Hey, we all like Mad Men, right? Last show of TV's Golden Age Mad Men? Moody, impressionistic drama about people refusing to change and shuffling apathetically toward death Mad Men? Yeah, that one! How do you feel about two more years of Mad Men? Something like "AMC, you lazy, greedy sons of tricks, what are you trying to do to us"? OK, great, glad we're still on the same page!
The cable channel announced today that Mad Men will be getting the same treatment as its other golden child, splitting up its seventh and final season into two seven-episode mini seasons. "This approach has worked well for many programs across multiple networks, and, most recently for us with Breaking Bad, which attracted nearly double the number of viewers to its second-half premiere than had watched any previous episode,” said AMC president Charlie Collier. “We are determined to bring Mad Men a similar showcase." DETERMINED! You can practically feel the premature-withdrawal shakes from here!
We know Grantland — and the rest of the Internet — has been filled to the brim this week with farewells to the late, great James Gandolfini (and justly so!), but the three of us didn't want the week to go by without saying our piece about the beloved actor and the impact he had on television and film. After that we move on to the season finale of Mad Men, share our impressions of the controversial season as a whole, and debate the discreet charm of Ted Chaough. Finally, we flip channels from HBO to AMC to the Food Network, as the career of Paula Deen goes up in a racist grease fire. How much public sympathy does straight-up ignorance buy you, and where does the Food Network find these people, anyway? Plus, at least one Girls In Hoodies Billion-Dollar Idea™ involving Paula Deen and Gwyneth Paltrow. You're welcome, television.
With Chris off on a beach somewhere enjoying a well-deserved vacation, the partners and I had to find someone to run creative in his absence. Luckily, we had an excellent candidate in house: Chuck Klosterman. Chuck was kind enough to hop on the phone and spend an outrageous amount of time discussing Mad Men with me. We covered nearly everything about this polarizing sixth season, from the dreamy premiere to the surprising finale. With a few minutes left at the end, we switched off the television and turned on the stereo, chatting about new albums from Black Sabbath and Superchunk and wondering what it means when bands give their fans exactly what's expected from them. Sterling Cooper may be in limbo, but the Hollywood Prospectus Podcast is doing just fine.
It turns out, the most important line from the Season 6 premiere of Mad Men wasn't a quote from Dante and it wasn't Roger's self-pitying spiel about doorways. It was Don's postcoital admission to Sylvia that he doesn't "want to do this anymore." But all these years on Madison Avenue have taught us that wants and needs are two very different, often contradictory impulses. And so what followed was 10 hours of the once (and future?) Dick Whitman continuing to do the very same destructive things he'd been doing, including boozing, floozing, and detonating professional and personal relationships like he was trying out for the Weathermen (though — Season 7 spoiler alert! — that particular radical organization wouldn’t form until 1969) without a modicum of happiness, joy, or desire. Mercifully, in last night's season finale, Don appeared to get what he claimed he wanted via an express elevator headed straight to the bottom. And, unlike Season 4's drunken nadir, this time there wasn't a quick fix of daily swims and emo journaling to help cushion the fall.
One of the things that makes Matthew Weiner the best writer working in television today is his refusal to sugar the pill and make life easier for his protagonists. I suppose, then, that it's admirable he did the same for his devoted audience this year. Despite some adrenaline-ass-injection highs, Mad Men Season 6 was a tough watch. And while I liked where last night left us — strangely, Don's sudden, precipitous descent hinted at a potential happy ending that I never would have predicted for him even a week ago — the road there was bumpier than a flight in Ted Chaough's Cessna. I've already written at length about my frustrations with Season 6; suffice it to say that last night felt very much of a piece with what had come before. There was history repeating itself (Pete's mother dying in the same sea his father crashed into years before), there was the impossibility of re-creating happiness (California can't be Don and Megan's happy place), there was a sports car stuck in reverse.
Oh, I see you've paused your Sopranos marathon and have stopped crying into your gabagool. What a great time to watch Stephen Colbert's moving tribute to his recently deceased mother, Lorna: She had 11 children, taught her kids to stage fall, and said ... oh no ... she wouldn't miss ... Colbert's ... show ... for ... the ... world. COUGH COUGH I'M FINE I'M JUST COUGHING DON'T LOOK AT ME I SAID I'M FINE.
