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 »
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”