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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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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.”

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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.

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


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