Frank Ockenfels/AMC
March 25, 2012 05:00 PM

Off the air since October 2010, the retro-1960s hit launches season 5 with a two-hour premiere that radiates fresh, intriguing fissures through Don Draper’s icy gravitas. Will these grow into bigger cracks?

Ad genius Don (Jon Hamm) is turning 40, and although you might have guessed that he’s been middle-aged since 12, it appears unlikely he’s going to mellow out no matter how groovy the times get. He reacts to a surprise birthday party with barely concealed disgust, like a shark offered a choice of cake, chocolate or white.

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Former secretary Megan, who accepted his marriage proposal at the end of season 4, is the one hosting the party – and beginning to sense the tactile muck at the bottom of Don’s character. As chic yet brittle Megan, Jessica Paré is a terrific addition: Flashing an imperfect but gorgeous smile, flirting with Don by singing a French pop song, she seems to have been stolen from a New Wave movie.

The show still tends to go suddenly flat – it’s hard to tell whether the party is supposed to be dead or its just incompetently staged – but Hamm is always superb as Don. An unlikely fusion of the central characters from Death of a Salesman and The Great Gatsby, he’s one of the great icons of modern television.

The new season premieres on AMC Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT

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