Monday, March 26, 2012

Mad Men: The (little) Kiss

Well, it's season five and here we go. I'm expecting the worst.

The two opening episodes were okay by Mad Men standards and that is pretty good. A mediocre episode of Mad Men tops the best episode of Downton Abbey ever. There was brilliant acting, lots of clever references. Megan's song and dance number, for example, was a nice homage to this:

Only it doesn't work out so well for Megan as it did for Laura Petrie.

But let's go back a bit to a nice scene on the train near the opening. The camera comes up the centre aisle and we see the back of a man's head. he is reading the newspaper and we think we've see this before. We know this shot from seeing Don in the same position in season 1. Only it's Pete Campbell and he's on his way to work. A true New Yorker, he still hasn't learned to drive. And Trudy, who does drive, apparently wore her dressing gown to drive him to the station.

We learn all this because a guy Pete knows is talking to him and we think—as we were clearly meant to think—that we are seeing what the missing back story to the failure of Don and Betty's marriage must have looked like.

And that seems to be what the opening of this season is about now: the separation of men and women into separate spheres of home and business that modern urban culture brought about and how it was conquered by brave women like Peggy and Joan. Thus no Betty: she's served her purpose.

But tell me this: If we have progressed so much, then why is Megan, played by Jessica Paré, reduced to dancing around in her underwear to restore good relations with Don after things go wrong as a consequence of the surprise party? Is that all she's good for? You may say that the show is drawing attention to the abuses but it's participating in them.

Even worse was Joan showing up and crying on Lane's couch. This is how women achieved  liberation? By crying about their hurt feelings?

The sets were great, the costumes were wonderful and the music was perfect. The only thing I didn't see was substance. They have the rest of the season to make it up. I hope they do. But my verdict on this year''s opener is: pretty weak tea.

I do half wonder if the problem isn't the double episode. Anyone else old enough to remember record albums will know the concern. Pop groups in the 1970s inevitably put out bad records when they released a double album. All that space to fill didn't just lead to filler, it led to weak writing. If the production team for Mad Men had been forced to reduce this double-show to a single episode, it probably would have been a lot better.

As with previous seasons, I have not read any other comments before posting my own. I'm off to check out what others have to say now.

Postscript: By the way, one nice little touch is that when Megan swears she says "calice".  That is pronounced caw-liss and it means "chalice". That is the way people who grow up in a heavily Catholic culture swear. Okay, but where is the rest of it? Meaning, where is the rest of her Catholic upbringing.

If, like me, you grew up in that culture, that word has some power. But there needs to be a  whole lot more to go with it. Yes, I like seeing Jessica Paré's big breasts as much as the next man but where is her character?

No comments:

Post a Comment