Get Ready to Go Mad: The Season Premiere of Mad Men Delivers

The final season of Lost isn’t starting for another five months, but just this week we found out the apparent title of the premiere, thanks to a viral video made with the help of creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (the episode is titled “LA X;” the space is deliberate). And that’s already on top of knowing that at some point during the season Dominic Monaghan, Ian Somerhalder, Jeremy Davies and Elizabeth Mitchell will all return, despite their characters being presumed dead. Such is life in the spoilerrific 21st century: Information has run amok to the point where show runners are willing to let secrets spill just to control the message. Matthew Weiner doesn’t play by those rules. Despite this new climate, the Mad Men creator has kept a tight lid on future plotlines of the third season (premiering Sunday at 10 on AMC), to the point where maybe even the cast members aren’t sure what to think. (John Slattery recently told the Observer that what happens this year is “unusual.”) Mr. Weiner is so guarded, in fact, that he doesn’t want the new season’s calendar date to be spoiled beforehand. The man is truly old school.

Don’t worry: We won’t spill the beans. Though we will say that the episode, titled “Out of Town,” takes place a not very significant amount of time away from the close of season two. And that’s a good thing, because it means all the messy loose ends that Mr. Weiner left behind are still messy and loose. Don Draper (the now-ubiquitous Jon Hamm, who has done so much media this week that we wouldn’t be surprised if he popped up at the Starbucks around the corner to give an interview) is still treading the line between tortured everyman and unrepentant cad; his wife Betty (January Jones, waiting patiently for that Grace Kelly biopic) is still tightly wound and willfully naive; his company, Sterling Cooper, is still going through various culture shock changes; and his co-workers, specifically the wonderfully smarmy Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser, worthy of a 2010 Emmy award based on this episode alone), are still fighting with each other like pigs jockeying for position at the trough. The ‘60s are barreling forward, but it seems everyone is trying to slow them down just a little bit to catch their collective breath.

“Out of Town,” which centers mostly on Don going on a business trip to Baltimore with Sal (Bryan Batt, filled with wide-eyed sympathy) in an effort to keep client London Fog happy—says Don, hilariously, to ease their fears: “There will be fat years and there will be lean years, but it is going to rain”—is one of the more leisurely-paced episodes in terms of plotting that Mad Men has given us. Much like his mentor, David Chase, Mr. Weiner is content to let his series wallow comfortably in a space where nothing really happens, yet everything is of utmost import. Of course, that’s the funny part about Mad Men: The plot twists and turns that Mr. Weiner is so careful to keep under wraps aren’t the really important. Instead, it’s the characters he’s created and how they react to the world around them that keeps us coming back. The season three premiere plants seeds for future conflicts—we’re already salivating at the thought of Pete going toe-to-toe with Ken Cosgrove for a promotion—but what you’ll be talking about on Monday morning are the little things. Towards the tail end of the episode, Don gives a look to his daughter after she requests the pilot wings she found in his travel bag, that will break your heart and infuriate you all at once. And that’s what makes Mad Men a true rarity in the television landscape here in 2009: It’s spoiler proof specifically because the truly surprising moments are of a more ethereal quality that can’t be summed up in a casting reveal. Lost, this is not.