Mad Men Through the Looking Glass


Via Instapundit comes James Lilek's interesting rumination on the Mad Men season finale from Sunday night. A snippet:

This was the appeal of Mad Men when it premiered — unapologetic daytime substance abuse, old-line patriarchal values with a splash of va-va-voom sexiness, Joanie's hips ringing back and forth like the toll of the Liberty Bell. The rough beast of Betty Friedan was still slouching towards New Rochelle to be born. Kennedy was alive. The jet-age was blending into the space-age. You could not only smoke, but smoke indoors. Hats and girdles. It was everything we were told was horrible about the past — but they all seemed so adult. Not because they had more freedom, but because they had less. They might not have liked what they had to be, but they knew what was expected….

There's the essence of the show: the culture seems solid from our perspective, but this is America, after all. Pick up and go. Change your name. Roll out a new campaign. [F. Scott] Fitzgerald be damned, you can have as many acts in your life as you wish. It's an optimistic idea — but the show ends with a sleepless Don turning to look out the window of his apartment at the empty room across the alley. His unreadable expression suggests he knows someone will walk through that room and he will be tempted again. The curse of plenty; the lure of more, of the next new thing. It's perfect in Tomorrowland. But it's never open today.

More here.

Before the start of season four, Reason.tv took a shot at predicting what Mad Men would get right and wrong about the mid-'60s. Check out the short video and then see if you agree with our report card below:

We predicted that Betty would complete a transformation from semi-dish-rag to divorcee with a spine. Eh, she really just became more bitchy, which might be the same thing.

Peggy flourished professionally and Joan got a promotion (though one without a pay raise), though she seemed more in love with her dud husband at the end of the season than at the start.

No black Americans were hired at the agency this season and Pete's push to get an auto parts chain to sell in the South via desegregated stores went nowhere.

Don's daughter Sally was a Beatles fan but Roger's post-teen wife was barely in the show this year, much less a devout Mick Jagger fan.

The 1964 Surgeon General's warning on smoking went largely undiscussed early in the show but Lucky Strike dumping the agency led to Don penning a self-serving New York Times open letter denouncing tobacco products. The meeting Draper and other execs had with the Cancer Society was well-done, especially since many at the table acknowledged they were still smokers. Don's assertion that the effect of cig advertising was to get people to start smoking (as opposed to getting smokers to switch brands) is unsupported by the evidence.

Betty's new husband, Henry Francis, was a bit player this season and his boss Nelson Rockefeller went unmentioned (or nearly so). So no digs at Rocky, alas. In one episode, future presidential washout John Lindsay was mentioned. Here's hoping one of the worst mayors in New York history gets a drubbing in future seasons.

Vietnam got the expected slaps and the War on Poverty got a couple of nodding assents. Bert Cooper, the Rand-reading Japanophile, had some fleeting comments about Medicare and civil rights marches as communist or socialist plots.

So how'd we do at predicting the highs and lows of Mad Men's fourth season? As Seinfeld's Bubble Boy might put it, "Not so good."

Overall, I thought it was a very good set of episodes and it certainly kept my interest. As the show slides into the fringes of my own early memories, however, I am getting the uncomfortable sensation that it is becoming as listless, wandering, and pointless as real life. Which is both kind of cool and kind of disappointing, even from basic cable.

NEXT: Reason Morning Links: Foreclosures Resume, Air Marshals Ride in Style, Violence in Chechen Parliament

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  1. This is my last season. The period spice of the first season is gone, Don Draper has turned into a thoroughly unlikable cad, the “bad boy” account rep partner has gone good, and the most entertaining partners are barely on the screen.

  2. The hysteria from many internet women over Don dumping the smart career woman is hilarious.

  3. Also, the season needed more Pete Campbell. Great character.

  4. “Joanie’s hips ringing back and forth like the toll of the Liberty Bell”

    That is some shitty writing. In order to create a useful simile, one needs to draw comparisons to things people know. No one alive today has heard the Liberty Bell. No one has seen it toll. It just sits there. BTW, my friend Laurie licked the Liberty Bell back in about 1990 (now it’s fully enclosed) so she could use the Liberty Bell’s taste and oral impact when writing simile.

    1. But the Liberty Bell has a long crack, like Joanie’s ass. Work with me here, people.

    2. Absolutely. Because I wasn’t alive to see or hear the Liberty Bell toll, there’s no way I can possibly imagine what it might’ve looked or sounded like. Lileks should have said that her hips “rang back and forth like the toll of a very large and very heavy bell that weighed thousands of pounds.” That would’ve been much better.

      *rolls eyes*

      1. “Joanie’s hips ringing back and forth like the toll of the Liberty Bell bells of St. Mary’s works for me.”

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    1. WTF is up with all the SPAM today?

  6. Isn’t the show just an elaborate excuse to lift and present that one woman’s enormous boobs to the country?

    1. Yes. That’s why Firefly was canceled. The powers that be felt that such things should be reserved for more standard dramatic fare.

      1. But she didn’t have those boobs when she was on Firefly – or at least she certainly kept them well concealed.

      1. I didn’t say there was anything wrong with that. I have just never quite gotten why people are so concerned with fringe issues like the plot and dialog instead of the central focus of the show.

  7. Whereas the first three seasons had energy and was plotted so very well, Season Four was fragmented and wandered. I think “Mad Men” has turned into a mess.

  8. No black Americans were hired at the agency this season[…]

    It would have been like integrating Leif Ericson’s ship.

    1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052365/
      Well, as guess Tony Curtis could pass as Danish.

      On the other hand:

      Merry old England was integrated, with Morgan Freeman passing for white under that scarf.

      1. Curtis’ character was only half-Norse. The Ernest Borgnine character rapes the widow of the Northumbrian king at the beginning of the movie (making Curtis and Kirk Douglas half brothers).

        If you want fun ethnic casting, try Edward G. Robinson, who in his career played everything from Chinese in The Hatchet Man to Norwegian immigrant in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, with Portuguese and Greek immigrants thrown in along the way. Although, Robinson is slightly less ludicrous as a Greek than Gene Kelly in It’s a Big Country, airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM ET on TCM.

      2. “When Robin and his Moorish companion come to England and the tyranny of the Sheriff of Nottingham, he decides to fight back as an outlaw.”

        Azeem: I’m not a Moor. I’m Moor-ish.

        1. I’m sorry, the script says “Moops”.

  9. Is this some kind of hybrid between Mad Libs and Mr. Men? Because I don’t think I could get into that.

  10. My rumination is that I’m thankful we don’t have to hear about this boomer nostalgia crap again for several months until the next season of Angry Men begins.

    1. What we really need from AMC is a one-week miniseries about Woodstock and how it transfromed Western Civilization. I’ve heard of this Woodstock thing, but dont feel I’ve really had it explained to me enough times yet, or had it’s importance fully explored.

      So get on it AMC!

  11. WTF?

  12. “that the effect of cig advertising was to get people to start smoking (as opposed to getting smokers to switch brands) is unsupported by the evidence.”

    Well, when cigarette companies handout free cigarettes on college campuses I think you can safely say that are targeting youth. Have you ever heard of Joe Camel?

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