Watch: What Lies Between TV Shows’ First and Last Frames?

Watch: What Lies Between TV Shows’ First and Last Frames?

There is a pressure on any work to create, within its span, a tiny world whose life begins at the film’s opening credits and ends with its closing credits. It would seem that for TV dramas, that pressure is doubled because of the additional boundary the TV screen, so much smaller than a movie screen, places on it for containment. This video piece by Celia Gomez, inspired by Jacob T. Swinney’s near-canonical study of the first and last frames of films, shows us some shocking correspondences between many shows’ opening frames and closing frames, among them ‘Mad Men,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Lost,’ ‘The Network,’ and, oddly enough, ‘Frasier.’  

Watch: How ‘Mad Men’ Is A Close Cousin to ‘The Swimmer’

Watch: How ‘Mad Men’ Is A Close Cousin to ‘The Swimmer’

It would be hard for me to choose a favorite, or even a favorite six, among the stories of John Cheever. Maligned though he may have occasionally been for grounding his tales of inner abstraction and desperation in the white upper-middle New York suburbs, it was what he did with his setting that really counted: the imaginative leaps, the shocks, the lines of articulated despair, falling into crisp, less-polluted air. It was this Cheeverishness that drew me to ‘Mad Men’ first, and held my attention; the sense that Matthew Weiner was not only trying to teach his viewers about the evil 1960s but also trying to transport them into Cheever’s universe gave me great admiration for the show. My admiration was not consistent, which I view as a sign of mental health, but the Cheeverishness was. Matt Zoller Seitz and Nelson Carvajal do noble and smart work in tracing the links between Cheever’s immortal story, ‘The Swimmer," Frank Perry’s film of same, and ‘Mad Men’ in this video essay for Vulture and In the film adaptation, Burt Lancaster plays Ned Merrill, a suburban gentleman (possibly) who swims across his municipality by leapfrogging from pool to pool, a journey that takes him through various substrata of his particular layer of culture, a journey that, ultimately, leads him to an enigmatically empty destination: his own home, windows darkened, doors locked. What better progenitor for ‘Mad Men’? After all, doesn’t Don Draper take this journey every day, a long, winding trip through entitlement and intrigue and interpersonal slaughter, at the end of which all he has to look at is his own deceptively blank face? Carvajal, known in some quarters as the "Sultan of Splice," is in fine form here, snipping and sampling and matching clips with admirable adroitness; Seitz brings his near-encyclopedic knowledge of, and obsession with, the show, as well as his profound understanding of Cheever’s work, to bear in his analysis. This is a good watch, and a good encouragement to go out and buy Cheever’s Collected Stories. It’s a red paperback, big enough to fit in your pocket, and just large enough to shape your mind for the rest of your life. 

Watch: ‘Mad Men’ Recalls Edward Hopper’s Paintings in Frame after Frame after Frame

Watch: ‘Mad Men’ Recalls Edward Hopper’s Paintings in Frame after Frame after Frame

If you’re still unconvinced that ‘Mad Men’ remains the most exquisitely crafted examination of loneliness, then study the ways the show closes out each episode. Resting on the power of its compositions over witty dialogue, the numerous backwards tracking shots, framing Don, Peggy and others dwarfed in their work and home environments, often framed within doorways and other frames, is as poignant in its reflection of urban solitude as any Edward Hopper painting. And it’s clear that Hopper would have adored ‘Mad Men’: just as Matthew Weiner so subtly captured the lives of ordinary, extraordinary New Yorkers over the course of 8 years, Hopper was obsessed with capturing the privacy of everyday people. In solitary bedrooms, offices, movie theaters, often solitary characters reflect in their environments, yet even when couples are together, as in Hopper’s Room in New York, they are occupied with their own devices and do not interact with each other, their intimacy as unattainable as Don’s constant chase for happiness in the beds of other women, or a new wife. 


That isn’t to say that every shot ended in a back tracking wide shot; the close-ups of Don’s conflicted face accentuated his existential dilemma, and the frames within frames only heightened how trapped the characters were in their own fears and longings. But the back tracking shots are a basic staple of editing: start wide, go in, end, in a way that punctuates how far you’ve come. And that is exactly what makes the contrast between Don’s constant fading away, his dismayed face and the final filmed shot, a push-in to Don’s smiling face, so poignant. Stripped of his possessions, his family, his home of New York, he has found something close to internal peace at a hippie retreat on the California coastline, finding himself and, perhaps, a Coca Cola ad in the process.
Editor’s Note: The ending scenes are not in strict chronological order, to allow for some editing creative licensing. However, their respective seasons remain firmly in order. And I will be reminded that Don’s smile is not technically the last shot, or even the penultimate shot, of the series. A helicopter shot from the famous Coke commercial is the last shot seen of the series. However, it was the last scene of the original footage shot for the series, and for that, it is arguably the true final shot of the series. 

Serena Bramble is a film editor whose montage skills are an end result of accumulated years of movie-watching and loving. Serena is a graduate from the Teledramatic Arts and Technology department at Cal State Monterey Bay. In addition to editing, she also writes on her blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind.

Watch: Why ‘Mad Men’ Is a Personal Experience

Watch: Why ‘Mad Men’ Is a Personal Experience

Mad Men is a show about the odd relationship that human beings have with the past—our desire to escape coupled with our desire to hang on. On Mad Men nostalgia is dangerous, deceptive, illusory.

When Mad Men first came out eight years ago, friends hosted theme parties with tailored clothes and twist and shout dances, bars had Mad Men themed events, with cocktails named after the characters, clothing stores like Banana Republic opened up their own Mad Men themed clothing lines.

Over the course of the last eight years we’ve acknowledged the casual sexism and racism of the 60s, while also distancing ourselves from it. I ran into people at parties who swooned over Don’s primal masculinity, who laughed at sexist and racist moments, as if they were an inside joke.

Mad Men’s construction has always been seductive, all the beauty and sex and money and cars. We keep coming back even after we see that its an illusion, when Don’s house is emptied, when Betty is diagnosed with cancer from those same cigarettes we couldn’t help thinking were beautiful and sexy and dangerous in all the best ways.

Mad Men has always also been a mirror, forcing us to look at our own choices and see how deeply they are marred in the culture we live in. I was first introduced to the series by an ex who smoked cigarettes and loved whisky and cinema and sad films as much as I did. When we fought I often felt like one of the women of Mad Men, desperate to keep up appearances, to hide tears with makeup, to throw used liquor bottles in the trash. I’ve seen myself in every female character on Mad Men: when Betty shot those birds, when Joan knocked her fiancé out with her flowers, when Sally got those go-go boots.

But I didn’t think of these women when I left that relationship and started my life ostensibly over; I thought of Don, those empty shots of office rooms and open highways, of New York skylines and the California sun.

Despite strange protests that Mad Men is really all about the women, the truth is Mad Men has always been about Don. No character on Mad Men is capable of evolution the way that Don is, if not for himself than for the advertising culture he lives for. The ending of the series is ambiguous—does Don find peace? Does he use his experience in California as the foundation for a beloved and manipulative Coca Cola ad that defined the 70s?

