For National Review Online, Thomas S. Hibbs writes: With the conclusion of the first half of season seven on Sunday, May 25, Matthew Weiner’s acclaimed AMC series Mad Men has only seven episodes left (which we won’t get to see until next spring).
“…it is not difficult to see in the show’s unmasking of the illusions of the self-made man a critique of the world of capitalist advertising with its construction of images of happiness…”
Main character Don Draper began this season at the nadir of his career and personal life. The previous season began with Don on a beach with second wife Megan, now an actress. Reading the opening of Dante’s Inferno, he intones: “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.” The book is a gift from Sylvia, a married neighbor with whom he is having a torrid affair but whom he tells at one point, “I want to stop doing this.” The despair in his voice indicates how incapable he is of freeing himself from something he knows is wrong.
Season six proceeded to portray a descent for Don, perhaps reminiscent of Dante’s journey into the depths of hell: progressive alienation from his new wife, a heart-wrenching scene in which his daughter Sally catches him in sexual congress with Sylvia, and his self-destruction in the middle of a business meeting in which he breaks down and tells clients about his childhood in a brothel. The last move put him on an indefinite leave. Unlike Dante, however, Don has no clear path and no Virgil as his guide.
“…But Mad Men also manages to capture something of the attraction of the life of the entrepreneur.”
The question of season seven is whether, like that of Dante, Don’s descent will be followed by an ascent or at least a return to form as a Manhattan master of the universe. In the concluding episode of the first half, Don finds himself facing loss on multiple fronts: the end of his marriage, as he and Megan realize they have been leading separate lives; and the imminent loss of his job — especially with the death of Bert Cooper, who had reluctantly continued to support Don’s presence at the firm. But the episode ends on a high note, with Don’s job and his connections to the longest-standing members of the firm restored. In a final note of whimsy, Don has a vision of the now dead Bert doing a song-and-dance routine of “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” Is this a sign that Don is coming unhinged or that he has found his Virgil? Read the rest of this entry »
Unless you’ve seen this week’s mid-season finale of Mad Men, close your eyes, don’t look.
Last week, Vulture laid down ten theories on how this half-season of Mad Men might end. Suffice it to say that none of us saw this coming:
Moon landing! Moon landing! For everyone who wondered whether we’d see the moon landing, it’s all over “Waterloo”—the lead-up to it, where people worried about the astronauts, and the landing itself. The title “Waterloo” is made explicit by Bert in a conversation with Roger about Don’s attempt at a comeback.
The episode looks at defeats and comebacks.
Ted takes Sunkist clients in a plane and, for kicks, cuts the engine. Jim and Pete yell at him over the phone about how Ted expressed a death-wish. Turns out that what Ted really wants is for Jim to buy him out, so he can leave advertising.
The Don comeback comes to a head after Lou storms in Jim’s office, furious that they didn’t get Commander cigarettes. Jim snipes at him that “you’re only a hired hand,” but then writes a letter with all the partners’ names on it, firing Don for his breach of contract meeting with Commander. Don is furious and stomps into Jim’s office, then shouts for Roger, Joan and Bert. There’s an impromptu partners’ meeting in he hall—Joan sends Harry away, reminding him he’s not a partner yet. Don says they should raise their hands if they want to play parliamentary procedure. Jim says he has Ted’s vote by proxy (we know he may not), but only he and Joan vote Don out. Pete, Bert, Roger and Don vote he stays. And though Joan says she’s tired of Don losing them money, she also tells Jim, “You shouldn’t have done that.” Read the rest of this entry »
In honor of Morse’s magical musical final moments as Bert Cooper on Sunday night’s mid-season finale of Mad Men, Here’s Robert Morse the Broadway star, from half a century ago, singing the song he’ll always be identified with in the 1967 film version of “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying“
For Vulture, Jen Chaney writes: This year’s last Mad Men episode — the finale of season seven, part one — airs Sunday night on AMC. In the days leading up to that momentous Memorial Day weekend event, Mad Men fans will do what they always do on such occasions: spend ludicrous amounts of time speculating about what will happen in that pseudo-finale, even though they know all their theories will be rendered moot come Sunday at 11:10 p.m. Because … eh, what else are you gonna do?
