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Michele Willens

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Face It: The Incredibly Shrinking Don Draper

Posted: 05/08/2012 6:16 pm

Jon Hamm doesn't even seem to fit in his clothes anymore.

I am trying valiantly to figure out what Matthew Weiner is doing on this weird season of Mad Men. As a longtime devotee of the AMC series, I am always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I fear he has accomplished the impossible: he has turned Don Draper into a wimp. And me into a Mad Woman.

I am guessing -- charitably -- that the intention is to replace one gender with another as the more powerful and manipulative of the sexes. Don is ridiculously obsessed with his new, young wife, though thank goodness he hasn't raped her since that awful turnoff of a season premiere. Pete Campbell now grabs every woman in sight, though we had little emotional buildup to make that credible. Are we supposed to assume that the suburb commute and the new baby are enough explanation? Roger Sterling did put an end to his silly marriage, but otherwise wanders around the office looking for something to do.

As females, perhaps we are supposed to cheer the diminution of the men as the time period nears the Feminist movement. But Joan seems stuck behind closed doors (I assume we will never see that baby again) and Betty is presumably at a fat farm. Only Peggy is noticeably emerging as a sign of the liberation around the corner. But mostly, she is morphing into a drinking, smoking, sexually reckless, tough-on-clients creative force. Clearly, both Peggy and Pete are trying valiantly to emulate the man they simultaneously fear and envy. If only they were as compelling.

Something is eerily off. The show feels disjointed, flat and non-organic. Things happen but they don't seem to come from anywhere that makes sense. The episodes play like a series of scenes, some good, many just weirdly boring. (What was that Howard Johnson's thing?) All sense of integrated fluidity has disappeared. We used to see every character every week and somehow it worked. The frustration this season has been that so many curious viewers -- lured by the publicity over the show's return -- came to sample. Alas, they have left in droves and I must say, if I was just tuning in now, I too would ask what all the fuss was about.

We seek excuses: it was gone too long and creator Weiner grew stale; he is distracted by the feature film he is soon to make; the year chosen for this season -- mid '60s -- is caught somewhere between interesting history and just looking dated. I, for one, have a hard time watching Don and Megan in their apartment without thinking of Austin Powers. I doubt that is the intention.

Those are all possible culprits, but overall, the problem is that the Mad Man , at its center, has become a subsidiary character, and what we see of him is hardly recognizable. Don is simply lost without the wife at his side, and seems a non-factor at the office. He says "good morning" when he arrives and smiles so much that I fear for his jaw. I may have wanted to occasionally spank the old Don -- in fact, I fantasized about it -- but I didn't want to see the guy emasculated.

Maybe the idea is that they are forcing women like me to admit we were more attracted to a strong, un-evolved guy than to the new and soft Don. Okay, guilty. I never said I'd want to marry him, but I sure would rather watch him do the seducing and intimidating. I guess we should be happy that he has seemed to find inner peace and contentment. But when is the last time great art came from that?

 
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