Alexandra Lange | Essays

Kicking Down the Door

If Mad Men were only about the corporate architecture of the 1960s (which it is not and thank god for that, as even I need a romance plot under the hung ceilings… Speaking of which, didn’t it look as if they had lowered the ceiling in Roger Sterling’s rarely-seen office? Just to increase the feeling Sterling, Cooper and Draper had of being literally boxed in?) the last shot of the very satisfying season 3 finale, “Shut the Door. Take a Seat,” would have been Roger Sterling and Don Draper staring back at the rows of desks, the grid of lights and the pink and blue office doors, all receding into infinity, that were the scene of their greatest glories and disasters. That’s it, the shot seemed to say, on to something less hierarchical, fleeter-footed. Out with the old, in with the 1960s. The scenes of all our fan favorites packed together in a hotel room was merely a prelude to what I hope is the magnificent new architecture of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (Campbell Olsen) offices. In reality it took some years to shake off the SOM model, and in truth it never really went away. But if Matthew Weiner’s minions are looking in the right sources, SCDP could owe a debt to the Ford Foundation, a project bridging the gap between the buttoned-down and the opened-up. Or could they emphasize the temporary nature of the new group’s arrangements (and that same forward momentum) by using some of Herman Miller’s Action Office? Both would require a jump forward in the timeline to 1968, which I don’t think will happen, but he’s fudged the design dates before (see Selectric).

I love the show, but this was not my favorite season (and I am not just backlashing, as I have no water cooler about which to kibitz). I did not like the way Weiner hermetically sealed his characters in their own plots, acting as puppeteer, thumping us over the head with his themes, and occasionally forgetting their characters entirely (Peggy and Duck, really?). I felt like I never got to see enough of the characters I loved. I now see that that sense of stasis, the inability to advance the plot was part of his plan. Until the final episode the characters were really no further than they were at the start of the season (false new beginnings abounded), allowing this episode to explode with the drama of people actually doing something. It was like Mission Impossible, assembling the team. When Roger says, “Let me make a call,” and we know it is to Joan, I felt a little ping! of pleasure. I still think he delayed our gratification too long, but I can’t wait for season 4.

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