Toxic Fog: Mad Men’s Bleak Fifth Season
It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on a white rug; eventually someone’s going to have to step on it. There it was, virginal and gleaming, in the premiere ofMad Men’s just-ended fifth season, the perfect space-age complement to Don and Megan’s go-go newlywed dream. But only a narcissist or a space cadet would invest in something so ostentatious and impractical. It turns out Don wasn’t upset about his birthday party because he was getting older — after all, Dick Whitman had already exited his 30s months before. What really rankled was the thought of all those work people, with their grubby loafers and dangling cigarettes and messy appetites, leaving permanent marks all over his perfectly alabaster metaphor.
I thought this was a fascinating read, although I thoroughly enjoyed this season. I can’t disagree that it was dark, but since when has Mad Men ever not been dark? And funny, and visually stunning, and beautifully acted? I have always maintained that Don Draper at the very least has strong narcissistic tendencies, and while that does not mean his fate is predetermined, it does mean he he will have one bitch of a time forming lasting relationships with women.
Besides, these people work in advertising, where moral compromise is a way of life. That’s sort of the point, isn’t it?
When I first saw this poster for Season 5 of Mad Men, my heart skipped a little beat. I started watching Season 1 on Netflix in January, thinking I would probably watch an episode or two and lose interest like I always do, but lo and behold, I got hooked. Now I have about two weeks to finish Season 3 and get through Season 4 before the new shows start, because the first thing I realized when I saw this poster was that spoilers will be everywhere.
The debonair Don Draper is no dummy, but he may or not be a dummy voyeur. That much we can safely gather from this poster, but the rest is all speculation. More than one observer has pointed out that the mannequins in this image are too anatomically correct to be historically accurate for the early 60s, a detail of the sort that this show normally gets painstakingly right. Series creator Matthew Weiner has been quoted as saying all mysteries posed by this picture will be solved by the end of the season, but it was not clear whether or not he was talking about the anachronism. Weiner also described the image as “dreamlike” and compared it to the work of Giorgio de Chirico, which may or may not be accurate, but which nonetheless excites me to be on board for the new season.
All period details, melodrama, and hype aside, what I really love about this show is how it explores the subject of identity. What is it that makes us who we are? How much of that consists of what we choose to display to other people and how much of it is hidden? How much can one person compartmentalize himself before he shatters? To what extent are we self-determined agents of our own destinies, and to what extent are we driven by deeply ingrained psychological forces we can’t possibly even understand? Should we be judged by our worst actions or our best ones? And finally: who the hell ate all the Melba toast and then put the box back on the shelf?