What the end of Mad Men means for today’s young workers
Jo Bromilow | On 16, Apr 2014
The final threads in the rich tapestry of Mad Men – one of the greatest shows of our generation and, to some, the show that defines it – are being woven, with the second half of the final season.
Since first walking through the hallowed doors of Sterling Cooper, we’ve seen hearts broken, ambitions dashed, names made – and dreams pursued.
There’s Peter Campbell, the snivelling account man turned heartbreaker, grafter and smoking gun holder. Harry Crane, the nice guy with big ideas above his station. Ken Cosgrove, the Paul Allen of the piece, a charming bragger with a ready smile and a motor mouth, and Peggy Olson, the lowly knocked up secretary turned leading lady in a man’s world.
Of course, that’s just the youth contingent. Roger Sterling. Joan Harris. The iconic Don Draper and the ever-present Betty Francis. All these characters will take their bow as the sun sets on Madison Avenue, but we’ve got a feeling that as it sets on Don, it will just be rising on the list of up-and-coming names. When, in 2015, the show ends for good, Don and the old guard will walk off towards the sunset – and Peggy and her cohorts will be striding into the dawn.
Even from the promotional photo shoots we get this feeling. Don and Roger sit in the plane waited on hand and foot, while Harry, Ken, Peggy and Ginsberg all stand, strong and purposeful. Don stares vacantly out of the picture with the smouldering, dead-eyed stare he has had from the very first image, while Peggy stares out of the photos with a confidence that we’ve seen grow from season to season. As Don and Roger’s eyes dim, Peggy and Pete’s develop a knowing glint.
Initially billed as a show about ad men in the late 1950s, Mad Men got (and still gets) attention from the TV press and the fashion press for its style and sophistication. But as with all great TV shows, it’s substance over style. The character studies of businessmen and women winning and losing at home and work have kept us interested: from Betty and Don unravelling in beautiful outfits to Don and his fellows enticing a succession of secretaries out of theirs; from Peggy’s emotional and stylistic coming of age to the shifting of Joan’s dreams; from Pete’s redemption and return to bad habits to Lane Pryce’s attempts and ultimate failure to break away from social expectation, all via plenty of surreal moments courtesy of lawnmowers, pigeon shootings and Hare Krishna.
Much has been made of the evolution of Mad Men from slow burner to soap opera, with many people writing off the show after the third season as falling victim to the inevitable ‘shark jump’ moment (for me, it came in the final shot of Season Five – Roger Sterling naked and high on LSD). High drama took over from seemingly endless episodes in the first season where the lighting of a cigarette was an event. Parallels could be drawn to the slow-moving nature of a classic novel, where a few words could provide a window into men’s souls. In the same way, as Don spins his advertising wizardry in a constant effort to hide his true identity, it’s the exchanges in Mad Men that demonstrate the true powerhouse behind it; script writers at the height of their powers and characters who, in the business of words, are learning to change the conversation in their favour.
For a generation of young people who knew better than to write the show off as window-dressing, we’ve been given a first hand glimpse into how our fate might play out. We’ve picked our favourites and empathised with their plights, celebrated their victories and channelled their best attributes. “What would Peggy Olson do?” is printed on mugs, and while it may be next to ones that read “Yeah, bitch” and “Winter is coming”, we will never encounter the scenarios Walter White or Ned Stark have done in real life. We have, on the other hand, all been struggling in a job. We can’t all be prohibition gangsters, pseudo-medieval warlords or zombie-slaying sheriffs, but we will at some point have been at the bottom of the ladder in an open plan office, surrounded by people we don’t know, and terrified.
At some point, we have all been Peggy Olson.
And that’s what makes Mad Men a great TV show in a way that many are not. It’s set in a world that we want to inhabit – but also have the ability to inhabit.
We’ve witnessed the sort of behaviour from the cast that we encounter in an average day. Unreasonable bosses that expect too much and offer too little, clients or agencies that don’t understand, ambitious colleagues who scare and galvanise.
We’ve been given guides by Mad Men on how to deal with these scenarios, or how not to deal with them. (If your mug says “What would Don Draper do?” you should probably smash it.)
What would Peggy do? Over the last six and a bit seasons, we’ve been shown how to pursue a dream. We’re about to find out if we get it.
Mad Men: Season 1 to 7 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.