Mad Men premiered its fifth season last month after a seventeen month hiatus, much to the delight of fans; myself included. Don Draper is back with his new French-Canadian wife, new penthouse apartment (which looks amazing), but despite his progression after his divorce, he is still caught in the same internal struggle that has framed the series for four critically acclaimed seasons. More than a show about ad executives in the sixties, sexual infedility, and copious amounts of rye and whiskey; it is a show about having it all and being completely dissatisfied. It is about the mythos of the American Dream, and about characters who have everything and nothing, who are walking clichés and despite their every effort to forge an identity, inevitably realize they aren’t much different than the consumers they sell to. They seek to be individuals and not allow status, gender, job title, or possibly this season, even race, define who they are.
Unless a specific historical event is referenced in the show, we are rarely privy to the exact date on the show, and months and years are often skipped between seasons. The fifth season begins with a protest on Madison Ave., for economic and employment equality, and what I thought was a generic reference to the bigotry that was surely rampant at the time, turns out to be such a historical event. Luckily thanks to the magic our friends at Google
archiving just about everything, we know that the season begins on May 28, 1966
The rival agency named in the article prompts some of the partners at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to create a joke ad in the paper poking fun at their rivals woes. The ad declared their agency an “Equal Opportunity Employer,” however, the irony was lost on the most ambitious in the African-American community who will force Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to stand by that and hire a black secretary. Aside from the elevator guy in the first three seasons, and Lane’s affair with a black Playboy bunny in season four, this may be the first permanent cast member of colour. This is sure to shake up things at the agency which has in the past shied away from race relations and remained conservative. Nobody wants to be a statistic, a demographic, or a chunk on a pie chart. Every day the employees of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce categorize, divide, and target groups of people and sell them dreams they know are elusive. It is this insight and irony that makes the struggle for individuality more dire. They invented the dreams that the rest of America aspire to and are living at the pinnacle of the social order of the time, yet know that the dream is empty and fails to bring you closer to happiness.
This season, many of the characters have moved demographics. Don has gone from divorcé, to married man once again, from suburban father, to urban professional. Joan struggles to hold on to the progress she has made in her career while trying to balance the stress and challenge of being a mother. Pete Campbell has replaced Don as the daily commuter from the suburbs and seems destined to repeat the sins of the person he spent the first few seasons swearing he was nothing like; Don Draper. The lives of all the characters have changed, just as the comfortable world around them changes. With the social turmoil, and political unrest revolving around the Vietnam war; look for a few of the Mad Men (Kenny or Pete) to be drafted into combat. Will Peggy’s new friends’ beliefs begin to shape her own politics? And what of antihero, Don Draper’s journey? The season premiere was framed around Don’s fortieth birthday, and we saw glimpses of Don beginning to understand the weight of his own mortality, and even nostalgia for the life he left behind.
If you are trying to get into the AMC series, do whatever you need to do to get through the first four seasons so you see how the characters have arrived at this crucial point in their story archs. Mad Men is one of the finest shows on television right now, and this fifth season will be no exception.
“We’re flawed, because we want so much more. We’re ruined, because we get these things, and wish for what we had.” – Don Draper
Will Ramirez is a Burrito enthusiast, and self-proclaimed Pizza connoisseur. He wears Chuck Taylor shoes, and enjoys Chuck Jones cartoons. Since graduating with a diploma in Digital Media in 2007, he has worked as an editor on animated and live action television programs for Teletoon, YTV, Disney and Nickelodeon. He is also co-founder and editor of www.sporttonetwork.com where he offers a refreshing and comedic voice to the world of sports.