TV Review: Mad Men, Season 5

bill bodkin looks at the season five finale and its top 10 best moments…

One smile changed the entire future of Mad Men.

As Don Draper sat at the bar waiting for his old fashioned, after just having helped his actress wife Megan (Jessice Pare) score a lead role in a TV commercial, an attractive blonde sidled up to him.

“My friend wants to know if you’re alone,” she come-hitherly inquired.

Don looks over to the dolled up brunette only a few feet away and a slow, mischievous smile scrolls across his five o’ clocked shadowed face.

End scene.

Yes, those sons of bitches known as the creative team of AMC’s beloved drama, did it again. They hooked us, left us wanting more and ensured that we will be tuning in for answers next year when Mad Men returns to airwaves…all with a smile, a hint of things to come.

Outside of being a clever cliffhanger, this scene was the perfect ending to this short yet impactful season. It was a tip of the cap to a season, one filled with memorable, life-altering and shocking moments. And Don Draper’s sly smile ended things perfectly. It was a reminder that, even though the episode was wrapping up things uncharacteristically neatly — from the financial climate of the firm finally taking a turn for the better to Pete Campbell securing his little bit of solace in his New York apartment — there is still trouble in paradise.

Yes, the one thing that was held dear this season, Don and Megan’s marriage, has now been put into question. Even after all their fights and tiffs, there was always reconciliation (and sex) and there was always Don being supportive and loyal of his new bride’s desire to pursue her dreams. But now that one common thread throughout the season has been throw into a chasm of questions with this one smile — will Don remain faithful or will his hound dog days return? Stay tuned.

The fifth season of Mad Men, while not perfect, was probably the one of the show’s most memorable ones due to amount of the risks that the show has took. And those risks, in my opinion paid off in spades. In fact, there are 10 memorable moments in this season that I personally believe will become iconic (or at least fondly remembered) moments in the series’ run.

Zou Bisou Bisou

It’s one of the weirdest but most memorable moments in Season 5 and it happened in the first episode. During Don’s (unwanted) surprise birthday party, his new bride Megan gets all chanteuse-y on her husband and the entire audience for that fact, with her rendition of the Sir George Martin produced track. In no way is this song good, but damn it, it’s catchy. It’s so catchy that the song blew up on iTunes and became a staple on satellite radio; further solidifying Mad Men’s place in pop culture.

Lane Pryce Commits Suicide

One of my closest friends and fellow Mad Men buff shot me an e-mail mentioning that she heard a rumor one of the characters on the show was going to commit suicide. From her research and the chatter she saw on Mad Men message boards, all signs pointed towards Pete Campbell. However, when we see Lance Pryce, played the brilliant Jared Harris, forging a check, I knew that my favorite Brit was not long for the world. The episode in which he ends it all is a heartbreaking work of genius. Lane’s symbolic snapping of his signature spectacles, the failed suicide attempt in the Jaguar and finally the stone cold visual of his rigid blue body hanging from his office door; were all extremely powerful and moving scenes.

Sally Draper Becomes a Woman

I’ve never been a fan of precocious child actors, but there’s something about Kiernan Shipka that’s just so awesome. Her character, Sally Draper, has been a lightning rod for highly dramatic moments throughout the series. From putting a plastic bag over her head to being caught in an intimate act to her verbal wars with her mother, Sally is always doing something that outlandish. However, one of her best moments came this year when she became woman. Yes, she had her period…and we saw the blood. As a man, I can tell you my eyeballs were screaming to be ripped out of my skull in shear horror, but from a critical standpoint the moment was a powerful one. It acted as a way in which a temporary ceasefire between Betty and Sally could be called and we must now wonder what the writers of the series have in store for a young Sally, who is coming into her sexually active years.

