With the Netflix subscription whirring along, thirteen episodes of AMC’s atmospheric Mad Men rather rapidly turns into twenty-six. The art direction, set design and general look and feel for the show have not diminished since the Season 1 ramblings, so a qualitative review seems a bit pointless. However, even if we stick to just Season 2 content and comparing it to Season 1, we’ll get quite a bit – even if it becomes an almost entirely “SPOILER ALERT” laden post. So sue me. Observations?
- One of themes that announced itself in the first season was the differing interactions with the feminist dynamics of the time. Clearly this has continued to evolve as Peggy Olson is trying to be accepted and fluorish in this most masculine field on her own terms. It has been hard clearly, and the show has been masterful in showing her earnestness as well as how she will in some sense always be considered “just a girl”. The way she infiltrates an “entertainment dinner” with a customer shows the areas she has to straddle.
- It is neat to see real life actually work through the plot. Sure, it is the 60s, but it is nice to see how they acknowledge it. It was an inspiration to have the ad-guys at Sterling Cooper actually work with real companies and products that we all know. JFK exists here, and Jackie Kennedy’s effect on female fashion. We see the civil rights movement in the background – even so much as seeing homosexuality and interracial couples pop up.
- One of the interesting results of such period detail is that the show does not sugarcoat the reactions of characters to change. Clearly, these folks have not had much exposure to well … just about anything we fancy as “diversity” in these 2011 times. I know for some people, it can be uncomfortable – that the show is misogynist for instance. Of course, this is not quite true – as the show is displaying characters who would feel that way. The characters truly know what they should know and no more. It is uncomfortable on the ears at times, but the authenticity is appreciated.
- The arc of Betty is the most mysterious of the characters – moreso than even Don Draper, whose layers are actually fairly accessible. As portrayed by January Jones, Betty is very prim, proper and stiff. It is hard to tell if Jones is performing poorly or if Betty is that wooden. Weirdly, the effect works – as her countenance gives a perfect housewife’s mask to a lot of rage and a lot of psychoses. Her breaches are so cold and shocking – when they occur, they seem horrible. Of course, if she were a dude, perhaps the immorality would not be so viscerally felt.
- As for Don himself, obviously who is Don/Dick for realz continues to drive the show along. What we do know is that Don yearns for control and for a measure of belonging. He has been very successful at the firm, but you don’t see him mingling that much. Jon Hamm makes Don’s interactions not stiff, but the practiced moves of a pro who goes home when it’s time to go home. Guys do not know where Don goes. Don has had a couple of affairs, sure, but there is a definite searching in his dalliances. It is the same force that takes him to a beat show, or to just do a hippie dippie-ish sort of thing in California after he disappears on a business trip. He shows an unease everywhere, except at the very end of the season. Why is Mrs. Draper so good to him, and why does he connect so cleanly with her and that life? It is the first time in two seasons we see Don at a place where he truly is natural.
- Pete Campbell is a tool. That is all.