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Victoria

Lance, why do you watch this show, given its wide-ranging failures in delivering what needs to be delivered?

On first reading, I agreed with some of your points and just sort of gaped at others. So I viewed the show again to double-check my perceptions. Here’s what strikes me:

Yes –
Mad Men is about moments, not plot momentum, and if you’re not into moments it must be a misery. Me, I like moments and I like watching actors who clearly enjoy playing the script they have been handed. Yes, its messages about the “truth” of the period can be underwhelming, but then again most TV shows are less than brill in the insight department – and I include the much-vaunted Sopranos in that list, which had me shouting, “Oh puh-leeeze!” every time I watched it.

No –
Making Sal’s near-breakthrough in the hotel a comedy would have been a cruelty. We like Sal, we long for him to live a true life. I would not enjoy laughing at that moment. The cost of being found out in 1963 was genuinely life-threatening. I feel for this character.

Does it really seem to you that Betty spends a lot of time trying to prove that she is beautiful and attractive? I think she knows perfectly well that she’s a knock-out. Her fear is that she will lose it. Because it’s all she’s got. If only she could make the rest of her world as perfect as she looks…

When Shelly said the line about people asking if she’s done modeling, it was poignant because Don’s married to an actual model, who far outdoes Shelly in that regard. Shelly in no way imagines who/what Don has at home.

Don’s understandable hatred for his over-sexed father is always coming up against the fact that he carries a big piece of his father’s flaw. I don’t think of Don as a jerk; I think of him as an addict. – So the bookends of this episode – recalling the hell of his father related to his own birth night and then being asked to tell the story of his own daughter’s birth as she sits there wearing the TWA wings seemed something above banal.

The funny. Roger is consistently witty; he’s also the funny. “Sometimes they don’t get the inflection.” Cooper is amusing. And the comparison of reactions as Pete and Ken are offered their promotions made me giggle. (And therein lies the purpose of Peterman’s temper-tantrum, which, I’ll grant you, was more plot device than plausible.) Other than that, I don’t think we can expect a lot of yuks from a creator as compulsive as Weiner. Not gonna happen. Change the channel.

Dylan

Man, I just couldn't disagree with you more here, Mannion.

Draper's tryst with the stewardess was an insanely personal drama for him. Fresh off of the will they/won't they stay together drama that ended last season (now, apparently, solved by the fact that "a kid fixes everything"), Don is now in a place to revert to his old ways.

How does he do it? By making up a story about who he is. This is familiar territory for him, making it that much easier to disassociate himself from his problems to give into his baser carnality.

Because, when it comes down to it, Don Draper is just a dispicable human being. He doesn't like to think of himself that way, but there's no denying it. He combats his internal disappointment with himself by keeping the stoic, quiet demeanor that makes him mysterious and therefore desirable, but as he said, no matter where he vacations, he realizes he's somewhere he's already been.

Compare this to Tony Soprano. An equally (if not more so) despicable person, but whose lumbering oafishness led to moments of pure comedy. But The Sopranos was supposed to be a pure representation of a modern time. Mad Men is supposed to be a representation of a time most of us know only from screwball comedies and JFK clips.

I think that's the point. If the screwball comedies of the era were comedic reflections of that time period, then Mad Men is the reflection of what people felt who were supposed to be living up to that happy-go-lucky postwar ideal, but who weren't and were therefore disappointed in themselves. And, of course, in the next few years it would blow up into a culture war that has yet to fully die.

MaryRC

So ... I wasn't supposed to find Ken and Pete each thinking they were the new head of accounts, or Sally finding the wings, or Burt's tirade funny even though I did, because they weren't? Or ... what? Not every joke has to be played with a laughtrack or mugging.

Lance

Mary, just the opposite. Those situations were funny. I just think the writing and the directing were done in a way that was meant to tamp down our laughter. Mugging and laughtracks I don't need. But comedy is a matter of tone, pace, and lightness of touch, and none that was on display in any of those scenes. If that wasn't done deliberately, then it was just bad writing and bad directing. But I think it's deliberate and I don't like it.

Which doesn't mean I don't like the show.

Which brings me to...

Victoria, I watch the show because it's generally well-written and well-acted, and always interesting, if never funny. I also really like Peggy and Roger. I'm a John Slattery fan from way back. (Although I think that Slattery does a fine job of making Roger seem witty, just as Bryan Batt does a great job with Sal.) Had the pleasure once of seeing him live in Long Day's Journey Into Night with Sam Waterson. I don't mind the show being all about moments. Out of Town had some nice ones---Joan's getting the better of Hooker, for one. (There are some people who've accused me of liking the show only because of Christina Hendricks.) I think Sal's scene should have been played for laughs because it was a scene from a farce. But that I wanted it to laugh at Sal's predicament. I would have rather the writers had come up with a different sort of scene with the same result. But if they were going to use the structure of a farce they should have had the courage, or the wit, to follow through. I don't think laughter is always cruel.

