Critics and fans alike have always praised Mad Men for its incredible attention to detail. After all, it would be hard to find a period piece as painstakingly accurate and overall faithful to its era. But did anyone else notice a major downturn in last night's season premiere? I mean, the occasional anachronism is forgivable, sure, but some parts of the episode (which was still great overall, by the way) felt downright sloppy.
It's a little thing, but Butch Cassidy actually came out in October 1969, while this season clearly takes place in late 1967/early 1968. I guess in theory there could have been some publicity materials released early (to a hotel in Hawaii?), but probably not almost two years early. It's something a simple Googling would have resolved very quickly. But again, not the biggest deal in the world.
I can't be the only one who finds it a bit puzzling that a show, which is itself an homage to everything 60's, would reference a parody homage to the 60's that didn't come out until the 90's. It's cute, I guess, but it also detracted a bit from the emotional resonance of the moment, what with Don reflecting on war, death, his past, etc. It was sort of out of left field, and pretty unearned, to be honest.
Now this was weird on multiple levels. First of all, it was a little on the nose in the irony department. Like, we get it Ronald Reagan used to be a Hollywood actor, and no one would have ever guessed he'd one day be president. And Dr. Rosen and Don do indeed have a witty, sardonic rapport. Therefore, sure, making a coy reference to that seeming impossibility carries a bit of humor with it in retrospect. I get that in theory. But Mad Men is usually better than breaking the fourth wall for what was, in all honesty, a pretty hackneyed meta joke. Plus, Ronald Reagan WAS actually governor of California at that time (elected in 1967), which means that it was also historically shaky. The presidency would have been by no means totally out of the question at that point in his career, but also not enough of a likelihood to make a joke like that a real zinger. A bizarre oversight.
Granted it was just an off-hand remark that mercifully didn't lead anywhere. But CBGB opened in 1973. The Sex Pistols formed in 1975, and they didn't even perform in America until 1978. I mean, yes, it made some sense thematically, but just the idea that anyone on the writing staff would even VAGUELY consider a late 1960's fifteen-year-old ACTUALLY entering the iconic 1970's New York underground punk scene is disconcerting. It really takes you out of the moment, adding a sad and confusing dimension to what was otherwise a moving, well-executed scene.
I convinced myself that there had to be an explanation for this, so I spent probably an hour last night researching any possible alternative interpretations for this otherwise standard Sterling quip. But no: Roger had to have been referring to Eddie Murphy's legendary stand-up concert film Raw. Murphy, born in 1961, released the film in 1987, and Roger's secretary wouldn't have been able to rent ANYTHING until the late 70's at the earliest, after the VHS/Betamax video format wars had died down. I mean, this is basic American cultural history. Shame on Matthew Weiner. All around embarrassing.
It was at this point in the episode that I wondered if Weiner was purposefully confusing us, blending decades for a conceptually challenging episode sort of like last season's time- and reality-bending "Far Away Places." Like, a pastiche of different Americas commenting on the cultural turning point they were encountering this season or something, I don't know. I racked my mind for what this could possibly mean given the context of the episode, but I came up empty. Sadly just lazy, lazy set design, I guess. So depressing when shows you love jump the shark so egregiously.
A befuddling and tragic moment in television history, unwarranted references aside. A real suicide-bomb, down-with-the-ship gesture from what was once a shining beacon of American art. I'll be shocked if we see even two more episodes.
Actually, call me crazy, but this one kind of worked for me.
Illustrated by Nathan Yaffe and Dan Hopper.