jon miller, hall of famer

mad men season premiere

OK, I don’t watch every show, and I’m sure there’s something out there better than everything else (Breaking Bad is often mentioned). But at my house, based on the shows I watch, the best show on TV is Mad Men. So yes, I’m glad it’s back (and I’m glad Comcast airs the East Coast feed on HD, so we can watch it at 7:00 instead of waiting until Monday).

Some things are the same. It’s still great, it will still frustrate people who want something “to happen,” and did I mention it’s still great?

You wouldn’t want to say the characters have changed, exactly … better to say we continue to learn more about them. Don Draper … the first line of the new season is “Who is Don Draper?”, and of course there’s no answer because Don Draper doesn’t exist, and to the extent there’s a faux-Don, no one knows who he is, either, including the man pretending to be Don. I had a thought … I know I should quit thinking about Battlestar Galactica, maybe switch to Caprica, since it’s still on … those shows ask fundamental questions about what it means to be human. The locus of these questions lies in the Cylons, most particularly the ones designed to look and act like “real” humans. Well, Don Draper is a Cylon. There is something human inside of him, but it (Don) is really a machine designed to look and act like a “real” human. It’s a tricky thing to pull off … Mad Men is not science fiction, in fact it prides itself on its realism, but Don Draper would fit just fine in one of Philip K. Dick’s 60s’ novels.

Don Draper is a Cylon … he’s also apparently a self-hating Cylon, although I don’t want to say anything specific since the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, has his knives out for anyone tossing out even the most minor of spoilers. Don has a real problem, or rather, Dick Whitman has a problem: Whitman pulled off the ultimate in self-hating stunts by taking on the life of another man, but Dick hates the man he became.

In artistic terms, the character I’m most worried about is Betty. Early on, her struggle to get past her neuroses made her one of the most interesting characters on the show, at least to me. But while Peggy and Joan have grown over the course of the series, Betty is stagnant, or worse when it comes to parenting. As has been pointed out, those characters with jobs get to demonstrate their competence for 8 hours a day, but Betty, the stay-at-home mom, has no outlet for her competence, and so she remains an unhappy housewife who resents her daughter. There is no growth in the character, leaving our hopes in her daughter, Sally, who has gradually emerged as an important secondary character over the years. (It helps that Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sally and is now 10 years old, is doing a superb job … I suspect she can handle whatever Weiner gives her.)

Nothing in the season premiere changed my mind: it’s going to be another great season.