Mad Men Meanders

Where are you going, my little Don, little Don?

Where are you going, my little Don, little Don?

Like a lot of people, I fell in love early with Mad Men.  I fell hard and fast.  And I hung in there even as the show seemed to forget its original premise and wander into areas (Betty in a fat suit!  Creepy suicidal British perv!) I had little interest in visiting.

But after binge-viewing  Season Six, I’m waking up and wondering just who I’m lying next to–Matthew Weiner or David Lynch.

The show still centers around Dapper Don Draper, the increasingly outdated Ken Doll of Madison Avenue–but seriously, how many different ways do we need to be reminded that he is an SOB?  Here he is breaking up a third marriage, engaging in sadomasochistic role-playing with his neighbor’s wife, punching out ministers in bars–really, nothing we haven’t seen him do before.  Meanwhile, he has stopped redeeming himself by coming up with brilliant, off the cuff ideas.  The bloom is off the rose, and soaking in 12-year scotch.

The rest of the ensemble–and there seems to be hundreds of them by now–keep churning on, piling plot upon plot in an increasingly desperate effort to keep us engaged.  To pull us back into the period, they keep throwing in vintage TV broadcasts and news stories so the shallow denizens of Madison Avenue can ‘react’.  You know you’re in trouble when the only way you can tell it’s 1968 is that Martin Luther King just got shot.  That, and the Monkees’ “Porpoise Song” is playing over the closing credits.

I’m reminded of David Lynch’s foray into television, Twin Peaks, and his Season One closer that not only failed to tie anything up, but actually spun the show off into new, even darker directions.  But Lynch is perverse, and takes glee in confounding/overloading his audience.  (They got their revenge by falling away in droves for Season Two, leading to the show’s early demise.)  I didn’t expect Mad Men to follow that path.

But it has.  Here is the plot synopsis for the final episode of MM’s sixth season.  (SPOILER ALERT:  You are reading an article about a television show.)

“Stan tells Don he is offering to relocate to California to support Sunkist and build a west coast presence for the agency “one desk at a time.” The agency receives an RFP from Hershey’s Chocolate and Jim assigns Don to make a pitch. Don tells Megan he wants to move to California after spending a night in jail and suggests she could pursue her acting career there. Pete receives a telegram saying that his mother has fallen from a cruise ship and is lost at sea, and later finds out she married nanny Manolo, whom Pete blames for pushing her off. Ted comes to Peggy’s apartment and says that he wants to leave his wife and be with her. Ted later reconsiders and decides he wants to move to California with his family, ostensibly to manage Sunkist but also to distance himself from his feelings for Peggy. Ted asks Don to approve the arrangement but is rejected. Don then makes a brilliant pitch to Hershey executives, but as they prepare to leave, Don reveals his real childhood — as an orphan raised in a brothel — to the room and tells Hershey’s they don’t need an ad campaign. He then decides to give Ted the Sunkist account. Ted informs Peggy and Don informs Megan of the Sunkist news, which infuriates both women. The partners have a meeting in the morning of Thanksgiving and tell Don that his unpredictable behavior has forced them to insist that he take a mandatory leave of absence of at least a few months, with Peggy filling in for Don due to Ted’s impending move to Los Angeles. Pete visits Trudy on Thanksgiving before catching a flight to Los Angeles, where he is moving. Joan invites Roger over for Thanksgiving dinner, but to be in Kevin’s life and not hers. Following the partners’ meeting, Don picks up his children and shows them the now-dilapidated brothel he grew up in. “

OK, seriously?  All this happens in fifty minutes?  And it solves anything?

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want everything tied up in a neat little bow at the end.  But Season Six spun out of control, introducing characters like Bob Benson, a Tom Ripley sort who deserves his own series; Manolo, his probable lover who murders old women for their presumed inheritance;  Sylvia Rosen, whose main purpose is to show yet another ugly side of Don Draper as he imprisons her as his sex toy in an uptown hotel; and her even more hapless husband Dr. Arnold Rosen, a world-famous surgeon who, as this season’s Jew, is money-obsessed and clueless to his wife’s infidelity.

It would be easier to take if I thought any of these people were likely to reappear in Season Seven, but I have my doubts.

A redemption of sorts is offered in the last few minutes of the final episode, when Don Comes Out as just another kid with a screwed-up childhood–first at the office in front of an important client, earning him a leave of absence; and then with his daughter, leading to–blackout.  We’re done until Season Seven.

Leaving viewers with the queasy decision faced by Sylvia–will we check out of that uptown hotel, or be back for more?

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