Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Return of Mad Men: Comparing to other shows, a short recap of season four, and the evolution of Don Draper

Warning: if you haven't seen the show before, it might be a good idea not to read this article.  A lot of the show will be spoiled in the following column.

It's baaaaaaaaaack
There are few shows that I get excited for anymore.  I live in an age where most kids my age huddle over The Walking Dead and "how addicting it is".  The Big Bang Theory is considered the funniest show currently on air, only because "Sheldon is so quirky!" or "Wolowitz is jaaaays!".  Seldom does anybody my age watch anything on HBO, and not too many hour-long dramas are the most liked on Facebook.

I pride myself on my taste for television.  While the majority of my time is spent watching sports, I always make time to tune into shows that have tickled my fancy. And the show that I've found the most satisfaction in is Mad Men.

If you haven't seen it before stop reading this and either buy every season on DVD or illegally download it on your computer, then you're missing out on utter brilliance.  Mad Men, in short terms, takes place in 1960s Manhattan and focuses on the lives of several characters who work in advertising.  The protagonist of the show, Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) is a drinking, smoking, cheating, genius, good-looking, intelligent,  

Who is Don Draper?

The thing that makes the character Don Draper so thought-provoking is that, technically Don Draper doesn't exist -- not in the "well he's a TV character, of course he doesn't exist" -- more in the "in this made up Mad Men world, even Don Draper doesn't exist" sense.  Let me explain.

"I live like there's no tomorrow, because there isn't one."
"Don Draper" is an alias.  Hamm's character's real name is Dick Whitman; the name Don Draper is not faulty, as Draper was Whitman's friend during the Korean War.  After a blast killed (the real) Draper and destroyed his body beyond recognition, Whitman switched the dog tags (soldier identification for the fallen), and took on the identity of Don Draper.  

Still with me?  Good.  As time goes on, Don meets his wife Betty, has kids, sleeps with a bunch of women, drinks a lot, smokes a lot, sleeps with more women, drinks more rye, smokes more Lucky Strike cigarettes...yada yada yada.

The "aura" and "sexiness" of Mad Men

I think red is my favourite colour
But this is what I love about Mad Men that makes it so unique.  With Hamm being an attractive man, and all the women on the show being incredibly beautiful, there's a sexiness to the show that brings in viewers.  To be frank, there are people who only watch the show because of the people.  How much of a waste is that?  I tried to convince a friend of mine to watch it, and after a few episodes of season one, he texted with: "the shows ok, but da redhead with huge tits is a rocket".  See what I mean?  

But that's what creates such a buzz for a show like this.  Another show that I have become addicted too, and could argue as the greatest show of all-time, is The Wire.  If you have seen the show, then you obviously agree with me on the all-time comment. Could Mad Men pass it on the pantheon of television?  It has a chance.  With season five and six being green-lit, combined with a possible seventh which show creator Matt Weiner has said would be the last, Mad Men certainly has a chance to become the greatest series of all-time.  

Back to my point with The Wire -- I said that it is the greatest show of all-time.  But if you do the research and ask most with knowledge of pop-culture, its ranking on a more public and commercial scale fails to meet.  How so?

The show was never "sexy".  The plot of the show was the culture behind drug dealing, politics, police-work, and the streets of Baltimore, Maryland.  Yes, there were some handsome or attractive characters, and every so-often a sex scene or two, but The Wire never had an aura of "sexiness" to it like Mad Men does.  That's why, despite being critically, one of the most applauded and transcendent television series ever, The Wire played second-fiddle to fellow HBO powerhouse The Sopranos.  And no, I'm not saying Tony Soprano is sexy.  What I'm saying is, all the girls that Tony slept with, the fact that his wife Carmela and his daughter Meadow were attractive women, the idea of their joint being based out of a strip-club; the aura that I said The Wire was missing is there with The Sopranos.  

