The Great Mad Men Re-Watch: Examining the Season 5 Poster, Plus the Start of Season 3!

We’re in the home stretch! Less than a month to go until Mad Men returns for Season 5, and if there is any more tangible and tantalizing proof of that besides the official Season 5 poster, well, I don’t know what it is. Let’s take a look at it right now!

Hm. Well, it’s definitely saying something, I’m just not entirely sure what. Here are three interpretations:

1. The Obvious One: It’s a statement on gender politics as they relate to consumerism. The male mannequin is clothed in The Hugh Hefner Formal Pajamawear Collection, and in a position of power. The female mannequin stands exposed, her dress lying at her feet and arms held slightly at bay. The scenario captures Don’s attention, as he himself contemplates what it all means, and if perhaps marrying his gap-toothed secretary in a moment of impetuous romance was really the best decision.

2. The Freudian One: This is in fact not a department store window at all, but a glimpse inside Don’s psyche. The naked female form represents the Madonna-whore, while the clothed male figure represents the Id, Ego and Superego. The vase of flowers represents the death drive, and the end table represents seduction theory. And the dress on the ground? A Freudian slip, of course.

3. The Sexy One: This is how Don, and by extension every man, observes any combination of man and woman: As a faceless potential three-way, with himself, or a reflection of himself, sandwiched in the middle of two anonymous figures.

Perhaps the Great Mad Men Re-Watch will offer us some clues.

Season 2, Episode 13: “Meditations in an Emergency”

Review Notes:

Season 2 ends in the shadow of a massive mushroom cloud, as triple-decker headlines in The New York Times remind us that the Cuban Missile Crisis is in full swing. New Yorkers seem for the most part to take the threat of nuclear annihilation in stride, though Trudy is leaving nothing to chance and heads for the hills with her silverware in tow. I particularly loved the image of Pete holding his ground in the city, though, lights streaming through slatted blinds and a shotgun at the ready to take on any looters or Russian soldiers who might show up to claim Manhattan for the Commies. Pete vs. The Bomb: You have to love Mad Men’s way with ironic juxtapositioning. (Nice callback to the Chip N’ Dip affair, too.)

And speaking of World War III, the boardroom showdown between Don and Duck is one for the ages. Don has returned after several weeks AWOL in sunny Southern California to find out he’s $500,000 richer—and the smile on his face says it all, seeing as how according to my handy inflation calculator, that would be $3.75 million today. As Duck feigns surprise upon learning that their new, tea-sipping overlords have named him president of the newly absorbed agency, he launches into a (well-rehearsed) off-the-cuff speech about how the agency’s focus will shift toward buying up TV advertising space. “Good creative is important, but it can’t be running the show.” Don then suavely announces he’ll be leaving the agency that Duck envisions. Duck, poor Duck, should have gotten all his ducks in a row before his little power-play: He didn’t realize Don didn’t have a contract, and the ensuing stalemate sends him out of the office and, one can only presume, directly into the closest bottle.

Grade: A-
A strong closer nevertheless ends on a somewhat weak cliffhanger. Nothing much ever did become out of Betty's third pregnancy.

Season 3, Episode 1: “Out of Town”

Review Notes:

I love the start to Season 3. As is Mad Men’s way, we have leaped ahead in time between seasons. Duck is history, sort of, working now at Grey and giving Peggy the go-around when he isn’t trying to poach her away from Sterling Cooper. There’s definitely a different energy to the office, too, what with the introduction of CFO Lane Pryce, played to perfection by the superb Jared Harris, as the new, penny-pinching big cheese—a sharp Stilton, if I may—in town. And then there’s John Hooker, Pryce’s “right arm” (a.k.a. “secretary, as he is officially titled, or “Moneypenny,” as the staff disparagingly refers to him in a nod to the new James Bond films), who wiles away the hours with his nose in the air, flirting with Peggy’s new “girl,” Lola. That Peggy even has her own secretary brings women eons ahead of where they started in Season 1.

As part of a diabolical sociological experiment, Lane gives Pete and Ken identical promotions as shared head of accounts, but tells neither one of the other’s good fortune. Don and Sal, meanwhile, head out to Baltimore to meet with the London Fog people for a classic business trip that sees the two of them pretending to be accountants pretending to be undercover G-men. That’s good enough for the air hostess who’s had her sights on Don since take-off, but what about Sal? Oh, why, he’s just making it with the bellhop! As we’ve been so immersed in the era, it’s genuinely quite shocking to see Sal finally indulge his libido. Figures a fire alarm would ruin the moment, and Don, having not just fallen off the turnip truck, knows exactly what’s up when he sees Sal and the bellhop scramble out of the building, flustered. There’s a speech Don gives on the flight home which is one of my favorites: First, he asks Sal if he’ll be “completely honest” with him. Sal agrees, and Don asks for his opinion on an idea for a new London Fog campaign: A woman, scantily clad, showing exposed leg, skips through the rain in a London Fog raincoat. Tagline: “Limit your exposure.” Sal knows exactly what Don is getting at, and it ain’t raincoat slogans. (Though that would have been a perfectly brilliant one should the client have chosen to go for it.)

