April 6, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Mad Men”


MAD MEN:  Sunday 10PM on AMC

The final season of MAD MEN was conceived by Matthew Weiner to run, as the previous seasons had, across 14 consecutive weeks, and it was AMC’s decision (for scheduling and budgetary reasons) to break the season in half and run it over 2 years.  Nevertheless, whether by chance or quick footwork by Weiner, last year’s final episode felt very much like a season finale, with the purchase of Sterling Cooper by McCann Erickson and the death of Bert Cooper as punctuation marks.  Similarly, tonight’s first episode of 2015 had the feel of a season premiere, even if it was one laced with references to recrimination and death.

If 2014’s finale felt like an opportunity for new beginnings, tonight’s hour, written by Weiner and directed by Scott Hornbacher, picking up the story several months later in Spring 1970, tamped those down to a steady stream of disappointment.  (The rather on-the-nose musical cue of the episode, bookending the hour, was Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”)  The McCann purchase had made Don (Jon Hamm), Roger (John Slattery), Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Ted (Kevin Rahm) into millionaires, but no one was particularly happy about it.  McCann, predictably enough, had its thumb on Sterling Cooper much more than it had promised, forcing the firm to fire Ken (Aaron Staton) because he’d offended one of its executives years before, and showing no respect at all for Joan and Peggy (Elizabeth Moss), the former of whom was particularly assailed by sexually harassing “jokes” when they asked for a reference to a department store client.

Don, now unburdened by any family (there’s barely even a mention of Betty, Megan, Sally or his other children during the hour), was keeping up a furious pace of sleeping with models, stewardesses and any other attractive woman who crossed his path, and although the same could be said of Roger and Ted, Don didn’t seem to be having any fun while doing it.  Instead, he was obsessed with ex-lover Rachel (Maggie Ziff, appearing in a cameo), who he dreamed about the night before finding out that she’d died.  (A visit to her family’s shiva was awkward for everyone.)  A liaison with a waitress (Elizabeth Reaser) didn’t soothe his psyche either.  Dreams and fantasies that curdle or don’t live up to reality were the key element of the episode, applying as well to Ken, who could afford to write the novel he’d always wanted to after he was fired, but who instead took a job at his father-in-law’s old firm Dow Chemical, just so he could get petty revenge on Roger and Pete.  And to Peggy, who had an impulsive moment where she considered flying to Paris with a man she’d just met, but who couldn’t make herself act on the idea.

No one who isn’t involved with the series knows how Mad Men is going to end in 6 weeks, but it’s a safe bet that happy endings aren’t waiting around the corner.  The show, which for all its justified critical adoration has never been more than a moderate hit, will doubtless continue in its mode of fantastically polished ennui.  Tonight’s episode was dedicated to the late Mike Nichols, and the opening sequence, in which Don talked a woman through nearly undressing herself of the fur she was wearing (it seemed like he might be instructing a lover, perhaps a prostitute, but turned out to be an audition for models), echoed a sequence in that epitome of 1970s sexual angst, Nichols’ Carnal Knowledge.

Of course, all of the qualities that have made Mad Men a classic of popular culture are still present, from the gorgeous production design to the remarkable performances by one and all, with this hour providing particularly multidimensional material for Hendricks, Moss and of course Hamm.  Mad Men has inspired dozens of cable networks and other services to enter the business of quality drama over the years, but as long as it’s been on, there’s never been any series worthy of serious comparison with it.  AMC is promoting these final episodes as “The End of An Era,” and for once, in an irony Don Draper would appreciate, the ad campaign speaks the simple truth.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."