With Bob Bensonmania reaching such a fever pitch that answer-crazed Mad Men fans are injecting vitamin shots into their posteriors and rioting in the streets to demand any crumb of information about whether the charmingly wrong-floored enigma from Accounts is a government spy, time-traveling bastard (hi, Molly!), or a budding psychopath who always carries two severed heads in case someone needs one, showrunner Matthew Weiner briefly stepped out of his Internet-proof mystery box to address the hysteria surrounding his most baffling creation. He tells The Wrap:
It started out with the best of intentions, and ended with a stabbing. I'm talking about the '60s, of course, but also Peggy's relationship with Abe. The merger is looking increasingly like a war over Peggy of Troy, but Peggy recognizes that no war is worth its weight in bloodshed. The chaos at SCDPCGC benefits neither Don nor Ted. It really only hurts the company. Peggy wasn't just trying to be diplomatic telling Ted and Don their ideas are equivalent. It was a no-win situation. No matter who she backs, it will piss off her other father figure. She can't please one without angering the other, and she can't possibly satisfy them both. Ted greases her up while Don dresses her down, but neither one of them talks to her on her actual level. They tell her they care what she thinks, but they won't show her they believe that.
"This is no dream! This is really happening!"
— Rosemary Woodhouse, Rosemary's Baby, 1968
Speed is no joke. I should know, I get spracked on green tea and Coca-Cola every Sunday night to stay up and write these recaps until dawn. Sometimes I find myself staring in the mirror at my sweaty reflection, unable to recognize my own face, muttering to myself "Who is Dick Whitman anyway? Why is he such a controlling pervert? Does Ken Cosgrove know how to tap dance? How dangerous is it exactly to play William Tell with X-Acto knives?" Lately I've been fantasizing about setting Don up with Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Veep character, Selina Meyer. It would be a fair fight. We now know that Don's fetish for loudmouth brunettes who put him in his place was probably implanted in his cortex by the hooker with a heart of gold who relieved him of his virginity without his consent at The House of the Rising Backstory.
“Is growin' up always miserable?" Sonny asked. "Nobody seems to enjoy it much."
"Oh, it ain't necessarily miserable," Sam replied. "About 80 percent of the time, I guess."
— Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show
Everyone is mysterious when you're first getting to know them. You have to peel back layer after layer of false front before you hit any oil. Social personalities are mostly misdirection. It takes forever to find out what anyone's really all about. You learn to differentiate between what someone says they believe and their actual beliefs; between what they say they're going to do and what they do. We are often mysterious to ourselves. Every human being is steered by several stars. Inside each person are a naive sailor, a seasoned captain, a scientist, the girl next door, a foxy redhead, a millionaire, and his wife. We contain multitudes.
Margarine will never be butter. But it can only really be compared to butter, and butter will always win.
"Sky pilot, how high can you fly? You'll never, never, never reach the sky." —Eric Burdon & the Animals ("Sky Pilot," spring of 1968)
I know it can be annoying to see GIFs loop during a post, but it's impossible to get tired of watching Pete Campbell fall down the stairs. Do you like when his butt hits the step and then scoots him down one more step, like a final apple bonking him on the head before rolling into a pig's open mouth? This is a really well-executed pratfall; it almost looks like a real accident. Pete has reason to be all pent-up. Trudy insists on pretending to the world that the Campbells' marriage is fine, but she won't do the horizontal Charleston with him anymore. Pete is actively keeping the secret that the company is about to go public, and he doesn't understand that an honest compliment about Joan's flawless paperwork skills is much more important to her than some dude she would never touch wanting to bone her. It crosses the mind that Pete and Joan are both technically single and could hook up, but Joan wisely passes on that final nightcap. Like Pete could ever handle that little red Corvette. He barely knows how to drive!
