They relate the design and clothes on the show to the characters and themes.
A major theme of Mad Men seems to be exactly the same as The Sopranos: Can a bad man redeem himself? The answers seem to be working out differently. Matthew Weiner, who created, writes, and runs Mad Men, wrote for The Sopranos.
Like I said, I love the T&L analysis, but I disagree with them on a few points:
They say it’s bad writing for the agency to be treating Don so stupidly. Bert is turning away perfectly good business simply because Don’s the one who brought it in.
But this is by no means out of character. The agency in all its incarnations has been stupidly run. It’s a smalltime agency that got carried into the mid-leagues on Don’s shoulders. It has had ambitions for the bigs, but was never going to make it. Look at who’s running the place now: A guy in California who spends all his time daydreaming at his desk, another guy who fantasizes he’s John Galt, a lush who only shows up half the time, and a guy who seems to be only interested in office politics. Of the partners, only Joan seems to have it on the ball.
They say Joan is behaving out of character for being cruel to Don, when he friended her. But she’s ruthless. She’s fed up with being treated badly by handsome, charming, feckless men: Roger, her ex-husband, now Don.
They say Peggy is behaving out of character for being so easily upset and bitchy. She’s become almost like an antifeminist cliche. But Mad Men has always used its characters as both archetypes and fully rounded people in themselves. And Peggy’s characteristic this year is she’s desperately lonely. She doesn’t have a man, she doesn’t have friends that we’ve seen, and she’s alienated from her family. Desperate loneliness makes a person nasty and stupid. (Julie came up with the point about Peggy, which surprised me because she doesn’t usually go in for fanwanking as much as I do.)
Tom and Lorenzo make the point that we see the world of Mad Men through the eyes of its main characters, who are white, wealthy, and insular. That’s why there have been few nonwhite characters, and the ones we’ve seen have been so one-dimensional. And that’s why the hippies in this episode are portrayed the way they are, while Roger and Mona “look spectacular together.”
But if this scene had been shot in 1969, they’d have been made up to look ridiculous and the people on the commune would have been beautiful flower children.
Instead, those are some of the filthiest hippies you ever did see. The show has made a habit of not romanticizing the counterculture of the period, from the pretentiousness of the beatniks leading to Midge’s pathetic downfall and heroin addiction, to the pointlessness of the squatters that rocked Betty’s world last season. It’s partially because Weiner wants to write a less-often-told version of the decade; the one that the grownups lived through. In other words these are hippies as seen through the eyes of wealthy, mature establishment types. “These people are lost and on drugs and have venereal diseases.” Much like how the black characters went from invisible to barely visible to having agency in the story – because that’s how the white people at the center of this story saw them over time.
I’m still not in love with the black characters on Mad Men. They’re a greek chorus rather than actual characters. They say what the audience is thinking. If the show really treated the blacks as characters, those characters would be as messed up and badly behaved as everybody else; instead they’re wise and patient. But that’s arguably realistic for a show that takes the viewpoint it does.