Binge Watching – the act of consuming a television series in unfathomably large clusters, usually through Netflix or OnDemand.
If you decided to click on this, chances are you already knew the information I’m about to tell you, but just in case: Mad Men returns to AMC this Sunday.
I caught on to the show late and tore through the series on Netflix. When Season 5 was released two weeks ago for online streaming I took the opportunity to catch up so I could finally enjoy the show in real time. Watching Season 5 was a spectacular two days of blissful staring at my computer, or as I call it “binge watching”. Sadly I did not come to the realization that it might be something to write about until the 15 second interim that Netflix provided me between episodes 9 and 10. I finished the season without writing about it, but the idea nagged.
Which brings us to today. I realized that I am a special breed of Mad Men fan. While most people watching a show this complex and involved have real lives to be living and real people to be seeing, I am a college student that keeps a blog and is free to occupy his time watching fake people from the ’60s on his Macbook. With Netflix only giving those “real people fans” two weeks of their already busy lives to refresh their memories of the ongoings at Sterling Cooper Draper Price, I had a responsibility to give those hard-working members of our society the chance to get every bit of nuance out of the upcoming season without reviewing the last one.
This will be a challenge. Watching the same 13 episodes of television twice in the span of one week? This was binging to an extent than I had never before (well, with television at least). But if anything, I am a martyr. And if watching Season 5 of Mad Men twice in seven days in the sword that I need to fall on, then so be it.
So here are my Adventures in Binge Watching- a collection of thoughts as I revisit every episode of Season 5 in preparation of what the new year will hold. I’m going to do my best to capture growing emotions and feelings within characters that may influence their actions when we see them next, but I can’t promise that this process won’t quickly devolve into my finding .gifs of Roger Sterling online.
Before starting my Binge, this was the only material I used to refresh my brain on what was happening back when Season 4 closed:
Episode 1 – “A Little Kiss” (Part 1)
The season opens with a group of African-American protestors outside of Y&R, another ad agency which happens to be where that kid from DerrickComedy works. The ad men get the bright idea to throw water bombs upon the protestors, and get called out for it. While the scene does little to impact the overall plot of the show (besides the eventual appointment of Don’s new secretary Dawn), it establishes an overarching theme of “Civil Unrest” that would be shown in many relationships throughout the next 12 episodes.
Later, everyone arrives to work late on the first day back from Memorial Day weekend. While there was scheduled to be a meeting of the partners in the conference room, Bert Cooper was the only partner to show up on time. Don, Roger, Lane, and Pete Campbell all meet in the hallway, discuss business, decide to run an ad in the Times promoting themselves as a “equal opportunity employer” to stick it to Y&R, and wrap up the meeting all while Cooper is still waiting just beyond a set of glass doors, showing the lack of his importance to the office, at least in the minds of the other partners. This is the same fate that comprises Roger Sterling’s worst fears- that he is becoming an old man, no longer necessary to the company, now more valuable for his wallet and smile than ability to do business.
This episode also introduces the “Bean Ballet” Heinz campaign, which Peggy and her minions fail to sell to the company representatives. Don comes in mid-pitch, but instead of telling the Heinz people why they want the ad (as he is wont to do), he says he understands their concerns and assures them that they will be impressed with the next round of work. This is the first sign of Don’s slow descent into comfort and complacency, possibly a symptom of his happy home life with Megan.
Beautiful Megan Draper. Willing to tease her man at the office, prompting Don to make this face:
Kids in love are adorable.
It’s also Don Draper’s 40th birthday, and while Dick Whitman has be 40 for almost half a year now, Megan still feels the need to throw a surprise party.
It goes about how you would expect: drinking, smoking, and Peggy making comments about Don to his face that were certainly better fare for keeping behind his back. The best aspect of the party scene as a whole was how “’60s” it felt. Granted, that is coming from a 21-year-old who never took a breathe during the ’80s, but I bought the groovy vibe that the set designers and costumers had intended, so kudos to them
A few other points that now seem more important on second viewing:
- Joan’s difficult home life, and her desire to go back to work despite her mother’s wishes, which concludes with Joan clearly stating that her man could not stop her from going back to her job.
- Peter Campbell coming home and telling his wife, “I thought I would have to walk home from the station, but luckily there was a taxi outside of a bar.” This line, along with the advice of his friend on the train, foreshadows his desire to get his license later in the season.
- Peter Campbell mockingly saying “Kenny Cosgrove writes another Great American Novel”, foreshadowing the upcoming reveal of Cosgrove’s passion project, writing Science Fiction.
- The conversation between Megan and Peggy about who to invite to Don’s surprise party brings into play an interesting triangle of power/trust between Don, Peggy, and Megan. Peggy and Don are linked by deep secrets and a long working relationship, Peggy and Megan connect through their shared experience of being women in the office, and Megan and Don are obviously married. What complications does this create in terms of who can tell who what?