The final episode of Mad Men reinforces the show’s allure for me, as well as its fundamental tensions. I’m still half in love with and half terrified of what I’m being sold. In the beginning Don tells us that, “What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.” By the end, Don is moved to tears by the unmemorable man named Leonard who explains how deeply unloved he feels even though he knows the people in his life who he cares about are trying. Don’s response to Leonard’s opening up is the exact opposite response he received when he opened up about his own past at the Hershey pitch the previous season, when he was basically fired from his position for opening up about a past he is deeply private and emotional about.

Don has tried to fill a void in his heart with any number of vices. It’s telling that when Don calls Peggy, he doesn’t lead with his secret past, but the myriad ways he has been disloyal to the people he truly loved the most. “I broke all my vows.”

We can’t help being who we are, even when who we are is so deeply shaped by the culture we live in. In some ways, the hippie retreat is a relief and respite from the stiff, unfeeling world of advertising that Don comes from. But, at the end of the day, it’s just peddling another set of wares. Does Don’s meditation forgive him of his sins? “You always run away,” Peggy tells him over the phone and it’s true. If anything, the hero of this series is Sally, dutifully cancelling her trip to Madrid, so that she can help her mother and brothers at home.

But that’s not who we are poised to identify with at the end.

Though Mad Men has always fiercely critiqued the patriarchy, it is also very much the product of the time in which it was created. For the past eight years we have seen many series featuring a white, male antihero who finds some kind of redemption—steely, hard eyed, with an emotionally soft core. The women in these series have been given a far greater capacity for rich interior lives, but we also are still poised to see other women in the series as mere objects. We view these women through the eyes of the ad men themselves, the camera panning up and down legs, breasts and other disembodied body parts, whether in pencil dress or mini skirt.

To be a woman on Mad Men is to endure hurt after hurt, and brief moments of sisterhood and solidarity. At the very end, Peggy is afforded a possibility for romance that is still predicated on a man wanting her, rather than someone she has been overtly longing for. At the very end, Joan makes a decision, but finds she can’t have it all either.

At the start of Mad Men, I hated Don—I couldn’t stand his smugness, his womanizing, his lies, his cruelty in the workplace and at home. But after watching this show for eight years I began to see myself in him in small ways, especially in moments where the façade of ease would break.

Many of the reasons I will mourn the end of Mad Men do feel intensely personal. If you watch something for eight years, even something you felt profoundly ambivalent about, you’ll eventually start to have feelings for it, or at least for the YOU that was watching it. A lot has happened over the last eight years. I lost friendships, gained them and lost and gained them again. I started and left different jobs. I lost my grandparents. I mended my relationship with my parents. I learned to love in new ways, to love more deeply, and more carefully. I felt my soul crack open and felt parts of me sewn shut, and then I let parts of myself be open all over again. At the end of Mad Men, Don is the same person he was at the start, older, wiser, slightly changed, but still with that same wonderful, terrible core. Our identity is as malleable as we let it be, except when it’s not. By the end of the series we still want more, but at least we’ve learned to listen.

Arielle Bernstein is a writer living in Washington, DC. She teaches writing at American University and also freelances. Her work has been published in The Millions, The Rumpus, St. Petersburg Review and The Ilanot Review. She has been listed four times as a finalist in Glimmer Train short story contestsShe is currently writing her first book.

Serena Bramble is a film editor whose montage skills are an end result of accumulated years of movie-watching and loving. Serena is a graduate from the Teledramatic Arts and Technology department at Cal State Monterey Bay. In addition to editing, she also writes on her blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind.

VIDEO ESSAY: White Knights and Bad People

VIDEO ESSAY: White Knights and Bad People

[The text of the video essay follows.]

When I watched Back to
the Future
with my parents as a child, I remember my shock at seeing Marty
McFly’s mom sexually assaulted by the high school bully, Biff, in the backseat
of a car. The assault was confusing. I remember my first viewing of this
relatively tame movie as a garble of images–the backseat, the fluffy curls of
the pink prom dress, the feet poking out, the muffled screams.

Of course, this entire scene is about Marty’s dad having the
guts to punch the rapist in the face, to tell him to “leave her alone.” By the
end Marty’s mother is all smiles, relief, and pride in having chosen a man who
would defend and respect her.

My exposure to cartoon gender relations was similarly
violent. The female cartoon characters in shows like Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs
liked to don skimpy outfits. The male characters’ eyes would pop out of their
skulls, tongues hanging out lecherously. Of course, these shows played on old
cartoon favorites. Betty Boop often had to avoid unwanted male attention, poor
Olive Oyl was constantly placed in supposedly comic situations where she was
being either kidnapped or harassed, and in Tex Avery’s Little Red Riding Hood,
“Red” is a full grown woman who must be careful of the predatory wolf who
stalks her nightclub. 

When I was a child, the images of a female cartoon character
being catcalled, or a woman being assaulted, did not seem especially unusual. I
assumed that warding off male attention was met by most adult women with a
mixture of pride and mild annoyance. As I got older, I became more and more
concerned about this phenomenon. When even strong, powerful women are victimized
in films and television, a dashing hero saves the day.

Today, in the age of Steubenville, we still worry about the
ways boys and men prey on girls and women. Social organizations often still
rely on the white knight trope when they address this matter. Actors and
musicians who regularly objectify women on screen and in music videos are shown
looking sad as they pose with Real Men Don’t Buy Girls hashtag signs. In the
White House PSA on sexual assault, Daniel Craig and Benicio Del Toro are among the male
participants calling for heroic behavior.

Stepping in when someone is in trouble is certainly
honorable, but the moral lesson in these PSAs provides men with the same
options they had in Back to the Future.
Are you a Marty, or a Bif? Will you defend womanhood, or assault it?

The threat of rape is often used as a device for male
characters to become heroes, which contributes to the idea that sexual assault
is a normal part of growing up female. Rape is still seen as unchecked lust
rather than an expression of violence. 
This myth has far reaching repercussions, as girls and women live in the
very real shadow of sexual assault constantly. We get inured to sexual violence
on shows like Game of Thrones, where
rape is often presented in the background of a scene, something bad, brutal men
do to helpless women.

It’s exhausting as a woman to constantly see the female body
on the brink of violation. I’m tired of the voicelessness of those bodies, by
the fact that we still need to spread awareness about how horrible sexual
assault actually is. I know I’m supposed to be grateful when people express
that they are aware, when men who seem poised to protect me when I go out, when
someone develops an app designed to help get me home safe by checking in with my
family and friends.

The way rape is portrayed today is not so different from how
it was portrayed in 80s exploitation films, where rape is intended to shock and
titillate in one fell swoop, like it often does in the current series Game of Thrones. A film like Extremities, for example, promises the
sweetest of revenges for a female protagonist, but it is the image of Farrah Fawcett
cowering and sobbing, forced to take off her clothes, while her rapist looks on
and calls her beautiful that has become the ubiquitous Hollywood rape scene,
where a gorgeous woman is exposed and shamed and, despite the fact that we are
told to root for her, we are also given permission to ogle her, to see her
through the rapist’s lens, before we see her own experience.

