Saturday, April 11, 2015

Mad Men: 6 more episodes and already it’s “Uh-oh”

We hope its best days aren’t behind a TV classic

     Yes, we’ve praised Mad Men up one season and generally up even more the next.  I wasn’t certain about season 6 since it got off to a rocky start until “The Crash” episode.  The second half of the last season just started and a tiny wretched crack of the English language showed up and in an episode written by no less than series creator Matthew Weiner.  One of Peggy’s
copywriters was trying to fix her up with his wife’s brother.  I cannot remember the line exactly, but it went something like this as he explained the situation to another employee, “Peggy is having dinner with my wife and I.”  Neil and I were stunned.

     People don’t make this mistake when it’s a singular object such as “Peggy is having dinner with me.”  It only happens when it’s a plural object where the proper names are used.  Perhaps this reflects an almost narcissistic regard on the level of the royal ‘we’ from Americans nowadays.  As Neil says, “It’s big I, little you.”  Mad Men has never been about the post-Millennial self-regard – practically self-obsession – of the current culture.  Instead, it’s been about an ambitious, ascendant culture coming out of the superficially optimistic Eisenhower years and moving through to the shame or expediency, depending on your point of view, of Watergate.  The most attractive aspect to me about Mad Men has been its literacy.  What a shame that Weiner couldn’t be bothered about such an important element as the show nears its close.

John Hamm as Don Draper 
     That disappointment aside, it seems pretty clear that there will not be a transcendent moment for Don Draper.  His best years may be behind him in forging a new identity and life for himself before the first episode and then in his gorgeous control of narrative through the theme of nostalgia at the end of season 1 in “The Wheel,” which was about the Kodak slide carousel.  
"It's Not Called the Wheel,
It's the Carousel"—Don Draper
Peggy Olson, Don’s secretary then protégée then colleague, had a moment of potential romantic transcendence that was thrown because she didn’t realize she’d left her passport at the office.  The job always comes first with Peggy.  She may disparage Joan Harris, but she hasn’t had to balance family obligations and sexual entanglements with a professional life to the same degree, though she doesn’t know this.  The best episode of the series came about half way through in “The Suitcase” during season 4 because it most fully examined the complex ties between Don and Peggy, which is the most important relationship.

Peggy Olson and Don Draper
    I hate to think that the complacency of the educated, suburban, white men that make up most of the characters has seeped into the creators’ practice.  The improper English aside, the episode began with yet another example of the rampant sexism redolent of the era.  I was hoping we’d move a little beyond that or that it could show up later, but unfortunately not.  Whether we see further examples of the racism and homophobia it’s dealt with in the past remains to 
Watching the 1969
Landing on the Moon 
be seen.  One of the ironies of Mad Men, which also seems extraordinarily pragmatic, is that although the characters spend their professional lives presenting gleaming, manicured surfaces to sell the American Dream, they possess very little connection to what was happening historically and what eventually moved the culture in a different direction, even as that direction has been re-navigated over the last four decades. 

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