Mad Men: Season Three [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (30th May 2010).
The Show

Is there a better cable show on TV right now than “Mad Men?” Possibly… but there aren’t many that I’d consider better – and of most of the “maybe betters”, I’d say that they’re really a “just as good as” type of show. My point being that, no there isn’t a whole lot out there that is better. “Mad Men” is one of the best things on the ‘tube these days, and that’s quite a feat considering that we’re living in a new golden age of television. Yeah, there’s a lot of crap on the programming schedule, but, remember, for every “American Idol” (2002-Present) and “Biggest Loser” (2004-Present) there’s been a “Six Feet Under” (2000-2005), “LOST” (2004-2010) or “Arrested Development” (2003-2006). “Mad Men” is a true gem, and will be remembered as one of the highlights of 21st century television.

I had this to say in my previous review:

[Certainly] the series is well written and engaging but, it is the costuming, music, set design, and authenticity in production, that take the series to the next level; not simply placing the characters into this world, but doing so in a way that is absolutely mesmerizing. “Mad Men” is made not just believable in its depiction of the time period, but is transformed into something else entirely... [this is] is not a show that takes place in the 1960's, it simply is that time period, in every way possible, and the actors embrace it fully. Everyone smokes, constantly. Anti-feminist attitudes, latent homophobia and racial tensions exude from the workplace. The vocabulary, pop culture references and the cultural values of the 60's are all part of this near-tangible, 3D world.

In its third season, “Mad Men” is even better – yes, better – than the two previous, already brilliant, seasons. It seems logical that the third season would pick up where season two left off, and basically that’s true. We don’t resume immediately from the cliffhanger ending of last season, but instead a few months later, amidst the restructuring that was being discussed in last year’s finale. Sterling Cooper’s new British owners, Putnam, Powell and Lowell have installed smooth talking executive Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) to over see the “transition of power” from old owners to the new. Basically, Pryce is there to cut costs, and fire anyone that isn’t deemed absolutely necessary to the success of the company.

One such indispensable would be “ad-man” and creative director of Sterling Cooper, Don Draper (Jon Hamm). This season we see Don at his most deplorable. He continues to cheat on his wife Betty (January Jones), a woman increasingly distressed with keeping up appearances in suburban life. The Draper residence is in for a few shakeups as Betty and Don welcome their new child, a baby boy, and an old one (because Grandpa Gene needs a place to stay in his ailing health) into their lives. The birth of one, and slow death of the other proves as a catalyst to Betty and Don’s already fragile relationship, which comes crumbling down when Betty, in a already uneasy state discovers Don’s “other life” – a secret he’s been keeping from her for near ten years, but we, as viewers, have been in on since the beginning – and this sends her into another mans arms and possibly down the road to divorce.

So things aren’t perfect in the Draper house – when are they? – but what of the office and a few of the other characters? The best way to put it is that things there are “equally troubled.” Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) thought he’d be getting a promotion to Head of Accounts when Mr. Pryce fired his boss, and he did – sort of. Campbell is forced to compete with his personal nemesis Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) for the position, when they are both promoted to the position of a provisionary basis. The job goes to Campbell or Cosgrove at an undetermined time, depending on what sort of clients they pull in, and whom, of the accounts they already have, they are able to keep happy. Things turn south for Sal (Bryan Batt) who has his closet door blown wide open when Don discovers him with another man on a business trip – an event that eventually leads to his firing. And Roger Sterling (John Slattery) is having serious second thoughts on whether it was the right decision to sell the company or not (along with suffering other personal dilemmas, such as finally realizing that he basically married a 20-something year old child (Peyton List) and had a perfectly good relationship with his first wife that he alone destroyed).

On the bright side, everyone’s favorite good-girl, Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is on the up and up. In season one, Peggy was but Don Draper’s lowly secretary. In season two, she was a mildly successful junior copyrighter. In season three, she’s not just one of Sterling Cooper’s most valuable creative minds, she’s a hot commodity, and is being wooed by old co-worker Duck Philips (Mark Moses) at a competing firm – an offer she seriously considers after Draper tells her that she’s worthless, and wouldn’t be anything if it weren’t for him (it’s the 60's what do you expect). I’m calling it right now: the mighty men of Madison Avenue fall (it’s inevitable), Peggy will be left standing tall and strong. On the flipside, busty redhead and former Head Secretary Joan (Christina Hendricks), once a woman at the top of her game, has left Sterling Cooper to be a doctors wife and birth many, many children for him. Only, said husband was denied Residency, and Joan has to go back to work – but not at Sterling Cooper.

