Sunday, April 1, 2012
Mad Men is one of the best shows on TV. It captures the essence of an era that was known for its male centric culture and hard living ethos. Think JFK meets Dean Martin all wrapped up in the veneer of Father Knows Best.
Like all good lies, it works for a while only to be done in eventually by the truth. Then instead of living a secret life, you find your deceit exposed for all to witness until you begin to hate yourself for having done it all to begin with. And to make matters worse, society's moral capital that you exploited perfectly to shield your chicanery from family and co-workers has been spent by you and millions like you to the point where your immorality has become almost pedestrian. What you used to do discreetly in a hotel room circa 1961 while sipping a martini is now plastered on every billboard and movie theater in Manhattan circa 1967. Sin is fun when it is restricted to those who have the good sense to exercise discretion but it becomes rather corrosive and corrupting when everyone else gets the hang of it.
This may all be fancy social theorizing but I think it is the direction Mad Men is taking. I started to watch the first episode last Sunday night. Funny, I had never watched it on TV and never will again. I have the DVD's and loved them without the commercials. I turned off the show after 40 minutes out of sheer boredom. The next morning, figuring I was too drunk and tired to perhaps appreciate the nuances of the show, I purchased the entire season on Itunes which will nicely be downloaded into my account after each episode airs. I watched Sunday night's premier last night and must say, my initial instinct was wrong. Contrary to many reviews, it was not boring at all. There were no blockbuster moments but the foundation has been laid for some great story lines. Here is what to expect in the next eleven episodes based on what I divined. Keep in mind that these are the prognostications of merely someone who made the mistake in life of going to law school instead of writing novels and movie scripts.
Don Draper. He turned 40 (plus six months). He will begin having an affair on his second wife. His very quick marriage to her was pure infatuation. He never loved her, something she at least shares with his first wife. You can see the seeds of his dissatisfaction by his reaction to the surprise birthday party and risque dance she performed in front of his co-workers. He has no respect for her. She exists only to the extent that she complements the image he wants to portray to the outside world. But then again, what second wife doesn't? More telling was his making love to her while she cleaned his apartment in her panties and bra. The purpose of that scene was not to highlight his prurient lust for her. What I saw were two things that spell big league trouble for any women: cellulite and sagging boobs. For a man, they can be replaced very fast. No different from getting rid of the rust on that '61 Cadillac by buying a '66 Continental. She will start nagging him mercilessly for material things. He will unceremoniously dump her. Expect her demise to be coupled with a crisis in the office as she diverts his attention from his responsibilities to his clients. But there will be one big twist.
Megan. She fits the stereotype of the middle aged man's second wife too perfectly. Call it a trophy wife, arm candy, or an antidote to a first wife who made love like a wet dish rag. The message is clear: your days are numbered sweetheart so start preparing for the downfall. And how does the ideal second wife do this? Simple. The same way Jane Greer tried to keep Robert Mitchum on her side in Out Of The Past: blackmail. Employ the Black Arts to get your way. There are two scenes that open the door to this angle. At the party, one of Megan's girlfriends alluded to her past as an actress. Megan replied that she was not successful at it. To the untrained ear and eye, this may have been meaningless. But it was not. It Manhattan, there is a time honored occupation for wannabe actresses and models and it ain't waiting on tables. Second, she apparently knows of Don's dual identity. Huge mistake on his part in telling her this secret. Here is how this will play out: Don will find out about her past. He really won't care but will use it as a convenient excuse to give her her walking papers or to just let him do whatever he wants. She will become, for him, well, what she used to be: a lady of the evening. But she will then play the trump card of all trump cards: what is good for the goose is good for the gander. He may have relieved himself of financially underwriting the real Mrs. Draper in California but now he will inherit an even bigger problem. And the lovely Megan will not be so accommodating. Like all gifted gold diggers and blackmailers, she will up the ante and push Don to his limits. Expect some big fireworks here.
Roger and Joan. There is a temptation to write him off, the victim of a heart attack. His role in the agency is becoming increasingly irrelevant. After all, he is only there because his father owned the agency with the eccentric Burt Cooper, another old fart who serves no useful purpose. But they own a majority of the agency so their weight is not that dead. But Roger adds biting humor that would be sorely missed. His one liners and even by 1960's standards, political incorrectness, are quite entertaining. And after all, getting drunk with potential clients to keep them loose is an underrated art.
He hangs around while fending off the backstabbing Pete. He is also the father to Joan's son. Expect her to dump this news on him when she divorces her husband. There is no way she is going to be content commuting every day from Fort Dix while married to a doctor who spends his days treating GI's for gonorrhea and syphilis in some desolate Quonset hut in the pine barrens. At some point, Roger will dump his airhead wife and move in with Joan.
Lane Pryce. I like this character. A very unhappy and complex man who is weak and compassionate. We learn that he is struggling financially and has shown a too eager willingness to hire Joan back and to get on her good side. There has to be an ulterior motive at least subconsciously. His money worries will get the better of him and he will start embezzling from the firm and expect Joan to cover for him. This will all blow up by the end of the season.
Pete Campbell. Not a likable guy but works hard and does put money in other people's pockets. He will give the partners an ultimatum: make him partner or else he goes. They will relent but it will be ugly.
Peggy Olson. I never liked the character. So I have no predictions other than that she will keep getting old.
Betty. A no show so far. She will divorce Henry Francis but not before having an affair with her ex husband. I predict she dies after going psycho. Maybe she burns down the house and takes herself along for the ride. She is that crazy.
A quick mention of one of my favorite characters: Freddy Rumsen. A reformed drinker who never pretended to be anything other than what he was. Worked hard and was responsible for giving Peggy credit for her first big coup: a basket of kisses. Even though he pissed his pants in front of his co-workers, he is my kind of guy.