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It Will Always Rain: An Advance Review of the Season Three Premiere of "Mad Men"

Throughout its two seasons so far, AMC's Mad Men has been a study in restraint, about more often than not what's unspoken rather than what's said: the delicate subtext of a crooked cigarette, a wayward glance, a spilled drink, a telling frown.

When I spoke to Mad Men's Rich Sommer last month, he promised that Season Three of Mad Men, which kicks off on Sunday evening on AMC, "pretty much kicks down the door right away."

Having watched the remarkable and heartbreaking third season premiere of Mad Men ("Out of Town"), written by Matthew Weiner and directed by Phil Abraham, for myself last week, I can say that Sommer was telling the truth. Season Three of Mad Men begins not with a wistful tune or a chance to catch your breath but rather with a swift and brutal kick to the gut.

Viewers hoping to see some resolution to the tantalizing plot points of the second season finale--such as Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) telling Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) about their child or the aftermath of Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) getting raped by her fiance--are in for some heartbreak as the premiere episode doesn't outwardly deal with these tantalizing dangling plot threads at all. It's an ingenuous plotting strategy that has worked well for Mad Men in the past, forcing the audience into a position of delayed gratification.

Time has passed at Sterling Cooper and there are some major changes afoot that bring with them some new faces in the corridors of the venerable ad agency. Among these new faces: Jared Harris' Lane Pryce and Ryan Cartwright's John Hooker, who play an intriguing and ominous role among the shifting hierarchy at Sterling Cooper. (Look for Rich Sommer's Harry Crane to have carved out a vital role for himself.) There's also a power struggle emerging among Sterling Cooper's younger staffers but that's all I can say on that front.

Thematically, the Mad Men season opener is all about exposure and the malleable quality of truth. Several characters have to face down some hard facts about themselves in this episode with some shocking consequences, most notably for Don Draper (John Hamm) himself, who is on a business trip to Baltimore in a bit of fog on a crucial day in his life. Figuratively stripped bare, Don is forced to confront some inner demons as the audience sees a bit of Draper's mystique peeled back, revealing his true inner core, his true self.

Likewise, Betty (January Jones), Joan, and Peggy have each made some choices about their lives in the cold, hard light of day; the decisions each of them has seemingly made says quite a bit about women's lot in life during the 1960s. Status plays quite a large role here, both in and out of the office. Peggy is noticeably different from the way we found her at the start of Season One; her hair and wardrobe speak volumes about her inner and outer transformation and about the role she's created for herself among Sterling Cooper's boys' club.

I apologize if I'm being vague but I'm forbidden by AMC from revealing any crucial information about the season opener. But I will say that each of the following objects each plays a vital role in the action in this first episode: bare feet, a pot of warm milk, a broken air conditioner, a promise, a raincoat, an ant farm, a piece of erotic Japanese artwork, a Solomonic decision, a broken valise, and a hammer.

One can't help but feel, in watching Mad Men these past two seasons, that Don Draper has dug himself into a hole that's becoming increasingly untenable. What is it about his beautiful, icy wife that prevents him from telling her the truth about his past? And what does it say about us as an audience that we don't want him to cast off his false front?

Just what happens next on the stylish and seductive Mad Men remains a mystery but suffice it to say that it will be accompanied by the most gorgeous period clothes and sets, trappings of a time that's sometimes all too painfully like our own.

All in all, Mad Men's spellbinding third season opener offers up an intoxicating blend of compelling storylines, memorable new characters, and dramatic new circumstances for the extended family at Sterling Cooper. Actions once committed to, can never be undone. And things once learned, can never be forgotten. Swift change is in the air, brought on by swirling eddies of fog, and one can either bend or break in transformation.

Mad Men's third season launches Sunday evening at 10 pm ET/PT on AMC.


AskRachel said…
I can't wait to see the results of the company being sold and what that means for the boys (and girls) at Sterling Cooper. And I'm very excited to see Jared Harris on the show. I'm sure they've cooked up a fantastic character for him to play!
Hannah said…
So happy Mad Men is back! Sounds like it's going to be another fantastic season!
annie said…
More than any other show MM is the one I can't wait for to come back. Only a few more days and you make it sound totally worth the wait!
Anonymous said…
Why wouldn't they deal with the Peggy/Pete stuff? That's lame.
Mazza said…
@Anon Why would they deal with that stuff right in the 1st ep? That would be crazy.

I'm more curious about the list of stuff that Jace had: bare feet, a pot of warm milk, a broken air conditioner, a promise, a raincoat, an ant farm, a piece of erotic Japanese artwork, a Solomonic decision, a broken valise, and a hammer.

What do these things have in common??? And how do they all fit together?

Once again Jace has managed to tease wo/ spoiling. I can't wait for Sunday!!!

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