Mad Men will begin airing its final episodes on April 5th. Both of us Beans have been fans of the series since it premiered way back in 2007, so we’re going to re-watch one season per week before the final season begins. Each of us will put together their own reflection about what makes each season special, and what aspects stick out on the umpteenth viewing.
For Season 3, we decided to just chat about what stuck out for us. Not gonna lie, it was a little hard to parse because this is our third season in as many weeks. Was Don in California this week? No? When was that? Oh!
We’ve spent the last few days hemming and hawing about what to tackle when it comes to Season 3 of Mad Men. The reason for that, I think, is that Season 3 does not offer much new material for Mad Men viewers. Whether on purpose or not, a lot of the plots points and themes in Season 3 feel a little re-heated. The show maintains its impeccable style and dedication to character, but this season only really gets very good at the end. Prior to that it feels more like the occasional “what!” moments in place of real forward momentum. So, I’m curious, Becky, does the same issue stand out to you?
I can see where you are coming with the idea of re-treading, but a lot of the third season feels like the story lines are being finished up to me. The ad agency is no more, marriages fall apart, long term accounts leave, and a lot of the characters we’ve been following for the past few seasons don’t come along to the new company so we don’t know if we will ever see them again. There is a finality to the season, which is interesting since it is only the third season and it wasn’t on the edge of being cancelled or anything. Though I felt a lot of hopefulness for the characters left standing as they all sat around the hotel room starting up Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. I don’t know it I agree that the show felt slow moving since you can look at each of the major events in the season and see them all culminating in the explosion of the finale.
I can buy what you’re saying there. The logical conclusion of the narrative we see sprawl out over Seasons 2 & 3 is the crackerjack narrative revolution that happens in the “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” That episode is among the series best for a whole bunch of reasons. But to get there we have to wade through a Don affair (3rd in 3 seasons), Betty wrestling with Don’s infidelities and identity (which reached an emotional peak at the end of Season 2), Roger wrestling with his relevance (which won’t come to fruition until Season 5), Peggy making a reputation (this doesn’t really peak until Season 5 either), and Pete in an endless dick-measuring contest (that’s his whole life). Enough of these arcs get a resolution or break at the end of Season 3, but there’s a little bit of water-treading to get there. Maybe planting “Shut the Door” in the middle of the season would have helped? Also, I recall some chatter that the Drapers’ divorce should have seen Betty jettisoned from the regular cast. What do you think of that idea?
I’d love to have gotten rid of Betty. I’ve really only ever been interested in maybe one of her story lines in the whole series. I would have loved if her onscreen time had gone to Joan or Peggy or Trudy. Can we make Trudy a main character? Maybe give her a spin off series where she makes Yankee pot roast and doing the Charleston…
Anyway, the finale of the third season strikes me as being very hopeful. Don and Pete can throw themselves into their new company instead of dwelling on the state of their marriages. Joan can head back to work and doesn’t have to crawl back, admitting that her husband cannot support their family. Sterling and Cooper have the opportunity to become relevant again and not just be relegated to a figurehead role at another company once what they created is sold away. Peggy has the chance at a smaller agency for her ideas to stand out and receive the respect she deserves for her creative work. And then there is Harry Crane… he never feels optimistic to me.
That’s because Harry spends the series transforming from a schlub to an arrogant douche. But the idea of “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” being hopeful is interesting to me. I’ve never quite read it that way. The old partners of Sterling Cooper conspiring to get themselves fired and stealing away all their clients in the middle of the night is amazing, to be sure. To me, it’s always had more of a nervous energy. The conspirators know that they are taking a huge chance, which always brings some elation about new possibilities. But there’s an undercurrent of unease to it, too. All of them know that re-starting will let them be independent, but it will also leave them dancing on the edge of oblivion. Facing down that fall will be the show’s focus moving on, which launches the series to its very best years.