August 7, 2009 / 8:46 PM / 10 years ago

"Mad Men" still spellbinding

Cast member Jon Hamm (R) smiles next to co-stars January Jones (C) and Elisabeth Moss during a panel for the AMC television series "Mad Men" at the Television Critics Association 2008 summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California July 9, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Even with all the loose ends left dangling in the finale last year, is there a “Mad Men” fan in God’s creation that actually believes the show’s Season 3 premiere on AMC Sunday is going to tie each and every one of them up in pretty bows?

As two seasons of “Mad Men” are enough to indicate, that is not series creator Matthew Weiner’s way. The “Sopranos” alumnus graduated from the David Chase School of Storytelling. You not only don’t give the viewers what they want, you confound them by toying with their expectations. Maybe you even make them question those expectations in the first place. Want tidy resolutions to cliffhangers? Go watch “Desperate Housewives.”

Weiner certainly had his pick of explosive story lines to detonate. We already know Don Draper (Jon Hamm) has re-entered family life after wife Betty (January Jones) tells him she is pregnant with their third child; she hasn’t told him of the torrid one-night stand committed in retribution for Don’s own infidelities. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) has finally told Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) of their child she gave up. Joan (Christina Hendricks) is to marry the man who raped her on the office floor. Sterling Cooper is on the verge of being reshaped in the wake of its merger to British ad agency Putnam Powell Lowe. Roger Sterling (John Slattery) has renounced his marriage to marry a comely young secretary.

All that should be revealed about the third-season premiere is that some of these sleeping dogs are roused, some are not. Some aren’t even acknowledged. That’s about as much detail as should be given rather than risk spoiling the fun (such is the peril of writing a “Mad Men” review, to risk telling too much even by saying what doesn’t happen).

Perhaps the only predictable element of “Mad Men” is that the premiere is a return to form, the series is as spellbinding and elusive as Draper himself. If “Mad Men” is making some kind of significant creative recalibration this season, there’s no evidence available in this episode.

The only significant new element to be found is the addition to the cast of Jared Harris as Putnam’s financial officer, Lane Pryce. Together with Pryce’s assistant, John Hooker (Ryan Cartwright), the interlopers’ mere presence at Sterling Cooper carries a menacing undercurrent before either even so much as opens their mouths. The inevitable consequence of a merger being no different in 1963 or 2009, this installment of “Mad Men” reverberates in our recession-rocked era more so than the usual episode.

Editing by DGoodman at Reuters

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