Mad Men: Here to Stay
There are few shows that I really really like. Mad Men is one of those shows. I love the pacing and how it slowly it reveals itself over the course of the season. It has been said that is is considered one of the last of the quote “Golden Age of Television” and while I hold a much more optimistic outlook, there is something from the Television landscape that has been missing since Mad Men has been away.
Its return on Sunday brought a lot of mixed emotions. One, the hype was almost overbearing. Never have I seen a season of Television so broadly anticipated by practically anyone who has ever seen for a glimpse into the posh lifestyles of the 60s upper middle class. But that was to be expected, the show always has garnered great respect and reviews from critics who then in turn hype the show. I think a lot of the last weeks “meh” responses come from the fact that Mad Men never really had a clear and definite direction. Take most of the last few seasons. If you watched from the beginning you would imagine that Don Draper would always want to stay either one step ahead of his wife or his mistress of the hour. Now, we know that Don will survive any kind of plot twist and that leaves viewers wondering “Well, what’s next?”. The climatic ends of seasons has marked ends of marriages, companies, relationships, and long kept secrets. So what else can the show offer to a fan base that has already been so jaded by “completed plots”.
Ryan wrote that the show may have lost what initially made him interested in the show in the first place. That got me thinking, “Why did I want to watch this show in the first place?” Well to tell you the truth the only reason I started watching Mad Men was because of a Black Friday deal on the first season one year. Once I started watching the first season, I plowed through the second and since have always anticipated the next. It is one of the few shows that combines everything I love about the medium. No show has more depth of writing, masterful directing, or superb acting. Mad Men, to me, is at its best when the show is showing something that happens as a reflection to the life and turbulence of the time period. Whether that is showing generational gaps as a boxing match or foreshadowing the end of an era by the death of a transcendent president. That is where the show excels and pays off for me as a viewer and a fan.
That isn’t to say that I’m not entirely sure I like the direction the show is taking. I didn’t see anything in the “first two episodes” last Sunday that made me feel the show has jumped the shark. In fact, I am eager to see the parallels of Pete as “the next Don Draper” and see if he reacts differently to that lifestyle. I’m interested to see where the “equal opportunity” storyline takes us. I’m interested to see if we can peel away more of Megan’s and Dick’s relationship. I also question Roger’s motives and wonder if this is the year we finally see some of the major cast depart from the show. The show will be seven seasons, that much we already know, I know much of this season will set up what will ultimately be the climax and meaning of the show in the pantheon of shows. But like another great television series, “The Sopranos”, I wonder if maybe we have already seen the best the show will have to offer by year 5? Like “Sopranos”, there was a large gap between the last third of the show and the first two thirds of the show and for better or worse, it affected the production and ultimately how the show is held in within the eyes of the fans. I think it is hard to base a show off of these first two episodes and people who are crying wolf should wait and see the entire piece before passing judgement.
But also like “The Sopranos”, “Mad Men” stands upon a mountaintop that few contemporary shows even have a claim to. You could make an argument for “Breaking Bad” but that is just about it. The shows with the best quality are always going to be the most hyped and overly picked apart for any noticeable slight. The acting, in my opinion, has kicked it up a notch. Everyone has brought themselves to another level this year. Maybe it is because we haven’t seen January Jones yet, who in seasons’ past has been one of the weaker characters of the ensemble. I also found myself not missing her one bit and will question whether or not she will even be in any of the further seasons of the show. This new Don Draper, who isn’t afraid of having a genuine personal life, is a breath of fresh air. I’m glad he’s not sulking around cocktail waitresses and seems completely happy in his personal life for once. I’m glad we are seeing more and more of that carefree Dick Whitman that we’ve seen previously when he had business trips in California. This is where I think the show is heading. We’re going to eventually see the complete death of Don Draper. He’s going to just get to a point to where he just doesn’t need to put up with all that goes on in the advertising world. He’s becoming who he is and this is the foundation of that juxtaposition.
But to answer my own question at the beginning of this piece, what keeps me watching Mad Men? It is to watch life unfold for these people. It is to watch a man who seemingly has everything, lose it all, get it back, and foolishly give it all away again. It is to watch these characters experience the ups and downs of one of the most important time periods in our history. I enjoy watching the class warfare. My favorite scene of the opening show was Don’s party. It was so incredibly surreal and brought about everything that is amazing about the show. It has class conflicts, generational conflicts, and even marital conflicts. While I can side with the people who say that it has “lost it’s magic.” I can also argue that I think that is a little harsh and you need to at least give it another two episodes before you can say that you aren’t completely sucked back into that world.