When we sat down with "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner and stars Jon Hamm and John Slattery leading up to Sunday night's Season 5 premiere, we knew specific storylines were off-limits conversation with this plot-guarding group. So to gain insight into what our favorite cigarette-smoking, martini-swilling advertising executives of the 1960s are up to, we asked for the best words that describe the new episodes. The "Men" break down the Top 5.
1. Change: "Every season seems to be about how we deal with change," admits Weiner, who wrote Sunday's two-hour premiere. "That's part of why I picked that period [for the show's setting], but it's also why I tell you how old everybody is in the show. I say the ages of the characters specifically and you can start identifying with them. They are growing."
Another shift has occurred in Weiner's own understanding of the series he created. "At first I thought I'm just writing about something interesting, which is the process of living and the process of history moving on and how we experience it," he says. "Now I realize this is not me being 46 years old saying, 'I just got used to the world and it's changing under me.' We're in the midst of some kind of massive change, and I don't think there's any other thing to write about."
2. Surprises: The "Mad Men" characters surprise viewers on a regular basis -- secretive ad man Don Draper in particular, who impulsively proposed to his secretary in last season's finale. And while the dapper Don even catches the actor who portrays him off-guard sometimes, Hamm says the man in the impeccably tailored suit never surprises himself.
"He is very aware of who is he, even for a guy who is ostensibly somebody else,"?Hamm says. "I think it's a big part of what his central darkness is all about. He knows himself too well -- and he's not a fan."
3. Lust and envy: "[The office is] a competitive place filled with dissatisfied people," says Slattery, who plays longtime agency partner and ladies' man Roger Sterling. "Lust is something that you could ascribe to every one of them somewhere along the way, and it remains. The problem with both of those conditions is that they sometimes land you in situations that are difficult to navigate."
4. Happy and content: "Don's surprisingly content," Hamm says of his character's headspace when Season 5 opens. "As much as that can be a good thing, sometimes it's not. He's aspiring to be happy and content. [But] what happens when you get what you want?"
Don's definitions of "happy" and "content" have never lined up with the typical American dream. Their meaning "is changeable for him," Hamm says. "That's the problem with Don -- he thinks he wants one thing, and maybe he was wrong."
5. Success: Weiner reiterates that "change is happening very rapidly," not just on "Mad Men," but in 2012, too. "The country has had a huge blow to its self-esteem," he says, drawing parallels to the wars and revolutions of both eras. "Success will come," he says, "and we may not even be able to recognize it."
He's talking about success both in his characters' -- and viewers' -- professional and personal lives.
"Success is such a product of expectation," he says. "When you set the goal, you can get the goal. But even the delay of getting the goal can take away the feelings of success."