Austin Mackell – Madmen commentary

So I watched the third last episode last night. It’s still flawlessly executed, but I’m not having any fun. I’m also wondering if they should have just finished the whole series with Cooper’s awesome song after the moon landing. That was a high point. I think that would have been “too easy” for the creators though. You can’t fault them at all for lack of ambition.

I think one of the things that’s being attempted is to bring a film like story structure to the series as a whole, so after the climax there’s a resolution. However, this resolution in movies is normally a 5 minute re-cap with text on screen about what happened to the characters. This one’s going on for 8 hours, though, and what’s more, it’s all a bit too real. The company (and therefore the world of the TV series) is being swallowed whole and digested by the ubiquity of corporate America. I’m feeling depressed after I watch an episode. They’ve managed to create exactly the kind of creeping ennui and existential angst that we turn on the TV in large part to escape.

I guess we’re meant to be given a good idea about where things go next for the characters – Joan’s special status at SCDP has evaporated and she’s back in the position of being either a kept woman or the office’s most spectacular and ogled T&A. Don is drifting into late-middle aged oblivion, becoming a lonely old loser – something added to by the fact we’ve not seen him use his talents once this whole season. This also means an important element of the TV show’s unique experience is missing. The glimpses at how the cultural and commercial world we live in might have been dreamed up were part of the fun. I wanted to see him do Coca-Cola. The mention of that possibility was so far the most exciting part of the series for me. We might have seen our hero slay one last dragon – or fail.

There’s no time for that now. If Don gets another pitch in before the final curtain it will be rushed, with no time for us to see his process – something Jon Hamm has made strangely compelling again and again. Where’s the big finale? That’s right we already had it.

Speaking of time, we don’t have enough of it for either Don or Joan’s new love interests. When I see them on screen I’m just annoyed. There are lots of other characters who we already give a fuck about, and rather than giving us some final moments with them or establishing their trajectories at the end of the series, we’re learning about yet another cranky and iconoclastic older man and troubled, dark haired woman. I really don’t care and find neither character compelling. This time would be way better spent checking in on some of the other characters… some of the people who were fired from SCDP and those who quit. I’d even like to see Megan’s life when she’s not finalising her divorce with Don. (Her mother Marie’s reappearance is a strong point). But wouldn’t we like to see what Ken’s new office is like? What about a resurfacing of Salvatore Romani? What did he do in later life? Paul Kinsey? Is he out in Hollywood drinking at the same bars as Megan? Or in India at an ashram? Michael Ginsberg anyone? Still in a mental health facility? One of my favourite parts of period pieces is peeking into the horror show of antique medical practices, mental health especially.

All this would have been better use of the limited time the series has left than introducing two more characters, neither of which they’ve managed to make me care about at all.

Of the advertisers in the show (which is about advertising right?) only Peggy seems to have any remaining dynamism, mostly shown in that one slow motion walk to music that they did when she finally entered the McCann building. Similarly Betty and Sally both light up the screen when they’re on it. Something is happening with them, and with the neighbourhood boy with his crush on Betty, who’s now convinced he’s a man, and hits on Betty directly, before heading off to fight in Vietnam.

The rest of the time, it’s just people going to work in a new office. It’s a merger that’s taking eight episodes. Fucking wow. The whole point is that McCann is boring. it’s boring for them, and it’s boring for us. The only interesting thing abut it would be its clients but we don’t see that. Just long grey hallways.

I guess their point is the gloss had to wear thin eventually, but I feel The Downfall which we’re clearly experiencing could have been a bit more dramatic and a bit less like a warm bath slowly going cold. This reminds me of a bunch of works that already exist which focus on the End Of An Era as the sixties came to a close (Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas being paramount amongst them). Is this just an 8 episode version of “The wave speech?”. In this context it’s interesting that Kerouac’s On The Road rates a mention during Don’s conversation with a hallucination of Bert Cooper. Like Fear and Loathing it shows the dream running out of steam and the hedonism degenerating from a celebration of freedom into a sleazy, seedy, and fundamentally empty selfishness.

Perhaps in the final episode Don will run away to Tijuana or Las Vegas for a spectacularly sleazy end. In that vein I was going to suggest we all make bets about what happens in the final episode, but I’m having a lot of trouble thinking of something I care about enough to bother.

I guess it’s possible they’ll blow me away with a big finale that makes the whole thing worthwhile. I’m certainly not betting on that, though.

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Categories: JH05JUN2015