Did This Photograph Accidentally Reveal Big News About Mad Men Season 5?

Slate's Culture Blog
March 22 2012 11:07 AM

Did The New York Times Spoil Mad Men Again?

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in a still fromMad Men


Last week in Slate, Tanner Colby argued that the handling of race on Mad Men is much smarter, and more accurate, than it is often given credit for—and he deduced, from  a careful reading of the show, that the upcoming fifth season was likely to treat the subject in much greater detail.

For evidence, Colby relied entirely on the first four seasons of the show—as well as the historical context Mad Men so expertly mines. But another bit of evidence might have snuck into the New York Times a couple weekends ago. Among the photographs illustrating an article by Dave Itzkoff published in the paper on March 11 was a candid on-set picture of the familiar Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce offices. Up front is actor Jon Hamm in full Don Draper attire; Matthew Weiner sits to the left, with a couple crew members members relaxing in the background. If you look closely, though, you’ll spot a not-quite-hidden figure of particular interest: an unidentified black actress in period garb.

Detail of a photo by Jordin Althaus for AMC that ran in The New York Timeson March 11, 2012; arrow added by Slate

In the past, only three black female characters have had much, if anything, to say within the world of the show: Carla (Betty and Don’s maid), Toni Charles (Playboy bunny and one-time girlfriend of Lane Pryce; she appeared in one episode), and Sheila White (girlfriend of “liberal”-minded copywriter Paul, who has vanished since the beginning of Season 4). Since Betty has fired Carla it is difficult to believe that she would have any reason to show up at the office, while the reappearance of either of the other two also seems unlikely. Will Don get a new secretary who shakes things up, and provides even more racial and (sexual?) tension for a show which thrives off of its attention to the unspoken, the taboo, and the scandalous lurking under a façade of careful decorum?

Time will tell. Weiner is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to plot developments—a policy he became even more emphatic about after the Times spilled the beans about another aspect of a previous season premiere. So we’ll have to wait and see if this photo hints at a wave of cultural change that will beset the agency and its inhabitants, or is a mere ripple in the Mad Men pond. Season 5 premieres on Sunday.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Scotland Votes to Remain in U.K.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Can Democrats Keep Counting on Republicans to Offend Women as a Campaign Strategy?


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.