TV Review: Mad Men Season 5 Premiere, A Little Kiss

After one of the most hotly anticipated build-ups in recent memory, Mad Men smashed onto our screens again for the launch of season 5 with the liberal treat of a double episode to kick us off and remind us of the landscape at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Paced like a mini-movie, A Little Kiss debuted the new season to purportedly substantially high ratings, surpassing the highest figures the AMC drama had ever recorded before with a relatively high 3.5 million viewers reported. While in terms of most mainstream programming this number seems quite low for an event with such media magnitude, it is a good performance for a show on the lower radar of AMC’s broadcast channel and as mentioned broke all previous records the show had made before.

Onto the episode itself, and it was clear that the double episode formula was a wise decision to frame the launch of the series, as the mini-movie-esque structure counteracted the length of time that the show had been off air, and the first half hour could be utilised to effectively reacquaint ourselves with where season 4 left us, without a mass deluge of expository scenarios to get the plot moving. On opening the show, A Little Kiss continued the show’s trend of evolving where the characters were going with their lives, starting with a montage of the new families that had arisen. Yes, it was a new day for a lot of the characters, as the fallout of season 4’s climaxes meant that Joan was a brand new mother to a baby boy while remaining reluctant to stay home off work, Pete was settling into life as the father of a little girl as only Pete could anxiously do, and most significantly, Don had gone through with marrying Megan and had the kids for the holidays. This framed the double episode uniquely as a rebirth for the show amidst the theme of the new family, where everything seems perfectly serene ahead of the inevitable drama that will unfold through the course of the season.

A good decision to leave Betty entirely off the premiering double episode meant that the focus was largely on the burgeoning marriage of Don and Megan, and as we only saw that get engaged at the end of season 4, it was important to establish how their relationship was shaping up. A Little Kiss showed us that Don had risen out of the gloom that descended over him after his divorce from Betty and that he seemed incredibly at peace and positive for the first time. Moreover, we discover that he has in fact revealed the truth behind his identity and that Megan is aware of his past as Dick Whitman and his brief service in Korea. This bodes well for the new relationship, however when Megan throws a surprise birthday party for the ad man, the cracks begin to show.

The party is an absolutely excellent piece of television in that it measures the celebrations of the show’s return for the audience, and brings a lavish sense of occasionthat the audience is already feeling and expands upon it tenfold. It’s fun to see all the characters interact again, with Stan Rizzo’s promotion to main cast and Harry Crane’s evolution into a snide, pretentious Hollywood big shot adding magnificently to the usual strengths of the awkward Pete in the most amazing jacket ever, the hilarious Roger and the emotional compass Peggy. Furthermore, the party is colourful and vibrant, a distinctive move away from the bleak darkness that characterised the majority of the early seasons and clouded season 4 so morosely. This tells us a great deal about the direction of the show, and its concern with a clash between generations.

The party is a clear signal that the show is being hurtled into the 70s at an alarming rate, and there is a substantial threat that a number of characters could get left behind. The conflict between Megan and Don arises when the generational difference both in age and spirit means that Megan’s attempts to please Don fall on deaf ears and she begins to wilt a bit both at home and in the office, where she has been promoted to junior copywriter in the same ilk as Peggy. On top of the idea that Don is potentially holding Megan back from being who she wants to be is the growing theme that Peggy is indeed jealous of Megan for the promotion into creative. Perhaps feeling that Megan is trespassing on the one thing that truly makes her stand out as well as the potential manifestation of Peggy’s jealousy in regards to Megan taking away the Don she is familiar with, it seems that a Peggy and Megan clash of personalities seems inevitable down the road of season 5, despite their mutual respect and cordial attitude at present. The hostility towards Megan from Peggy as well as others in the office gets to her in time, and after the bizarre dominatrix sex scene near the end of the double, Megan’s anger at Don is appeased by his comforting words that the negativity is inherently a part of the people causing her problems and isn’t truly directed at her. Still, this concern highlights how Megan is fast becoming the symbol of the impending fresh air of the 70s which is slowly being crushed by the ‘cynical’ 60s that isn’t ready for her.

While the relationship between Don and Megan was the main focus of the double episode, much entertainment was provided by two of the more fun characters as Pete and Roger indulged in an accounts duel to prove which one was the better. Pete’s scheming mixed with Roger’s debonair thwarting of his plans and the feud that ensued over the importance of the bigger offices resulted in very entertaining television, where two polarising characters clashed in a fairly ridiculous game of wits. Furthermore, time was allocated to Lane Pryce in which it seemed he may be getting involved accidently with New York gangsters which you can fully expect will bring the financial stability of the firm under much threat over the course of the season.

Overall, Mad Men’s return was a combination of reaffirming the characters and their relationships while also underlining the radical change that is on the horizon as Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is hurtled into the upcoming 70s. With the episode framed by a storyline surrounding equal opportunities hiring and the indication of an incoming black secretary into the firm over the course of the next few weeks, it is evident that this is the Mad Men universe going through immense change. This manifests itself no more clearly than in the Don and Megan arc of the narrative, with Megan representing the imminent new generation while Don is becoming increasingly outdated and behind the times, with it remaining to be seen over this potentially magnificent season whether or not their marriage can survive such a huge gulf between diverse personal philosophies.

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~ by jrhett on March 27, 2012.

2 Responses to “TV Review: Mad Men Season 5 Premiere, A Little Kiss”

  1. Reblogged this on Modern Underdog Blogspot.

  2. […] previous series purely due to its proximity to the 1970s, as I noted earlier here on RhettMedia (https://rhettmedia.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/tv-review-mad-men-season-5-premiere-a-little-kiss/ ) how Megan is a physical symbol for the impending decade. The times are changing on Mad Men, and […]

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