When Matthew Weiner created the television show Mad Men he never imagined the tremendous impact the program would have on its followers, even less he never pictured the implications the production would have on the format of dramatic television. A show that was conceived under humble conditions would culminate in a fashion of inconceivable triumph.
The numerous awards Mad Men has won only scratch the surface of the prolific prosperity the show has garnered over its fruit bearing seven seasons. All honorary mentions and critical claims aside, Mad Men’s success lies within one thing; it’s ability to represent real life situations in a visceral manner. The content of the show allows the viewer to obtain the raw essence of world transitioning through a time characterized by monumental paradigm shifts in how we view human nature.
The show drives us through cultural phenomenons of the 1950’s and 1960’s, exposing the colossal transformations through the eyes of characters rich with substance. Mad Men’s evocative characters are not akin to the regular archetypes of the drama genre. While Mad Men steals its successes from the genre, it leaves behind the shoe leather that weighs down traditional television drama’s.
While the shows setting remains in the realm of the 1960’s, its perspective relies heavily on contemporary anecdotes. Mad Men uses situational irony to portray the how humans connote meaning with everyday interaction. The idiosyncratic subtitles that construct the make up of the living experience.
The human experience is often illustrated in ways that are superficial. Mad Men takes these cosmetic formations of that follow us day to day, and applies them in manner exposes than meaning that lies below the surface of dialogue and informal interaction. Mad Men is famed for presenting scenes that are insidiously awkward, to the point that are sometimes painful to watch.
The scene above between Pete Campbell, young account executive and what was then Sterling Cooper Advertising agency, and Don Draper exposes the bleak and unforeseen meaning that lies between the words we speak. As a stand alone scene there is very little substance in the content. Mad Men artfully tucks these starkly bold scenes throughout the ample details that have been built up through each character. In context this scene carries a great deal of weight. It is the first time each character opens up to one another. While neither outwardly states their affection for the other man, they make the clear distinction through their body language. Perhaps the most important thing that is enveloped in this scene is the backstory of each character.
Mad Men’s most salient element of success is in its ability to surpass the invisible barrier that separates the fictional characters from the reality of the audience members lives. The show exposes the wide array of characters in a manner that ebb and flows much like the human experience. We dip through highs and lows, on a daily basis. The realist nature of Mad Men rigorously implements this pragmatism through long characters arcs that don’t always lead to self realization. A common pitfall of dramatic television is the over dramatization of the epiphanic moment. Much like the nature of the living experience we are not neatly presented with fresh insight or crafty solutions that vanish our problems, no, sometimes things just are as they are.
Mad Men’s most bountiful character is coincidentally the most enigmatic character on the show. I have talked about Don Draper’s struggle with the identity and his deep dark past that succeeds to haunt him into adult years. We begin the show with illustrious Don Draper the suave Ad men, a man of few words, however when he talks it stops the whole room. He is the quintessential hero, until we begin to learn that this seductive bravado is only a external fragmentation of who Don Draper aspires to be. The brilliant duality of Don Draper’s identity is that he isn’t who he says he is. He struggles to shed his true identity, but one cannot simply discard their entire past, and become a person he existed completely outside of the self. This complex duality makes Don Draper one of the most compelling characters on television.
We are all essential on this journey to discover who we truly are, and sometimes the answers are not always as clear as day. The anxiety that consumers the adorning Dick Whitman (Don Draper), is perhaps what makes such a dishonest man, captivating. Season 7 is undoubtedly where Don Draper’s journey reaches it’s metaphorical peak.
In terms of time season 7 is set in the 70’s. We have trek through the transformative period of the 60’s, watching from the side as the tides of change begin to overcome the traditional societal norms. The 70’s, the beginning of a new decade in the afterglow of the dwindling enlightenment of the decade before. This entrance into a new era, offers a new light for the future. In the dawn of this new decade Don Draper is forced to look ahead to the future. In the episode “The Forecast” towards the end of season 7, Don Draper has been posited a question about where he sees the future of the company going. While in the past Don Draper would have silently thought about the question, and within seconds he would have conjured up a grandiose and ambitious answer that would stump the sharpest of minds. This time is different, people see Don for who he truly is,the honest Don, and he does not have the same shiny luster he once had.
Representative of the times Don is also struggling where to go next. He has begun to delayer the mystery of Dick Whitman to those who surround him, but the result isn’t what he hoped for. The inquiry of the future confounds him because he is unable to see where he will be in the future. The question sends him in a downward spiral of thoughts that will inevitably consume him. This fall into the depths is emblematic to series opening credits, which we are lead the whole time to believing that Don Draper will leap from the very building that has allowed to breach the myth of social classes.
What does Don do instead well, *spoiler alert, he comes up with arguably the most memorable ad in history.
Let me back track a little bit here, and we will shortly come back to the final moments of Mad Men. After Don is unable to answer the question of his and the ones who surround him inevitable fate, he decides to leave it all behind. To run away from the unease that surrounds him. He hits the road, in the Kerouac fashion, and journeys throughout the country in search of nothing else, but himself. He soon learns that running from your problems doesn’t make confronting them any easier. After a tumultuous voyage, symbolic of his growth throughout all 7 seasons, Don is on the verge of his existence. He is have an existential break down as the pile 0f apprehensions begins to pour out of him. We see this long overdue break in Don Draper. At first we fearful of the result, but also relieved that all this suppressed angst is pouring out, and after all these years we can see Don for who he truly is.
No he does not leap off the Time building at the offices of Sterling Cooper, no he does not fall down the chamber of an empty elevator, nor does he let alcohol consumer his life. None of these fallacies come to fruition. Instead we find Don in a much better place. A place where he is at peace, with himself, with the future, with the unknown, and at the ring of a bell everything just is. We end the show on a final close up of the sun drenched Don Draper with a iridescent smile glued to his face. At this very moment, we feel resolve for Don, as though he has discovered what was missing all along. He has found his true identity and is no longer running scared; instead running free.