I've just finished watching Season 3 of Mad Men on DVD, and overall, I liked it very much, much more than I liked Season 2. Today, I'm going to review several of the things I liked most about the season and tomorrow, I'm going to put all my quibbles and gripes into a separate post. The positives far out-number the negatives.
As I said in the title, I will be discussing important plot points of the show, so if you haven't seen it yet and you think you might like to, the rest of this post will ruin some surprises for you.
The return of Don Draper, world's greatest cad: Don Draper is obviously the center of the show, and if his year isn't good, the whole show suffers. In season 2, he spent a lot of time cheating on his wife with Bobbie Barrett, a woman who wasn't even close to being in his league. That whole relationship didn't make much sense, because Don likes the chase and it was Bobbie who threw herself at him.
This year's major conquest is Miss Farrell, the school teacher, played by the lovely Abigail Spencer. (Really, using the adjective "lovely" when talking about the Mad Men cast is like using the adjective "tall" when describing someone in the NBA. It's much more of a surprise when a major cast member isn't lovely, and that goes for the guys as well.) If I may put myself forward as the a typical male viewer of the show, this is what I want. Don Draper is supposed to be a slightly more believable James Bond, but without the firearm. Fabulous babes are supposed to fall into his orbit and he is supposed to bed them. When you look and act like Jon Hamm and they dress you in those impeccably tailored suits, it shouldn't be that hard to do.
Meet Pete Campbell, real human being: In the very first show, Pete Campbell was more like a plot device than a real character. He was there to be hated and that didn't change much in the first two seasons. No matter how morally ambiguous Don Draper's character is, compared to Pete Campbell, he has all virtues. Played by Vincent Kartheiser using the pout and sneer that served him so well on the TV show Angel for several seasons, Pete is the spoiled rich kid stuck in middle management who thinks himself a failure, compared to the successful self-made man that Don presents to the world.
This year, while he still commits some vile acts including cheating on his faithful wife Trudy, played by the lovely Allison Brie, we also start seeing Pete actually being good at his job. Also, after cheating, we see him being contrite and we see Trudy as a real asset for his career. It's probably too late to turn Pete Campbell into a saint, or as close to a saint as anyone on this show can claim to be, but it was nice to see him have some successes and make himself useful instead of always complaining and not seeming to be much help around the firm except for his family connections.
Bye, bye, Birdie. I'll be glad to see you go.: Can I write "played by the lovely" one more time? Oh yes, at least once more.
Betty Draper, played by the lovely January Jones, is easily my least favorite character on the show. She is a complete drip. She finally figured out the big secret Don has been hiding from her for all these years and she is planning to divorce him.
Thank you, writers of Mad Men! Get the hell rid of this millstone. Of course, the character is not going to go away. What I like about the show is that almost all of the things that happen make sense in terms of what the characters should do, given their motivations and the standards of the day. When the show began, a divorced woman was added to the cast and the general reaction was shock and surprise. Now, several characters have gone through divorce and the stigma is slowly going away. That is an important part of the culture of the early sixties.
There's still plenty more twists and turns, but I'd like to see what Don would do if he was free to make fresh mistakes instead of being tied to a woman who doesn't love him.
The return of Joan: Again, the writers of Mad Men develop story lines that make sense for the characters involved. Joan Holloway, played by the stunning Christina Hendricks, was a brilliant office manager, but if she was going to live in the manner in which she wanted to become accustomed, she had no real choice but to marry well. A bright and capable young woman like her should be able to find a good catch, which she does when she marries a surgeon, played by the lovely Sam Page. Because it's a drama and things aren't supposed to go well, her best laid plan gangs agley, as Robbie Burns would write. Still, she's Joan and she doesn't mope. She moves forward and she makes the best of the situation and it opens the door for her to continue to be a part of the show, which is a big win for fans like me, by which I mean heterosexual males.
Though I have no right to speak for them, I think even homosexual males can like her. Joan is a fabulous bitch.
Other good things about Season 3: The start of the new agency, Conrad Hilton, Peggy smoking marijuana, the way the Kennedy assassination was handled. I'm sure there are other things I liked that I've forgotten for the time being.
Tomorrow: some quibbles with the writing and a sensible story line that still makes me sad.