Mad Men season 3: trauma, narcotics, and a low-tech startup


Last night, Dr. Mister and I stayed up late (until 10:30!) watching the last two episodes in the third season of Mad Men.  (I reviewed most of season 3 last week, as you may recall.)  For those of you who haven’t yet seen the whole season and don’t want to have some key plot points revealed, do not read any further.  So, consider yourself warned!  But, if you don’t click, you’ll miss all of the Mad-Menized self-portraits sent in by more of my readers and commenters!

Tenured Radical

The penultimate episode, “The Grown-Ups,” takes place on the day and weekend following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the drama surrounding the wedding of Roger and Mona Sterling’s daughter, Margaret.  This rendering of November 22-25, 1963 was exactly like my mother’s description of that entire weekend, which is that everyone went inside and watched TV day and night.  So it was refreshingly honest, if terribly dull, watching the Mad Men characters watch vintage clips of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, and David Brinkley reporting on the series of traumatic events in Dallas, Texas and in Washington, D.C.  No one offered anything but banal observations.  To that extent, it seems like it captured the moment well–but I’d love to hear the reactions and reflections of those of you who have your own memories of November, 1963.


I couldn’t help but think that this episode was a kind of commemoration of a more recent national trauma that the writers and producers of the show probably remember all too well, September 11, 2001.  I don’t know about you all, but my memories of 9/11 are pretty much the same of my then-17 year old mother’s memories of the 1963 Kennedy assassination–we all stayed inside and watched TV.  I wasn’t teaching that day, and on a brief trip into the office here at Baa Ram U. I have a vivid memory seeing many of my then-brand-new colleagues in our conference room just sitting and watching CNN in a trance.  The weather in Colorado that day was much like the weather in the East–a perfect warm, clear, autumn day, with the bluest sky I’d ever seen.  I tried to get out for a hike in some of our local hills with a friend who was visiting town briefly on a cross-country drive, but it just felt wrong to be disconnected from the news.  So we went to a local brewpub and sat at the bar, and watched TV some more.  It was as if everyone decided that if we knew more, if we had more information on who hijacked those airplanes and why, we could regain control of our worlds.  TV news was a national narcotic.


The final episode, “Shut the Door.  Have a Seat,” wasn’t such a shocker to me & Dr. Mister.  It seemed like the buyout of Sterling Cooper the previous season was going to lead to something new for the main characters–and sure enough, the episode ended with them all piled into a suite at the Pierre putting together their low-tech startup advertising agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.  The best part of the episode is that Don finally admits that he respects Peggy and has tried–however unfairly or ham-handedly–to serve as her professional mentor.  It’s probably a good thing that Betty left Don to get a Reno divorce–with a new company, he’s not going to have much time left for the family, anyway.  Does anyone here think Betty will be satisfied in the arms of Henry Francis, the moderately charming but kind of creepy older man?  The only interesting possibility SCDP opens up is–I hope?–that Salvatore Romano gets his job back, since the new startup has no art department.  And in the days before Adobe and the world-wide internets, they were pretty important!

In case you’re interested, here’s a list of my posts on Mad Men.  I’d love to hear what the rest of you are thinking about season 3, and where you think the show might go in season 4.  (I’m hoping that Joan comes back more–it seems like she was exiled for being a Mean Girl after season 2.)

0 thoughts on “Mad Men season 3: trauma, narcotics, and a low-tech startup

  1. so does this mean you don’t have any black mad men watching regulars? having a self-portrait of the maid or the elevator operator probably isn’t as much fun….


  2. I remember the weekend after the JFK assassination very vividly. My father and some friends were renovating an old communal grave in our church’s graveyard so that my uncle could be buried there. (He had died about two weeks earlier.) The graveyard was right next to the church (this in what is now the East Village) and the rector had kids more or less our age. So we were in and out of the house, sometimes watching TV, sometimes watching the grave digging. And playing. (Tommie and John had the kind of toys that my sister and I never had, so that was always fun.) I do remember watching the TV as Oswald was assassinated.

