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MAD MEN: SEASON THREE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Mark Wiechman
Blu-ray specs by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Vincent Kartheiser, Mark Moses, John Slattery
Creator:  Matthew Weiner
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Lions Gate
Features:  See Review
Length:  611 Minutes
Release Date:  March 23, 2010

“’This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.’

“We got it…you’re educated!”

Show ****

Well, it wouldn’t be the 1960s if we didn’t have overeducated beatniks smoking pot, quoting T.S. Elliot, and pondering mortality even while writing copy for alcohol ads.  Jimmy Buffet hadn’t been invented yet, and he came from Mississippi via Key West, so New York ad men, calling themselves Mad Men, needed new sources of inspiration to keep from going insane looking for new ways to sell old and new products. 

Don Draper and company need to find a way to soothe the fears of London Fog, for example, because they see so many other jacket and umbrella related products and fear eventual obsolescence.  Draper assures them that “there will lean years, and fat years, but it will rain.”  Ironically, we learn from Mr. Pryce, the British chairman of the company, that there is in fact no fog in London, but only soot from the factories in the old days that gave the appearance of fog.  Fortunately, as Don points out, hardly anyone in America knows that, and people buy the well-made iconic coats regularly.  Meanwhile Peter Campbell continues to be an even bigger dolt than before, if that were possible.  Peggy Olsen continues to shine and maneuver in a man’s world, Betty Draper continues to be a doltish but lovely housewife who distrusts her husband with reason, and Roger Sterling gradually becomes a redundant character who exists only to kick the butts of younger men and women. 

In episode two, a younger generation like mine gets to meet Ann-Margret doing her incomparable rendition of “Bye Bye Birdie”, which a company wants Sterling Cooper to imitate in their own ads, but then the final product is rejected despite its perfection.  Poor Sal continues to fool everyone including himself about his sexual orientation, and meets a terrible professional end not of his making.   

In some ways, everything is different yet the same, since Roger has a new young wife, but no one seems happy except him.  Peggy is a copywriter now, and still sleeping around, but she is still left out of meetings.  Don Draper is still the rainmaker but his personal life is out of control.  Betty still seems like a Barbie doll, but she has lost patience with practically everyone as her pregnancy comes to term.  And the new British owners of Sterling Cooper still do not understand their American workers.    The women are of greater influence, but still don’t seem to know what they want nor the means to get it.

“I feel like I just went to my own funeral.  I didn’t like the eulogy.”

There is a whole thread of New Frontier versus old Gotham here, the tension growing more with each season.  And of course everyone knows how 1963 ends, but as the New Frontier ends, and Sterling Cooper is sold again, an exciting new company will rise from the ashes, much like Madison Square Garden rose on top of the old Penn Station.    

“I can’t believe you just had a baby and you redid your house.  Are you…suicidal?”

Don Draper continues to be strangely menacing and charming at the same time.  He meets Conrad Hilton at a party, and the eccentric tycoon takes a liking to Don even as he treats him condescendingly and calls him at all hours about things that could have waited.  Don is also requested to finally sign a contract WITH Sterling Cooper and he does not like being tied down.  I realize now that I envy Don Draper because he pretty much does whatever he wants and is paid a ton of money to create things.  He also gets away with practically everything, until the end of this season anyway.  Then we see his creative and business side fly to the moon while his personal life finally bottoms out.  And then we are left asking: was it worth it, Don?  Money and success, and no one with which to share it.

The most gut-wrenching part of the season, maybe of the whole series so far, is when Don and Betsy talk to the kids about a possible separation, and Sally’s agony is palpable.  Even though this scene has happened a thousand times in film and real life, the viewer will think it is as if this were the first time it had ever happened anywhere.  That is the mark of great television, movies, and for that matter any art: not that it is necessarily innovative, but that it is real.  You never really know what is going to happen here and even though there are no special effects, we have flashbacks and forwards and sly insinuations, but the granite characters seem so real.  They try and fail to change, but change anyway.

With trips overseas and a sudden shift in the company itself, with new names added to the letterhead, thirteen episodes fly by pretty quickly.

Video ****

Despite many popular action-oriented modern television series making their way to Blu-ray, Mad Men might actually be the most ideal program for the high definition treatment.  Matthew Weiner and company have such an amazing eye for 1960s detail that every shot is alive with authenticity.  In fact, one of the joys of watching and re-watching the episodes is just being able to scan the backgrounds for products, pictures, knick-knacks and other bits of detail that make this one of the most realistic period depictions out there.  The colors are beautiful and natural looking, making a truly artistic achievement seem almost effortless despite the painstaking effort you know it must have been.

Audio ***

I appreciate the fact that AMC and Lions Gate make the effort to bring DTS HD soundtracks to these Blu-rays.  The show is mostly geared toward the spoken word, and the rich and snappy dialogue renders well, but there are a few bigger moments that bring out the dynamic range, be it a party, an argument, or even a rogue lawnmower.  In this show, anything is possible.  The brilliant choice of songs, especially the ones that accompany the end credits, continue to add to the pleasure and feel of the show.

Features **

The special features are a huge disappointment because while they talk about the 1960s, we have no features about the making of the episodes, no interviews with characters, and so on.  These are often shown on the AMC network and many of the stars are interviewed on other programs, so there is no excuse for not sitting down and talking to us, considering we have to pay to have the AMC network and now we pay for the discs as well. 

“Medgar Evers: Unsung Hero” is a heart wrenching documentary in two parts about the terrible conditions in Mississippi for African Americans and the life of this pioneer in Civil Rights.   However, this has very little to do with Mad Men.  In the series of course we see very few black characters and they are all treated in a uniformly patronizing way by the other characters, and in this season we hear several excerpts from Dr. King’s electrifying speech, but this is hardly a series about the South or African Americans in general.   In fact, this special reminds us that the show, and most shows made in the 60s and about the 60s do not show much of the South or African Americans in general, in NYC or anywhere else.   I am also not sure why he is considered “unsung” considering that a U.S. Navy dry cargo ship was recently named after him.

“The History of Cigarette Advertising” is a two-part program that I did not find very interesting.  I doubt even smokers will really care.  Doctors do most of the commentary, instead of actual advertisers, so obviously the whole program is skewed and should have been called “Cigarette Advertisers are Evil Geniuses.”  And I never thought I could find Dr. King boring but “We Shall Overcome: The March on Washington” is his famous speech with photographs and video, but honestly does not capture the excitement of other specials about this pivotal event. 

The commentaries are of mixed quality, the ones with Matt Weiner with some of the cast and their consultants are fairly interesting because Mr. Weiner is interesting, though the ones with other producers are pretty lukewarm. 

Summary:

“Change isn’t good or bad, it just is,” Don Draper tells us in his droll but wise manner.  Fortunately, some things do not change, and one of them is the continuing growth of Mad Men’s stature as one of our best shows and a reason to keep premium channels on our sets and each season’s Blu-ray in our collections.

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