Season three builds and builds to something bigger. That may sound unrewarding, and indeed there was a time (an agonizing thirteen and a half seconds between the loading of two episodes) that I was disappointed with the lack of plot resolution, but it’s actually not. In fact, the dense plotting and character development make this show even more rewarding once the credits roll on the final episode this season. Everything – and I mean, almost literally, everything – touched upon in the series up until that point comes to a fully realized climax in the final moments. The sale of Sterling Cooper, Roger and Don’s tumultuous work relationship, Pete’s uncertain loyalty to the company, Peggy’s self-actualization and realization that she is powerful and worth more than most, Joan’s rocky marriage and the Drapers broken one (and both of their infidelities), Don’s secret and dark past, even historical events which have been expertly interwoven into the storyline (this season sees, most importantly, the assassination of JKF)… basically everything important that has occurred in the past three seasons that remains unresolved, boils over to a breaking point. It. Is. Epic.

You’d think that this would mean the end for “Mad Men.” After all, if so much is confronted and openly discussed in “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”, what else is there to resolve, and why should the series continue? But, really, “Mad Men”, just like Peggy Olson, is only beginning to realize it’s potential. The show opens as many new avenues as it closed in the season finale, and I for one cannot wait to see what Matt Weiner and crew have in store for us. It’s sure to be, like all of the previous seasons, and especially season three, one hell of a ride.

All 13 episodes from “Mad Men’s” third season are included on 3 discs:

- "Out of Town"
Don and Sal travel to Baltimore where each makes new friends. Don discovers Sal’s secret after the hotel’s fire alarm goes off. Meanwhile, back in New York firings continue as Putnam Powell and Lowell prepare for their transition to power.

- "Love Among the Ruins"
Roger is hurt that his daughter Margaret doesn’t want him at her wedding. Betty’s ailing father Gene (Ryan Cutrona) arrives for an unexpected extended stay with the Drapers. And the Sterling Cooper team preps for a Patio presentation.

- "My Old Kentucky Home"
Roger and Jane throw a party for “Derby Day” where both Don and Betty make new acquaintances. Joan hosts a dinner for her husband Greg’s colleagues. Peggy joins Smitty, Paul and Paul’s pal Jeffery for a smoke.

- "The Arrangements"
Sterling Cooper nabs the jai alai account. Trapped to direct the Patio commercial, a nervous Sal reenacts the scene for her wife Kitty. After deciding that she wants to move into the city, Peggy searches for a new roommate. Gene collapses at the supermarket.

- "The Fog"
Struggling with Gene’s death, Sally gets into a fight at school and the Drapers are called by Miss Farrell to discuss her behavior. Duck Phillips courts Peter and Peggy for one of Sterling Coopers competitors, Grey Advertising. And Betty finally gives birth to the baby, who she names after her father.

- “…Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency…”
Putnam, Powell & Lowe arrives to announce the new hierarchy, but the plans are scotched. Joan celebrates her last day at the office. Conrad Hilton formally introduces himself to Don; Betty tries to broker peace between Sally and baby Gene.

- "Seven Twenty-Three"
Betty gets promoted in the Junior League just in time for the reservoir (and Henry Francis). To secure the Hilton account, Don signs a three-year contract. Two hitchhikers assault Don.

- "Souvenir"
Henry helps Betty get the reservoir project tabled by the town board. Betty joins Don in Rome, where she gets a chance to show off her Italian.

- "Wee Small Hours"
Don begins a relationship with Suzanne Farrell (Abigail Spencer); Betty strikes up a correspondence with Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley). Because he’s unwilling to reciprocate Lee Garner Jr.’s (Darren Pettie) advances, Sal gets fired after the agency determines that the Lucky Strike account is too big to lose.

- "The Color Blue"
Don meets Miss Farrel’s younger brother. The agency celebrates its 40th Anniversary. Paul decides Peggy is his competition, while Betty finds Don’s keys and discovers the contents of his private drawer.