We at Vulture, will help fuel this absurd plot-prediction process by offering a list of 10 theories about what might happen on Sunday’s Mad Men. In order to compile this list, we’ve used all the tools at our disposal. Those tools include:
- The official AMC promo for the episode, which is chock full of information. (Just kidding: It’s just a bunch of scenes from previous episodes that tell us nothing!)
- The summary of the episode, called “Waterloo” (uh-oh). It states: “Don is troubled by a letter; Peggy may seek a new future on a risky venture; Roger receives a phone call; Pete and Cutler butt heads.” So it tells us something, and yet, at the same time, also nothing.
- Random crackpot ideas from the internet.
- Random crackpot ideas that percolated in our brain after one too many shots of rum from Lou Avery’s office tiki bar.
Now, in no particular order, here’s the list of theories, some of which are credible and some of which are flat-out cuckoo. But let’s be honest: If anyone had told you before the season-six finale that Pete Campbell’s mother would go on a cruise with Manolo and fall off the ship to her death, would you have believed it?
Theory 1: Don gets a letter that says the Department of Defense is investigating him for posing as Don Draper and deserting his military post.
As the helpful DVR description of “Waterloo” notes, Don will be “troubled by a letter,” a statement that sparked a flashback to the season-four episode “Hands and Knees,” when DOD officials questioned Betty as part of a background check on Don. (“Do you have any reason to believe Mr. Draper isn’t who he says he is?” one of the G-Men asked.)
That background check happened because Pete had finally landed North American Aviation as a client, and also because Megan, then Don’s secretary, unwittingly filled out a government form on Don’s behalf without sufficiently flailing her arms and screaming so Don would know he shouldn’t sign it. Pete took a bullet for Don, squashing the $4 million account in order to eliminate the possibility that Don would be investigated. But somewhere, in some government office, that form peppered with Don Draper red flags is still sitting there. Perhaps its information has even been sucked into a database housed in one of those dreadful computers Harry Crane loves so much. And perhaps it could resurface, especially if Betty gets background-checked as part of Henry’s attempt to become New York’s Attorney General. (Betty mentioned Henry might pursue that job in episode three of this season, “Field Trip.”)
Theory 2: The finale will focus in part on the Stonewall Riots, in which Bob Benson will be involved.
Mad Men Redditors have been speculating in various threads about which 1969 events will be featured in upcoming Mad Men episodes. One possibility for this week: the Stonewall Riots, which kick-started the American gay-rights movement.
For Vulture, Margaret Lyons writes: Mad Men‘s half-season finale is Sunday, wrapping up a run of seven episodes that have started to bring the show’s guiding themes into sharper focus: mortality, morality, companionship, self-regard. This season has revisited ideas and characters from early on, retold stories from other episodes, and found many of our characters in uncannily familiar situations. Don and Peggy exemplify that same-but-different feeling of this season, with last Sunday’s “The Strategy” using many of the same ideas from season four’s “The Suitcase” — Peggy’s birthday, office drunkenness, the frustration of trying to wring an idea out of thin air. Don and Peggy’s relationship goes way beyond these thematic echoes, though; it’s the definitive relationship of the series, one that reflects and metabolizes both characters’ interactions with all the other characters on the show.
More so than with any other pair on Mad Men, the story of Don and Peggy pokes at the show’s central question: Who am I? Don and Peggy ask and answer that question together, and even as their relationship has grown and changed over the course of the show, the mirror they hold up to one another remains as inspiring — and unflattering — as it ever was.
Don and Peggy meet on the pilot, which is Peggy’s first day at Sterling Cooper. If you haven’t rewatched the first season in a while, do so: It’ll make Peggy’s eventual ascension seem even more impressive because she faced an appalling level of constant sexual harassment from day one. (Particularly, though not exclusively, from Pete.) Don initially walks right past Peggy, instead greeting only Joan, so the first time Don and Peggy talk, she’s waking him up from a nap. Everyone in the office spends the rest of the episode encouraging Peggy to be sexier, to show off her legs, to capitalize on her “darling ankles,” to flirt more with Don. He tells her to “entertain” Pete, and she asks, meekly but with the kind of internal steely disposition we come to recognize, “Do I have to?”
Spoiler Alert: On Sunday’s episode, his advertising copy writer character Michael Ginsberg had a mental breakdown tipped off by the introduction of a computer to the office.
