Friday, June 08, 2012

"It's symbolic, Moltar. Things don't always have to do things."

Mad Men - Season 5 (2012)
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
watched on Amazon Instant

This was the worst season of Mad Men to date.  Two indefensible narrative decisions – Lane’s embezzlement and Joan’s prostitution – speak for themselves, I think.  When the Fonz jumped the shark, wasn’t it a goofy moment in an already silly show?

For the first time, upstate New York looked like Southern California.  It was always convincingly the other way around.  When Don and Megan visit Howard Johnson’s, the cameraman was clearly standing in a Los Angeles parking lot.  That’s a small detail but telling because nothing so visually obvious as that has happened before.  I won’t stretch out the metaphor, but Catcher in the Rye riffs and empty elevator shafts make for flat entertainment.

Pete Campbell was my favorite character last season.  He made mistakes but learned the right lessons.  He was funny and a family man: a good contrast to Don.  That Pete argued that clients should be more open-minded about advertising to the marginalized customers who actually bought their products.  Previous Pete had a weird sense of humor, but it’s out the window, with the snow.  Ken Cosgrove is Pete now, as far as I can tell, and Pete is – Satan?  Someone else, anyway, and like Lane or Joan, unrecognizable.  It really did feel like the writers wrote a dozen “themes” on a dry-erase board and drew names out of a hat to shoehorn in.

I still like Roger.  I like that little trick with the cigarette when Roger takes LSD.  I like Megan and her plate-smashing theatrics, and the moments when Sally acts just like her mother.  But Betty, dear Betty.  January Jones deserves better than the indignity of a fat suit.  A fat suit!

The best episode was “Mystery Date,” which reminded me of all the ways that Mad Men could be strange and inconclusive, even as it said something real and welcome about the human condition.  To wit, the fear and wonder of adulthood in a dream state brought on by grandmother’s drugs.  Or, there’s nothing like a good night’s rest.  Forty minutes left but I’m calling the ball.