I Loved It Until I Hated It: Mad Men

When the hit television series, Mad Men first made its appearance on AMC, I was enthralled–as were most regular viewers of this iconic TV show set in 1960s New York City. The sets. The clothes. The corded telephones and Selectric typewriters. The smoking. The two martini lunches. It was all so nostalgic, glamorous and interesting.

I was also appalled. The smoking. The chauvinism. The corporate arrogance. The deceit of powerful men living indulged double lives while their wives and secretaries were supposed to relish the role of making men’s lives easier. It was ugly. And it shocked me to consider the not so long ago engrained cultural acceptance of women and minorities being treated so horribly in the workplace.

Curious, I followed the lives of the show’s flawed (Don Draper) inspiring (Peggy Olsen and Joan Harris) and damaged (Betty Francis) characters. I rooted for them and hoped they’d figure out how to navigate their world and emotions. And for the most part, the series delivered. But the finale made me want to throw my cocktail glass at the screen as does much baby boomer B.S.

Sure, I’m all for extending gratitude to a generation of dreamers who marched for equality and tried to break from oppressive cultural mores. But as a child of baby boomers, and one who doesn’t much appreciate that generation’s nauseating search for significance, the final episodes of Mad Men featuring Don Draper wandering the open road trying to, I don’t know, lose himself, find himself, gah! It made me want to throw up. At least the dastardly Don of previous seasons seemed self-assured in his ability to leverage his creative brilliance and earn a living. Desperate Don seems to believe his failings are irreparable. That he is worthless. And do any of us really want to believe we cannot be redeemed?

I prefer fiction that holds a mirror up to society and our inner lives, exposes our brokenness and then shows us how to endure, change, make our lives and the world a better place.

In some ways, the final season of Mad Men delivered on that score. But mostly, it fell flat.

PeggyPeggy’s storyline should have ended last week with her bitch stride down the hallway at Mccann-Erickson. Instead, she’s not “complete” until the writers give her a cuddly and supportive boyfriend. Puke. Sure, Stan is probably one of the most likable characters on the show, progressive and smart, deserving of a confident woman like Peggy. But for crap’s sake. Really? A cheddar cheese love story ending for one of the most impressive and generation defining female characters to grace my television set? Pah-lease.

JoanKudos to Joan for launching her own business. But I still wish she’d kicked her self-centered boyfriend to the curb instead of him walking out on her. “At least she didn’t cry about it,” someone tweeted me about my lament. True enough. I’ll give it a pass.

BettyBetty changes little over the course of the show. But then, Betty was one of the few characters who seemed to understand how real life works. It’s a bitch. And she stood strong through her hard knocks. She divorced her lothario husband. She did what she knew how to do to take care of her children and eventually sought self-improvement through the pursuit of a college education. She knew who she was and was unapologetically stoic until the end. Bravo.

DonFinally, Don and his hippie dippy cross-country road trip and retreat attendance. It bored me. “I’m rich. Women love me. My life is so hard.” Wah wah. Old Don would have rolled his dreamy eyes at weepy Don. If I let the suggested storyline slide by about Don Draper shedding his skin and coming to terms with his failures, then I want a payoff that includes redemption and a return to his responsibilities, mainly his children. Enlightenment is not obtained through obfuscation and avoidance of consequence. Period. The final scene made me want to scream and ceremoniously tear clothing, evicting meditation Don from my consciousness forever.

In retrospect, I hope the cynics are right about the finale’s ambiguous ending and that Don did create the iconic Coca-Cola commercial that the show signed off with. Because if that’s true, then maybe Don still remains a shill for corporate America, but at least in that scenario he returns home to New York, where his children live. That maybe he seeks forgiveness and resolves to change his selfish and reckless ways. Like Pete. Like Pete?? Ick. Yes. Like Pete.

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4 thoughts on “I Loved It Until I Hated It: Mad Men

  1. Um, that was BRILLIANT. I don’t use that word lightly. You should be writing pop culture TV reviews on the side. Because this was spot on and insightful and bold. Enjoyed every word. This last season was confusing and boring and navel-gazing. The highlight was Joan starting that business.

    • Thank you Nina. Nor do I take your compliment lightly. And in the aftermath, I find it truly fascinating how my Gen X friends approve of my commentary, while my boomer friends think I’m obtuse. Ha!
      Great thing about opinion, we’re all entitled to one. And what I sometimes tell my husband is, “just because I disagree doesn’t mean I don’t understand.” 😉
      Again, thank you for reading and the gracious compliment. Much appreciated!

  2. Tell it, sister. Perhaps the finale was meant to start a conversation just like this one. And for me that conversation would be about how many fathers in this era were lost to “finding myself.” Millions. How many mothers were lost to finding themselves? I don’t know, like three? So that may be an important but unfortunate hallmark of the era. That being said, the writers should feel obligated to give the viewer something to not hate, something to redeem anything, just a small nugget to cheer for that strikes a contrast and makes you say “that was awesome.” And, you’re right, that should’ve been the bitch walk. In the midst of all that drama and disappointment, the bitch walk would’ve soared.

    • Bitch walk it is! I’m gonna do one today just to represent. 😉 (Although I’ve promised myself I won’t start smoking until I’m 80, so I won’t look as cool as Peggy.)
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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