Mad Men season three -- An early look
by Joel Keller, posted Aug 14th 2009 10:05AM
When I was in LA a couple of weeks ago, I was among a number of critics who were able to get a look at the first episode of Mad Men's third season, and I have to tell you, I liked it a lot.
Here's the problem: What do I say about it?
In the various conversations the other critics and I had with Matt Weiner, Jon Hamm and the rest of the cast during the TCAs, we were very politely asked not to reveal anything about the show, especially when it comes to when the first episode takes place. Remember that there was a two-year jump between seasons one and two, and I guess Weiner wants to keep the timeframe a secret this time around.
"You're going to get to see stuff before the audience does," said Weiner about me and my fellow critics. "Let them have the same experience you had."
Fair enough. But without the timeframe and a couple of other tidbits, it's tough to talk much about season three. But I'm gonna try. If I spoil anything, it'll be after the jump.
Hamm told reporters that, as far as the themes of season three are concerned, the big one is change. "That's not just talking about the characters and the story and the arcs of all these people, we're talking about the culture as well. We are moving forward in time; this doesn't take place in a vacuum, the country is very much changing, and people change along with it."
Change and how Don Draper and the folks of his world deal with it is probably the best way to describe what we see in the season three opener. I will say this: there isn't a two-year jump this time around. Take that for what you will. You can imagine that if you saw the ending of season two that a lot of the same storylines will be pursued in the season premiere. To get you up to speed, here's how the second season ended up (STOP READING HERE IF YOU HAVEN'T FINISHED SEASON TWO):
- Don returns from his LA hiatus as a rededicated husband.
- Betty is pregnant with what we think is the couple's third child (we're not sure).
- Sterling Cooper comes thisclose to being bought by a British firm, but the deal hinges on Draper staying with the company.
- Roger Sterling dumped his wife to marry Don's former secretary, and made the deal with the Brits as sort of a Sixties upscale version of the mid-life crisis motorcycle.
- Joan loses out on the job helping Harry, and her fiance rapes her in Don's office.
- Peggy, who is getting comfortable in her new job, tells Pete that she had his baby and gave it away.
- The Cuban Missile Crisis made everyone think the world was ending.
Pick some of the major stories above, and you'll have an idea what we'll be seeing the aftermath of in the season premiere. But that's not all. We have a corporate rivalry brewing between two people who used to be allies, and one of the secondary characters finally giving into the temptation that he's resisted in the past. And let's just say that he's not the only one at Sterling Cooper who knows his secret.
Weiner reinforces the "change" theme that he instilled in Hamm and the other actors: "A lot of it's about change, and how we deal with change. Where you are in your life is a big part of it, and how history intrudes on it is very minor," he said. "When change comes to your life you can embrace it... some people are thrilled by it and some people get sickened by it.
There's a lot of looking backwards in the show, I don't mean flashbacks necessarily, and as far as I can tell, that's really what's going on with the culture right now. So I feel good that we're at least reflecting something if not leading it."
One thing I can tell you, though, is that the show has lost none of its style, humor or darkness. It's still got more layers than a fast-food burrito, which was proven to me when I saw Jon Hamm present a scene from the premiere on a talk show (OK, I'll admit, it was on Live with Regis and Kelly). In it, he's on a plane with Bryan Batt's character of Sal, and he's talking about the tagline of the new London Fog campaign that he just thought of: "Limit your exposure."
When Hamm said the scene worked on multiple levels, the CFL in my head went off, because, even though I had seen the premiere, I just did not catch the subtext of that scene at all. But that's what makes Mad Men so entertaining; almost every scene has a subtext, and it's satisfying to find it, whether on first viewing or multiple viewings.
If you didn't know already, the season three premiere of Mad Men airs Sunday night at 10 PM ET on AMC.