    I suppose, describing it, that it was somewhat surreal.


  3. Everybody went inside and watched TV all weekend, all right. Then on Sunday, everybody watched some NFL football. Well, didn’t actually *watch* it, because they didn’t televise the games, but they did play. Pete Rozelle, the youngish NFL commissioner and a college classmate of JFK’s press secretary, Pierre Salinger, said the dead prez. would have wanted it that way, so they played the whole schedule that Sunday. Rozelle had worked in a bunch of LA advertising and public relations shops before becoming PR director for the LA Rams (before LA got too small-market to have an NFL team). So he brought that go-go can-do All-American spirit to the thing, only more of a “West Coast Offense” compared to the Sterling-Draper gothamite operating style.

    Wow, yes, the Jack Ruby shoots Oswald at point blank range on live national television was one of those world historical moments. The FBI guy with the white texas cowboy hat who was handcuffed to Oswald said Jack you son of a bitch and then they cut to the commentators. Surreal is the word.


  4. I was 21, living in Berkeley. Stephanie and I didn’t own a TV so the reality of the assassination took several hours to seep in. When it had, my first reactions were, one, that most of the other leaders of the government would be killed marching in the funeral procession, setting the stage for a military coup by someone like Curtis LeMay, and, two, that the reported worldwide outpouring of grief was sheer invention. The orderly transition to LBJ falsified my first belief; only some years later, when I talked with someone who was in Tokyo that day, was I convinced the popular grief was genuine. See, I didn’t feel it; to my way of thinking at the time, the right-wing crazies had assassinated the man who gave us the Cuban Missile Crisis that damn near killed us all, and no sane person could have any emotional stake in any of these lunatics or their doings. A friend had interpreted the Missile Crisis along “Catch-22” lines: President Kennedy is trying to kill me. “No, Khrushchev is trying to kill you!” He wouldn’t be trying to kill me if President Kennedy weren’t making me fly these missions.

    I was in the pool hall when Ruby shot Oswald whom I identified with Marinus van der Lubbe, the dotty Dutch Communist who got finagled into setting the Reichstag on fire. “I’m just a patsy,” Oswald said, and it made sense to me, even more when he was rubbed out so efficiently. The nine-ball players put down their cues and watched for a few minutes; then break was over and we went back to 2 bucks on the five ball, five on the nine.

    One legacy of a Red Diaper youth in the 40’s was this permanent alienation from popular beliefs and ideas and even “structures of feeling.” The idea of shedding tears for that meatball seemed to me like an embarrassing fit of media-hyped sentimentality around a figure who had always been more sizzle than steak.

    Back on the railroad Monday (I was a yard brakeman in Oakland), there were audible mutters of approval that the nigger-lover had it coming, which only deepened my suspicion of the nation-in-mourning flapdoodle.


  5. I’ve been a bit slow finishing up the season: only watched the rest the night before last. And yes, the very end is worth the rest of the season. I think Sal will come back, and also that we’ll see more Joan. (I felt so happy to see her again after she had been gone).

    But… I have to say that I have begun to have a gut dislike of Betty Draper. I recognize, intellectually, that she is an interesting representation of a very common, very stultified kind of existence for women in the early 60s: the suburban housewife. I see the politics of her character, and feel like I ought to “root” for her, be on her side. But… the fact is, I don’t really like her. She’s so princessy and spoiled — and yes, that’s a product of who her character is, but that doesn’t mean I have to identify with it. I empathize with her, as a character in a limiting situation, but I dislike her at the same time.

    I think this is one reason I like the show: it elicits complex responses.


  6. My husband totally agrees with you on BD. I just feel sorry for her. I wish she’d join a CR group next season–that would be interesting. But that’s not Betty’s style, is it? She’s unaware that the rules are changing fast, and that she’s going to lose out playing the game the way she’s playing it now.


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