Monday, June 24, 2013


Now that the world is probably past caring, I'd like to put my two cents in on the closing episode of Mad Men Season 6. This is currently the only show with which I have a traditional fan-type relationship anymore -- that is, I watch it without caring if it's good.

And for the most part I've come to the conclusion that it isn't, much. Daniel Mendelsohn's overheated critique back in 2011 had some fair points, the most convincing being that a lot of what happens in the show, especially the ooh-ahh bits, often seems cooked up and ridiculous. (Whatever Bob Benson turns out to be or mean in the end, for example, I don't see how his leg action with Pete Campbell can possibly add up to anything but another tawdry stunt to make viewers gasp. Which, I admit, I did.)

And the most cooked-up, ridiculous thing about Mad Men has been the double life of Don Draper/Dick Whitman*. That it happened, and how it happened, is absurd, as is the maintenance of the fiction, with the insanely convenient assistance of the real Draper's widow and despite the fact that people keep finding out about it, on at least one occasion from Draper himself. If Mad magazine were still doing classic parodies, that would be a huge part of this one, along with Draper's enough-already death imagery ("So how should we sell Cool Whip, Don? I'm thinking fridge-as-morgue").

You can see why Matt Weiner wanted it, though; instead of having Draper merely tortured by ambition and an inability to connect -- features that a successful ad man could have even without the spooky backstory -- he can be extra tortured by Living a Lie in a more literal sense. It adds moody, Gothic shadows to what is essentially just another grey flannel suit story, and sometimes peril to spice up the drama.

Because I'm a fan I have gone with it -- and in this season, as Draper's behavior became more outrageously self-destructive and other characters were either outright turning on him or revealing that they could do without him, I expected that he would push someone too far and get the ass-kicking he'd been asking for, probably via the explosion of his secret in a way that couldn't be papered over. How surprised and impressed I was, then, that Draper did it to himself, and that he seemed at least willing to keep pulling that string till it all unraveled.

And this is one of the great things about being a fan: Sometimes your team pulls it off. Everything that is not absurd and cheap about the character and the show is in that speech. I don't like to get into the minutiae-meanings that Mad Men Monday Morning QBs pick over every week, but Draper telling the guys from Hershey, just before he goes into the soliloquy, "I have to say this because I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again," is a magnificent thing. The speech he's about to tell them exposes not only details of Draper's real past, but also the sorrow and longing that are his creative wellspring, such as it is -- the place where those cheap, pretty stories he's been so good at selling come from. It's the Cup of Loneliness. Telling the story -- right after telling the bullshit version of the story -- isn't just Draper unmasking himself, it's Draper unmasking everything he's been doing for every client in his career. And though the specific and obvious outrage of the blown pitch is bad enough to get him fired, it feels to me as if his real firing offense  is admitting that his business is as much of a fraud as he is. To preface this as Draper did with a statement that is equally winsome and vicious -- like he had to tell them this horrible thing before they left him forever -- is something more like art than must-watch TV.

Oh, and Jon Hamm was totally up for it. Bravo. He walked the line.

Also: The characters I'd been feeling sorry for because Draper had been fucking them over don't seem so worthy of my affection anymore. (Particularly Ted Chaough. What a passive aggressive cunt.) But there I go, being a fan again. It's just as well it's over for a while. Now maybe I should read a book.

*UPDATE. I originally had this as "Dick Whitten"; thanks, TribalistMeathead, for the catch. I tend to slide Dick Whitman into Dick Whittington, the poor boy who becomes Lord Mayor of London Town, and I guess I got caught halfway through.


  1. PulletSurprise1:14 AM

    :golf clap:

  2. Spaghetti Lee2:03 AM

    I've always thought the 'traditional fan-type relationship' involved watching it while complaining it was better last season and is about to go downhill fast.

    But I tell ya, Roy, you've got such a way with words that I'll read a review of a TV show I don't even watch. I'll keep reading you if you stop being any good, but that doesn't seem likely.

