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Reviewed by Will Harris
very season of “Mad Men” has an underlying theme, but even the myriad of events which occur during the course of Season Three – jobs come and go, businesses rise and fall, identities are revealed, marriages splinter, parents die, little girls grow up – can still be aptly summarized with one simple word: change.
Season Three of “Mad Men” kicks off with our introduction to the new ruling class at the advertising agency, represented by Layne Price (Jared Harris), the crisp English gentleman who immediately sets off to cut costs within the firm. It’s hard to get a handle on him at first. He seems less than comfortable with his new surroundings, yet he’s not exactly going out of his way to be liked, given the way he seems to be enjoying the opportunity to pit employee against employee in order to determine the best ad exec. Additionally, Price’s methods immediately lead him to bump heads with Don Draper (Jon Hamm), which rarely works out well for anyone.
But then, Don’s bumping heads with a lot of people this season. Obviously, we know that things aren’t going spectacularly between him and his wife, Betty (January Jones), despite the fact that the arrival of their third child is imminent, in no small part because he’s rarely at home – and, when he’s away, she has every reason to suspect that he’s indulging in infidelity. (There is, after all, some precedent for such behavior.) Additionally, his working relationship with Roger Sterling (John Slattery) has also gone rapidly downhill in recent weeks, and things aren’t going much better with his protégée, Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss). Even his new association with Conrad Hilton (Chelcie Ross) works more because of their differences than their similarities. It’s easy to start wondering how on earth Betty has stayed married to him for as long as she has.
Clearly, Betty herself has been wondering the same thing, as we finally see her taking a step in the same direction that Don has been going for all of these years, venturing into a relationship with Henry Francis. She’s not the only one getting a little action this season. Peggy finds herself going out on the town, indulging in one-night stands, and eventually entering into a relationship with Duck Phillips (Mark Moses). Sal Romano (Bryan Batt) finally gets a brief opportunity to step outside of the closet, though it results in him getting fired when Don – who accidentally becomes aware of Sal’s proclivities – gets pissed when Sal refuses the advances of a valuable (male) client. That’s right: homosexuality is only acceptable as long as you’re willing to take one for the team…uh, so to speak. Sadly, Joan (Christina Hendricks) spends the season stuck in a marriage with a mentally unstable physician, but fingers remain crossed that she’ll find someone worthy of her assets (double entendre absolutely intended) in the near future.
Obviously, there are a lot of events going on in the personal lives of the characters of “Mad Men” during Season Three, but the changes in Sterling-Cooper are quite rampant as well. Peggy struggles to be accepted as a full-fledged copywriter amongst an otherwise-male staff and tends to fail miserably as often as not, with Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis) getting pissed off on the rare occasions that she succeeds. Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) continues to make the most of his knowledge of the medium of television, the battle between Pete and Ken to be the better ad man is a hoot to watch, and Pryce finds himself on the verge of being shipped off to India until an, uh, incident involving a piece of equipment from the firm’s John Deere account. If you haven’t seen the episode, it would be an egregious sin for me to tell you what happens, except to acknowledge that it was the water cooler event of the season.
Those who know their 20th century history spent much of Season Three awaiting the wedding of Roger Sterling’s daughter, if only because there had been a close shot on the invitation which revealed its proximity to arguably the definitive moment of the 1960s: the assassination of President Kennedy. Watching the characters react to the event is interesting, but it leads to the inevitable question: how the hell do you follow the assassination of JFK?
As it happens, the biggest change to “Mad Men” itself – as opposed to the American in which the show takes place – occurs during the season finale. That it should occur at this point is no real surprise, since it has become de rigueur for season finales to result in some sort of game-changing event, but this one was damned near breathtaking in its scope. By the end of the episode, the firm known as Sterling Cooper is no more and the marriage of Don and Betty Draper appears similarly defunct, yet Don looks as happy as we’ve ever seen him, surveying the terrain of his new kingdom, imagining what the future will hold for him – which, not coincidentally, is precisely what the show’s viewers are left doing as well.
Special Features: Fans of audio commentaries will be thrilled to find that this set is loaded with them, with every major cast member, along with creator Matthew Weiner and several of the crew (directors, writers, etc.), contributing. It’s arguable that the ones which are cast-only tend to be the loosest of the bunch, but Weiner’s presence guarantees a great deal of behind-the-scenes stories. On the featurette front, there’s a multi-part examination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, a look into the now-famous “Mad Men” illustrations, “Clearing the Air: The History of Cigarette Advertising,” and “We Shall Overcome: The March on Washington.” A nice, solid package that the fans will adore.