Dear Julia and Patrick,
Break out the chip ‘n’ dip: The moment we’ve been waiting for is finally here. In just a few short days, the boys from Sterling Cooper will be back, boozing, smoking, and philandering their way through … 1962? That’s where Season 2 left off—in October, to be precise. But nearly two years elapsed between the end of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2. What if Mad Men maestro Matthew Weiner decides to leapfrog another year or two? What if Season 3 opens in 1964, with Don Draper trying to figure out how to sell Belle Jolie to counterculture chicks by attending a sit-in at Berkeley? It’s a testament to the enthusiasm of Mad Men fans—and to the intensity with which its creator guards his secrets—that the year in which this season takes place has become spoiler material.
I can understand why some fans want to be completely in the dark about the coming season, but it’s never been Mad Men’s plot twists that have kept me coming back for more. Don’s twist-rich flashbacks consistently irritate me; indeed, the hokey set piece in Korea, in which Don steals his commanding officer’s identity (having just accidently blown him to smithereens), is, for me, a low point. The scenes I love most are ones you can’t really spoil. I’m talking about Ken Cosgrove basking in the news that the Atlantic Monthly has published his short story (the perfectly titled “Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning”); Paul Kinsey directing his colleagues in an impromptu, drunken staging of his play on election night 1960; Harry Crane, sitting in Don’s office in his tighty-whities, describing his fascination with the cave paintings at Lascaux; Roger’s oh-so-wrong, yet oh-so-perfect breakup speech to Joan Holloway (“I am so glad I got to roam those hillsides”) as she dabs him with foundation to hide his post-coronary pallor from the Lucky Strike people; Don’s just-on-the-right-side-of-maudlin Kodak Carousel pitch.
These are all moments from Season 1, which I recently revisited. Maybe I’m just biased, since that season is now freshest in my mind, but I’m hoping the new episodes feel more like Season 1 than Season 2. There were moments last year when Mad Men lost me. I prefer it when the changing times creep up on Don; during his sojourn in California, he was too much a fish out of water, too fast. Much as I adore the way January Jones looks in jodhpurs, I also could have done without the will-she-or-won’t-she with that dope from her equitation lessons. And, please, enough with that shifty priest constantly pushing up on Peggy.
Julia, Patrick: Am I being too hard on Season 2? Either of you care to defend the good father, he of the symbolic egg? Or that comely L.A. nymph who takes a shine to Don?
There has been a ton of Mad Men coverage in the last few weeks—for the most part, a basket of very wet kisses—but allow me to recommend one article well worth reading before Sunday night: Bruce Handy’s feature in Vanity Fair. It’s hardly news that Matthew Weiner is obsessed with getting the period details right, but I’d never quite processed just how obsessed he is. Handy notes that Weiner had his writers research the train schedules in 1960, so when Don says he’s taking the 5:31 to Ossining, that means there really was a 5:31 to Ossining that day. And the aforementioned chip’n’ dip, the one Pete and Trudy got two of for their wedding? It’s an item Weiner’s parents received as a gift in 1959.
A final question for my fellow TV Clubbers: If you were an employee of Sterling Cooper, who would you be? And also: If I were an employee of Sterling Cooper, who would I be?
That’s it for now, except to say I am very excited for this season and can’t think of anyone I’d rather roam these hillsides with than the two of you.