Tuesday, April 23, 2013
So...Mad Men Kinda Sucks Now, Right?
There was a time when I could not WAIT for a new episode of Mad Men. I used to have a ritual, back when I smoked tobacco, where I would fix myself a nice cocktail and maybe get some fancy Trader Joe's snacks and I'd and drink and smoke along with the characters, happily indulging while a guy got his foot run over by a lawnmower and Sally masturbated and Betty was the worst and Don wrote a letter about quitting tobacco that changed everything. But I quit smoking tobacco over two years ago, while Don Draper's still going at it. Don's resolutely continued habit seems to be a clear symbol of his inability to change, even when everyone is his life is telling him he should; even when he wants to.
After having watched the first four episodes of this season, after having been bludgeoned over the head by the "HISTORY IS FUCKING DOOMED TO REPEAT ITSELF AND PEOPLE DON'T REALLY CHANGE" theme that has so obviously become the through-line of the show...I am bored. Like, legitimately bored. Why do I need to watch Don unable to control himself AGAIN and cheating on his wife AGAIN and smoking too much AGAIN and treating all women like whores AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN? I don't. People who don't take proper agency over their own lives are either very lazy or very stupid or both, and any way about it they don't make interesting characters. There's a Tumblr dedicated to Dan Harmon called "Having Changed" - so-called because Harmon's characters tend to take a Joseph Campell-esque hero's journey and return from whence they came, having changed. It's compelling and gives more weight to the characters and their motivations, providing the show has an adequate sense of continuity. On Mad Men it feels like, sure, we're following the characters down this path, but most of them are actively trying not to grow, stubbornly clutching at the old ways of doing things even as the old ways are crumbling to dust in their hands.
Yes, I know that this isn't true of everyone. There is some interesting work being done with Dawn and Stan and bratty teenage Sally. There are a lot of characters on the show, and not all of them are static. But the Mad Men sun rises and falls with Don, and the plain truth is he's just no fun to watch any more. He's even sadder and more pathetic then when he was living in an alcoholic stupor in his depressing man cave, because he's had an opportunity to learn from his mistakes and move forward, but totally didn't. That is a choice that the writers made, and ultimately I think it was a terrible one. What are we going to see happen over the next season and a half? Worse and worse things until the show finally ends in a way that is both tragic and enigmatic. But just because a show is a drama doesn't mean that it has to be depressing, and just because a character is flawed doesn't mean that he has to slowly destroy his entire life until the audience is left feeling empty and wasted.
Believe me, I read enough blogs to know that the show has changed in very deliberate ways - as we've moved into the late sixties, we've seen the old guard from Sterling Cooper struggle with the changing world. We've seen the presentation of the show become brighter, brasher, and more on the surface. But purposeful or no, these changes have caused Mad Men to lose the subtlety that was its trademark. Everything is big, crazy and dramatic these days; the writing is more predictable and, like I said, the themes and symbolism are bashed over the viewer's head instead of being allowed to gradually and delicately reveal themselves. It's still a beautiful show to watch, of course - the aesthetics have always been top-notch, but they've gone from A reason to watch the show to THE reason. And I will keep watching, if only to finish what I've started, but Mad Men has definitely lost its top-ranked spot on my personal list of favorites - honestly, it lost it last year when Joan became a prostitute because didn't you know ALL WOMEN ARE WHORES? Ugh. I don't know why Matt Weiner decided to take his show on this repetitive, circular path of hopelessness, but I can't fathom it ending in any truly satisfying way. I suppose you could say that after Lost, I've got some trust issues (even though I don't mind the ending of Lost, but the writers did not do what they said they were going to do and wasted a lot of time on stupid things) but I think that's only fair. Don't build your show up to be so grand and then expect that people will stick by you when it becomes lazy and pedestrian! I know that a lot of you will disagree; I know there are aspects of the show that I haven't even touched upon. It's impossible to write a post on Mad Men and talk about EVERYTHING without it being a goddamn research paper. But it's important to evaluate things we once loved because sometimes, when we stop to really think about it, we'll find that we don't love them quite as much any more.
Image via nydailynews