Is "Mad Men" about the 1960s? Or is it about 2012?
According to creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner, it's about both. His goal is to make the AMC show set in the mid-1960s relatable to 21st-century viewers.
"Where I write from is what I'm feeling," he said. "And I just have this feeling right now of enough already! Let's just get our feet on the ground and go back to the way it was. A big part of the season is that sort of trying to hold on."
Mad Maniacs who tune in to Sunday's two-hour fifth-season premiere are going to have to hold on. As usual, the narrative has jumped forward in time, and it's going to take a while to figure out what's happening.
It's not giving anything away to say there have been some big changes in the lives of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and the people who surround him. And not all those changes have been for the better.
"There's a line in the third episode where somebody says, 'When is everything going to get back to normal?' " Weiner said. "I think there's a feeling of being in the midst of change, which [is] where we are right now. And certainly where they are in the show."
Because of protracted negotiations between Weiner and AMC, it's been 17 months since Season 4 ended. Weiner said it was touch-and-go if there would even be a Season 5.
"I'm not going to lie," he said. "There was a point when I really knew that the show might not happen and was convinced that it wouldn't. And the fact that we got to go back to work was just a shot of energy. Usually, people get really tired and bored by Season 5, and the drama of almost losing it really made it feel like we were starting over again."
"Mad Men" remains a character drama that doesn't depend on fireworks to move the narrative along.
"The challenge is to not do something insane to juice the story," said Weiner, who said he draws from his own life and the lives of his writing staff. "I get to use those life events as story. And we just try and keep it in that realm. And then I don't have to worry about being visited by a spaceship or something."
A couple of themes that emerge from Sunday's episode are timeless. As we move even further along in the 1960s Season 4 ended in 1965 the characters age and the generation gap widens. Don and Roger (John Slattery) are, essentially, men of the 1950s who don't quite know what to make of the changes going on around them.
On the other hand, there are Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and Megan (Jessica Pare), who are part of the 1960s on the other side of a widening generation gap. And the boiling energy of the civil-rights movement comes to Sterling Cooper Draper Price in an unexpected and incredibly clever way.
One thing that hasn't changed is that "Mad Men" is about nuance. Weiner isn't standing on a soapbox preaching, he's telling stories about people who are affected by the world around them.
As are we all, whether we like it or not.
"I love that feeling of right when I think I'm on top of something, right when I think I have things where I know where they are, right when I think I have some wisdom from life experience, you just sort of feel things slip away," he said. "That's this sensation that I think people have right now. I know I do."
"Mad Men" returns with a two-hour episode on Sunday, March 25, at 7, 9:08 and 11:16 p.m. on AMC.
Cocktails to inspire
To lubricate your "Mad Men" viewing party, we've collected three cocktail recipes crafted by local mixers. Visit http://bit.ly/GD3iDc.