November 2, 2009

Mad Men and Why I'm Almost Over This Show

This has been a pretty uneven season of Mad Men. I've loved some episodes, while other episodes left me a little cold. But this is the first time in almost three seasons of the show where I straight-up HATED an episode. I feel bad for admitting it, since this was the "Very Special Episode" of Mad Men where President Kennedy gets assassinated, and I shouldn't really be hating on the episode where Kennedy gets shot and everybody is sad, but dang did this ep piss me off!!! At this point, for me, Mad Men should just turn into the Pete and Trudy show and everybody else needs to go away. Actually, no, scratch that. Everybody can stay but just get rid of Don and Betty. I'm completely over Don and Betty. OVER. Which is annoying, to say the least, since the whole Don and Betty thing had actually been one of my favorite storylines on the show (at least before season 3). Now I want nothing more than for Betty and Don to just go away and take their boring affairs and their boring problems and their boring self pity and leave me alone. I'm over it. Frankly, it's not much fun watching a marriage disintegrate for no other reason than the writers insist on turning these characters into thoroughly unlikeable people.

What pisses me off is that Don and Betty were not unlikeable in seasons 1 and 2. They had flaws, they made mistakes, they did things that pissed me off, but I still felt affection for them as people. But now, after the abortion that has been season 3, I can't feel anything for these people. Well, actually, I still feel a little bit for Don -- because I feel like, for all his flaws, he's constantly TRYING to be a better person. He might be a jerk and a screw-up and a liar, but at least he wants to be better, even if he fails at it.

Betty, on the other hand, has gone from sympathetic and likable (though obviously flawed) to just down right horrible and selfish and unforgiving. I think I turn on characters who refuse to forgive. If you can't forgive, then I'm pretty much not on your side anymore, and that's where I'm at with Betty. She's "fallen out of love with Don"? Boo freaking hoo! Get over yourself, Betty. This guy didn't have to spill his guts to you last week. He could have driven away with CrazySuzanne and had a happy bohemian life. He doesn't have to keep trying to make things work even though he's restless and confused and emotionally damaged. Don gave up last week -- he gave up on the lies and the secrets and the facade that kept him emotionally distant from his wife. He was ready to try and make it work. But what does Betty do? Does she try to be honest with Don and try to work through their problems and see if she can build a life with him again and maybe work at their relationship? Hell no, she freaks out about Kennedy and then uses that as an excuse to end her marriage. And now she's contemplating marriage with BoringMcWhatsHisName??? I'm so bored by Rockefeller guy that I don't even remember his name. She's become utterly unlikable for me. And she can't even manage to dump Don for somebody interesting.

I can understand her being hurt and confused and feeling betrayed by Don. I understand that and was more than willing to sympathize with her about it. But how could she have experienced that conversation with Don where he basically admits that the reason he lied to her about his past was because he was ashamed of it and feared she would reject him because of it and all he wanted was for her to love him -- how does she NOT feel something for her husband after that? I simply can't identify anymore with Betty. I used to reject the notion that Betty was "cold" or an "ice queen," but now? Shit, Betty, that's cold!

I get that people can't control their initial emotions. If Betty doesn't feel anything for Don anymore, okay. But "love" is more than just a mere emotional reaction. Love is a choice; it's a conscious decision of the will. Sometimes our family members piss us off and we're not exactly feeling the emotion of "love" but that doesn't mean we don't still do things for them, that we don't help them or take care of them or WILL ourselves to forgive them and work on making the relationship stronger. Of course, I'm one of those people weird people who thinks divorce and estrangement is wrong (unless there's abuse going on, of course) so I don't exactly cheer whenever I see a marriage end, real or fictional. "So you want Betty to stay in a loveless marriage??? What kind of backwards freak are you???" Yeah, yeah, whatever. So, it's loveless now -- does it have to be loveless forever? Don is, in many ways, a good man -- kind, sensitive, thoughtful, funny, caring, good with his children -- maybe, just maybe, Betty could find herself falling back in love with such a man... if she'd give it a chance, if she'd work on being more honest and forthcoming with her emotions herself, if she'd learn to truly forgive. I know that's asking a lot of Betty, but guess what? Sometimes people are called on to be heroic. And what's even more shocking, in fiction and in real, sometimes people actually are heroic. And wouldn't that be an interesting storyline? How many shows have actually had the guts to show a couple work through alienation of affections and tried to rekindle some form of love? Nowadays people just get divorced, whatever. But in the 60s a lot of people DID stay together. Sometimes it was horrible and things never got better and the love didn't return. But sometimes.... things did get better, and the love did return, and wouldn't that be a fresh and interesting storyline to explore in 2009? Since this is Mad Men and the writers do manage to surprise me, I'm holding out some slim measure of hope...

Maybe I'm expecting too much from the Betty character, I don't know. But I guess my antipathy towards divorce is so strong that if Betty is the one to end her marriage, it will turn me against her character completely. I mean, the only reason I still even half-like Roger is because his character is funny and has all the best lines. But as far as liking HIM, I don't. Roger is a brat and a fool and I'm kinda glad he's stuck in his stupid marriage with the idiot-child Jane.

(Sidenote: The only marriage I'd like to see end on this show, in fact, is Joan's because, again her divorce would be warranted seeing as her husband has shown himself to be abusive.)

