Mad Men is entering into its last two episodes of Season Five on RTÉ, though the series is already out on DVD so enthusiasts will know the ending already. Not that that means much because Mad Men was never a show to hinge on shock endings or cliff-hangers. Season Five starts off with a civil-rights demonstration and we learn the year is 1966; playboy Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is happily married to his new wife Megan (Jessica Pare), the world is changing.
Season Five was a brilliant season and featured some of the best episodes in all of Mad Men, which is saying something after four critically acclaimed seasons. The show gives us an in-depth look into the psyche and lives of the main characters, but the era in which it is set defines the show and its inhabitants. Advertising on Madison Avenue in the ’60s, our main characters, Don, Joan, Roger, Pete, Peggy, Betty are all adapting to the changing environment and their ageing which proves difficult.
Don is the master at the former; he has reinvented himself time and again but in Season Five, the generation gap seems to be moving at a tremendous speed. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, LSD, Hare Krishna’s, teenagers, and pop culture all find their way into life and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner makes good use, including Roger Sterling on LSD, Don at a Rolling Stones concert and Sally, Don and Betty’s daughter becoming a smart ass teenager.
A new employee is hired at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in the form of Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman). He personifies many of the changes in the world of Season Five. He is young, fresh, enthusiastic and brilliant. Don is threatened by his work and seems to be lacking his edge. The Don we get in Season Five is ‘on love leave’ with wife Megan who dominates his life. She is a dreamer, a wannabe actress but has she settled Don?
Meanwhile Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) is trying his best to be a big voice in SCDP; he tries too hard and hasn’t got the charisma or appeal of Don but makes strides in Season Five regarding work but like most characters in the show his life in general is flat.
Joan (Christina Hendricks), Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) and Betty (January Jones) all have their moments in Season Five. Joan and Peggy have an unspoken rivalry, two strong women in a man’s world. They both take different and life changing steps to further their careers. But Englishman Lane Pryce (Jarred Harris) has the biggest part to play, a sad man who lives a sad life, which comes to the fore in Season Five.
The hilarious Roger Sterling (John Slattery) has some of his best lines here but he too must face up to the fact that it’s a young man’s game. The theme of the season is quite dark; most characters chase happiness, trying to fill the holes in their lives with superficial pleasures but fail in their attempts.
Pete sums it up best in the season finale: “It’s like a temporary bandage on a permanent wound.” This is in contrast to Peggy who ends the season looking with bright eyes into the future. All in all its TV at its best, it sets up Season Six brilliantly with characters seeming like they may be resorting back to old habits while others move forward, adapt or die.