A confession: I got worn out last year. It was a mopey season. Don felt not so much conflicted as crabby. There was too much press about the show (I’m sure I’ll be more forgiving now that I’m part of the problem). There were times last season when it felt that the original humor that marked the show had been outsourced to Archer.
And yet, here we are. And of course I’ll watch every minute of this ridiculous, fascinating television entertainment program. I haven’t seen this Matthew Weiner letter. I’ve yet to watch the screener. The only thing I know about this season is that Jon Hamm’s penis has been in the news. I don’t even know how I know that.
What I’d love to see more than anything is the show opening in 1983 and Don’s career winding down. Sterling Cooper Draper has been acquired by, I don’t know, J. Walter Thompson. I would welcome thirteen straight episodes of a lonely Don screaming at a Wang word processor that keeps crashing, while insisting that his new overseers give him back his secretary. But I doubt that we’ll skip forward quite so far. Perhaps in Season 7.
Another wish is that a person of color has a role on the show that requires them to be more than a peg from which to hang some ennui. That situation has been weird, and it remains weird.
I do think this will be Pete’s season. Of all the characters he seems the best-prepared for a truly grand torment. I would much enjoy watching him struggle with lupus. Several episodes of exhausting medical treatments, punctuated by the rest of the characters facing their own mortality. The suspense—will Pete die? Can Pete find meaning? Do we, the audience, want him to die?—would be unbearable.
I would also like to see Pete do more with firearms. The combination of an insufferable prick with a dangerous weapon makes for great TV. (Here’s a useful reference page showing all the guns used on Mad Men. Fun fact: The guy who mugged Joan and Roger in Season 4, triggering all manner of erotic consequences, used a Colt Detective Special.)
Speaking of Roger, it’d be a pleasure to see him on acid more often. More spontaneous male nudity would also pick up the pace, and would be good for television in general. And I do hold out hope that he and Don might actually do some advertising. Watching them come up with the campaigns, pitching their very souls to cretins, is the pleasure last season kept holding out to the viewers, then pulling back for yet more office drama and unsatisfying death.
On the home front, can we move Betty along? She’s become a picklepuss, an inconvenience—it’s almost as if the writers are punishing her for continuing to exist by making her ever more purselipped. She used to ride horses. She modeled. She had anonymous sexual intercourse as a form of revenge. Now she nibbles corn snacks and hates everyone, especially herself. Is there no fun for mother? Suggestion: She takes the kids to an amusement park. Betty on a roller-coaster, enjoying a momentary thrill. Then, just as she forgets herself and a smile forms, the coaster could get stuck and while she and Sally sit there waiting for a repair Betty could say something terrible—something about how slutty girls die alone, for example. Fade to black, cue “Mrs. Robinson” (if it’s 1968).
Alternately, this would be a wonderful time, both in terms of narrative dynamics and American history, for Betty to become a fundamentalist Christian. We’ve already seen her at Weight Watchers. Sally and Bobby forced to attend church with their mother, and all the bizarre psychosexual dynamics thereof, would be a treat. Or even better, a church retreat where they discuss The Late, Great Planet Earth. Let her search for meaning like everyone else. Fade to black, cue “Jesus Is Just All Right” (if it’s 1972).
Of course Matthew Weiner will give us exactly the season we deserve. The collective cultural freak-out is about to begin. David Brooks will explain how Joan represents lost cultural values. Tom Friedman will compare Jon Hamm’s genitals to Afghanistan. And it will just get weirder. I leave you with this stanza from a poem by Jennica Harper, part of a cycle of poems written in the voice of Sally Draper:
But today I’ll wear red.
The red of a cherry
on a sword in a virgin
cocktail I’ll have to sip
through a straw.
History will judge us by this show.
Yours ‘til the rapture,