to the idea when he tells his brother about it who then proceeds to tell their shrew of a mother about Pete’s plans. She threatens to cut off Pete’s non-existent inheritance if he and Trudy adopt a child rather than conceive naturally. Don and Pete go on a business trip L.A. together to represent Sterling Cooper at a prestigious industry convention when Don mysteriously disappears and spends several days with a group of wealthy swingers/nomads. Peggy finds herself attracted to the young European Kurt, one of the ad men that Duck brought into to appeal to younger audiences, and is set to see Bob Dylan with him when he unashamedly outs himself to the entire office (I’m guessing Sal wishes he had that kind of courage). Duck falls off the wagon and orchestrates the acquisition and merger of Sterling Cooper by a British advertising firm he used to work for.

Although Pete returns from L.A., Don completely disappears and we finally learn who he’s been writing letters to this season and who the woman was that knew he wasn’t Don Draper in the flashback earlier in the season. Her name is Anna Draper, and she’s the real Don Draper’s wife. Don has been financially supporting her for years. They’ve developed a brother/sister relationship over the years and she was legally Don’s wife for a long time before they got a divorce so he could marry Betty. Because Pete is now refusing to adopt a baby, under pressure from his mother, Trudy’s father pulls the Clearasil from Sterling Cooper (which is Pete’s biggest account). Joan brings her fiance Greg to the office to introduce him to everyone and my suspicions that their relationship was far from perfect are finally confirmed when he rapes her inside Don’s office (after he was unable to get an erection naturally in their bed). Duck brings the news of the merger to the partners at Sterling Cooper and they reluctantly decide to sell the company (where they’ll still be allowed to work. After Peggy lands an account all by herself, she gets her own office to the chagrin of many of her male co-workers. After three weeks of being AWOL, Don finally returns from California only to find the nation in the grips of the Cuban Missile Crisis (and Sterling Cooper on the verge of being merged). Betty discovers that she’s pregnant and has sex in a bathroom with a complete stranger at a bar. Though afterwards (and after receiving a touching letter from Don), she finally reconciles the marriage (for now). Duck, who will be the new President of Sterling Cooper, informs Pete that he’s making Pete the new Head of Accounts. Pete earns the confidence of Don by letting him know what’s happening in the company, and when Pete confesses his love to Peggy, she finally tells him that he was the father of her child and leaves him distressed and confused in the office.

If I found this particular stretch of episodes to be slightly disappointing compared to the last disc, it’s only because “A Night to Remember” was such a stand-out episode. Still, this particular disc took the narrative disconnect that I find so refreshing about this series and pushed it perhaps a little too far. The surrealism that defined the first four episodes of the season (particularly episodes 3 & 4) pushed past surreal and occasionally entered incomprehensible. Specifically, I’m referring to the episode “The Jet Set” where Don hooks up with a group of free-love not quite hippies in their borrowed mansion. Maybe it was the over the top French accent of the de facto leader of the group or the way that Don seemed to be taken this whole trip with such ease, I couldn’t buy it. Don went to California on a business trip and for all of his personal problems, he’s a hell of a businessman. For him to abandon Pete in the middle of a meeting and run off with some chick he just met seems like a real stretch for something that Don Draper might do, even taking his considerable emotional stress into consideration. While I actually enjoyed “The Mountain King” quite a bit, the moments in Don’s youth where he’s describing Betty just showed that man in far too happy of a light. There’s never been a point in this series where he seemed that innocent or that happy. And the scene where he’s talking about working with this group of mechanics he just met to make cars, it seemed like it had no place in the rest of the episode.

I think I can finally articulate why it is that I despise Betty Draper so much but I tend to forgive Don for his more upsetting trespasses. This goes the same for why I dislike Carmela Soprano and Skylar White but I root for Tony Soprano and Walter White. When Don does something hedonistic that might hurt others, he is almost never trying to be spiteful. That’s not an excuse for what he’s doing, but Don is simply pursuing his own selfish self-interest. He has full-knowledge of what he’s doing and he does his best to try and keep it from affecting the lives of those around him. That doesn’t make it right, but I can’t fault hedonism as long as it isn’t causing direct harm to others. Betty, on the other hand, is spiteful and self-righteous and (now) the world’s biggest hypocrite. In “The Mountain King,” she chastised her friend for having an affair with a man they had both lusted after for ages (I think this had more to do with Betty being jealous than real moral outrage), and then in “Meditations in an Emergency,” she goes right out and sleeps with a stranger. Don finally owns up (in his own subtle way) to cheating on Betty with Bobby Barrett. Yet, Betty makes no mention of her affair to Don. She’s pregnant and her doctor told her not to ride a horse. And what does she do, she spends half the episode at the stables (and drinks though that might be before they know it’s bad). Don would never dream of intentionally hurting Betty, but Betty is going out of her way to accumulate a list of things she could do to spite Don later on. Betty almost never acts on her own desires because she doesn’t know what she wants. Instead, she has to ruin the happiness of others (which she regularly indulges in by being a complete bitch to her daughter Sally). Though Don surrounds himself in secrecy, there’s an honesty and urgency to how he lives his life. Betty wallows in self-pity and misery and tries to infect everyone around her rather than try to change her situation (like say Peggy).