“Matt Weiner and I sat down a few weeks before that episode and he told me everything that was gonna happen and my jaw just dropped to the floor.”
– Actor Ben Feldman
If it sounds crazy it’s because it was. The character began trending on Twitter soon after. Read the rest of this entry »
For PopWatch, Jeff Jensen writes: The Monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most cryptic icons in all of pop culture. Back in the heat of the cultural conversation about the film, moviegoers wanting to crack the secrets of those sleek alien obelisks concerned themselves with many questions about their motive and influence. Do they mean to harm humanity or improve us? Do those who dare engage them flourish and prosper? Or do they digress and regress? To rephrase in the lexicon of Mad Men: Are these catalysts for evolutionary change subversive manipulators like Lou, advancing Peggy with responsibility and money just to trigger Don’s implosion, or are they benevolent fixers like Freddy, rescuing Don from self-destruction and nudging him forward with helpful life coaching?
“…optimism is a tough sell these days.”
Of course, Don Draper is something of a Monolith himself. The questions people once asked of those mercurial monuments are similar to the questions that the partners and employees of Sterling Cooper & Partners (and the audience) are currently asking of their former fearless leader during the final season of Mad Men, which last week fielded an episode entitled “The Monolith” rich with allusions to Stanley Kubrick’s future-fretting sci-fi stunner. Don, that one-time font of creative genius, is now a mystery of motives and meaning to his peeps following last season’s apocalyptic meltdown during the Hershey pitch. (For Don, Hershey Bars are Monoliths, dark rectangular totems with magical character-changing properties.)
Watching them wring their hands over Don evokes the way the ape-men of 2001 frantically tizzied over The Monolith when it suddenly appeared outside their cavern homes. Can Don be trusted? Do they dare let him work? What does he really want? “Why are you here?” quizzed Bert during a shoeless interrogation in his man-cave. Gloomy Lou made like Chicken Little: “He’s gonna implode!” (His pessimism wasn’t without bias: He did take Don’s old job.)
There are knowing, deeper ironies here. Read the rest of this entry »
It involves a critical moment in sports history in New York in 1969. Only fairly dedicated baseball fans, or those familiar with the history of New York, would ever make the connection. it’s unimportant to the story, except as a background detail. But it’s the kind of clue that’s meant to reward an observant viewer, like Walter Dellinger, who sees a link between the New York Mets and Don Draper‘s future.
Season 7, Episode 4, ‘The Monolith’
“..the metaphor for his (coming) revival is not the new computer, but the 1969 New York Mets. At his lowest point, Don finds a discarded Mets banner under his file cabinet. He drops in the waste basket. But the next time we see Don, he has retrieved the classic orange banner and hung it on the wall.
When he awakes from a drunken stupor, he sees it from upside down and stares at it. And he calls Freddy to take the day off (from doing no work, anyway) to see a Mets game.
And so all you Don Draper fans who don’t follow baseball need to know that there is indeed hope for Don this season, at least if this deliberate invocation of the Mets has any meaning (and what on this show doesn’t?). The New York Mets were relatively new to baseball and in their eighth season in 1969. They had never had a winning season, and were at that point a metaphor for futility. But in that year they became the “Miracle Mets” winning 100 games and upsetting the great Baltimore Orioles team to win the World Series…”
If Dellinger is right, and Don Draper’s fortunes are finally about to turn, it couldn’t come a moment too soon. After a nearly unbearable string of misfortunes, a downward spiral lasting throughout season 6, unwinding into season 7, Don self-destructive personality has worn out its welcome, for his partners and coworkers, but also for the viewers. I wonder how many of Mad Men’s original fans are still along for the ride. Read the rest of this entry »
For Daily Finance, Annalisa Kraft-Linder writes: Millions of Americans are addicted to “Mad Men,” the AMC drama chronicling the lives of the people at ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Enthralling us over seven seasons are their mostly sordid sex lives, boozy business lunches, snazzy apartments, period clothes and finned Cadillacs.
“They say money can’t buy happiness, but it sure as hell buys everything else.”
– Bob Benson
Although money is rarely addressed, suck-up Bob Benson of season six (James Wolk) sums up their attitudes neatly: “They say money can’t buy happiness, but it sure as hell buys everything else.” Here’s what else you can learn about money from the hit show, which wraps up this year.
