Warning: Stop reading if you haven't finished season four
and still think you're going to get through it on Netflix this
weekend. We can't talk about season five without spoiling the
Season five of "Mad Men" is upon us, ushered in by a white-hot
publicity inferno paired somewhat uncomfortably with a cool
Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm)
We've been served enough of the cast in sound-bite mode --
across newspapers, morning shows, glossy magazines and blogs -- to
choke on their dash, loveliness and charming happiness to just be
reading such great scripts.
But for all that , we still barely know anything about what's
going to confront Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce this season.
Matthew Weiner, it's now well-known, demands CIA-style secrecy
around his scripts. If not for a
cheeky Bloomberg reviewer, we wouldn't even know that the
initial action will take place in 1966.
Other anticipatory buzz, while uniformly positive, has given up
few details, save word of a rollicking sex scene involving Jon
Hamm's Don Draper.
Mr. Hamm, who'd been beefing up his non-"Mad Men" appeal with
work like that great supporting turn in "Bridesmaids," is now
promoting the show by beefing with his cultural photographic
negative, Kim Kardashian.
Ratings with tell whether this cone-of -silence PR strategy will
work, but until the two-hour show Sunday night there are only two
things left to do: recap and speculate wildly.
The Big Questions
The plot's immediate future can probably be summed up in a few arcs
thanks to the previous, gradual elimination of minor characters
such as the pompous, civil-rights-obsessed Kinsey and lovable gay
art director Sal. Here goes:
Can Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce come back from the brink?
Season four ended with the the agency's nigh-collapse as stalwart
client Lucky Strike consolidated at BBDO, tearing out a good chunk of the
agency's revenue, tattering its reputation and leading old clients,
such as the award-winning Glo-Coat, to flee. An agency cannot
survive on Sugarberry Ham and Vick's Chemical alone, so expect a
Will there be more to the future Mr. . Draper than
French-language singalongs and swift, calm clean-ups of spilled
milkshakes? His business being under siege didn't prevent Don from
finding sudden love in his young secretary, leading him to throw
the more sensible choice, a market researcher named Faye, under the
bus. Will happiness follow?
Will Joan have Roger Sterling's baby? In season four, the
stress of a mugging ended up with the two ex-lovers bonking once
again. The aborted abortion would lead us to believe she's
determined to have the baby, as her doctor husband is off serving
his country, which, by the way, leads to a subquestion. What are
the odds of that dude, last seen sweltering in a Southeast Asia
military base, making it home? In TV and movie logic, the good
doctor's demise could only seem more likely if he were black.
Will the Draper-Campbell alliance endure? Don's identity theft
cost the agency what would have been a much-needed defense-industry
client. Pete, oft-courted by rival agencies, took the fall, and Don
repaid him by covering his obligation in an emergency funding round
designed to keep the agency afloat. Over the years, the two have
been on-again, off-again allies, a satisfying relationship that
highlights the tensions between creative and account services, old
money and self-made men. It might make sense for this youngish
power bloc to endure as Messrs. Sterling and Cooper amble into
irrelevance and dotage.
Will Betty ever lose that pinched expression, understand that
the world is not her dollhouse, and find some semblance of
Stan Rizzo and the other pheromonally sensitive oinkers in the
create department have already caught on to Peggy's late-season
fling with Abe Drexler. Will that relationship blossom into a rare
positive relationship for Peggy?
1966 and Smokes
So what does the plot being in 1966 mean? In broad historical
strokes, 1966 was dominated by the domestic unrest about the
Vietnam War and race riots. In ad terms, the year was an important
one because it was the beginning of the end of tobacco companies as
mass advertisers. In January, the Surgeon General's warning began
appearing on cigarette packages, telling people that "Cigarette
Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health." Four years later,
Congress banned cigarette ads on TV and radio.
When we left Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Pete and Don were
angling for work from the American Cancer Society. With Lucky
Strike already out the door and Don having prefigured Goldman
Sachs' Greg Smith with his "Why I Quit Tobacco" ad, the stage is
set for the agency to switch sides in a big way.
Historically, this makes sense. Anti-tobacco advertising began
in earnest around that time, thanks to an application of the
Fairness Doctrine. By 1967, for every three pro-smoking ads on TV,
there was one against and the industry was in a tizzy. Time for
Lucky Strike's former agency to get some of that action.
She Got Legs
At the end of season four, Peggy and Ken Cosgrove reel in a
pantyhose account, a brand called Topaz. I initially thought this a
throwaway development, in there along with the shop's courting of
Heinz to show a flicker of life at the otherwise rapidly expiring
agency. But after reading an
article in Smithsonian Magazine called "50 Years of Pantyhose,"
I've come to think of this win as more significant:
The panty-stocking combo did not grab most women's
attentions at first. Though the convenience of not having to wear a
girdle or garter belt was a plus , what helped pantyhose take hold
was the rise of the miniskirt in the mid-1960s.
For the fashion-conscious woman looking to wear a skirt that
ended before her stockings began, long pantyhose were the perfect
fit. When iconic models such as Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy donned
their miniskirts, demand for pantyhose exploded.
"When Twiggy came along, you couldn't even bar the door," said
Allen E. Gant Jr., who now holds his father's previous position as
president of fabric company Glen Raven Mills.
So, basically, Peggy's measly little account could end up being
a blockbuster. And one that has some, um, legs.
Random Thoughts About Swimming Pools
It only dawned on me when rewatching season four how important
pools are to the plot of "Mad Men." In that season alone, there are
the laps Don swims to cleanse his body and mind, and the California
pool into which Megan, already a surrogate mother splashing around
with his children, beckons him. Don first declines, then broods in
his hotel room. He slips into his swim trunks, and, with a nicely
formed cannonball, the deal is done. Some sort of threshold has
The pool motif goes back further. Remember in season two when
Don goes to California and encounters a bunch of weird and wealthy
European nomads? There's plenty of pool action in that one. Don
meets them near the hotel pool, a setting that for Don's pasty
traveling partner Pete Campbell signifies possibility and
What to make of this? I dunno. Making pools about transformation
is kind of a swerve away from the usual symbolic meaning of
swimming pools in midcentury culture, best exemplified by the John Cheever
story "The Swimmer." The 1964 story tells of a suburban man who
decides to travel home by way of all the pools in the county. Idyll
turns into bleak surrealism midway through, turning the story into
an indictment of the bland appropriation of nature, the malaise of
the suburbs, the disconnection between economic privilege and
happiness, and the ravages of alcoholism.
By the time Cheever's protagonist, Neddy Merrill, reaches his
own home, he finds things have changed, dramatically. Upon
re-reading Cheever's ending...
The house was locked, and he thought that the stupid
cook or the stupid maid must have locked the place up until he
remembered that it had been some time since they had employed a
maid or a cook. He shouted, pounded on the door, tried to force it
with his shoulder, and then, looking in at the windows, saw that
the place was empty.
... I couldn't help but think of the final moments of season
four, with Don and Betty alone in their old empty house, the maid
fired and only some boxes and a stowaway bottle of Canadian Club
I'm not sure what to expect from season five, but if the smell
of chlorine is in the air, character crisis is nearby.