'Mad Men': Season premiere excels with studies of each character
'Mad Men' returns after a long hiatus with uncertain futures for everyone at the fictional ad agency.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
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.