Chris gets Mad Men.
Matthew Weiner is Making an Empire Strikes Back
(SPOILERS*) First let me say that I love how decisive this season has been. So many of my very smart friends have such differing and strong opinions on it.
Let me next say that Season Five was my favorite season so far.
In the age of the Facebook “Like,” to me it seems like the show is really going for a complexity and opaqueness never before attempted on TV. It’s showing that the simplicity of win / lose, happy / sad, is a huge lie. For me, this season seemed to be about people becoming irrelevant, untethering into a permanent, involuntary spacewalk in which reality suddenly becomes alien to them. No matter how hard they try to get back to a normalcy they may have once felt, it’s gone. Forever.
Weiner has said that this show is less about the 60s than Today. In this way, the 60s are a perfect backdrop for what he’s trying to demonstrate. The decade is often remembered as a time of change (mostly for the better) and the era that kicked us into the world we live in now. Rather than focus on the grander issues of the time—although the show does often do that subtly in a very elegant way—it seems they’re showing us the decade from a reverse angle.
From the point of view of the people it left behind.
This narrative device allows an origin story of how “we” have largely ended up isolated and alone in an increasingly chaotic world. How marketing / consumerism has always been the nursing fallacy we turned to in our emotionally famished conditions. The show has taken firmly established people and thrown them headlong intro entropy. They simply can’t hold onto anything. Even the last ones to board the traditional train (Peggy) are having some serious trouble maintaining their grasp on any semblance of meaning.
I don’t think we’re supposed to care about any of the “relationships” of this season—we were just supposed to watch in abject horror, wincing sadness. Lane’s financial woes were astoundingly mundane, until they cost him everything. Betty’s affair with food. Pete’s tryst with Beth was pathetic and sad throughout its unfolding. He was obviously projecting onto her the entire time. How fitting at the end that she doesn’t even remember him. Roger’s LSD quest has the same type of fleeting joy, the same dissipation—”It wore off.” Kinsey joined the Hare Krishnas, clearly lost… and his “girlfriend” proved his quest was a farce. Joan’s husband chose Vietnam to believe in—whoops. Joan sold her soul for a partnership in a company where the partners commit suicide.
Don: “Happiness is a moment before you need more happiness.”
The centerpiece to the season focused on demonstrating how disconnected Don and Meghan were. The gulf between them in every episode was uncomfortable and vast. And in the finale, Meghan “wears off” for Don. She is a child of tomorrow. Everything slips from his grasp and he doesn’t understand why.
These characters are all victims of themselves. I think that’s what makes this season so discomfiting. We watch these people lose touch, lose themselves, and it’s their fault. At the same time, they seem completely powerless to do anything about it, so it’s not like we can blame them. Well, we can, but it doesn’t do anyone any good.
We started with these people as they were assuming the seat of power, or just about to come into it. They knew how the world worked. And over five seasons, we’ve watched it completely unravel. This season ends with them staring out onto the unknown, walking into darkness. But I think that’s been the goal this entire time.
And I will say I loved the finale title, “The Phantom.” So many phantoms in this episode and season:
- The obvious ones (Lane & Adam)
- Meghan’s success (her own perhaps pathetic attempts at fulfillment)
- Whoever Pete thought Beth was
- Roger’s LSD hallucinations that he’s desperate to get back
- Meghan herself, in Don’s eyes
- This show’s idea of a wife / companion in general
- Peggy and Don hiding from work in the theater, seeking happiness from other “phantoms” on the screen
- Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce as some nebulous entity to serve
- Don himself at the end, walking into those shadows to be alone
Maybe I just have a crappy outlook on life. But to me this show boldly illustrates a bleak truth: we’re alone (even when we don’t want to be), we’re scared, and we have no idea what the hell is going on.