Mad Men – Season Three

Mad Men, TV’s best dramatic series two years running according to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, concluded its third season last night. Betty is on a plane to Reno to gain a divorce, and Don is starting a new ad agency with the finest Sterling/Cooper has to offer. It’s all excitement for Don and Betty, another metaphorically inappropriate couch for the living room.

Except for Breaking Bad, there is no more exciting hour on Television. From the time-warped art direction that never ceases to rattle boomers’ synapses to the chain-smoking actors with the depth of a bird bath, the show never ends to be exciting and watchable. While the plot almost always moves too slowly, the story regularly balances the mundane with the outrageous – who can forget the hot-shots foot getting mowed off by their clients’ tractor in the office?

In the background are the perfect sets, costumes, and historically accurate intrusions of history that combine to make it TV’s best acid flashback. Mathew Wiener should start dusting off his shelf to make room for another EMMY in 2010.

There were some delicious moments in season three. The trip to California, Salvatore’s continuing fight with his gayness, and the introduction of a Mr.Conrad Hilton. The best moments continued to be the dramatic ones. Betty uncovers Don’s secret drawer, then confronts him with their contents. The disappointment Joan faced with her husband, who wasn’t providing the pot of gold she hoped for (and deserved). These moments were superbly acted, given time to play out, and presented without heavy background music to let us know what to feel. Those moments and the writing behind them make the show great and deserving of its accolades.

I could have used a little more Peggy and a little less Duck. I could have also used more actual business. The closing episode was a hummer once Don was kicked in the ass by Hilton and decided to enlist the firm to go rogue setting out on their own. It was a plausible sequence that not only showed insight into how things work in business but also was something not seen before on Television. More of this, please; it’s excellent stuff.

There is something in the nostalgia of Mad Men that is both disturbing and satisfying. While it shows how backward we were in the not-so-recent past (drinking and smoking while pregnant, smoking three packs a day, and driving without seat belts…among many others), the fundamental challenge presented in the show of how to be happy and rise above the circumstances we find ourselves in, is a timeless one—oddly comforting to see that the absence of cigarettes and the introduction of the color TV did not make us better human beings.

There is a phrase, “the highest we ever get in life is human.” This has never been more true than on Mad Men.

Well done.

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