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Spoiler Alert Thursday: Mostly Mad Men

Mad Men: The last two episodes have arguably been the most satisfying yet.

The scene where Don at last “comes clean” to Betty — with Suzanne waiting in the car just offscreen! — was especially beautiful. And that Don in the end chooses Betty over Suzanne made perfect sense in a way.  Suzanne is the apotheosis of the kind of love that Don seems to have sought over the past three seasons — she’s smart, independent, beautiful, and an outsider.  She’s also somewhat like Don himself, with a poor family and a troubled brother who reminds Don of Adam.  But Don is still at heart the country boy who can’t give up on the dream of the glamour girl, the perfect wedding cake topper couple and the enviable family.  He still believes in that green light, poor kid.

Also, I know we’ve talked about this here before, but with two episodes left in the season, Roger’s definitely about to kick it, right? His fidelity to Jane isn’t about true love — it’s about a man who is looking at his own mortality and knows that his icy new bride is his last best chance at love.

Glee: I haven’t seen this week’s episode, but I’ve been thinking about something Adam said in his tv post last week:

those within the glee club orbit are sentimental and naive, but the only real alternative is to be a more or less competent petty schemer.

This is true, but I wouldn’t say that the show posits sentimentality/naivete as an alternative to being a petty schemer, exactly.  Both Will and Rachel are petty schemers of the first order.  What sets them apart from Sue and Quinn is that they sentimentalize their own motives and are completely naive about how manipulative they really are.

This is what makes the show so incredibly cynical – it makes Will and Rachel into heroes not because they’re truly good people (in fact, they’re basically assholes), but because they are sappy enough to delude themselves into believing that they are good people, glaring weekly evidence to the contrary.

Which leads me to wonder, does this redeem the Terri character at all?  Terri’s a big problem in the show for me – I like Glee, but the misogyny of its portrayal of Terri bothers me.  She’s without question the most hateful character on the show.  At the same time, she – like Will and Rachel – is a clueless sap, to the point where she can make herself believe that she’s perpetrating this whole pregnancy-faking, baby-switching fraud for Will’s sake, and for the betterment of Quinn’s unborn child.  I would feel better about this show if it turned around on the Terri character.  It’s enough — at least for the purposes of the show — for Will that he wants to be a good person, even though he doesn’t succeed.  Is it enough for Terri that she believes she’s a good person?


October 29, 2009 - Posted by | Spoiler Alert Thursdays, television


  1. I’m not really reading this post, because I haven’t caught up to these episodes yet, but I’ve been watching Mad Men again, and watching it like crazy. By the time season four rolls around I might actually have something to say about Mad Men Thursdays.

    Comment by stras | October 29, 2009

  2. This past Mad Men episode was stunning on all fronts. JMS, I think you are on to something w/r/t Roger – I think the end of the road in nearing.

    There also seemed to be something of an affirmation of Dick Whitman in the kiss of his newborn – both born unwanted and invisible. We’ll see if it lasts.

    Comment by John Tyson | October 29, 2009

  3. Your analysis of Glee is right on. Going a step further, I wonder if Finn might be the “point of contact” for the two worlds — the person who comes closest to consciously mobilizing sentiment, as when he manipulated Rachel into rejoining the glee club to make it better so he could get a scholarship. Part of him had to know that she would continue to play along even after his deception was revealed, because of her own self-image. Of course, he’s getting played by Quinn, too — the test will be what happens when he finds out (because surely he will — otherwise they’ll run out of plot points!).

    As for the “country boy dreaming of the glamor girl” thing, it’s all too familiar to this “working class boy made good” as well. Perhaps this is a point where I’m just too close to Don’s subject position to see what’s going on.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | October 29, 2009

  4. I don’t think Glee is cynical. Will and Rachel aren’t exactly heroes, but neither are they exactly petty schemers — they’re comprehensibly high school students, long on longing and short on perspective. And their longing is deeply persuasive, to the point where they can be the leads in the show because part of that longing seems to include being a good person (Will more than Rachel) even though it loses out almost every time to shallow self-interest. The show is typically not very generous to its characters, but then gives them each tiny redemptive moments — Terri genuinely suffering over her deception, Quinn turning on Sue.

    Comment by K-sky | October 29, 2009

  5. The thing I loved most about Mad Men was the way that scene unfolded — not in a climactic, cathartic unraveling, but over the evening, through exhaustion, Betty’s questions starting to seem less pressing in the face of Don’s visible sorrow but still coming out. Across an act break, interrupted by the baby. It felt so real and familiar, and no less dramatic for it.

    Comment by K-sky | October 29, 2009

  6. Brad and I were talking about how it was one of those rare scenes that felt truly “open” — not only do we not know how Betty and Don are going to react, there’s also the potential ticking time bomb of Suzanne waiting in the car. The story could have plausibly continued any number of ways, so it wasn’t predetermined in a standard “oh, they can’t kill Jack Bauer” way. The screenwriter who strikes me as among the best at writing those types of scenes is Tarantino (like the scene where James Gandolfini is beating up the girlfriend in True Romance — she really could have died and the story would’ve gone on; or basically anything from Inglourious Basterds), and for me the comparison is high praise.

    I wonder if they set up the teacher to seem a little clingy and unstable to add to the tension of the “big reveal.”

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | October 29, 2009

  7. Remember that episode of The Simpsons wherein it’s revealed that Principal Skinner is an impostor?

    Comment by ben | October 29, 2009

  8. The death of former Special Agent Lundy was nice, although the long-term ramifications vis a vis Deb are surely to be high-pitched and annoying. I am also enjoying how “Trinity” (not to be confused with Neo’s life-partner!) was revealed in the first episode and, now, his home and family has been revealed. This is by far the most Durkheimian of all the seasons (emphasis upon ritual; the eventual identification of sacrificer and victim when Dexter finally kills Trinity, etc).

    Pam was absolutely intolerable last episode. I don’t expect her cold-calling with Andy to be any better tonight. Somehow Pam and Jim went from being individually acceptable sorts of people to becoming “that fucking annoying couple” through the simple act of marriage. There’s nothing in either Pam or Jim’s character up to this point that would suggest that they would unequivocatively love everyone they met on their “honeymoon.”

    Comment by Craig | October 29, 2009

  9. the way that scene unfolded — not in a climactic, cathartic unraveling, but over the evening, through exhaustion, Betty’s questions starting to seem less pressing in the face of Don’s visible sorrow but still coming out.

    I agree this was really lovely and well done, although as Betty’s resolve began to weaken in the face of exhaustion and pity, I found myself getting furious. That moment where Joan’s face registers the transition from hurt to rage — just before she breaks the vase over Greg’s head? That was so gratifying.

    Comment by jms | October 30, 2009

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