For the last few weeks, I’ve been selling things off to help pay the bills. You start off listing things you’re happy to part with, or that are surplus to your needs. As time goes by you begin to advertise things you’d rather not sell. That’s where I’m at now. The other day I listed my blue-ray DVD player, a beautiful Oppo unit I paid a grand for back in the days when I had money. It’s a lovely piece of work, but I rarely play DVD’s anymore, so…
The auction for the Oppo is due to finish tomorrow. As a kind of last hurrah, I’m trying to eke out every penny’s worth by catching up these last couple of days on my DVD watching. In particular, I’ve gone back to Mad Men.
When the final ever episode of Mad Men aired earlier this year, I had a sense of loss. Never would a new episode grace the screen, and Don Draper was lost to me. Sometime after that, I decided I would go back and start from episode one at some point. I’ve got the boxed sets of series one and two of Mad Men, so it was there waiting for me.
Next week it’s likely I won’t have a DVD player anymore, so it was now or never.
I watched the first episode late yesterday afternoon, and the next episode straight after. I watched episode three this morning.
There’s a lot of predictable emotions. There’s nostalgia. There are things you remember. There’s a time evoked which you recall now from when you watched before. Things are different now too.
You watch now with a full understanding of where the show – and Don Draper – is destined. That’s a good thing, and the reason you should always re-visit these things. With that knowledge comes a depth of understanding and perception that wasn’t possible watching the first time around. You watch knowing where Don Draper is going and knowing pretty well who he is. Suddenly there are clues everywhere you didn’t pick up before.
The other thing that struck me is just how unlikeable most of the characters are – particularly the men. I would have noticed this before, and in fact, remember marvelling at the cultural dissonance. It really was a different world in so many ways. This time around it’s not just the difference I notice, but the ugly aspects of it – the rampant sexism, the casual racism, the sense of entitlement (perhaps not different, but represented differently), the easy acceptance of adultery.
I’m used to the cigarette smoking and the endless drinks in the office – it’s the behaviours this time that stuck in my craw. I wonder if it really was as bad as that? I accept that a Madison Avenue advertising agency probably epitomised that, but seemingly even in the suburbs similar attitudes prevailed.
Don, in fact, was one of the more likeable characters. More ruthless and less open than everyone else, he was also more honest. In a way that was always his appeal. He was an outlier in perverse directions. He was a more serious character than most – there’s a lot of juvenile men in these first few episodes – and with that more manly.
By now, we know his background and what formed him. He’s a serial philanderer, and partly that’s the zeitgeist of the times – everyone’s looking for something on the side seemingly. But there’s an aspect to that more complex too, relating to his upbringing – which makes him more honest as well, or at least more simple. He is often blunt, but never weaselly or conniving. Because he came from nothing and knows what it is to struggle, he has little of the boyish self-indulgence of many about him. He has re-invented himself, literally, and in the process become both very focused and impatient with frivolity.
He will change as the series progresses, and will become more self-indulgent, but Dick Whitman is always in inside him. The series charts an era and a way of life, but mostly it’s about Don – the battle for his soul, his odyssey.