Sunday, July 25, 2010
I wasn’t right about much. But one trend was obvious three years ago: Mad Men’s drive to modernism carries increasing vulgarity. The phrases “up some guy’s ass,” “bullshit,” “wet fart,” and “gives a crap” would scream in 1960. By late ’64, they’re perfectly at home. The vulgarity isn’t just descriptive, either. Witness Don’s sexual encounter, Peggy’s calculated manipulations, the ad presentation that closes the episode. America isn’t suddenly swinging; it’s just finally removing its mask.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves—appearance matters, especially in advertising. Roger's even writing a book! It’s just that everyone’s a lot more honest and open (at least within the tight-knit dynamics of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce) about their bluffs. Bert Cooper won’t participate in the lie of SCDP’s second floor, but Don uses it to to smash his guitar and dive into the audience. It’s an exhilarating finale to a whirlwind of an episode, scored to the Nashville Teens’ rollicking “Tobacco Road,” (a far cry from plaintive Dylan) that suggests the swinging pendulum future for SCDP and America. It’s easy to sacrifice honor that was never really there to begin with.
There’s so much change to take in—I was shocked by the time I realized we jumped a whole year ahead—that we barely have time for the iconic Joan, much less Lane Pryce or the credited but unseen Aaron Staton. (My condolences to Michael Gladis, Bryan Batt, and of course Kurt/Smitty; maybe they’ll eventually follow Allison’s footsteps back to the desk of Don Draper.) Our most divisive character, Betty, is further stranded in her own subplot, but the meta moment where Mrs. Francis calls her a silly woman was an appropriate rejoinder. Coldness aside, Betty is so sad, her reluctant maturation so compelling, that I can’t bear to drop her at this port, halfway (or less) to her destination. Besides, January Jones may have some odd moments, but she’s capable of some of the strongest work of the series.
But back to that modernism. Though clearly thrown together with duct tape and donated ham, SCDP is staggeringly beautiful, and our promenade through town was a thrilling parade of ‘60s references: glass, glass everywhere straight out of Tati, bold color blocking anticipating Antonioni and Godard, space age furniture from Kubrick, a dazzling Glo-Coat ad that’s Bergman meets Joseph H. Lewis. No Ed Sullivan Beatles, no Goldwater-Rockefeller or Johnson’s election, and no Civil Rights Act (nor, apparently, black people, though Carla gets a mention). Instead we get to witness another long-awaited dream: a Mad Men Christmas. What's the over-under on Sally winding up in a bowl of egg nog?