Monday, March 26, 2012

Zou Bisou Bisou: Mad Men Season 5 Premiere Reviewed

Tonight marked the return of Mad Men to the airwaves after a lengthy 15-month hiatus. AMC's ubiquitous marketing and interminable absence from the airwaves raised the stakes impossibly high for the show's two hour premiere. Nonetheless, the show was ultimately a disappointment. I felt that the show was too focused on answering the pressing plot questions: Did Joan keep her baby? Did Megan and Don get married? What is the status of the Drapers? Furthermore, the show devoted itself to scratching the surface with every possible issue: Joan's baby, the agency's money problems, Peggy's ongoing struggle to gain support from Don, Roger and Pete's struggle for alpha dog status, instead of focusing on one issue. With the notable absence of an appearance from Mrs. Henry Francis, the show hit everything it could without devoting itself to one issue and as a result fell flat.

The show briefly touched upon the Civil Rights movement, with pickets outside a racist office building and an awkward wanted ad gone wrong. but it missed a golden opportunity. Mad Men is at its best when Don is thinking of and pitching an idea to a client or touching upon prescient issues that only the 60s can give us. Instead, Wiener and co. touched briefly upon Vietnam, with an admittedly hilarious exchange between Peggy's boyfriend and Bert Cooper, and the Civil Rights movement. Lane's mistrust of a black cab driver (which transformed into a painful subplot about a potential affair that didn't even come to fruition) was the seedling of a great idea that never took shape.

This sounds harsher than it should only because Mad Men has set the bar so high for itself. As usual, the show was well acted, well written, and had hilarious moments. Megan's burlesque dance, Burt's charming senility, Harry's painfully awkward naivety, and Pete's fear of gophers carried the show. However, there was no central thread connecting the episode from one subplot to another.

Before concluding, it is necessary to touch upon Don's relationship with Megan, which seemed like the reluctant focus of the two hours. Don and Megan represent the divide between pre and post WWII that the show is constantly grappling with. Whether it is Roger's death rattle in a meeting with Toyota or Don's failed attempt with Stephanie in California, the show understands and smartly plays up the crucial societal change that occurred in post-war America. The Don and Roger's of the world are still in charge but falling as fast as the faceless man in the Mad Men ads from the youth who buy products and shape culture. The same climate that birthed a generation of rebellion is the reason why Don doesn't want a surprise party and Megan doesn't understand why he doesn't want one. However, Don's forceful encounter with Megan, who cleans in her underwear, something a woman of Faye Miller's generation would never dream of, fails to truly tackle the issues confronting Megan and Don. Their generational issues will remain after their post-coital glow fades and white rug is replaced. Mad Men to its frustrating credit refuses to answer the larger questions, in the same way that David Chase didn't give Sopranos fans an ending they would sleep soundly to. The show and the Drapers don't succeed by answering questions, they succeed by being witty, having overpowering sexual attractiveness, and because why the fuck not showing a little skin.

I expect the next episodes to get more back to normal without the inflated expectations and get back to its bread and butter. In the meantime, Megan's Zooby Zoobying will have to suffice.

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