Mad Men Season 4 – The Good News (S04E03) – Episode review

Yes, I’ve decided to give Mad Men a whirl and see what all the buzz is about. Over the last couple of weeks, there have been a ton of writers comparing Man Men and True Blood and battling it out over which one is superior.

Not that it matters whether one is better than the other – from a newbie point of view, both programmes are chalk and cheese.

So, cut me some slack with this first review. I think I understand the premise, though correct me if I’m wrong. It’s basically a series set in the 1960’s that centers around an advertising agency and the employees who work there. Is 1965 far enough away to be called a period drama? Maybe. Culturally, it feels like another world – most women subjugated to secretarial status, except for the pirhana lady who uses her dangerous curves to get what she wants from men.

And this guy, Don Draper. Well, I know he’s one of the main characters. He’s recovering from a recently deceased marriage, and he seems to have a secret identity. But no superpowers. I’m baffled about the Don Draper/Dick Whitman ‘thing’, but I’m sure Wikipedia will be nice to me and fill in the blanks. I half-caught an episode once where his wife was seeing a shrink, but he was diddling around with some woman who threw a TV set out the window. So, I’m guessing he’s a serial philanderer? And he’s been caught?

And Joan, the piranha lady? Interesting character. Looks like a bit of a cougar if you ask me, but it seems like men will wrap themselves around her little finger on command. But then, in an office filled with otherwise dowdy ladies, she seems to have the monopoly on sexy. Except with Lane, the uptight British guy, who can seemingly resist her uninspired “Breast or thigh?” teasing.

The Good News seemed to consist of mostly bad news, as Don discovered his confidant, Anna had terminal cancer. But dealt with in a “let’s not tell her, it’d only upset her” kind of way. At this point of my newbieness, these scenes don’t have much impact on me, but other people think they’re important. Likewise with Don taking lonely Lane out for a night on the town, getting drunk at the cinema and cavorting with prostitutes. I’m sensing themes of isolation and lack of a moral centre, as two lonely guys find ways to distract themselves.

I also noticed – unlike a lot of modern series I’m watching – there wasn’t much of a soundtrack behind the episode. No music to give us our emotional cues, or to imply judgement against one or other of the characters. And the lack of background music also made the pace feel slower paced, less dramatic. And maybe a little bit more ‘of that era’. I can’t help but wonder that with all of the unrealistic gloss that advertising and programming in the 60’s shone on everyday life, perhaps Mad Men is the antithesis of this? The honest and seedy truth behind the lives of those people who shaped that era?

The notion of Darren and his boss in Bewitched pops into my head as I write this. They were advertising people too, weren’t they? I’m sure there’s a parallel in there, but I just can’t find it at the moment. It’ll come to me after a couple more episodes, I’m sure.

P.S. Please be gentle with the newbie starting watching a show in its fourth season!

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