By: Aleks Chan
Watching MAD MEN, AMC’s buzzing drama set in the hustle of a 1960s ad agency, is like gazing at a meticulously designed museum display – so gorgeously detailed by curator by ex-SOPRANOS scribe Matthew Weiner, half of the show’s charm is in the visual wonder of its setting and characters. You could stare at a still shot, like the ones in this Vanity Fair spread, and be completely enraptured by its remarkable talent for being seductive, perceptive, soapy, and cerebral – sometimes all at once.
But just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s a lightweight: In the third season premiere alone, its brooding, mysterious hero Don Draper (the steadily smooth Jon Hamm) is seeing visions of his birth as his pregnant, caged bird wife (the always poised and deft January Jones), waits in the other room. The next day he travels with closeted art director Salvatore (Bryan Bratt) to Baltimore, where a dinner date with their flight attendants ends with them half-naked on the street.
At Sterling Cooper, the ad agency where Don and Sal sip cocktails in their lavishly furnished offices, their new British owners are moving in, kicking a third of their staff out – something not entirely unheard of in Our Troubled Times. But what’s happening to Sterling Cooper isn’t the recession – it’s a revolution percolating at the seams. Not far off is Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, the Beatles, Martin Luther King Jr.’s arrest, and the assassination of JFK.
Part of the drama is the tragic irony – office empress Joan (Christina Hendricks) assimilates into her expected role as a housewife after being raped by her husband just as the counterculture that could liberate her waits around the corner; rising copywriter Peggy (Elizabeth Moss), who had a baby, was ogled by her co-workers, and came this close to a romantic relationship with a priest, is beginning to dominate in a man’s world that hasn’t revealed a heroine she can relate to.
Yes, season three is shaping to be the season of Change, resonating with viewers and the impeccable cast; it works as a swank telling of the shape of things to come. Don, master orator with the ability to practically smolder with his steely gaze, opines over his soon to be harried Baltimore evening: “I keep going to a lot of places and ending up somewhere I’ve already been.” MAD MEN is as deeply rooted in 2009 as it is in the last 50 years, and it’s beautiful, rich trip. Grade: A-