Grade: A
Lane Pryce stakes his flag for the Queen, and Mad Men is never quite the same.

Season 3, Episode 2: “Love Among the Ruins”

Review Notes:

As we press into Season 3, Betty’s character begins to feel one-note and offer diminishing returns—and if I can’t bring myself to become invested in her, I’m certainly not going to become invested in the final, dementia-addled years of her father’s life. Rest home, no rest home, I just don’t care. Luckily, Roger’s disastrous personal life offers plenty of drama to make up for it, and the best scene of “Love Among the Ruins” involves a meeting between Roger, Mona, his daughter Margaret, and Brooks, Margaret’s fiance. Roger had a great line a little earlier when Betty dropped by the office—Betty, clearly disgusted by Roger’s decision to leave Mona for Don’s much-younger secretary Jane, asked him how he was, and he replied, “It's easy adjusting to happiness.” In his office, the politics of party planning are on full display, as Margaret refuses to allow Jane’s presence ruin her big day. Then again, Roger is paying for it—so what’s a reasonable solution? Mona proposes a compromise: Roger and June get their own table, and she’ll sit with the Hargroves, Brooks’ parents. There are so many great details in the scene, from Brooks’ body language toward his future in-laws to Roger’s hilariously petty commentary on Mona’s date (“What does that old saddlebag want?”). But the best detail of all is the close-up on the wedding invitation sample: There, embossed in gold, it reads, “Saturday, the twenty-third of November, Nineteen hundred and sixty three.” In case you missed it, that’s one day after JFK’s assassination—a dark, delectable teaser of the seismic event to come (and ruin Margaret’s special day).

Grade: B-
Hampered by too much Gene.


1. What do you make of Don's place in the new Sterling Cooper?

2. At the start of Season 3, which character is genuinely happiest? Which is deepest in denial?

3. Who do you think makes a better head of accounts: Pete or Ken?

Episodes to watch for Thursday: "My Old Kentucky Home", "The Arrangements", and "The Fog"


The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 9: California Dreamin'
The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 8: Men Behaving Badly
The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 7: God, Sex, and Irish Setters
The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 6: Season 2 Begins!
The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 5: Carousel of Broken Dreams
The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 4: Hearts, Diseased
The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 3: The Miseducation of Peggy Olson
The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 2: A Basket of Kisses
The Great Mad Men Re-Watch: Here We Go!

Comments (6)
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Mar 05, 2012
miafrea- I love your analysis. I think you're right that Don is totally reliant on his alpha male status (as is Roger). What will they do if they lose that? For some reason MW has made Pete go balding (see S5 featurettes) while Roger and Don continue to skate w/ the good looks. Is he somehow trying to juxtaposition Pete vs Don. Pete has been growing as a person over the years. Don slipped right back to S1 with the Megan engagement. MW has said in commentary that he wanted Don and Betty to be "model-gorgeous". Very superficial on purpose in terms of how beautiful they are on the outside. Pete is getting less attractive on the outside while somewhat more attractive on the inside. (Yes, he still has weasel moments but he's a far cry from S1 Pete and it seems permanent).

So... the models are definitely superficial beauty and the woman is objectified. Maybe Don realizes that he needs to be more than beautiful. His most poignant and real moment in S4 was when he looked like crap in the suitcase (hungover, vomit on his shirt, just a total mess).

Roger, in this theory, is that which Don might become. Roger traded his devoted wife for the 20-something model and is still not really happy. Not after a few months. He's now longing for Joan, the work-wife/lover.

Unlike Roger, Don has both talent and ambition. He also has the ability to see into the human psyche and give it what it needs in the form of creativity in his advertising campaigns. So Don is not doomed to be Roger. But the way he slid back into "form" at the end of S5 makes this a danger IMO.

Finally, I think the "beautiful but empty" vision of Don (as seen in depiction with the mannequins) is something Don/Dick rejects on principal and maybe didn't realize he was emulating until now. It's definitely a Dick/Don reflecting on who he is.

I also think Dick is examining his life as "Don" and it doesn't measure up.

Side note: At 400% I still can't make out what is in the store window across the street. It does seem like there is a random newspaper which looks like a store poster but is a newspaper. Maybe this is a reflection of real-world events crowding into his life. Just a wild stab.

To answer (belatedly) the three questions:

1. S3 Don's place: floating IMO.

2. S3 happiest character: Trudy. Of the main characters: Peggy. In denial the most: Betty.

3. Pete - he's far more ambitious.

PS I'm surprised there was no commentary on Peggy's confession to Pete. It was one of the best scenes in the entire Mad Men series IMO.

