Mad Men: The Complete Fifth Season [Blu-ray Review]
Author: Katey Rich
published: 2012-10-18 11:42:54
Back on the air after being on hiatus for more than a year, Mad Men returned last March with the weight of some seriously high expectations. Dubbed the best drama on TV practically since it started, even with competition like Breaking Bad and newcomer Homeland nipping at its heels, Mad Men seemed to have grown mythic in its absence. Was it really possible to return with new stories that lived up to all that hype?
Amazingly, yes-- and Mad Men consistently managed to top itself and surprise viewers throughout its incredible fifth season, which kicked off with Megan's instantly legendary "Zou Bisou Bisou" number, included Roger Sterling losing his mind on LSD, and ended with that unforgettable image of all the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce partners in their empty new office space, looking out the windows and into the uncertain future.
So much had changed at the beginning of Season Five that it was hard to know where everything stood. Don had married Megan and moved into a swanky penthouse apartment in Manhattan, leaving sullen Betty (and her weight gain) back in the suburbs and seeming more content in family life than ever before. Joan had her baby-- Roger's baby and not her husband's, though nobody but Joan knew that-- and was out of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office, while Megan had taken on a copywriter job and new employees like Ginsberg and black secretary Dawn added new dynamics to the office, while also nodding to the changing levels of acceptance for Jews and African-Americans in the constantly evolving 60s.
Even though Mad Men sometimes revolves around the moments that surprise the audience, it's consistently rewarding to revisit episodes, either to revel in the performances, the costumes, or just to spend a little more time with the characters who populate this world. Maybe creator Matthew Weiner just learned how to make us all more desperate for his show by keeping it off the air for so long, but being able to roam the halls of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in revisiting these episodes is immensely satisfying. The dinner party scene at Pete's house, when only Don can fix the exploding faucet, is just as funny the second time around. The scene where Pete implies that Joan should sleep with the Jaguar rep is just as slimy. And knowing what's going to happen, it's easy to track some of the slow-burning emotions-- Peggy's dissatisfaction at the company, Lane's crushing depression-- and feel even more dread with the certainty of what's to come.
Mad Men may be more of a soap opera than some of TV's other best shows, but that only lends itself to being so rewatchable, and so worth owning for your own occasional visits to 1960s Manhattan.
The show's creator Matthew Weiner is legendary for his rabid attention to detail and control over every aspect of the show, which probably makes him impossible to work for sometimes. But he pays that mania forward to the audience by doing a commentary for every episode on this disc, joined by the writer of the given episode. His insight is incredible, providing details not just on the logistics of making the show-- like reusing the office set to stand-in for several tony Manhattan restaurants--but the themes he's trying to get across in every scene. The commentaries include plenty of the usual "Oh, isn't this person's work amazing?" compliments, but they're packed with so much detail that they feel much less self-congratulatory than most.
Even better, each episode comes with an additional commentary from any number of additional people, from stars like Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss to costume designer Janie Bryant, composer David Carbonara, or even actors who made brief appearances on the season, like Michael Gladis, who re-appeared briefly as newly born Hare Krishna Paul Kinsey. They always manage to pick the right actors for the right episodes, bringing in Jared Harris when Lane has a particularly big episode, or even Julia Ormond, whose role as Megan's mom was small but crucial in the final episode. These commentaries aren't nearly as detailed or insightful as Weiner's, but it's interesting to hear the actors talk about their characters, bringing up details that maybe nobody would have noticed-- like Christina Hendricks pointing out that, when Joan goes to meet the Jaguar client for their "date," she's wearing the fur stole that Roger Sterling bought her.
There are separate featurettes on each disc, some of them providing very detailed looks into the show's production-- like one about the series music composer and the many different themes he weaves into the show-- and others that feel pretty tangential, like a featurette on Truman Capote's 1966 Black and White Ball, which Don Draper and Roger Sterling could have attended-- if they were real, that is. After watching the commentaries the featurettes feel oddly choppy and distant, so if you're looking for all the best details, definitely take the time to dig through those.
Since most of us watch Mad Men in HD on TV anyway, seeing it on Blu-ray isn't a huge revelation, but it really is the only way to watch a show this detailed and gorgeous. It takes a long, long time to rewatch a full season of Mad Men and dig through all the commentaries, but with the show on break again and probably not returning until next year, you've got the time--and it's well worth the effort.
Length: 611 minutes.
Release Date: 10/16/2012
Starring: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, Vincent Kartheiser, John Slattery, Jared Harris, Robert Morse, Jessica Pare, January Jones, Kiernan Shipka
Directed by: Jennifer Getzinger, Jon Hamm, Matt Shakman, John Slattery, Scott Hornbacher, Michael Uppendahl, Phil Abraham, Christopher Manley, Matthew Weiner
Created by: Matthew Weiner
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