Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Most Sublime

The most sublime show on television right now is Mad Men. Now four episodes into Season 2, I think I've figured out what it's about, what the whole period/historical/cultural anthropology thing means, what they're doing this season and how it plays into the overall series. Why they're jumping years to take us to 1970 by the end of Season 5.

The key to figuring it out is that this season Don Draper is trying to walk the path of righteousness. He's learned his lesson about dalliances, yet there's a new affair that's pursued him, with Jimmy's wife. It doesn't make him happy, but he doesn't say no, because as Peggy so cogently put it in season 1, these are people who want to see things they haven't seen before.

Don reads a book of Frank O'Hara poetry, sneaks out to Antonioni's La Notte, and comes up with the big ideas that no one else at Sterling Cooper could ever think of.

Don's clearly dissatisfied with his conformist consumer life, but unlike last season he isn't watching from a distance, he's trying to figure it out, trying to break out of the box that he (and everyone around him) is trapped in.

In this way, Don is exactly like Peggy, determined to escape her Catholic borough past, grappling with her familial ties. When Don calls the "creative" staff into his office on a Sunday in tonight's episode, it underlined the point that although "creative" is as far as they're allowed to go in the world of their office and maybe as far as Don is willing to deign himself, Don is an artist, and Peggy might turn out to be one herself.

Seen through this prism, everything else in Mad Men makes sense. Of course these men and women are mad. They're trapped in their own social constructs, prisoners of the tropes of their day, the culture for which they as adults have as much responsibility now as anyone.

I imagine that we're going to see Don go all-out by the end of even season 4, divorced, on the West Coast, blowing doobs and designing his own house, maybe with a short beard, long hair. Confident in the art world setting. Comfortable with a surfboard and modern jazz.

It's the nexus of the creators' interest in the characters. It makes everything in Season 1 look like planting. It takes Jay Gatsby into the Jackson Pollack era.

The greatest creation of the artist Don Draper is, of course, turning Dick Whitman into himself.


Erika said...

YOU are "most sublime" Netter. A cogent analysis, per usual, though it did leave me asking.... what of Betty? Will she hit the boy herself? Fuck the stable flirt? Pop pills? Be hostessing key parties in another ten years? I sure don't see her sharing Don's beach house.

Anonymous said...

Betty turns to drugs, then EST, gets divorced, votes for Reagan, becomes a real estate agent, loses all her money in the dotcom bust, and in her late 60s becomes an embittered Hillary supporter.