November 1st, 2009
There’s been an ongoing debate amongst Mad Men viewers about how the show should ideally be handling the intersection of its fictional characters and the historical events that happen around them during the 1960s. Some have argued that the uncontrollable impact of history is almost too powerful for the show, overwhelming its characters and distracting from the more interesting elements of the show, but others have indicated that the cultural upheaval is integral to understanding how these characters are acting and how this decade is changing them. If I had to place myself within these two camps, I’d probably place myself into the latter, although admittedly I take the point of the former group in regards to the third season’s penultimate episode.
Harmed both by our prior knowledge of the episode’s central tragedy, young Margaret Sterling’s wedding falling the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and by a lack of a connection between that tragedy and the character motivations on display, “The Grown-Ups” works perhaps too well to capture the chaos that surrounded these November days. Rather than the chaos disrupting a clear sense of order, it came amidst a false sense of stability that crumbled suddenly, yes, but not as subtly as it needed to. This isn’t to suggest that the episode was a failure, or that it didn’t offer a stark depiction of these tragic days, but the combination of an oft-dramatized moment in history and a lack of character actions that felt distinctly of this show’s universe ended up making this one a bit less exciting than perhaps it seemed in theory.