‘Happiness Is the … Freedom from Fear’
Agency creative director Don Draper (Jon Hamm) leads a complicated life. He had been on unscheduled leave after a major meltdown in front of the Hershey (HSY) clients. He conspires with his former secretary to keep his family in the dark about his out-of-work status. His relationship with his work and money is so tied in to the ’60s concept of the masculine breadwinner that on the April 27 episode he finally admits his fear to wife, Megan (Jessica Pare),”If you found out what happened, you wouldn’t look at me in the same way.”
“I’m just acknowledging that life, unlike this analysis, will eventually end, and someone else will get the bill.”
– Roger Sterling
Draper could have taken a job at another agency for less money but submits sheepishly to be part of the SCDP fold under humiliating conditions to keep up his lifestyle and win back Megan. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the more involved and insightful deep-dish Mad Men pieces I’ve seen this season, from an unlikely source, it’s a pleasure to read TV show analysis this dedicated. If you’re a Don Draper fan like me, read the whole thing.
Are Don and Megan Draper finally over? In the major arc before the first commercial break, Don speaks long-distance to Megan’s agent and learns that Megan has been exhibiting desperate (stalker-like) behavior toward industry types in L.A. Don flies out unannounced in the middle of the week. Megan’s libidinal delight upon his arrival turns to melancholy as she reflects on her rejections (“It’s sunny here for everyone but me”) and then to outrage when she learns the reason for Don’s visit (“You came out here to, what, pull me out of a bathtub where I slit my wrists?”) and then to suspicion and accusation (“You’re never [in the office] when I call. … Who’s your new girl, Don?”—by which she means mistress, not secretary). Don confesses, not to having an affair, but to having been on leave from SC&P since Thanksgiving (it is now early spring). Megan is furious over the secrecy, and furious that all this time he could have been with her in L.A. but chose not to. She throws him out, with “This is the way it ends.”
I indulge in bald plot-summary here because I have waited so long in patience for these two to split up. As Megan ca. 1968-69, Jessica Paré is a tedious screen presence in hideous clothes. Their crackup has always seemed a foregone conclusion, given how impulsively Don proposed (at Disneyland!) in Season Four and how incapable he is of husband-like qualities (sustained honesty, loyalty, sobriety). The writers have been flirting with it since the midpoint of Season Five. Get on with it! A long-distance phone call later in the episode may or may not herald a rapprochement; let us hope not. Read the rest of this entry »
On the red carpet at Mad Men’s Season 6 premiere, BuzzFeed asked the show’s stars where their characters would be in the ’80s. Here’s what they’re predicting, along with our interpretations of them as contemporary ads.
Darren Franich and Jef Castro match classic movie art style to Don Drapers world
What worked for Breaking Bad might not work for Mad Men
AMC unveiled the first half of Mad Men‘s split final seventh season to the lowest debut audience since the show’s second year. But unlike the cable network’sBreaking Bad — which climbed in the ratings with every season, including its similarly split two-year final run — only 2.3 million viewers watched Don Draper’s return Sunday night at 9 p.m. The acclaimed period drama then had two repeats for a grand total of 4.4 million. This marked the first of seven episodes that will air this year, with the final seven planned for 2015.
AMC pointed out to reporters that Mad Men is “the most upscale show on ad-supported television among adults 18-49, and sees significant time-shifting activity.” The network also noted these numbers are not far off from the sixth season’s average.
— Mad Men (@MadMen_AMC) April 14, 2014
Joan entertains Greg’s colleagues with her hidden talents. Ooh la la!
Good news, via popgoescultureblog:
For the record, I’m among those that question AMC’s decision to split the final season. To me, it smacks of either artistic vanity, or business concerns trumping loyal audience. I understand it’s a demanding show to produce, and maintain the extraordinary quality, so it benefits the creator and his crew. I’m inclined to think that AMC’s got a valuable property, they know it, and they’re milking more advertising dollars out of Mad Men. Enjoying a more relaxed writing and shooting schedule isn’t likely the primary driver of season-splitting decision.
[For collectors, Amazon has Mad Men: Seasons 1-4]
If the final episodes can be delivered with as much audience-pleasing closure as Breaking Bad, these complaints will dissolve. The show is already on track to become an enduring TV masterpiece.