Also, Betty's constant comparisons of herself to her mother are what make me think she's insecure about her looks. I think you're right that she's afraid of losing what she has, but I also think she's afraid she doesn't measure up. And she does seem to connect being beautiful with being successful and competent and happy and since she doesn't regard herself as any of those latter things, she creates doubt for herself that she is the former.

See, this is why I watch the show. To think about stuff like that.

Dylan, it's the same as the scene with Sal. Whatever did come through the scene with Shelly could have been presented through a different sort of scene. As long as they were using the structure of farce, they should have gone for the laughs. I don't think comedy has ever been an obstacle to presenting psychological truths.

Dylan

But the scene WASN'T a farce! Neither was the scene with Sal! It was Sal's first moment to give into this gay desires fully (if with trepidation) as was Drapers fling with Shelley. These weren't farcical moments, they were serious.

And, yes, comedy has never been an obstacle to presenting psychological truths, but neither has drama which Mad Men, ya know, is.

Victoria

Hey, I've got an idea - let's beat up on Lance some more!

Dylan's point about Don making up stories reminded me of another thing I liked bout Sunday's episode - Betty says, "You're good at this" as he invents a bedtime story that puts her where she is not, and then he falls into his fake story with the flight crew with the same ease... modeling for Sal the fun of faking life before realizing how thoroughly Sal already does. And yet, he is haunted by his own true story and unable to tell the true story of his daughter's birth. Good stuff, but a little tough for comedy.

Lance

What good are comment sections if you can't beat up on the blogger?

Victoria,

Nothing's too tough for comedy. Some things are too tough for naturalistic drama.

Dylan,

Real life is often farcical and part of the farce is how things conspire to make us look or feel foolish at moments when we want to feel noble, heroic, romantic, smart, admirable, etc. I don't think it would have hurt Sal at all if we'd been allowed to laugh at his predicament.

D and V and M,

As I said, I think Matthew Weiner shouldn't use the conventions of comedy if he didn't want us to laugh. BUT here's the real thing. I don't think that any thing that was good in the episode wouldn't have been good, in fact wouldn't have been made better, if they'd been played for comedy.

Dave

If I may be the voice of reason here, Lance, I think you hit the nail out of the park on this one (to coin a phrase).

I've watched every episode of the show alongside my long-suffering wife. She loves loves loves every episode, and despite my love for this period, I always end up thinking I should enjoy it more; that I like the idea of the show far more than the show itself, and the reasons are the ones you name: that the show is far more interested is telling us "Oh, we're so much better off now than those poor schlubs; if they only knew better ..."

But what keeps me coming back, ironically enough, is the quality of the writing and the acting. If they'd just loosen up and let the characters in on the joke a little more, it'd be as good as it thinks it is.

lina

To me the whole series is a one-dimensional tragedy - told in pretty pictures. More than that, it is an extract of tragedy, much like heroin is an extract of opium. The characters are not just experiencing sexism, racism, homophobia, and disassociation, they are the essence of all these things. To play up any comedic aspects of the action would dilute my overdose on the deliciousness of the tragedy. Don't water down my heroin. Don't mix any soda with my whiskey. Don't even give me any ice cubes. I like it just the way it is.

Lance

lina, very nicely put, but don't worry. Nobody important listens to me. Still, what Dave said. I don't think the show's bad because you're getting your tragedy without soda. I just think it would be better if the writers didn't go out of their way to kill every potentially humorous moment. And comedy isn't the enemy of tragedy. Lots of yuks in all of Shakespeare's great tragedies. Well, not so many in Lear, but Hamlet kills.

Hamlet kills? Get it? All those dead bodies at the end? Ho ho ho? Hello, is this mic on?

Victoria

I thought I'd make another comment just to see of Lance still has fight in him.

I have been trying to picture what the correct allotment of Lance-described humor would be beyond the mostly behavioral stuff by Roger and Pete and Cooper.

For me, the imbalance lies elsewhere. What's striking to me is that there are very few scenes where anyone is having any fun. There was the dumb fun of a drunken office party on election night - that was hardly the stuff of real fun. It surely wasn't meant to feel good to us. Don seems to have the teeniest bit of fun with his children from time to time. But does anyone at the ad agency actually enjoy their work? You'd think there would have to be more enjoyable repartee among creative collaborators in any halfway successful ad agency. But not in this group. Had there been some fun before, the British owner impact would have provided more contrast.

The show, of course, is about a shadow-laden world view that was supposed to have died in the 60's... but didn't. Reminds me of the joke: "What do you hear about Harry these days?" - "Harry? Good lord, been dead for years... just hasn't laid down yet." So maybe it's this zombie aspect that keeps the damper down.

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