Reader, sophomore year has been quite a doozy. The courses have gotten more intense, as have my extracurricular activities. And in this time when I have especially needed to focus, I have fallen into the pit of emotion that is “Mad Men.”
I have a complicated relationship with “Mad Men.” And I’m warning you, spoilers are ahead. I have watched the show on and off for three years or so. I couldn’t handle Don (played by Jon Hamm) — his cheating, his lies, the fact that he really doesn’t appreciate the people that care about him. But Don is like most people on the show: flawed, complicated, and, at times, ugly. Most frustrating for me was how I still felt for him. The show pulled this empathy out of me — and so did Hamm’s superb acting.
“Mad Men” is an excellent example of a drama that one has to prep for just to watch. It’s a show that thrives in subtlety, in tiny details that fans find only through rewatching and obsessively analyzing the episodes. “Mad Men” never truly shows its cards outright, so watching it feels like slowly being enveloped by an ambiguous fog that leaves you dazed and thinking deeper of the shams of your own life.
Casually watching “Mad Men” almost seems like an oxymoron. The same can be said for shows like “Breaking Bad,” “The Sopranos,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Wire,” and other acclaimed dramas. One watches for the experience. My question is: Why we do this? What’s so appealing about putting yourself through complex emotions? Why do I want to be up at 2 a.m. crying about how, in the end, Don Draper really has no one who will be there for him? Or why am I letting George R. R. Martin rip out my poor sensitive heart by killing off characters I have grown so attached to?
Well, reader, I think that it’s easier to feel emotion through fictional stories than to do the same by looking at one’s own life. I’m not suggesting that people who watch dramas are emotionally stunted and can only express emotions for fictional characters. But sometimes one doesn’t have the time, the mental capacity, or the energy to really delve into whatever is bothering them, and watching dramas is a good way to get all that built-up emotion out. Or maybe people like to have a character to be angry at, or a character to root for, without any strings attached. It’s an impersonal way of making personal connections.
Whatever the reason may be, dramas that imitate life’s overwhelming nature and the world’s need for perfection will continue to be a staple of American television. My watching of “Mad Men” has come to an end, but I bet you, reader, I’ll find a new drama to cry about sometime soon.