In the first two seasons, Matt Weiner was making some very pointed commentary on the world as it existed in the 1960's, and indeed, as it still exists today.
Billed as Madison Avenue's premiere advertising man, Don Draper was supposedly better than anyone at selling America what it wanted most: happiness and security. But ironically, these are two things that Don has failed to find in a rather spectacular fashion. How can Don sell so well that which he himself has never possessed? Therein lies the point: what Madison Avenue has always sold to America is just as fake and hollow as Don himself. It's an indictment of our entire society that we've been willing to buy this hypocrisy. This is seriously heady stuff that goes far beyond the fluff of most programming.
This commentary was told mostly through the contrast between Don's home life, professional life, and the fact that he isn't really Don Draper at all. Understandably, Don's hypocrisy causes the failure of his marriage and he and Betty split up. This made perfect sense and was necessary and inevitable, however, this is also where the analogy breaks down. With Don and Betty living increasingly separate lives during the third and fourth seasons, it seemed as though Weiner had finished saying what he intended to say when the show began and had begun casting about, looking for something else to say, perhaps the next logical thing. Over the course of these latest two seasons he didn't appear to come up with anything solid.
Enter the opening to the fifth season. Unfortunately, it's a bit prosaic, and everyone but Don and Roger don't quite seem to be themselves. Specifically, they seem quite a bit kinder and gentler. They don't play the type of hardball they once played with each other. For example, the plot involving Harry and Peggy upsetting Megan has gone soft. Harry is remorseful and is set up by Weiner to believe he's getting fired by Roger, meanwhile Peggy offers a very sincere apology. In the old days, upsetting a woman was not a big deal, even if it was Don's wife. Pete was strikingly out of character when he accepted the "skirt" of responsibility for Joan's baby from Peggy. Why have these characters gone so twenty-first century on us by only 1966? Lane's false dealing with the applicants in the lobby was the only glimmer of hope Weiner might recover his mojo.
While I suppose the show can continue to cash in on kitschy cool, unless they can find a way to continue what they were onto in seasons 1 and 2, it becomes pointless, empty drama. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I guess, except they've already set my expectations so much higher. Well, that and now it just isn't so much different from a soap opera, or anything else on TV for that matter. I would love for Mad Men to have stayed in its niche. It was in such a wonderful niche.
Unfortunately, I didn't hear Weiner saying much in the kickoff of the fifth season to justify the continued existence of the show. For the most part, it seems the reason it continues is merely because it hasn't been cancelled yet. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal...