I married my husband for a lot of reasons…he’s good-looking, had a job, health insurance, his own place, he’s funny, he’s kind, he asked me to, he watched Mad Men…
I’ve been watching Mad Men since season two–initially online (“he has cable” should go on the list too, I guess)–and I had no one to talk to about the show, so I needed a Mad Men talking buddy.
At work I had lots of people to talk to about NFL or the Bachelor or the Bachelorette or Dancing with the Stars or American Idol if I watched any of those shows. It was a loss all around; for me because I had no one to discuss a particularly fantastic episode with and for them because they were missing all these fantastic episodes.
Well, to all my friends and co-workers who deprived me of Mad Men conversation for the last 8 years–Mad Men is over. It was the best, and you missed it. Now I am going to miss it because it was the best.
The Best Opening Titles…
A faceless man stands in an office surrounded by material things that suddenly disappear. As the floor pulls away from underneath him, he falls past beautiful, glitzy, glamorous, iconic, and seductive images of what he is selling–and buying–to replace happiness. He falls and falls past images of happy, idyllic settings–the pot of gold at the end of the advertising rainbow.
He falls and falls, but rather than smashing into the ground below, we see him sitting poised, composed, powerful. Is Don Draper simply a man who always lands on his feet? A survivor of the highest magnitude? Or is Don Draper a man who hides his deepest insecurities and cosmic dissatisfaction behind a facade of respectability and control?
The answer, we know, is yes and yes. Don is a hellion in a gray flannel suit and a modern, existential Odysseus wandering amid a treacherous seascape of dissatisfaction. He heeds the Siren call–all the while knowing better than most it is a deadly false note because he writes the songs.
All that in the first 30 seconds.
The Best Characters…
You can count all the good people in Mad Men on one hand and still have fingers left over, so when I say “best,” I don’t mean “goodest.”
One of the cardinal rules of characterization taught to every fledgling writer is to have the protagonist experience internal change in response to external forces. Mad Men breaks this rule with wanton abandon.
Don Draper responds to new challenges with the same, often futile and destructive, responses. He not only makes bad mistakes, but he makes the same mistakes. He tells the same lies, believes, the same lies, burns bridges in relationships he should value, disappoints the same people over and over–himself most of all.
He is not alone. So many characters fail to overcome their besetting sins and prejudices, and if they do it is not from moral growth, but pragmatic business necessity.
Mad Men casts convenient and accepted arcs aside and gives us characters like real people. They become people we know and believe and somehow still sympathize with even as they disappoint us again.
The Best-dressed Rogues Gallery Ever…
Clothes may not make the man, but we prefer them well dressed all the same. Thanks for knowing and showing the difference between wearing a suit and wearing a suit.
The Best Delayed Gratification…
Every now and then the show teased us with a scene that made us want more–a particularly charming, chemistry-filled character pairing like Peggy and Joan, or anyone giving Pete the business, or Roger firing people with unmasked glee, or Don and Joan. We always want more Don and Joan…always.
We didn’t get nearly as much of any of these things as we wanted, and the show is better for it. Mad Men never pandered to fandoms or “shippers” like some other shows (ahem Sherlock ahem). It left us wanting more, and we love every time it does indulge us.
The Best Artistic Ambition…
Mad Men is a show that always cared more about characters than plot. What happened in an episode rarely mattered as much as why or to whom. Smart, funny, poignant, thought provoking and often ambiguous it was a show that stuck with you through the week and the nearly interminable off seasons.
It is rare to find a show where the acting and writing are so good they become secondary to any discussion. I could go on about how brilliant Jon Hamm is or how perfectly written lines are perfectly delivered, but as the self-deprecating Geico commercials say, “Everybody knows that.”
The Best Ending?
I’ve seen the series finale, and I haven’t made up my mind about it. I’m not sure if I find it satisfying or strange or if the strangeness and ambiguity are perfect. I still need to ruminate on it and talk about it. Good thing I got married.