TV spoilers are a dime a dozen on the Internet. But Mad Men showrunner Matthew Weiner famously subscribes to the loose-lips-sink-ships school of promotion, meaning that your average viewer — and this writer — will go into this Sunday’s Season 5 premiere without seeing even a second of new footage. Since we can’t help our curiousity about what Don Draper and co. are up to, we’ve combed through interviews and news items for hints and tidbits that might help predict what’s in store. And guess what? There’s actually a lot more out there than we thought. This weekend’s reviews will surely shed more light on the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce gang, but for now, here’s our roundup of everything we know about Mad Men Season 5.
The year is 1966. We know this not only because Mad Men Season 4 spanned November 1964 through October 1965, but also as a result of the news that AMC made a last-minute edit to the season premiere: Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love,” which came out in 1967, had to be replaced because it wouldn’t have been released yet.
As of last night, a trio of stills from the premiere have been making the rounds — and these are our first glimpses of the characters since Season 4. In one image, Pete, Trudy, Ken, and Ken’s lady, Alex Mack, are at a party, and even these women seem to be delving into the bright colors and semi-psychedelic fashions of the mid-’60s.
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce:
The firm is doing better. Well, maybe it is. In a new Entertainment Weekly cover story, Dan Snierson describes visiting the show’s set and watching part of a scene being filmed. Roger gathers Don, Pete, Lane, Bert, and Joan in his office. They’re waiting for a phone call, and it comes, and it’s good news. “Well, I’m glad to hear that,” Roger says. “We like him too… We’ll be over this afternoon to kiss the bride.” But the scene ends with a meaningful glance between Don and Peggy that muddies the celebration. “Like most things on the show,” Jon Hamm tells Snierson, “all is not what it seems.” Weiner confides that “the survival of the agency is still at stake.”
Later, in the same feature, Hamm says, “This season is about getting everything back on track. The company is where left it. It’s in a bit of disarray. We get to see more of everybody doing their job. Peggy, Pete, Roger, Lane, Harry, Ken — everybody’s reinvigorated.” We notice that Joan and Betty aren’t included in Hamm’s list, but maybe we shouldn’t read too much into that?
The Season 5 premiere:
Also in the premiere photos are a few pictures of Peggy, Ken, and Stan Rizzo in Pete Campbell’s office, posed in a way that suggests Pete has some kind of authority over them. Power dynamics switch so quickly at SCDP that this could mean very little, but it’s interesting. It also wasn’t a given that art director Rizzo (played by Jay R. Ferguson) — who had such a fascinating struggle with Peggy last season — would be back this year.
In the EW feature, Snierson writes, “The two-hour premiere will resume the story after a healthy time jump, and you may need a few minutes to get your bearings.” Why? Well, for one thing, “There are a lot of new characters in [the Season 5 premiere],” Weiner told The Huffington Post.
And yet, Season 5 may not continue to be such a roller coaster. “Season 5 feels a lot more like Season 1,” said Hamm in a HuffPost interview. “We’re not rebuilding in the sense of Season 4, when we just started a brand-new business and everything was new. Don was unmarried. Everything was in flux. Whereas this season, everything is relatively stable.”
The quote above seems to imply that Don is married in Season 5. But in several interviews, Weiner and his cast have taken pains to point out that we only know Don proposed and Megan accepted. Since Megan hasn’t been in any of the office-set cast photos for Season 5, it’s entirely possible she’s already out of the picture — or that she will be fairly soon.
According the EW piece, one of the major themes for Don this season will be aging. “A lot of the decisions that Don makes may seem strange to the audience, but they’re going to seem strange to the people around him, too,” Weiner explains. “He is coming into middle age, which was closer to old age back then.” Don is also going to be affected by the rising tide of the ’60s — he’s “on the wrong side of that change for the most part, because he’s an old dude,” says Weiner.
Meanwhile, Don’s WTF proposal was, as you may have guessed, a direct result of Anna’s death, and it seems that change in him will be a lasting one. “It may have caused some tectonic shift in Don, maybe one of the reasons we saw the proposal. It’s not a mistake that he gives Megan Anna’s ring, he did not give that to Betty, but I think that there is hope,” said Hamm in a recent BAFTA interview.
Weiner further illuminated Don’s choice of Megan over Faye in a New York Times Q&A:
And in the end, the choice was a youth versus age thing. It’s not about the substance of the people. Faye is substantive; we don’t know anything about Megan, if she’s not substantive. Faye is saying, “Grow up, get a lawyer, become the man that you are.” Megan is saying: “I don’t care who you are. You can make yourself who you want to be.” And I think that we were faithful to that choice, that Don wanted to be in that lavender haze, as we described it, of having someone look at him who doesn’t know him, who admires him, who represents what youth brings to every society, which is hope. As opposed to, “My feet hurt.” That mind-set versus, “You know what? Let’s get roller skates.”
Roger didn’t have a great Season 4, from cheating on his new bride with Joan to losing the Lucky Strike account to going full-on World War II when faced with Japanese clients. And things aren’t looking great for 1966. In EW, John Slattery says his character “knows what’s going on around him. Whether he can do anything about it, that’s another story.”
Pete may also become a victim of the times. “There is an opportunity for him to show himself, but it’s coming about right when change is coming,” says Vincent Kartheiser in EW. “It’s like becoming CEO of a banking firm in 2007.”
It seems that Joan’s fate is being kept pretty tightly under wraps. “All I can say is a lot happens to Joan,” Christina Hendricks says in this month’s BlackBook cover story. It sure looks like she’s keeping Roger’s baby, but whether she does or not, we wouldn’t rule out a major shocker early in the season premiere. Weiner did mention in a Salon interview that Joan says, “I missed you all so much in the premiere.” Could she have been out on maternity leave?
One thing we do know, however, is that we’ll see the bond between Joan and Don deepen this season. “The Don/Joan dynamic is something that we do explore, and don’t take this the wrong way, but we do explore as the show goes on. They have worked together for a long time they know one another very well and I’ll leave it at that,” Hamm said in the BAFTA interview. Whether this means romantic sparks will fly between them or not is open for interpretation, but our gut says we’ll never see them in bed together.
Weiner addressed Peggy’s trajectory in an interview with Slate: “Has she matured and grown? Professionally she’s become more sophisticated. She’s certainly learned a lot about how to do her job. Her personal life? Who knows? In Season 3 she had a one night stand with this young guy and there was some issue about how he doesn’t have a condom. And so she won’t sleep with him.”
But Elizabeth Moss’s conversation with Vulture seems more illuminating to us. “There’s something that Matt said, that these characters have to figure out what they want and how to go after it,” she said. “That summed up my character.” Yeah, we could deal with a little more of Peggy kicking ass in Season 5.
We’ll be seeing more of Betty — next season. According to Weiner in EW, “There will be less of her, but it’s not because people don’t like her or she’s not essential to the story. She’s in it, and she will be a big part of it again next season.” So, it looks like that Don-Betty reconciliation that Mad Men teased in the Season 4 finale won’t be happening just yet.
Race may be a major issue this year — it comes up in the premiere, at least.
“There’s a line in Episode 3,” Weiner told the Times, “where somebody goes, ‘When is everything going to get back to normal?’ And who hasn’t felt that right at this minute?”