The Legacy of Mad Men

As many of you (us) are preparing grocery lists for Easter Sunday (I’m incredibly indecisive when it comes to Holiday cooking), Chris and I are readying ourselves for the last season of Mad Men. Take it or leave it but MM will always carry a special place in my heart, thanks to the artistic brilliance of Matthew Weiner. For me, it’s hard to pick out certain characters or scenes to analyze but I guess that’s why my husband is so awesome. Are you also saddened by this departure of an amazing TV show? Either way, I hope Chris is able to have you in tears, if you watch it, or intrigued if you don’t. Happy Easter, ya’ll!

What started as a naval-gazing fascination of how are parents and grandparents lived and behaved in the 60’s, developed into something conceptually connected to present day. These weren’t the “good old days” as we’ve been foolishly told. The show brought a nuance to our thoughts on the lives of women in the work place and at home. Sexism wasn’t just simply your boss grabbing your ass but instead men’s inability to see that a woman, like Peggy Olson, would want to do anything besides raising children. Even the subtle hints of racism from a beloved character, such as Bert Cooper who thought given blacks equal rights would spoil them, showed the flaws in even the most enlightened individuals. Imperfections were the reality of these people, of this time, which helped the show grow into something more than the question of who is Don Draper and what are his dark secrets. Don was the centerpiece, yet Matthew Weiner (creator of Mad Men) built something so much more vast, with various characters that had different points of view from its anti-hero.

What started as a show about who is Don Draper, became a show filled with symbolism and mythology of its world. Is Bob Benson a variation on the Don/Dick character? Was there something to the Megan Draper/Sharon Tate murder theories? Is Michael Ginsberg an alien? Along with the playful theories, hidden meanings, and symbolism came the lesson of change or the inability to do so. We’ve seen this in our lives, as people we are required, sometimes demanded to change for the betterment. At the root of the show, Weiner was most concern with how we adapt to things changing around us. Yet the painful truth that people repeat themselves, personally and publicly, was a theme of the series. The endless cycle or carousel, as Don pitched to Kodak in the season 1 finale, is what Don put himself in several times over. Of course, Don would get divorced again with Megan, yet this time in different circumstances. Yes the agency would eventually be sold to a larger agency again, for the betterment and wealth of its agency partners; that’s what these companies do. Don couldn’t adapt in his personal life but he sure as hell knew how to do it as an ad man.

So with only seven more episodes of Mad Men to look forward to, here’s a look back at what we love about perhaps the best television show ever.

Don & Peggy
No leading man in television as been adored quite like Jon Hamm has been playing Don Draper, yet no leading man has so much respect without the hardware to prove it. After all, how hard is it for Hamm to play Don Draper? He’s sexy, charming, and just says the amazing dialogue provided for him by the writers. Yet we know Hamm’s performance goes beyond simply good looks and written words. His capacity to sell us on not just the product (from the iconic Carousel scene in the finale of season one to the Jaguar ad in episode “The Other Woman”), but for us buying him in all of his deepest, darkest lows of the character. Rarely does Draper allow us to see the man behind those eyes but when we do, we feel true sympathy for him because Hamm has made us believe in him. There was always someone else in Hamm’s way to win the awards (most times deservingly so to Bryan Cranston) but what Hamm did shouldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps in the final year of the show he’ll finally get his just award.

The pleasure in watching people surprise you in a performance is something that keeps us watching films and television. No one, including Matthew Weiner, could have expected that Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olson would turn out to be the true driving force of Mad Men. From the very first episode, we saw the 1960’s and the world of advertising through her eyes. Although she appeared to only be the tender hearted girl looking to get by, Moss quickly showed Peggy to be capable and when needed be, a ruthless character. As fans of the show, Betty Draper or Megan Draper never wowed us because they never were Don’s true equals. Maybe that was by design for us to see Peggy Olson as his real counter part. Don’s admiration for her comes from the connection of her started from nothing as he did. Elizabeth Moss has shown she is just as valuable (perhaps of more value because Peggy is the future of advertising) to the show’s forward movement into 1970’s and beyond.