Peggy’s growth this season has been one of the most rewarding character arcs I’ve ever seen. When the season began, she was back at the office, but we had no idea what had happened with her baby. Slowly, like a knot methodically being undone, we learned more and more about Peggy’s personal life, where her baby had gone, and how she’d been coping for the last year and a half (surprisingly well thanks to Don’s tutelage). She’s on her way to becoming a female version of Don Draper, and while that isn’t necessarily the best path for Betty, it’s certainly better than the mousey, soft-spoken secretary she was when the show began. Watching her interactions with the preacher (and eventually standing up to him) and then standing down Pete Campbell when he put his heart on the line, Elisabeth Moss has placed an increasing amount of steel in the spine of Peggy, and at this point, she’s arguably the most well-adjusted and happy person in the office. Her career is on a meteoric rise, and I hope she continues to find success and growth next season. Though to be clear, I hope she continues to find appropriate and not overly-contrived drama of her own so her character remains dynamic and engaging. Elisabeth Moss is officially one of my favorite women in television because Peggy has become one of my favorite female roles.

I’ll end my ramblings about this season of Mad Men (which means I’ll begin my ramblings about the first season of Angel soon!) with one last note. Betty and Don’s separation (and then their reconciliation) bore many similarities to Tony and Carmela breaking up and getting back together on The Sopranos. Since Matthew Wiener got his start on that program, it makes sense and more and more, I notice a lot of thematic and visual similarities between these two great programs. I highly doubt that I’ll catch back up with Mad Men before Season 5 stops airing (partially because Angel has 22 episode seasons) so by the time I finally catch back up with this show, it will be like Dexter and Doctor Who where I’m years behind, but no less enthusiastic about one of the most refreshing dramas on American television.

Final Score: A-

I fancy myself to be a connoisseur of good television. Yes, I review some guilty pleasure shows on here (Glee, True Blood, The Walking Dead), but I pretty much spend half of my posts opining how those shows fail to live up their reputation. Most of my favorite programs are things that are no longer on the air and I haven’t gotten around to reviewing them on this blog because I’ve been spending my time watching series that I’ve never seen before. I may not be writing about all of the top-tier shows I’ve loved over the years (though I may eventually if I decide to rewatch them), but with the exception of The Corner (which is a miniseries so it doesn’t even count), there probably isn’t a single show I’ve reviewed so far that would actually make my top five series of all time. Only Breaking Bad and Buffy would likely crack my top ten. So, when I say that there was an episode of Mad Men on this particular disc that I consider to be one of the greatest episodes of television that I’ve ever seen, it means a lot. Nothing that had come before in this series prepared me for the exponential leap in quality that the show suddenly made. If this means that Mad Men is finally transforming itself into a truly top-shelf program, count me in because these last four episodes were some of the most sharply scripted television I’ve ever seen.

We finally get a look at what makes Duck tick this episode. Duck is divorced with two kids who can barely stand to be around him. He ruined his marriage with alcoholism, and even though he’s on the wagon now, his wife and children still want nothing to do with him. His wife is getting re-married and Duck is being stuck with the family dog. Though it was originally his only friend in the marriage, realizing that his wife has finally found another man nearly pushed Duck to drink. He doesn’t put when he’s done he releases the dog (a gorgeous breed) out onto the streets of NYC without a word. I literally gasped out loud during that scene. Peggy feels left out of the work in the office despite being one of the copy writers. So, with advice from Joan, she decides to start acting more like one of the guys so she can experience more success including visiting a strip club with the creative boys to celebrate signing a client. Don becomes part of the upper echelon of Sterling Cooper (though the show is a little unclear about what that means) and he buys a new car (though we get a quick flashback to his younger days as a car salesman where the real Don Draper’s wife confronts him as a fraud. Don has one last romantic rendezvous with Bobbie Barrett but he realizes how much she bothers him and he leaves her tied up in the hotel room. Ken wants Sal to proofread one of his short stories so Sal invites Ken over to dinner with his wife Kitty (even though Sal is obviously gay and has feelings for Ken). It is one of the most heartbreaking and awkward scenes of the whole series. Roger also begins a relationship with Jane, Don’s new secretary, after stopping her from being fired by Joan for breaking into Mr. Cooper’s office.

Shit really hits the fan though at a party celebrating Jimmie Barrett’s TV series being picked up for 39 episodes (something that would never happen on modern TV). Jimmie has been able to deduce that Don is sleeping with Bobbie and he tells Betty his feelings on the matter. After Don unintentionally offends Betty by making her part of a “sell” for beer company Heineken on how effective his ideas on product placement would be, she calls him out for sleeping with Bobbie. Though he denies it throughout the whole disc, she refuses to believe him and searches the entire house trying to find any shred of evidence that Don’s had an affair. Even though she can’t find anything, she still calls Don at the office and tells him not to come home. Don is forced to live out of a hotel room and they have to come up with lies to tell the children about why he isn’t home. Betty is a frazzled mess who looks like she isn’t showering or sleeping or changing her clothes. She just wanders through life like a zombie as their maid takes care of Sally and Bobby. Fred Rumsen, one of the account executives, pisses himself and passes from his drunkenness and is let go by the company, and Peggy takes his spot. While Peggy is happy for the promotion, she’s unhappy that it came at the cost of another man’s job and that Pete Campbell ratted Fred out in the first place.

I’ll talk about all of the other episodes later, but “A Night to Remember” is undoubtedly one of the five best episodes of television that I’ve ever watched. Maybe it’s the way that Matthew Wiener has allowed these characters to grow so much over the last season and a half and the way that they already felt so well defined, but in “A Night to Remember,” every single scene was bursting with so much authenticity that it was all almost too realistic to take in. Every moment seemed like it was playing out in two different worlds. There was the actual action and conversations that were taking place which were moving things forward at the face level, but it was the layers and layers of subtext in each word, in each hesitantly uttered phrase, in each sigh or furrow of the brow that spoke volumes about where our characters were. I often complain that Mad Men suffers from a bit of a pacing problem because episodes are often filled with one-shot filler stories. This episode had two filler story lines (Peggy working on the poster for Father Gill, and Joan helping Harry read scripts), but each of those stories moved those characters forward in significant ways. When Joan was let go as the script reader, Christina Hendricks imbued her with so much heartbreak and pain that I thought for sure we’d finally see Joan crying in the bathroom. It’s a testament to this show’s storytelling restraint that we didn’t.

