Mad Men: Season 5
(AMC; US DVD: 16 Oct 2012)
How does the best show on TV get better? By delving more deeply into subjectivity: the dreams, nightmares and even acid trips of its characters. Season Five of Mad Men gets more expressionist as it explores the anxieties of the men and women of American advertising in 1966. The more closely you’ve followed the series, the more each episode is like a psychic depth charge emitting time-released surges of pure pleasure as it lingers in the brain. One source of pleasure is the paradox of how the saddest show on TV can be so funny. It’s always reminded me of a New Yorker story that somehow got turned into a weekly series.
These beautifully crafted hours have always been superb at drawing thematic parallels between the various subjects of its narrative cross-cutting; for example, examine the episode that touches on the Richard Speck murders and how it reverberates through the consciousness of various female characters, ending on the wildly incorrect Crystals’ song “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)”. That one’s called “Mystery Date” after the nostalgia-inducing commercial for that girl’s game. Then there’s the startling episode that untwines its three arcs to present them consecutively, a choice mixing clarity with disorientation in a manner that echoes one characters’ LSD experience.
The 13 episodes come with multiple audio commentaries by various combinations of actors, writers, directors and other creative contributors, and the addict will find them all convivial excuses to watch each show several times. Other bonuses look at cultural elements, like a piece on Truman Capote’s legendary Black and White Ball of November 1966; alas, that doesn’t play a part in any of the episodes.