Mad Men Season Two
It's 1962 and, picking up about fourteen months after where season one finished, season two of Mad Men follows Don Draper, the creative genius at the Sterling Cooper advertising agency in Manhattan. The season tracks his attempts to be a 'good boy' and not cheat on his wife whilst struggling for control in the office as a power struggle between him and Duck Phillips begins. This review will contain spoilers for season one so, if you haven't seen that and don't want to know, stop reading and order the first season on DVD or Blu-ray now!
Roger Sterling is trying to live healthily after his heart attacks at the end of the first season that not only damaged him physically but also professionally; though he is a partner and his name is on the building, he is needed to bring in new clients and keep existing ones so stopping drinking and smoking is a must. For Roger it's a case of slowing down rather than stopping so, though he no longer carries cigarettes, he doesn't think twice about taking one from someone else and frequently lighting up, preferably with a glass of whisky in his hand. He likes casual drinking as he says that if you drink alone you are an alcoholic so dropping into Don's office for a drink, cigarette and chat is perfectly alright. His health scares haven't slowed his wandering eye any so, though his relationship with head secretary Joan may be over, it doesn't stop him looking or eying up a replacement.
Back at work and a good deal slimmer, Peggy Olsen is pursuing her ambitions as a copy writer which blurs the clearly defined male/female roles in the office as she sits in on important meetings in a creative capacity, not just there to take minutes. Her home life is difficult as her sister looks after Peggy's son who she barely sees and her Catholic family are keen for her to see the new parish priest, Father Gill, with the hope that she will confess and return home to look after her child. On the subject of children, Pete and Trudy Campbell are having trouble conceiving and so a trip to the doctors is called for and, with Pete questioning whether he wants to be a father, longing looks across the office at Peggy become more frequent.
Don wants to be faithful to Betty but a run in with Jimmy Barrett, a comedian, who ridicules the wife of an important client of Sterling Cooper's which introduces Don to Jimmy's wife Bobbie. Bobbie is a dominating and aggressive woman and, though the saying is 'opposites attract', this is not the case when it comes to Don and Bobbie and the attraction is immediately evident. With Don having to engineer an apology to the offended couple he has to spend time with Bobbie and ruin his 'good boy' chances. When Jimmy tells Betty that he knows that their respective spouses are sleeping together, Betty doesn't quite believe him but there's something about the way that Don and Bobbie stand together and this suspicion just won't go away until something snaps and she phones Don at the office telling him not to come home.
The chemistry and tension between Jon Hamm and January Jones as Don and Betty Draper is tangible and Hamm just looks the part; clothing aside, his look and demeanour is of a man from the 1960s.
Each episode has two commentaries which is a lot for a TV show; some will have none, others a few for each season and the rest one per episode so to record two for each and every episode is an extreme rarity. This is not to say that they are all great - they're not. When you have two of the crew, say the writer and director, they are well worth listening to as they have plenty of information to share and know an awful lot about what went into making the episode. The least involving are those with two actors behind the mic as they can really only talk about their scenes so these have their fair share of dead air and are pretty dull to sit through. Any where Matthew Weiner is involved are interesting and revealing as it's his show and he knows more about it than anyone.
The second disc contains a two part feature, The Birth of the Independent Woman which has contributions from academics in the field as well as journalist who remember what a woman's place was in 1960 and how second wave feminism (and the Civil Rights Movement) was beginning to challenge the status quo.
Disc three has two featurettes: An Era of Style and Time Capsule - Historical Events of the 1960s. The first is a 22 minute look at the fashions of the early 1960s, mid-'60s and late-'60s as they fall into distinct categories moving from the 'man in the grey suit' period to the hippy era. The second concentrates on each episode and events and products that formed the backdrop for that episode moving through the series so you get a choice of 2 or 3 different things for each from John Glenn to Utz Chips all the way to the Cuban Missile Crisis which makes the last episode such great viewing. These either take the form of a Time Line that you can browse through or a short clip. It's a shame there's not an entire episode of The Defenders or Jackie O's guided tour of The White House but what is there is very informative.
Together they are a fascinating companion to the series, really contextualising the fictional events and showing why the series is so good.
As I've already mentioned, this is a show that takes the aesthetics seriously and has directors and cinematographers who really know how to convey the era and mood through framing and lighting. The use of mise-en-scène is very clever and is an integral part of what makes the show so good.
As this is the case, a top notch high definition picture is not only desirable but almost essential and thankfully one is provided. Everything that should be there is there and everything that should be absent is absent.
*The pictures contained in this review are for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect the image quality of the disc.*
A wonderfully clear DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack ensures the dialogue is presented well and the terrific score by David Carbonara perfectly fits the mode and tone of every scene.
I really enjoyed this when it was on the BBC and thought it looked good there, broadcast on the BBC HD channel but, as that was only shown at 720p and not in Full HD, the extra definition that you get on a Blu-ray Disc is evident. This is a superb show, intelligent and well-researched and as good a document of 1960's sexism, racism and xenophobia as you will find in a fictional TV series. Mad Men is a smart, introspective show that is extremely well produced with excellent contributions from every department of the production team and wonderful performances from everyone in the cast. With a great ending to the season I can't wait for season three to begin and see what they have lined up. If you have season one, then you should really get this and if you haven't seen Mad Men yet, put it on your list of television shows to see - you won't be disappointed. Just to help you on your way, Lions Gate Home Entertainment are releasing season two separately and seasons one and two as a box set.