I’ll admit it, I was worried. Were we going to be able to pick up where we left off? After all, a year and a half is a TV eternity.
After watching the first three episodes, I started to think that maybe things had changed. Could it be that the magic was gone and that four glorious seasons were all we were going to have together? But then I watched episodes four and five.
It’s not over. "Mad Men," I still love you.
There’s a certain pattern to Matthew Weiner’s approach – a slow, seemingly meandering build, a few tossed in surprises towards the middle and then a dramatic, almost rushed end to the season. Knowing this doesn’t make watching "Mad Men" any less frustrating. The first three episodes this season, "Zou Bisou Bisou" notwithstanding, really felt disconnected from the previous season. I felt like I was watching a slideshow from that era, unearthed from someone’s dusty basement. It’s not that I expect a blockbuster every week, but after a long and painful separation, I want my patience to be rewarded with more than a party and fat Betty.
Part of the problem is that we think we know these people already so there are moments that feel like filler. But in the grand scheme of the show, I’ve learned that there isn’t really a concept of wasted time. Weiner and Co. drop hints that take weeks, if not seasons, to materialize into something greater, though there’s almost always a payoff for the loyal longtime viewer. Still, that doesn’t always help in the week to week, especially if the storylines aren’t riveting on their own merits.
So far this season, Don Draper is behaving himself (outside of fever dreams) and frankly, it’s a little disappointing. Last season, we watched Don try so hard to be a better man, and it turns out that all he ever needed was the love of a good woman – has the show turned into a Nicholas Sparks novel? Watching Peter, Roger and Lane implode and collapse while Don plays the righteous married man is just not the way that universe is supposed to work. There’s only one kind of swinging that should happen in that conference room, and U.K. vs. U.S. isn’t it.
I know my dislike of Megan gets in the way here, but happy characters are all alike in that they’re boring to watch. But loyal viewers know that no one in "Mad Men’s" world is ever really happy; they’re just in a temporary lull between disappointment and dissatisfaction. Even while Don is clinging to fidelity with Megan, he’s drawing nooses in the margin of his notepad. Chekhov would be proud.
One of my main "Mad Men" lessons has been that the season works more as a whole than as a collection of its parts. I raged at the end of season four — only to rewatch and find it my favorite season of all. So even as I watch and analyze this season, I know that it’s the rewatch that will define my feelings about it. In the meantime, I’m just glad we’re back together.