June 11, 2012
Mad Men finale: did my nose just start bleeding?
Hey, has anyone figured out what the theme of this season of Mad Men was? 'Cause I'm not sure I quite got it. Maybe something about how even when you get what you wait, you're still not happy? Or maybe that ambition and desire are great motivators, but success and wish-fulfillment have a cost? Or that the things we want are always just out of reach, even when it seems like we've attained them? Or that satisfaction is fleeting and elusive? Or that you can find happiness, but it wears off?
Let's try to find a few dozen more ways to say the same thing, shall we? Because that's what this season felt like to me. My favorite descriptions of this season are in Time, last month ("The episodes sometimes feel overcrafted, the symbols and themes double-underlined.") and a great piece today about how the season feels like it's explaining its own jokes. Not only did the whole season keep coming back to the same central theme over and over again, but each individual episode was very overtly about some related theme (like competitiveness, ambition, disappointment, disillusionment, etc, get out the thesaurus.) The themes in themselves are interesting, and the story lines in which the characters played out those themes were fine, but man, just about every episode felt eye-wateringly, sucker-punchingly on the nose.
The finale had some good stuff in it, but first, the parts that bugged me: how many times did we need Lane's wife to say some version of "We stiff-upper-lipped British just get on with it, so don't give me that yank consoling business"? Three times? Because I think that's how many times she said it in one short scene. How many times did Marie have to say "Just give up on acting, it's a dream that's not panning out" to Megan? Three, four times? Maybe they didn't quite get it. One more time, Marie.
The parts I liked were Don and Peggy in the movie theater. They were so happy to see each other and so relaxed and comfortable together, it was a relief after all that Pete Campbell existential agony with Gilmore Girl who is so wrong for that role I can't believe it. Even if we had to hear how Don doesn't like it when people he loves grow up and don't need him anymore, AGAIN, it was still a nice and reasonably subtle scene. I also loved the scene of Megan getting ready to shoot the commercial when Don kisses her and walks away from that brightly-lit beautiful set into blackness (above). The season really could have ended right there. Even though he has a semi-functioning marriage and is trying to do the right thing, Don's still alone in the world. We get it.
But wait! Maybe we don't quite get it! Let's add one more scene in which a fetching young woman walks up to Don in a bar and asks, "Are you alone?" Don ponders this question grimly. Because yes, he is alone. On an existential level. Silence. He doesn't need to answer the question because Don and the audience and everybody on the planet have already answered it for him 10,000 times just in the last three episodes. End of season 5.
One more thing: I guess it would be a sign of mental instability if another character were dropping acid and getting naked alone in their apartments, but when it's Roger Sterling, it's just fantastic.
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