“Six Months Leave” (the final episode of the disc) was nearly as good as “A Night to Remember” and was arguably less disjointed (though I’ll still always prefer “A Night”). There are so many different group dynamics on display in this show. There are so many cogs in the wheel of Sterling Cooper and their family members that you can lose track for a minute of when one person’s seemingly minor actions can have major consequences for another individual. Don and Roger discuss Don’s crumbling marriage which inspires Roger (with Don’s intention) to leave his wife Mona for Don’s secretary Jane. Don is simply talking about how he doesn’t understand why we put ourselves through the pain of marriage as a way to justify his actions with Betty and he ends up ruining another man’s (already ill) marriage in the process. Peggy is simply trying to get by as the only woman in an all-boys misogynistic club, but Pete trying to take care of a problem and advance himself manages to get Peggy a promotion. Fred Rumsen falls asleep at a commercial which causes Jimmie Barrett to insult the Utz family which ends with Don having to do damage control which results in Don sleeping with Bobbie which is the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back of his marriage. To quote The Wire, “All the pieces matter,” and in the giant jigsaw puzzle that is Mad Men, that sentiment is certainly true.

John Slattery impressed me more than any other cast member during this particular disc. If Elisabeth Moss is the unsung here of the cast (as I’ve said in the past), John Slattery is the prop player who sits quietly in the background making everyone else look better. He’s often such a quiet force in the episodes. He certainly takes a back seat in plot to Don or the rest of the boys/girl in creative. Yet, when he shows up, he commands the screen. He’s even more roguish and hedonistic than Don. Yet, Slattery (along with the script) turns Roger into one of those men that you might despise on some level for the callousness of his deeds, but you have to root for him because he’s such an inherently likeable guy. Even when he does something like leave his wife for a secretary, John Slattery pulls your heartstrings towards Roger in the confrontation scene at the office because you can see the pain he’s in but you also see the effort he takes to stay composed. Bryan Batt (Sal) was also a real difference maker on this disc because his scenes with Aaron Staton’s Ken Cosgrove were a brutally honest display of the small pleasures you had to take in life as a closeted gay man in the 1960s.

I’ve used this analogy before as Mad Men being a puzzle where all of the pieces aren’t there yet, and we’re only slowly given more and more pieces as the show continues.  In that regard, Mad Men then is often about the small moments within any given episode. As the series goes on, you get more and more of what’s happening, where these characters are headed, and why they continue to put each other through all of these hells. But on an episode by episode basis, you simply have the puzzle pieces in front of you. Most of your revelations about what’s happening on a deeper level don’t come until you’ve turn the episode off and thought about it. Thankfully, these little moments (the pieces I’m referring to) are so memorable. When Betty smashed a chair to pieces or realized that she was part of a game that Don was playing with his workers, those were defining moments of an episode. When Sal keeps Ken’s lighter as a memento of his visit, that’s a defining moment of the show. Joan and Roger have one last sexually charged conversation in his office before it’s revealed that he’s left Mona for Jane. These moments all build up, but to me Mad Men seems like a show built on a never-ending wave of moments. And somehow, it makes that work.

I’ll stop rambling about how brilliant this season is and refrain from going into a large spiel about how it’s “stories by a series of moments” structure serves as a metaphor for the reality of life as compared to the neatly plot-driven lives of TV characters, and instead implore anyone reading this article that has somehow managed to not start watching Mad Men yet that they must. This is the season where the show may be finally growing the beard. I had always enjoyed the show before and I thought the final four episodes of Season 1 were worth of an “A,” but I almost want to retroactively take that score back, because it wasn’t until now during these last episodes that I finally saw the ultimate potential of this series for intimately detailed, character driven storytelling. There are more textures, layers, flaws, and details in the most minor characters on Mad Men as there are in the main characters of most prime-time dramas, and it’s that sort of mature, intelligent storytelling that makes Mad Men such a blessing in an often barren TV environment.

Final Score: A

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve returned to the offices of Sterling Cooper. My father bought me the first season of Mad Men for Christmas, and I finished watching the last disc in early February. After I finished that first season up though, I took time off to actually finish all of Doctor Who and Dexter which I had been watching for the better part of a year by then. When I finally managed to catch myself completely up with those shows, I knew it was time to start watching Mad Men again. I’ve officially made my mind up that the two shows I’m going to bounce back and forth reviewing on here (like I did with Doctor Who and Dexter) are going to be Mad Men and Joss Whedon’s cult hit Angel (The Avengers comes out this summer bitches!). Since Angel has 22 episode long seasons like Buffy did, there will likely be lengthy hiatuses between seasons of Mad Men but I’m ultimately okay with that because Mad Men is heavy stuff, and I could use decent breaks while I let the myriad themes and subtexts of the season continue to sink in after the season ends. As for Season 2, I have sort of mixed feelings because while certain characters seem to be getting much more fleshed out (Peggy, Joan, Pete, Roger), there’s been a frustrating lack of development for Don Draper and he’s the heart of the show.