Best image from the episode:
Don looks out as his kids leave for their mother’s house. He asked them to flick the lights once they were inside, which the director made visible to the audience through the reflection of Don’s car window. The shot works really well to convey story, but also to show the distance between himself and his family, especially Betty.
Episode 2: “A Little Kiss” (Part 2)
This episode opens with Lane finding a lost wallet in a taxi. After a brief interaction with the cabbie, he decides to return the wallet to its owner himself. Life then resumes at the office for the first time post-Surprise Party, leading Roger to dance for Don.
Here, Don admits to Roger that he is happy, adding to the idea that he may not be as focused on work as he once was, now that he is settling into a comfortable life with Megan.
Meanwhile, people around SCDP are abuzz with discussion of the party, specifically with the way Megan scantily presented herself to the birthday boy. Harry Crane gets caught red handed as he details what awful things he’d like to do to Mrs. Don Draper, and becomes paranoid that he may be in big trouble.
Across the hall, Pete continues to pursue power, holding a meeting of the partners in his office to illustrate just how small and inferior his tiny basement office makes him seem to potential clients, leading to this adorable picture:
This conversation leads Roger to call Mr. Crane to his office, leading to an interesting exchange. Roger, unaware of Harry’s poor timing around Megan, needs Harry to give up his office for Pete. Harry, unaware that Pete is pushing for a nicer office and Roger is playing defense in order to keep his own, thinks that he is about to be fired for what he said about the bosses wife. In the end, both parties figure each other out, and Harry agrees to concede his office to Pete for the $1,100 cash that Roger happens to have on hand. According to the first Google hit after searching “inflation converter”, that would be like walking around with $8,000 if Roger was operating his shady business in 2012. The lesson as always, Roger Sterling is a boss.
Joan visits SCDP with her baby, giving us our first photo of the new family together:
Additionally, during her time at the office Joan visits with Lane, who assures her of her necessity to the company. They connect a bit. Don deals with a frustrated Megan through rough sex. It works, and when the couple returns to work the next day, fresh and free from all of their looming sexual tension, they are met by a group of eager African-American applicants, looking for work as a result of the jab at Y&R the agency put in the paper, leading to the “Roger being Roger” line of the episode:
“Is it just me or is the lobby full of negroes?” – Roger Sterling
The episode ends with the partners realizing that they will need to hire one of the applicants in order to avoid a public relations disaster, cuing up Dusty Springfield’s rendition of “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” to play over the closing moments. The first time I watched this, I thought Matthew Weiner was about to drop “Last of a Dying Breed” by Ludacris on us, until I found out that Luda was just using a sample. But those 10 seconds of Ludacris/Mad Men connecting in my mind were magical, so I thought I would let you know.
More scattered thoughts on this episode:
- This show does some serious plot teases; in the episode’s closing montage Pete’s jerk friend on the train jokes about “Dying before Christmas” as the frame fades into a shot of Lane talking to his wife. It’s like shoving foreshadowing down a film student’s throat and I love it.
- Pete Campbell continues to attempt to assert his importance around the office, and is rewarded with his improved desk space. It is now impossible to deny that he is moving up the chain quicker than I think most of us expected. The only time that he backs down is when Roger physically challenges him by asking to “take this outside”, a decision that he believes is a mistake, as his actions later in the season will prove.
- Harry once again mentions, “No bonuses. No money.” I think the writer’s just wanted to make sure we knew that was a real thing.
Episode 3: Tea Leaves
A very down episode because we are stuck with Betty dealing with her weight. My first time around watching this season, I found the her plotline to be a welcome break from the agencies business-first atmosphere. This season, she puts on some pounds and watches as her children slip away to their father’s slender mistress, but that happens later. For now, Betty asks her doctor for diet pills, the doctor examines her before giving her a prescription, and finds a tumor. She goes to get it examined and everything ends up okay; the worst thing to come of the ordeal would be Betty’s growing fear of losing her children.
Back with the entertaining characters, Don and Megan meet with the Heinz couple at a fancy dinner. I only bring this scene up because it is noteworthy at how bad Megan is at table rapport with a potential client. When she and Don pitch their idea at a dinner in a later episode, it is clear that she has improved from this conversation.
Don and Harry go to try and get the Rolling Stones to do a commercial, but instead just decide to meet the girl of my dreams backstage at a fictional concert:
But Harry got high and couldn’t sign the Rolling Stones.
The best part of this episode was the introduction of Ginsberg.
He became one of my favorite characters on the show my first time around with this season, and I look forward to watching him more. But right now, I’m really tired, and I have to write ten more of these in the next 96 hours.
We’ll pick up here tomorrow.