This is one of the reasons that Joan’s rape scene on Mad Men is so effective is that it
portrays her quiet terror without fetishizing her body or her fear. We don’t
see her ample curves illuminated, the way they normally are. Joan’s sexuality
is a point of pride throughout the series, and the camera makes it clear that
what we are witnessing is a power play and violation. There’s nothing sexual
about it. The camera ends not on a close up of her body, but a close up of her
staring at a point just ahead of her in an office that isn’t hers, as she waits
for what is happening to stop.

Arielle Bernstein is
a writer living in Washington, DC. She teaches writing at American
University and also freelances. Her work has been published in
Millions, The Rumpus, St. Petersburg Review and The Ilanot Review. She
has been listed four times as a finalist in
Glimmer Train short story
. She is currently writing her first book.

Serena Bramble is a film editor whose
montage skills are an end result of accumulated years of movie-watching
and loving. Serena is a graduate from the Teledramatic Arts and
Technology department at Cal State Monterey Bay. In addition to editing,
she also writes on her blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind.

Beautiful and Claustrophobic: MAD MEN’s Inferno

Beautiful and Claustrophobic: MAD MEN’s Inferno

nullWhen I
started taking classes in creative writing, one of my teachers told our class
that all we had was one story we would spend our entire lives rewriting. At the
time I found the prospect of this frightening. In a home of Cuban-Jewish
refugees I had grown used to two concepts: the impermanence of material things
and the permanence of loss. Both themes were ones I strove to break away from.
I nurtured an intense fascination with born-again Christianity. There seemed
something glorious to me about the idea that you could start again, fresh in
the world, free from the past. 

The longing
for rebirth is a motif, which dominates our literary imagination and our
spiritual and emotional lives. The rebirth narrative is often constructed as a
narrative of resolution. We long to read about characters who are constantly
making choices which propel their life forward and we love reading about heroes
and heroines who are brave enough to make the choices that will ultimately lead
to some kind of change. In real life we are creatures of habit. We love a
routine, because it makes an unruly universe seem manageable and safe. In
fiction we open a box in one scene and in the next we close that box for good.
In real life, we keep—consciously or subconsciously—reopening that box.

Mad Men, which at first glance seems to
be a period drama, has actually proven to be a drama that explores how every
rebirth is a repetition. When I first started watching, I’d feel a deep,
overwhelming sense of dread with every episode. Ever swig of a martini, every
suck on a cigarette, every fuck behind another spouse’s back filled me with great
anxiety. On Mad Men, no character
(except, arguably, Peggy Olson) is ever able to change, even as the world is rapidly
changing around them. Our desire to rebuild our lives is shown to be just as
much of an illusion as anything else Don Draper or Peggy or Pete Campbell tries to sell to a
client. Both Don and Betty Draper repeat patterns from their old marriage in their new
ones. The new ad agency may look different from the old ad agency, but the same
ugliness that hid beneath the surface of the old polished veneer is there under
bright lights, mod fashion and art deco design.   

In many
ways, Mad Men’s insistence on denying
us the pleasure of resolution is the secret to its success and the reason so
many of us are hooked on it, despite being frustrated that nothing ever really
changes, time and time again. Repetition of experience is electric. It grounds
us in the past and connects us to the present. We think what we seek is an
experience, which is new, but what we really want to feel connected to is an
experience that makes us feel happy and safe, in a way we once felt happy and
safe before. All addictions are nurtured by our love of repetition, a need to
feel as high as we once were, as loved as we once were loved. Don’s continuous
cheating has always had a somewhat addictive quality to it. In every case Don
wants the simultaneous thrill of the new, along with the comfort of the old.           

repetition of familiar collective memories and period fashions has always given
Mad Men a kind of warm intimacy,
which is strange because many of its most fervent viewers haven’t personally
experienced the 60s. In an article for Vanity
, “You Say You Want a Devolution,” Kurt Anderson claims that this
yearning for the past is a peculiar development of the 21st century,
which he claims is a reaction to constant technological newness. In Anderson’s
view we would rather rehash the past, rather than create anything new at all. We
watch television shows that are episodic, where characters continuously revisit
experiences, and we live in the age of the remix, where we borrow snippets
from the past as a way to reinvent the present.

But, in reality, I don’t think that
our desire for repetition is anything new at all. There is something very human
about our love of patterns. Our obsession with the past is more than just
fashion. It is built into our bones. We harvest food according to different
seasons. We pray for different purposes at different times of the day and
different times of the year. Ceremonies like graduation and weddings are built
into the very fabric of our culture, in both religious and secular settings. Poets
and lyricists have long been seduced by repetition. You can find the repeated
word or line in a classic love poem, and you can find it in contemporary songs.
We sing song refrains ranging from, “Hey Jude” to “Mmm Bop.” 
The repeated onomatopoeia word can be sing-songy, as in children’s
songs, or visceral and raw. Kanye West’s brutal album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is often about obsession and
addiction and its most brutal, harrowing lines are repeated words. When Kanye West sings “bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,” so icy and
perfectly metered, on his new album, are these words the sound of a gang-bang
or a gunshot? The more we hear a word repeated, the stranger it sounds and the
more we re-think meaning.

Anyone who
has participated in a writing workshop knows that there is a danger in treating
art as personal therapy. Often, especially for beginning writers, we do repeat
the same story over and over, until we reach the sense that we have finally get
it “right”—we’ve made sense of the motifs we were continuously drawn back
to.  My writerly “coming-of-age” was no
different. In grad school most of my writing focused on two relationships: my
relationship with my mother and a romantic relationship that broke my heart in

One story resolved. For months after
the relationship was over the repetition of words from my ex’s poems would
drift through my brain at odd intervals, like a song I knew all the words to,
until one day, I didn’t remember many of those words at all. At that stage I no
longer loved this person any more and it felt like what it had become: a tiny,
tender loss, wholly different than the dramatic poems I wrote when I was still
angry and passionate about a love I didn’t want to see die.

In contrast, the relationship with
my mother evolved. We learned to understand each other. I’m not sentimental by
nature. I don’t obsess over pictures. When I move I throw stuff out. My mother
is the opposite. She takes forever to get rid of anything. Whenever I go back
home, my room is a museum of me, except it isn’t a museum of me at all: it is a
museum of the girl I was when I was 15 years old. Whenever I go home I am
stunned at how much I’ve changed and how I haven’t changed at all.

Repetition reminds us of that gap within each
of us: between that part of us that stays constant and that part of us that is
willing and able to evolve. It reminds
us that if everything is ephemeral, repetition is all we have. It reminds us
there are lovers we will leave behind and mothers we will love forever.

The opening image of Mad Men shows a man falling to his
death; in reality, the path down is a spiral rather than a straight line, which
means it is ultimately going to take a longer time to bottom out.  This season the space between Don’s domination of
Sylvia and his tiny voiced “please” begging her to stay is getting narrower
and narrower. This season’s first Mad Men
episode opened with a scene on the beach and Don reading The Inferno. It ended with an ad that Don created: the image of
an empty beach, bare tracks in the sand, discarded clothes, the open ocean. For
Don this was an image of escape. For his clients it was an image of a suicide. Escape and suicide have always been
dangerously close throughout the series, but this season, we are reminded
over and over how it is impossible to only love the beginning of things, when
everything that begins is ultimately going to end.