It’s Valentine’s Day in 1962 (which I guess means well over a year has passed since last season ended) when Season 2 begins. Trouble is already brewing in the tense marriage of Betty and Don Draper when, after a romantic evening at a restaurant where Betty runs into an old roommate who may or may not be a call girl now, Don is unable to perform sexually for Betty. Don will do anything that moves so this is probably an issue. When Don visits the doctor, we discover that he has high blood pressure which he hides from Betty until the fifth and final episode of this disc in order to cover up being in a car accident while driving drunk with his mistress. Duck Philips, who was brought in at the end of last season to help bring in new clients to Sterling Cooper, is also insisting that Sterling Cooper hire younger talent in order to ease concerns among clients that they can’t sell to young people which sends all of the people in creative into panics that their jobs are on the line. After the crash of American Airlines Flight 1 (which was carrying Pete Campbell’s father), Sterling Cooper decides to abandon their existing airline (Mohawk) to try and sign American who are looking to rebrand their image in the face of the tragedy. Pete Campbell has little time to mourn the loss of his father when Duck ruthlessly uses him to try and gain sympathy with American as  a face of the tragedy who knows what American would have to do to sell themselves back to America.

One of the companies that Sterling Cooper represents is Utz Potato chips, and they use acerbic comedian Jimmy Barrett (who I just discovered is not a real historical figure like I had assumed) as the spokesman. When Barrett insults the Utz CEO and his wife (cause he’s an insult comedian), Don is in charge of damage control to get Barrett to apologize. Don being Don, this winds up with Don banging Barrett’s wife who is as much of a power-addict as Don. Bobbie is really in charge with Jimmy, and while she gets him to apologize, she and Don continue their sexual relationship even after their business is concluded. I left this out earlier, but we finally learn what happened to Peggy’s baby. After she had it, it was taken away from her by the city of New York and now it lives with her sister. We meet Peggy’s family which brag to everyone about her job in advertising but also mercilessly judge her for having a child out of wedlock and her jealous sister ruins Peggy’s friendship with a local priest (Colin Hanks so apparently along with Doomsday on Dexter, he just only plays religious characters). Sterling Cooper is unable to sign American Airlines which means they betrayed their first client for no reason which is sure to cause even more tension between Don and Duck. Don ends up in a car accident with Bobbie (as I mentioned earlier) and Peggy has to bail him out of jail. Bobbie stays with Peggy as she heals and we learn even more about Peggy’s childbirth where she was held basically as mentally ill at the hospital and only an unexpected visit from Don got her out of her funk when he told her to just pretend it never happened. Bobbie gives Peggy some self-empowerment advice which will hopefully mean that Peggy stops being such a wallflower. We also discover that Pete’s wife Trudie (Community’s Alison Brie) is sterile which is causing stress in their fragile marriage as well.

When the season began, I kept thinking about how I could write a good thirty page essay entitledThe Virtues and Vices of American Hedonism as Presented Through the 1960s Screen of Mad Men. Hedonism lies at the core of the series. Virtually every character is a completely selfish caricature of an Ayn Rand protagonist doing what they want and not giving two fucks how it effects anyone else. Don drinks, sleeps around, lies, keeps secrets, and uses other people to accomplish his goals. Despite all this, we root for him (most of the time) because he represents that American ideal of the go-getter and achiever. Despite his myriad flaws, we don’t want to think of him as a bad person (even when he most certainly is) because the allure and glamour that his hedonism provides (because it’s allowed him to be so successful and therefore enviable and desirable). This is probably an effect of the series that I’m reading too much into that may not even be intentional but I love the dichotomy that the series creates between just how detached from typical social mores from the 1960s Don and the rest of the boys in advertising have to be in order to be as creative as they are. If Don weren’t a womanizing rake, he wouldn’t be as good at his job as he is because he knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. Therefore, he knows how to hit exactly on what it is that other people want. So the series creates this interesting back and forth between when the hedonism of our heroes accomplishes something productive (mostly at work or when they simply release their inhibitions and just live) and when it’s damaging (the way Don treats Betty, the way Betty treats everyone on the planet, the way they all use and abuse each other without fail).

One of the things that I’ve also been noticing about this season (at least since “Three Sundays”) is the heavy debt that the cinematography from episodes four and five (“The New Girl”) owe to the French New Wave. There were so many fast cuts and a use of naturalistic lighting that during those two episodes I kept on expecting for things to turn out to be a dream. In movies, these kinds of shots are normal, but on American television, it’s very rare for these kinds of cinematic artifices to be used and it really lent a surrealistic and dream-like quality to the whole proceedings. It really blew my mind because now Mad Men can officially join Breaking Bad as being tied for the best shot show on TV. Thank you AMC for realizing that television no longer has to be a slave to ancient three camera conventions. While there was a lot of the French New Wave stuff, the series still had plenty of the smoke-filled rooms and exciting fashion that made the first season so famous, but there was just something about those last two episodes where I found myself paying nearly as much attention to the way the show was shot as I did the actual story itself (which in true Mad Men fashion is unfurling itself very slowly).

