While the main story of AMC’s Emmy-winning series Mad Men revolves around ad exec Don Draper and the boys at the office, it is the women of Mad Men who dictate in Season Five, and not just on their short hand pads. It’s no wonder that the just-released DVD set features images of the fairer sex on three of the four discs. And Joan has never looked more alluring.
Perhaps the most memorable scene of the season is in the first episode when Don’s new bride Megan throws a surprise 40th birthday bash for her hubby at their tony Manhattan apartment. You know this party is going to be different when Megan’s tres gay African American friend leads off the festivities, commanding the crowd in his orange turtle neck sweater. The evening’s main event is Megan’s uncomfortable Zou Bisou Bisou burlesque that could rival Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” any day. Her tease dance is the kind of display that would get her fired or launch a few lawsuits today, which is why we love Mad Men.
Mad Men’s 60s love fest shows us how society has advanced in the past 40 years, and while much of it is forward evolution, there’s that twinge of nostalgia that makes us yearn for simpler days done by, when kids romped in the car without car seats and booze flowed at the office. And then when we are infuriated by the overt sexism, racism and anti-Semitism that comes glibly to the ruling male class of the day, we wonder why we wax wistfully on this backward era.
We do see progress in Season Five as Peggy continues to come into her own, feet up on her desk and all, but the struggle is still there, externally and internally, as Peggy worries she sometimes “acts like a man.”
Joan too strikes out on her own, literally, when her surgeon husband re-ups for the army and Joan decides she’s better off alone, with her new baby. In a rare show of tenderness, Don takes Joan for an afternoon bender and shares why he never hit on her: Fear, and because she was such a ball-buster rumor had it she was a lesbian.
Don’s new wife Megan also breaks out and follows her dreams, and even pubescent Sally shows she is developing her feminine wiles which she learned from the master manipulator, her mother Betty. Don’s ex-wife does penance in Season Five in fat suit at Weight Watchers, though in the end she finally remembers how to be a mom when Sally “becomes a woman.”
As in previous seasons, Season Five has its dark turns. Betty finds a tumor and has ominous dreams of leaving her children motherless, and episode three is particularly scary with a backdrop of an infamous 1966 gruesome mass murder of eight nursing students in Chicago. In a flu-fueled dementia Don’s violent side emerges, and Don’s daughter Sally, is innocently given sleeping pills by her grandmother. Then there is the elephant in the room, which is what happens to Lane just before the season closer. All of these tragedies and near tragedies force us to confront the precariousness of life, at any moment in time.
As in the four seasons before it, Season Five is full of the strange and brooding moodiness that intrigues us and dumbfounds us about the enigma that is Mad Men, and the women who make them interesting.
The DVD set includes a few extras, including a tip-in sheet with drink recipes and a tutorial on cocktail mixing a Canadian Club Old Fashioned, and audio commentaries from the cast and crew as well as historical segments for 60s-philes, such as the “Newsweek Magazine Digital Gallery.”