Mad Men – Signal 30
Somewhat strangely for something set in the sixties this is a show that is and has always been about sex, in all its interest and iterations, but this week’s Mad Men was, well pornographic. There was well enough flavour for me and yet, not a single shred of nudity (those other period shows could learn a thing or two about subtlety in sensuality from this episode). You could almost feel the hormones in the air, as if spring had come and reduced these men to mere boys and their office to a school house; there were dates between new friends, long awaited first kisses and fist fights between old and flings between total strangers who would never meet nor be that person again. Things in this world are changing, but the more they do the more they stay the same; the Men they keep getting older but the girls, they’re always the same age, provided of course that you’re willing to change them each time. And they say that the youth are lacking in morals!
It is really very unfair of me, but I honestly can’t tell the directors of this show apart, each episode blends to well with the next that to my mind they may as well have been made by the same person; that is until Mr John “Sterling” Slattery steps behind the camera. For someone with so little experience in the role he has done an amazing job, cementing himself last year as one of the classiest directors on television irregardless of experience and this is perhaps one of his best pieces yet; if ever he finds himself in a similar position to his character on the show Slattery has a solid back-up career ahead of him in directing, I know that. So much of his success off-screen comes from that character, so many of the shots virtually scream “Roger Sterling!”, which is of course an amazing thing. For one the way he edits scenes causes them to hit like his patented one liners: Set-up, twist and punch-line neat and in a row; you rarely see a show with as good a sense of comedic timing as Signal 30 has. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the fact that Sterling is a perv and shoots like one, lingering over bodies in an objectifying fashion: showing the rise and fall of a woman’s chest, the rippling of a man’s muscles as he strips off his shirt or the long slow slide of fingers along an open thigh. It’s enough to warrant a cold shower regardless of sex. I mean when Megan exclaimed how she surprised herself by getting so turned on by Don fixing a sink I couldn’t help but agree, i’m straight and that got to me.
While the laughs were masterfully crafted (and I wonder was the script also much funnier this week or did Slattery simply slam every bit that may not normally have hit home?) they acted only as the icing on the cake as it were; that sexuality though was central to the weeks stories, which were also all about stories. If there was a central theme this week then it was about the battle between out fantasies and our reality. Everyone has a dream and hopes like hell that it will one day happen but the truth is not even one has ever come exactly true, be it big or small. Your dream could be the one that America was founded on – to meet a girl, get married, buy a house and start a family – and you could do all those things, check them off the list in order, and still not be happy; because maybe her nose is bigger than you thought it would be, maybe your vows are tighter than they felt that first night, maybe your house doesn’t feel like yours at all but someone else’s and maybe your kid just cries all the time, maybe you don’t see yourself in its eyes and suddenly understand everything or maybe it’s just a dinner party that doesn’t go quite as planned, your anecdotes not sounding quite as awesome outside of your head as they did in. Sure it is depressing, but you get keep going because unlike an imagination life doesn’t stop at the end of an idea, it just keeps stretching out before us and it is those dreams that let us take another step. Sometimes we can trick our minds by telling ourselves a story, by saying over and over again that “I am a happy husband!” and “I am a loving father!”. For a while this writing or acting can work, we can hit on the line that will make things ‘easy’ as the prostitute does for Pete (and as Megan does for Don?) but stories are actually dreams in a different guise and so are thus similarly short-lived. So you aim for the idealised teen romance but settle for the gum in your pubis and get ready for another day, cause that’s life.
Life for the men of SCDP is still very interesting to us, but it seems that most of them have now reached the stage where they realise those dreams will never eventuate and have then lost the will to live even the actual life that is before them. It’s a mid-life crisis, it’s maturity and it’s happening for them right when it happened for America. There has been all of this talk about newly hired copy writers replacing the old stalwarts but that was all way ahead of itself; our very own Pete Cambell is growing up and since the show’s earliest episodes he has been the one set to replace Don, here he does. The house, the wife, the baby; it’s like Betty all over again and the adultery comes with all that too. Though if Pete is now Don then who does Dick get to be? That we’ll just have to wait and see, though the signs this week were actually quite good; Don was paternal, perverted, patient and generally quite pleasant. He spoke of the earl days being like “another life” and perhaps they were, perhaps this is third reincarnation of his character? Whatever the case it is interesting to see these men finally gain some maturity in the face of their mortality and the new perspectives that this brings them, good and bad. Normally such a sight would cause you to either laugh or cry, but here, with Slattery scoping things out the latter is all but locked in. They may not all be appreciating the lives they have to live, but I certainly appreciate getting to watch them do it.