Matthew Weiner and the cast of "Mad Men'"are less than a week away from learning if they will make Emmy Award history. If the AMC serial set in the golden age of advertising wins the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy on Sunday, it will break the record for the most consecutive Emmys ever awarded a show in that category: Right now, the basic cable favorite is tied with The West Wing for four Emmys in as many years, having won every year since its 2008 debut. The West Wing took home the Emmy from 2000-2003 before finally giving up the prize to The Sopranos.
"Mad Men" faces its stiffest competition from its own network and a newcomer, respectively: "Breaking Bad" is back on the nominee list after being deemed ineligible last year; and Showtime's "Homeland" makes its Emmy debut, fresh on the heels of its Golden Globe win in January.
"Mad Men" is proof positive that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences isn't afraid to reward a deserving newcomer: Anyone who has watched Homeland can attest to the spy drama's ability to bring you to the edge of your seat, and keep you there for a full hour, again and again. And while Mad Men will continue for two more seasons (heavens only knows when), Breaking Bad has only one more chance at Emmy gold - 2013's demi-season will be its last. Though Mad Men broke new dramatic ground in season 5, and has clearly established itself as an Academy favorite, one thing it can't count on is the pathos vote. Is Weiner right to worry the Academy might hold the show's winning streak against him?
"I think the biggest threat is people feel like someone else should have a chance, Weiner told TVline.com in July. "All I can say is that as far as we're concerned, we did our best work this past season. I hope they don't just, like, say, 'Oh, that's enough for them.' I hope they really look at the show."
According to Hollywood award site GoldDerby.com, AMC submitted six "Mad Men" episodes for Emmy consideration: Signal 30, The Other Woman, Commission And Fees, Far Away Places, At the Codfish Ball, and The Phantom. As we opined in our recap of The Other Woman, it is sure to be remembered as one of the show's finest episodes ever - ranking alongside season 4's The Suitcase, which helped Mad Men clinch the trophy in 2011. While the indecent proposal in The Other Woman brought jaws to the floor, Weiner tempered the shock value by mining the precarious gender politics of the Mad Men era with deep insight and sensitivity. While a certain plot point involves a forbidden mix of business and pleasure, the episode's overall pacing and art direction perfectly blend the professional with the personal, climaxing in a harsh but inalienable truth: Like it or not, sex sells.
But did Mad Men really do its best work this season as Weiner says, or did the show trudge too bleakly into the oblique? Don Draper's charm has always been his peculiar way of keeping his audience at arm's length without letting us feel the weight of his distance. Now, Megan feels like she's standing between us and Don in a way that Betty Draper never did - it's harder than ever to feel a connection to Don, and impossible to feel one for Megan. This wouldn't be as much of a grievance if Megan and Don's love was something you could get behind. But I'm not even sure you can call it love. Ever since Megan arrived on Madison Avenue, there's been a nagging hint that she may not be exactly who or what she claims to be. But Weiner held back from delivering on any of the quietly sinister suggestions of the season's early episodes, favoring instead the trajectory of Lane Pryce's shocking but not entirely surprising free fall.
This is not the first time Weiner has ended a season of Mad Men in a holding pattern. But it is the first time Mad Men has competed against a show as fresh and engaging as Homeland, or been challenged by Breaking Bad at its best. In this faceoff, expect the new(er) kid in town to come out on top.