11 June, 2012

Review - MAD MEN Season 5 Finale

Well that season seemed to go by quickly.

But what did it all mean?

Don's rotten tooth becomes too painful for him to handle and has to be pulled. Unfortunately for Don, tormented souls and regret can't be so easily extracted. With the guilt of suicides on his mind and the disappointment of not being able to truly control his world, Don returns to the place where he feels most comfortable. Boozing, smoking, and cheating. Because even though Don is a man who suffers his demons, he is also a man who finds ways to smother himself in his own needs so that he never has to reflect too much on his responsibility for the course of his life and how it has affected others badly. All he can really do is consider how much helping those he loves results in them leaving him. And so his chance encounter with Peggy is likely reflected in the final scene. Having just helped to make his wife's dreams come true, he awaits the dread of what is to come when she realizes she no longer needs him.

If I had to rate this episode, and an electric shock therapy treatment is in the cards if I don't, I'd give it:

85 out of 100

It sets up the future growth of the business while also foreshadowing the doom of Don's marriage, if not his life. It also leaves Joan and Pete dangling, neither sure what they could have done to head off their own regret. Peggy and Roger, on the other hand, seem to have found some kind of happy place for themselves. Whatever can Don do to destroy that next season? I'm sure he'll find a way.

If I had to rate this season, and a ghostly suicide beckons for it, I'd give it:

90 out of 100

It isn't the best of the series, and perhaps it is what some would call its worst, but saying MAD MEN has a "worst" season is like saying that peperoni pizza without extra cheese is worse than with extra cheese. I mean come on. It's still a damn good pizza!


  1. I didn't connect the Peggy meeting with what Don was doing at the end but it totally makes sense. Nice catch and thanks for not writing a book to make that point.

    1. In the long run, it is all about Don's sense of feeling abandoned by those he loves or tries to do right by the most. He so wants to be the good guy but he's not. And Joan and Pete are people who are stuck within their own success, whereas Roger and Peggy are enjoying stepping off the beaten path.

    2. I'm not sure if I'd describe Joan as someone show is stuck within her own success. Professionally, she has only just begun to find her place.

      I recall the Joan of Season 1, who was a person with a very good college education, but somehow got stuck in the secretarial pool, albeit in a supervisory position. By contrast, Peggy came along without even a college degree and became a copywriter.

      There was another incident (Season 2?) where she briefly got a chance to work in Harry's media department, did an outstanding job, but then got replaced by a man they newly hired.

      Though she was competent at what she did, I always felt sorry for Joan career-wise.

      I always saw Joan as a person who in another era, given her education, would have been hired right away as an account executive at the very least. But, she was a victim of a time when women went to college just to find a good man. That's what she pursued and ended up in a bad marriage.

      While her way of getting to her current position is highly controversial*, she was shown in this episode to be thriving in the job. We know she was a person who really WANTED to go back to work after having the baby.

      Unless the next season reveals some underlying unhappiness with her personal life, I see Joan finally getting what she was qualified for all along.

      Now Pete is certainly an unhappy camper, though I've never been able to figure out what his real problem is.
      * Advertising is full of rumors from that era of the pioneering female executives getting ahead by sleeping with clients. Mary Wells Lawrence actually married one of her former clients.

    3. "I'm not sure if I'd describe Joan as someone show is stuck within her own success."

      I didn't mean stuck in her own success PATH. I meant in that she had made a decision to sell herself to advance in the company, but when it could have saved a man's life she didn't. Obviously she didn't know he would kill himself, but she clearly feels responsible even if she isn't.

      So, you are arguing some point of view that you have about Joan, not one that existed in the episode.

    4. "Obviously she didn't know he would kill himself, but she clearly feels responsible even if she isn't."

      As you said, no one knows someone is going to kill themselves. I didn't interpret the episode as saying she felt responsible as opposed to the normal reactions people have when someone they know well commits suicide. Too little was spent on it to come to a clear conclusion.

