This was originally posted on The New Grls Club in August.
There’s a pretty sexist and racist show that used to be on television. It had scenes filled with men cheating on their wives, women being treated like objects, black people, Jewish people and Chinese people getting treated like less than other people, but that wasn’t all it was.
Ten years ago this past July my favorite show of all time first aired. It wasn’t incredibly popular, it wasn’t on a channel people knew about and it was literally right before the so called “golden age of television”. It aired on July 19th, 2007 on a channel that previously was associated with a movie theater chain and popular movies from the 1950’s. The channel was AMC and the show was Mad Men.
I need to say this up front before I get into this show because I know people have problems with it. I consider myself an intersectional womanist. Meaning I vouch for the rights and humanism of all types of people because I am a middle class, mixed race, dual citizen, bisexual woman. I fall at literally all the crossroads. I understand struggles of minority humans in an incredibly complex way.
But I also consider myself a writer and a storyteller and often times those identities collide.
One prime example is with my love for the TV show Mad Men.
It’s strange that I began watching my two favorite shows the same way (the OC being the other, but that’s for another blog). I watched an early episode of the first season randomly on TV, liked it and then didn’t continue watching it. Then I started purposefully watching Mad Men when I was incredibly sick and bed ridden. It provided the perfect amount of escapism. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a hard show to begin. There’s a ton of mostly unlikable characters, a lot of business jargon and frankly when you don’t know what’s going on the drama of the show goes over your head. Eventually, after a few episodes, I got into it and fell in love.
This isn’t a blog about the details of me watching it because that’s boring. I’m here to tell you that as a womanist writer, this show is something unique. This show understands theme in a way a lot of shows don’t. One of my favorite episodes explores the themes of old and young that seem so subtle on the first watch and so sucker-punch-to-the-face obvious on a second watch.
And that’s what I love about the show. I love that as a half black women living in 2017, it allows me to escape into a world neither my parents nor I know anything about. A world that feels so foreign yet so fantastical. You know how people dreamily talk about getting lost in a world of a fantasy novel? That’s me with Mad Men.
I know this show front and back. I know minute details you’ve probably over looked. I’ve read Mad Men Carousel while watching the show to better understand the episodes and I’ve read Philosophy and Mad Men to better understand the characters.
I’m not here to brag, I just want you to know that I know more than your average obsessive viewer of the show.
So why do I love it so much?
Why does anyone love a show? It’s for the characters and their development. One of my friends once said the most poignant point about Mad Men and it’s that you love and hate every character while watching it. At first watch, it seems clear who to hate. Pete was obvious for me, then Betty then Jane. But with more viewings, I grew to love these characters and hate other characters I used to love: Don, Joan, Megan. It’s with hindsight that you can truly understand why they do what they do. These characters experience so fucking much through the 10 years we know them. It’s hard not to grow to love all of them. To escape through their lives.
The details in this show are flawless. Their ability to weave in real historical events into the fictional stories is incredible. And it’s not just assassination and elections, it’s the typewriters and the weather.
Because immense amounts of research have been done, it doesn’t feel clunky, it feels seamless. Like this is actually a show taking place in 1960 with an incredible writing staff and HD cameras.
Since this month is all about escapism, the idea of getting away from it all into a new and mostly foreign world, when I want to escape, there are four Mad Men episodes I go to.
Season 1 Episode 7
Red in the Face
This is probably my favorite episode of the series. It’s one of the best examples of how a general theme is weaved into the plot of an episode in such a subtle but profound way. The theme is in everything from the relationship between Pete, his coworkers, and his wife, the Nixon ad campaign assignment and Roger’s relationship with Don. Pay attention to the ideas of old and new or young and old.
Season 4 Episode 7
This episode is a masterpiece of television in my mind. I know it’s on a lot of people’s lists of best mad men episodes and rightfully so. This episode goes so far without really leaving the office. There are monumental relationship growths and changes that happen in this episode. Also, the fact that it’s mostly contained to one location makes it feel extra dream like. If you’re at all a fan of Peggy and Don’s relationship, this is the episode.
Season 5 episode 5
Far Away Places
Roger is such an understated character. What really is his job and purpose at the company? I believe it’s to bring a sense of childlike honesty, and comic relief to those who he works with and also us. He’s one of the few characters who genuinely tells it like it is. He doesn’t sugarcoat a thing which is refreshing and helpful to have to stabilize the other characters. There are other important elements of this episode, but this is a stand out for Roger and how important honesty is for him. Additionally, this episode is a prime example of the people behind the show letting your figure out for yourself what’s happening. You’ll know when you watch it.
Season 6 Episode 12
In Care Of
This episode is a difficult one to fall into if you’ve never seen the show before, but in a way, it’s also not. The show does a precise and almost delicate job of never really telling you too much. Things are rarely admitted outright, so in a way, you could watch this and get all the backstory you’d ever need about the characters, in addition to some pretty pivotal information. If the relationship between Don and Sally has ever intrigued you, this is one of those subtle and telling delves into their relationship.