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You Only Live Twice: We Look Towards The Future As 'Mad Men' Wraps Up A Phenomenal Season 5

Photo of Cory Everett By Cory Everett | @modage June 12, 2012 at 9:59AM

The fifth season of AMC's "Mad Men" came to a close Sunday night, wrapping up what has been arguably among its strongest seasons yet. No small feat considering the show has taken home four consecutive Emmys for Best Drama and been proclaimed one of the best shows on TV by nearly every critic reviewing the medium. After a run of 13 almost uniformly excellent episodes, it becomes harder to remember that this season had gotten off to a rocky start. When the network decided to pull the show out of its summer slot to make room for the other best show on TV ("Breaking Bad"), fans had to endure a brutal 17-month wait. Contract negotiations between creator Matthew Weiner and the studio were made public and gave both the network and creator some negative buzz to overcome.
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Roger Sterling (John Slattery) was probably not fans’ first guess on who would be the first to drop acid but in one of the series' best scenes to date, that was exactly what he did. But his trip wasn’t just an opportunity for him to hallucinate to pop music, his mind-altering experience had major ramifications. Roger had a tough year at work after losing Lucky Strike, and failing to land another major account he struggled to prove his usefulness. Trying to keep up with Pete and Ken led him to barging in on Pete’s meetings and paying off both Peggy and Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) to do work for him to help bring in accounts. But he came out of his LSD trip suddenly enlightened, deciding to divorce his wife Jane (Peyton List) and try to live “closer to the truth.” Unfortunately, as the season came to a close, its effects began to wear off and he unsuccessfully tried to persuade former fling Mrs. Calvet (Julia Ormond) to drop acid with him but she waved him off, not wanting to be responsible for him. Roger’s final appearance sees the character standing stark naked in front of a window.

Slattery spoke to NYMag about his bare final scene, saying, “Roger standing there with no clothes on, arms wide open, staring out at the world is saying, 'I’m ready, I’m vulnerable, I’m waiting for the next experience, come what may.' It’s a pretty great place to be. It’s probably scary, which is why he asks Julia [Ormond]’s character to go with him. He says, 'I need to do this again, and I don’t want to do it by myself, because I don’t know what’s out there.' But when she says no, he strips down and does it by himself. It’s adventurous and courageous in a way; for someone that age, being brought up the way he was, at this place in his life to say, 'I need something new and I don’t know what it’ll be.' Who knows what will happen? I could jump in front of a bus and kill myself, I don’t know. I think it’s pretty astonishing, and I can’t wait to see where he goes.”

Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), like so many characters this season, had a big year as well. She had Roger's baby, finally kicked her army surgeon husband Greg to the curb and accepted a controversial indecent proposal from a sleazy Jaguar client to become a partner at SCDP. Fans were split over the decision, with some feeling the incident was far fetched (Weiner insists it wasn’t) while others thought it was out of character for Joan. Hendricks was conflicted on the issue, asking, "The question is, what would you do to protect your family? Joan is raising her son all on her own. She has no help from anybody. So is it noble? Is it slutty? I don't know." Regardless of the answer, Joan finally finds herself with a seat at the table (one that had been, intentionally or otherwise, denied her for quite some time). Though she now feels the burden of being the pragmatic one in poor Lane’s absence, she’s picked a good time to go all in with the company doing better than ever.

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Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) began the show as a mousy secretary but over 5 seasons became very much Don’s equal, gradually taking on his habits for better and worse. But after flirting with leaving Don's side on several occasions, she finally took the leap and left SCDP for a new opportunity and larger paycheck from a rival firm. As much as it pained us to see her go, it was the right thing for her character to do, "I'll spend the rest of my life trying to hire you" be damned. Viewers may have felt punched in the gut as Peggy quietly made her way toward the elevator but it was clear from her triumphant exit music that this was the best decision for her character. After the season finale gave us what could have essentially been the conclusion to Peggy’s story -- featuring her and Don meeting for the first time as equals and her enjoying her first flight to exotic Richmond, VA -- we feared we may have seen the last of Moss as a series regular.

So what does this mean for Moss who has essentially been the second lead on the show since it began? If this were any other series on the air right now, we have no doubt the writers would figure out a way after 6 or 8 episodes to work Peggy back into the SCDP offices next season, but “Mad Men” has never been that show. Recall when Joan left the company prematurely and was forced to get a job at a department store -- the audience never saw Joan until Pete bumped into her there. We have a hard time imagining the show keeping up with two advertising firms but Weiner does reassure fans we haven’t seen the last of Peggy. Weiner told the NYTimes, “She’s still part of the show. So far. We want to know where she is in this world. I can’t tell you what’s planned for her, but there she was.”

This article is related to: Mad Men, Television, TV Reviews