(I felt gross just typing that headline; hopefully you’ll realize it’s sarcastic. Some spoilers for the fourth episode of Mad Men follow; if you want to read, head under the jump. And if you don’t watch the show, well, this post probably won’t mean a ton to you.)
This season of Mad Men has been even soapier than seasons past, and I’m starting to get bored. Gone is the mystery at the heart of season one—”Who is this ‘Don Draper’ fellow, whose past is mysterious and purported brother hangs himself when he refuses to reconnect in New York City?”—that originally drove the interpersonal stuff. More importantly, however, what’s missing are the long, discursive tracts on advertising and what it means to consumers and producers alike. This was always the most interesting part of the show to me; its commentary on 1960s life was hackneyed and tired, but the idea of advertising as an emerging art form…now that was intriguing.
Anyway, that’s all gone now. We barely get into the intellectual/emotional side of advertising any longer. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce might as well be Dunder Mifflin, little more than a setting in which the action takes place.
And oh, what action! Someone’s sleeping with someone else! Embarrassment at a party! Ohh, look, diversity’s first tremors! It’s all quite dull. No character has better embodied this degradation of the show than Joan, who now does little more than pine for the men in her life, be they her Vietnam-based hubby Greg or her work-based stable of helpless fools. She finally showed some spark this week in the aforementioned “You go girl!” moment when she decided to leave her military doctor/kinda-sorta-awful rapist husband who had decided to return to ‘Nam for another tour. As Julia Turner puts it at Slate:
Eventually, she tells him to leave, for good. “You’re not a good man, you never were, even before we were married—and you know what I’m talking about.” Finally, Joan stands up for herself, acknowledging that Greg’s assault—and his general disregard for her desires in all realms—are unacceptable. The episode closes on Joan in bed with her dates for the foreseeable future—baby Kevin and her mom. This was satisfying, no?
I guess it was satisfying, but it’s also kind of ridiculous that we’re treating Joan as a totally aggrieved victim, no? I mean, it’s not like Joan has the undisputed moral high ground in this relationship—she fathered Roger Sterling’s child and is trying to convince Greg it’s his. Are we really supposed to cheer this kind of deception? How is Joan still the undoubted “good gal” in this scenario? She’s a cheat and a sneak and a bad person. I’m sorry, but she is. No one is acknowledging this, and it says something about our critical class that Joan’s infidelity is just being swept under the rug.
Anyway, Mad Men’s in decline. All hail Game of Thrones, the new King of Sunday Night!