What more to say in admiration of "Mad Men," returning to AMC this Sunday? The depths of this shockingly good period drama have been so thoroughly plumbed by critics that the only thing left for me to discuss is the hidden star of the show, something designed to go unnoticed unless you squint.
When Season Two launched last year, I noticed a handful of new wrinkles to characters I'd grown to love/loathe in the first cycle. For one, Don Draper is soft and domesticated, seeking solace in foreign films, until he gets his mojo back by way of sexual assault. Joan Holloway's confidence has gained a brittle, desperate edge as she becomes less of a person, in the terms of her era, and more of an object. Everybody hates everybody at Sterling Cooper -- Sal, Ken, Paul and Harry dine out on each other's misfortune, and there's not much veneer of camaraderie overlaying the bile. (Unless you count Sal's fondness for Ken, and that's essentially a crush.) Betty Draper's encounters with peers outside her suburban Rapunzel tower — a divorcée in Season One, a roommate-turned-escort this time around — raise the possibility of a life without her faithless spouse, built on her own guile and sex appeal.
But I was stumped by any attempt to write a love letter to the only show I consume faithfully. The late Andrew Johnston and his collaborator Matt Zoller Seitz had already shed the fullest possible light on Season Two in their coverage for The House Next Door, a recap/analysis I always looked forward to after the latest episode aired. So I looked again at what I'd detected in the series, and saw that I was being pointed toward certain revelations by the camera itself.
I hope you gain something from the video essay that resulted -- it offers no major insights, but it was fun for my first stab at the form. Oh, and if anybody's got tips for how to avoid a jerky frame rate in DVD Ripper Standard for Mac, drop me a line.