Bingeworthy: Mad Men

I’ll admit it: I’m mad about Mad Men. Yet I resisted it for years. The first time I tried to watch it to see what all the fuss was about, it seemed like a depressing depiction of drunken, awful people, who hated each other. Not to mention, those old 1950s prescribed roles for women. Arggh!

But then while binging on Orange is the New Black, I discovered that Piper and Jason were addicted to Mad Men, and I thought, time to give it another shot. Fortunately, the Neflix gods had provided, and I quickly discovered why for years everyone had been recommending this show. It’s not a glorification of the era. It’s a critique. It’s a history lesson. It’s fun.

What I love most about Mad Men is the texture. I can feel this show with my fingers. It’s a tweed jacket, a silk dress, an elastic bra strap. Mad Men feels as though it’s happening in a dimension very close to our own, as if you could step into the lives of these characters, sit down at a picnic with them, and leave all your crap on the ground for someone else to pick up.

The stories have the pace of life. We go to work. We come up with an ad campaign. We drink, and we tumble into bed with someone else’s spouse. When someone behaves badly, well, they aren’t torturing or killing a helpless victim, they’re simply being unconsciously cruel to their children or their lover — or maybe they just abandon their dog on a city street. It’s the sort of evil for which no one gets punished and in which we are all complicit.

It’s impossible not to root for Don Draper as he takes down recalcitrant clients while simultaneously hoping he gets a slap in the face from the latest wronged woman in his life. He’s the quintessential troubled bad boy, cigarette in one hand, whiskey in the other and a half-cocked smile that says he’s really just waiting for someone to rescue him. Roger, his partner in crime, is almost as irresistible, loving all the women in his life and doling out the dollars when he disappoints them — as he inevitably does.

The women, though, are the ones who bring complexity to the show, from Peggy with her tooth and claw ambition to Joan, the uber secretary, who flaunts her assets and yet can easily kick you to the curb with one of her stilettos if you wrong her. She hides her smarts, but the audience knows she can run rings around the suits. Betty, Don’s poor put-upon wife, veers from victim to vindictive villainess and back again as if she were merely crossing the street.

And what an interesting trick they play on the audience when they make the beautiful women fat. Do we still admire them? Are we no better than the sexist pigs that rate women on their looks? Are we still sympathetic to Betty when she’s got jowls? That’s what Mr. Weiner and crew seem to be asking us as our loyalties swerve from one episode to the next.

I’ve plowed through all seven seasons, staying up late for just one more ‘sode. Apparently season seven isn’t done, but I’m not the only one who feels completely satisfied with where Don and company have ended up. Don has gotten kicked around, he’s gotten what he deserved, but he’s landed on his feet, and the one thing we love most about him, his ability to imagine what no one else has thought of, has survived. We’re left believing this is enough to carry him on through another incarnation. He gives us hope.

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