After a hiatus of eighteen months, AMC’s Mad Men returned for its fifth season in the spring of 2012 to its largest audience yet. No longer a niche, cult phenomenon, the show has slowly built into a bona fide cable hit series, and its outstanding season garnered it another seventeen Emmy nominations spread across all of the major categories. However, during that long time away, a number of new dramatic shows premiered to great acclaim and as much buzzworthy adulation as Mad Men had earned in its early years. Consequently, when Emmys were handed out in September, the show for the first time in its history not only didn’t win Best Drama Series (Homeland took that award), but it was blanked in every other category where it was nominated. Emmys or not, the show is still a model of sophisticated, intelligently written period drama.
Mad Men: Season Five (Blu-ray)
Directed by Jon Hamm et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 585 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 49.99
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Review Date: October 18, 2012
The fifth season was one of monumental upheaval for many of the major characters at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a shift that was likely reflecting the changes going on in America during 1966, the period covered in year five. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is newly married to the beautiful actress-turned-copywriter Megan Calvet (Jessica Paré) and happy now, uninterested in dalliances with models and clients as in years past. But Megan is struggling with Don’s domineering tendencies and as the season progresses begins getting the acting bug again leading to essential changes in the dynamic of the happy couple. Also struggling this season are Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), as ambitious as ever in bringing in top clients to the firm but who falls victim to an infatuation with a married woman (Alexis Bledel), Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) who begins feeling abused and taken for granted at work, Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) with an absent husband away in Vietnam, a new baby, and an itch to get back to work, Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) with serious money problems, and the emerging young lady Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) who’s beginning to figure out the crusty dynamic between her father and his ex-wife/her mother Betty Francis (January Jones), herself struggling with added weight and the loss of her model figure. One new character is added this season, young copywriter Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) whose innate confidence in his talent contrasts terrifically with Peggy Olsen’s hard-working but not always successful mentor.
The show takes some interesting turns this season, many of them reflected in the character of Roger Sterling (John Slattery), still the outwardly wry and confident bon vivant and inwardly the lonely and insecure man of old. An interesting episode finds him taking an LSD trip with both humorous and life-changing results, and while he shakily balances unsettled domestic and professional partnerships, the firm likewise undergoes the unrest and upheavals that are being reflected in the country at large away from Madison Avenue: the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the Vietnam War and gathering protests regarding it along with changes in fashion and music, all of which are reflected superbly but without bombast in the show’s thirteen episodes. The acting couldn’t be bettered by any of the performers, and each of the show’s principals gets one or more episodes in which to shine. All of them do wonders with the trenchant scripts by the show’s outstanding writing staff.
Here are the thirteen episodes for season five contained on three Blu-ray discs. Each episode contains two audio commentaries, and the names of the cast and crew who participate in each are listed next to the episode in parentheses.
1 – A Little Kiss, Part 1 (Matthew Weiner, Jennifer Getzinger; Jon Hamm, Jessica Paré)
2 – A Little Kiss, Part 2 (Matthew Weiner, Jennifer Getzinger; Jon Hamm, Jessica Paré)
3 – Tea Leaves (Matthew Weiner, Erin Levy; January Jones, Christopher Stanley)
4 – Mystery Date (Matthew Weiner, Victor Levin; Christina Hendricks, Jay Ferguson)
5 – Signal 30 (Matthew Weiner, John Slattery; Vincent Kartheiser, Aaron Staton)
6 – Far Away Places (Scott Hornbacher, Dan Bishop, Matt Weiner, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss, Jon Hamm)
7 – At the Codfish Ball (Matthew Weiner, Jonathan Igla; Jane Brynal, David Carbonara, Kiernan Shipka)
8 – Lady Lazarus (Matthew Weiner, Phil Abraham; Vincent Kartheiser, Alexis Bledel, Elisabeth Moss)
9 – Dark Shadows (Matthew Weiner, Erin Levy; Jessica Paré, Kiernan Shipka, Ben Feldman)
10 – Christmas Waltz (Matthew Weiner, Michael Uppendahl; Rich Sommer, Michael Gladis, Jared Harris)
11 – The Other Woman (Matthew Weiner, Semi Chellas; Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, Jon Hamm)
12 – Commissions and Fees (Matthew Weiner, Andre & Maria Jacquemetton; Christopher Manley, Jared Harris)
13 – The Phantom (Matthew Weiner, Jonathan Igla; Jessica Paré, Julia Ormond)
The series’ widescreen 1.78:1 television aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in 1080p transfers using the AVC codec. With its mostly interior scenes and exquisite period details in fashions and props, very few shows on television look as magnificent as Mad Men. With its warm colors and perfect contrast pointing up outstanding sharpness throughout the thirteen episodes, these are reference quality encodes all the way. Flesh tones are natural, and black levels are superb. Each episode has been divided into 7 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 beautifully handles the show’s two most important aspects: its dialogue and its music. Dialogue is always expertly recorded and has been placed in the center channel. David Carbonara’s background music plus songs from the era get wonderfully effective but never ostentatious threading through the soundstage. When ambience is important to a scene (a large party, a busy office), the surrounds are also put to good use.
There are two audio commentaries for each of the episodes. You can count on creator/producer/director Matthew Weiner to not only be a part of one of them for each episode, but his contributions are the most important ones covering every aspect of an episode with his unflagging enthusiasm for his show. Some of the actor-based commentaries are interesting, and some are mostly silent and dull. Your mileage will vary with those.
All of the bonuses are presented in 1080p.
“Mad Men Say the Darndest Things” is a 16 ¾-minute feature focusing on the producers and writers of the show commenting on the various journeys taken by the characters before and during the season.
“What Shall I Love If not the Enigma?” finds two art history professors discussing the life and work of metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico whose work inspired the season five poster for Mad Men. This runs 17 ¼ minutes.
“The Party of the Century” has author Deborah Davis (who wrote a book about it) and bandleader Peter Duchin (who performed at the piano) discussing Truman Capote’s famous Black & White Ball held in 1966. It runs 23 minutes.
“Scoring Mad Men” introduces us to composer David Carbonarra who along with orchestrator Geoff Stradling and sound engineer Jim Hill discuss their approach for scoring the series in this 28-minute feature. Then, these same three gentlemen plus music editor Jenny Barek discuss in a separate featurette "Inside a Session," the steps of composing and orchestrating and then going into the studio to record the score with examples from this season’s episodes. This feature runs 21 ¼ minutes.
“The Uniform Time Act of 1966” traces the notion of Daylight Savings Time from Benjamin Franklin’s initial conception through enactments and repeals of laws to start and stop it leading to the final congressional act in 1966. This runs 5 ¼ minutes.
“Newsweek Magazine Digital Gallery” presents a timeline of twelve Newsweek covers, one for each month of 1966, showing the cover story and the most important notable news stories of each issue.
4.5/5 (not an average)
Emmys or no Emmys, Mad Men had an outstanding fifth season. With intriguing multiple story lines and a cast of characters which grows deeper and richer with each successive season, Mad Men is must viewing for those who enjoy intelligently written and emotionally haunting storytelling. Highly recommended!