The acting in this series is as phenomenal as always. Whatever complaints I might have about the lack of anything interesting happening with Don as a character (there has been nothing along the lines of a Dick Whitman story for him so far and I find it frustrating), Jon Hamm still sold every one of his scenes like a champ. The best example I can think of comes from the episode where Betty is having trouble disciplining Bobby, and at the dinner table, Don finally loses it and throws Bobby’s toy across the room. It was the way in which the perpetually calm and collected Don finally snapped and then almost instantly returned to normal. Then to make things better, Jon Hamm shares an equally tender scene with his son who comes to apologize. Elisabeth Moss is the unsung hero of the cast and the show. Yes, she’s incredibly unfortunate looking, but that comes with her character, and once we finally got a look at what her personal life was like, we can now understand even more why she is the way she is. Elisabeth Moss was able to add plenty of subtlety and nuance to her interactions with the priest (which I at first assumed were going to be played for sexual tension) as well as her growing confidence when she had to take care of Don’s mistress Bobbie. Vincent Kartheiser is also coming into his own this season and the scenes immediately after his father died were easily his best in the series so far. I still hate Betty Draper (I’m going to avoid giving an entire paragraph about how Betty Draper almost makes me want to become asexual. She makes women look that bad) and January Jones is still an awful actress, but I guess the show can’t be perfect.

I have more to say (mostly about the character paths that were charted for several people: Joan’s engagement, Peggy’s increasing confidence (she called Don “Don”), Pete’s marriage strife, Betty’s flirtation with a man at her horse stable, but I don’t want this review to run on forever because lord knows that tomorrow’s review for tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones will be lengthy enough. With the exception of Don, all of the characters this season seem much more fleshed out and realistic (even C-list people in creative like Ken, Paul, and Harry), and I think the show is trying to make the world a little more detailed and intimate than last time around. Which I appreciate, but I would love to have even more background and insight into Don who seems stuck in a rut as a character as there is very little difference between this Don and last season, and I know almost nothing new about him. I’ve still got eight episodes left of the season though so there’s plenty of time for the show to change my mind or prove to me that there was so much happening right now that I didn’t even realize because I didn’t have all of the pieces in front of me (which is what happened last season).

Final Score: A-

Mad Men: Season 1 (eps. 10-13)

It took me until the final disc of the season, but I think I finally get what all of the fuss concerning Mad Men is all about. I watched three episodes of the series yesterday and just now finished the last episode of Season 1 today. While I had certainly always enjoyed the series from the beginning, I had never really understood what the obsession people have with the show was all about. It was good but certainly not that good. Well, judgments like that are what happen when you wait nearly 5 years to start watching a wildly popular TV program. It takes you a little while to realize what everyone else already knew which is that these characters are easily some of the most complex and “whole” TV creations this side of an HBO program like The Wire or Oz. I had seen flashes of what made this series brilliant in the past, but my biggest problem with the show was that I was unsure about what kind of program it was trying to be. Now, having finished season one and watched three of the finest episodes of the series thus far (I wasn’t as crazy about the finale sans the revelations concerning Peggy), I’m willing to give Mad Men its deserved title as one of the best programs on TV.

After Sterling Cooper loses the very profitable Dr. Scholl’s account, Roger attempts to cheer himself and Don up by seducing a pair of twins that were cast for a modeling gig at the agency. While Don is feeling guilty (in his own weird way) about this public display of disloyalty to his wife (which I feel has more to do with his reputation in Roger’s eyes rather than any concerns about Betty as shown by later actions), Roger is partying like a man half his age when Roger suddenly suffers a nearly-fatal heart attack. This brush with mortality sends Don seeking the comfort of Rachel Menken who finally acquiesces to the affair Don has pursued the entire season. Don finally reveals a little of his past to another human being (Rachel) and we discover that Dick’s mother was a prostitute who died giving birth to Don and Don was raised by his biological father (a drunk and abusive man) and his father’s wife who despised him. Eventually Don’s father died after being kicked in the face by a horse and he was raised by his father’s wife and her new husband. After Roger’s heart attack, he attempts to return to work far too early to meet with the head of Lucky Strike cigarettes (to ensure that the company will be okay), and he suffers another heart attack at which point, Bert Cooper makes Don an official partner in the company. Peggy also gets another crack at writing copy when her insights into a weight-loss belt (that provides more sexual pleasure than weight loss) impress the men in advertising yet again.

The disc began on Labor Day but it ends in November with two episodes centered around the election of President John F. Kennedy (Sterling Cooper was in charge of advertising for Nixon) as well as that year’s Thanksgiving. Don’s brother Adam commits suicide but before his death, he mails a box of family pictures and belongings to Don’s office which is accidentally delivered to Pete. Pete tries to lord this over Don’s head to get promoted to head of accounts services since Pete now knows that Don’s real name is Dick Whitman (even though Dick Whitman died in Korea and that Don Draper should be 43). Through flashbacks it is revealed that the real Don Draper died an accidental death in Korea while Dick Whitman was his assistant. Dick (Don) put his dogtags on the real Don Draper and switched identities with the man leading to the Don Draper we know today. Don calls Pete’s blackmail by allowing Pete to tell Cooper about Don’s past rather than give Pete the job. Cooper doesn’t seem to care and miraculously no one fired Pete for being such an asshole here. In the last episode, Betty discovers that her best friend’s husband was cheating on her friend, and she is forced to recognize that Don has likely been having many affairs over the years though she doesn’t seem to do anything about it. After really coming into her own with the weight loss belt copy, Don promotes Peggy to junior copy writer with her own official account. Peggy’s rise in the company though is potentially threatened when she goes to the hospital thinking she has food poisoning and instead, she discovers that she’s pregnant and gives birth to her child. The season ends with Don sitting alone in his house as Peggy and the children went to visit Peggy’s family, and Don may have all of the material success in the world but nothing resembling friends or true human contact.

