Three and a half stars
10 p.m. Monday, AMC
"Mad Men" is already legendary -- a critical smash. We rave about the unsentimental reassessment of an idealized era. We swoon over the vintage clothes, the decorating details. The direction! The acting! Even the opening sequence is can't-miss. "Mad Men" makes us want to invent another type of award, just so we can give it to them.
Now, at the beginning of the third season, we must acknowledge the real secret of its success: Don Draper is the coolest TV character of all time.
In the first episode, we witness Don's super powers. All he does is sit there, and women shamelessly throw themselves at him. He oozes mystery. He's brilliant. He has it all - money, respect, the perfect family - but we never doubt that he finds it completely meaningless. He is appealingly tortured, tragic.
When he speaks, he's relentlessly profound. He makes Aristotle seem like a hack. "I keep going to a lot of places and ending up somewhere I've already been," he says -- in casual conversation! -- in the latest episode.
Go ahead. Think about it. Take all the time you need.
"There will be fat years and there will be lean years," he says in a business meeting. "But it is going to rain."
I have NO IDEA what that means, and it doesn't matter. Don Draper sells it.
Now seriously, can you think of a cooler TV character?
The Fonz? Angus MacGuyver? Thomas Magnum? Hannibal Smith? Gil Grissom? Sydney Bristow? Zack Morris?
Losers, one and all. Because Don Draper doesn't use his powers for good, or for evil. He's too cool for that. Don Draper uses his powers to write ad copy.
In fact, he makes the advertising business sound like poetry. I loved this little monologue of his from a past season so much that I rewound it and rewound it until I had it right. "What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons," says Don Draper. "You're born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I'm living like there's no tomorrow, because there isn't one."
It's better than Kevin Costner's little speech in "Bull Durham." It makes me want to seize the day and kill myself at the same time. I would cross-stitch it on an accent pillow if I thought it would fit.
The only reason I'm not giving the third season opener four stars is because the show is competing with two earlier, exquisite seasons. The latest episode felt like something was missing - a hook, something to make it physically painful to wait for new episodes.
In season one, we wondered, Who is Don Draper? In season two, we wondered, What happened to Peggy's baby? Now, after the Cuban Missile Crisis and a company merger, Don's co-workers are struggling to adjust to the British interlopers. It's somewhat intriguing, but office politics only excite me up to a point.
There are, of course, some compelling questions this season. Will Don Draper's world collapse? Will Joan ever get the respect she deserves? Will homosexual Sal suffer the consequences? Will Peggy show up her male colleagues? Will Pete get his hands on a machine gun and finally express his feelings?
Maybe yes, maybe no. But it is going to rain.