Last night's episode Mad Men, the third of season five, was the first time that Jon Hamm (who plays Don Draper) directed an entire show. While the episode should have brought the season to life, especially because the two-hour season premier failed to inject any energy into the long-awaited return of the franchise, Hamm's directorial debut was tedious, drawn out, and ultimately, a snooze-fest.
As the show's hour passed, not a single plot point amounted to anything of substance. Instead, viewers were asked to wallow in a few small interactions between characters on the show. We, as viewers, can only assume that what transpired during the episode will have greater meaning in later episodes because it certainly held no meaning by the end of last night's show.
Story line aside, Hamm's directorial debut failed to lift the franchise back up onto its feet and give the viewers something to be excited about. Even in the opening shot, when Betty Draper (played by January Jones) made her return to the small screen for the first time in years, the excitement of a returning cast member was stifled by hanging shots of excruciatingly inane dialogue. The strewn out scenes featuring Betty that were central to the episode failed to add depth to the story even by the show's end.
The entire episode was just another broad-stroked preface to the quarreling that will take place over the coming weeks. Establishing tension before a debacle unfolds is a necessary function, but Hamm (and perhaps the writers) failed to dive right into the tangled web of politics all the fans of the show miss so dearly.
For someone that I adore and I've worked with and I trust, it was nice to be his hands, I guess, just to lean on if I had questions. You're not always given that, Jones said prior to the show's broadcast. When you do television, you have lots of different directors coming in and out and you don't always have the opportunity to ask them questions because they don't know your character better than you do, so it's kind of difficult. But it was awesome, he did such an amazing job. I was so proud of him.
Perhaps Hamm allowed the actors and actresses to become too comfortable. Rather than drawing raw emotion from his colleagues, perhaps Hamm allowed them to act a little too much like themselves -- not the character they're being paid to perform as.
In Sunday's episode, none of the detailed, albeit simple, dialogue amounted to anything, and viewers were forced to sit back and watch scenes we'd seen practically dozens of times before. I admit, the writers ultimately control the dialogue in the script, but the inconsequential conversations that took place during last night's episode could have at least been emoted in a more enthusiastic fashion. I didn't feel anything for the characters because I didn't learn anything new. Each of the actors and actresses put on the same face that we've already seen innumerable times before.
Pete is still vying for the respect he feels he deserves; we've known this since the early seasons; Roger is still protective of his hard-earned, well-established reputation; we've also known that for several season; even the tension between Roger and Pete that briefly addressed became just another prelude to future episodes. The same goes for Betty's interaction with Don -- we learned nothing new about their relationship. Don remains stoic in stressful situations and Betty is emotionally fragile. The only difference is this time she had a benign tumor (at least that's what she told her new husband, Henry Francis). Viewers have seen these characters emote those exact dispositions dozens of times before. The last thing any Mad Men fan is looking for is more of the same.
The only new idea that was introduced during the show, the new character, the young Jewish copywriter, didn't add any real pizzazz to the episode. Hamm failed to draw a certain level of energy from the actors and actresses that's required to renergise the series. His vision fell short because of the blandness he signed off on. The extruciatingly slow pace of the show may not entirely be Hamm's fault -- after all, he's not the creator of the show -- but for the avid Mad Men fan that's waited year's for the show to hit airwaves again, it's unfortunate that we'll have to cross our fingers for one more week before Mad Men tugs at our hearts in true form.