Oops, better late than never, right? While the season finale of Mad Men concluded a few weeks ago, series creator, Matthew Weiner, made fans wait over a year between seasons four and five, so I see no harm in letting a bit of time go by before rehashing the season and offering some commentary. Besides, what a season it was! Winning pitches, road trips, LSD trips, meddling in laws, career changes, a partnership, a suicide…wait, I’d better stop because this is starting to sound like a Billy Joel song.
This probably goes without saying, but lest I’m labeled as inconsiderate, if you haven’t yet watched season five of Mad Men, stop reading now because here be spoilers.
The season got off to a slow start, but there were some memorable scenes and story lines for the supporting cast. People may complain that the beginning of Mad Men seasons are too slow; I argue this is Weiner’s well-devised plan to slowly set the stage for the season’s arcs and then BAM! He’ll hit you with the last few episodes so chock full of action and ‘did that just really happen?’ moments that you have to watch each episode at least two or three times to take everything in.
Case in point: the storylines of Roger, Peggy and Joan, which came to a head during the last few episodes before the finale. Roger, who’d been feeling left behind as Pete swooped in and landed all the new accounts, tried LSD for the first time (afterschool special moment here: kids, drugs are bad) and discovered he’s still in the game, there’s still fight left in him, and he does have the power to make things happen. If actor John Slattery doesn’t get an Emmy nom for his work this season, I’m starting an online petition. He was that good.
Then there was Joan. Oh Joan, how you set back the women’s lib moment when you agreed to Pete’s indecent proposal to spend the night with a Jaguar exec in order to better the firm’s chances of landing the coveted account. Sure, you have your partnership and can take care of your son, but at what cost? Brilliant acting by both Christina Hendricks and Jon Hamm, who conveyed so many emotions with just their facial expressions.
Two storylines that had been slowly building all season but still surprised fans were those of Peggy and Lane. Peggy, who had been feeling increasingly unappreciated and underutilized by her mentor Don, finally jumped ship and left SCDP to work for a rival agency. The scene where Peggy gave her notice to Don was a powerful one where all the emotion and history between these characters was palpable. Again, there’d better be Emmy nods to Hamm and Elizabeth Moss.
Perhaps the most tragic storyline of all was Lane’s. Broke and unable to admit he owed taxes in the UK, Lane embezzled money from the agency. He was able to lay low until a frosty Friday afternoon when Don found out and demanded Lane’s resignation by Monday. Don gave Lane the freedom to make up whatever parting excuse he wanted and promised not to tell, but poor Lane ultimately decided suicide was a better alternative than going back in shame to England. In the ultimate passive-aggressive move, he hung himself in his office over the weekend, where his coworkers made the grisly discovery on Monday.
With all this action happening in the last few episodes of the season, you’d think the finale would be a real humdinger, right? Not exactly. While the episode definitely had its moments (cinematically, it was filled with so many gorgeous shots, like the remaining partners silhouetted against the windows on their new floor and Don walking away from the commercial shoot while it fades to black), from a storyline standpoint, it was more about laying the groundwork for next season’s arcs. Acceptance was the episode’s theme. Megan fought it when her acting career failed to take off, Don grappled with it after he was left in a position to put either his or Megan’s happiness first, Pete more or less realized it while describing a “friend” to his electro-shocked paramour, and Roger embraced it as he giddily went on another LSD trip, this time stark nekkid. The last scene left viewers with Don at a bar with “You Only Live Twice” (subliminal clue?) playing in the background. After he orders an old-fashioned (another clue?), a young, glamorous blonde asks him for a light, and then motions to her equally alluring friend who wants to know if he’s alone. Such a loaded question as Don breaks into a wicked grin, and watchers are left wondering what his answer will be. If it’s no, it’s the status quo. If it’s yes, same old Don.
Weiner is notoriously tight-lipped about his plans for the series, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen in season six (or even when it’s scheduled to premiere—hopefully not another 18 months from now). That shouldn’t stop us from speculating, though. Will Peggy be back or is she relegated to sporadic guest appearances? Was Lane’s demise a surprise and did actually seeing his body make the scene all the more tragic? Will Betty have more of a part, perhaps picking up the pieces after Don’s marriage implodes? Is Sally going to burn her bra and run off to Woodstock? Clearly we’ve come to expect the unexpected, so anything can happen on Mad Men. It is, after all, set in the world of advertising.