Mad Men Finale Review: Style Ad Substance

April 14, 2010 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

MAD MEN: Wednesday 14th April, BBC4, 10pm ALERT ME

The first thing I notice, being a Mad Men virgin, is that this programme looks great. Authentic ’60s set and attire, with classic, subtle music, make for a stylized appearance which is both appealing and believable. Delving deeper as I watched the whole of this last instalment, I wish I’d tuned in from the outset. I will certainly be looking forward to the fourth series (which the beeb assure us they will be broadcasting).

Episode 13, the season finale, involves Don, Roger, Bert, and Lane Pryce–in conjunction with Peter Campbell, Harry Crane, Peggy Olson, and Joan Holloway–engineering their departure from Sterling Cooper after the agency is sold by its British parent company to the larger, publicly-traded firm McCann Erickson. Don and the other members aim to break away and form their own ad agency in the modest surroundings of a hotel.

This is a time where America was free of guilt and self-doubt. The social atmosphere typical of the age comes through in the selfish and reassured way the ad men conduct themselves in the same type of shallow and bigoted existences depicted in American Psycho. Women are subservient objects, and making money is paramount.

Indeed, this arena is one where play is part of work, and affairs with the secretary are commonplace. In this way, Mad Men achieves an interesting mix of the more gentle manner of ’60s America, with the increased crassness of its businesses’ moral compass. I think this is what makes it appealing. It effectively portrays the behaviour and sentiments attached to the epoch it is set in, yet fails to fall into the intrusive screeching of other American shows.

The effects of the greedy, fast-paced world of advertising on home-life are also movingly underlined. Don’s wife is threatening to leave him, and his kids are devastated. Not only do we have the men swaggering about the office, but also the very real pressure that a home-life brings. With the suggestion of divorce, however, Don cannot avoid a patronising ‘you haven’t been yourself – maybe you need to see a doctor.’

Since it began, Mad Men has received high praise and excellent ratings. Although the acting is not always on the mark, it is an excellent looking show which achieves pathos amongst the characters from the outset. A programme with lots of dialogue and subtle progression of action, Mad Men has also attracted accusations of a slow plot. However, I would argue that apart from the utter realism of the show, (costume, set, mise en scene and habits are all portrayed accurately), what I construe as a very restrained effectiveness is its biggest asset.