By Sarra Jabbour
Mad Men is genius. The first episode “Smoke gets in your eye” sets the scene for what is a complex and clever series set in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. For many viewers, this series is nostalgic of a time when life seemed much easier, more exciting, a time of discovery. For others, Mad Men is an exciting and stylised insight into the corporate (specifically advertising) world, post World War Two.
Aesthetically, Mad Men works quite well. The costumes are a beautiful rendition of 50’s and 60’s fashion; A-line skirts, shift dresses, tie-die and paisley prints, double breasted jackets and grey and navy pin stripe suits. The script is witty and interesting and, the acting is realistic and believable. The characters are well thought out, complicated and realistic in a sort of dream-like way. They seem to have this kind of third dimension of complexity that characters from other television series don’t. The protagonist Don Draper is the first character we see and it’s love at first sight for us as audience members. Don is witty and charming and has a sense of mystery about him; there’s something more going on underneath those green eyes, but what is it? Betty Draper is the perfect 1950’s housewife; attentive yet glamorous is the way she is portrayed in the first episode. She too hides more beneath the surface of her loving wife and mother persona. Peggy Olsen is a young, pretty yet conservative woman who lives in the suburbs and has just begun her new job as secretary to Don Draper at Sterling Cooper advertising agency. The first episode shows the beginning of Peggy’s journey of self-discovery which leads her down a very different path to what it first seems. Joan Holloway is the star attraction of the office at Sterling Cooper. She is beautiful, intelligent and she knows it and uses this to her advantage.
This episode alone raises many moral issues and dilemmas and exploring these issues is really what the series is about. Mad Men is a man’s world, a world where women are objectified and are lower in the social and workplace hierarchy than men. Characters like Joan Holloway and Peggy Olsen are depictions of the different ways women dealt with the way they were treated by men. Joan uses it to her advantage, using her looks to get where she wants in her career and the rest of her life. Peggy seems to be more conservative in her approach to life in the first episode. She seems quite uncomfortable at the many remarks from her co-workers on her first day Sterling Cooper about her body and image. She comes across as innocent and naive in the beginning; however the first episode gives us a hint that there is something more to Peggy after she is shown at a doctor’s clinic asking for a prescription for contraceptive pills without being married.
Don Draper seems to be a pure and good man at first. The first episode depicts Draper in bed with a woman. The two seem to know each other quite well and it is suggested that this ‘relationship’ has been going on for a while. This scene doesn’t seem to be of any significance until the very last scene of the episode where it is revealed that Draper is in fact married with two children. And so the many layers of the complicated Don Draper begin to be revealed.
Somehow we are made to feel sympathetic towards most of the main characters in Mad Men, even when they are in the wrong. This is the beauty of Mad Men. Nothing is black and white; there are many grey areas in the moral issues that are brought up. These grey areas create a more realistic representation of life which may be the reason why the series has been so successful. Although it is set more than six decades ago, most of the moral issues that are explored within the series are relevant to audiences today. Mad Men’s “Smoke gets in your eye” is a delight to watch from start to finish. It poses many questions and which are yet to be answered by the end of the episode which urges you to keep watching. It has been quite a while since a series has intrigued me so much.