- "The Gypsy and the Hobo"
An old flame of Roger looks to rekindle their romance. Don’s plan to spend time with Suzanne is interrupted when Betty returns early from her trip and demands he explain the contents of the box.

- "The Grown-Ups"
The assassination of John F. Kennedy and the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald rock the office and the nation. Betty sees Henry again at Margaret Sterling’s wedding, and then meets up with him later.

- “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”
Aware that PPL plans to sell Sterling Cooper to McCann, Don, Roger, Bert and Lane put their differences aside to band together and form their own agency. Meanwhile Betty peruses a divorce.

Video

There are few shows currently on Blu-ray – or, really, ever – that seriously contend with “Lost” (2004-2010) on a visual level. “Mad Men” does. It may not have the beautiful Hawaiian landscape as a backdrop, the action direction of Jack Bender, or the special effects of Kevin Blank (er, maybe that last one is a good thing), but what “Mad Men” lacks in “Lost”-like production value, it more than makes up in quality production design and a sense of pure-cinema rarely seen on television. “Mad Men” just is the 1960's – a colorful, textured decade, perfect for the clarity of high definition; this is especially true because of the conscious choices made by the series’ cinematographers, costumers and other creative mind to pack ever inch of the frame with intricate patterns and delightful, eye catching colors, all wrapped in a gorgeous atmosphere and framed tastefully and deliberately. The show is a glorious marvel of visual splendor, all dazzling in its Technicolor grandeur.

Lionsgate’s high definition 1080p 24/fps transfer then, encoded via AVC MPEG-4 compression and presented in the original broadcast ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen, is as close to perfect as I imagine possible with Blu-ray. Sharp, detailed, bright and clean, the third season of “Mad Men” is among the best I’ve ever seen on the format. That’s not hyperbole, that’s a fact. The show is so sharp you can see the tiny wrinkles around people’s eyes even in medium shots. Focus is excellent too, and the 35mm photography has almost limitless depth. At times the image is so clear you can see the individual brush strokes on the painting in Draper’s office, the grain of the paneling on his wall, and the stray bits of fabric on his couch. Costumes too are ripe for HD – the women are patterned in bright hues, primarily greens and popping reds, and the men sport pinstriped and checker-boarded suits that crackle with detail.

A delicate, unobtrusive grain structure is finely preserved, reminding that the series is still shot on celluloid – if only just. No edge-enhancement, no noise reduction – nothing unappealing what so ever. No noise. No banding. No fringing, even on the reddest of reds or bluest of blues. Blacks are deep, but shadow details are well resolved. Softness isn’t a bother. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about this release. Believe it or not, the blu-ray transfer of “Mad Men: Season Three” is, in my opinion, perfect in everyway.

Audio

For the most part, my comments from my review of season two hold steady. Here’s what I wrote in that section:

“Mad Men” is not going to blow your socks off, or rattle your walls. It’s just not. But, as long as you don’t expect it to shake your fillings loose with earth-splitting bass or an immersive wall-of-sound that rivals the latest “Transformers” (2007) film, I think most will be pleasantly surprised by the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio (48kHz/24-bit) track that Lionsgate has outfitted this 3-disc Blu-ray release with.

A dialogue heavy program, the mix is front focused but crisp, stable and well separated between score, effects and speech. There’s a nice clarity to the whole package, with wide, supportive range noticeably present whenever the show works in a musical underscore, no matter if it’s period music or David Carbonara’s original material. “Mad Men” is clean sounding, with sharp, undistorted dialogue, and nicely balanced volume and tone. Undoubtedly, it’s a show with an understated soundtrack but this Blu-ray does certifiable justice to the material, and is probably the best “Mad Men” has ever, and will ever, sound.

There are a few episodes in season three – or at least parts of episodes – that are a more robust, and generally more engaging to the auditory senses than what was featured in season two. This is particularly true of episode three, “My Kentucky Home”, thanks to its lively, atmospheric exterior setting and support of source music from the band that entertains the party guests. “Mad Men” still doesn’t overpower you and encompass a full 360-degree soundstage one hundred percent of the time, but it’s no slouch either. Subtitles are offered in English and Spanish.

Extras

As with seasons past, “Mad Men: Season Three” arrives on Blu-ray with an almost ridiculous amount of bonus material – I say almost ridiculous, because really, the stuff on these “Mad Men” Blu-ray's usually ends up being some of the most fulfilling supplemental material of the year. Each episode includes at least one audio commentary (and many have two tracks), and the 3-disc set also contains two enthralling documentaries, two worthwhile featurettes and an interactive photo gallery. All video based material is presented in high definition.

DISC ONE:

“Mad Men” audio commentaries – like previous “Mad Men” Blu-rays, season three includes at least one commentary track per episode, and they are all high quality and worth a listen. Time constrains prohibited me from listening to all 22 tracks (that’s a whopping 1000-plus minutes just in commentary alone), but I sampled many of them and listened to a few of the discussions headed by Matt Weiner in their entirety and from that, combined with the knowledge that previous seasons contain superb commentaries by many of the same people, I can surmise that this whole package is totally worthwhile. The actor tracks are much lighter and less technical – and nearly the opposite is true of the production commentaries – but both sets of participants have a conversational tone and don’t drone on and on. It really comes down to the type of discussion one prefers – if you want light, airy and jokey, go with the actors. If you would like to know how the series is actually made, go with the technical. Luckily, most episodes include both, so viewers won’t be forced one way or the other. The commentaries on disc one include:

- Audio commentary with actors Vincent Kartheiser, Aaron Staton, Bryan Batt and Rich Sommer on “Out of Town”.

- Audio commentary with creator Matt Weiner, cinematographer Phil Abraham and composer David Carbonara on “Out of Town”.

- Audio commentary with writer/creator Matt Weiner and actors Elisabeth Moss, Michael Gladis and Jared Harris on “Love Among the Ruins”.

- Audio commentary with actors Elisabeth Moss and Janie Bryant on “My Old Kentucky Home”.

- Audio commentary with producers Matt Weiner and Dahvi Waller on “My Old Kentucky Home”.

- Audio commentary with Matt Weiner and actors Kiernan Shipka and Ryan Cutrona on “The Arrangement”.

- Audio commentary with Matt Weiner, production designer Dan Bishop and cinematographer Phil Abraham on “The Fog”.

“Mad Men Illustrated” (1080i, 14 minutes 1 second) is one of two featurettes included on the Blu-ray. Graphic Designer Dyna Moe discusses her love for the series, friendship with star Rich Sommer and the “celebrity status” that she’s attained on the web because of her artwork featuring the characters of “Mad Men.”

Bookmarks. Lionsgate includes the ability to bookmark you favorite scenes at the push of a button. They’ve also employed Java to offer a "SeasonPlay" like experience, but I could only get it to work from disc to disc, and not episode to episode, although that wasn’t a problem as I burnt through each disc in one sitting (yes, the show is that good).

DISC TWO:

“Mad Men” audio commentaries – like previous “Mad Men” Blu-rays, season three includes at least one commentary track per episode, and they are all high quality and worth a listen. Time constrains prohibited me from listening to all 22 tracks (that’s a whopping 1000-plus minutes just in commentary alone), but I sampled many of them and listened to a few of the discussions headed by Matt Weiner in their entirety and from that, combined with the knowledge that previous seasons contain superb commentaries by many of the same people, I can surmise that this whole package is totally worthwhile. The actor tracks are much lighter and less technical – and nearly the opposite is true of the production commentaries – but both sets of participants have a conversational tone and don’t drone on and on. It really comes down to the type of discussion one prefers – if you want light, airy and jokey, go with the actors. If you would like to know how the series is actually made, go with the technical. Luckily, most episodes include both, so viewers won’t be forced one way or the other. The commentaries on disc two include:

- Audio commentary with actors Christina Hendricks and Jared Harris on “…Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency…”.

- Audio commentary with Matt Weiner and episode director Lesli Linka Glatter on “…Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency…”.

- Audio commentary with writers André Jacquemetton and Maria Jacquemetton on “Seven Twenty-Three”.

- Audio commentary with Matt Weiner, actor Robert Morse and consultants Josh Weltman and Bob Levinson on “Seven Twenty-Three”.

- Audio commentary with Matt Weiner, actor Vincent Kartheiser and producer/writer Lisa Albert on “Souvenir”.

- Audio commentary with actors Jon Hamm, Bryan Batt and Chelcie Ross on “Wee Small Hours”.

- Audio commentary with Matt Weiner and producer Scott Hornbacher on “Wee Small Hours”.

“Cleaning the Air: The History of Cigarette Advertising” (1080i, 45 minutes 26 seconds) is the first of two excellent documentaries included with this season. “Cleaning the Air” takes a look at the world of the “cancer stick” (cigarette) – providing both a historical context of the product and offering a closer glimpse inside the “art” of advertising them, particularly during the 1960's. This documentary is really the perfect fit for “Mad Men”, because almost every character lights up a cig at least once in each episode across the three seasons.

“Flashback 1963” is a sprawling interactive photo gallery full of advertisements, images of events, people, products, politics and important facets in pop culture from the year of season three – 1963. (HD)

Bookmarks. Lionsgate includes the ability to bookmark you favorite scenes at the push of a button. They’ve also employed Java to offer a "SeasonPlay" like experience, but I could only get it to work from disc to disc, and not episode to episode, although that wasn’t a problem as I burnt through each disc in one sitting (yes, the show is that good).

DISC THREE:

“Mad Men” audio commentaries – like previous “Mad Men” Blu-rays, season three includes at least one commentary track per episode, and they are all high quality and worth a listen. Time constrains prohibited me from listening to all 22 tracks (that’s a whopping 1000-plus minutes just in commentary alone), but I sampled many of them and listened to a few of the discussions headed by Matt Weiner in their entirety and from that, combined with the knowledge that previous seasons contain superb commentaries by many of the same people, I can surmise that this whole package is totally worthwhile. The actor tracks are much lighter and less technical – and nearly the opposite is true of the production commentaries – but both sets of participants have a conversational tone and don’t drone on and on. It really comes down to the type of discussion one prefers – if you want light, airy and jokey, go with the actors. If you would like to know how the series is actually made, go with the technical. Luckily, most episodes include both, so viewers won’t be forced one way or the other. The commentaries on disc three include:

- Audio commentary with actors Elisabeth Moss, Michael Gladis and Jared Harris on “The Color Blue”.

- Audio commentary with Matt Weiner and director Mike Uppendahl on “The Color Blue”.

- Audio commentary with actors Christina Hendricks, John Slattery and director Jennifer Getzinger on “The Gypsy and the Hobo”.

- Audio commentary with Jon Hamm and Matt Weiner on “The Gypsy and the Hobo”.

- Audio commentary with Vincent Kartheiser, Alison Brie and John Slattery on “The Grown-ups”.

- Audio commentary with Matt Weiner, producer Blake McCormick and writer Brett Johnson on “The Grown-ups”.

- Audio commentary with actors Jon Hamm, Robert Morse and John Slattery on “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”.

- Audio commentary with Matt Weiner and writer Erin Levy on “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”.

“Medgar Evers: An Unsung Hero” (HD, 1 hour 10 minutes 28 seconds) this documentary is a portrait of the civil rights crusader whose 1963 murder is referenced in episode five, “The Fog.” Family, friends and fellow activists discuss the man, set against vintage photos, film and audio. This is another excellent documentary, well worth the price of admission.

Finally, “We Shall Overcome: The March on Washington” (1080i, 16 minutes 56 seconds) is another historical featurette, set against the entirety of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” in audio form, with photos and other images of the March on the Capital.

Bookmarks. Lionsgate includes the ability to bookmark you favorite scenes at the push of a button. They’ve also employed Java to offer a "SeasonPlay" like experience, but I could only get it to work from disc to disc, and not episode to episode, although that wasn’t a problem as I burnt through each disc in one sitting (yes, the show is that good).

Packaging

The three-disc set comes packaged inside a surprisingly slim Elite style case. Each dual layer BD-50 is mounted on a flipper. A 4-page episode guide is also included. “Mad Men: Season Three” is region free.

Overall

Absolutely stupendous is how I’d describe “Mad Men’s” third season, which somehow manages the impossible – to improve upon previous perfection. The Blu-ray is a winner for sure, with reference quality video, excellent audio and more extras than even the most hardcore fan could want. Truly a Must Own for any “Mad Men” fan.

The Show: A+ Video: A+ Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: A+

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.