Mad Men

Mad Men

70-odd hours of of non-stop, incredible writing. One of the many brilliant aspects of this show is the genuineness of its period setting. The ’60s isn’t just seen through wonderful production design, but the era reflects strongly in the characters’ worldviews and their subsequent decision-making too. No character preaches to validate the political correctness of today’s time. The men are assholes in general. The women are swimming neck-deep in patriarchy. There wasn’t much equality in society. But all the moral judgements are left to us, instead of forcing any character to “win the day” or speak for humanity. Thus, the story and emotions feel authentic to when the story is taking place. This also makes it a classic case study of how subtext, when done well, can make for something powerful. “Show, don’t tell”.

As show creator Matt Weiner put it, the characters are “slightly improved” as the show ends. It is designed in a way that you can’t/don’t have to love them, but can be engaged by just observing their arcs. The show is deeply engaging in spite of featuring characters that can be easily dismissed for being morally unredeemable. It treats them for who they are and not what we want them to be.

Donald Draper is a complex character, a guy who doesn’t know what he wants, while he sells various “wants” to the world as a creative director at an ad agency. He sells happiness to others, while he is groping in the dark for some of his own. This irony makes for an intriguing watch, as his personal life and creative work add context to each other. The fun is how much he can see through us, showing us the truth about how easily we are manipulated, while we are seeing right through his flaws at the same time. This setup is indeed, mad. All this leads to a finale that seems like some kind of Rorschach test, with the kind of ambivalence it leaves us with. You can try identifying the kind of person you yourself are, by your own reaction to that ambiguous ending. And boy it does make you want to choose! What a journey.


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