"Mad Men" #7: The Kids Aren't Alright

This season of “Mad Men” has become, in its quiet way, as psychedelic a drama as ever seen on American TV. Beyond “Laugh-In,” you bet your bippy, and even, dare I say it, “Mod Squad.”

And we’re not just talking about the ongoing exploration/analysis of the 1960s’s, and the increasing momentum of the incipient hippie movement (though that has also become an obvious preoccupation). But also the fever-dream hallucinogenic quality of its storytelling; the increasing interest in subconscious fantasy; in non-linear narratives; in worlds beyond worlds.

So where does such internal chaos come from? On this most recent “MM” it stems from every dirction. From the hostility and fear of older generations. From the irreconcilable conflicts between the publicly asserted morality (“You should have a Bible and pictures of your family in your office”) from the manipulations of the elders and the way youthful dreaminess (particularly the make love not war pose of the hippies) can be the thinnest of facades over a morality-free nastiness-verging-on-psychotic-ugliness.

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And everywhere, the elders must wield their power over the young. Both Conrad Hilton and Bert Cooper sit in his office chair and attempt (unsuccessfuly, then successfully) to boss him around. Don eventually realizes he has no choice but to submit (particularly when Cooper finally plays his I-know-who-you-aren’t ace) and then turns right around and unloads brutally on Peggy, largely due to her eagerness to see him as a father figure. This drives her into the arms of Duck, who has taken on Hef-like seduction powers, while Don battles with the ghost of his father and, more physically, with the far more corporeal spirits of young Bonnie and Clyde (see also: Other ’60s freak-out icons) who make like the sweetest of all possible college kids, before things get truly (and arguably, deservedly for Don) ugly.

Can I just mention here also that the real difference between “Mad Men” and 99.9 percent of other TV dramas can be seen in its perpetually ambiguous positions on the ever-ambiguous morality of everything. It would be oh-so-easy to turn the young hipsters into unalloyed victims-slash-heroes. . . they are, obviously, alter-egos for show creator Matt Weiner’s generation, plus also the bulk of his show’s viewers, and so how heroic, all around. Except he’s way more complex than that and so too are his viewers and, praise Jesus, AMC.

So everyone’s got problems, everyone is busily creating problems for someone else, at the end of the day virtually everyone reflexively does whatever it takes in order to get ahead. Even Miss Forrester, the teacher, projects her own lust at Don, catches a glimmer back and pivots neatly to accuse HIM of philandering. A good teacher, but a weird chick.

Conrad Hilton and Bert Cooper hold the reins, and between them pull Draper into line. Draper lashes out at both Peggy (his acolyte) and Roger (his increasily loathed older brother figure). Everyone’s got seduction on their mind: Hilton/Draper; Duck/Peggy; Draper/Bonnie and Clyde; Francis/Betty while at the same time: Betty/Francis (they both play hard to get). And on and on.

It’s breathtaking and dizzy-making. Life’s like that, too. With only four months til JFK goes to Dallas (and young Miss Sterling gets married); and four years ’til the flower people go to Monterey (beneath tangerine trees and marmalade skies); with Vietnam right around the corner. . . how weird can anyone stand it?

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