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Mad Men Episode 3 Season 7

Don Draper gives a junior creative some fatherly advice – which proves counter-productive

Something rather strange is going on with Mad Men – it’s becoming oddly theatrical. The opening episode of Series 7, and final series, although somewhat muted, still had much to recommend it – certainly to fans, anyway. Episode 2 picked up the pace and promised a return to form. But then along comes Episode 3 and the whole thing looks suddenly rather staged and shabby.

The dialogue in 3 has become so tidy and written I have the distinct impression I’m watching the actors run their lines at rehearsal. There’s far too much walking in and out of doorways, for one thing. I don’t know if this is meant to pay homage to TV directing of forty odd years ago, but it just looks sloppy now – it also grates when you consider the seductive attention to detail of the costumes and sets.

Earlier in the series we were given interesting stories to follow about creatives and their ad campaigns and what became of them, now the creative stuff is thrown in merely as context, so we don’t forget this is an ad agency, it’s not any old office; it serves mainly as filler between the dissolute love affairs that populate the series.

Don has pretty much lost his way, looks perpetually hungover and indifferent, and mildly bemused by anyone’s pique or lack of cool. He’s become a sort of punchbag for the frustrated people who barge in and out of his office or apartment. Even when his daughter accuses him of being a sleazebag, he barely registers hurt. He’s still capable of punching back, but mostly we feel his weariness and indifference when given a poke in the eye.

No fun in Ad Land any more?

Sadly the show’s intimacy of earlier has become claustrophobic now. We’re in advertising, and yet we never get invited to a big photo shoot or an industry event. We seldom even hit the road, everything takes place in the office, a corridor, the bedroom. The shots are static, the editing predictable, cutting back and forth like a tennis match. The side-on two-shots expose below-class acting – such as the scene between the young teen trying it on with Don’s ex wife in the kitchen before he enlists for duty in Vietnam – and even great actors like Greenwood are made to look third rate when asked to end a scene with a polite smile and leave frame as if on stage.

People in the agency no longer jostle for power, they just bicker and bitch. You wonder why they don’t all just get out of the business and find something more wholesome to pursue.

Toward the end of 3, one of the junior creatives storms into Don’s office and cries, “I tried your little saying – and I’m off the business! … I made your joke and it failed – miserably… The one where I told them they were assholes!” Don, quite reasonably says, “You could have thought of something yourself, you know.” To which the whingeing creative says, “I did, it was ‘apologize’. But guys like you don’t understand that, because guys like you don’t have to do it.” Don bites back with, “Guys like me, know how to do it.” And right there, I want to interject and say, ‘used to – we haven’t seen it in a while.’ Don tells the junior he has no character, the other guy sneers back saying, “You don’t have any character, you’re just handsome, stop kidding yourself!

Don takes a moment and tells the guy he’s fired. The junior walks out the door leaving Don vaguely troubled to be told ‘he’s just handsome’, but doubtless another whisky at midday will wash down that familiar impediment soon enough. Presumably this passes as drama, but it’s not, because there’s no real threat to Don’s authority, and this junior is just a naïve and invidious asshole anyway. The issue at hand – the handling of the clients – isn’t all that important to the story, either. The whole scene is just symptomatic of the show’s collective awareness that the writers and producers appear to have exhausted all the good Ad Land stories.

The doors are closing behind Don – but do we care?

It’s very difficult to identify any kind of through-line to the slowly unfolding, limp narratives of this series and there’s no sign of a climax to remember. The series appears to be headed for a whimper of an ending, not a big bang.

In the final scene Don arrives home to be told by the real estate agent that she’s finally sold his soulless apartment. As he slowly takes this in – end of an era – the camera pulls back to leave him alone in the corridor outside his flat, seemingly with nowhere to go. The doors are closing for Don. And perhaps soon, the coffin lid as well.

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