Saturday, June 6, 2015

Another Farewell

It has been almost three weeks since the finale of Mad Men. Say it ain't so! Everyone out there has probably already heard their fill about Coca-Cola, "hippie" retreats, and the grand spark of a sweet relationship, but not me, I've just been sitting back ruminating on it all. And when I say "sitting back" I hope everyone is imagining me in a rocking chair, puffing away at a pipe, and rockin' back and forth with an enigmatic look on my face.  I come up with my best ideas in that exact kind of environment.

Dramatic recaps posted the second after an episode airs can be fun and necessary these days, especially if you want to get your word in before one of the other talking heads says exactly what you were going to write.Yet, much of the time it all feels too fast.

The internet seemed over Mad Men within a couple hours after the finale aired. With so much information flowing through every second, it quickly felt like there was instantly some sort of pressure to just be done with it. To keep up with our quick pace about everything, meant that by Monday morning, after tuning into the finale and reading a couple bits of commentary, we should all have already found a new show to obsess over.

Why? That's not how I ever want to roll people.

As a general rule, I like to tightly grasp hold of things I love for as long as possible (aka, Walt & Jesse, Tami & Coach, The Braverman's, Kenneth Ellen Parcell, Pawnee), squeezing absolutely as much enjoyment out of them before making a natural decision to move on and say goodbye (for now).

While I still haven't entirely let go yet, over the last week being Mad Men less has had me diving into the bevy of new television that's out there. Just a quick judgement: I'm finding that there is no other show that is giving off the exact same "classy adult drama vibe" that Mad Men projected week after week for years. With that in mind, there is an awful lot to be said over what the television landscape looks like without this show being on the air.

Just the loss of the overall design of the show and elaborately accurate costumes from the era has now made TV less fashionable. And no, sorry, as hard as they have tried/continue to try, The Playboy Club, Pam Am, or The Astronaut Wives Club, will never be considered valid substitutes. 

Mad Man had such a detailed vision and it will be difficult to match. The costumes and setting even set trends off around the country where everyone was scrambling to get that "Mad Men" look.

And "the look" was only a small segment of what made this show stand out. It is by no means a simple show, but it is simple in concept. Mad Men is a drama about people. Who am I kidding, almost all TV shows are about people, but there isn't a lot of shows that look at people the way Mad Men did. The advertising world of the 1960s, while perfect for causing equal parts tension and fun, was merely the backdrop to analyze the deep roots of human life.

Sevens seasons were spent looking into how people feel and act in their darkest and highest moments (literally and figuratively). That combination of emotions made for a show full of tears, laughs, and, at times, bonkers surrealism. People fixate on all the drama and fantastical moments, which are super terrific and everything, but Mad Men is also a lot funnier than anyone ever gives it credit for.Without including such great sense of humor, and characters with true wit, this show would not be as well rounded and I wouldn't care for it as much as I do.

Tune in for a brooding Don Draper giving a life changing pitch that will make you want to buy a new Chevy and leave with a hysterical Roger Sterling quip. Not just those two either - the show is filled with well developed characters.Mad Men, for me, became most addicting just because you became invested in wondering how each of the character's story would turn out.

And even though anyone who is anyone places Don Draper among the trend of "anti-hero" leading men, there is still something entirely unique about his personality and voyage that makes him separate from just another Tony Soprano or Walter White. [Those two are also greatly different from one another, but I digress.] We can't forget about everyone else either - from Joan, to Peggy, to Harry Crane, the characters on Mad Men can't be compared to any other.

Creating a batch of distinct people had a lot to do with the way Mad Men chose to focus attention on ideas that are not always written about for TV. Bringing up fresh ideas, would need some new characters to support it. Women's role in the workplace, big dreams, class issues, stereotypes, and being an overall judgmental society are just a few of the backbone themes ever present through all of the stories.  We all hope these issues are getting better in the world we live in now, and it has (for the most part), but telling the story from the 1960s point of view, also highlights how much these issues are still holding people back, even today.  

And that's where it comes down to - the story. Over the years and through much of my writing here, I've come to the realization that much of what makes me love a movie, a TV show, or a song, is about the story it is telling. I'm definitely beating a dead horse, since I've expelled this nonsense endlessly before and I'm also far from the first person to ever feel that way.  

Mad Men was, and will continue to be (as I and others re-watch it/discover it), about story. It is a rare show that was written in a way that felt totally complete. There was never a sense that a scene could have been written better or that something was missing. Every moment felt full, because of the high standard for quality that was demonstrated consistently by those folks making everything tick behind the scenes.

