The end of Mad Men's fifth season

Last updated 08:00 02/07/2012

The latest season of Mad Men, its fifth overall, came to a close on SoHo on Saturday night, ending with a puzzlingly sparse episode that seemed anticlimactic compared to the excitement of the week before. Naturally, I have plenty of thoughts, but before we go any further ...

(Warning: Spoilers from Season 5 of Mad Men follow.)

The fifth season of Mad Men seemed like a different show than what it had been in years past and, while part of that was probably due to the massive layoff between seasons (the fourth finished nearly 18 months ago), I think the main reason was that it was more accessible to casual viewers than ever before.

20120702Past seasons of Mad Men were caked in subtlety, overflowing with subtext that suited multiple viewings, and multiple readings, of what was happening on the show. This year seemed easier to follow, easier to enjoy for enjoyments sake, with story events and motives that were easy to see and easy to follow. It might not have been the cleverest season, in terms of the writing - even though Matthew Weiner's writing is still as brilliant as ever and still maintained plenty of the quirkiness that makes Mad Men such a great show - but it might have been the most fun.

Perhaps that is why Saturday's finale felt like such a letdown, an hour in which it seemed like very little happened (Don had a tooth removed, Pete's would-be mistress had the same electro-shock treatment as Carrie on Homeland, SCDP inherited the coveted second floor) despite plenty happening at a somewhat analytical level.

Much of it goes back to a scene last week, in that penultimate episode, where Don delivers his best pitch of the season to Dow Chemical. "What is happiness? It's a moment before you need more happiness," says Don. "I won't settle for fifty percent of anything - I want a hundred percent. You're happy with your agency?! You're not happy with anything! You don't want most of it, you want all of it. And I won't stop until you get all of it."

If you look at the characters this season, think about their motivations for doing what they did, a lot of it is because of an understanding that you can't settle for most - you have to chase all.

Take Don: for most of the season, we saw him being faithful to Megan and playing the perfect husband as part of the perfect marriage, and part of that was because Megan was the perfect wife, emotionally and intellectually available to him both at work and at home. Yet, as soon as Megan's own ambition starts to move her further away from Don, his eye starts wandering again. Don doesn't want most of a perfect marriage, he wants all of it - and that lack of perfection is what starts him on that familiar trail, the beginnings of which we saw in that ambiguous final scene.

Then there was Lane, who desperately wanted to fit in with his American co-workers, to the point that he was neglecting himself and his marriage, chasing an affair with Joan, making terrible financial and professional decisions, and all the rest. Lane didn't want most of his American dream, he wanted all of it - and his failure to achieve that dream, much more than his failure to properly pay his taxes, is ultimately what (I think) drove him to suicide last week.*

Even Peggy and Joan reflected that theme a few weeks ago, with Peggy chasing all of her dream at Cutler Gleason & Chaough and Joan chasing hers in the form of a partnership at SCDP, instead of staying in place and settling for most of their respective dreams. The notion of chasing all of what you want, instead of settling for most (or merely some) of it, even flowed into the choice of song at the end of the finale (Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice").

Of course, this is just one way of looking at this season of Mad Men. For all I know, this might have nothing to do with the latest season and I might be way off base - and I haven't even mentioned Roger's newfound love of LSD, the introduction of Ginsberg, the joy of seeing Pete get his butt kicked twice in a season, or the stellar performances from most of the cast (especially Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss and Vincent Kartheiser). But that is what I thought of the latest season, a great collection of episodes and a welcome return for one of the best dramas on television.

What did you think of Mad Men this year? Did you enjoy Season 5?

(*) I loved the moment when Lane tried to suffocate himself in his brand new Jaguar only it wouldn't start, referencing the talk earlier throughout the season about how unreliable Jaguars are. A perfect example of how clever the writing is on Mad Men.

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Tracey   #1   10:08 am Jul 02 2012

I really enjoyed this season. It was so nice to see Don actually remain faithful to his wife for a whole season! He did seem to lose his mojo at work though. Right up until the Happiness pitch of course.

Pete is becoming more and more like Don. The only major difference though is that Don is a walking ball of charisma, wrapped in charm and topped off with a great head of hair so he gets away with it.

max   #2   10:28 am Jul 02 2012

I hate to say this, but its not nearly as fun with Don staying faithful.

