Don Draper

Possessed by Madmen

I am totally into Madmen right now. I watched 5 seasons in a month. Yes, I’m quite jobless that way.

I’m quite surprised by how hooked I got this time around. I watched the  first episode sometime last year, and it did nothing for me. So didn’t  continue until now. And this time around, it elicited a completely opposite  reaction. I love everything about the show. And time and again I am  impressed by its production values, more so when I compare it with the  “period” shows of the Indian television. Set in the 1960’s New York, the  show displays exemplary ethic in every single character, clothing, props…  everything really. It’s beyond my humble understanding, how much  research would have gone into it.

The show basically revolves around Don Draper (droooool), the creative  director of the ad agency Sterling Cooper, and the people in his life. Almost all the characters grow on to you, and every single one of them has a deeply flawed and hopeless side, which makes you sympathize with them irrespective of how odious you might have found the character at the beginning. I’m going to try to pin down what each character means to me.

Don Draper

courtesy AMC

I started off disliking this character, but mostly because I have very strong reaction to husbands cheating on their wives, especially if the wife has no options to sleep around. I am generally willing to overlook this aspect if both the partners in a relationship are equally promiscuous. I feel some sense of justice then. In any case, I probably had such a strong reaction because despite his sleeping around, I find him extremely attractive sexually. I have a thing for men with serious and intense eyes.

I later came around because to be fair, he doesn’t force himself on any woman, and women do throw themselves at him. In the later seasons, the show keeps unveiling various nuances of this character. He is oddly moral in his work ethic when it comes to using women as commodities, he is probably the only male character in the show that doesn’t pass any lewd remarks on women at work and is generally very respectful, he is a very kind human being, he is generous. He is a dark, mysterious, and painfully handsome character.

Betty Draper

 One of my most hated characters, even after 5 seasons. The classic  barbie-like physical perfectness (or not?!) but a complete emotional  and psychological wreck. This character  simply has no redeeming quality to make you look the other way.  Eternally sad, mean, unloving, shallow, and wallowing in self-pity to  the point of completely ignoring the existence of anything outside 5  feet radius surrounding her. Why Don Draper ever married this  character is beyond me. Having said that, this character juxtaposed  with don Draper’s does bring out the extra edge in Don.

Also, I just found out that the character is rated as one of the worst TV moms in this nypost article. Good choice!

Peggy Olson

I have good and bad moments with this character. She started off as naïve and slightly stupid, but the character showed promise right from the beginning. Peggy Olsen becoming the first woman copywriter feels like a personal victory. Peggy keeps making sometimes unreasonable demands in spite of her miniscule experience, but later on does reinvent herself into a more mature, grounded, and grown up professional. The transition is strikingly realistic, I thought.

She is also the only almost radical, progressive, liberal-thinking, staunch feminist in the entire show who shows naked ambition right from the beginning. She doesn’t want to marry a Donald Draper, but become one.

Pete Campbell

 I started off hating this character for its over confidence, lack of any practical  sense, and general arrogance. But each new season progressively reveals  aspects of his personality to make you see him in a whole different light and  actually start rooting for him. His arrogance is still there, but it becomes  justifiable. He transitions into a surprisingly no-nonsense account man with  enough courage to not hold back while accusing even the senior-most  members of the firm.

There is some sort of underlying tragic element to this character. I can’t quite point my finger on it, but it’s there. He is sort of like a classic fiasco in matters of womanizing and flirting.

Roger Sterling

Womanizer, unethical, shameless, but HILARIOUS. I have seen this actor in Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives, but this is the first time you want to remember him. He has a brutally funny side and just the right kind of delivery.

He is an incurable skirt chaser with almost no principles holding him back in any aspect of his life. He is shown to have some sort of consistent affection only to Joan Harris, I think.

Joan Holloway/Harris

 I started off having no respect for this buxom office secretary. A stereotypical  femme  fatale with all the moves and a practical belief, that as a woman in a  man’s  world, you have to sleep around to get what you want. In fact, she even  makes the naïve and young Peggy Olson go to a doctor and get some birth  control, advising her that she would be required to sleep around. But with each  season she becomes less and less annoying. Towards the 5th season, I have a  complete shift in my former perspective and now find her to be a quintessential  woman: powerful, wise, and incredibly practical.

In fact, you really need a friend like Joan in your life to impart all her feminine wisdom with a couple of fashion and sex tips.

There are quite a few other recurring characters that are brilliant. The show setting is great and offers a glimpse into the American life in the 60’s with almost everyone liberally puffing away during all their waking hours, pregnant women smoking and drinking without being judged, people drinking in their offices from morning to night, the rampant discrimination against the blacks, the horrific sexism in workplaces etc.

Historic events from the American history are weaved into the plot beautifully: Walter Cronkite’s on-tv reaction while announcing Kennedy’s assassination, the Beatles’ first concert in the US, mega industries entering normal lives, civil rights movement, the striking absence of African-Americans in elite jobs, and the brouhaha over hiring a black receptionist. I think the show got it all right.

It’s such a complex show with so many political, social, class-based, and racial undercurrents running parallel to the main story-line, that I’m pretty sure that more than half the references are lost on me. But I’m in such a possessed stage of consuming the show maniacally, that I don’t really have the patience to read about it now. But I’m sure a lot many things will reveal themselves to me once I’m done with the show and start reading about it.

On a final note, this show is definitely in my personal list of top 10 best TV shows