Friday, October 22, 2010

Mad Men - What to expect next season

Spoiler alert--If you have not yet watched Season Four, or the last episode of this season of Mad Men, then do not read on.


Don Draper and crew have wrapped up another season on AMC and, once again, we are left to ponder the "what ifs" and the "what's to come."

Let's break it down, shall we?

- We learned that Joan Holloway is keeping her baby. After discussing abortion with Roger Sterling, the father, and appearing to have gone through with that decision, we see Joan in the last episode speaking by phone with her husband who was deployed to Vietnam. The expected death of Joan's husband didn't happen this season, but it's hard not to predict that she might become a single mother due to a wartime death of her spouse.

- Roger became inconsequential at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The business, which he inherited, passed him by after the loss of Lucky Strike. All Sterling could do was to try to sell his memoir, drink his Canadian Club, and continue to lust after Joan. It's unfortunate that we saw only one or two glimpses of Sterling's young wife during the season and didn't see that relationship line develop, or play out, in the Mad Men story arc.

- Lane Pryce was a key part of the story early and into the middle of the season, culminating with the whack on the head from his father who chided him for not going back to England to attend to his family. Pryce did that, at some point, but nothing further was developed from that story, which included the topic of interracial dating, a rather controversial social matter in the mid-1960's.

- Bert Cooper's best moments were talking about Ida Blankenship, a former lover and aged secretary to Draper. Cooper left the agency late in Season Four, taking his shoeless wanderings through the office with him. Will we see Bert return in Season Five?

- Ken Cosgrove returned to the agency but played second fiddle as account man to Pete Campbell. Cosgrove's key moment in the season was his declaration, in the final episode, that he would not court a client in a way that would betray his wife in the process. "I know that every account will leave me. But Cynthia's my life, my actual life."

- Campbell's story was one of the more fun developments of this past season. Sometimes smarmy but often the voice of reason, Campbell grew as a businessman and became a key driver of what the agency was this season and what it will become in Season Five. The expectant father seemed to find his rhythm in his relationship with Trudy and her parents, and kept Draper's identity secret close to the vest although clearly irritated that he's had to bear that burden. My prediction is that Pete's role will only grow bigger as the series moves on.

- If you want proof of how Peggy Olson's character has matured, look back at pictures from Season One and compare them to now. In Olson, we've seen a woman flourish and succeed in the midst of the burgeoning feminist movement of the '60s. Still left out of the boys club, she alternates from confiding in and sharing a venting moment with Joan, to using her newfound power to fire a male employee. The best two episodes of the season featured Peggy--one with the key characters being her, Joan and a growing up Sally Draper, and the other being the night where she and Don were the story of the episode. The latter may have been the best episode ever of this acclaimed series.

- In the Draper family, we had a little-used Betty Draper become the Cruella DeVille of mothers. Betty struggles as a mother, as a wife and, at the end, sadly showed us that she still digs Don's chili (if you catch my drift.) Betty's character is adrift and it will be interesting to see if she is a central character in Season Five, or an afterthought. Meanwhile, Sally Draper is a child dealing with the changing tide of the '60s. She continues a friendship with Glenn, runs away to see her father, and is learning how to manipulate and/or tell adults what they want to hear.

- Finally, we have Don, our show's hero. Draper's descent into the bottle was sometimes hard to watch and, at times, he was a royal horse's ass. The show which turned it around for this character was the aforementioned episode with Olson. Don seemed to regain his mojo after that--he alternated from ad genius to tender father to irritated boss to circumspect about his lot in life. We thought Don had found his love match in Dr. Faye, clearly a woman who could hold her own and go toe-to-toe with Draper. But, alas, it's a family vacation to California where Don's eyes are truly opened to the allure of Megan--full-time secretary and sometime babysitter/nanny--and the ultimate winner for his affections. Megan brings the maternal prowess which Don requires for his children, as well as the stable homebody who will put a "steak on the table" for her hubby when he comes home from those long days at the agency.

What do we make of where the story is going? Creator Matthew Weiner has shown no hesitancy in moving the story line far along time-wise, meaning next season could start a year or two from where we've left.

Clearly, the agency seems to have survived its loss of Lucky Strike, particularly with the new account gathered in by Olson and Cosgrove at season's end. Will the Olson-Campbell-Cosgrove threesome become the brains and brawn of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? What of Don and his role--will he be content to spend more time at home with his young bride or will the infidelity itch come back? Will Megan's role in the show become more dramatic, or will she go the way of Sterling's young bride?

I've heard some opine that the show may have "jumped the shark" with the marriage of Don and Megan. I don't think so. Marrying one's secretary was a well-practiced arrangement back in the day, with none other than Bill Bernbach (Doyle Dane Bernbach) doing so. In fact, Bernbach's wife was known to have had great influence at DDB--perhaps we'll see the same of Megan given her interest in advertising, and the human character. It's the type of reality that we've come to expect from Weiner, and this terrific show and cast of actors.

Season Five--we need you now!

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