Camelot and Its Discontents: Mad Man's Third Season Comes to DVD
Introduced, though not identified in the “My Old Kentucky Home” episode, Don mistakes him for the country club’s bartender — and in that and many other scenes throughout the season, he’s photographed to sort of resemble Lloyd the Bartender and the other ghosts who inhabit one of the world’s most famous fictitious hotels: the Overlook from Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining.
He also resembles some of the ghosts from Don’s past who pop up in Mad Men from time to time; like Don in his own way, he’s part of a link from America’s rural past to the big business of America’s post-war, pre-Internet years.
Tangents Within a Framework
Connie seems to pop up when you least expect him in the series. But then, watching the third season of Mad Men as it aired on AMC, it often seemed to have scenes that went off into strange tangents and dead ends (such as the Penn Station subplot). You knew about where the season had to end (it was set in 1963 after all, and two previous seasons wrapped up around the big events of their years), but getting there was sometimes problematic.
Though there are some nice moments that connect the episodes: The first episode of the season begins with Sterling-Cooper account executive Burt Peterson being fired by Pryce, beginning with those ominous words, “come inside, have a seat.” The final episode is titled just that, and ends with the core team essentially getting themselves fired by Pryce, so that they can make a fresh start of it. The episode also tacitly loops back to the earliest episodes of the series, where Betty and her friends ostracized a recently arrived divorcee.
But even when the underlying show itself becomes slack, each episode on the DVD has an optional track featuring Mad Men producer-auteur Matthew Weiner (often with the stars or writers of the show), which makes for fascinating listening, and even at times working unintentionally at cross-purposes with the usual “hey, look at how naive they were back then” tone of the show.
For example, when Pete quixotically tries to convince Admiral Television to aim their marketing at the then-nascent African-American marketplace, Weiner notes how myopic it was for businessmen to ignore this rapidly growing marketplace for political reasons, leaving millions of dollars of potential revenue on the table. This coming from a man who works in an industry which has been alternatively ignoring and insulting half the country in the form of the American right since the late 1960s.
Speaking of which, the late ‘60s is what a wide swatch of Mad Men's audience are waiting to see, isn’t it? If Mad Men actually gets to that point, Draper will likely resemble the unnamed protagonist in this recent quote from James Lileks, a writer who’s equally interested in the early 1960s, but doesn’t take quite as punitive a view of the period as Weiner:
You’d find yourself in 1970 wearing a polyester suit with wide collars and a tie whose knot was the size of a baby’s head, looking at a wood-grained plastic dashboard in an ugly car, the radio playing Mungo Jerry, wondering how the hell this happened.
That’s pretty much how my dad, who even looked a bit in his younger days like Don Draper, felt at the time. Don’t look to Mad Men for the answers as to how this happened, but the visuals will certainly be amusing to watch.
And make no mistake: Mad Men is a show that works as much for its visuals as its plots. The show’s writers often take a jaundiced view of their characters, but the cinematography and production design are almost always a pleasure. (And those visuals look far sharper, with more layers of historic subtext revealed on the new DVD than over-the-air cable)
So where will the nascent firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and its staff go next when the show resumes this summer? As with the selling of any product, the anticipation is as important as the substance.