The third season of AMC’s utterly fantastic and virtually faultless Mad Men marked a turning point for the series in a number of ways. Huge changes take place during this season, including farewells to central characters, breakdowns of relationships and overhauls in the offices of Sterling Cooper.
Season 3, for the series, was the time to focus on relationships. Those integral friendships and romances between the characters took centre-stage, in the process revealing a great deal about some previously under-represented personages. To kick things off, Roger Sterling (John Slattery) married Don’s secretary, Jane (Peyton List), and at the wedding reception, Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Trudy (Alison Brie) took the limelight, performing a hugely entertaining Charlston-esque routine, cementing their relationship for the season to come, and dispelling all the previous hints that Campbell is not happy in his marriage. Trudy also became, for me, immensely more likeable in this season, from her newly revitalised character down to her wardrobe, and has taken up her place as one of Mad Men‘s leading women.
Clearly over Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Campbell leaves her to pursue a relationship with Duck (Mark Moses), who we see from the beginning is bad news: Duck is an alcoholic and attempts to buy Peggy’s affection in an effort to further his own career, and is therefore a thoroughly despicable character. Their intimate scenes together leave a sour taste in the mouth, as we can clearly see that Peggy enjoys the fact that someone is paying her attention (considering herself as somewhat of an ugly duckling), yet she knows subconsciously that something is not right. This leads to her later confession to Campbell about their baby, leaving him confused about his relationship with Trudy all over again.
Another interesting development is the relationship between Sal (Bryan Batt) and his wife Kitty (Sarah Drew), who seems increasingly suspicious of his sexual orientation, especially after his effeminate impersonation of the infamous Ann-Margaret routine to Bye-Bye Birdie. Sal’s true identity is revealed in an episode where he comes close to an affair with a hotel bellboy, which Don inadvertently witnesses, assuring Sal that he will remain silent. Don keeps his promise, but Lee Gardner Jr, a Lucky Strike executive, later makes a move on Sal, who declines the invitation, and this ultimately costs him his job. Don fires Sal over the incident, and although difficult to understand given Don’s earlier sympathy, this is an example of Mad Men‘s unfailing honesty about social-political feelings at the time.
Joan (Christina Hendricks) and her husband Greg (Samuel Page) are portrayed as a troubled couple, with his continued misfortune at work, and her having to return after a Farewell party at Sterling-Cooper, weighing down on their relationship. Joan remains one of my favourite characters, her screen-presence and beautiful costume design acting as the reliable pinnacles of the series.
The most significant relationship to break down is that of the Drapers: Betty (January Jones) and Don (Jon Hamm) finally split, after her discovery about his stolen identity and his numerous affairs. Although Betty is completely right about her suspicions and morally sound in her judgement about their teetering marriage, the audience is left feeling sympathy for Don. Although he has erred many times over the last 3 seasons, Don has always been portrayed as a deeply troubled character, and for this reason the split is depicted as unfair on him: Betty is sharp and brutal with him, marrying Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) soon after they split, and refusing to move out of Don’s house, leaving him to take up residence in a bedsit in Greenwich Village. Her treatment of Don is also a cause of constant suspense, given all she knows about his past, and how she could potentially destroy his life and career with that information in her wild mind-set. Francis is a deeply unsympathetic character, who treats Betty as a trophy wife and views her as a personal victory over the great Don Draper, rather than as a true muse for his affection.
The biggest and most dramatic change in the fortunes of the cast is the sale of Sterling-Cooper. Once again, another company are set to buy them out, but before such a thing can happen, a few of the characters (including Lane Pryce, played by Jared Harris) discover this information and set about forming a new firm in secret. In an amusing sequence, the central characters break into the offices at the weekend, stealing what they can and taking the biggest accounts, including Lucky Strike, with them. The final scene of the season points towards great things to come: as Joan lifts the receiver in the hotel room, she answers ‘Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce’, leaving the audience elated after the successful mutiny and full of anticipation for Season 4.