Predictions for Season 4
My title for this post is the question that Roger asks Don as they stand in the office of Sterling Cooper for the very last time. My answer; not until the early 1980s. I don't mean for them but the whole culture and what I mean by that is in the following paragraphs. It is also my explanation of why I am almost certain that Season 4 is going to be a major disappointment.
The infamous line about Mad Men is that it will explain why the sixties had to happen. Implicit in that very statement is an admission of failure. No one says they need to explain why good thing had to happen. Good eras are their own justification and we thank God they happened at all. No, the second someone says they are going to explain why something had to happen they are already apologizing for it. It's like a divorce or an abortion, no one thinks these things are good; the most they can do is try to justify why they "had to happen".
I doubt very much that Mad Men will pull this trick off; it's hard to see how any TV show could but if they were even going to try that wonderful set had to go. More than one critic has bemoaned its loss but that style—American High Modernism—was a style of optimism and hope and the period we are about to enter from the mid sixties until the crashing failure of the Carter Administration is an era when style and optimism almost died in America. It's still on life support even now.
And it almost died at all levels. The establishment culture of the 1960s was awful and so was the anti-establishment culture. To have showed the cultural events of the 1960s against that background would have been a cruel indictment. And that bodes ill for this show for at least half the enjoyment was being able to see that wonderful style brought back to life. God preserve us from the thought of Nehru jackets, sideburns, bell bottoms, long hair on men, waterbeds and lava lamps ruining this wonderful show.
Other reasons to expect the worst.
- Historically we aren't ready for it. There is a great quip (I can't remember by whom) that it is only after the fiftieth anniversary of an event that objective analysis can finally dismantle the mythology constructed by the people who see themselves as the heroes of that event have constructed. We aren't quite ready to be honest about the 1960s yet. No one is quite ready to admit just what a widespread cultural failure the 1960s were.
- Matt Weiner has run out of gas. The quality of most shows was way down in Season 3 and there is no reason to expect anything but worse in Season 4.
- Story arc is not Matt Weiner's forte. As we saw in The Sopranos, his stories don't go anywhere. Although it is often said that these new series are novelistic, his really work more like the writings of Ovid (a comparison that is far more flattering than this stuff deserves). What I mean is that Weiner's forte is not showing change but rather showing the same things happening over and over again.
- They don't have the new characters to pull it off. Pete Campbell is too much of a villain to keep things facing forward and I don't think anyone can pull off the reversal in his character needed to make that credible. Peggy Olson is a fine character but the actor playing her is weak and that limits what they can do. The complete failure of Kurt And Smitty suggests that bringing new blood in isn't going to help either.
No, they should have ended it with that magnificent last show of season 3. I will probably not be blogging Season 4 and may not even watch although I may make some comments.
PS: There is a bit more in an upcoming rare political comment.