Monday, May 21, 2012

Mad Men: Christmas Waltz

That was a treat.

It's only the second really good episode this year. On the other hand, it was the best show this year so far.

Do you know why it was so good? Because Harry really cares. He feels uncomfortable, lustful, confused and lost but he really cares. And so do we ... about Lane. You can feel this horrible disaster coming but you care for the man. Well, we do. There are other sites where they will cackle with glee.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, this show is at its very bets when it does intimate little miniatures. The moment with Don and Joan in the old-fashioned bar was perfect. I loved the way Don evoked Sinatra because that is the way real people did it.

No, they don't solve anything. Not for Joan anyway. It's hard to see what, if any, future she has. She is starting to get a sort of Judith Campbell Exner vibe about her.

Nor Lane.

I know, it breaks my heart to type that. But the world is passing her by and it's about to crush him.

Did you notice, by the way, that no one has anyone they can really talk to about their problems. Don and Joan could talk because they are characters. I mean that in two senses. They, as I said way back at the beginning of season one, operate like Minstrel show characters. They represent stock parts. They can be good or bad at what they do but they always have to stay in character or else, as Pete notices, everything falls apart.

Every era, every culture has such characters but they really mattered in the late 1960s. You can rebel against them, as the students in Quebec are doing right now, but your worst nightmare is that they might join the rebellion. If the government leaders suddenly showed up on the barricades beside the students screaming "smash the state" there would be this awful empty feeling.

Characters also have "character" in the sense of moral character. They have to inhabit their parts with a certain integrity or else we'd stop believing in them. And we have to believe in them, even the people who hate them. There is this wonderful existential thrill that goes with contemplating them. If they suddenly stopped being who they are, we'd be lost.

This is particularly relevant to the 1960s because so many people did drop out of their expected characters.

A much mocked event in 1967, which is now right around the corner, was the 25th Amendment. It's the one that establishes who gets to be president if sitting president dies, resigns or becomes incapacitated. I remember listening to drunken adults at my parent's parties joke about where in the list of who becomes president they were. "If the postmaster general succeeds and dies, then they have to turn to me." A lot of people thought the whole thing was just silly. But it matters and not just in political terms. These people are keystones for whole ways of life.

Mia Farrow
 I keep thinking of Mia Farrow. She was such a perfect 1960s icon. And she is someone who dropped out of her expected character over and over again. She becomes  a star in Peyton Place, then she marries Sinatra, then she is connected to Roman Polanski through Rosemary's Baby, then off with the Beatles to see the Mahafraudster and it keep on right through the Woody Allen years and the celebrity charity stuff. She manages to touch every single trend that seemed significant at the time only it turned out to morally empty.

And that seems to be Megan. I know, I know, "But you hated Betty too!" And I did but she just isn't right. Not in terms of the part. She's almost too perfect for the part. But people like Megan never establish a real moral character. They just flit from scene to scene.

I think they'll keep her though for a while. She serves a function in that they can use her as a way to connect Don to all the weird New York stuff that went on at the the end of the1960s. Ultimately, though, I think Don will dump her.

(Unless, of course, you believe in that great fantasy invented in the 1970s and still popular today of "reinventing yourself". I don't and I don't think Matt Weiner does either.)

A big historical event?
What this show mapped out for last fall? Here we are watching the Christmas show in May.

Anyway, the question I have now is will the show tie itself to some big historical event? They did that for the first three seasons. Last year, however, everything turned around Don's letter about "quitting tobacco". Okay, there was a real historical even that inspired that but it was not a really big event.

I don't know what but something big should start looming as of next episode. Some opportunity to change the conversation.

By the way, on the subject or reinventing yourself, here is what Pete said in response to Don's tobacco ad:
"Don't you realize the clients are all going to think that you could turn on them at any minute?"
And here is the way Ed Baxter breaks it to Don at the end of the Codfish Ball
"He loves your work, they all do. But they don't like you. This crowd, they'll bury your desk in rewards, but they'll never work with you. Not after that letter. I mean, who would they trust you."
Is there a way out?

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