After a long delay, Mad Men came back this past spring and was able to continue to show why it is among the best that television currently has to offer. With four seasons already in the bag and an ending in sight, Made Men is basically cashing in on all that has been established thus far, as the direction and look of the series is still fantastic and all of the actors are perfectly in tuned to playing the roles they have created. It certainly helps that the show is in good company, as it is featured on AMC, which is also home to what I do believe is currently the best show on TV, Breaking Bad (though Homeland had an amazing first season). Mad Men is certainly comfortable at the top, which shows in the series’ superb fifth season. Now the Blu-ray is available for all to enjoy, as it looks and sounds great, and features insight into this season’s production process.
The fifth season of Mad Men picks up some months after the end of the last, in 1966. After Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) surprise engagement announcement to his former secretary Megan (Jessica Pare) in the season 4 finale, he has since married her and moved to a new high-rise apartment in New York. Things at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are moving along, but the company is still small and trying to rise to the top. Peggy (Elizabeth Moss), Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Lane (Jared Harris), Ken ‘Accounts!’ Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), Harry (Rich Sommer), everyone’s favorite Roger Sterling (John Slattery), and the rest of the company are doing their best to handle the accounts they have and hopefully land new ones. Joan (Christina Hendricks) has since had her baby, but is struggling between her difficult mother and a husband currently serving in Vietnam, which is doing enough to have her wanting to get back to the office as well. And of course, everyone’s favorite former Mrs. Draper, Betty Francis (January Jones) is still around as well, but now with a little more weight gained in her new, comfortable life. However, this does allow us to catch up with young Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka), who is learning a lot as she grows up in this world.
There are of course several arcs in this season of Mad Men, which I will not spoil, but will provide some details on where people are at. Don, of course, is a huge focus, who is basically struggling with his new marriage and what it means for his status as a man who basically has it all (that’s about as simple as I can put what is one of the most complex characters on television). Peggy is still doing her best to prove herself in a male-dominated world and while she has certainly found success, she’s also feeling underappreciated. Pete is similarly trying to prove himself, even though he has done a lot more for the company than anyone really seems to want to recognize. This is probably because Pete, while a mirror for a young Don, has practically no charisma by comparison. Then you have Lane, who is doing his best to keep the budget and spending of SCDP under control, but is facing a number of his own financial issues. There plenty of other stories for the additional characters as well, some that involve return visits from past cast members, but I’ll just cap this off with the fact that we get to see Roger Sterling on LSD!
This Blu-ray set contains all 13 Episodes of Season 5:
1-2. “A Little Kiss”
3. “Tea Leaves”
4. “Mystery Date”
5. “Signal 30”
6. “Far Away Places”
7. “At the Codfish Ball”
8. “Lady Lazarus”
9. “Dark Shadows”
10. “Christmas Waltz”
11. “The Other Woman”
12. “Commissions and Fees”
13. “The Phantom”
As it has always been, Mad Men continues to be a show that operates on a much more deliberate level in terms of its pacing, flow of the story, and evolution and development of the characters. With that said, there have been a lot of movements in the past season and this season that have given the show a sort of boost in the high amounts of activity that have taken place. I am not suggesting that the show feels more “TV” in terms of its plotting, but various plot threads have led to some of the more interesting developments in the overarching direction of the show. Of course, coming into the fifth season has left the writers of Mad Men with that chance to deliver these sorts of interesting stories, given that it has done such a marvelous job of establishing so much about all of the characters.
Getting to see new stories with Don, Pete, Peggy, Joan, Sally, and MVP Roger, among others, is great and the show certainly does not seem to be struggling to find ways to deliver on having fun or dramatic stories to tell. What helps is that all of the actors involved are doing amazing work that has surprisingly not been receiving more acclaim. Sure Jon Hamm is great as always, but everyone on this show is flat-out amazing. I mean, this is the only place that I feel comfortable watching January Jones at this point, even though I do not care for Betty at all. Also, because of how familiar fans of the series are with the characters and how close the actors, as their characters, have become, the chemistry and various pairings are incredibly enjoyable. Along with a lot of the comedic scenes, which Mad Men does well, there are some heartbreakingly good moments when it comes to scenes that feature Don and Peggy for example, and it is because the show has come so far. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention how great I think Kiernan Shipka is as Sally Draper, ranking as one my favorites on the show, because the journey of Sally I find to be fascinating.
While this season is great, with several episodes standing out as among the best of the series (‘Far Away Places’, ‘The Other Woman’, ‘Commissions and Fees’), there are a few things that I think slightly hold it back from being the best season yet. While Jessica Pare is incredibly strong in the role, the fact that Megan became such a huge part of the season was at times bothersome for not just myself, but many fans of the series, as it led to taking away from time we could have spent with other cast favorites, such as Peggy. There is also a subplot that involves Pete’s relationship and possible affair with another woman (Alexis Bledel), which never quite felt right, whether it is due to how it eventually plays our or because Bledel’s performance never quite sat as comfortable for me. Given that the majority of the season is pretty fantastic overall anyway, these are hardly huge issues to have worked against the series, just small concerns I had.
