When I wrote up the two-part season premiere, I mentioned that it was going to be a problem for me to keep up with my Mad Men reviews this year, and that is turning out to be the case. (If I could learn to write short, pithy, off-the-cuff reviews, I might comfortably cover three shows a week, but short-and-pithy has never been my forte.) Now, two episodes behind—with a third barreling down on me this evening—I'm forced to consolidate a bit, or else admit that my Mad Men reviews just aren't going to happen this year.
But that's okay, because—as I discovered last season, when I often ended up doubling-up on episodes for the same reason—this show lends itself pretty well to a longer view and a slower pace. Continue reading
Midway in our life's journey, I went astray
from the straight road and woke to find myself
alone in a dark wood. How shall I say
what wood that was! I never saw so drear,
so rank, so arduous a wilderness!
Its very memory gives a shape to fear.
Death could scarce be more bitter than that place!
—from The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri Continue reading
"The Other Woman" & "Commissions and Fees"
Our latest two episodes of Mad Men each feature a major character leaving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. One leaves in a considerably more permanent fashion than the other, but I'd still be hard pressed to say which departure is sadder. Continue reading
"Dark Shadows" & "Christmas Waltz"
I had, this week, a moment of clarity about Mad Men: it was the realization that none of these people—not a single goddamned one of them—will ever, ever be happy. Continue reading
“At the Codfish Ball”/“Lady Lazarus”
It's only because I've fallen so sorely behind on my reviews lately that I'm doubling up on my Mad Men posts this week, but these turn out to be good episodes on which to do so. The main plotline running through "At the Codfish Ball" and "Lady Lazarus" is the meteoric rise, and voluntary fall, of Megan Calvet Draper (Jessica Pare) at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. As many characters have remarked this season, time feels like it is speeding up, and here Megan travels, over a period of a few weeks, a condensed story arc that other characters would take years to complete.
But that's the way things are going to be from now on in America: roles are becoming less narrowly defined, identities more fluid, and self-fulfillment is becoming more important than stability and the traditional markers of success. Continue reading
"Far Away Places"
This season of Mad Men is turning out to be interesting. If I look at the individual components, I can't really name any single episode so far that stands out as great; "Far Away Places" probably comes closest, just for its structural complexity, but it doesn't have the emotional high notes—or the accompanying performances—that would make it, for me, one of the show's finest. (For my money, last season's "The Suitcase" is probably the high-water mark.)
However, it would not surprise me if this season, as a whole, turns out to be Matthew Weiner's masterpiece. Continue reading
I'm running seriously behind schedule this week—sometimes the day job interferes with my more important pursuits—and now there's another episode of Mad Men barreling down on me in less than 24 hours. So, as much as I'd like to provide a detailed blow-by-blow of "Signal 30"—up to and including the soul-stirring sight of Lane Pryce delivering a long-overdue beatdown—I'm mostly going to share a few disorganized thoughts about The Short and Happy Life of Peter Campbell.
As always, spoilers ahead for this and previous episodes.
I've commented several times already on how Mad Men is about the moment when white, middle-class America awakens from that squeaky-clean, all-white, suburban fantasy of itself. These were the Ozzie and Harriet years, the Leave It To Beaver years, the post-war boom years before Vietnam, Watergate, the civil rights movement, and the sexual revolution. For many people, that period still represents the quintessential version of America, one to which they long to return. (When conservatives talk about a return to "family values," isn't that white suburban nuclear family the family they're imagining? Aren't they visualizing Betty at home in an apron, Don at the office in a hat and tie, and Carla doing all the work?) Continue reading
It is, apparently, my season to talk about generational changes and cultural paradigm shifts. The other show I'm reviewing at the moment, Game of Thrones, led off its second year this week with its world reconfiguring itself in the aftermath of a major generational upheaval, with the younger leaders reinventing the rules after inheriting responsibility from their parents. This season of Mad Men—as we started to discuss last week—looks like it's going to focus on similar themes, as the social changes of the late 1960's have really begun to kick in, and the younger generation starts pushing their parents out of the way. Continue reading
"A Little Kiss, Parts One and Two"
Starting today, I'll be reviewing the new season of Mad Men every week. While I'm a little late with this one, I expect new reviews will go up on the Tuesday after each episode. This one is also a little longer than most will be, since it was a double-length episode and I had some preliminary thoughts to get out of my system.
Au revoir, Betty. Bienvenu, Megan. The times, they are a-changin'.
The absence of January Jones in the Season 5 premiere of Mad Men has largely been attributed to the actress's real-life pregnancy—Betty will be back—but the timing could not be more appropriate. It is no coincidence that the final episode of last season—in which Don proposed out of nowhere to his young new girlfriend—was called "Tomorrowland." As this season opens, in the summer of 1966, the era of Betty Draper and everything she represents is over, and we've taken an uncomfortably quantum leap into a very different future. Continue reading