5 Memorable “What The Hell” Moments In Mad Men
Sure, Mad Men never had a “red wedding” moment but no show has honed in on the surreal moments of shock and surprise in the ordinary day to day life quite like this show. From Roger Sterling vomiting fifty clams in front future clients, to Peggy accidentally stabbing her boyfriend only to be broken up with him moments later in the ambulance, the show has had its share of water cooler moments that kept us on our toes in what would appear to be a mundane show about advertising.

1. The Lonesome Death of Miss Blankenship
Draper went through secretaries like Spinal Tap went through drummers; maybe because he made them copywriters, one nightstands, or spouses. No secretary had a more memorable resignation than Miss Blankenship, whose death wasn’t such a shock (seeing that she was a very old woman) but the location in which it took place was. Dying in the place in which you work is never how anyone wants to go. As Roger Sterling put it, “She died like she lived, surrounded by the people she answered phones for.” Despite the haunting idea of dying at work, the moment isn’t void of humor, including Harry Crane whining about the use of a quilt, made by his mother, to cover the corpse of Blankenship to avoid clients seeing the disturbing scene.

2. Don’s Sudden Proposal To Megan
Who saw this coming? Megan (played by Jessica Pare) first appeared to be just a background actress filling up empty spaces. Yet slowly she would pop up, having one line here or there, eventually becoming Draper’s secretary. After having sex in “after work hours” at the office, Megan brushed off her encounter with Don as a one-time thing and seemed to return to the background of scenes again; except that Matthew Weiner had something up his sleeve for Megan. Don is a complicated man yes, but he wants his family life simple. A wife who can bring stability is all he wants when he comes home, and Megan seemed to be the perfect candidate for that. Notice the interesting choice of music in the closing scene of the episode, in which he purposes to Megan, “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher, a couple who both where in their second marriages to each other and would eventually divorce.

3.When Lawnmower Meets Foot
Expectations and curiosity was high at Sterling-Cooper with the coming of the newly minted bosses’ arrival from London. Those hopes and curiosities were dashed with the introduction of youthful, charming Guy MacKendrick, an accountant poised to take over operations from Lane Pryce. That, of course, is until the unfortunate (or fortunate for Lane) mishap with the John Deere riding mower. Everyone at the agency has a joy ride with this most recent client merchandise, including Lois, who can barely operate the phone let alone heavy machinery. Her inability to control this “foot slicer on wheels” alters golden boy MacKendrick’s life of an accountant to a dud…Thankfully for Lane at least.

4.Bert’s Send Off
What great symmetry for Bert Cooper to say of his former secretary Miss Blankenship, “She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She was an astronaut,” when he himself would die moments after Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon in 1969. Yet all, including Don, felt the void he left in the office in the closing moments of last the season finale. After getting back into partnership with the company and pushing his rival Jim Cutler out of it, Don has a moment to himself, only to experience what only can be described as a hallucination with the appearance of the deceased Bert Cooper. Yes, Mad Men has played with flashbacks from Don’s past in modern settings with him, yes while drunk or high Don has spoken to his dead father, but never has the show broken the forth wall like this. What could have easily been a jumping the shark moment, some how worked well and collaborated with everything going on in Draper’s life (or maybe it was a tumor). Bravo.

5.Pete Campbell vs. Lane Pryce
Everyone has that boss or co-worker that you would like to go 10 rounds with (if not, consider yourself blessed). For a moment, we all vicariously took pleasure in Pryce punching out Pete Campbell. It shouldn’t be surprising that Pete would find himself in a physical altercation with Don or Roger but for it to be Lane was the shocking part of the scene. In earlier seasons, Pryce took Campbell under his wing like a father figure, grooming him to be head of accounts someday. Yet Pete’s continued “assholeness,” due to his growing in power within the company, had reached a head for Lane and gave the “grimy little pimp” the beating he deserved.

The 10 Best Mad Men Characters That Aren’t Don or Peggy

Honorable Mention: Bobby Draper 4.0 simply for the lines: “I like the case, it looks like a coffin,” and “Everybody goes to the movies when their sad.”

