Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mad Men: Give me night or give me Blucher

Well, tonight's the night.

They've been ridiculously obvious with the hints they've been dropping. Don has a defeat coming. Then he has seven episodes to either fail or succeed next year. Plus, the episode is called Waterloo* and Don is trying a comeback from a period in exile. (I don't have the patience to do it but it would be interesting to date the beginning of Don's return from exile and count forward 100 days.)

I read an interview somewhere where Matt Weiner seemed to suggest that some thing Don has forgotten from the first season comes back to haunt him. I hope that was just a feint to confuse us. I don't see anyway they can do that convincingly at this point. That goes quadruple for his desertion in Korea. Dropping that on us tonight would be to break the rules the show has established for itself.

Which rules, by the way, are straight out Robert McKee. There is no show in TV history that follows McKee's rules more religiously than Mad Men. Every single scene features a value reversal. People start off confident and end up uncertain, or the reverse. Or they start off timid and end up brave, start satisfied and end frustrated, start with a sense of belonging and end up isolated, start with sense of failure and end with a sense of achievement and so on through the list of values. Every scene follows this sort of arc and so does every episode. There is never an episode of Mad Men that is nothing but exposition; the exposition is always slipped into other scenes driven by value reversals. Even if nothing substantial in terms of actual action takes place, and it often doesn't, the value reversal does.

People who love action plots—which could mean anything from a superhero movie to Breaking Bad—are critical Mad Men. I heard a podcast in which Jonah Goldberg complained the show is "existential". That's nonsense. There is never an existential moment for Don Draper or Roger or Joan or Pete or Peggy. Lane had existential moments. That's why he could commit suicide. He had an existential crisis. The principles do not. No matter what happens, they can go on. Their very sense of being is never at risk. To kill one of them off at this point would be deeply unsatisfying; it would feel like a cheat.

Which is probably true for you too! That's the way life is. If someone were to ask you to recount your life story up to the present moment, you'd tell a story with an arc leading to your present happiness or unhappiness. Tomorrow morning you will get up, however, and face an episode with no overarching story arc.

But heres the thing, Matt Weiner needs such an arc for Don Draper and he needs it tonight. He needs a crisis that will ties us back not only to the exile in Elba Don spent at the beginning of the season, but all the way back to season one. I don't know that he can do it.

And absolutely everything hangs on it. If tonight's episode fails, there is no coming back.

* Corrected, earlier version said "Napoleon".

No comments:

Post a Comment