Monday, November 9, 2009

Madness Concludes: "Don’t Act Like a Stranger, We Have Tea”

Man, these Mad Men seasons are going by in the blink of an eye. Here we are already at the end of season 3. I have enjoyed it much more than the previous 2 because the storytelling pace is tighter and more things are happening. The minutiae of details finally feel in service to a narrative, rather than for their own sake. The wry dialogue is also very appealing, particularly in the mouth of Roger Sterling. That said,the series is still the most depressing hour of fiction on TV.


This season finale was the ultimate workplace fantasy (to go along with the ‘when white men ruled without compunction’ fantasy.) Don got to take all the people he likes at the office and start a new company with them. “Shut the door and take a seat.” Who hasn’t had the thought of running off to work with just a core a people who “get” it. Who hasn’t daydreamed to get away from TPTB and become your own PTB.

The finale also showed Don having his consciousness raised in terms of relationships. He finally sees the light that he hasn’t valued what Roger Sterling does, or Pete and Peggy’s talent.

Betty’s life is in motion too. She is going forward with the divorce, with the lifeboat named Henry. But alarms are going off in everyone’s head about him. Getting divorced in the sixties must have been very painful, with the society condemnation on top of the individual emotional piercing.

The episode gave us 2 Don/Dick flashbacks. One showing how his dad stood up to the farming collective, not to sell his grain at a low market value; and the other showing how Mr. Whitman dies via the family nag. A strange death, echoing the 1960 Dean Martin song from Ocean’s 11, “Ain’t that a kick in the head.” Not so funny I guess when it really happens. One of Alan Sepinwall's major points about the finale is that it had the aura of a "caper," like Ocean's 11. Hmm.

Deconstructing for Our Times

What I find MOST enjoyable about this series is its online community. The program for me does not have the power of The Sopranos or Deadwood, but its fans are deconstructing it with a verve and gusto that is a wonder to behold. Why is it that so many people are that interested in the exegesis of this hour drama? What’s going on in RL that is leading to this?

The TV landscape is an interesting indication of the mainstream national psyche. For instance, in the seventies we still had variety shows, a cultural vestige of the forties that showed we still valued being entertained by song and dance.

The current landscape is dominated by police and medical procedurals of all types, with the strange subgenre of forensic dramas. An entire subgenre devoted to figuring out how people die and who is responsible. That fascinates me. Isn’t that a projection of the desire to be able to make sense out of chaos? If we just understood the clues, if we just applied science to the facts, we could KNOW something. We could dispel some of the mysteries that enshroud our days. We all want to KNOW what’s going on, then we will be happy, then we can be at peace.

That desire for knowledge, for making sense, is part of the microcosm of watching Mad Men. We watch, and since it’s an artful work, there are ideas and tropes within the piece that we can mine. And now with the community at our fingertips, it’s instant gratification if we are right about an idea---the community agrees---or if we are off, the community tells us that too. No visual or aural clue goes unexamined. The patience that the online community has for the minutiae of MM is astounding.

And so we leave Don for a third time. It’s Christmas time, 1963, and he’s moving in to a furnished room in the city. The Beatles arrive in 3 months. That’s a lot to look forward to. I’m hoping that Matt can find a way to give his characters and us some moments of joy when the Fab Four start to play.

Until then, Dino, swinging the 1960, Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn tune from Ocean's 11.


Tom W. said...

Yeah, I enjoyed season three far more than the others - mainly because of the punch of the workplace stuff. The Drapers' home life is still a bottomless pit of emotionless unbelievability. I'm hoping Betty becomes a minor occasional character like Duck or Sal - she's just not that interesting, as written or portrayed (which is not to say she couldn't be - she's just not).

Don, on the other hand, finally appears human in this last show of the third season - and symbolically finds his place in the ensemble - or the "real family" in Wiener's obvious metaphor.

I loved the last episode, because I just took that step myself - and from a huge mega-agency too! 'Course I didn't have a $24 million tobacco account to take with me...