The final season of Mad Men begins this Sunday, and I thought to look back at some of the things I said when the show was beginning.
On July 26, 2007, I posted about three new series that “have promise”. Two starred well-respected actresses: Oscar winner Holly Hunter in Saving Grace, and Oscar nominee Glenn Close in Damages. Hunter was good in her show, Close was even better. I gave up on Saving Grace because I didn’t much care of the mystic-religious angle, but I watched Damages until it moved to Direct TV. The third series, of course, was Mad Men, about which I wrote:
This show looks better than just about anything on television. It takes place in 1960, and it looks like 1960. Not to fetishize this stuff, but watch it, you'll see what I mean. The cast is mostly unknown (although one of my heartthrobs, Christina Hendricks, plays a secondary role, and my goodness can she fill out a dress) and uniformly excellent. The show has a Rat Pack feel to it that makes it more "male" than the previously-mentioned series, but it's not overly celebratory about guy culture … it just is what it is, and reflects the time in which it takes place.
On August 31, 2007, I compared the show to Rescue Me, looking at the different ways the series approached their female characters:
The attitudes towards gender relations in Mad Men is seriously retro, in line with the series as a whole, which takes place in 1960. Men assume the world is their oyster … women acquiesce on the surface … it sure seems like a great time to be a Guy-with-a-capital-G. What separates Mad Men from Rescue Me is the attention that it pays to the women. We see the consequences of the social norms of the times on the women, and they aren't pretty. It might not seem like much, but Mad Men will often feature scenes that have nothing but women in them … Mad Men takes place back in the day … and it's not a good place for men or women to be. The women are stifled, but at least they're starting to figure out the problem … the men, at least the ones with vision, can see the world changing before their eyes, and they don't like the changes, but the more introspective amongst them can also see that the world of 1960 isn't all it's cracked up to be for men, either. … Mad Men … offers a critique of the gender relations of the time by showing how destructive they ultimately are to both men and women.
Finally, on October 19, 2007, I looked at the season finale:
Mad Men isn't perfect, but it comes pretty close, and it manages this while offering up a complexity that, even in this Golden Age of Television, is noteworthy. I mention this because it's easiest to come close to perfection if you don't aim very high. In its early seasons, 24 didn't do much more than deliver edge-of-your-seat thrills, but given that narrow focus, it did indeed deliver. Mad Men has a lot more going on than that, which means there are lots more areas where it can go wrong. It recreates the U.S. in 1960, and that's good enough, but it's not all surface recreations. Yes, they do a great job of reproducing the artifacts of the period, but they also do a great job of reproducing the attitudes of the period. And does so at times with a wink, but for the most part without the knowing irony that usually accompanies this kind of look back. In particular, Mad Men is fascinating in its examination of gender. The men are of their time, meaning they've got the world by the balls, but the pressure of keeping those balls in hand is enough to drive a man to drink (and these guys drink … a lot). Their stunted lack of emotional expressiveness doesn't really do them much good. What it does do is hurt the people around them, and by "people" I mean "women." At first glance, Mad Men seems to be too willing to adopt the male attitudes of the time. But over the course of the season, as we get to know the women better, we see the damage the times are doing to the women. If one projects the characters into the future, you can imagine a lot of clueless, befuddled men wondering what the hell happened, but you can also see a lot of feminists blooming in the sun. No one is very happy on Mad Men, and in the short term, women have it much worse than men. But you can see the seeds of a women's revolution in Mad Men … if this series lasts a few seasons more, they'll have to give up on the pun of the title and change it to Mad Women. And these women are in the figurative attic in Season One, but they aren't likely to stay there forever, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
And I mentioned this about Betty Draper: “[S]he offered up the image of the season, on a show full of great images, when she took the BB gun to the pigeons while her cig hung out of the side of her mouth.”