Mar 06, 2012
thank you so much! "weasel moments", i love it. oh pete..pete pete pete. well, he is a young guy who still tries to find his place and has a weak stomach. too weak to be a don or roger, but he tries nevertheless (mostly to our amusement).

but as he gets older and since he has not one (trudy), but two (peggy) incredible, strong women who do believe in him at the end of the day, my gut tells me he cannot be that bad.

i believe both of them to be "potential-seers" (i'm pretty sure that's not an english word, i just tried to translate it from german -_- hope the meaning comes across) they fell in love with his good side and his (fingers crossed!) true self, but try to ignore his crass and sometimes astonishingly bad choices / outbursts. that guy, i tell ya!

i do believe roger has ambition and talent, however it's guided in a completely different direction.

he wants to have his crowd, his witty one-liners, he published his memoires for crying out loud. he does have a talent to make himself seem more brilliant than he is, alas that alone is kind of a genious move.

he is ambitious to be seen as this sucessful man; gorgeous wife, all that glitters, the one that "has it all", and yet surrounded by a cloud of mystery because no one believes for one second he is as good a "mad man" as don - yet he gets the job done on another level.

also, well, he inherited all of it. so...working hard in order to get to where he wants / what he wants is hardly his forte.

spoiled brat in a stylish suit, who still plays with toys and has the charme of a boy when he smiles while his hair turns so white that gandalf would be jealous.

i suppose there are worse things in life.

and i don't think he gives a damn whether most people whisper he didn't deserve it. he believes he deserves everything he could dream of! so, that settles that. at least for him. i believe that's why he is simply appalled whenever he doesn't immediatly get what he wants, errr i mean deserves (sorry roger!)

all in all, it is remarkable that there hasn't been an uproar where everyobody is baffled as to why roger sterling still holds the name, and don draper doesn't. i think that's very interesting and probably is a tribute to the fact that we all, the viewers and the characters as well, want roger to be in charge on some level. again, i could be wrong!

and finally don, well, he has been looking through the glass so to speak for a very long time, and i think now he doesn't know which side he stands on.

is he truly dick, or did dick whitman grow up to be don draper?

it's very hard to say if he is two different persons, or if he is facing something many people have to face - sometimes your life takes a turn and you turn out to be someone who your younger self would have never, ever anticipated.

he grew up, he lost his innocence, he put himself first and tried to leave his past behind and never look back.

however, it's been catching up since season one, and i guess in the now he will have to decide (or explode?).

will he go back to his true self, say f*ck it i am a sell-out, let's go live under the califiornia sun and be the way i always wanted to be?

or will he say this is growing up, this is part of life. deal with it. or, well, explode.

man, i am so looking forward to discussions about all what's to come! i could go on and on right now, but i am just not that ambitious. wish i could be like roger, hah! :)

More +
Mar 01, 2012
i believe don is looking at his own life as a specator, maybe even as his true self, dick. he, as his reflection, is standing in the middle and judging by the look on his face is not sure if life turned out the way he wanted.

so for one, we have the "true" don / dick looking at his life. then, we have the "don draper", portrayed here by the male mannequin. don draper here is a faceless man, very dominant, elegant, and full of grace. yet he gets his power and feeling of domination by keeping the company of an exposed woman, her dress at her ankles. she completes him, yet is there to attend to his needs or simply nice to look at. at the same time, her exposure feels somewhat uncomfortable, as if he deserves to be seated and well dressed, yet she has to stand there naked.

he, don the mannequin, does not regard the woman in his life as his equal. she is there to serve him, to look at, to boost his self-conciousness.

this is the don we know, he does appreciate women (a whole lot of them!), and i would say that he treats them somewhat with respect (minus the blatant cheating etc.), but his loyalty to peggy for example shows that he is capable of being a good guy and open minded as well.

so i would interprete this as don looking at the role women play in his life, and generally in life as a gender.

the expression on his face might indicate that he is somewhat irritated by what he sees - maybe now is the first time that he becomes aware of the fact that he has not treated women as equals, and mabye this marks a turning point.

we know so far that season 5 will portray the developments in the women's rights movement, and i believe it will be very interesting to see how don copes with all those changes.

after all, now that i think about it much of his charisma relies on the fact that he is the intelligent, charming yet dominant alpha male around. same goes for roger, i honestly don't know how their sex appeal will change when they have to face some serious changes / overthink their sacred points of view.

i hope all this wasn't too confusing, english isn't my first language and i just started writing what i thought as i saw the picture. maybe i will think differently when i take some time to let it sink in, but those are the thoughts that first popped into my head.

thank you for reading, i am looking forward to reading different interpretations here!
Mar 02, 2012
Brilliant analysis!
Mar 06, 2012
thank you , this actually made me proud in a nerdy tv-loving way, so to speak. stamp of approval by's seth :) i'm anxious to read your analysis of the coming season!
Mar 01, 2012
What's that being reflected in the window of the poster? Maybe it could help us decipher the meaning. Also, there's an empty chair just randomly placed in front of Don. Could this poster represent how Dick is distantly watching his alter ego Don? Or maybe it's Don distantly watching his alter ego Dick.

I just thought of an even better theory similar to the ones above. Maybe it's Don looking into the window and aspiring to be like the male mannequin. This would parallel Dick Whitman's aspiration to be like Don Draper!