      Anyone who's talked to someone prior to a suicide does play back the last conversation they had with that person multiple times and wonder "what if". It's second guessing. I'd need to see more to feel that her reaction was anything more than that. A lot of people who go through it do come to the conclusion that it wouldn't have made a difference. But, there is a lot of thought that goes on.

      Don's sense of responsibility dwarfs Joan's in this episode. Much more time was spent on that. While Joan has just a vague sense of something wrong with Lane, Don knows exactly why he killed himself.

      If they start the next season with more on Joan's remorse, I'll concede this issue, but I need more to go on.

    5. Joan has a 60s kind of reaction to it. She is naive. People still have problems with understanding suicides today and how they could have prevented them. But it was only a couple of decades ago that people began to understand the thought process.

      Joan wouldn't know it. And since she had affection for him and likely enjoyed his affection for her, she is going to feel somewhat responsible even if Don tells her she isn't.

      I don't know why they would start next season with Joan thinking much more about it. And I didn't even put that much importance on it, simply noted it as part of the episode. You seem to want to argue about it a lot more than I do.

      In any event, Joan used her sexuality to get where she is. She's not a strong modern woman and would likely have ended up being a modern version of exactly who she is on this show.

      Peggy is the strong modern woman, in any era.

  2. I don't know how I feel about the path the show took this season with some of the more obvious symbolism, like Don's obnoxious tooth!, or the Jaguar pitch, or that shot of them all standing in front of the windows on the new second floor. But, we'll see if it continues next season I guess. Mostly, I was just glad Peggy made an appearance, and we got see her bossing around underlings! Also, the suggestion that Don is going back to his old ways. With any luck by the start of next season Megan will have divorced him; will be using the alimony for acting lessons, and we'll never have to see her again.

  3. Wait a minute.

    Are you saying that if Joan slept with Lane he wouldn't have commited suicide.

    or at least Joan felt if she gave into his advances he wouldn't have commited suicide.

  4. I thought season 5 was okay it had a couple of episodes that i enjoyed but on the whole it was the weakest.

    I don't know that Don should have married Megan or that she should have been in this season.

    It seems to me since Don likes the ladies that he'd been better off staying single for longer than he did.

    He doesn't really treat her that well and Megan doesn't seem to serve much of a new purpose.

  5. The problem with saying this season has been the weakest is that it is tough to know why. Was all the over the top symbolism and thematic anvils due to AMC and Lionsgate forcing them onto Weiner as part of their controversial contract negotiations? Was it due to Mad Men being off the air for over a year and a half and so Matt Weiner thinking he needed to remind fans what this show is about? Is it as Mo Ryan said in a recent review the consequence of Matt Wiener being upset with AMC and Lionsgate over their treatment of him and his show? Or is it something else we are not privy to?

    It is hard to tell at this juncture because we do not know exactly what Matt Wiener had to give up for him to continue for 3 more seasons. We know that he got a huge pay rise, we know that he stopped them from cutting his running time, we know that he got them to keep all the cast where they asked for him to cut most of them, we know a few more things that he won in the battle but what did he lose? what concessions did he have to make? did those concessions result in a weak season of Mad Men?

    Too be honest I agree with Mo that a lot of this misery came out just to contrive drama, characters were made to do things and put in situations to contrive drama. Yes in real life People do not magically get happier year after year (or season after season) and forget their problems but this is tv and one would hope that a show could buck the real life factor and go for something more inspiring...Mad Men reverted a lot of their characters to pain and anger and never bothered to explain why. I mean Pete Campbell is a perfect example...at the end of season 4 he had a happy marriage and a new child and yet in season 5 he was back to season 3 creepy and weird Pete and all his problems stemmed from lessons he already learnt all so we could rehash old material that was not that compelling to me at least. Pete was happy in season 4 because he learnt that his parents and family were assholes, he learnt to love Trudy, he learnt to be a little more content and Wiener just threw all that growth away and it was never explained how moving to the country did this or why he had to move to the country when obviously he is rich enough to buy a town house in Manhatten or other things. Lanes forged Check? really?