Roger Sterling’s Acid Trip

Roger Sterling has always provided a lot of comic relief in the series. However, his character has never shined as brightly both comedically and dramatically as when he decided to drop acid with his wife Jane at LSD guru Timothy Leary’s apartment. Honestly, you can’t do a show set in the ’60s without getting into the drug subculture that was a major part of the decade’s DNA. When Roger goes down the rabbit hole we’re brought along for his trip and what a trip it was. It was a risk for the series to go in such a psychedelic direction but it completely worked. Throughout his trip Roger is able to find clarity, realize that he needs to divorce his young wife and live on his own. John Slattery was born to play Sterling and he remains one of the best characters on the show.

Peggy Moves On

I have not been a fan of Peggy Olson. In fact, I just can’t stand this character. Why? Because I feel she’s said and done the same thing for the past two to three seasons. She drinks, she complains, she pouts, she sighs, she gives the occasional handy to a random dude in the movies. Wash, rinse, repeat. I felt Peggy’s character hasn’t added anything of substance to the show since she and her priest (Colin Hanks) had that terrific arc back a number of seasons ago. But then it happened — they decided to have Peggy move on. Having been wooed away from the firm, Peggy is now on her own and for the first time in years, I legitimately want to see what happens to her. It was a move that the show desperately needed to make as it seemed every character was moving forward except her and this is one of the cornerstone characters of the show.

Joan Gets Jaguar

You know Mad Men is a cultural phenomenon when one of the companies featured in an episode takes to Twitter and criticizes it — and here it was Jaguar who took exception to the plotline involving there brand. In the episode, curvaceous bombshell Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) makes our jaws drop (and not just from one of her outfits) when she decides to sleep with a key member of Jaguar’s dealership council in order for the firm to win the car company as a client, at the passive suggestion of all but Don. This is probably one of the most morally shocking moments in the show’s history — and that’s saying something. The episode sparked a lot of chatter online — inciting a lot of passionate feminist commentary and debate. The question is this — was Joan right in selling her body in order to ensure the financial future of her son? Talk amongst yourselves.

Roger Sterling Meets Megan’s Mom

Roger Sterling gets a thinly veiled blowie from Megan’s mom (Julia Ormond) and this observed by young Sally Draper. Holy shit dude.

Rory Gilmore’s All Growns Up

Alexis Bleidel’s run on the show as a mentally disturbed housewife, who might just be Pete Campbell’s soulmate, was probably the best performance she’s ever given. Yet the comeback performance wasn’t the most important thing about her character — it was her effect on Pete Campbell. Pete’s basically been the bad guy of the series; the slimy weasel; the rat fink; the sneaky bastard. But when he met Bleidel’s character, we saw another side of Pete — a guy who actually had a heart and who we discover has some serious depression issues. Her character opened up the close to the vest Campbell and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of his mental anguish become prevalent plot pieces in the future.

Pete vs. Lane

Much like the scene a few years back when a client got his foot mowed off by a John Deere tractor, this scene is pure laughs. Neither Pete or Lane are figthers, but when they roll up their sleeves to settle things in a match of fisticuffs, the results are hilarious.

Hari Krishna

Mad Men has been great at bringing back old cast members and here we find out what happened to our old pal Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis). Kinsey was always a guy who went with what he thought was the cool and hip counter culture thing to do. Remember his days as a civil rights activist? Yeah, not too successful. Here we find him as a Hari Krishna…completely robed up, head shaved, chanting…and completely miserable. His scene with Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) where he admits his unhappiness with Krishna and his life and then Harry gives him money to go out and find himself in L.A. is probably the best stuff these two supporting players have ever had. However, the memorable scene here is when Harry, in order to impress Paul’s girlfriend, starts chanting along with Hari Krishna prayers.

All Photos Credit: AMC

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named 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

4 COMMENTS

  1. Lane, Sally and Sterling were my favorite characters. Now Lane is gone and Sterling is unforgivable in his easy willingness to let Joan sell herself. All I have left is the daring, intelligent and awesomely snarky Shipka. Can’t wait to see where Sally goes.

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