AMC’s watershed, Mad Men, winner of multiple “best dramatic series” Emmys is about to wrap up its last season. This show has been so good, especially in the first seasons, that it has a set a bar for itself that is almost impossible to reach year after year.
Those first seasons were remarkable in their art direction, pacing, and very skillful characterizations by (then) mostly unknown actors. Creator/writer Matthew Weiner’s steady development of the characters who inhabit and orbit the fictional Sterling Cooper agency against the backdrop of the very real “everything is possible” early 1960s world of Madison Avenue – has been simply irresistible. It’s also been wildly funny. A great run for a TV show.
But it has been in the development of protagonist Don Draper (expertly played by Jon Hamm) where Wiener has hit solid gold. Don Draper is as strong a character as TV has seen. The indelible image of Draper with his white shirt, dark suit, and skinny tie once seen is impossible to shake. Add to that his Brylcreem hair, cocktail and cigarette in hand you have what has become a new cultural icon. Topical conversation can now interject “the Don Draper’s of the world” or “the bygone days of Don Draper” into talk track, and most will have a sense of what they are talking about.
Don is more than a one-dimensional stereotype. While Don is talented and impossibly handsome, he is also deeply troubled – much more than one would expect. His checkered past – mysterious – is almost always at odds with his brilliance as a creative force in advertising. After seven seasons of seeing Don be a sleaze-bag using his looks to “have his way” with the women around him – we still feel for him. He isn’t sure what is driving him to do what he does. It is like he can’t help himself. The fact that Hamm and the show’s writers have kept such a morally despicable character interesting and a sympathetic one week after week is an amazing accomplishment. Much of the credit here belongs to Hamm whose performance is never less than remarkable.
Unfortunately for Hamm, however, AMC’s sister show Breaking Bad (and their actors) have robbed him for multiple years of a much deserved Emmy. Perhaps with “Bad” over and done this year Hamm may have his day at the podium. He deserves it. It’s an excellent performance on par with any on TV.
Which brings us to now. The end. The last episode.
Will this be a grand finale tying together all the Dick Whitman loose ends? Will Betty and Don reunite? How about Don and Peggy or even Joan?
Not a chance. No big ending tying it all together came with Don’s “Om” moment somewhere in CA (one suspect Esalen). This was just another small moment in the show full of many similar little ones.
Weiner has consistently told the story of how highly motivated people like Don, Roger, Peggy, and Joan continue to forge ahead despite their often hasty choices and their consequences. Life, whether it be in the sixties with all that hubris, or anytime else for that matter, is always about finding enough peace within yourself to go on. If you’re lucky, you might just wrangle a moment of happiness from it all.
A great series. Bravo to Weiner, the actors, and writers. Let us hope Hamm finally gets his Emmy.