Mad Men: Season 5 To Date, or, Mad Men: The Sitcom

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I've meant to do comic recaps of the show like I did last season, but as I've pointed out elsewhere, it's hard to create comic recaps of a comedy. And even if Mad Men isn't striving to be a comedy, persay, it now lives in a vaudevillian space, with real human emotion transformed into grotesques and American history as paranoid horror.

The show hasn't lost its energy, but that energy has been rocketed in a million different directions, creating a season that might charitably be described as a mess. An entertaining mess, to be sure, but a mess nonetheless.

With a few exceptions, the characters have lost their humanity and have become enslaved to Matt Weiner's machinations, plucking at the bolts of their lives with as little agency as Ken Cosgrove's sad little robot.

It makes a certain amount of sense that Don's become static, and there's an inherent tragedy in what's happened to Roger, but Pete's so fickle that he hardly seems like a real person anymore.

Pete's desperation for Don's approval has become more than a little tired. It's difficult to sympathize with his struggle to establish his manhood, because his idea of what manhood ought to look like is so nonsensical in the first place. Trudy certainly hasn't emasculated him, and he has a powerful position at the firm.

He's the John Updike character in a show that always had more of a Richard Yates or John Cheever flavor, searching for petty pleasures rather than clawing at the world to find a path to humanity.

That said, how could I object to anything that leads to this?

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All punching aside, the strongest stories in this new Mad Men involve those characters who are still forging ahead to create their own destinies, fighting the tides: Megan, Joan and Lane.

And where our old guard remains interesting is how they respond to the new fire within these three characters. Take, Don for example.

He has officially become your curmudgeonly Grandpa, more content to sip scotch while sitting in his boxer shorts and watching a ball game than horror of horrors, socializing.

Don's  life has become epitomized by the incurious "why":

  • "Why do we have to go out on a Saturday night?"
  • "Why can't I just stay in with you?"
  • "Why have you dressed me in the sartorial equivalent of a hurdy-gurdy?":

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He allows himself to be railroaded to a certain extent, because it's what he wants at this stage in time. Like most men who've encountered their share of angst and self-destruction, what he longs for in the end is a measure of peace. That's why his own personal nightmare involves the most dramatic destruction of that peace possible, where his entire ability to make decisions for himself is challenge by animal fears.

For the terrors that the world brings cannot ever match the terror he feels in his heart, the fear that he can never settle down and stop destroying his own life. Dick Whitman's more terrifying to him than Charles Whitman could ever be.

So while I'm tiring of the repeated sensationalism of this season and the necessity to insert not just one but usually two contemporary set-pieces into the cozy SCDP world, I feel like those events are meant to reflect what's going on inside of Don. But the lens has grown too large.

Play along in the comments, and I'll be back next week!

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2 Responses to “ Mad Men: Season 5 To Date, or, Mad Men: The Sitcom ”

  1. I find it interesting to see how viewers like myself come to and relate to the show.  I'm not finding it a mess this season, even if its morphed a bit as shows tend to do as they age.  But I'm going to pick a fight, because one common element I see in many discussions of Mad Men is the templating of the viewers ideology onto the characters.  This year its become a sport to read reviews and see the ideals and ideas of reviewers reflected and amplified back because of what they choose to take exception with.  Is it that the show isn't really showing the 60's as they were, as if that were a singular thing shared exactly the same way.  Is it that Don isn't exactly Don from Season 2 how the reviewer liked him?  
    What I'll take exception with is that Pete has grown unrealistic.  At work, I share a wall with a Pete Campbell.  An eternally needy, eternally dissatisfied guy who seeks approval and promotion then destroys himself (and tries to destroy others) whenever he gets close to what he needs.  And its almost led to blows, and certainly has led to the uglier moments of the last year or two here in my office suite.For Don...  he's just not the forefront character in the past few episodes.  I think you're right, but we've got several more episodes and however many more seasons to let Weiner and Co. explore the character.  Can we really believe that because Don behaves himself for a few episodes, that's it?  I look to Season 2 for the last time he behaved himself, or tried to, anyway.  In some ways, the season is on a slow boil, and that's okay.  Its not like nothing is happening.

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  2. theoncominghope18 April 2012 15:39

    Those are great points.

    I do take issue with your suggestion that I'm implying that "nothing is happening." In fact, I'd argue that TOO MUCH is happening. Every episode has a "big event", when previously there'd be maybe one or two per season, and one of those would take place in the background.

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