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

by Cory Everett
June 12, 2012 9:59 AM
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 Mad Men finale 4

Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) and Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) all had some standout moments this season as well. Ken's secret hobby as a sci-fi writer resulted in the beautiful closing monologue of “Signal 30,” Harry has now been a powerful TV exec for as long as he was a bow-tie-wearing square, and Sally, who made a great date for Roger at the Codfish Ball, is quietly becoming one of the series' MVPs. We also got brief glimpses from old favorites including Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis), Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray) and Glen Bishop (Marten Holden Weiner).

But undoubtedly the most controversial character this season was Megan Draper (Jessica Paré), who had been the focus of much of the season. From her breakout musical number in the season premiere through her starring role in a commercial in the finale, Megan was at the center of Season 5. Though to the objection of fans who would've rather seen more of Joan, Peggy or any series favorites. Even Don's motivations during the early part of the season were murkier simply because we were seeing him reflected through his new wife. And if Megan hadn't turned into such a great character (her rejection of Don's orange sherbert at HoJo's truly gutted us; we've been in that fight before) we might've been miffed as well. But she proved to be a fascinating addition to the show.

In the finale, Megan reverses her previous stance of making a go of her acting career without Don’s help by asking him to consider her for a commercial he’s working on. Don tries to dissuade her, saying, “You want to be somebody’s discovery, not somebody’s wife” but she insists. On the one hand, that’s totally legitimate advice, but when we see Don watching Megan’s reel, we know that she deserves the part, too. And Don decides to give her what she wants because he wants to make her happy. Hamm said of his character’s decision, “Realizing that means that he has to let her go and let her find that way.” Weiner elaborated, “He knows that if he gives Megan what she wants that she could possibly leave him. And I think it’s almost a story of sacrifice that he sees her on that film, falls in love with her again and realizes he has to do this. And then he sees her on the set and you realize that she’s gone.”

Mad Men finale 3

And there’s Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce itself. The company ends the season on a high note but at what cost? Weiner said, “To me, that’s been the story of the season: success. And what are the perils of success?” As Don said during the season, “Happiness is a moment before you need more happiness,” which is the upsetting truth. Happiness is fleeting, temporary, and the things we do to get it only put off the darkness for so long. How many other series are grappling with the nature of existence in such a poetic and beautiful way? None come to mind.

In such a strong season it’s hard to pick a favorite episode, though there are several standouts: "Far Away Places" and its triptych of short stories, "At The Codfish Ball," which ended with Sally's unforgettable final line "Dirty" (joining the pantheon of declarative 1 or 2 word endings with "Eyes Wide Shut" and “There Will Be Blood” among others) and the aforementioned Pete episode “Signal 30.” We were also treated to some incredible music cues including The Beach Boys' "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times," The Kinks' "You Really Got Me," Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” and The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows."

If you haven't already given them a look, we'd like to point you toward the stellar episode recaps from The AV Club, Vulture and Grantland, which offered fantastic and thorough weekly insight, as well as AMC's own weekly behind-the-scenes video featuring Weiner and the cast discussing the themes behind each week's episode. What will happen next for the characters? As Hendricks put it, “What could happen next? Anything could happen next.” Weiner says he typically exhausts all of his storytelling possibilities each year without planning for exactly how it’ll all work out in future episodes, so there’s really not much use predicting. One thing we are fairly certain of is that if the series can keep up this quality for the supposedly final two seasons, it will truly be something special. Not many shows, even great ones, make it to Season 5 without a dip in quality but this has always been a show that blazed its own trail. Wherever it goes from here, we can't wait to follow.

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  • c | June 12, 2012 9:20 PMReply

    Are you kidding? This season was completely uneven and heavy handed. Weiner's ego now takes precedence over good story telling and subtle writing.

  • Jonathan Igla | June 12, 2012 5:38 PMReply

    I know I'm nitpicking but, Sally only says ''dirty'' not ''it's dirty''.
    the chere mill and ews comparisions are apt thou.

  • cory everett | June 12, 2012 9:34 PM

    Yep, you're right. I thought it was "dirty" but I remember reading all the recaps which said "It's dirty" and thinking I was wrong but I was not wrong! And neither are you. Thanks!

  • Gabe NotToro | June 12, 2012 2:54 PMReply

    I have a different opinion from most of what is expressed here (Season 5 was, to me, easily the most erratic yet). But while I hate to nitpick, there's one point that I don't think is even up for debate - NO ONE with a last name other than Weiner considers Glen Bishop a "series favorite". Any intrigue the character has on paper is MURDERED by the fact that kid is the worst working actor on the planet.

  • Kevin | June 12, 2012 2:35 PMReply

    Great writeup and great season. If anything, I thought the season finale was a let down, but other than that, solid through and through.

  • b | June 12, 2012 2:22 PMReply

    my favorite season. easy.

  • david | June 12, 2012 1:22 PMReply

    I don't know, I really don't see how one can list "Tea Leaves" as the weak spot of the season but not list "Christmas Waltz" and its horribly on the nose revisiting of Paul. Mad Men does a great job of subtly bringing in movements and what not into the time line of the show but the whole Hare Krishna thing was really ridiculous and odd and just felt like a way to bring us up to speed on Paul and how horrible his life still is (and how we still don't care). It all felt a little obvious. Much more than "Tea Leaves" where that episode at least had many great moments for Jones and really fits in with the whole arc of the season in my opinion (which really dealt with death and fear of being left behind).

  • MacMuffin | June 12, 2012 12:23 PMReply

    ^^ LOL

    good work mod, good work

  • matthew weiner | June 12, 2012 12:20 PMReply

    faye told don he only liked the beginnings of things not peggy.

  • cory everett | June 12, 2012 12:29 PM

    Yep, you're right. Updated. Thanks!

  • jun | June 12, 2012 10:19 AMReply

    This season completely blew. Leave it to The Playlist to heap praise on something that was incredibly crappy.

  • Q | June 12, 2012 11:20 AM

    JUN you are a fool and the only reason that comment exists is because of the first amendment

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