Review: Mad Men Season 5 Premiere

bill bodkin goes to back to work…

Brilliance is back…Mad Men has returned to TV. Yes, this is my lame attempt to play off the show’s twitter countdown (e.g. In two days, style is back…Don is back! #MadMen), it’s also the truth. Mad Men is one of the most brilliant, compelling and gripping dramas on modern television. And the premiere episode of the show’s long-awaited fifth season proves it.

The brilliance of the show is that even thought it’s been 17 months since we last saw Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and company, it feels as though we’ve never left. The moment we enter the world of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, it’s business as usual as if we, like the characters, had a three day holiday and are getting back to the grind.

One of the main reasons for this is that the characters in the office are so wonderfully and intricately developed. They have characteristics that have been emblazoned onto our pop culture subconscious and in the first few scenes we’re reminded of them — Roger Sterling (John Slattery) is still a sozzled and cheeky rascal, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) is a weaselly and ambitious junior executive, Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is frustrated (and seriously annoying) and of course, Don Draper is still a mystery wrapped in a handsome conundrum.

However, monkey wrenches have been thrown into the inner workings of nearly every major character. Don is now happy — and it confuses the hell out of his staff and more than likely, Don too. The cause of his happiness? His new wife, Megan (Jessica Pare). A character that I thought was a little too goody-goody in Season 4. This season, so far, it turns out she’s just as messed up as Don and this is brilliant. Instead of seeing Betty Draper’s (January Jones) constant sour puss in response Don’s shenanigans, he’s got a feisty foil who’s showing us she’s a lot deeper than the wide-eyed savior of Don’s soul.

One storyline that’s really going to be interesting to watch develop is the Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Roger storyline — because well…she had his kid and they’re hiding it from everyone. The line of the night came from this storyline when Joan returns to the office with her son and Roger walks down the hallway and says, “There’s my baby! Now get this brat out of my way and lemme see her.” I wanna punch whoever came up with that in face for being that damn clever.

Speak of Joan, it looks like she might be suffering from serious baby blues, which could provide for some very tear shedding, scene chewing moments for everyone’s (or at least mine) favorite curvacious redhead.

Also, the dynamic of Pete and his wife Trudy (Community’s Allison Brie) is going to be a really good storyline this year. They’ve always been a little awkward, but now it seems like Pete’s getting a little bored with married, suburban life. Is he starting to go down the same road Don did in previous seasons? Work late, play hard, fool around and throw his marriage in peril?

Now, I do love Mad Men, but there were some definite flaws in this premiere episode — some problems that are new and some that have been lingering for a while. First, Peggy Olson, can something happen with this character? She was such a dynamic character the first few seasons — the ingenue who got pregnant by Pete (who doesn’t remember it), had a baby, went a little crazy and then worked her way up from secretary to ad exec. But it seems she’s been stuck in neutral — she has an idea, it’s not great, Don either backs her or bails on her, she rolls her eyes, complains…wash, repeat. She’s become one-note and a dissonant one at that.

Then there was the musical number. Megan’s sexy impromptu all-French serenade of Don at his surprise birthday party was downright embarrassing to watch. I mean…wow. I figure this was done on purpose, to convey how mortified Don was and also to justify everyone in the cast to make fun of it, but still that was just painful television.

Then there’s a storyline I don’t know what to make of — the Lane Pryce storyline. I absolutely love this character, probably because Jared Harris plays it with such earnest, British charm but this whole he got back together with his wife but lusts after a woman who he sees in a photo from a lost wallet he discovered…it’s a bit weird. I hope they take this in a direction of Lane being unhappy with being with his wife, who left him last season, and not him becoming obsessed with this random woman.

Yet, despite these problems with the episode, Mad Men’s brilliance still shines brightly. There’s a lot laid out on the table for this season — Don and Megan’s marriage, the civil rights movement, Pete vs. Roger, Joan’s baby drama, the eventual return of Betty and her wonderful mothering skills and, did we hear this right, an even bigger secret Don is hiding? It’s exciting stuff that will unfold before our eyes with unexpected turns, powerful drama, beautiful production and lots and lots of whiskey.

All Photos Credit: AMC

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites