The hermetic world of Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men became richer and more alluring in the series’ second season, 13 episodes that offered so many surprising moments and dramatic revelations that the Cuban Missile Crisis, the background for the season finale, seemed almost anticlimactic by comparison. As was true in season one, action at the Sterling Cooper ad agency was front-and-center, but season two spent more time in the home, revealing the deep fissures in Don and Betty Draper’s (Jon Hamm and January Jones) marriage and offering glimpses of several secondary characters’ private lives, some for the first time. (Though the angst-ridden Don is clearly the show’s main character, it is a measure of the writers’ and actors’ achievements that it feels strange to describe some of the other roles as “secondary.”)
After working with four cinematographers on the show’s first season, Weiner tapped one, Christopher Manley, ASC, to shoot season two. Twice nominated for ASC awards for his work in episodic television, Manley beautifully honed Mad Men’s distinctive visuals, earning his first primetime Emmy Award nomination (for the episode “The New Girl”) in the process. It’s another tribute to Manley’s success that Weiner kept him aboard for season three, which is currently on the air.
That makes it just a little disappointing that Manley is nowhere to be found on this recently released boxed set of Mad Men: Season Two, a package that uses a generous array of supplements — almost 30 hours’ worth! — to spotlight artists involved with nearly every facet of the production, including writing, acting, directing, producing, production design, set decoration, costume design, music, postproduction and sound editing. Weiner and Lions Gate Home Video are to be commended for including so much behind-the-scenes talent in this presentation, and Mad Men fans who have already parsed season two again and again will enjoy the whole new batch of minutiae revealed by crew and cast in their audio commentaries.
There are two audio-commentary tracks per episode, and the participating actors include regulars (such as Hamm, Jones, Vincent Kartheiser and Elisabeth Moss) as well as guest stars (Joel Murray, Mark Moses, Melinda McGraw and Colin Hanks). Weiner offers or shares a commentary on almost every episode, and his remarks do much to dispel the ambiguity the show so carefully cultivates. (That’s not a complaint, by the way.) For example, if you’re still scratching your head over Pete’s season-finale confession to Peggy, Weiner will point out exactly when Pete begins to fall in love with her. (Hint: They’re discussing Clearasil.)
Listening to Weiner’s audio commentaries is as entertaining as watching the show itself. In addition to clarifying and elaborating on the thematic elements at work in each episode, he shares details about his writing process, his collaboration with the show’s writers and directors, and the painstaking research that goes into every episode. Other commentary participants include directors Phil Abraham, Michael Uppendahl, Jennifer Getzinger and Lesli Linka Glatter; writers Robin Veith and Kater Gordon; composer David Carbonara; production designer Dan Bishop; set decorator Amy Wells; and advertising consultant Bob Levinson.
The other supplements on this DVD are geared toward situating Mad Men in the proper historical context. The 42-minute documentary featurette “Birth of an Independent Woman” illuminates the rise of Feminism; the 20-minute documentary featurette “An Era of Style,” introduced by Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant, surveys the fashions of the 1960s; and several short “Time Capsule” segments examine people, places and things referenced by the show in season two. (Subjects include Marilyn Monroe, a controversial episode of “The Defenders” that focused on abortion, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Maidenform bras and the restaurants Lutèce and Sardi’s.) Rounding out the extras is an audio supplement, a sampler of songs featured in the season.