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My take on the first 4 seasons and "The Suitcase" (S04.E07)

Mad Men Review

Author: vonmaster vonmaster Updated 2 years, 5 months ago Created 2 years, 6 months ago

The context

I know that I am so late in the game, but thanks to the magic of streaming I have started recently watching the show. Previously, I have watched Breaking BadBetter Call SaulSix Feet UnderThe WireThe SopranoThe Americans and many others.

My friend kept insisting that I should watch Mad Men. To her, it is the best TV show ever made. She kept praising the writing, the characters, etc. I wish you could listen to her. "Never have I felt so deeply moved... Whoever wrote this is my soulmate." Anyway, she kept referring to "The Suitcase" as the best episode ever made (better than "Ozymandias" in Breaking Bad, she told me!).

Such statements piqued my curiosity as I wondered how the intensity and the level of payoff in "Ozymandias" could be achieved, let alone exceeded. And I decided to give a try, having a high degree of expectation as I kept hearing about how good was the show.

Before "The Suitcase"

l was aware that the pacing in the show was really slow. But it did not bother at all, as I am used to slow-burn dramas (my only requirement was to have a satisfying payoff at the end). I really liked the first season; it did a great job at introducing the characters and depicting the 60s. Impressive cinematography, music and sense of detail. A delight! For me, the only flaws were the flashbacks (which I felt were a cheap tool of characterization) and the lack of clear direction (except for the last episode during which a lot happen). The structure felt too episodic; however, taken independently, the episodes were enjoyable (as they were filled with witty humor and a few emotional moments ).

Season 2 et season 3: not as good, as season 1 (although season 3 is way better than season 2). What really bothered me was the soap opera storylines that kick in (all the cheating, the domestic arguments, the repetitive forbidden romances...) and the process of creating ads that was overlooked. Also, I noticed the same lack of direction: except in the last episodes of season 3, I didn't feel there was an arc or a clear trajectory. However, this doesn't mean that I did not enjoy watching the show. I was really impressed by the last episode of season 3 ("Shut the Door. Have a Seat."), notably the scheme the characters pulled off.

Season 4: The 6 first episodes were very strong. A lot of things started to happen, along with a welcomed breeze of change for all characters (which tended priorly to act always the same, especially Don). Anyway, no need to tell how much I was hyped before watching "The Suitcase", knowing that many people claim this is the climax. Apparently, nothing after or before that ever tops this episode...

"The Suitcase"

"Is that all?" That was unfortunately my reaction at the end of the episode.

I really tried to feel involved, but the episode kind of fall short emotionally speaking. I did not feel anything at all. I know that seeing Don crying and losing a dear friend should spark emotions, but I was left on the doorstep. To me, something lacked, like a striking revelation or something unexpected or a bold move which would shed a new light on the characters. Nothing that we didn't already know, no real payoff. At the end of the episode, everything continues as seen before. The behaviors of the characters also felt forced to me. Couldn't Peggy just leave the office? What about the annoying appearance of Duck?

I also think that me not necessarily liking/rooting for Peggy may have played (knowing that she is one of the favorite characters among fans). I find Joan more interesting and complex as a female character, where as sometimes I found Peggy a little bit childish.

I may sound harsh, but, I was genuinely disappointed (especially given all the praises). I was really looking forward to being blown away, especially knowing that my friend finds it way better than "Ozymandias". Some people even claim this is the climax of Mad Men and it makes feel worried of what the show has in store. Is it really the best episode?

If I forgot for a minute the disappointment, I found the episode as good as the previous ones, but, in no way, better. I can perfectly understand that it constitutes a defining moment for the show, as was "College" for The Sopranos. In fact, it clearly summaries the main themes: the intimacy between Don and Peggy highlights their commonality. Both live, breath thanks to work and escape from their private life, which is at this point completely messed up. Only they understand deeply each other, especially after the death of Anna. Fine! I also get the symbolism and the minimalistic approach (the bottle episode structure).

So, technically speaking, very good. But, emotionally speaking, for me, meh. I would give 16/20. Don't get me wrong, it is a very good episode, but not remotely as great as I was expecting.

My favorite episodes so far

In fact, I prefer way more the finale of season 3 "Shut the Door. Have a Seat." (S03.E13) and the following episode "The Summer Man" (S04.E08). Both of them, to me, are greater and stand out. The first one applies elements of heist films in the corporate world; plus, the atmosphere was gripping (full of twists). Very clever. 18/20. As for the latter, there was this feeling of novelty with Don quitting drinking and the use of voice-over gave us a new perspective on what was happening. 17/20.

I also prefer "Shoot" (S01.E09) to "The Hobo Code" (S01.E08) which seems to be more acclaimed.

Could you share your thoughts? I am interested to know if I am the only to feel this way. I would be more than happy to discuss with you and please avoid spoilers on the subsequent episodes.

EDIT: I will post soon my full review of Mad Men.