Mad Men: Season Two (US - BD)
Gabe returns to the 1960's for more ad agency madness in high definition...
‘Young people don’t know anything, especially not that they’re young.’
Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and company return for another season of advertising genius, family troubles, and bubbling moral conflicts. Don himself finds trouble after finding himself caught in his own lies at the bottom of season one, and is struggling to remain true to his ever strengthening wife Betty (January Jones). More seriously, Don finds himself lost concerning his own identity, and isn’t sure he wants the life he’s spent so much time making. Meanwhile, the Sterling Cooper ad agency is thrown into controlled chaos among rumors of buy-outs, divorces, and the beginning of a possible younger talent take-over.
Mad Men is flat out, without a doubt, the impossible to surmount best show on television. I know I say that a lot, but I really, really mean it this time. Mad Men teaches historical and moral lessons without violently hitting the appropriate nails with clopping hobnail boots. It mixes genuine drama and documentarian productions without pointing fingers at its own incredible achievements. It allows the viewer to crawl inside the characters on deeper levels than most series television, but not against the apparent will of the emotionally stunted characters themselves.
Following the somewhat too on-the-nose historical cultural markers of season one, season two finds a more graceful and ironic way of pointing out how backwards the era was concerning medicine and many social issues (in modern eyes, at least). Again, the show doesn’t beg attention, and requires its audience to educate themselves in order to fully understand the reality of its production. If the audience isn’t willing to participate they don’t get to be a part of the magic, and that bravery and faith is why Mad Men is the best damn piece of boob-tube serialization, and until the creators find a shark to jump, it will likely go down historically. I’ve personally been forced to explore the history or the time and place beyond what the show has to offer, and have even uncovered some personal stories about the early 1960s from friends and family members that lived the era (see the set’s extras for some help in the historical learning department).
In-keeping with the show’s general refusal to adhere to modern television’s most common and tried traditions, Mad Men lacks a specific or obvious season arc. Fans and creators could argue that each season features an arcing theme, but the stories are on-going, opening and closing doors at will, not at the will of a 13 episode structure. This helps the series remain fresh, exciting, and above all, unpredictable. Some viewers will likely walk away from season two with an overall feeling of disappointment at the lack of closure, while the rest of us will find ourselves invigorated at the prospect of more stories to come. The closest the season comes to a traditional climax is the last episode’s ( Meditations on an Emergency) scene between Pete and Peggy, where she reveals the truth of the previous season’s pseudo-climax. If it wasn’t for everything else Mad Men had to offer an audience, this single scene would secure the show’s well earned best drama Emmy. The painfully interaction breaks down the walls both characters hide behind throughout the series, and the process is alarmingly humanistic following two seasons worth of cover-ups and lies. (The introduction of the Cuban Missile crisis during the final episode acts a bit more like a season starter than a season ender, in-keeping with the series avoidance of traditional season movements)
Superficially Mad Men is all about the appearance of perfection, and what better way to experience such perfection than through the prism of 1080p high definition video? Season two is a virtual match for the first season Blu-ray release, including all the same solid, hard edge colour schemes, antiseptic clarity, and soft transitional shades. Once again the emphasis is on almost mechanical subtly rather than attention grabbing, hard contrast hyperrealism. The colours are period specific, and thus bright without appearing neon, and the soft glow of the majority of the lighting schemes assures nothing bursts too far forth from the rest of the pastel pack. Occasionally the production crew aims to pop some of the more flashy clothing or other decorative elements, but most of the emphasis is on the frame as a whole rather than highlights. During darkened sequences the print displays a little digital noise, but grain is barely noticeable, and other artefacts are mostly absent. The less sharpened contrast and general look doesn’t lead to the most overwhelming details, but stylistically speaking this is a relatively perfect blend of the format’s best elements. Don’s poolside, outdoor adventures manage some detail and brightness increases, as he’s taken out of his (and in turn the audiences) world. These scenes will impress videophiles the most.
