I love this show. I really do. I’ve seen the whole series a couple of times and it never fades. I enjoy long form television, especially on cable channels and “premium” channels like HBO and Showtime. It’s delicious to binge watch, a guilty pleasure and a popular pastime. It can be all-consuming, but in a good way. There are many that have left a deep impression: Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Carnivale, True Blood, True Detective (the first season), The Night Of, Homeland, Dexter, Lost, I’m getting into Westworld….on and on.
Mad Men has a special place in my list of favorites. The style, the cinematography, the set design, the clothes make-up and hair, the scripts, the direction, the acting, the music — all impeccable. And, what plum roles for actors to have — juicy multi-layered parts to play long term. I know that some people think that television is the faded older step sister of film, but I don’t agree — at least not in the general. Each individual episode of these shows are one hour films.
Since I have been watching Mad Men most recently it’s fresh in my mind. It’s hard to say which character I like the best, because in a show as well executed as this one, I love them all. But I think I am most captivated by the relationship between Don (Jon Hamm) and Peggy (Elizabeth Moss). They are wonderful together. Their relationship is complicated; it pendulum swings between love and hate, but at the core there is a deep understanding, respect and genuine fondness between them. Whenever they appear on screen together I know I’m in for a treat.
I realize I’m writing this out of order, but there is an episode where Peggy leaves the firm after taking about as much abuse from Don that she can stand. It’s a tense moment, with underlying anger, when she breaks the news. It’s wonderfully scripted and acted, and at the end of the scene, unexpectedly, Don takes Peggy’s hand and kisses it. Not in a pretentious affected way, and not exactly like a lover, but conveying in the slightest and subtlest of gestures how precious she is to him and how he values her — in his own messed up way. And, Peggy’s reaction…well he just disarms her completely. She’s utterly thrown by the reaction, and tears start to well up. What a gem of a moment!
In another season, “The Suitcase” is a pivotal episode in their relationship, and in Don’s life. The episode spans a raucous night and early morning where there is a lot of chaos. Don knows he is waiting for the news of Anna’s death, the famous Sonny Liston vs. Muhammed Ali fight is happening, it’s Peggy’s birthday, and she bails on her boyfriend and he then bails on her. The following morning, it’s another day and Don is spic and span and in his usual “this never happened” philosophy of life — ready for another workday. Peggy comes in rumpled and tired, and they discuss an ad — everything but the elephant in the room. But at the end of the scene, both their hands are resting on the desk, Don takes her hand, covers his with hers and they look at each other — it’s all communicated in that gesture and look. Beautiful.
As I think about it there is another wonderful “hand” moment. Earlier in the series, Betty (January Jones) runs into Glen Bishop (Marten Holden Weiner) the little boy who has a crush on her. Glen is sitting in the car waiting on his mother, and Betty comes up to the passenger window to talk to him. She starts to cry — he’s the only one she can really communicate with — and Glen, so sweetly, offers his mitten-ed hand for her to hold. It’s lovely.
A simple touch can convey a great deal — holding hands, touching someone’s arm, a pat. I think we forget how this small act of connection is, in fact, so very large. Have we lost sight of that? Nowadays, we tend toward the extreme or grand gesture, hugs, air kisses, which often seem to have less meaning. Or else we move straight to the erotic. But hand touches, think of all we can do with our hands, they speak so many languages: comfort, love, support, empathy, understanding, solidarity….Let’s not forget that.
Thank you to all the super talented cast, writers, creators, everyone beyond the camera, and crew of Mad Men for giving us such an outstanding, glorious, and full of thought, gift.