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John Slattery and Jon Hamm in a scene from Mad Men. (AMC)
John Slattery and Jon Hamm in a scene from Mad Men. (AMC)

Television

Mad Men returns: Do you want to know a secret? Add to ...

That knowledge gap between viewer and character drives the drama on Mad Men, but as Season 5 beckons, so do sexual liberation and psychotherapy. In their early seasons, Betty and Don seemed a perfectly matched pair when it came to emotional repression and a fatal lack of self-knowledge. But in season four, she was finally talking to her daughter’s therapist while Don was recording his feelings in a diary.

Who would Don Draper be if, liberated from his secret past, he integrated his psychic compartments and joyfully embraced an honest present? The answer is actually an alarming one for the future of Mad Men: He would be somebody much less dramatic.

Mad Men: A short account of the story so far

Season 1: Philosophizing and philandering ad man Don Draper has a high-flying career at alcohol-soaked Sterling Cooper, an unhappy wife in the suburbs, a bohemian mistress in the city, and a secret past: He swapped dog tags with a dead soldier in the Korean War. Account executive Pete Campbell, a nasty, blue-blood climber, does not succeed in blackmailing Don with that info – but does manage to seduce Don’s new secretary, Peggy Olson, who hides the pregnancy and will give up the baby.

Season 2: Don has another affair; wife Betty throws him out, has revenge sex, takes him back and gets pregnant with their third child, while the agency is threatened by a merger with a British firm. Office manager Joan Holloway marries a doctor, while her former lover, agency partner Roger Sterling, divorces his wife for a 20-year-old.

Season 3: Don conspires with Roger and new British partner Lane Pryce to escape the clutches of their unsympathetic new owners and start up their own agency, with the recently departed Joan back at the helm, and rising copy writer Peggy ever faithful to her unappreciative boss. Pursued by an older man, the political aide Henry Francis, Betty divorces Don and jets off to Reno with their new baby and her new boyfriend in tow.

Season 4: When Joan’s husband departs for Vietnam, she turns to Roger and soon finds herself pregnant, leaving audiences debating whether she has gone through with an abortion. Miserable with the punitive Betty, Don’s daughter Sally runs away from home to be with him. The new agency suffers a serious blow when it loses the Lucky Strike account. Don finally recognizes Peggy’s professional worth; but it is his new secretary, Megan, to whom he proposes.

Kate Taylor

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