This has turned into a rant about marriage and divorce (which is okay, I guess, because the show deals with these issues quite a bit), but I also hated this episode because it has confirmed my worst fears about where Mad Men is heading. The Kennedy assassination was so front and center that I was pretty much bored through the whole hour. Mad Men has never bored me, even in its slowest moments, but tonight I was bored. Sorry to be insensitive to all the Boomers out there who can't get enough of the Kennedy stuff, but I'm over it. The assassination was sad and scary and life changing, etc., etc. -- I get that. But it's been covered so much by media and fiction that I'm just numbed by the whole thing. I felt none of the dread or sadness that must have really happened on that day while I was watching this episode. It was all just so played! "And now here comes the part where Mad Men completely turns into a self-indulgent Boomer pity party!" It's all so self-conscious and arch. The show's always been a little bit on the mannered side, but now it's insufferable. Every word is weighted with extra metaphoric meaning, every event ties in to some Big Theme, every moment of the show seems to point to some larger symbolism. It's just too freaking much, especially when the symbolism and the themes are the same old tired 60s cliches we've been living with for forty-nine years.

What it boils down to: I just don't find "The 60s" as a cultural moment all that interesting. As I've written in a previous post, why don't we explore some other eras in American history? World War II has been done to death in movies, but the 30s, the 20s, and the first two decades of the 20th century haven't nearly gotten their due, especially in television.

I mean, I signed on to a show about AN AD AGENCY in the early 60s. Where's the AD AGENCY stuff??? And as I said before: Why can't this just be a show SET in the 60s instead of a show ABOUT the 60s? I mean, my parents grew up in the 1960s and their lives didn't conform perfectly to the cliche 60s template of social upheaval and whatnot. I mean, my grandma and great-aunts cried for days after Kennedy was shot, but nobody ended their marriage or started an affair because they were so distraught over it! They simply cried, were sad and frightened, and then guess what? Life went on and things got better. The world didn't end. Don Draper was right after all. Things did and do get better. At least they do in the real world and not on a TV show that's more concerned with awing us with their GREAT THEME of the week instead of telling a believable story about characters we like and care about.

Why can't this just be the Pete and Trudy show again? I wish. They're the only ones I like these days. And if they become unlikable? Well, then I guess I will be over the show. There you go, Mad Men: I'm putting you on notice. Not that you care.


  1. "Mad Men should just turn into the Pete and Trudy show"


    "But now, after the abortion that has been season 3, I can't feel anything for these people."

    It was an abortion, Michael!

    "...nobody ended their marriage or started an affair because they were so distraught over it!"


    "There you go, Mad Men: I'm putting you on notice. Not that you care."


    (this comment was no help whatsoever)

  2. Hee! Thanks any way for your hilarious commentary! :D

    I dunno, this ep really pissed me off. I guess I should have expected this reaction eventually because as the show continues on it's just going to get more into "The 60s" and that will just make me madder (heh "madder"... Mad Men makes me madder, heh).

    I'm not interested in "The 60s". I was interested in Don Draper and Betty and Peggy and Pete and Joan and Sal, but "The 60s"? It's been done to death. And I have a feeling the show is just going to get more insufferable now that we're moving into the "culturally significant" part of the decade. The show is just getting too mannered and it's starting to fall in on itself. I hate to say it, but I hope Betty divorces Don and leaves the show, while Don goes off to be a hobo and leaves the show, and the rest of the show is about the AD AGENCY and Pete and Peggy and the rest of the young execs like Ken and Paul.

    I can't believe I'm saying this, but Don and Betty are over and should be jetisoned (it'll never happen of course, since Jon Hamm's Jon Ham is the star). The new main couple should be Pete and Trudy and Pete should become the new star of the show. I know this is crazy talk (like expecting the Sopranos to go on with Tony), but that's where I'm at right now with Mad Men. Don and Betty? Leave and never come back! Leave and never come back!

    Shocking admission: I don't even want to watch next week unless I'm guaranteed at least 30 minutes of Pete screen time.

  3. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!

    Girlfriend, calm down, ok. Please, let's just all calm down. Take a step back. Re-evaluate what you're saying.

    Guess what? It was one episode. One. It's not like there has been a string of episodes w/ stuff that you're mad (heh) about. You don't know that the show is all of a sudden going to become the "The 60s". To me, the show has always been about the characters and I just don't really see that changing. I understand your fears, but one episode focusing on JFK does not ruin the whole show.

    And I'm surprised to say this, seeing as how I've had a very love/hate relationship with Don, but I would be really upset if this became the Pete/Trudy show, and Don and Betty disappeared. I love Pete more than breathing, but I am still much too invested in Don/Betty and whatever is going to happen with them. I have faith in those crazy kids. I know I probably shouldn't right now, but I do.

    I'm not giving up. There's still one more episode left. Let's not jump to conclusions until then. After the finale, feel free to swear off the show forever, but let's watch first and see what happens :)

  4. Eh. Maybe it's just my general ambivalence about all television this season. I'm having trouble caring at this point.

    Will I watch next week? Yes.
    Am I excited about it? No.

    And strangely enough, I don't really feel sad about it. I'm in a total Old Movie groove right now and I'm finding much more satisfaction in that than I am in my TV shows. As beautiful and well-written as Mad Men has always been, it's never been a very good substitute for the straight-up, real-thing Retro culture that I crave. Old movies hit the spot much better.

    Re: Mad Men, though, I've always had some anxiety about the balance between Character and Social Commentary that goes into the show, but usually the show comes down on the side of Character. At this point in the season, with only one episode left, I feel like season 3 has been much more of a Social Commentary season and I'm not as interested when the scale tips that way. Perhaps the finale will find a better balance for me.

  5. I guess that's fair. I'm just really sad right now, because this is the peak of my Mad Men love, and now you're abandoning it? And harshing my squee? :(


  6. Sorry to be out of step with you. :(

    It's still a good show, it's just turning into a show I'm not interested in. Like I said, it was probably inevitable that this would happen -- the further the show gets into the 1960s, the less I will like it.