Again, in-keeping with the precedent set with the first season Blu-ray set this set isn’t going to blow anyone away in the audio department, and again, this is sort of the point. Mad Men is hardly about booming effects or music, it’s about what moves beneath the surface of all this skin. The DTS-HD Master Audio track picks up the worming conflicts with super-sharp clarity, and the subtle nature isn’t delegated only to the center channels. I didn’t catch too much in the rear channels other than incidental office and beach noise. Most importantly the dialogue is clear of any ounce of distortion, and the words are consistently natural. There are some interesting choices made concerning music, even a few non-period items, and they all sound full bodied, deftly separated, and supported by warm and punchy bass.
The extras begin with a whole lot of audio commentaries. The pairings are many and varied, including creator Matthew Weiner, actors Jon Hamm, January Jones, Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss, Dan Bishop, Amy Wells, Colin Hanks, Melinda McGraw, Phil Abraham, Mark Moses, Bryan Batt, Bob Levingson, writers Lisa Albert, Marie and Andre Jacquematton, Robin Veidth, Janie Bryant and directors Jennifer Getzinger, Mike Uppendahl. There are at least two commentaries per episode, which leads to a whole lot of information. It’s a lot to absorb, and there are many different opinions and angles on the series. The actors tend to be the least interested in the process, but are still often quite engaging in their playful behavior. The writers and directors are more informative from a production point of view, and offer a lot of historical information, which of course adds layers to the whole experience. Weiner’s work here is the most valuable, as the series head is surprisingly open concerning his process, which is surprisingly more slap-dash than I assumed it would be. Weiner’s also willing to divulge his take on the show’s more mysterious aspects.
Disc one also features another ‘music sampler’, which is a terrible teasing ad for the show’s second season soundtrack. The extra features eight 30 second clips of some of the season’s better aural bits.
Disc two features ‘The Birth of an Independent Woman’, (42:30, HD) two part historical featurette that covers the post-WWII rise of women in the workplace, using parts of the series and various expert interviewees along with archive footage to make some interesting points. Things start with the dehumanizing aspects of women becoming housewives, which period advertising played a big part in maintaining, then move on to the angst that lead to the rise of overmedication, the less subtle means of revolution, the parallels to other civil rights movements, revelations concerning women and orgasms, and the place of legal abortions in the whole mix. I’m not sure why the featurette needed to be split into two parts, but it’s still a fine little lesson, and a fine addition to the series itself.
Disc three features ‘An Era of Style’ (22:00, HD) is a more full bodied follow-up to season one’s ‘Pictures of Elegance’. Instead of an interactive slideshow with narration, this featurette covers the fashion of the early ‘60s from the point of views of the show, history, and modern designers. The featurette covers the fashion trends of the entirety of the ‘60s, from post-WWII housewives and straight-laced suits to full-on hippy oddness. It moves quickly, but it’s fascinating stuff (and that’s saying something coming from a guy that wears a T-shirt and jeans every day of the week). The disc also features an interactive timeline, which covers important historical events referenced throughout the season through video clips, featurettes, slide-shows and pop-up factoids.
Watch it. Buy it and watch it, on Blu-ray, DVD, even iTunes. The more the public makes their love and respect for television that expects them to think and participate, the more we’ll get of the same. And I’m not just talking further seasons of Mad Men, but shows like it. Any one that enjoyed Sam Mendes’ ode to early ‘60s strife Revolutionary Road should give the series a look from the beginning to really see how it’s done. The Blu-ray set is as good as can be expected based on the show’s style, and there are some great extras this time around, including a great two part featurette on the women’s rights movement, a featurette on the period style, an interactive historical timeline, and a total of 26 solid commentary tracks. Buy it and watch it.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 14th July 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Extras: Cast and Crew Commentaries, Music Sampler, Birth of an Independant Woman Parts 1 and 2, An Era of Style, Time Capsule
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks, Elisabeth Moss
Length: 611 minutes
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