Arielle Bernstein is a writer living in Washington, DC. She teaches
writing at George Washington University and American University and also
freelances. Her work has been published in
The Millions, The Rumpus, St. Petersburg Review, and South Loop Review, and she has twice been listed as a finalist in Glimmertrain‘s Family Matters Short Story Contests. She is Associate Book Reviews Editor at The Nervous Breakdown.

Five Great Moments of Dramatic Irony in MAD MEN

Five Great Moments of Dramatic Irony in MAD MEN

Before postmodernist self-reference, there was dramatic irony: a little wink from the writer that acknowledges the audience. It's not just that we know something the characters don't. It's that the writer knows we know. This common soap-operatic device lets the audience in on secrets bound for explosion: adultery, murder plots, or the revelation of a child's real parents. Mad Men is more subtle in its use of dramatic irony. Because the show is arguably one long character study, it's not as interested in plots that go boom. Instead, dramatic irony often helps to flesh out the characters involved by demonstrating how they react to situations and adding texture to a scene. Don's real identity, for example, is something that we and certain other characters know about. But his reasons for keeping the secret are treated with more significance than the possibility that anyone else might find out. When the truth is occasionally exposed, the reactions are restrained. Case in point, Bert doesn't even care. Even the scene with Betty lacks melodrama. After five seasons of solid storytelling, here are five of Mad Men's greatest moments in dramatic irony. There were many to choose from, so if your favorite isn't here, tell us about it in the comments.

He's from Europe – "The Jet Set" (S. 02)

The set-up: In the break room, Sal, Joan, Harry and Ken tease Kurt and Peggy about their pending "date" to the Bob Dylan show. To clarify things, Kurt casually tells everyone he's gay. The room goes silent.

Why it's great: There's a bit of a Kuleshov effect that pits Sal's reactions against everyone else's. Peggy brushes off the news, hiding her disappointment. Ken's face literally falls. Joan blushes. Harry serves up slapstick stupor with a piece of donut still lodged in his cheek. And closeted Sal cautiously holds back, waiting to see how disgusted his colleagues will be, or perhaps how much they can tolerate. Piercing the quiet shock, Kurt looks to Peggy, tells her "eight," and pours himself a coffee. Sal is incensed, then dejected. What he works so hard to conceal is something Kurt can put bluntly without breaking a sweat. Kurt and Peggy leave, and the remaining colleagues let their homophobia loose while Sal forces himself to smirk and chuckle in all the right places. This short scene goes from funny to tragic so quickly.

Who would've liked to be there: Kitty Romano, poor thing.

The Promotion(s) – "Out of Town" (S. 03)

The set-up: Having just laid off Burt Peterson, Sterling Cooper's Head of Accounts, Lane Pryce first tells Pete he's been promoted to the position, then tells Ken the same thing, separately. Neither immediately knows they've just gotten the same promotion. Believing they're about to be the other's boss, they exchange loaded pleasantries on the elevator as they head home.

Why it's great: Pete and Ken have been neck and neck for years. On the surface, this conversation has all the trappings of a ceasefire, with a few notes of relief. They commend each other on their strengths, but you have to wonder if there are actually no hard feelings or if the cordial banter covers up each man's plans to fire the other. After all, these niceties are challenged only a few scenes later when Pete and Ken realize they're co-heads.

Who would've liked to be there: The usually impotent Lane would have enjoyed the power this scene attributed to him. Roger would have appreciated its humor. Bert (Cooper) would have relished this prelude to a good old Randian bloodbath.

Betty Knows Dick – "The Gypsy and the Hobo" (S. 03)

The set-up: At the time that this episode aired, viewers had had a good week to process Betty's discovery that Don was really Dick Whitman, and that he'd been married before. She does nothing about it until 25 minutes into "The Gypsy and the Hobo." During that time, she's played the dutiful wife at Sterling Cooper's anniversary party, endured nights alone which she suspected Don was spending with a new mistress, and had a fruitless conversation with her family lawyer. When Betty confronts Don about his past, the conversation takes hours in their narrative, and 14 minutes in real time.

Why it's great: What really cements the tension in this lengthy scene is the fact that Suzanne, Sally's teacher, is waiting for Don in his car the whole time. They're planning a romantic getaway, and she's crouched down in the seat to avoid being seen. While we're thoroughly immersed in the Don and Betty showdown, we can't help but remember the Suzanne loose end, and it makes us uncomfortable while watching the scene. Don demonstrates the depth of his disregard for others. He never considered how Betty might react if she discovered he'd hidden his true identity from her for so long, he's defensive when she calls him on it, and he completely forgets about the mistress in the car. When Don and Betty are done, he doesn't check up on Suzanne. He puts on his pajamas, brushes his teeth and goes to sleep. Come to think of it, that sort of negligence is what got him here.

Who would've liked to be there: It would make pragmatic sense to say Suzanne. But for sentimental reasons, I vote for Adam Whitman.

They Were On a Break – "Chinese Wall" & "Blowing Smoke" (S. 04)

The set-up: On the heels of losing Lucky Strike, Don begs his girlfriend and SCDP psychological consultant Faye Miller to help him poach clients. Furious that he would cross that line, she storms out. A few days later, Don has a tryst with his secretary Megan. Immediately afterwards, he goes home to find Faye waiting for him, ready to give some names.

Why it's great: It seems Don thought things were over with Faye, but if he were more skilled at relationships, he would have known it was just a fight. When he thanks Faye for eventually ceding, you can tell he feels some guilt, an emotion he never reserved for Betty. That audience-only awkwardness returns in the next episode when Faye and Don are discussing cigarette companies in the boardroom, and Megan is framed between them. You almost expect her to stop working, look up and yearn. Later, when they make a dinner date, Faye says to Don pointedly, "tell your girl to make reservations." She's an observant lady. Has she noticed any inappropriate lash-fluttering?

Who would've liked to be there: Let Peggy have this one.

Business At a High Level – "The Other Woman" (S. 05)

The set-up: Jaguar dealer Herb Rennet says he'll happily support SCDP's pitch if Ken and Pete arrange to have Joan spend a night with him. Ken assumes it's the end of the road with Jaguar. Pete thinks it's just the beginning, propositioning Joan and then the partners.

Why it's great: There are so many converging motives in this story, and no one completely comes clean, all to Joan's detriment. Pete uses Joan's open-ended refusal ("you couldn't afford it") to make it sound like she wants to negotiate pricing. Roger begrudgingly agrees to the dirty deed so long as he doesn't have to pay for it, still bitter that Joan snubbed any financial aid towards their son. Lane convinces Joan to ask for a partnership with a 5% stake instead of a lump sum, cleverly covering up his embezzlement. And Bert wants Pete to tell Joan she can still say no, but that information never gets to her. Though Don eventually tells her not to go through with it, when we revisit that heartbreaking scene, we realize it's too late. Pete orchestrates this whole affair with well-timed half-truths, and it works because he banks on everyone else prioritizing their own agendas over Joan's.

