Monday, July 16, 2012

Sex in Film: MAD MEN, season 5

Emmy and Golden Globe drama winner MAD MEN (AMC TV, Matthew Weiner exec. producer and large principal cast), in its 5th season, follows a New York City advertising agency in the1960s. The writing is smart, the characters well developed, the settings and situations plentiful and accurate. Personal and societal brilliance, shortcomings, quirks, and sometimes quick, but more often painfully slow personal growth figure throughout.

MAD MEN draws much of its dramatic energy from the charismatic, polished, urbane, and enigmatic Don Draper (Jon Hamm), and his male colleagues, but each season shifts more emphasis on the women. What they are seeing, doing, feeling and struggling with determines much of what we see on screen. They grew up being told that the man they became dependent upon would define them. Their struggle to recognize this fact and respond to it in their individual lives makes for dramatic tension. The women created by Weiner and his writers are not stereotypes, but archetypes. In 43 minute weekly episodes, their inner lives cannot be told so well as in a full length film, but their experience of sex is a central story element of MAD MEN.

There are zipless fucks in good supply: Draper’s wife Betty (Joan January) enjoying the vibrations of her automatic washer, or standing up in a hallway alcove coupling with a new male acquaintance. Elisabeth Moss’ character, Peggy, AWOL at a movie after an office catastrophe, brings to climax a man who offers her a joint in the almost empty theater. Draper’s glamorous mother-in-law briefly leaves the table at a business awards dinner and takes in her mouth Draper’s business partner. The camera eye, from a distance, is that of Draper’s 12 y.o. Daughter. At work, couches, or at least desks to lean on as soon as the office door is locked, accommodate sex.  By contrast in season 5, Draper’s new wife Megan (Jessica ParĂ©), is a force of sexual voracity, brains, and heart, devoted entirely to him. In several memorable scenes, he seems to find it unfathomable that he now feels the like toward her. The Don Draper of season 5 brings to mind Mr. Jones, in Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man. He sees something happening here, but doesn’t know what it is.

The sexual scenes are strongly instrumental to theme and plot, but are new ground for a popular 8:00 PM cable TV serial. They entice, transgress, and reflect angst over gender and governance. I’ve been amused, embarrassed, discomforted, excited, piqued, and encouraged by Mad Men. It’s edgier than, say, Friday Night Lights, and less clear as to character and emotions, but just as true.  Recommend.
Reviewed by DR