What We’ve Been Watching pt 3- Mad Men

For the final entry in this stretch, we’re taking a look at Mad Men, season 6. Like many shows, we got into this one a bit late, starting right before season 4 aired. This season was the pinnacle of the most common description I’ve heard for the show, “a slow burn.”

And as with all things, spoilers ahead. Do not read if you ever want to watch the show.

Mad Men is an odd show. If you read the descriptions for a particular episode (ex: Don is disrupted by a surprise visitor. Peggy looks for inspiration.) it seems so boring. Those descriptions aren’t under selling. That will be exactly what happens in the episode.

Yet, its still captivating. Despite much of the show being very ho-hum on the surface, it does an amazing job of building the undercurrent. The show isn’t ever about what happens in an episode but how it effects the people.

For a good chunk of this season, it felt very “meh”. I really had no idea where the season was going. It really felt like the show was treading water, just trying to stay afloat long enough to get to the final season. And the characters were really trying at times.

Don Draper has always been kind of an ass. That’s part of who he is. Even with that level of “ass”, there was always some redeeming feature to him. You could still see the good in him. But not this season.

They took the character and made him completely unlikable. Everything he did was spiteful and mean. All of the small moments of redeeming character you’d get in previous seasons, never materialized. He was just a terrible person and not the kind you wanted to keep watching just to see how far they could fall.

For an example, aside from last season, he’s always had affairs. That was part of his character.  But last season he stayed true to Megan and you hoped he would remain that way. But it wasn’t a real surprise when he cheated. The how though, that made it terrible.

An affair with a friends wife? He never did that before. At one point he basically turned her into his own personal sex toy. It was something that could be a sexy roleplay but really was not. He crossed that line into creepy pervert.

Yet, despite twelve episodes of meh mixed with creepy Don, the final episode was a master piece. You came into that episode wondering what terrible thing was going to happen. You felt for sure something had to top Lane Pryce’s suicide from last season.

All season they kept foreshadowing something horrible. The repeated references to dying on airplanes and Ted’s plane. Poor Ken getting in a car wreck and shot by Chevy exec’s. I went into the episode sure someone was going to die. I went in expecting to feel terrible at the end.

Then bam! The pay off. The whole season played up Don’s descent to the absolute bottom. He had a complete mental break down this season, not in a fancy TV way but in a way that seems like it would happen to real people.

He hit bottom and figured out how to get out. Every season he has some kind of epiphany about how to make himself happy. How to make his life better. But this time, this time he actually tried to make someone else’s life better.

The scene where he confesses his past to the Hershey execs was the Don Draper we all know and love. Admitting his terrible past to complete strangers and talking about that one small thing that helped him. That moment of honesty started the process of recovery. That scene and the final moment, where he shows the whore house he grew up in to his kids, I’ll admit it, little tear in my eye. Those scenes made the whole season completely worth it.

I could talk about the rest of the characters, as Roger is always awesome. But I think they’re big pay offs will come next season. This season brought Don to the bottom and he found the light at the end of the tunnel. I think next season will be him genuinely improving the lives of everyone else, for a change. It may not have a happy ending for him. He may go to jail for identity fraud. He may commit suicide in the end, as the intro sequence constantly suggests. But I feel sure again that the show will end on a happy note for most of the character and I’m eager to find out.

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