What is it about Mad Men? Why has there been a kind of slow-growing hysteria in anticipation of Season 3? Was it all publicity? Did we fall so madly in love with these characters we couldn’t bear to let them go when Season 2 came to a dramatic end? The marketing behind Mad Men has been exceptional – targeting the fashion and the beauty of the cast, turning them into instant icons.
We now love these gods and goddesses – January Jones, the perfect retro Patrician beauty, with her wide jawline and her delicate features; her repressed Betty is magnetic. There’s Jon Hamm as Don Draper, so good looking his beauty became an entire plot-line of a 30 Rock episode. Chiseled features, mysterious angst, the irrepressible Alpha Male. There is Christina Hendricks as Joan – curves to die for, red hair, pouty mouth – hopes of a marriage to rescue her out of being a lifelong secretary.
There’s Elisabeth Moss as the only forward thinking “career woman” Peggy Olson and her one-time lover Pete Campbell, played by the brilliant Vincent Kartheiser. These are the reasons we can’t let them go – vivid, whole characters that are as well-defined as paper dolls but with so much more complexity.
Mad Men’s Season Three catches up with Don and Betty as they piece their marriage back together. Don was caught cheating by his wife Betty just as she found herself pregnant. Now she’s very pregnant and Don is still cheating, by the looks of it. Betty is still too harsh with the kids and the advertising suits are just as nervous as they’ve always been in that Madison Avenue shark tank.
The story that has taken a giant step forward is that of poor Salvatore Romano (the great Bryan Batt) as the closeted gay man trying to live out some of his desires without anyone finding out. There’s no denying it — being a woman or being gay were two very difficult roles in that era; both trapped.
What keeps us watching Mad Men week after week, season after season, is that it offers us a glimpse into a now forbidden world. Our modern lives are full of so many can’ts. We can’t smoke, we can’t drink in the middle of the day, we can’t cheat on our wives, we have to always be good parents. Beyond that, the freedoms we enjoy these characters can’t — we don’t stay in bad marriages through thick and thin, we don’t stay secretaries if we want to have careers, we don’t stay married to men who cheat on us — well, most of us don’t.
Why shouldn’t we desire all of this unhealthy, old fashioned, messed-up America? Mad Men is the television equivalent of waking up in the middle of the night and eating half of a chocolate cake. You know you shouldn’t do it, you hope nobody is watching, but you’ve never had so much fun in your life.