Mad Men – Season 2 Review

A lot of shows can impress me right off the bat, but not that many shows can truly be as consistently poignant, well-made and sharp as Mad Men.

The best thing about the show’s sophomore season is that it addressed the only little problem I had about its debut year: Peggy. Her development in the thirteen episodes following the season one finale is glorious to watch as she goes from having a baby and giving it away to becoming the only female copywriter with an office at Sterling Cooper. She’s still trying to fit into the boys’ club, but it’s less cringe-worthy and more satisfying to watch this time, and more often than not her journey reminds me of Alicia Florrick’s rich development on The Good Wife, another excellent special show. As always, Elisabeth Moss continued to prove that she is more than capable of portraying a strong, career-driven and empowered character struggling to survive in this masculine world, and I’ve never been more invested in her journey as I am now.

More than anything, the overarching theme of the season is family. Don’s struggles with his wife are put front and center as he tries to repair his marriage, and Jon Hamm’s top-notch performance makes this storyline captivating to watch. I don’t remember the last time I watched a show whose main character we knew so little about, and the bits and pieces we established regarding Don’s previous life had me glued to the screen. His little trip to L.A. proved to be a season highlight, and his interactions as well as flashbacks with Anna Draper (the real Mrs. Donald Draper) were riveting, I truly never wanted them to end.

In addition, Mark Moses joined the cast this season as Duck Phillips, a new entity at Sterling Cooper. His exchanges with Don and Roger were a hoot to watch, but as much forward momentum this season had compared to season one, the writers never lost focus on what makes Mad Men so unique: the characters. From Joan to Peter and Ken, each member of the advertising agency is distinctive and colorful, and they all add a small-world feeling to the show.

Finally, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect final shot to bookend this stellar season: Don and Betty holding hands as she tells him she’s pregnant. It’s a depressing and bleak vignette to end the season on, but that moment of silence between them as we zoom out is stunningly beautiful and perfectly encompasses everything this season was about for Don, and I can’t wait to see how this particular development affects him next year.


Bits

– The season premiere’s biggest shocker: the casual throwaway line revealing that Salvatore (the closeted gay) has a wife. As we later find out, it’s none other than Sarah Drew (who I loved on Everwood but cannot stand on Grey’s Anatomy). Let’s see if I end up liking her here.

– Hearing everyone’s reactions and jokes regarding the American Airlines’ plane crash was appalling, and yet I couldn’t stop smiling at all these ‘60s references.

– I love that the crass comedian, Jimmy Barrett, had several guest appearances throughout this season, even though he is horrible. The small-world feeling I get from this show reminds me so much of all the judges that frequently appeared on The Good Wife, and I love that.

– On that note, I only recently discovered Utz (the chocolate-covered pretzels, not the chips) – and boy they are yummy.

– Father Gill (Colin Hanks) and Peggy’s scenes were amusing, and I’m surprised that nothing romantic happened between them. How shockingly uncontrived!

– Not enough Don/Roger scenes this season. Not cool, writers!

– How amusing were Roger’s scenes with his daughter, especially after news of his relationship with his secretary come out?

– I never understood the Peyton List obsession…until now. Every single scene of hers is beautifully filmed, and she looks stunning in every single frame, I was often distracted. I might even give her new show Frequency another chance now (if it gets renewed)!

– Even though I love Roger and Jane (because Peyton List), I’m still rooting for Roger and Joan to end up together.

– Betty’s departure from the family picnic by throwing all of their trash on the grass was horrifyingly hilarious. There’s a thin line between “it’s the ‘60s” and “this is excruciating to watch”, and Mad Men walks that fine line perfectly.

– I loved every campaign this season, but we didn’t get one in every single episode, as was the case in the first season.

– Pete refusing to adopt a baby was another fascinating subplot this season.

– Heartbreaking moment as Freddy says goodbye to Don and Roger after being fired for peeing in his pants.

– Everyone’s reaction to Marilyn Monroe’s death was truly intriguing to watch.

– I want to know more about Hollis, the black elevator operator.

– How long until Betty starts sleeping with Arthur (Revenge’s Gabriel Mann)?

– The season finale, brilliantly titled Meditations in an Emergency, won an Emmy for best writing in a drama series in 2009. Very well-deserved.

Quotes

Peggy: Sex sells.
Don: Says who? Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this. They take all this monkey crap and just stick it in a briefcase completely unaware that their success depends on something more than their shoeshine. You are the product. You feeling something, that’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.

Peggy: I’m capable of making my own decisions.
Anita: Really? The State of New York didn’t think so. The doctors didn’t think so.

Roger: If you put a penny in a jar every time you make love in the first year of marriage, and then you take a penny out of the jar every time you make love in the second year, you know what you have? A jar full of pennies.

Peggy: One day you’re there, and then all of a sudden, there’s less of you. And you wonder where that…part went, if it’s living somewhere outside of you. And you keep thinking maybe you’ll get it back. And then you realize, it’s just gone.

Rating
A

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