Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The end is near

I have very mixed feelings about the upcoming end of Mad Men. I'm not bothered that it will end. If anything that will be an act of mercy. The series peaked in Season 3 and the Season 5 finale, The Phantom, was the last episode they made that I can rewatch with pleasure.

The problem is the new Don Draper.

Yes, he's flawed, as are we all. But at what price do we fix those flaws? And what if, instead of fixing them, he's merely suppressing them? Our flaws are what make us interesting. The show has been slowly turning him into the sort of gutless, fartless, erectionless, never-cause-trouble, pathetic excuse for a man that we see too often these days. It was precisely because we hate what so many men have become that we found him so compelling in the first place.

The problem is that Roger drinks vodka

It's entirely plausible that he does. Lots of men did in that era and a lot still do. On the positive side, you might describe vodka as the clean, clear, modern drink that went with stripped down modern architecture. And it was. On the other hand, it was also the bland, flavourless drink that suited an era that wanted to expunge all personality and character. Vodka was the perfect drink for the era that also revered iceberg lettuce because it was problem free and didn't mind that it didn't taste very good.

The problem is that the show can't be honest about women

It's head and shoulders above most other shows in that it dares to show us deeply flawed women as well as deeply flawed men. But it balks at the thought that these women might be responsible for their own character flaws. Don, Roger, Pete are all accountable for who they are. The flaws of the major female characters are treated as the products of their time and culture.

The worst moment was Megan's childish devolution in season five. Why is it that we can have stupid pointless, subplots where a toothache equals Don's supposed inability to face up to his lack of care for Adam from seven years previously while glibly sliding over Megan's childish pursuit of a fantasy acting career and her vile betrayal of a friend to get it?

One of the most telling lines in The Phantom is when Peggy reminds Don that he told her that going to the movies is a good way to clear out the cobwebs. At the end of that show, Don watches Megan's test reel and "clears out the cobwebs". He's married another child.

Okay, you can blame him for not seeing that coming, or you can blame her for abandoning adulthood for a silly childhood fantasy, or you can say that it's a little of both. What you can't do if you want to maintain any credibility, is to flip the scenario around and make him the childish one and Megan the adult. That, unfortunately, is what the series attempts to do.

The problem is Vietnam

"You're a woman and you smoke. What do you want?" That's also from The Phantom. It's the episode where the show most clearly telegraphed that the baton was being passed from Don to Peggy. She's sitting in his characteristic pose when he runs into her at the movie theatre and when Ted gives her the line I quote above he is essentially giving her the same challenge Don has in the pilot.
And then Don walks off the shoe commercial set and into a bar where he is suddenly James Bond and beautiful women hit on him.

And the very next season he is a crawling weakling, obsessed with his neighbour's wife. In a sense that is brilliant writing calling to mind the Gay Talese book with an image. And there was something fictional about the old Don's conquests; even very good-looking men have to work more for it than Don. The only men who have women throwing themselves at them like Don had are celebrities.

Of course, that makes a certain sense because Don Draper is a celebrity in real life but he plays an ordinary ad executive on television.

It's not that the transition is impossible, The problem is that the series cheats by just jumping to the new world.

Of course, that's what any unthinking person thinks happened with Vietnam. It's the cataclysm that started all the rivers flowing the other way. Except it didn't work that way.

The next set of shows, you couldn't really call it a season, is set in 1976*. That was the year that Jimmy Carter was elected and proceeded to fail miserably as president. Four years later, Ronald Reagan would be elected.

* That will learn me for trusting what I read online. The show was actually set in 1970. Here's hoping we get Spirit in the Sky in an upcoming episode.

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