Season 5 of Mad Men was certainly worth the wait, as it feels like a season that had the writers/directors/cast firing on all cylinders. It may not be the show that everyone is clamoring to see, but as far as superbly crafted and acted drama series go, Mad Men does things better than almost everyone else. I hardly mentioned the setting, but the fact that this is a period drama is a great way for so many stories to have an added effect and it also leads to a wonderful use of the budget to show off some great production values. All of this factors as a further reason to really embrace a show that is confident in it storytelling and having actors of a great caliber to pull it off. Mad Men is top of the line.
Given the wonderful design of this series and the way it captures the 60s, it comes as no surprise that the AVC-encoded 1080p transfer onto Blu-ray for each episode is superb. It already looked good on AMC’s HD channel, but on Blu-ray it is even better. All of the intricate costumes and items on display in the various homes and offices that we visit throughout the season look great. The colors pop, the textures are greatly represented, the black levels register just fine in the case of darker scenes. Given that Mad Men is happy to move at a fairly deliberate pace, it certainly gives the viewer time to take in the wonderful sights seen in this series.
Similar the video quality, the audio for Mad Men is well represented on this Blu-ray, making for a great series to enjoy listening to. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is a great way to pick up on all the audio activity going on. The show is mainly dialogue driven and it is all quite clear. At the same time, the score for the series, provided by David Carbonara, is great to listen to, whether it is underlining a scene or completely taking over the soundtrack. Then you have all the background chatter and ambient noise present in this series and given that it is set in a big city, there is plenty of that and it adds to the experience. With the further addition of songs of the time, Mad Men is a nice audio experience.
Admittedly, this review took me a bit longer because I was really into the commentaries. Two are provided for every episode and it is a great way to compliment the series on Blu-ray. A few featurettes are nice as well, though I wish there was more about the making of the show. As it stands, we have a lot of featurettes that refer to the time Mad Men is set in and two looks at the process of scoring the film, but hardly anything that revolves around actual filming of the series. Still, there is a good selection of extras available.
Two Audio Commentaries for every episode with the following participants:
“A Little Kiss Parts 1 and 2”: 1. Matthew Weiner and Jennifer Getzinger; 2. Jon Hamm and Jessica Pare
“Tea Leaves”: 1. Matthew Weiner, Jon Hamm and Erin Levy; 2. January Jones and Christopher Stanley
“Mystery Date”: 1. Matthew Weiner and Victor Levin; 2. Christina Hendricks and Jay Ferguson
“Signal 30”: 1. Matthew Weiner and John Slattery; 2. Vincent Kartheiser and Aaron Staton
“Far Away Places”: 1. Scott Hornbacher and Dan Bishop; 2. Matthew Weiner, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss and Jon Hamm
“At the Codfish Ball”: 1. Matthew Weiner and Jonathan Igla; 2. Janie Bryant, David Carbonara and Kiernan Shipka
“Lady Lazarus”: 1. Matthew Weiner and Phil Abraham; 2. Vincent Kartheiser, Alexis Bledel and Elisabeth Moss
“Dark Shadows”: 1. Matthew Weiner and Erin Levy; 2. Kiernan Shipka, Ben Feldman and Jessica Paré
“Christmas Waltz”: 1. Matthew Weiner and Michael Uppendahl; 2. Rich Sommer, Michael Gladis and Jared Harris
“The Other Woman”: 1. Matthew Weiner and Semi Chellas; 2. Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks and Jon Hamm
“Commissions and Fees”: 1. Matthew Weiner and Andre and Maria Jacquemetton; 2. Christopher Manley and Jared Harris
“The Phantom”: 1. Matthew Weiner and Jonathan Igla; 2. Jessica Paré and Julia Ormond
Mad Men Say the Darndest Things – A look at the writing process for the series, particularly the best one-liners from the cast.
What Shall I Love if Not the Enigma – A look at artwork by Giorgio de Chirico and how he’s inspired Mad Men.
The Party of the Century – A look at a famous party from the 60s, put on by Truman Capote.
Scoring Mad Men: Themes of Season 5 – An extended look at constructing various motifs for the season via the music composed by David Carbonara.
Scoring Mad Men: Inside a Session – Another look at how the score for the series comes together.
The Uniform Time Act of 1966 – A look at the history of Day Light Savings time.
Newsweek Magazine Digital Gallery – A series of Newsweek covers that came from 1966.
Mad Men continues to rank among the best that television has to offer. It is a wonderfully constructed series that continues to deliver on all fronts, including its acting, production and art design, and writing. It is great drama, filled with moments meant to entertain on a variety of different levels. It will certainly reward longtime viewers of the series. The Blu-ray set is quite good, as it presents every episode with wonderful Audio/Video presentations, as well as dual commentaries for each episode as well. The collection of extras is just a nice touch to continue to add to the experience of the series. I am certainly looking forward to where Mad Men goes next, but for now, there is plenty to love with this latest season and what is presented on this Blu-ray.