I could probably write an entire essay about the scenes between Rachel and Don over the course of these episodes and how they equate to what I feel is the crux of the series and the crux of Don’s character. After Roger’s heart attack, Don shows up at Rachel’s apartment. They’ve had an on again/off again flirtation the entire season but because Don was married, Rachel always rebuffed his advances. Having seen his friend Roger, the epitome of power and success, nearly meet his maker during an act that was a proclamation of what his power allowed him to do, Don is feeling his most weakest and vulnerable. His entire Don Draper persona of untouchable and complete power and force of will is being challenged by the simple facts of life and that at any moment, your body can choose to betray you. Don spent his entire childhood in fear of his abusive father, in fear of a world where no one liked him or even noticed him and so he has devoted his entire adult life to being something above mere mortals. He’s a sexual god, dresses like he owns the world, and has more confidence and charisma (even if it’s feigned) than anyone else. Yet, watching his friend almost die strips all of this armor and varnish away from him, and in that moment of vulnerability, Rachel, the ambitious and powerful woman, sees past the carefully constructed version of Don Draper and finds the real artifact. She accuses Don of trying to manipulate the situation of Roger’s death as an excuse to behave poorly, but when he lays out his hedonistic worldview, you truly get the feeling that it is what he believes as a result of the environment that both his personalities were born. When Don initially wants to run away after Pete finds out about his past, Rachel realizes underneath everything Don is just a scared man and she finally leaves him. Words can’t express just how well-written I felt those scenes to be.

Back when I was reviewing the first disc, I complained that I thought the series was trying to have it both ways by being a misogynistic male power fantasy as well as the story of the beginning of feminist awakenings in its female heroes. I take that statement back. While it was certainly consequence free for many of the male characters at the beginning of the show, these last two discs have really started to look at just how hurt and broken these men are and why this environmentally pushed need to succeed drives them to act in such selfish ways. These men are still, without exception, complete pricks, but the series has really started exploring the consequences not only of their sexism and hedonism, but also what is going on in their minds and in their homes that leads them to act like this. Also, there’s only one character that I would call a feminist at all in the series and that’s Peggy (because Betty is just so frustrating and shallow to be anything other than a spoiled child). The series takes a modern perspective and shows the suffering these women go through but I don’t think it’s especially interested in painting a portrait of a beginning of the modern feminist era. Instead, the female characters simply join the men as being exquisitely crafted creations whose journeys through their complicated lives we get to see in all of its intimate and wrenching detail. Mad Men is the rare truly character driven TV show (as opposed to plot) as the stories are never that remarkable. It’s getting to unravel layer after layer of these deeply troubled protagonists that causes me to come back episode after episode for this show.

Having finished the first season of this series, I have reached a bit of a perplexing conundrum. I am thoroughly enjoying this program and over the course of this last disc, it transformed into something really special that was easily some of the best TV I’ve reviewed for this blog. Now, I really want to finish the rest of the series as quickly as possible (especially since season 5 starts in March), but I know that I also want to finish Seasons 5 and 6 of Dexter, and before I began Mad Men, my plan was to make Angel and Twin Peaks the series that I would watch after I finished up Dexter and Doctor Who (which I’m on hiatus from since I’ve finished the David Tennant years). I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do here. Whatever I end up watching tomorrow when I get home from work will likely settle the issue so that’s something I’m not going to put too much thought into til tomorrow. All in all though, if you’re looking for a new great TV fix and somehow read this review despite all of the massive spoilers, you should give Mad Men a shot. I feel like it takes the entire season to really find its distinct voice and what kind of series it’s trying to be, but once it figured it out, Mad Men became TV magic.

Final Score: A

Mad Men: Season 1 (eps. 6-9)

Well, it’s been a while since I watched the first disc of Mad Men (a day shy of a month to be specific). We’ll chalk that up to the whole moving to NYC and starting a new job thing as well as my renewed drive to finish David Tennant’s run as the Doctor with Doctor Who. However, now that I’m on a temporary break from my travels with the TARDIS, it gives me time to explore other programs and movies I enjoy. Can my readers tell that I haven’t been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic or Skyrim very much lately because my blogging returned to its pre-Elder Scrolls level of activity (my computer died and hence I can’t play SWTOR). My current goals for my television watching is to fit in at least one disc of TV for every three films I watch (although if I’m enjoying a show a lot, I’m likely to exceed that ratio), in addition to watching Glee, Justified, and The Walking Dead as they air (also Luck which I won’t be reviewing even for reasons of free time though it’s better than everything there except for maybe Justified). I’m going to finish the first season of Mad Men and then watch the fifth and sixth seasons of Dexter and then start either Twin Peaks or Angel. On that note, let’s dive back into the misogynistic world of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency.

After the shocking revelation at the end of the last disc that Don Draper wasn’t eve Don’s real name (it is instead Dick Whitman) and that he is willing to pay his biological brother huge sums of money to stay out of his life, this disc doesn’t spend very much time trying to unravel the web of “Who is Don Draper?” and instead devotes time to better developing the intertwining relationships of the large staff (and families) of Sterling Cooper. It is revealed that Joan Holloway has been having an affair with Roger Sterling. Roger wants Joan to get her own apartment so they don’t have to meet in hotels. It appears that Roger is growing increasingly estranged from his wife and after tagging along to Don’s house for a late night of feasting and drinking, Roger makes a move on Betty which fractures Roger’s friendship with Don, to the point that Don sets up a rather elaborate plot to embarrass Roger in front of Cooper and some potential clients. Peggy has her moment in the sun when the ad guys drop all of the women into a room to study how they react to lipstick, and Peggy proves that she isn’t quite like these other girls. She even comes up with a catchy slogan for the company unwittingly and she gets asked to write copy for the ad. Of course, she’s not getting paid any extra to do this, and she has to write the copy in addition to her secretarial duties. Pete is also learning what Roger has learned and is facing marriage troubles of his own when he returns a wedding present without consulting his wife.