"The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it, ages ago." — Dr. Zaius, Planet of the Apes
In the wake of a horrible tragedy, traditional comforts don't always work. Things that usually make you feel better might make you feel bad or, worse, entirely disconnected. Television shows that were comfortingly absurd are suddenly jarringly unreal. All food becomes tasteless. Awards become meaningless. The usual Marxist bullshit can no longer blunt emotions about how terrible the world really is. Disasters tear open the screens put in place to protect us from horror and fear. All the other hungers and lusts are replaced with just one need: more information. After an unjust death, there can be no true satisfaction or closure. Just new facts, and an agonizing desire for more of them.
"We deplore the encouragement of an American myth that oppresses men as well as women: the win-or-you're-worthless competitive disease. The 'beauty contest' creates only one winner to be 'used' and forty-nine losers who are 'useless.'" — Robin Morgan ("No More Miss America," August 1968)
H.J. Heinz is the largest manufacturer of ketchup on the planet, so popular that its bottle has been the sauce's genericized trademark for over a century, but that doesn't mean the company is infallible. No company is. Remember the "Blastin' Green" and "Funky Purple" EZ Squirt disaster of '00? Somebody once stood in a room and pitched Heinz crazy-colored ketchup as the future of food, and Heinz listened to them. The squeeze bottle was even specifically designed with a narrow nozzle, all the better to draw pseudoplastic ketchup squiggles likes the ones Don rhapsodizes about to Stan. In a 2001 press release, Heinz's VP of marketing promised purple ketchup's success, claiming "Just look at kids' entertainment, and you'll find everything from purple computers to Harry Potter purple lightning bolts. Purple is a bold, fun color that brings a hint of mystery and magic to kids' condiment creations." Although the novelty sold well initially, Heinz's colored ketchups were quickly considered a huge flop, a failed attempt at forward-thinking rebranding on the level of New Coke or Crystal Pepsi. By 2006 they'd been shelved.
[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don despoils Lindsay Weir ... Peggy gives the copywriters a meatball sub ... Beards and sideburns ... Betty goes brunette ... Roger's mom really loved him.]
1. Don Draper (Last week: 1)
"That was the deftest self-immolation I've ever seen," Roger told Don after he doused himself in gasoline, lit a match, and gave a vigorous bear hug to Herb Rennet's plan to carjack Jaguar's national ad budget for his local dealership. But as entertainingly flame-engulfed as Don's sabotage was — he did everything to steer the campaign fatally down-market but pitch a buy-one-get-one-free offer for northern New Jersey's most upwardly mobile sanitation engineers — it couldn't hold a flickering Zippo's worth of heat to Draper's torching of his personal life. The situation with Sylvia has gotten so irresponsibly combustible that we're probably just a week away from the two of them stumbling into the Draper living room in a furniture-torching bout of extramarital passion and asking Megan if she wouldn't mind fetching them an asbestos blanket. (You know how Don feels about dirtying up a pristine carpet.)
"Someday someone who loves you / Will make you cry / Though he loves you he'll hurt you / Till you feel you could die / But if he says forgive me / Forgive if you can / For you are his woman / And he is your man" — Vicki Carr ("The Lesson," 1968)
In his 1964 book Understanding Media, Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase "the medium is the message" — theorizing, roughly, that the way an idea is presented is almost as important as the idea itself. By 1967, McLuhan had incorporated his own theory into the work and released The Medium Is the Massage, a slim, 160-page volume that restated his major points about the effects of mixing media formats by pairing them with attention-grabbing artwork from graphic designer Quentin Fiore. Fiore's style incorporated text and visually arresting images with collage, turning McLuhan's conjectures into slogans, helping the writer along as he suggests that mass media can be used to disperse profound ideas. The book — which practiced what it preached down to the title pun — was a bestseller and became influential in the developing field of media theory. While McLuhan's work briefly fell out of favor in the ’70s, it was critically revived with the arrival of in-home Internet.
You know how the "next week on Mad Men" promos are always hopelessly, comically vague? Well, there's a perfectly good reason: Matthew Weiner wants them like that! (OK, maybe it's not so much a "perfectly good" reason as it is a "reason.") Speaking with CNN, Weiner explained that he doesn't "even want those scenes from next week ... they could put a promotion for some other AMC show in there if they wanted to."