Why is Mad Men So Great?


So sad to see the end of Season 4 of Mad Men! I haven’t been so devoted to a show since Six Feet Under and that’s a few years back.

As with all good writing, everything begins and ends with character— and complexity. Like getting to know a person in real life, Mad Men reveals numerous levels of complexity in the characters—particularly Don Draper and Peggy Olsen. In Season 4, we get the first chance to go “inside” Draper with a number of interior monologues.

I found it quite startling when he began to reveal his own thoughts to himself as he swam in the New York Athletic pool and as he sat at his kitchen table writing. Is this the same man who beds one woman after another with apparently no particular emotion? But all along, I’d gotten the feeling that he had done this sort of personal introspection before. We’ve seen him staring into the mirror or out the window in other episodes, but never have we known what was going on in his head. This is a man who has constructed a life upon a fundamental and all pervasive lie. Surely, he must have some pretty interesting thoughts. Not until now, have we learned what they are.

For the first time, we see the man seriously looking inside himself and questioning his own life. How many people do you know who do that? Undoubtedly, we all know some who do, but I suspect, not all that many. I can’t think of any male character in a TV series as interesting as Don.  This is the reason you can’t ever call Mad Men a “soap”. In soap operas, the characters are pretty much static. They are representations of different kinds of people and they stay pretty much the same throughout.

But it’s more than just great characters. The background or setting is in motion. It’s terrific that the four seasons have taken us through the first half of the nineteen sixties. I remember that time most vividly. I was at university—not yet in the workforce as a lawyer. And Mad Men does a great job of re-creating that time period, not just from the point of view of events and styles, but from the perspective of what was important to people and what they had to cope with.

A few examples: Back in Season 2, I think, we went through the Cuban Missile crisis and the assassination of JFK. As one who remembers those years, the whole feel of that time is very real. But most importantly, it’s a marvelous chronicle of the rise of feminism. And that is why I say that Mad Men is really about the women.

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About Mary E. Martin

Mary E. Martin grew up in Toronto, Canada. After earning an Honors Degree in History at the University of Toronto, she graduated with her law degree from Queens University, Kingston, Ontario. In 1973, she was called to the Bar of Ontario and began the general practice of law in Toronto, with emphasis on real estate, wills and estates and elder-care law. This law practice of more than 30 years was a great inspiration for The Osgoode Trilogy ("Conduct in Question," "Final Paradox" and "A Trial of One.") Her fourth novel, “The Drawing Lesson,” will be the first in the next trilogy, provisionally entitled “The Trilogy of Rmembrance.” She is also a photographer particularly with respect to her travels. She has had two commercial photography shows. Married in 1973, she and her husband live in Toronto. They have three adult children.
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