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.
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.