October 3rd, 2010
“I thought in the end you wouldn’t want to throw it away.”
The balance between business and personal affairs forms one of the central tensions of Mad Men, but the show’s characters all approach the issue from different perspectives. For some, it takes the form of large-scale conflicts, such as Peggy’s pregnancy back in season; for others, it takes the form of family conflict, such as Pete’s relationship with his father-in-law; for yet more, it takes the form of the simple fact that a dinner out is interrupted by a colleague who stops by with news about the business.
For Don Draper, however, it has always been an elaborate balancing act: desperate to keep his true personal affairs out of his business, he created the ideal life for a businessman: wife, two and a half kids, house in the suburbs, etc. And yet that was never Don’s personal life, not really: if anything, Don’s lack of identity meant that he had no true personal life, and what he had was lost when Ann Draper passed away earlier this season.
The tragedy of “Chinese Wall” is not the loss of Lucky Strike hitting the fan, or the departure of the client who brought Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce its greatest honour. Instead, the greatest tragedy is that Don’s search for a personal life has become indistinguishable from his business one. While I would argue that “Chinese Wall” is almost as consistently themed as last week’s “Hands and Knees,” what sets it apart is that it is a theme that has been central from the very beginning, and in the “last days of Rome” it becomes more important than ever before.
Mad Men the Morning After: “Christmas Comes…” for Critics
August 2nd, 2010
When it comes to critical reviews of AMC’s Mad Men, each week is more about understanding the nuances of the episode than ripping it apart. And this week, with very little from January Jones’ Betty Draper (who is the series’ most divisive character) and a welcome return for a few fan favourites, the critics are largely in holiday spirits outside of their understandable frustration with the actions of one Don Draper.
It may not be quite like Christmas morning, but opening the collection of Mad Men reviews in various tabs is sort of like opening presents, so let’s take a look at what came down the chimney.
“Christmas Comes But Once a Year”
August 1st, 2010
“I don’t hate Christmas – I hate this Christmas.”
When Don Draper sits down to take part in a demonstration of a new form of customer research, he finds a questionnaire which asks him to describe his relationship with his father – the question, according to the Doctor heading the study, is designed to create a sense of intimacy which will then influence a more honest or meaningful answer to the following question about who makes household decisions. Of course, the test is not designed for someone like Don Draper, who has trained himself to shut down at the mere mention of his past – he walks out on the test because he cannot fathom that someone would want to return to their past in that fashion.
“Christmas Comes But Once a Year” is about what happens when people who are still running away from their past run smack dab into the present, people who are either so focused on not repeating past mistakes that other parts of their lives suffer or people who have lived so much of their lives covering up their past that they have no idea how to live in a present which no longer has the same rules. All of them are hoping that what they feel now won’t last forever: they remember happier Christmases, Christmases before their lives were thrown into a state of upheaval, and they hope that those Christmases will come again.
However, Don Draper also seems to think that it will happen without having to actually do anything.
“The Man from the Other Side”
April 22nd, 2010
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have been caught up in thesis edits last week, as I thought “White Tulip” was such a pitch-perfect installment of Fringe that it deserved some sort of mention. The episode had a twisty narrative which was meant to be disorienting rather than confusing, a standalone emotional struggle which echoed the serialized emotional struggle that Walter is dealing with, and Peter Weller in a really enjoyable guest turn which built to that absolutely fantastic penultimate scene which was so poetic that I didn’t really know how to react. It is without a question the show’s most arresting standalone story, and the kind of episode that both rewards long-term viewers (in providing another chapter to Walter’s struggles with his darkest secret) and crafts a compelling science fiction narrative in its own right.
I’ve written in the past about how I don’t necessarily think that this show is that much better when it becomes “serialized,” and that those kinds of standalone installments are just as capable of tapping into the emotional core of this series. “The Man from the Other Side” further demonstrates this point, to my mind: while effectively creepy and emotional in its own right, the clear return to serialization makes the episode actually feel more procedural than “White Tulip” was. It’s a solid episode, certainly another in a string of successful hours since the show returned from its hiatus, but I think I prefer a subtle nod towards the show’s serialized story than a traditional mystery surrounding the two universes.