Season 6: ‘Mad Men’ Gets Better As It Gets So Much Worse

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by Connor Foote

Lotus Land Correspondent, White Cover Magazine

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The beginning of the end of the only show to fill America’s void post-Sopranos (no offence, Boardwalk Empire and crew) initiates its own self-destruction with the same subtle humour and catchy intro song it always has this Sunday.

Season 6. Don Draper and Megan. Peggy, all grown up and everything. Roger on LSD. Bert Cooper, still alive. Joan and her red-ness.

It’s all gonna happen and then crash, and it will all be perfectly executed and strategically provided by the capable hands of show creator Matthew WeinerMad Men has been the best show on TV since it started in 2007, and it’s held on to that title, despite challenges from week-to-week tour de forces like Breaking Bad and Homeland and — in my mind — Sons of Anarchy.

The fact is, Mad Men‘s never had to subject itself to a weekly cliffhanger like all the rest. It’s never needed to load you up on cocaine or give you a bag of Lays and dare you to “Eat just one.”

No, Mad Men is just too good. It makes you want to skip ahead to next Sunday simply by existing. Every character is so perfectly played and the plot is always so evenly distributed amongst them.

That includes the most important character in the show: the 1960’s.

We’re so used to seeing major historical events like JFK’s assassination or Ali’s fights presented to us with all this gratuity and shock value. Mad Men doesn’t treat them like anything more than current events. They’re not dramatic or excessive.

Don Draper talks about Ali — or, Cassius Clay, as he was named then — like we talk about Hanley Ramirez or Jeremy Roenick today.

The characters speak of JFK like we speak of Obama.

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And, oddly enough, everyone who’s gotten older has turned into an attractively depressing mess.

In Seasons 1-3, Roger and Don — and Joan, who’s just as stuffy and ancient as them, but also a woman — displayed such disgust at younger generations and their entitlement to everything, and it really looked like the elders of Sterling-Cooper were always right.

People like Pete and Ken and Harry were foolish, and the Beatniks and the future hippies of the early 60’s just looked so stupid and foolish and naive.

Now, as the show turns to 1965 and beyond, it’s all changed.

Don goes to a Rolling Stones concert and expects to lay some wisdom on silly teenagers, but they don’t want to listen to him. They don’t care what he has to say.

When Megan decides to bail on advertising and pursue acting — because Megan has grown up in the post-Korean War world and Joan and Peggy have suddenly become ancient relics of a pre-feminist society — she’s scoffed at or laughed at. The rest of the agency sees her career shift as predictable and typical of someone so young and flighty, and maybe it was.

Still, Megan’s instinctive. She doesn’t let her insecurities ruin her five-year plan. She doesn’t think of what may go wrong.

Don is used to not having what you want in life, because dreams are for children and Jack Kerouac.

“I grew up in the 30’s,” he says at one point in Season 5. “My dream was indoor plumbing.”

Pete Campbell, by the way, is so sad and pathetic that it’s not funny anymore. He was the young gun nipping at Don’s and Roger’s heels in the show’s inception, but now he’s trapped in the same middle ground as Peggy.

He’s too young to be a dinosaur, but too old to be innovative or cool.

He’s a child of the fifties and an adult of the sixties.

As the situation gets worse and worse, Mad Men‘s characters drown. The show, though, continues to truck along, because the show has always looked at itself and its setting so critically.

It’s always so good and so perfect, but it’s depressing as Hell.

You know that movie Blue Valentine? It’s perhaps the most honest look at modern romance since Kramer vs. Kramer, and it’s the honesty of it that makes it so sad. All you take from it is a destroyed marriage and Ryan Gosling’s receding hairline.

You know it’s true, and that’s what sucks.

Mad Men‘s no different, but we can’t look away.

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from “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese, written in 1966…

It was obvious from the way Sinatra looked at these people in the poolroom that they were not his style, but he leaned back against a high stool that was against the wall, holding his drink in his right hand, and said nothing, just watched Leo Durocher slam the billiard balls back and forth. The younger men in the room, accustomed to seeing Sinatra at this club, treated him without deference, although they said nothing offensive. They were a cool young group, very California-cool and casual, and one of the coolest seemed to be a little guy, very quick of movement, who had a sharp profile, pale blue eyes, blondish hair, and squared eyeglasses. He wore a pair of brown corduroy slacks, a green shaggy-dog Shetland sweater, a tan suede jacket, and Game Warden boots, for which he had recently paid $60.

Frank Sinatra, leaning against the stool, sniffling a bit from his cold, could not take his eyes off the Game Warden boots. Once, after gazing at them for a few moments, he turned away; but now he was focused on them again. The owner of the boots, who was just standing in them watching the pool game, was named Harlan Ellison, a writer who had just completed work on a screenplay, The Oscar.

Finally Sinatra could not contain himself.

“Hey,” he yelled in his slightly harsh voice that still had a soft, sharp edge. “Those Italian boots?”

“No,” Ellison said.

“Spanish?”

“No.”

“Are they English boots?”

“Look, I donno, man,” Ellison shot back, frowning at Sinatra, then turning away again.

Now the poolroom was suddenly silent. Leo Durocher who had been poised behind his cue stick and was bent low just froze in that position for a second. Nobody moved. Then Sinatra moved away from the stool and walked with that slow, arrogant swagger of his toward Ellison, the hard tap of Sinatra’s shoes the only sound in the room. Then, looking down at Ellison with a slightly raised eyebrow and a tricky little smile, Sinatra asked: “You expecting a storm?”

Harlan Ellison moved a step to the side. “Look, is there any reason why you’re talking to me?”

“I don’t like the way you’re dressed,” Sinatra said.

“Hate to shake you up,” Ellison said, “but I dress to suit myself.”

Now there was some rumbling in the room, and somebody said, “Com’on, Harlan, let’s get out of here,” and Leo Durocher made his pool shot and said, “Yeah, com’on.”

But Ellison stood his ground.

Sinatra said, “What do you do?”

“I’m a plumber,” Ellison said.

“No, no, he’s not,” another young man quickly yelled from across the table. “He wrote The Oscar.

“Oh, yeah,” Sinatra said, “well I’ve seen it, and it’s a piece of crap.”

“That’s strange,” Ellison said, “because they haven’t even released it yet.”

“Well, I’ve seen it,” Sinatra repeated, “and it’s a piece of crap.”

Now Brad Dexter, very anxious, very big opposite the small figure of Ellison, said, “Com’on, kid, I don’t want you in this room.”

“Hey,” Sinatra interrupted Dexter, “can’t you see I’m talking to this guy?”

Dexter was confused. Then his whole attitude changed, and his voice went soft and he said to Ellison, almost with a plea, “Why do you persist in tormenting me?”

The whole scene was becoming ridiculous, and it seemed that Sinatra was only half-serious, perhaps just reacting out of sheer boredom or inner despair; at any rate, after a few more exchanges Harlan Ellison left the room. By this time the word had gotten out to those on the dance floor about the Sinatra-Ellison exchange, and somebody went to look for the manager of the club. But somebody else said that the manager had already heard about it — and had quickly gone out the door, hopped in his car and drove home. So the assistant manager went into the poolroom.

“I don’t want anybody in here without coats and ties,” Sinatra snapped.

The assistant manager nodded, and walked back to his office.