We do get some looks at Don’s complicated past. During an evening where Don smokes marijuana for the first time with his bohemian mistress Midge (and her hippie friends), Don looks back on an incident from his youth where a hobo stayed the evening at his family’s farm (working for a day in exchange for food) and the way that Don’s father screwed over the hobo as well as the advice the hobo gave to Don about getting out of that environment. Peggy’s success at writing copy gives her more confidence to pursue Pete who also happens to be vulnerable in the wake of his marital problems and the two sleep together again for the first time since the pilot. My opinion that the head of the art department, Salvatore, was a closeted homosexual were confirmed when another man from a client’s company pursued him but Sal was too scared of the consequences to act on his feelings. On the last episode, a rival ad agency tries to hire Don away from Sterling Cooper. Don nearly takes the increased money offer but decides to stay at Sterling Cooper when he realizes the rival agency was trying to use Betty (and her wish to be a model) to get him to come over. Despite the fact that Pete was a bit of an ass (shocker) to Peggy when her copy is used in the final lipstick ad campaign, Pete still stands up for her and fights Ken (L.A. Noire‘s Aaron Staton) when Ken insults Peggy’s noticeable weight gain (does someone have an eggo in her preggo?)

I’ve come to two conclusions while watching this disc concerning the acting on the show. I actually believe that John Slattery may be a little bit better playing Roger Sterling than Jon Hamm is playing Don Draper. During “Red in the Face,” he simply personified this misogynistic, egocentric culture while still layering this embodiment of greed and power with layers of vulnerability and nuance. Jon Hamm is great, but I think people think he’s a lot better than he is just because he’s so handsome. Women believe his character’s full on seduction not necessarily because of his acting or charisma but because they are so sexually attracted to him. The other thing I realized was that Elisabeth Moss is much better at playing Peggy than I had given her credit for. Even in my first review, I complained that her characterization of Peggy was just too bland and boring even though Peggy was my favorite character (in terms of writing) on the show. Then I thought about it a little more and that restraint and demureness is intentional. Unless Peggy wants to be branded the office floozy like Joan, she has to be very restrained and unemotional and meek. During “The Hobo Code” which focused heavily on Peggy, I really got a chance to see a lot of the subtleties and hurt and intelligence she puts in the character that we only get to see in those small moments when she isn’t forced to fit in this specific image for the men of the office.I guess I learned something else as well which is that January Jones was terribly miscast as Betty. She’s gorgeous enough for the role but she’s not talented enough as an actress to handle the complexity of the part.

Just like the first disc, the series’ writing is as sharp as ever. It takes chutzpah to make a show centered around such unlikeable characters (Peggy and Sal remain as the only decent people left in the cast). Breaking Bad and The Sopranos are the only series I can think of which such detestable pricks as the heroes (well anti-heroes) of Mad Men. Well, I don’t think we’re meant to look at Don Draper as hero any more than we were supposed to see Walter White or Tony Soprano as heroes. They’re simply deeply flawed and egomaniacal protagonists. The most grating person in the cast for me is Pete Campbell, yet he gets nearly as much screen time in some episodes as Don. He’s done exactly one decent thing in the entire series (which is decking Ken for insulting Peggy), and I’m still unsure if that wasn’t for somewhat selfish reasons. Yet, he’s also one of the most complex and well-written characters on the show. It’s really a testament to the series writing that I can enjoy the time I spend watching these characters lead their miserable and selfish lives and not want to punch them all in the face in disgust (though to be fair, I regularly want to punch Pete).

Despite the fact that I have nothing but praise for the complexity of the characterizations on this program and its dogged determination to be quiet adult programming in the face of so much stylized and fast-paced TV, it’s still a miracle that I can gain any pleasure from watching these weekly bouts of hedonism as told through the viewpoints of fairly legendary douche bags. At one point, Don Draper’s boss told him to read Ayn Rand and that the self-interest on display in that book and in Don’s personality was something to be commended. I nearly threw up a little in my mouth. These characters essentially stand for everything I hate and despise in the world, but I can’t look away. One of my friends referred to the men of the series as “the advertising bros” and it makes perfect sense. The frat-boy sensibilities they display every episode is even lampshaded when Pete and one of the other advertising guys reminisce on their frat shenanigans back in college. I still can’t understand why this show is so popular because of how dark and cynical it is. Yet, I’m glad there are as many people watching this first-rate bit of programming because intelligent TV doesn’t come around like this often enough.

Final Score: A-

Mad Men: Season 1 (eps. 1-5)

Television is in the midst of a wonderful renaissance. In the early 2000’s, networks were forced to examine the continual success (whether critical or commercial) of high-brow programs like The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, and with the launch of Lost, intellectually challenging programming ceased to be the sole purview of premium cable channels. Basic cable has become the home of much of TV’s most exciting shows from the gritty meth drama of Breaking Bad to the character driven zombie apocalypses of The Walking Dead to motorcycle gang violence of Sons of Anarchy to the dirty cop antics on The Shield (not to mention Battlestar Galactica, Rescue Me, Damages, Louie, and other cable favorites). One of the most celebrated basic cable series of the last several years (and the first and only one to win Best Drama at the Emmy’s which it has every season) has been AMC’s Mad Men. Ever since The Wire and The Sopranos went off the air, AMC has made a name for itself as the new HBO in terms of quality prime time dramas, and Mad Men is arguably its flagship property. While I’m not sure yet if I think it’s better than Breaking Bad during the latter’s first season (it certainly isn’t better yet than Breaking Bad‘s phenomenal fourth season), it is a surprisingly intriguing programming that I can’t believe I’m only catching so late in its shelf life. The series hinges on some maddening contradictions but its unmistakable visual flair and its stellar cast guarantee I’m already invested in the tale of the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency after only five episodes.