The audience never had to expel thoughts like, "Hey! I could write this better, you schmucks!". There was trust that what was unfolding before our eyes was the highest peak of greatness. As if no one was actually writing the situations the characters were finding themselves in, but that it was just happening as it should be, like fate. Even in some fantastical moments, this show was never contrived. It all felt entirely natural.

Sure, all hardcore fans have had frustrations in the way Matthew Weiner chose to leave some stories ambiguous. Like, where the hell did Ginsberg go? But that can be explained away with just, maybe no one knows? That's killer for anyone who had a favorite character just peace out, which was really only a few here and there, but people in real life can do the same thing. We all have had those people who come and go in life, sometimes with no explanation - it just happens.

Let's not forget that things have been worse for other TV shows that have ended. We all remember (I just read about it) the endless frustration over The Soprano's cutting to black and the big reveal about Lost. If a TV series ends and there are only miniscule frustrations, that is a real triumph. So, congrats to Mad Men.

Now, I know this show also isn't for everybody, so some of you out there have more complaints than I do. But every time I try to look at this with a critical eye and sit wondering how someone could not be obsessed with this show, I always have just ended up at a loss.

Overall, Mad Men ended like the whole series always was - unpredictable. While I would have preferred Don not be separated from the rest of the cast so much in the final episodes, it had to be done. The show was all about his journey. Don was never going to entirely figure his life out while drinking with Roger Sterling. Before he hit the road, he did have some great final moments with the rest of the cast, so we just have to let it be. Plus, his last conversation with Peggy, mid mental breakdown over the phone, was worthwhile indeed.

Even before the very end of the episode, was a moment I thought would never actually happen, and was also brought on by a phone call.. Peggy fans around the globe, including myself giddily smiling on my couch, couldn't help but rejoice that her final moments on screen were not about work, but instead removed the question mark that was surrounding her life outside the job.

We all were rooting for Peggy's work success, because she is a bad ass, but that could lead to forgetting that she also was looking for a loving relationship. Then Peggy and Stan got on the phone, typical for them, but this time their conversation was less about work and more of a tip of the hat to all those romance movies from the 60s and 70s. Stan declared his love (finally!) and Peggy sealed it in her typical fashion: "I mean I must be. Because you’re always right. I can’t believe this. I think I’m in love with you too. I really do."  Peggy and Stan got their happy ending, which made me more excited than any romantic comedy I've ever seen. Swoon.

Don in a way, had his happy ending too. At first it seemed like his trip to California wasn't going to teach him anything. He wound up at a hippie feeling retreat. Once I realized that most of the episode was going to take place there, I honestly couldn't believe what was happening. Once again, Mad Men took everyone down an unexpected path. Could Don honestly be happy at a place like that? While seemingly crazy at first, it turned out to do the trick.

Most interestingly, Don, the guy who always had the biggest, grandest monologues, was brought to silence at the retreat. We never actually got to see Don have a big revelation about his deep sadness and regret (even though he does a little of that over the phone to Peggy). Instead, someone else at the retreat, who had a very similar story to tell, had the final dramatic monologue in the show. Again, all I can say is, wow. Giving up an entire scene in a show's finale to a character that had never been seen before, seems crazy, but it totally worked.

After the other man told his story, Don walked forward to embrace him and they collectively weeped. That guy just said everything he was feeling. Don breaking down was a total release of his emotions. He was always grand at spinning a story in a pitch meeting, but talking about himself always made him a bit more reserved. So this way of expressing his emotions felt entirely perfect. He could let it out without saying a word.

That expression must have been enough for him, since in the final scene Don seemed more at peace. That could have just been the scenic location speaking and all that white clothing, but from my perspective, I think Don was ready to move on and face the world anew.

Maybe Don did create one of the most memorable TV commercials in history or maybe he left the advertising world and stayed with a California state of mind. That's for the viewer to decide.

Wait - no!

He definitely went back to McCann Erickson! He's just too good at those pitches and ideas! This time though, he had hopefully released some of the past so he could get back to his current life, family, and friends.

Mad Men taught me many things, but most importantly, to always stick with what you're good at, even if it takes stealing someone else's identity.

Ha! Okay, but in all seriousness people - my big take-away from the show is that a different name will get you a fresh start, and you can eventually come to terms with the past, but what's innately you inside will not change. Own it.

With that, we say farewell to another good one. Mad Men - may you rest forever in the hallowed halls of the treasured TV archive. Keep Friday Night Lights, The Wire, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Six Feet Under, Pushing Daisies, Breaking Bad, and all the rest company. We'll see you next time on one of the hundred instant streaming services.

Until next time.

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1 comment:

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