10. Harry Crane-Everyone thinks of Campbell as the biggest creeper of MM, but don’t underestimate Crane’s creepy level. He’s sneaky creepy and Rich Sommer is sneaky funny as Crane.
9. Glen Bishop-In the latter seasons of the show, Glen started to develop himself beyond being the weird kid with an old soul into a terrific Holden Caulfield homage.
8. Joan Holloway-The yin to Peggy’s yang is a simplified reading of Joan. Her reach goes beyond her sex appeal as she navigates a man’s world seeking power, just as Peggy desires too.
7. Bert Cooper-When you’re as rich as Cooper, you’re allowed to be a weird, crabby old man but he was much more of a father figure for Sterling and Draper.
6. Bob Benson-Don’s doppelganger of sorts became the bane of Pete’s existence (which was always fun to watch) and gave another angle of the troublesome life of a closeted homosexual that we hadn’t seen on the show.
5. Stan Rizzo-Truthfully, I didn’t like Stan the first couple seasons he was on the show but he eventually became the standard of the new cool of the late 60’s and became one of Peggy’s biggest allies.
4. Michael Ginsberg-The boy who fell to earth, claims to have been born on Mars. Part of me always hoped it was true but sadly it appears he had a form of mental illness. Get well soon Ginsberg.
3. Pete Campbell-Early on he was billed as Don’s nemesis but soon became a surprisingly sympathetic character despite how much of an asshole he is. Vincent Kartheiser’s (who plays Campbell) willingness to play the fool gave us some of the more darkly funny moments. Here’s a link to one of my favorite Pete moments: Pete Falling.
2. Sally Draper-Apparently AMC wanted a spin off based around an adult Sally Draper but Weiner said no way. Unfortunately, we won’t get the chance to see the child of Betty and Don navigate the dangerous streets of 80’s NYC with Madonna, The Smiths, and Wham as the soundtrack.
1. Roger Sterling-All you need to know about the greatness of Roger Sterling is in these unforgettable one-liners:
“Is just me or is the lobby full of Negros?”
“Let me put it in account terms: Are you aware of the number of hand jobs I’m going to have to give?”
“Have a drink. It’ll make me look younger.”
“As a wise man once said: the only thing worse than not getting what you want is someone else getting it.”
“How Jewish are they? You know Fiddler on the Roof, audience or cast?”

The Best (Favorite) Episode of Mad Men

This is an impossible feat to pull, Mad Men has given us some of the best episodes in television history. Yet, there can only be one and for me it’s Season four’s episode titled, “The Suitcase”. It is the night of Ali vs. Liston II (this iconic fight is best known for the great image of Ali standing over Liston after knocking him out), which happens to be Peggy’s birthday as well. Unfortunately for her, instead of celebrating another year of life, she has to spend her night coming up with ad ideas with a drunk Don. Throughout this season, we see Draper spiraling downward but with him pushing away the pending bad news from the west coast, he hits rock bottom on this episode. His decision to not contact Ann Draper, his closest friend (and technically first wife) while she is on her deathbed, haunts Don through out the episode. When he eventually decides to call, he finds out Ann has died. This moment allows us to see Don at his most vulnerable, breaking down to tears in front of Peggy, actually bringing them closer than ever before.

Being a fan of Muhammad Ali, I appreciate the parallels between the young boxer and Don Draper. Despite Don not being a fan of Ali, as he says about him “he’s got a big mouth. I’m the greatest. Not if you have to say it,” there are similarities between the two. Don reinvented himself by obviously changing his name such as the boxer did, doing away with his birth name Cassius Clay, then renaming himself Muhammad Ali. Both have a way with words, which could captivate any room with their own brands of charm. Yet, the deviant Ali, was an unappealing new face in popular culture for Don’s generation (for reason such as being outspoken black man and his chosen religion didn’t help either). Even still, defiance is part of Draper too, who we’ve seen over and over again doing what is best for himself, while upsetting others around him in the agency. What’s great about the historical moments in the show, whether it be the Kennedy Assassination, the Moon landing, or in this case of Ali vs. Liston, Weiner always manages to find parallels between his fictional characters and the historical figures of the time.

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