BAM   #3   12:21 pm Jul 02 2012

Remains top shelf.

mel   #4   12:57 pm Jul 02 2012

Consistently good in every season - although each season has a slightly different flavour. Some really funny circumstances in this one (ie Lane's Jaguar). Wasn't a let down, interesting twist with Don being super tempted. Must say - Megan isn't a perfect wife, she has a certain level of crazy just like Betty does. Can't wait for Season 6.

Moata   #5   01:08 pm Jul 02 2012

While it's personally more titillating for me to see the Hamm get his randy hands on inappropriate people as often as possible (note to self, is Don Draper Hank Moody's dad?) there's only so far a character can go with that sort of behaviour before it becomes dull (see earlier Moody reference). So they really did need to take him somewhere else and as unexpected as "dopey newly-wed" was, we got to see a more relaxed, mellower Don, one who chose to learn from his past mistakes.

Mad Men has always been an ensemble show but in earlier seasons it was All About Don and I don't think it's hurt them to shift some of the narrative burden off his square, shoulder-padded shoulders. What you might lose in terms of a single driving character to follow, you gain in "holy crap Betty got fat".

ljlj   #6   01:14 pm Jul 02 2012

It needed more car chases. You're right though, it was slow, but I thought it was quite a nice and gentle way to set everyone up for their various arcs for next season. I am completely hooked on what happens next for these characters.

The only thing I would disagree with is the idea that Don and Megan ever had a near perfect marriage; there were plenty of arguements (and people being left in parking lots) to show that they were never quite on the same page. And now poor Don with his abandonment issues has had one women leave him (Peggy) so is abandoning the other one in his life before she can move on without him.

All I can say is hurry up next season.

Pluto   #7   03:15 pm Jul 02 2012

I simply love everything about Mad Men, SoHo was what got me and Mr Pluto hooked. We even started watching S1 on DVD last nite, quite interesting to see the origins of animosity between Pete and Don and what a prize bitch Joanie was to Peggy!

I actually really enjoyed the finale, after all the high drama of the last few episodes it was quite a relief to have something of a slowburn ending. That scene between Don and Peggy at the cinemas was just splendid, the mutual admiration they have for each other was gorgeous. And we got to see Roger's bum!

Joan's 'involvement' in the 'Jagwar' deal brought me to tears and don't even start me on Lane's sad death. I wept unashamedly. So tragic!

I'm enjoying seeing Don get his Mojo back, I think his marriage to Megan is so flawed and hollow, I liked how he reminded her that SHE chose to turn her back on advertising yet she wants him to get an advertising (acting) gig. What a dastardedly thing to 'steal' the job from her pal? The fact it was this fairy tale/Sleeping Beauty set up scene was quite delicious. Poor Megan with her artistic temperament and not so artistic talents: quite the opposite to Don's previous paramour Midge!

Interesting idea about Lane and his chasing of the American dream, I never really thought of it that way, but agree: he was so upset at not being able to actively land the Jagwar deal thru his contact. Interesting how his wife spat at Don who was he to instill ambition in a man like that. Of course Lane's sacrifice has via Dead Peasant's life insurance given SCDP a greater cashflow now that he's gone. Sacrificial (easter) lamb? Burt Cooper can finally get an office!

So many highlights in this season, sheer brilliance.

dan   #8   10:38 am Jul 03 2012

The penultimate episode was by far my favorite. What a cracker and the Jaguar not starting for poor old Lane was brilliant - although I was hoping it might have saved his life for good - another great twist. Also did Betty do something to piss off the writers? Hardly any lines and she's fat! Don's speech another highlight and Roger's LSD trip was hilarious!

Jo   #9   09:13 pm Jul 03 2012

I watched the last 4 seasons on Soho each weekday night and I couldn't wait to watch each episode. I was so excited Season 5 was finally starting but it was different. Maybe cos I wasn't watching it back to back but sort of nothing happened until the end of the season. It hasn't been the highlight it previously had been for me - really a bit disappointed. Don't get me wrong I still think its good but the last four seasons were awesome - "The suitcase" being the best episode of all. This time it lacked something. Maybe I just didn't like the new and improved Don - hes far better being the bad boy.

Pat   #10   12:47 pm Jul 04 2012

I loved the scene where Don walked away from Megan filming her ad. Don despites that she asked for help to get the audition & part, Don is a self made man.

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