  3. redoubt8:03 AM

    Because in a business of lies, he told a (partial) truth. For which he's been cast out of the Garden of Lie-Eden, just as Nixon's people are about to take over the White House.

  4. MRC2109:15 AM

    It's kind of ironic that on Edroso's blog, of all places, you complain that a TV show doesn't express your moral and political views.

  5. dstatton10:22 AM

    That speech redeemed the entire season for me. It seems that the series should end on that note.

  6. TribalistMeathead2:03 PM

    Dick Whitman.

  7. I wasn't complaining about a TV show not expressing my moral and political views--Sorry to disappoint you.

    And, even with my teeny-tiny brain, I understood Edroso's point of fandom. I certainly would never criticize a person's taste in entertainment (having watched most of Supernatural and beginning to get hooked on that stupid-ass show Fringe), if that's your beef.

    I was "complaining" (or maybe just observing) that too many asshat Murkins think the 1950s-60s are some Golden Age, especially when even the small progress we've made is being rolled back by folks with memory spans of maybe a week or two.

    I'm not sure what you mean by my comment being ironic, but I find it ironic to be criticized for voicing a socio-political view on a political humor blog.

    It was never meant to be a soapbox stand--just an off-hand comment on why I never watched the show beyond a handful of episodes. Hence my question on whether it is worth trying again, in the opinion of others here.

  8. You title the post after a great novel about being a sports fan and what that means and the first sentence of the post includes the number 6, leading me to briefly believe I was going to read about the Blackhawks amazing last minute win in game 6, thus capturing the Stanley Cup for the second time in 4 years.
    Oh, Mad Men. Never mind.....

  9. FlipYrWhig4:20 PM

    If it's a "celebration" of anything, it's mid-century decor. The show makes you invested in what happens to the characters, but decidedly does not present any character as The Hero or even The Anti-Hero. YMMV.

  10. Re: Bob Benson. You should read Tom and Lorenzo's thorough discussion of gay subculture in 1968 as it pertains to Bob:

    And a followup, when the revelations about Bob's background made them realize they'd miscalculated a bit:

    Actually, you would probably enjoy their recaps and style posts as well.

  11. That gives me something to netflix, then. Always handy.


  12. petesh6:58 PM

    One interesting factoid is that many of the writers (a clear majority, I think) have been women. Hence, of course, the misogyny being so clearly presented. Yes, there are some viewers who see it as celebration, but I think it's pretty clear it's meant as critique.

  13. Don Akers1:16 AM

    I know everyone comes for the merciless and most excellent mocking of the right, but I for one welcome, nay, treasure the all too infrequent (not a complaint, I know you have a life, just saying!) criticism of art, pop or otherwise. As for this season's finale, as a fellow fan, I agree; Draper's "pitch" to Hershey was the best thing that happened this season, along with the very last scene in the episode. You link to a site celebrating the best musical moments in Mad Men; Both Sides Now at the end of this season really worked for me. The final glance between Sally (how about Kiernan Shipka - is that kid special or what?) and Don was awesome.

  14. Kenneth McLeod5:43 PM

    Most of my MAD MEN discussions are in the meatworld with real folks, after my exhaustion with the predictable terrain of the AMC talk forums--blowhards proclaiming "WORST EPISODE EVER", people debating over which female they hate the most, or long-winded essays that go on and on (mine was about the architecture in the season opener). I can agree or disagree with you, Roy, on the merits of the show, but I enjoy the fact that your observations are informed and entertaining, and not stated in the form of a blunt object.

  15. TribalistMeathead10:08 AM

    Sorry Roy, I completely forgot I posted that dickish two-word post.

    I'm with you on Chaough. I was sympathetic to him when Don tried to take him down by getting him falling-down-drunk, but that sympathy has long evaporated.

  16. edroso11:14 PM

    Nothing dickish about it. It was ridiculous that I got that wrong.