Thursday 1 October 2009

Sketches - Slow and Twisted

Mad Men. (not particularly the most recent episode, Seven Twenty Three)

I’ve never really discussed “Mad Men” before. I started watching last summer, caught up with the show, although I had heard about it before, since two Whedon alumni are starring (Christina Hendricks from two episodes of “Firefly” and Vincent Kartheiser, Connor from “Angel”).
There are people out there obsessively analysing every detail of each episode, it is widely to be considered “TV for adults” (as opposed to “Sci Fi for people who’ve never quite grown up? What’s that supposed to mean?) – like “Six Feet Under” or “The Sopranos” or “The Wire”. Like all of these shows, “Mad Men” also lacks the certain something that would make it loveable for me. I find the show interesting, it intrigues me, I like the symbolism, the portrayal of a particular point in time, the eternally flawed characters who represent their times, all of these things, but I don’t love the show. Apparently, I am not an adult, because for me to love a show I need to be able to geek out about it, to obsess about the characters, to fall in love with their quirks. Also, just as a theory, I might be obsessed with pop cultural references, and a show like “Mad Men” overflows with them – but naturally, they are about the early 1960s, a period of time I could not possibly feel nostalgic about.
Anyway, “Mad Men” does provide for excellent moments. It is a slow show, that doesn’t really have a great mythological story arc it follows. It subtly paints a detailed pictures of its characters and the historical period. But exactly because of that slowness, it can sometimes shock you out of nowhere (for those who do not follow the show, I advise you to at least catch up with a certain clip from last week’s episode, just type in lawnmower and mad men into the video platform of your choice).
Just some of the characters. The show takes place in an ad agency in New York. The main character is Don Draper, who is really not Don Draper but a quite literal “self made man”, in the slightly criminal kinda way. He is distant, which speaks volumes for Jon Hamm because portraying a character as distant for such a long time without making him boring must be terribly difficult. The “public sphere” (yes, you’ve been in the seminar, the traditionally male sphere) is slowly being penetrated (oh, there I go) by females, who are no longer confined to being the goodlooking secretaries. So on the one hand, there are eager young men struggling to climb up the social ladder (although some of them have already been born pretty high up that ladder), eager elder men struggling to get laid by younger women, get more money, or, when things get really scary, not drop in their social status (like when the British take over). There are three main female characters who represent three different ways women deal with the changing times. Joan (Christina Hendricks) is the head secretary and excels in everything she tries to achieve, just that nobody really cares so she gets stuck in an evil marriage instead of getting a job as a copy writer. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is the unlikely social climber who starts out as a naïve secretary and then becomes a copy writer (“a job many men would kill for” – Don Draper), and slowly gets used to the idea that she could, you know, demand stuff. Betty (January Jones) is Don Draper’s wife, a woman who is at times so painfully dependent on her husband and unwilling to do anything on her own that female watchers all over the place cringe in pain – and dislike her more than the cheating husband with the false identity.

Mad Men, Season Three, Episode Seven ("Seven Twenty Three"), featuring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Robert Morse, John Slattery.

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