What did you think?
I had intended to blog more regularly (as in weekly) on Mad Men, but …I didn’t, did I? I had some drama of my own the last couple of months occupying me, it was the end of school and all that, plus my weekly phone deconstructing of the episode with my oldest son (who lives in Atlanta, works in entertainment, and begins those particular phone calls by insisting “That’s what the MONEY’S for!”) seemed to satisfy the “analyze the heck out of the show” urge within.
Oh, and I also rewatched a slew of Breaking Bad eps in the middle of it, and the obvious and bracing superiority of BB over MM gave me a slight case of the shrugs in regard to the latter.
So all can do is offer random thoughts, and wait for you all to chime in:
- Mad Men is good. It’s one of the best things on television these days, by far. But it’s not a game-changer. It’s not like The Sopranos in that sense. It’s no Breaking Bad. Weiner isn’t really doing anything brand new or groundbreaking in Mad Men thematically or even, when you take out the high-gloss period sheen, stylistically. It’s a show about his fixations, but he does not seem to have the artistic chops or spiritual center to universalize it. At times it happens, but not as a whole.
- I do think that the burning core of the series that got us rolling with it has been lost in the shuffle and in just too damn many plot points. And that is: Advertising as an embodiment of the “American Dream” and the possibility (and even necessity?) of reinvention of the self in attaining it – Dick Whitman/Don Draper being the embodiment of that embodiment. It was deeper than a wanna-be Cheeverish portrait of the suburbs and critique of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit that it threatened to be. There were times when the show was both dark and lyrical in its pursuit of that idea. But it’s gone now. Gone, as I said, in too many plot points, and this season, a surfeit of anvils labeled “EPISODE THEME: 60′s SPIRITUAL CHANGE: CUE KRISHNAS” or ‘EPISODE THEME: DON GOES TO A STONES CONCERT, IS CLEARLY OUT OF PLACE.”
- To me, the iconic scene from the series – one that made me gasp and think, this will be different - was this one.
- Weiner seems to enjoy highlight characters no one cares about (Betty and Meghan – although I don’t mind Meghan as much as some – must be the French-Canadian in me talking) – and getting rid of really interesting characters with depth and potential – Sal and Lane being standouts in that regard. I still miss Sal, and I’m going to miss Lane a lot. His unabashed love of America and his potential within it provided, I think, a really interesting perspective on that theme of the nature of the “American Dream” and the possibility of personal reinvention. Oh well.
- I really liked the episode where Roger dropped dry, pithy quips. You know, that one.
- My son and I were talking about this tonight, and we agreed that no matter how far ahead Weiner jumps now, when we come back, the men are going to look like crap. They’re going to be wearing bell-bottoms and paisley and wide ties and their hair’s going to be shaggy, some of them will have pathetic little beards, and it’ds going to be sad.
- The Pimping of Joan? Believable or not? The episode was, of course, a pretty effective distillation of the entire series: the transition from a misogynist, cold, subculture to…something else. (not sure what…we are talking about advertising here..) Even though I never could buy the partners agreeing to encourage Joan in that direction (or even her agreeing), I thought the thing came off masterfully – the audience’s awareness of Don’s awareness being played with – and the juxtaposition of Peggy’s departure? Really good.
- The show is always at its best when it sticks with the office. The dynamics there are illuminating enough – they can be stunning.
- Ah, Peggy. I’ve always felt that the series was really about Peggy, just as much as it’s about Don. Of course it is. With as many elements of the season that drove me crazy this year – I really would be okay with Betty moving to Arizona or…Singapore? – the Peggy plotlines never hit a wrong note. Never. Weiner has her just right. Even the plotline where she moves in with Abe. Think of the ways that could have been handled – most probably, in someone else’s hands, as a groovy move forward with the times. But that’s not the way it went down here. It was presented, in dramatic terms, in a very interesting, ambiguous way – from the honest expression of Peggy’s expectations – she thinks Abe is going to ask her to marry her, but he’s just asking her to move in with him, and she’s disappointed at that - to her mother’s reaction – which is anger, but not a caricature of “Catholic anger” – in the midst of the situation, we look at Peggy, we look at Abe, we listen to Peggy’s mom, and we suspect…ummm…she might be right.
- More Peggy: she had to move on, and this was a brave, important move by Weiner. Far more interesting than who’s sleeping with whom. I loved the meeting of Don and Peggy in the movie theater in that last ep. So true to both of them. And when she tells him about her impending trip related to her new account – especially in the context of Don’s throwing money in her face a few weeks ago and her disappointment about not being able to go to Paris – “I get to ride on a plane.” I teared up. It was so true to the character. And when we last see Peggy, in her motel room in Richmond, with dogs humping outside her window, where she draws the curtain, stretches out on the bed with a drink and smiles – more teariness. It’s crazy and shabby and it’s not Paris, but she’s doing the work she wants to do, she’s being recognized for it, and she’s where she wants to be - and she rode on a plane. Love.
- Clearly, the campaign Peggy’s working on is for Virginia Slims. From discussion thread on TWOP, I found this – a presentation made by the agency that came up with the Virginia Slims campaign the year after. It’s really fascinating. It’s fascinating partly because of what it describes about the creative process, one which anyone who’s engaged in any kind of creative work is quite familiar with: you spend hours, days and weeks, coming up with garbage, but then the right idea strikes - the right idea that is clearly superior and different from the nonsense you’ve come up with before, but, paradoxically, which you couldn’t have come up with except for the previous garbage..
…..that’s what the money’s for!
…also fascinating because it reveals a world in which cigarettes were actually advertised. As much as a libertarian as I am, I’ll say that this is one thing I’m glad Our Government Masters have banned – cigarette advertising. Hate tobacco. It killed my dad and, as his doctor indicated with a wave of his hand in meeting with me in the hospital two weeks before my dad died, “Everyone else on this floor.”
But that doesn’t mean I still don’t find the process of coming up with this Virginia Slims campaign fascinating – a campaignwhich I still remember, and the jingle to which I can still sing…you’ve got your own cigarette now, baby! You’ve come a long, long way!
- There’s a lot more to say..and I’m sure you’ll say it…this is just a start.
- But really…Breaking Bad is better. More focused, and with an intriguing and compelling moral core. The show is about temptation, sin and its consequences. Period.
- Cannot wait.