The sad message of the show is that, in a world built on lies, ethics are a barrier to both success and happiness. Draper is trapped in a marriage that he doesn't feel connected to, partially because it grew from false pretenses (his wife doesn't know who he really is), but escape from it would be reckless and destructive for him and his family -- just see the single mom down the street from the Drapers, considered hopeless and sad by her neighbors.For creating a show that has become one of the most talked-about, heatedly debated series in TV history, and for creating a look and ambience normally associated with Wong Kar-Wai films, Matthew Weiner deserves all the kudos he's received.
The characters of "Mad Men" are thus resigned to live double lives, and the more comfortable they are with their deceit, the happier they'll be. But it makes sense that ad executives would be best served by experiencing the world as pure, delightful artifice: You are whoever and whatever you say you are, nothing more and nothing less. It's a testament to the intelligence of the writing that we, as the audience, find ourselves torn over these characters and their choices. In an oppressive, corrupt culture, their lies sometimes feel like acts of cowardice, and at other times feel like acts of liberation.
This is what a good dramatic work should do: ask important questions that have no easy answers. But that's not all we get from "Mad Men." We get weighty, nuanced scenes that we've never seen before, and that we can't predict as they're unfolding. We get fantastic acting, incredible art direction, and dynamic, fun storytelling with a wicked sense of humor. "Mad Men" is easily the best new show of the year, a true work of art grounded by sharp social commentary and poetic insights into the American experience.
October 17, 2007
Heather Havrilesky, on TV's best hour: