Mad Men Season 5 Premiere: A Little Kiss
Posted on Tuesday April 3, 2012, 15:38 by Stephen Carty in Small Screen
Accompanied by a widespread, everywhere-you-look publicity blitz, the long-overdue fifth season of AMC's Mad Men finally sauntered back onto our screens after an agonising 18-month absence. But like Don himself, who often arrives at client meetings late before rescuing them with a seductively-persuasive pitch, it was worth the wait. Despite rumours of budget disputes (which allegedly affected fellow AMC tentpole The Walking Dead) and contract negotiations with creator Matthew Weiner, the two-hour premiere “A Little Kiss” delivered a confident and typically-classy reminder of what we’ve been missing. Spoilers, like shots of Jon Hamm's Don Draper staring pensively out his office window, will certainly follow.
Now that we're in 1966, the colours are noticeably brighter, the swinging '60s are almost in full swing and those drab post-War sensibilities of the '50s seem gone for good. Having become somewhat defined by its depiction of booze-swilling chauvinists who chain-smoke without concern for their lungs, it was always going to be interesting to see how the show coped with changing times – and there’s definite change in the air. Most interestingly, the feature-length opener hints that season five will deal with the older characters, like Don and Roger, starting to sense that their ‘time’ is passing in favour of a new era more suited to the next generation, like Pete and Peggy. Out with the old and in the new, if you will.
Again, this demonstrates the show’s innate ability to utilise the changing American landscape as a tool to examine underlying human concerns. From day one, Mad Men has been concerned with peeking beneath the veneer of social contentment to expose how unhappy and screwed up most of us are behind our everyday lives, and that’s once again the thrust here. If anything, the theme of A Little Kiss is that home life isn’t everything, with many of our viewpoint characters struggling to find satisfaction outside work.
There’s office manager Joan Holloway (the unfeasibly buxom Christina Hendricks), who’s struggling with her new stay-at-home-mum role and desperate to return to work. There’s English finance manager Lane Pryce (Jared Haris, fast becoming one of the most compelling screen actors working today), who contemplates an affair with a woman he sees in a photo. And then there’s slimy ad executive Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser, seen sporting a tartan sports jacket worthy of Billy Connolly), who’s frustrated that wife Trudy has let herself go (even though said wife is Community’s Alison Brie!). As for Roger Sterling (the likeable John Slattery, getting all the best lines), he’s resentful that Pete has much more business coming in, which leads to an amusing battle for office space…
Strangely though, unlike nearly everyone else, Don is relatively happy at home. What’s interesting about this development (aside from the fact that the words ‘Don’ and ‘happy’ appeared in the same sentence) is that in the haze of honeymoon-period bliss, the enigmatic ad superstar seems to have lost his edge at work. Who knows, perhaps the man formerly known as Dick Whitman was formerly such a creative heavy-hitter due to dissatisfaction with his superficial life? Of course, there are signs already that the happiness won’t last (surprise factor: zero), brought to a head when new wife Megan (Anne Hathaway-a-like Jessica Paré) decides to perform a saucy song-and-dance number for Don in front of everyone at his 40th birthday party.
Jon Hamm, commanding, compelling and ridiculously-handsome as always, was especially impressive during this sequence, his face controlled yet betraying a range of just-visible emotions. Later, too, there is further proof that Don and Megan’s relationship may be irreparably ‘spoiled’ already (see the stained white rug – another great example of Mad Men’s gift for symbolism), while Weiner returns to the ideas of old vs. new throughout. Is Pete, secretly unhappy with his suburban home, becoming the new Don? Is Don, marrying a much-younger secretary, becoming the new Roger?
The pace, it won’t surprise anyone to hear, is as glacial and measured as we’ve come to expect (don’t expect Justin Lin to guest direct any time soon), yet there’s plenty to chew on. Of particular note, a water balloon prank on civil right protestors may well cause Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to inadvertently blaze a trail of equal opportunity employment. Next thing you know, they’ll all be giving up smoking (which Pete hints at) and discussing the dangers of liver damage over an organic protein shake.
Over the course of four seasons, Weiner's period drama has won much critical adoration for its hypnotic cocktail of stellar writing, gorgeous cast and stylish retro chic; and A Little Kiss promises that we're in for more of the same. But what did you think Empire readers? Glad to have Mad Men back? And what did you make of the season opener? And did you laugh when Pete stumbled into the support beam in his office?