“Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing, it’s OK. You are OK.”
Transitioning from watching the first half of Mad Men’s seventh and final season to its first season is a little disorienting, especially when it comes to the pilot. Compared to the current feel of the series, so much of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is delivered with a wink and a nudge to the audience — “The ’60s! Am I right?!” Even the actors are still unsure of themselves and their roles, notably Jon Hamm and Vincent Kartheiser, who need several episodes of playing Donald Draper and Peter Campbell respectively to self-correct and find their groove. (We also have to endure the clunky line from Salvatore Romano, spelling out one of the show’s themes: “We’re supposed to believe that people are living one way and secretly thinking the exact opposite?” Sigh.)
But the series quickly grows strong in its resolve and tone, and revisiting its beginnings after seeing how far it has come is fascinating. Rhat’s what we’re doing for our Mad Men podcast, Not Great, Pod! We’ll look back at the first six and a half seasons throughout these 10 months until the second half of Season Seven premieres, focusing on key episodes that point to how we got where we are now.
As we — myself, fellow Pajiba writer Corey Atad, and Movie Mezzanine writer Kevin Ketchum — met to discuss our Season One rewatch, one of the things that struck us is just how smartly Matthew Weiner and his team created this world, and how clearly they presented the themes they wanted to explore. Look for the themes of utopia, that better, longed-for habitat that always seems out of reach; creative fulfillment vs. financial/job security; whether Don is capable of choosing the love that is in front of him, or if he’ll ultimately always turn away; family. The quote about advertising up above comes from Don in the pilot, but in the final episode of Season One, “The Wheel,” he’s already mulling over notions he is not only wrestling with in Season Seven but, we hope, learning to embrace. Just listen to his take on the notion of nostalgia: “It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. … Lets us travel the way a child travels, round and around and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.” The best things in life are free, indeed.
Join us on this journey as we revisit this brilliant series, one of the more deftly plotted dramas ever on TV and certainly one of the best at maintaining character and story integrity. It has only gotten better with age.
For our first bonus episode, we welcome guest host David Ehrlich, a writer for sites such as The Dissolve and The AV Club.
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Enjoy the show.
Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.