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

Mad Men – Season 1 Review

It didn’t take very long for Mad Men to win me over. It practically has everything I look for in a TV show: great production values, beautiful cinematography, top-notch performances and sharp writing. However, the true winning factor for me is the universe the show exists in. After 10 near-perfect episodes, I find myself completely immersed in the show’s world and its quiet, atmospheric world.

I’m not usually very fond of TV shows that take place in the ‘60s, but Mad Men forces you to love this era despite all the heavy drinking and oh-god the smoking (yes, there’s a lot of that). Jon Hamm is the alpha male at the advertising agency where he works, and his character Donald Draper takes us on a gripping journey into life in Manhattan before smartphones, laptops or high-res television sets ever existed. You can go ahead and add “fidelity” to that list because almost everyone on this show has an affair at one point or another, and it’s brilliantly plausible and realistic. In fact, a part of me wasn’t sure whether to root for Don and his housewife Betty (the gorgeous January Jones) or him and any of his other mistresses.

The writing is impressively crammed with intricacies and rich subtext that are bound to make any TV buff thrilled, and the overarching theme of the first season delves into who Donald is. Sometimes, the writers are literally asking us “do you really know who this man is?”, and other times they’re dangling this question over our heads with some fascinating layered subplots. He’s a loving family man, competitive coworker, encouraging boss, and cheating husband all at once. I wasn’t sure where the show was going when they revealed he’d also been hiding a big secret—changing his identity from Dick Whitman—but showrunner and writer Mathew Weiner brilliantly used this opportunity to add another layer to this fascinating character instead of going for cheap Hollywood twists.

While Don may be the protagonist of this story, it’s the supporting characters that bring this show to life. The vibrant Joan Holloway certainly stands out from the crowd, and Christina Hendricks does wonders in the role of the snarky office manager everyone loves to hate (and fuck). I was initially a bit turned off by Peggy (Elisabeth Moss)’s naivety in the first few episodes, but if the finale is any indication, then the show is gradually developing her to become much stronger and self-assured. The rest of the cast is just as impressive, and while I still find Vincent Kartheiser (Peter Campbell) more suited for a creepier role (think Connor from Angel), there’s no denying he is a very capable actor and he does bring this rather one-note character to life.

Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and his refreshing dynamic with Don. The two men aren’t your typical competitive male colleagues, nor are they the typical “bros”; there’s an intriguing backstory to their relationship, and I can’t wait to see more of this developing friendship and partnership in future seasons.

 


Bits

– I adore the show’s creative title credits, from the various characters appearing as posters on buildings to Don’s silhouette jumping off to that final shot of him lying on a couch with a cigarette between his fingers. It also encompasses everything Don’s character went through this season right up until his “downfall” at the end. Brilliant.

– Visually, the show excels at giving us 1960 vibes, and I particularly loved the opening scene with Don speaking to the black waiter, followed by a white manager immediately showing up to ask Don if he’s being “bothered”.

– I’m very careful about using the word ‘twist’ to describe any plotline on this show, but the final scene of the pilot episode revealing Don at a suburban house with a wife and kids was quite the shocker.

– Talia Balsam (who plays Roger’s wife) is married to John Slattery in real life. How cool is that?

– I hated Midge (and the actress looks a whole lot like Helen Hunt, doesn’t she?). Hope we never see her again.

– Betty’s scenes with her therapist were always fascinating, although I do think the show was desperate to make her seem more sympathetic.

– I loved Helen, the Drapers’ neighbor who is sinned for raising a child of divorce. On the other hand, her son Glenn (played by Weiner’s real-life son) is creepy and annoying.

– Harrowing moment as one of the Drapers party guests slaps a child for spilling a drink. Good God, the ’60s weren’t all that great, folks.

– Hilarious moment as Don and Roger make sure to take their shoes off before entering Bert’s office.

– I love the scene where we find out Don has a brother and a whole other life in 5G. Sadly, this was a bit of a rushed storyline as his feud with Pete gets resolved rather quickly and his brother ends up hanging himself within just a couple of episodes.

– Is there a ‘ship name for Roger and Joan because I love them.

– Also in 5G: I love the subtext when Don works on a campaign for an “executive account” in which a man keeps his private life private, paralleled with what he goes through with his brother in that same episode later on. Sidenote: I love the campaigns on this show.

– I actually like Ken. He doesn’t laugh as much as all the other men.

– Peggy getting the Belle Jolie lipstick idea feels like a significant, satisfying moment for her character. Way to go, P.

– Sal turning out to be gay was a complete shock to me. How refreshing that he actually turned down that client’s invitation to his hotel room?

– I love that Don and Roger mention that Beirut is the Paris of the Middle East.

– Betty grabbing a shotgun and shooting at her neighbor’s birds at the end of the ninth episode is such a shocking ‘60s moment, if you forget the fact that a similar thing just happened recently in Lebanon. So much for Paris of the Middle Est, eh?

– I loved Peggy standing up to Pete and asking him if he’s going to be nice or cruel to her today.

– Shocking moment as Roger falls and has a heart attack in the middle of sex.

– Kudos to the costume design for putting Elisabeth Moss in a fat suit in the season’s last few episodes. I certainly noticed, but it didn’t even occur to me that she might be pregnant. Amazing.

– Awfully depressing moment as Betty ‘gets off’ by the washing machine’s vibrations as she imagines bringing the salesman up to her bedroom and having sex with him.

– Hildy probably had 2 or or 3 scenes throughout this season, but I absolutely LOVED her. The way she turns down Pete and questions the way he treats her were two of my favorite moments.

– So, Pete and Trudy can’t have children or does Pete just not want any?

– Don’s speech about memories intercut with photos of his family throughout the years is one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen all year.

– Tear-jerking moment as Peggy refuses to hold her baby.

– Don going back home in the last scene of the finale and telling his wife and kids that he’ll be joining them on their Thanksgiving trip was delightful…and then it turned out to be a dream. What a sudden, depressing twist, and boy did I just love it.


Quotes

Don: Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is okay. You are okay.

Don: The reason you haven’t felt [love] is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons. You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.

Bertram: How much do you know about Pete’s family?
Don: Nothing, except that they put out a mediocre product.

Rachel: They taught us at Barnard about that word, “utopia”. The Greeks had two meanings for it: ‘eu-topos’, meaning the good place, and ‘u-topos’, meaning the place that cannot be.

Don: I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system. The universe is indifferent.

Don: Listen, I’m not here to tell you about Jesus. You already know about Jesus. He either lives in your heart or He doesn’t. Every woman wants choices, but in the end, none wants to be one of a hundred in a box. She’s unique. She makes the choices and she’s chosen him. She wants to tell the world he’s MINE. He belongs to ME, not you. She marks her man with her lips. He’s her possession. You’ve given the gift of total ownership.

Peggy: I know what men think of you. That you’re looking for a husband, and you’re fun. And not in that order.
Joan: Peggy, this isn’t China. There’s no money in virginity.

Betty: I know people say life goes on, and it does. But no one tells you that’s not a good thing.

Peggy: Those people, in Manhattan? They are better than us. Because they want things they haven’t seen.

Roger: (to Joan) Look, I want to tell you something because you’re very dear to me. And I hope you understand that it comes from the bottom of my damaged, damaged heart. You are the finest piece of ass I ever had and I don’t care who knows it. I am so glad I got to roam those hillsides.

Joan: I said congratulations, didn’t I? Although, sometimes when people get what they want they realize how limited their goals were.

Don: Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.

Rating
A-