Who would've liked to be there: Ken, who even told Peggy that Jaguar was a lost cause.

Honorable mention – Love Among the Ruins (S. 03) Roger settles on the date of his daughter's wedding: November 23, 1963.

Olivia Collette is a writer based in Montreal, which means she knows (someone who knows) Jessica Paré! She's contributed to Roger Ebert's Far-Flung Correspondents, The Spectator Arts Blog, Sparksheet and others. Olivia blogs at Livvy Jams and The Scrawn.

VIDEO ESSAY: A Death Foretold: Foreshadowing in MAD MEN

VIDEO ESSAY: A Death Foretold: Foreshadowing in MAD MEN

This video essay and its accompanying text also appear today on Vulture, the blog of New York Magazine; the staff of Vulture asked Press Play's editors to contribute a piece on Mad Men, and this was the result.

[Editor's note: this article and the accompanying video contain spoilers for all of season five of Mad Men. Read or click at your own risk.]

Now that Mad Men has drawn to a close and we prepare to spend the rest of the summer looking back on a particularly dense season, we can reflect on all the clues that led to one of this year’s biggest plot turns — Lane Pryce’s suicide. The show’s death obsession dominated recaps and comments threads throughout the last twelve weeks, and with good reason. Every episode contained one or more hints that a major character would die. Indeed, more so than any other season of Mad Men, this one earns the adjective novelistic. No single episode can be considered wholly apart from any other; each chapter replenishes the death/mortality motif in imaginative, sometimes playful ways.

This video essay, titled "A Death Foretold," collects a few of the more obvious and subtle predictors from season five. The piece is a joint effort by me; writer Deborah Lipp, who recaps the show for my IndieWire blog Press Play and co-publishes the Mad Men–centric blog Basket of Kisses; and Kevin B. Lee, the site's editor-in-chief and in-house cutter. It's not meant to be comprehensive; we originally compiled a three-page list of death references, then realized if we put them all in one video it would have been as long as a Mad Men episode! But we hope it'll offer the show's fans another pretext (as if we need any) to pick apart the show’s narrative architecture and argue about whether a cigar is just a cigar.

A critic, journalist and filmmaker, Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for New York Magazine and a finalist for the Pulitzer prize in criticism. He has worked as a movie critic for The New York Times, New York Press, and New Times Newspapers, and as a TV critic for The Star-Ledger of Newark. His video essays about Terrence Malick, Oliver Stone, Kathryn Bigelow, Budd Boetticher, Wes Anderson, Clint Eastwood, Michael Mann and other directors can be viewed at the The Museum of the Moving Image web site. Seitz is the founder of The House Next Door, a website devoted to critical writing about popular culture. His book-length conversation with Wes Anderson about his films, titled The Wes Anderson Collection, will be published in fall 2012 by Abrams Books.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Follow him on Twitter.



Most nights I watch Mad Men on my living room couch with a computer in my lap. Tonight I watched at a terrific New York City bar, at the Basket of Kisses Season Finale Party, sitting next to Rich Sommer. It was a fantastic experience: Cheers, applause, shock—there's truly nothing like sharing the show with a large, respectful, enthusiastic audience. Respectful, because they're quiet enough that no dialogue is missed, but enthusiastic enough to burst into cheers when Pete gets punched out, and then punched out again—at which point I said, "Joan was right—everybody does want to take a pop at Pete Campbell." Watch the clip:

When Don was watching Megan's screen test, I whispered to Rich, "Do you need to leave the room crying?" Obviously, that scene was meant to remind us of Don's famous "Carousel" speech in the Season 1 finale, The Wheel, in which Don looks with love and longing at a slideshow of his family, including his then-wife Betty. Now he looks at his second wife, and his longing and love are again visible.

nullThis episode was filled with doubles and references, doublings back and reboots. Just as the screen test revisits the slideshow from the Season 1 finale, the meeting with Topaz Pantyhose revisits the finale of Season 4, Tomorrowland. In that episode, Peggy won the Topaz account, saving the then-desperate SCDP. Now, SCDP is in great shape, but they might lose Topaz because Peggy is no longer there. "We've never had problems with this client before," Ginsberg says, but they have to start from scratch. Ginsberg is also a double—for Peggy. He is Don's new whipping boy/protégé and junior genius.

Adam Whitman is a revisit, a "phantom" from the title, and Lane's suicide by hanging is the second such suicide of the series. Adam did it first, in Season 1, and Don is haunted by the memory. Phantoms are not just the ghosts of the dead, of course. As Megan's mother, Marie, so cruelly notes, they are the ghosts of our dreams as well. We believe there is a thing that will make us happy, but it is a phantom. When we grasp for it, it eludes us, as Beth eludes Pete. Pete's monologue to Beth is itself haunting, and too beautiful to leave unwatched:

There are three interwoven motifs in The Phantom, that of depression, that of restarting, and that of doubling. Obviously they connect to each other; Beth's cure for depression is a restart, a literal wiping out of her memories so she can start fresh without knowing what caused her pain last time, while Roger's cure for it (or for the fear it will come) is a doubling: He wants to do LSD a second time. Megan drinks wine at home during the day like Betty did, and Rebecca's remarkable, angry slap-down of Don and his check reminded me (and my sister) of Anna Draper's sister in Season 4, who called Don "just a man in a room with a check." Neither woman felt like Don's money gave him any right to access a family's private grief.

I pretty much told everyone that Matt Weiner inserted the James Bond references as a personal gift to me. That may not be accurate (it's fun to say, though), but we share our love of 007. There were two James Bond references in The Phantom–the movie Don and Peggy are seeing is Casino Royale (the comedy starring David Niven). 1967 was a year with two Bond movies, which kind of doubles down on the double identity theme. The second reference is the closing song: You Only Live Twice (considered by many to be the greatest Bond melody), which references doubling not only in the name but in the theme, which addresses rebirth after a faked death (Dick Whitman, anyone?).

So, everything reverts, returns, and wipes out. Everyone is in shock therapy. Partly, there's a lot of real human grief here. Roger wants to see Marie so he can find life again after death came so close. Don wants to give something to Rebecca that will make him feel some closure. Pete sees death everywhere he looks, and even though he verbally rejects suicide, the swimming pool he wanted suddenly looks like a drowning pool. Joan wants to know why, and, after prostituting herself to become a partner, she finds a way to believe she should have done so for Lane. Joan struggles in two ways to find value after what happened to Lane and to her: First, by proving herself as a partner, from her mannish suit to her assiduous assessment of numbers, and second, by believing, nonetheless, that her only value is sexual. The only way to have saved Lane, she thinks, would have been to sleep with him. Poor Joanie!

An awesome crew of two was at our Finale Party, filming people naming their favorite quotes and characters, as part of the DVD extras for Season 5. I had to say, much to my own surprise, that Joan Harris is my favorite. Her extraordinary vulnerability and need to please sits in such strange and beautiful contrast to her competence and brains. I never thought, in Season 1, that I would come to love her so.

