For this post, I’m going to stray away from music and write about Mad Men. (And you thought all I was writing about was Bob Dylan.)
By the end of the third season of Mad Men, Don Draper’s true identity is finally revealed to his wife Betty. Up until the confrontational moment, Don Draper was the epitome of cool. He was smooth, talked his way out of any problem. When he tells Betty that he was in fact born Dick Whitman having stolen the real Don Draper’s identity years earlier – the once smooth Draper becomes nervous. He can barely talk, and fumbles his cigarettes. He reverts back to the man whose life he was trying to escape.
At its heart, Mad Men is all about personal identity. Everybody has a secret on the show, and they all go to desperate lengths to cover up the lies. “You’ll find it’s easier to forget than you know,” Don tells a hospitalized Peggy Olson in Season Two. Having given birth at the same moment she found she was pregnant, Peggy also wants to move on. It’s only fitting Don would be the one to persuade her abandon her child and continue to work like absolutely happened. In a sense, Peggy is abandoning the normal constraints that women had in the early 60’s. She forges her way from secretary to copy-writer throughout the show’s run.
At first I wasn’t too sure about Mad Men to be honest. I missed the entire first season when it aired, and saw only about half of the second season when it aired. There seemed to be many episodes where nothing in particular happened. (Which as it turns out, a lot does happen but you could pick up on it if you watch the episodes in order.) A big criticism of Mad Men could be its insistence on playing up the politically incorrect ways of the age such as the constant smoking, drinking, and womanizing. But like a lot of things in Mad Men, it’s not so much for effect, but rather symbolic.
“Your generation doesn’t know to drink,” Roger Sterling tells Don. Don suggests that he drinks because he’s likes it, and Don drinks because he has issues. Perhaps Don’s drinking is used to calm his nerves (as evidence when Betty finds out that he is in fact Dick Whitman) but he’s constantly longing for attention and companionship. Other characters do there fair share of sexual philandering (Roger Sterling even has a heart attack while having sex) but Don gets most of the blame. But for Don cheating on his wife isn’t just about cheating on his wife for a nice night full of sex. It’s about getting away from his bitch of a wife – but he never seems to be able to. Even though at several points he tries to run away with any one of his girlfriends. Ironically the only time that he is actually free from her, is when Betty discovers who he really is.
Any other show using the Kennedy Assassination as a crucial plot point might come off as crass. But for Mad Men, it represents the breakdown of everything that was previously known in the show – just as it was the end of an era in real life. Betty realizes that she can no longer be with Don. Roger’s daughter is set to get married that day, and the normally stiff and unsympathetic Pete Campbell is the only one who realizes that no one should be celebrating on that day. Not long after the Kennedy Assassination, the advertising firm of Sterling Cooper is uprooted, and a new firm is rebelliously created overnight.
Is Mad Men the greatest television show ever? If the rest of series’ run is as good as what’s come, then I say yes.