Mad Men: Season Five created by Matthew Weiner (Lionsgate Television, Weiner Bros., and American Movie Classics)

Starring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks, January Jones, John Slattery, Kiernan Shipka, Robert Morse, and Jared Harris.

Recommended, Highly 

In replacement of a spoiler warning, if you haven’t watched Mad Men, stop reading this review and rent Season One. Actually, before you do so. I need to make sure you’ll like it. There’s nothing worse than highly recommending something that someone doesn’t like. Mad Men is a slow-boiling character-driven drama. If you need a fast-paced plot, death, mystery, and explosions. Steer clear!

If you like complex characters, though, you need to watch Mad Men. For Matthew Weiner and company, Season 5 represents their best work yet. At a time when most television shows start to fizzle as ideas wane, Mad Men gave us the most consistent season of the hit drama to date. More specifically, Mad Men continues to set the bar through its use of symbolism, accidental progressiveness, and the continued development of compelling characters.

Mad Men as Symbolic

First, Mad Men has always been a series surrounding symbols. From both the falling advertising executive denoting the downward spiral around the pursuit of happiness to the lounging man smoking a cigarette illustrating the laissez-fare attitude of the era in the opening sequence, the 1960s on Madison Avenue acts as a placeholder for the deeper issues we face in life.

With each episode standing alone as its own short story, the narrative arcs in Mad Men proceed through short vignettes. In Season 5, we find some iconic episodes. In one instance, the employees of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce awkwardly socialize at a party we would now label the epitome of 60s swag while Don Draper’s (John Hamm) new wife, Megan (Jessica Paré), croons a sexy French pop song. In another, Joan (Christina Hendricks) prostitutes herself for the firm to gain the Jaguar account and to obtain a 5% stake in the company.

Whether depicting the power struggle between husband and wife through a French pop song, or the lengths we’ll take to gain financial security, the symbolism in these stories resonate deeply because they are human stories.

Mad Men remains at its best when it uses symbolism to comment on culture and the hollow lives of people pursuing happiness.

This second point on happiness—one to which Weiner returns time and time again—influences every character and action in the season. Don, now 40, finds himself in a funk. For the first time, he feels old. Where in the first few seasons Don keeps his finger on the trends influencing the youth of the nation, the summer of 1966 introduces a new wave of youth, a shift he no longer understands best referenced by his interactions with fans backstage at a Rolling Stones concert or his inability to enjoy Revolver by the Beatles.

Mad Men as Accidental Progressiveness 

Additionally, Mad Men tends to focus on the ways in which Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce falls into progressive stances. In previous seasons, hiring Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) as a copywriter and refusing to do business with the cigarette industry represented impressively forward thinking actions, yet the characters never represented this liberal mindset. This year, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce continues to champion progressiveness by accident.

We find the firm employing African Americans after the firm made a sarcastic jab in the papers about a rival company. Additionally, Joan, as a woman becomes a partner in a male-dominated profession. Yet, to do so she had to resort to scurrilous actions with a Jaguar executive.

Mad Men as Character Development 

Finally, Season 5continues to add complexity to the characters we know, love, and sometimes hate. Our protagonist Don, in addition to dealing with his advancing age, interacts in a power struggle with his new and youthful wife.

While Don expects submission as his previous wife, Betty (January Jones), allowed, Megan will not tolerate his power grabs. Whether by asserting her will at work, at home, or in the bedroom, Megan considers herself an equal to Don. To a certain extent, this power struggle fuels their relationship, but it also manifests itself in physical forms as their fights often become violent wrestling matches.

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), the ever punchable junior executive, is following the Don Draper path to a tee, just one generation behind. Now with a lovely wife, child, and home in the suburbs, Pete’s realized dreams now feel shallow and he desires the ever-present urge to find new women, new business accounts, and new thrills. Nonetheless, he never finds happiness.

Mad Men as Remarkable Television

Mad Men Season 5 is remarkable television. It represents talented writers and actors functioning at the top of their collective game. Each episode illustrates multiple themes worth pondering, and, on the whole, the television show is profound. In particular, Season 5 offers beautiful illustrations of progressiveness, symbolism, and character development. For all that is good and holy, please watch Mad Men, it will assuredly warm your soul.

Verdict: 5 out of 5

What about you? Are you a fan of Mad Men? What are your thoughts on the current season? Do you think the characters will ever obtain happiness? What does the show tells us about our culture? Our hopes? Our pursuits?
Share your thoughts below.

Posted by: Donovan Richards
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