Monthly Archives: October 2010

Mad Men: Dissertation on the Best Season Yet

Warning: Spoilers for the fourth season ahead. Proceed with caution.

When the epic finale of the third season of “Mad Men” ended with the image of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) walking into his hotel, unsure of the future that lay head, I was unsure of one thing: how could the makers of “Mad Men” possibly make an episode of television this good ever again?
Well, Matthew Weiner did it again, for every single episode of the nearly flawless fourth season of “Mad Men.” “Mad Men” took the cautiously optimistic tone of “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” to a whole new level.
Uneasiness seemed to be the theme of this season. Season three ended with the assassination of JFK and season four was set to the backdrop of Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement. This is no longer the 1960s that “Mad Men” first began in where big men in big suits could sit comfortably behind their desks and ignore the problems of the world. This was a time when reality was leaking into office life.
With this, we also got a changed Don Draper, for better or worse. At one point, we see him trading in whiskey for wine and even questioning his own smoking addiction and incessant love affairs.
Much of this season was really about change, and how people respond to it. In addition to that, the show gave us many welcome changes. A scenery change is always good, and the new office of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce allowed for even more pressing problems. Another welcome change was the show’s change in attitude. Despite the constantly serious subject matter, the show found a subtle, witty sense of humor this season. Much of this came through the show’s dialogue, mainly banter between the main characters. A lot of this humor also came from small, charming moments which seem inconsequential. One of the best that is easy to forget is Don and Lane (Jared Harris) sharing a bottle of whiskey in a crowded movie theater.
A few of the show’s principle actors also showed a few welcome changes. Mainly young Kiernan Shipka as Sally Draper. This season, she dropped the lisp and whininess and became one of the show’s darker and more interesting characters.
Then there’s Betty Draper (January Jones). It is easy to hate on January Jones because, well, she’s sometimes something of a terrible actress. However, it’s hard playing a character that the audience is forced to hate, so she deserves some credit for that. In the last few moments, after all the horrible things she had just done (mainly, trying to ruin the happiness of everyone around her), she somehow came off as sympathetic. It’s easy to forget that her paranoia and hatred towards all things that breath comes from years of being cheated on by Don. Perhaps the best quote to define Betty this season is this: “Just because you’re sad doesn’t mean everyone else has to be.”
This season also managed to solve its Don and Betty plotline quite well through an unspoken midseason reconciliation between the two that was both revelatory and moving. Then there was those final moments as the two stood in there empty Westchester house, remembering their past and looking into the future. This announced the end of an era for “Mad Men.”
Season four of “Mad Men” brought the show to new levels both story wise and thematically. The characters reached new lows of desperation, whether it had to do with searching for clients or searching for lovers. In this we could find characters constantly falling back into old habits or falling into the habits of others. Every character in this mad mad world is always trying to be someone other than themselves.
And at the center of this of course is Donald Draper, played as strikingly and mysteriously as ever by Jon Hamm. Like the company he helped start, Draper went on a bumpy and confusing course this season. He oscillated between redemption and past troubles. The more his secrets unraveled, the more he felt he had to beef up his fake identity. By marrying the much younger secretary over Faye, he proves to continuously try to slip back into youth rather than move forward.
The greatest moments of “Mad Men” always lie in mystery and intrigue, just like with Draper himself. It’s not just mysteries like “who is Donald Draper?” it’s more like the mystery behind his true emotions and intentions. Am I the only one more interested in what Don was looking at out that window in the final shot than why Joan decided to keep Roger’s baby?
Overall, the reason season four proved “Mad Men” to be the truly amazing show everyone thinks it is is because this season really proved the show’s real ambitions. It is attempting to use the past, settings, and people to re-create the idea of America. Few shows have dared try to achieve something this big since “The Sopranos” and have gotten this close to being right. This season showed us the constant rising and falling of the American Dream. As from episode one, Draper has both exemplified and put down the myth of the self made man. What category he ultimately falls into still remains a mystery.
“Mad Men” has always remained fascinating because of the endless intrigue. What I love best is hard to say. It could be the fact that missing one facial expression can impact one’s perception of an episode. Or it could be how carefully every little detail is put on screen. Most importantly, I like it for a reason different from every other show I’ve ever enjoyed. While I enjoy most shows for having a sort of cinematic value, I enjoy “Mad Men” because its ambitions and overall contributions to the world are too grand to fit into one two hour time frame. The 1960s may be over, but the era of “Mad Men” will always continue.

