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When Is Everything Going To Get Back To Normal? Taking A Look At The Upcoming Season Of 'Mad Men'

Photo of Cory Everett By Cory Everett | @modage March 27, 2012 at 3:42PM

After an unendurable 17 month hiatus, “Mad Men” returned Sunday night with an epic 2 hour season premiere and its biggest ratings ever. If you have somehow shielded yourself from the buzz, the 4 time Emmy-winning Best Drama takes a look at the lives of employees of an advertising agency in New York throughout the 60s amidst social and political upheaval. After binging on 10 episodes Sunday afternoon as a refresher, this writer is convinced it’s easily the best show on TV and probably one of the finest dramas ever forged. (If you haven’t, seriously, it’s on Netflix Instant. You’re welcome.) The show is the creation of former “The Sopranos” writer Matthew Weiner, whose uncompromising vision extends to every aspect of the show including the way it’s marketed. In order to preserve the experience for fans of the show, Weiner won’t allow any spoilers prior to the season premiere. This includes incidental details like the year it takes place or which characters will be returning and means that commercials feature only footage from previous seasons and interviewers have to find clever ways to get even the vaguest hints about what might be coming up on the show.

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Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)
Pete seemed to have been conceived as a weasley adversary for Don in season one, but has become yet another example of the kind of complex characters that make this show truly great. There are no villains, and more and more, Pete seems to be the voice of reason. As his senior partners are distracting themselves with other things, Pete is holding the business together with the bulk of their client work. While it’s not surprising to see his ambition at the office, what was surprising was seeing him taking the train. “If I'm going to die, I want to die in Manhattan,” Pete famously told his his wife Trudy (Alison Brie) when the U.S. was under threat of nuclear attack. So it came as quite a shock to see him commuting from the suburbs in a house that looks a bit like Don’s old suburban home.

Though the nuptials started off a bit rocky -- he did sleep with Peggy on the eve of his wedding and profess his love to her a year or so later -- Pete and Trudy’s marriage has grown into one of the strongest on the series. (Maybe a low bar there, but that’s besides the point.) There are big changes in the Campbell house: After years of trying to get pregnant, Trudy finally had their baby; that could come at the expense of the spark in their marriage. He tells a fellow commuter, “there was a time when she wouldn’t leave the house in robe” but with a newborn baby at home, she’s not quite as dolled up and perfect as she used to be. They seem in good spirits at Don’s birthday however -- and check out Trudy’s groovy-chic wardrobe! -- so we’ll just have to hope that they can work it out.

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Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss)
Peggy continues to be an MVP at SCDP, and that’s something that becomes even more apparent as Don becomes a little bit checked out. After a presentation to Heinz that doesn’t go so well, Don shows up and instead of helping to push back on the client, he rolls over easily, telling them they’ll come up with something else. Peggy says of her boss and mentor, “I don't recognize that man. He's kind and patient.” With Peggy growing more independent and driven at work -- she and Pete will be running the place by the season’s end at this rate -- and Don pursuing his life outside of the office, expect the two to butt heads as the season rolls along.

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Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks)
Joan is one of the characters who appears to have been affected most during the time offscreen, as she has a new baby boy, Kevin. Her husband is still at war, the father (Roger) is still married, and apparently no one from the office has come to visit her on maternity leave. To make matters worse, her mother is staying with her to help with the baby and possibly putting more strain on Joan, who is anxious to get back to the office. Jon Hamm let slip that “the Don/Joan dynamic is something that we do explore” and gossip blogs immediately lit up with the thought of an onscreen hookup. While that does seem unlikely -- this isn’t “Friends” or “Gossip Girl” after all, where every lead character will pair off with another eventually -- there were a few hints during the premiere that something is definitely up between the two.

After Joan comes to visit the office for the first time since her pregnancy, Don gives her a warm greeting, complimenting her voluptuousness and telling her to get back to work. She returns the favor a few scenes later, as Lane recounts Don’s birthday embarrassment and she says she can’t imagine how cute Don would be blushing. Fans have often pointed to season three’s “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency” (the lawnmower episode) -- where Don and Joan share an intimate moment together in a hospital waiting room -- as an onscreen pairing they’d like to see more of, and now they may get their wish.

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Betty Francis (January Jones)
For the first three seasons, Betty was a central character on the show who received equal importance with Roger, Joan or Peggy. But after her divorce from Don, it became clear that the story of her second marriage was not one that Matthew Weiner had much interest in exploring. We only got glimpses of her life with new husband Henry Francis, in what must have amounted to about 20 minutes of screentime all last season, and it appears that we’re going to be seeing even less of Betty in season five. She was nowhere to be found in the premiere, though Sally, Bobby and Gene were dropped at the foot of her ominously huge mansion. According to Weiner, Jones’ real-life pregnancy will keep her out of the show even more than last season when that wasn’t a concern. When we do get to see her, we imagine she’s not going to be picking up any Mother Of The Year awards, nor will her marriage to Francis be improved much, despite their spacious new digs.

This article is related to: Mad Men, Television

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