Oh, Mad Men! What a happy, satisfying, the-gang’s-all-back-together kind of an episode! I love how Trudy shows up with sandwiches for everyone, and there’s this warm familial sense that we’re all in this together etc etc. It was almost like watching a different show! Except for the part where Don of all people, who apparently has no self-awareness at all, or was just really angry and upset because his life was falling apart, I guess, called Betty a whore.
Is it weird that I feel weird about that? I have been thinking a lot about how people watch Mad Men lately, and I keep coming back to being surprised that a show like Mad Men — slow-moving, full of unlikable characters (the only exception being maybe Joan, and even then she is still kind of a bitch) whose unlikability you’re constantly being confronted with, about social issues and politics — is as popular and beloved as it is. I know people generally like things that are awesome, and if Mad Men is challenging it’s also compelling and funny and emotionally absorbing, but it still consistently surprises me that some people seem to love it despite apparently not having any idea what’s going on. (I.e. I don’t think the producers meant us to read Don molesting Bobbie Barrett as even a little bit of a proud moment, and I still read forum comments like “Woo! Don’s got his mojo back!” after that episode aired. Then I stopped reading forums about Mad Men.)
So, I watched, I laughed, I totally cheered “Joan!” along with everyone else in the room when Roger said “Let me make a call.” It was seriously satisfying to see Don tell Roger how much he meant to him, tell Pete how actually prescient he is, tell Peggy how much he values and understands her talent, to see Harry get the credit he deserves; but at the same time I feel weirdly guilty about it. I’m supposed to get this feeling from, like, Buffy, the show where love saves the world, not Mad Men, the show about how love is just something guys like Don invented to sell stockings. It’s not that I expect Mad Men to be real, even, it’s more like I expect it not to satisfy my cheeseball desires. I expect to be carefully constructed to totally break my heart. I know NY Mag thinks that it “somehow didn’t feel like some ridiculous holodeck of phony caper-ness,” 1 but I still feel kind of wrong about it. The whole gang just working out of this one hotel room, starting everything anew in some kind of Utopian American Dream blank slate thing — it just seems so much like they were trying to throw me a bone. It feels nefarious; it’s the kind of happy capitalist ending that makes me want to go all Frankfurt school on the whole thing.
Why can’t I just let TV make people happy? I am not usually this weird grad school person who is suspicious of entertainment products that give people good feelings!
Also this has been bugging me, the article claims that Joan has “been with fewer men than Peggy, so far as we know.” I think this is false. We know Joan has been with Kinsey, Roger, that random old dude she picked up when she and Carol went out that one night after Carol told Joan to pretend she was a boy, and her husband; in the pilot she also implies that she boned that creepy birth control doctor she sent Peggy to. Based on what we know, Peggy has been with Pete, that college kid she picks up, and Duck. And that could very well be the entire list of men Peggy’s been with. ↩