So, tonight was a beautiful experience for me. An excellent episode, an exciting party among a hundred or more excited fans, and a whirlwind of emotions to chronicle. It was not, I have to say, exactly conducive to writing a careful episode review, since I took no notes and started writing a good forty minutes later than usual. I hope you'll forgive a slightly choppy review in exchange for sharing some of that experience with you. Tonight is also the wrap-up of my first season of writing for Press Play. It's been exhausting and gratifying, and I hope I'll be able to continue my contributions about Mad Men and possibly other media.

Some additional thoughts:

  • I had a dentist in the spire of the Chrysler Building, this is the truth, my hand to God.
  • Please don't ask me about two dogs fucking. I have no idea.
  • John Slattery has a much nicer ass than I would have anticipated. Also, I never imagined I'd have the chance to write that sentence.
  • Quote of the week is tough without my usual meticulous note-taking, so I'll go with "What is Regina?" because it's funny and a little smutty and I remember it (thanks again, Roger Sterling, who wins this and every season with the most quotes of the week).

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Watch Mad Men Moments, a series of videos on Mad Men, produced by Indiewire Press Play.

AUDIOVISUALCY – MAD MEN Redefined by Online Video: a Roundtable Chat

AUDIOVISUALCY – MAD MEN Redefined by Online Video: a Roundtable Chat

Part of Audiovisualcy, a column exploring the art and technique of the online video essay.

KEVIN B. LEE: Jim, your latest Mad Men video "The Other Woman & the Long Walk" (watch it above) really got my attention. On a design level, it seems pretty straightforward. Watching it, at first it seems like I'm just watching clips from the show, one after another. But very soon I realize that the video – and you, as its editor – are doing much more than this.

As one clip cuts to another, I feel a conversation beginning to emerge between them, which you are orchestrating. I start to feel like I am watching the show through another set of eyes. To do this without any explicit commentary, text, elaborate editing or effects, is remarkable.

In fact, I think it's because of this non-invasive approach that the viewer can have a special experience. It gives the viewer room to piece together the connections you are making without being told what they are. It's like playing a puzzle with one's eyes – a quality that distinguishes Mad Men from most other shows in that it leaves a lot of subtexts for the viewer to piece together on their own. Your video compresses and intensifies that experience.

Among the things I got from watching your video:

– I LOVE how it reorients the show around the women. One of my gripes with Mad Men for a while has been how it seemed at times to talk from both corners of its mouth, poking holes at the patriarchy while retaining its male-centric hold on the narrative (for all its rich female characters, it still often amounted to The Don Draper Show). Season Five has been a satisfying redress of this imbalance, with Don seeming to slip into the sidelines of a world spinning beyond his control, especially in regards to women – but watching your video is in some ways even better.

– How far the show has come from its first episode. That dialogue with Joan walking Peggy through the office from the series pilot is so expository; I don't think the writers would be caught dead being that on the nose today. Nor do they have to be – after five seasons so many layers of narrative and character subtext have accumulated, that even a simple moment like watching Don Draper teach a boy how to drive resonates on multiple levels and past episodes.

– I noticed how Joan addresses "Mr. Draper" in the pilot and realized how much her relationship with him and the other men in the office has evolved, just as much as Peggy's has. Their parallel trajectories are something you bring out vividly.

Anyway, your video got me thinking about the other videos you've made, as well as the series of videos Press Play produced at the start of the season by myself and Deborah Lipp, with a team of contributors – most notably Serena Bramble, who created "It's a Mad World," a dazzling tribute montage that understandably went viral. I thought the four of us could have a conversation about our experience making these videos and what they taught us about the show and about video essays. For now, over to you Deborah.

DEBORAH LIPP: Mad Men Moments (MMM) were the first video essays I worked on, and it was, for me, an exercise in using images to express verbal ideas, and using words to describe visual ideas. I'm a word person: My life has been spent as a writer. Working with Kevin I got to see how a visual person, someone who expresses himself through visual media, works. The thing I love about our MMM is that each approaches the subject matter very differently. "Season 1: The Carousel" was almost non-verbal, using only words from the episode. "Season 2: The Sad Clown Dress" was about images, but essentially used images to talk about something that could easily have been written. "Season 3: The Lawnmower" illustrated a remarkable written essay, and "Season 4: The Fight" was essentially a dialogue between subtext and image.

So the thing that leaps out at me in your essays, Jim, is the lack of words. You're communicating entirely through visuals. In fact, the essay titles tend to be the only thing that tells, in words, what your essays are about. Yet they're still easy to "read" and they say a lot about the topic.

I almost wish "The Long Walk" had been more strictly chronological, because I cannot get enough of the narrative arc of Peggy's remarkable changes from pony-tail wearing Brooklyn secretary all the way to copy chief at Cutler, Gleason & Chaough. I disagree with Kevin that the series gives lip service to the women. I think Season 4, if anything, was the most powerful in regard to women's issues, and I think "The Beautiful Girls" is one of the standout episodes of five seasons of Mad Men.

So, my question is about how you approach the material visually. How you select images and decide on a topic inside a non-verbal framework. I'd like to ask that same question to you, Serena. How pre-designed and how intuitive was your process in assembling clips from all the seasons? Whatever the case, it worked!

JIM EMERSON: First, thanks for your comments and for inviting me to participate in this discussion. I'm with you, Deborah, about the women on the show — in 2010 (after the Slattery-directed "The Rejected," which ended with the exchange of looks between Peggy and Pete through the SCDP glass lobby doors), I referred to "Mad Men" as "The Peggy Olson Show Featuring Don Draper" — and the four MM video essays I've done for seasons 4 and 5 ("Modern Compartments," "Beautiful Girls [and Mad Men]: Ghosts of the 37th Floor," "The Ladies in the Boxes," "The Other Women") have all focused on the women, because I think they're the most fascinating, complex and deeply mysterious characters on the show: Peggy, Joan and Megan, of course, but also Sally (the heart and soul of Season 4, in my opinion) and Betty.

And thank you, Deborah and Roberta and Kevin, for "The Sad Clown Dress," one of the most insightful and moving pieces I've seen about Betty. (I'd love to do a piece devoted entirely to the fainting couch…) BTW, I've never understood the criticism of January Jones in this role; whenever she comes across as wooden or phony or robotic it's because that's the way Betty often is! Like when she spews talking points she's learned at Weight Watchers, or talks to Sally about her period. Betty's not a bad person in these scenes, and Jones is not a bad actress. Betty just, fundamentally, lacks empathy — almost as if she's emotionally autistic. She has no idea who she is, and she's not comfortable in her own skin, so she goes on auto-pilot a lot, and you capture that in "The Sad Clown Dress." (Poor Betty is so clueless about other people that she just latches on to the suspicions saboteur Jimmy Barrett implants in her head, without really understanding why. But my theory all along has been that she sensed her husband was not who he said he was, but she can't explain why, and that pretty much drives her insane. Don's deceptions make her borderline schizophrenic.)

