Okay, I gave you a few days to catch up on the MAD MEN finale. If you still haven’t seen it, then SPOILER ALERT. But if you have, or don’t care then read on.
I’m very curious as to your opinion of this season. A number of critics I admire and who analyze the shit out of the show every week took issue with the fact that this year they (and by they I mean Matt Weiner of course) spelled things out more than ever before. In the final episode Pete tells the new love of his life (who has no idea who he is after her recent shock treatment – there’s always some little complication between young lovers) everything that’s wrong with his life. And Don reveals to Peggy his fear that important people in his life always leave him. There are four or five other examples along the way.
The critics contend that these admissions are quite bald and very uncharacteristic of MAD MEN. The show (and by the show I mean Matt Weiner of course) always prided itself on its subtlety. The writing staff (and by writing staff I mean Matt Weiner, of course) seemed to give the audience more credit in the past – that they could figure out these attitudes and emotions themselves. They didn’t them to be spelled out.
And that’s true. MAD MEN at its best uses behavior, originality, and surprising story turns to convey the most complex emotions and ideas. No explanations are needed. How the characters react to situations informs us of who they are and what they want. No one does that better than Matt Weiner (and by Matt Weiner I mean Matt Weiner of course).
But that subtlety comes with a price. The audience has to WANT TO put in the time and effort to gleam the themes and decipher the intended messages. When they do it’s great! You have real watercooler television. People taking the time to debate your show. It doesn’t get any better than that (except for awards and money and fame). But if the audience isn’t as invested or loses interest and doesn't want to play then there’s the danger of losing them completely.
For that reason I didn’t really mind the more overt explanations. I worry that the show may have a bigger problem. I wonder if fans are starting to get tired of these characters’ dilemmas. To me the common theme was that nobody was happy even though everybody should have been happy. Whatever they had wasn’t enough. After awhile you start feeling you’re watching THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF MADISON AVENUE. As a writer, this has always been my test: If the audience might say, "I wish I had that problem" then construct a different problem.
If I could respectfully make one suggestion for next season it would be to make the characters’ plight more relatable and sympathetic. I think back to the first season. I even loved Betty.
That said, I thought there were some brilliant episodes and moments in this year’s shows. The Richard Speck installment was riveting. I love Ginsburg. Can’t get enough Sally. Roger on LSD should be his permanent state. Joan can do no wrong even when she does. You can’t punch Pete enough. And Peggy going all “Lou Pinella” on Don after the botched presentation was maybe the best scene of the year.
But the competition is getting tougher, it’s harder and harder to top yourself, and Matt Weiner has his work cut out for him (and by Matt Weiner I mean Don Draper, of course).
Thursday, June 14, 2012
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM