February 25th, 2009
|03:44 pm - Mad Men 2.3
I was all ready to rave about Mad Men this week - I've been so excited by the beginning of season 2. However, this episode (2.3 'The Benefactor') wasn't that great. I mean it was good - but not great. It seemed to me to be written by a good writer who had been told the themes which had to be taken forward in this episode, and either been told or worked out the imagery used in the show. But it lacked the magic that I think the core team bring to it. And in fact checking on imdb I see this was written by Rick Cleveland, who has written very well for Six Feet Under, but hasn't written for Mad Men before or since this episode.
Don continues to bunk off work to participate in Art - in this episode he watches an avant-garde film, in French (I think) with subtitles. What was interesting to me was the imagery in the film-within-the-TV - a palm pressed up against the camera, now seeming a hand pressed against the cinema screen, and hence my TV screen. This reminds me of what I think is the key speech of the whole of series 1, in the final episode, when Don and Harry discuss the cave art at Lascaux, and the impression of hands, from twenty thousand years ago, pressed against the cave wall. In fact the more I think about it, this was the single really powerful moment in this episode.
I am thinking of a post this week from iainjcoleman, that he had noticed that in Beowulf the monster is called 'Cain's kin', while the monster in Alien jumps from Kane's chest. I hardly think it matters whether such overlap is planned in detail by the writers, or whether it springs directly from the subconscious, fully formed. But it is not mere coincidence, not merely a Rorschach blot. It is a real hand on the cave wall.
And here's a quote from season 1 final episode - probably the best Mad Men episode I have seen so far, which is saying a lot:
'In Greek, "nostalgia" literally means "the pain from an old wound." It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards... it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called the wheel, it's called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels - around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.'
ETA here is an excellent overview of the whole of Season 1 from the Chicago tribune.
I also want to say about this episode that the sex scenes are very sexy, and I think this is because it is directed by a woman. I don't know whether women are better at directing sex scenes, or if the female gaze just appeals to me more, but I often find this correlation.
Oh, I didn't realise it was directed by a woman! I usually can't be doing with sex scenes at all - I find them a bit embarrassing at best - but I haven't found Mad Men's objectionable at all. I wonder if that's part of the reason.
I think different episodes of Mad Men are directed by different people, but this one was a woman - used to be a dancer it says on imdb - I just noticed when I was checking the writer. What I like about the sex in Mad Men is it isn't just generic, it has some kind of meaning to the people involved.