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”
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.
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”
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.)
Lane Pryce stakes his flag for the Queen, and Mad Men is never quite the same.
Season 3, Episode 2: “Love Among the Ruins”
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).
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?
– 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!