Winter is Coming for Mad Men, Too

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Ben Tanzer can’t shake the brutal “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones, and wonders whether the end is coming for the old guard of Mad Men, too.

I am supposed to be writing about Mad Men.

Episode Ten, “A Tale of Two Cities” specifically.

But I can’t stop thinking about Game of Thrones and the Red Wedding.

Spoiler Alert: It’s fucking brutal.

Still, assignment is to ruminate, possibly even pontificate on Mad Men, so that’s my plan. All that said, obsessing over Game of Thrones does not have to be an exercise in avoiding the task at hand.

Hear me out.

In a world full of endless war, corruption, incest, murder, and what appear to be ice zombies from the other side of the wall, the Stark family strive for goodness. They make the right choices and they believe that honesty and fairness will ultimately rule the day.

It doesn’t. And they all die. Horribly.

The characters on Mad Men, however, are not so taken with character per se, or at least with doing what’s right. They do what they want, and while they are not always cruel, they are mainly just selfish, they rarely strive for goodness, and they are certainly not caught up in doing what’s right.

But that’s every episode, right, and that’s not a complaint either, it’s their world.

More specifically though, “A Tale of Two Cities” is an episode which riffs on any and all of this, but also happily riffs on one of its own favorite themes, the duality of human nature, and how we can have so many contradictory impulses occurring at one time.

But we know that already as well, right?

We do. Because we watch and watch, and we read about the show, as we try to tease out the subtext of every theme and nuance.Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 10.04.35 PM

Look at Megan in her red star T-shirt last week. Is that a shout-out to Sharon Tate’s murder or Abe’s stabbing, both, or neither? Is it mean to be explicit, or just a conscious recognition that America was slowly be subsumed by spasms of violence, halting changes in leadership, youth asserting themselves, and cultural shifts that those long in charge (white males) were no longer sure they could contain.

Which upon reflection sounds a lot like Game of Thrones.

And that wedding scene. Fuck.

Yet, I digress, sort of, back to Mad Men, and maybe even some joy?

Because what makes “A Tale of Two Cities” an especially interesting episode despite its somewhat trippy, fragmented, end of the season table-setting mode, is that it is an episode where Mad Men takes one of its sporadic jaunts to Los Angeles, a place and setting which allows the characters’ behaviors to be mirrored against that of the loose, and louche, sunny, stoner vibe oozing across everything not corporate there.

We also get Joan stepping far outside of her normally pragmatic character’s otherwise outwardly rule-following countenance to make a move calculated to advance her career, if not her pride.

Weiner and Mad Men are always happy to play with fever dreams, visions, and hallucinations, but it is in Los Angeles where Don and his happy crew are exposed for the dinosaurs they are becoming. It is also the place where Don’s judgment seems most questionable, whether it is deciding to spontaneously marry Megan or nearly drowning after smoking hash with the groovy hippies at the party in the hills.
Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 10.02.53 PMNew York has to be the center of the universe, as Roger reminds Don on the flight home, balls bruised I assume (though not his ego) because it is the only place they can function.
But function for how long? That’s the question that hovers over the show as it slowly winds down and seeks to catch up with the ever-present falling man who has haunted the credits for all of these years. New York appears to be burning, or will be, and the women are taking over… or will be soon. Which is why we shouldn’t be surprised that Joan asserts herself when she has the chance to land the Avon account.
No one is going to give it to her. She has played the old boy’s games, and where has that gotten her? Nowhere, except prostituted, by choice, somewhat… maybe. It is time for women of her generation, and arguably, all generations to assert themselves. The old guard is crumbling, but not by choice. They can’t. Or won’t.
Duality doesn’t mean self-awareness. Nor does it mean fairness. It means we’re stuck between selves, those we are and those we want to be, pulled back and forth by our pain and confusion, upbringing and destiny.
The Starks, of course, lack self-awareness. There is no id. Nor is there much ego. They are ruled by fairness and it is their undoing. Only time will tell us what Don’s undoing will be.
About Ben Tanzer

Ben Tanzer is the author of the books My Father's House, You Can Make Him Like You, and the forthcoming Orphans, among others. Ben also oversees day to day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life and can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life the center of his growing lifestyle empire.

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