Seventeen months: In life, it's a decent chunk of time. On TV, it's an eternity. That's how long it's been since AMC's "Mad Men" has aired a new episode. In that time, acclaimed dramas like "Breaking Bad," "Game of Thrones," and "Boardwalk Empire" have submitted stellar seasons, so it's understandable if you've forgotten about the good people over at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. But make no mistake: "Mad Men" is TV's best show, and proves it with a densely packed two-hour premiere so finely crafted, it makes every minute of the wait worth it.
Alas, we've been sworn to secrecy by "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner, so we can't divulge too many details about this week's long-awaited Season 5 premiere. (Oh, how we wish we could!) But there's still plenty to talk about regarding the new season -- and seasons to come. Last week, we took part in a roundtable discussion with Weiner and the cast of "Mad Men," and came away with five things to watch for this season.
They want to say 'Thanks for waiting'
Weiner sees the supersized premiere as a sort of thank-you gift to patient viewers: "It was like, 'We've been away a long time. Here's something extra… I hope you'll get back into it by getting all of it at once.'" Star Jon Hamm thinks the long layoff actually had its benefits: "People came back with a renewed sense of excitement… In many ways, it felt like Season 1." And even the tight-lipped Weiner allows that the premiere contains "quite a bit of showmanship… There's some stuff we haven't done before." We can vouch for that, but it's mostly business as usual at SCDP: One employee fears they're going to be fired after an off-color comment, another considers an infidelity (shocker, we know), and two partners almost come to blows. That's not saying too much, is it, Matt?
The times, they are a-changin'
If Season 4 marked the beginning of the '60s as we know them, Season 5 takes us even further into the tumultuous era. For the first time on the show, the civil rights struggle comes to the forefront -- and (literally) into the SCDP lobby. A lavish party hints at the growing divide between the generations, and Don Draper knows which side he stands on. "He's getting old," Hamm says of his character, "in a culture where that's not necessarily a good thing… The younger generation is rapidly taking the reins." And Roger Sterling is in the same boat, according to co-star John Slattery, now that Lucky Strike has left the agency. "That power position he had there, holding the golden goose, has changed… He's in a precarious position." Bad news for geezers like Don and Roger… but good news for whippersnappers like Pete and Peggy.
Yes, Megan is still around
Don shocked everyone (us included) by impulsively popping the question to his beautiful secretary, Megan, in last season's finale. And since Jessica Paré is listed in the Season 5 cast credits, it's safe to say that Don didn't just abandon her on the streets of Manhattan like Duck's poor dog, Chauncey. Hamm confirms that Megan is still a part of Don's life, saying this season they experience some "residual growing pains, figuring each other out… They don't know each other very well." We don't know Megan that well, either: Look for her to show off a talent in the premiere we never knew she had. (Here's a hint: You do remember she speaks French, don't you?)
Jon Hamm steps behind the camera
Hamm's not only the star of "Mad Men," he's now a producer on the show as well, and steps into the director's chair for the first time this season. It marks Hamm's first attempt at directing in any form, he says, "if you discount the scene-study class I did at junior college." And he gained a unique perspective from the experience. "I'm pretty familiar with how TV works, but you never really know it until you're sitting behind the monitors, setting up a shot. But it was a challenge that I was happy to try and overcome." Look for Hamm's directorial debut next week in Episode 3; Slattery, who helmed two Season 4 episodes, directs this season's fifth installment.
There's even more to come
The best news for "Mad Men" fans: No more negotiations! After a contentious contract battle, Weiner is signed for two more seasons after this one, which will conclude the series. And the "Mad Men" mastermind already has some ideas about how it'll all wrap up. "I have an image for how it will end… It's something as small as the end of last season, with Don in bed and Megan asleep on his chest and he turns to look out the window. It's something that specific that you're working towards. When I start each season, I have a beginning, a middle, and an end." Lucky for us, we're still firmly in the middle of "Mad Men," with a lot more to come before the end.
The season premiere of "Mad Men" airs Sunday, 3/25 at 9 PM on AMC.