The first video essay I ever did (called "close up" was in 2007 for the House Next Door "Close-Up Blogathon" and it was images and music (and a lot of sound mixing) without any titles or dialog or narration, mainly because I did it over the weekend and had to teach myself to use iMovie at the same time. So, I had to keep it fairly simple (even though there are multiple layers of sound under the images). It was just a stream-of-consciousness thing, as most of mine are. My intention, as Kevin points out, is to convey what was going through my head — memories, motifs — while I was watching the episode/movie. Critical writing has to be both descriptive and analytical, and what I love most about video is its ability to create new contexts for the patterns I notice, using pieces of the original itself.

So, briefly (I hope), the idea for "The Long Walk" began with a desire to shuffle between the key conversations in "The Other Woman," because they are all strikingly similar, and all about the women declaring "no negotiation." So, I started with the two exchanges between Joan and Pete (in her office, then in his), the "Little Murders" flare-up between Don and Megan in their bedroom, and the final talk between Don and Peggy. Then it seemed they could be made to reverberate a little more by including Lane and Joan in her office, Peggy and Ted Chaough at the diner, and Don and Joan in Joan's apartment.

The way Peggy went in to collect her stuff (notice the three pieces of technology in the corner of her office: the typewriter, the phone, the speaker box — same as the "technology even women could use") reminded me of Joan's "orientation" in Episode 1, when Peggy first carried a box of stuff into the original Sterling-Cooper offices. And then it grew from there. The first thing I thought of was the sound of high heels on linoleum, because it seemed to me that the whole episode centered on the idea of Peggy walking away, so I searched around for the sound I wanted (bought it for five bucks from an online sound effects place) and layered it under the existing sound at the beginning and the end. I wanted to use it in a disembodied way, like the sound of the ringing phone at the beginning of "Once Upon a Time in America," combined with the dislocated walking scenes interspersed throughout "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie." Anyway, that's where the idea came from, I think!

(Just now, as I was writing this, I got a comment from somebody on Vimeo saying he would never have made the connection between Joan's "men love scarves" in S01E01 and Peggy's scarf in her meeting with Ted Chaough in S05E11 if he hadn't seen "The Long Walk." That's the kind of thing you hope to accomplish with these pieces!)

The elevator stuff at the end seemed natural, but I wanted those last two false endings to echo the repeat of Don's visit to Joan's apartment in the episode itself. Also like "Discreet Charm" (in which people wake from dreams into other dreams), Peggy breaks the spell of the final shot of "The Beautiful Girls" by pushing the elevator button again, and then Don interrupts "You Really Got Me" by pushing the same button… and then peering into the empty elevator shaft. For me, that's the void Peggy's leaving behind. Then there's "She's a Lady," which I started singing after I'd finished dancing around the room (with tears in my eyes) after "You Really Got Me," the first time I saw the episode. It's anachronistic (1971), but I didn't start it until the end credits. I considered doing a music video for the song using images of Peggy, Joan and Megan from this episode (lyrics by Paul "My Way"/"Having My Baby" Anka; lead guitar by Jimmy Page!).

Serena, "It's a Mad World" is absolutely beautiful and haunting — a dazzling example of my personal-favorite kind of video "essay" (sans narration). I love the way it's thematically organized into sections/songs on various subjects: the city, "Who is Don Draper?," advertising, booze and smokes, "What do women want?"… Can you tell us a little about how you went about organizing and putting all this together?

SERENA BRAMBLE: Well, luckily I was already a big fan of Mad Men before I created the montage, so I already had a grasp on the myriad of themes Weiner and co. spin in the series, but doing the montage I scraped just an inch more underneath the surface of who Don Draper is–or rather, the conflict between the man Don wants to be (which to me birthed his rush engagement to Megan and seems to be haunting him into their marriage), the very imperfect man, husband and father he really is, the image of perfect masculinity he sells with the same soothing reassurance as he sells products that people do not need, and above all, the man he is running away from, Dick Whitman. That is the heart of Mad Men: the secrets that pain us versus the lies we tell ourselves to keep face. Five seasons in, we are no closer to truly understanding who Don Draper really is, because he himself doesn't even know how to answer that question. I don't know if this is true or not, but I've heard a rumor that in every single episode, there is a line of dialogue that is a variation on the line, "What do you want me to say?" I really, really wanted to include a clip of Don saying that to Betty in "The Inheritance" (the episode where Gene is conceived in a moment of desperation), because it encapsulates the heart of that: that the Don Draper persona is a projection of what Dick Whitman thinks people want him to be: the debonair professional, the loving husband and father, the man who says what you need him to say. Essentially, the man who can be whatever we want him to be–the man who is whatever room he walks into, according to Bert.

I knew that I wanted to construct my montage so it would start on the surface–establishing the setting, time and place because it's so different from what we understand from modern times, yet as Rachel says, is the place too perfect to be true, and then work my way inward as best as I could. I was also influenced by the opening of Midnight in Paris with my opening montage, so I found public domain footage of Greenwitch Village from the late 60s, as a way of showing life as it really was, then cross-fading to the old New York of Mad Men, the place too good to be true, and the secondary characters trying to pinpoint Don, to no avail. Of course another major facet of Don's life is his work–in the season 4 opener and later in "The Suitcase," he uses his work as a shield for his crumbling personal life, so I segued into a work montage since most of the series' best moments take place at the office. I feel it's impossible to talk about Mad Men without mentioning the drinking, which is frequently covered up with a sly, Nick-and-Nora-like playfulness and slightness, and I also didn't want my montage to get too heavy with existentialism, so it was a fun part to put together.

I feel inferior talking about this when Jim did such a lovely, perceptive job at depicting the same theme in his essay "The Other Woman & The Long Walk," but I also felt it was important to at least note the treatment of women on the show in my montage–namely, how men perceive them, and what they're actually going through. The pitch of Belle Jolie lipstick as a woman "marking her man" is comically ironic, first for the way Don weaves female territorialism into something romantic (Peggy does the same thing later with the ham publicity stunt in Season 4), and secondly because it's impossible to believe that anybody in the real world would find lipstick on a man's cheek as anything other than a nuisance.

Betty Draper gets a lot of hate on the show, but I don't see her role as an initially vacant housewife a detraction from the series; after all, like Newton's law of motion, if you believe there is a girl like Peggy who is so progressive she eventually becomes Don's professional equal, you have to believe there is an equal and opposite reaction–in this case, a woman who remains stuck in the past of traditional values. And it's too easy to forget Betty's past, her love/hate relationship with her mother that also seeps into her relationship with her own daughter Sally, though I imagine the generational gap of the 60s will drive a deeper wedge into their relationship. The mother who wanted her daughter to be beautiful "so I could find a man," only to denounce Betty's modeling career by calling her a prostitute–in retrospect, Betty's current weight problems were hinted at in season 1, with Betty telling her therapist, "My mother was very concerned about looks and weight. And I've always eaten a lot. And I like hot dogs. My mother used to say, 'You're going to get stout.'" Which begs the question: Is Betty's current dramatic weight gain a side effect of another unsatisfying marriage, or a form of freedom from her mother's restrictions just as Sally's friendship with Glen is from Betty's curtailment? Finally, is it really fair to blame Betty when all her life the only value placed on her was her beauty, and then she had the bad luck to fall in love with a man who personifies whatever people want him to say?

