I finished Mad Men last night, which (spoilers) pretty much ended with the whimper I predicted. I put Mad Men in a special group of what I would call “vibe shows,” which I find to be difficult to continue interestingly past a few seasons. Being that it was a vibe show and a period piece, all the more difficult. It was fun to watch their set and costume designers gradually transition to the early-70s look, with Sterling growing the ridiculous mustache and the clothes slowly changing. The descent to a Siddhartha-style ramble-to-enlightenment worked suitably for me, although I would probably recommend reading Siddhartha over investing in all the ups-and-downs of the series to get to that end point.
Don essentially discovered that he didn’t like being Don, and we had a bit of a death-of-self moment on the way to an all-in-on-the-cliche literal Buddhist enlightenment. Sterling found a sort of pseudo-nirvana by calibrating his hedonism in the realism of his life stage, which maybe would have been the fate I would have preferred for Don. Or perhaps this was really to show us that this was the fate for Don if he had continued on in his previous oscillations, but instead he shed it all off to go “Om” by the seashore. The final sequence was a classic Mad Men final sequence, really showing that the intelligence of the writers and producers so far outstripped the manifested intelligence of the plot. By abutting the “buy the world a Coke” commercial to Don’s meditation, with the Coke commercial pleading Coke as the “real thing” amid a faux-hippie backdrop, it was probably the most scathing judgment of the advertising industry they could conceive.
Edit: All of this is incorrect, Don uses his enlightenment experience to go back to the agency and make the Coke add. I hate this.
All the sub-major and minor characters just piddled into a linear extrapolation of the last few seasons, which really backed up my perception that these folks were just never really more than caricatures. Pete’s conversion from irritating scumbag to irritating reformed scumbag was the most satisfying of the lot, while Betty’s terminal lung cancer (they had to do it to somebody after all that smoking) prevented them from ever needing to do anything with her character. Sally gave up adventure to take care of the family (why, thematically?), the boys have essentially no consequence (and never did), Coop’s dead, Joan does her business hustle thing, Peggy finds love in a probably ten minute sequence that is the bouillon cube reduction of chick flick soup, shadow-Don disappears into a big company. Don’s second ex-wife reportedly returns to Canada, where I presume there’s no acting work, so why’s she there? Maybe I dozed.
Anyway, they just couldn’t really osmose their smarts at a high enough concentration to make it work for me, but I’m glad I saw it through.
Backlog is on my mind now, as I’m trying to get my podcast playlist calibrated to neither pile nor exhaust under normal steady conditions. I’ve found that commuting is so greatly helped by intelligent or humorous conversation rather than radio rattle, or even music shuffling, that this is of considerable value to me.
I feel I should enshrine my current list, as it’s so hard to discover these things, at least outside the iTunes sphere:
- Mad Dogs & Englishmen: The National Review guys I really like
- The Moth: People telling true stories in front of live audiences
- The Truth: Cool and weird (especially last episode) reimagining of radio drama for the modern era
- GLoP Culture: On my bubble list for deletion, chance to hear Goldberg from National Review and Podhoretz from Commentary talk about current events
- Cato Daily Podcast: I let these pile up to about 50-60 unlistened and then listen to them all at 1.6x-2.0x speed for rapid-fire libertarianism
- This American Life: This is kind of the good-tasting vegetable of my menu, I never look forward to it but almost always enjoy the NPR narration format and content
- Stuff You Should Know: Pretty good explanatory topics most of the time (seems to be getting more obscure and less interesting recently), unlistenable for me at anything but 1.8x speed now that I’m used to it
- Here Be Monsters: On the bad side of my bubble list, I feel like it’s indie This American Life
- Top Four: Mid bubble list, a sort of misguided early-stage talk podcast where an internet-famous couple talks about their favorite stuff (but rarely actually develop a true top-4 list)
- Analog(ue): I can’t understand why I listen to this, but it’s a podcast company head talking to a (podcast celebrity) friend, mostly about podcasting and life, and I like it
- Reconcilable Differences: John Siracusa (Ars Technica) and Merlin Mann talk for a really long time about random things
- Accidental Tech Podcast: Definitely on the bubble, I like these guys (each person is on at least one other podcast I listen to) but struggle with why I’m investing so much time in Apple-related news
- Hardcore History: The best
- Serial: Adnan totally did it, but I still don’t know how
- Robot or Not: I love a 55 second podcast with a quick yes/no answer
- You Look Nice Today: This is basically over, but it’s mostly really funny and nice to just hear guys talk about funny stuff that’s not topical