Set in 1960, Mad Men focuses on Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the creative director at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency in New York. A chain-smoking, hard-drinking skirt chaser, Don Draper epitomizes both the male power fantasy of the beautiful wife, Betty (January Jones), and family alongside a successful and lucrative career while simultaneously showing the darker side of power through his self-centered and occasionally destructive tendencies, such as his regular adultery and an extraordinarily complex web of lies that shroud his true identity from even those closest to him. Alongside Don, the series also explores the lives of the other employees at the firm such as the ambitious and well-connected Pete Campbell (Angel‘s Vincent Kartheiser) who is gunning for Don’s job while battling extreme personal insecurities. Peggy Olson (Invasion‘s Elisabeth Moss) is a mild-mannered and shy secretary new to the agency forced to deal with the never-ending sexual advances of her male co-workers. Joan Holloway (Firefly‘s Christina Hendricks) is the head secretary and the office floozy. Showing both the male-driven egos and tail-chasing that was the cornerstone of the Madison Avenue experience as well as the burgeoning feminism at the core of Peggy and Betty’s storylines, Mad Men is as much a character study of the complex Don Draper as it is a portrait of a turbulent and ever-changing time in American history.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the series is its undeniably visual nature. During each episode, I am strongly reminded of Tom Ford’s A Single Man (though Mad Men predates that film by around two years so maybe it should be the other way around). With a remarkable eye for fashion and recreating the colorful interiors of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the show often seems like a time machine to that mythic period of American history. There are honestly moments in the series where I could turn the volume off and just look at the arrangement of shots and the wonderful set direction and costuming. What’s remarkable about the visual look of the show is the immediate contrast it creates when the story delves into darker waters, whether this be Don’s infidelity, Betty’s depression over her lot in life, or Pete’s continually cracking facade. It intentionally disorients the viewer as the glamorous visuals make us want to bask in the romanticized glory of that era and then the plot forces you to recognize the darkness seeping in the background. Unfortunately for the program, style often trumps substance, and the series visual style is arguably the only aspect of the series that has been consistent enough for me to recognize just why this series has become so beloved.

As the spiritual core of the series, Jon Hamm’s Don Draper is a remarkable creation and both the strong writing concerning his character and Hamm’s performance make him easily one of the most intriguing characters of recent television. Jon Hamm is able to channel the slick charm and machismo that makes Don Draper the man nearly every woman I know wants to sleep with while also exploring his emotional depths through his drinking problems and his slowly unraveling mysterious past. Bryan Cranston is still much better as Walter White on Breaking Bad, but I now understand why Jon Hamm has consistently been his biggest competition (though Jon Hamm lost to Kyle Chandler for Friday Night Lights in the one year Bryan Cranston wasn’t eligible). My feelings towards the other cast members aren’t necessarily as celebratory. Vincent Kartheiser is a little over the top and stale as Pete, despite Pete being nearly as complex a creation as Don. January Jones vacillates between a soul-shattering rendition of a woman whose fate is out of her and then a boring stereotype of a 1950’s housewife. Peggy is possibly my favorite character on the show (for reasons I’ll delve into shortly) but Elisabeth Moss’s performance is often bland and unconvincing. The only two cast members to consistently turn in entertaining performances are John Slattery as Don’s boss and Christina Hendricks as the office tramp who infuses some joie de vivre and feminine wiles as a woman who uses her assets to get what she wants.

My biggest problem, even more than the occasionally uneven performances, is a similar issue I have with Dexter. Mad Men can’t seem to decide just what kind of series it wants to be. On one hand, when it’s told through the eyes of many of the male characters, it’s an almost unnervingly misogynistic escapist male power fantasy. Yes, they suffer from their share fair of inner demons. Don’s past is an enigma wrapped in a riddle (to quote Seinfeld), and the many lives he leads is finally starting to take a toll from him, but there seems to be little in the way of actual consequences for his philandering or even explicit thematic judgments on the actions of him and the other characters. On the other hand, when the story is told from Peggy and Betty’s perspective, it is the tale of the beginnings of feminist urges and the roots of female empowerment. Betty crashes her car while struggling with the dead-end nature of her life as a mother and trophy for her succesful husband, and Peggy is used sexually by one of her co-workers and immediately tossed out with the trash. It is a very intriguing 21st century perspective on the rampant sexism of the 1960’s. Unfortunately, the two segments of the show rarely have a chance to interact. Instead, it comes off as a disjointed product that tries to hard to please too many people at once. At this point, the women are easily the most interesting aspect of the series, but they’re stories often pale in comparison to the hedonism of the men.

The show has some flaws that it needs to work through, and I’m still not entirely sure if I’ve been able to pick on the single over-riding theme of the series unless its excess and the ruthless pursuit of wealth and pleasure. However, at the end of the day, it’s still compelling TV and I know I’ll be back for more. At the end of the day, I’m simply thankful that I’m alive and old enough to appreciate the television renaissance we’ve been in for a while now. Yes, there are still mind-numbing reality programs like Jersey Shore or Teen Mom that are destroying the youth, but for those of us who want more mature fare, some of the best programs in the history of the medium are either on air right now or they ended only within the last three or four years (though most of the shows that are on the “best” list are sadly off the air: The Sopranos, Lost, The Wire). I’m ready to see more of Sterling Cooper and to find out just who Don Draper really is.

Final Score: A-