So let's get back to Mad Men, and the aura of sexiness that I'm trying to explain.  The vocal point of the show is Draper, and the aura that he carries with him is what makes him so appealing.  Even though he is a noted adulterer, and has broken the hearts of his wife and several women he has slept with, there's still something about him that brings you into his circle, and makes you sympathize.  

Don Draper's arrival at rock bottom

As season four developed, Don was adjusting to single life, and spiraling into a dark, deep, bitter sadness, that had become an evolutionary discovery of self, in which we had never seen from our protagonist.  One noted scene from the season was Don coming home from a night of heavy-drinking with a woman, then waking up to find himself with a different woman.  Only thing was, an entire day had passed.  It never even hit him.

What we were witness to was rock bottom for Don Draper.  With no wife, a frustrating career, and only small opportunities to see his children, Draper became an enigma of what we thought of him in the past.  Before, we saw a confident man with an air of arrogance, combined with good-looks and a sense of deviancy that would make you want to hate him, but you just couldn't.  Seeing him smoke his smoke, and drink his drink, you felt green with envy.  But now, it was only pity that you felt.  

The Suitcase

The Suitcase: Season Four, Episode Seven
Some consider this episode to be one of the most well-written television episodes of all-time
As Don's life is spiraling out of control, he spends a night with Peggy (played by Elisabeth Moss) in their office, trying to finish a deadline for a campaign for a suitcase manufacturer.  The two reflect on their lives, sharing a platonic intimacy that leaves us wondering if they have feelings for eachother.  The next morning, Don finds out that someone close in his life has died, leaving him sobbing infront of Peggy.  This is the first time we have seen Don so...vulnerable.  You sympathize for a man who as he put it, "lost the only person who really knew him". Peggy genuinely replies with "that's not true".  

It was there that the relationship between Don and Peggy became the strongest in the show.  While Don feels like no one understands his struggle, the audience is given the sense that Peggy is just as broken mentally as Don is, as she deals with her own personal demons that haunt her on a daily basis.  

Right there -- did you catch it? -- right there is where other people relate to Mad Men. There is such a mythology that follows the show, in the sense that people want to be like the characters. They want to sleep with beautiful women and drink on a daily basis and drive nice cars and make a lot of money and all that jazz; what they don't realize is that they already are like the characters.  We deal with addiction, divorce, jealously, betrayal, violence, everything that makes life living just a little bit harder.  We do drink to get away from that, and we do cheat on our spouses to fill a void that may or may not exist.  Mad Men isn't an escape from reality -- it's a support group.

Don cleans his act, and season four comes to a close

This man has probably slept with your wife.  Even though he isn't real, he probably has. 
After hitting rock bottom, Don decides to cut back on his drinking and smoking, and begins going to a gym.  He tries to woo a woman whom his company has worked with, but decides that her failure to fill the role of a motherly figure to his children is too much for him to hold on.  As the season draws to a close, his new secretary Megan (who he slept with a few episodes prior) is asked to help babysit the children on a trip to California, after Don's ex-wife fires their old nanny.  On the trip, Don sees how she handles the children and how well they respond to her.  As they share another night of love, he wakes up in the morning and asks her to marry him.  She says yes.  

The season closes with the couple engaged, the firm laying off almost half of their staff, and Betty taking the kids and her new husband to a new house outside of Manhattan.  

Season five

I have no idea what is going to happen, and I like it that way.  With over 17 months since the last episode, Mad Men promises to bring a plethora of new plots and surprises that we haven't seen before.  And it's two hours long!!!  Mind me for seeming a bit too gleeful, but there aren't many shows on television that I look forward to watching anymore.  And this is one of them.

So tonight, when I'm watching the best show on television, please do not tweet, email, Facebook chat, bbm, or text me.  You won't get a reply.

I'll be at my support group.

Hunter Crowther is a regular blogger, and contributes to the Lifestyle Blog for Gongshow Hockey. Follow Hunter on twitter @HunterCrowther or email him at 

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