The Carousel: Revisiting Mad Men – Season 3 General Discussion / Poll
Welcome back to The Carousel, our pretentiously-named Mad Men rewatch series! It’s March, the month we’ll be discussing Season 3!
Because I got some questions last time, I thought I’d repeat the way these discussions work. Each month, we discuss a different season. We start off with a general discussion, and Miss Rim and I also post synopses of each episode in the comments. Upvote your favorite episodes, and the ones with the most votes will get reviewed later in the month! So when you’ve wondered why some episodes get discussions and others don’t, now you know it is your own fault for not voting. (Not really.)
SO ONTO SEASON 3. I really love this season, you guys. Seasons 1 and 2 are great television, and Seasons 4 and 5 are phenomenal television, but I think Season 3 might be the most fun for me. It’s the season of transitions, of things you thought would last forever being upended. One of Mad Men’s thesis statements is that it’s almost impossible for people to change, but people’s positions and roles change so, so much in Season 3.
Some Things You Might Have Assumed Going Into Season 3:
1. Betty and Don’s marriage is a constant, and they’ll just keep fighting and getting back together like before, because it’s impossible to imagine Betty as “not a wife”. NOPE
2. Joan being Joan and running shit at Sterling-Cooper is a constant. NOPE. Matthew Weiner actually commented that even though Joan said from the first minutes of Season 3 that she was married and would be retiring soon, people still wrote in shock when she actually DID quit. They thought the writers couldn’t go through with it.
3. Peggy will keep following the same trajectory of fighting up the ladder at Sterling-Cooper. NOPE. She realizes there are other, better options this season, and though she chooses to stay with Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce, that’s a realization we can’t undo. Peggy working with Don NEVER feels like a sure thing in any future season.
4. Sal, Paul, and other big supporting characters will stay part of the main cast. NOPE.
5. The show will continue to be about Sterling-Cooper. NOPE.
It’s the season of the status quo being upended (paralleled by the abrupt transition from Kennedy to LBJ) and people realizing they can do and be things they assumed they couldn’t. Probably why it ends on the most positive note of any season.
Mad Men doesn’t normally go for positive payoff, but when Joan returns to work for the new agency in the finale? When Peggy is this close to jumping ship, but in the end decides to go with Don? When Lane, perennially overlooked, is able to save the Main Gang and start a business? Even Betty and Don’s divorce leaves you with the sense that better things might be coming for both of them. (But they aren’t really. This is still Mad Men.)
Not that it’s a chipper season – the ending of Sal’s story is tragic, especially knowing it really is the end, unlike most other characters who pop back up at least once. Don’s affair with Sally’s teacher, playing house with her as she gives him emotional support, strikes me as sadder and deliberately duller than his past affairs. Up until the season finale, Joan’s whole storyline is a horrible example of “be careful what you wish for”.
It’s also the first season to do a lot of episodes that have their own identifiable tone. “The Jet Set” in Season 2 is generally considered the first experimental Mad Men episode. Then in Season 3 we have
“The Fog” (dream sequences and body-horror, starting with a cut to Sally covering herself in blood and continuing at the hospital)
“Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” (dark comedy involving deflated expectations and severed limbs – even the title is a joke)
and “Souvenir” (Mad Men in Rome, with all the fashion, glamour, and wonder that implies)
Even episodes with a more series-standard tone, like “Wee Small Hours”, have their own feel. Everything in “Wee Small Hours” feels intimate and weird, since most of the plot movement happens during poorly-lit conversations at 5 AM, or 2 AM, or other inappropriate times to talk to an acquaintance.
So much to talk about! Do others agree this was a fun-ass season, and a recognizable transition from old, rigid Camelot Mad Men to new, uncertain LBJ-era Mad Men? Let me know!