    The only characters that got any credit this season for me is Roger and Bert...the rest were just yanked around by plot and contrivances and that is what is the most disappointing thing. But lets hope with the agency now up and running they can do better, lets hope with time and distance away from the contract war things can settle down a little and get better....we can only hope or things are not going to end up well for SCD(P) or maybe (C) in season 6.

    1. Oh and he learnt from Peggy that she gave away their child! he learnt that Peggy chose her life over a life with him and that Trudy is always in his corner and would never do that....that was all thrown out of the window for what? a bullshit story with the most boring and charmless character on tv...Beth...ughhh.....

    2. I agree that there were some contrivances, but I don't know if I agree with your Pete example. I mean one of his defining characteristics is that he is a guy who is never happy with what he has, he always wants something bigger, brighter; even when what he has is really pretty good. Maybe at the end of S.4 he had a brief moment where he was ok with things, but that was never bound to last. For a lot of the characters on this show the lesson is that they can't avoid their true nature, or can only hide from it for so long, before they give in. Also, Trudy and the baby were the reason he had to move to the "country"; Trudy said she wants to raise the baby out in the burbs where it has a yard to play in and stuff.

    3. Trudy also said in season 4 (when she thought Pete was taking a loan out for a new house but it was a loan for the company) that she would be happy if they lived in Greenwich Villiage....so yeah Trudy would have been happy with any property with a garden for Tammy to run around in. The whole air thing came out in season 5 but season 4 she would have been happy with a house even if it was in Mahatten. But as I said I had no problem with Pete or any character going back to their true nature because that is what happens in real life it is my point that as a "tv show" I would have held hope that maybe these characters could find some sort of happiness but they are destined to end in pain and suffering and that is something I will have to learn to accept.

  6. This "worst season ever" reaction I'm hearing about around the Internet is the typical jumping-on-the-bandwagon stuff. While I agree it is not as strong as some others, it is only somewhat weaker.

    And since art is subjective, any time you see a sudden swell of consensus, you have to take it with a grain of salt. When the masses agree something is great or shit, then most of that reaction is related to trying to seem relevant. You know, like when you have a political or sports discussion with virtually anyone on the planet who tries to give you an answer based on the one fuckin' thing they heard on TV about it and then pretend like they understand it.

    I find the most hyper critical people are just regurgitating what they read somewhere else. In fact, one individual who posts on this blog a lot consistently quotes everyone who supports his "position" indicating just how much he siphons off others.

    Take the pilot reviews Jace Lacob just posted with his buddy. How the fuck are their opinions so fuckin' close to each other? When I watch shit with people, I don't agree with them nearly 100%. Why isn't there some "FUCK YOU, JACE! THAT SHIT WAS AWESOME?!"

    Because people are deeply afraid to be seen as out-of-touch. Truth is that those who fear stating how they feel without checking with others are just hubs, routers, and switches for other people's opinion.

  7. talking of characters who never change and never will....Dexter...Yvonne Strahovski has joined season 7...so Yay, more regular Sarah Walker on TV ...good stuff. Zac is going to be in Thor 2 (when he was supposed to be in Thor 1) so that is awesome too...all the ex Chuck cast getting regular tv and movie gigs...fantastic.

    1. Oh lord... I am so fuckin' tired of DEXTER. But if Yvonne is going to be on the show, then I WILL BE WATCHING. Her episodes.

    2. I quit Dexter after season 4, my friends tell me it got shit so I do not know how this will pan out for her. If the show is in a slump or taking a downward trajectory in quality then would doing a guest stint on a show be a bad thing for Yvonne? I am not stating just asking.

    3. The Emmy voters still haven't gotten the message that DEXTER sucks now. It will be very good for Yvonne.