Movie Review: The Social Network

Every time any of us log into Facebook (which is most likely every .02 seconds), I don’t think any of us have ever thought of why Facebook even exists. Is it because someone wanted to find a way for people to better connect with friends and family? Or did some asshole just want his ex-girlfriend to notice him? These are both of the answers provided in “The Social Network.” Neither of these answers are necessarily right or wrong.

“The Social Network,” like any good movie trying to understand a mysterious reality, doesn’t strive to tell the whole truth but rather come as close to the truth as humanly possible.
This is all fitting, as most of the movie takes place in a context where one must swear the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In the almost present day, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) finds himself being sued by two former classmates, the Winklevoss twins (Josh Pence and Armie Hammer), for apparently stealing their idea. At the same time, he is also being sued by his disgruntled former CFO (and best friend) Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).
During the cases, the film provides a series of very important flashbacks. They track Facebook’s conception during Zuckerberg’s sophomore year at Harvard along with the site’s rise to popularity under the watch of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), and Zuckerberg’s fall into further pain and loneliness.
If I had known “The Social Network” would have been this good when I saw “Inception,” I would have saved my “generation defining” praise for a few months. “The Social Network” has no idea where this generation is headed, but it does understand where it is right now. All of the paranoia, angst, and frustration garnered from wondering what status your friend is going to post next and how that leaks out into the real world is shown in full form here.
“The Social Network” says a lot about this generation, a lot of things that should’ve been saved for a long time down the road. Yet, maybe these are the things we need to hear right now. If the internet is the future of civilization as one character puts it, than Facebook is likely the end of mankind.
What I thought was greatest about “The Social Network” is that it isn’t all its message. It takes a subject that probably would’ve been really dull and makes it so endlessly interesting and engaging. This could be partly from the brilliantly written dialogue by Aaron Sorkin, which is mainly a series of observations about life.
Along with Sorkin, much credit belongs to director David Fincher. This is a return to form for him, now that he’s done begging for an Oscar (that’s what happens when you make a film like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”). The film reminded me of some of the surrealist structure of “Fight Club” mixed with the more realistic style of “Zodiac.” In every location, there is a feeling of actually being there. Fincher fills the campus of Harvard with random people walking. And in a club scene, it’s so loud that it’s impossible to even hear what the characters are saying. Some directors strive so hard to make their characters the center of attention that they forget that there’s an actual world around them. Not Fincher though. The most interestingly shot scene of the year, a scene that involves a rowing race, is in this film.
“The Social Network” is graced with at least three of the year’s best performances. After his tenure as a pop singer ended, Timberlake showed he could do comedy. Now, he shows he can do drama. He is the film’s most engaging and enthusiastic character. Then, there’s Garfield (star of the upcoming “Spider-Man” film) who shows so much potential for a great future career. He is the film’s most emotional and possibly sympathetic character, even though it’s possible to not feel sympathy for him.
Then there’s Eisenberg, who took a great leap forward with his career in this performance. Recently, people were carrying the same complaints about him that they did with Michael Cera: that he plays the same awkward character in every movie. Yes, Zuckerberg is pretty awkward, but he’s even deeper than that. Zuckerberg is portrayed here as someone who is too socially inept to be a sociopath. He believes his genius computer hacking abilities should excuse all his other flaws, which usually includes wearing a hoodie and sandals to important business meetings.
It is both Eisenberg’s portrayal of the character and Sorkin’s writing of him that turns Zuckerberg into such an interesting and amusing character. He is not made out to be some sort of god for the way he revolutionized the world through his invention. He may be a genius, but he’s also a twisted and haunted genius.
A lot of people have had the audacity to compare “The Social Network” to “Citizen Kane.” “The Social Network” will probably never be as good a movie as “Citizen Kane,” but it might just be the answer to “Citizen Kane” that all film fanatics have been looking for for almost 70 years. It is “Kane” in spirit. “The Social Network” could be considered the modern day “Kane” because it is also about the difficulty to find the truth amongst modern forms of communication. While no one could break down the Charles Foster Kane behind the newspapers, few people can break down the Mark Zuckerberg behind the computer screen.
Like Kane (who is based on William Randolph Hearst), Zuckerberg is portrayed here as someone who surrounds himself with millions of “friends” but doesn’t truly have one. That final shot (which I won’t give away), is just about as powerful as the utterance of “Rosebud,” but without a single word spoken.
“Citizen Kane” tested the ability of a movie to lie to its audience. “The Social Network” does just about the same. While characters in the film can’t trust anything Zuckerberg says, there has also been doubt in reality that many details in the film are totally true. This helps turn “The Social Network” into the year’s most entertaining practice in self-reflexivity. Much of the movie may not be true, but the greatest movies are supposed to convince us that its lies are real, even if the film doesn’t know whether or not it’s actually lying to us.