Don can sleep with as many women as he wants–13, according to James Lipton–but the most healthy relationship he will ever have with a woman is his deep professional and personal friendship with Peggy, who has had the most growth on the show than any other character, from the girl who didn't know how to say no to her male co-worker's gaze to the only woman to truly stand up to Don. Their argument in "The Suitcase", wonderfully broken down in Kevin and Deborah's video essay, encapsulates their differences, yes, but also how comfortable they are with each other that they *can* shout at each other as a way of communicating. I felt it was a perfect way to segue from the women's issues to the existential gaze on the ruins of one's life that Frank O'Hara's poem Mayakovsky. I knew I wanted to use it because it so beautifully states the thing Don is always trying to do, which he nearly accomplishes in season 4: to find himself, or at least the honest, better man he aspires to be. Season 4 is so much about Don's rebirth from the ashes of "the catastrophe of my personality," yet self-defeat is inevitable, and maybe another reason why Don's controversial decision to marry Megan instead of Faye makes so much sense, if only from a screenwriter's standpoint: Once Don finds happiness and realizes who Don Draper actually is, the show will no longer have a purpose.

Because of my previous love for the show, the montage was exceptionally easy to make–once I had all the clips imported, it took me about 5-6 days to create an 8-minute rough cut, which repeated itself on a True Blood montage I'm currently working on. Whenever I do a montage, the first thing I do is look for the perfect music, because once you have the right music, everything will write itself and the wheels will turn so easily. (This is a good lesson that is being lost in the conversion from film to digital movie-making: always have a pre-production outline instead of winging it; editing is indeed a process of trial and error, but even that process is greatly aided by a map). There are still things I wish I could have included, clips I should have changed up, and even weeks after the fact I recently went back to delete a cross-dissolve. But the greatest gift, and in some ways the greatest curse the montage gave me is the realization that Mad Men is the greatest show on television right now, to which nothing can compare. It personifies patience, showing not telling, and audience gratification. It is not a show designed for the narrative cliffhanger hooks shows like Lost or Christopher Nolan movies have conditioned us to expect. It fills the screen with so much information that even on numerous re-watches, there are still subtle jokes to be discovered in the background of a shot. It's the patience of the audience that is rewarded handsomely by Weiner's utter trust in us to discover the breadcrumbs he leaves for us. People complain that nothing much happens on Mad Men. Everything happens–it's just up to the audience to discover the changes better than the characters themselves realize.

JIM EMERSON: Kevin, your piece on "The Carousel" (I used only one little snippet from Don's Kodak presentation leading into a similar line from his Jaguar presentation) is exquisite, with bizarre Lynchian moments, as well. I would never have put the maypole together with the carousel (and other circular motifs) without having seen this. (I wish I'd used something from "The Carousel" when I used the merry-go-round-like loop I made from "I've Got You Babe" — final song in "Tomorrowland" — in "The Ladies and the Boxes.") A lot of narrated video essays strike me as simply written pieces with audio-visual accompaniment; there's very little meaningful give-and-take between the images and the commentary. It's like the images are just there to give somebody the opportunity to talk over them. And in "The Carousel," you were working with a pre-existing written essay, and yet you integrated it with the images perfectly. Can you talk about how you approached composing this one?

KEVIN B. LEE: Jim, whatever the circumstances that necessitated it, it's remarkable that you caught on to a non-narration oriented approach to video essays right out of the gate. Same with Serena, who's always been skillful at speaking through montage. It took me years to catch on, and now it's what I am most interested in exploring: to have a film comment on itself rather than rely on the more conventional mediators of voice and text. What I like about this approach is that it isn't as locked into one particular meaning as what you typically find with a narrated commentary. There's more room for the viewer to engage with the footage and extract multiple insights.

"The Carousel" video was a major opportunity to shift my approach. Tommaso Toci wrote a great piece on the Carousel scene that was to serve as the video script, but as I tried to adapt it I had trouble visualizing how the narration would flow with the scene. I kept playing the scene over and over trying to figure it out. And then it dawned on me that the scene itself provided the perfect structure: Don Draper selling us an idealized version of his life, from one perfect image and sentiment to the next, just asking to be torn into given everything to the contrary that we've witnessed of him. The clicking of the slidewheel and the momentary lapses of darkness between images suggest holes in his projection of perfection, so I thought: why not make those holes the portals into the dark reality under the projected surface? The clicking sound also reminded me of a soldier stepping on a landmine, bringing the war flashback scene to mind, which of course is the "big bang" event that gave birth to "Don Draper." 

From there it was just a matter of going through every episode of the first four seasons, gathering all the memorable scenes, images and bits of dialogue around Don, and weaving them together around motifs and patterns. I'd recently seen a cool video by Gina Telaroli that does a lot with superimpositions and slow motion, so I played with those techniques, which kind of give a David Lynch quality to the footage, especially the domestic suburbia scenes. The slow motion also has a doting, fetishistic quality to it, slowing images down as if trying to get at their essence.

With Season Five mostly in the can, I have to say that this video works out with Season Four as the endpoint. The proposal scene to Megan from the Season Four finale really brings it full circle with the final image from Don and Betty's wedding in the slide show.

As I mentioned before, I've long held reservations about the degree of centrality Don has in the world of Mad Men, when the women characters are as richly developed but have gotten significantly less screen time. So it's ironic that the most intense and time-consuming video I did for the Mad Men series was on the guy I felt was already overexposed. At the same time I loved the challenge of trying to piece together a coherent picture of who Don Draper is. Working with all the available footage was like playing with the biggest puzzle set of any of the Mad Men characters. Though perhaps with a piece left missing by the show. As Serena says, even Don Draper doesn't know who he is, but of course we keep trying to figure him out. And the finely crafted surfaces, images and lines have everything to do with our being seduced as viewers – in a sense the video is as much about those elements as it is about Don.

JIM EMERSON: Kevin: Yes! It's that idea of getting inside the work itself, and inside your own experience with it, that I find so exciting about this approach, too. And Mad Men is ideal for it because it's so rich and layered. Most shows have a "bible" with all the details about the stories and characters in one place so the writers can consult it. I wonder what form the Mad Men bible is in. Do they have cross-referenced video clips with certain spoken and visual motifs (boxes, hands, doors, hats, etc.)? Tom & Lorenzo (a site I learned that Deborah is familiar with, though I just discovered it a few days ago) noticed that the fur coat Joan wears to her assignation with Herb is the very one Roger gave her back in 1954:

the one that caused her to coo “When I wear it, I’ll always remember the night I got it.” Well, fuck you, Roger Sterling. That’s EXACTLY what this outfit is saying. “You ruined what we had by letting me do this, so I’m ruining what you gave me.” We’d be surprised if she ever wore it again. It’s one of those beautiful costuming moments that takes a sad, horrifying scene and makes it even more so once you realize what she’s wearing.

That's the level of resonant emotional and thematic detail on which this show operates. It repays the closest readings we can give it. I'm also glad to hear that, for you and Deborah and Serena, your process may by necessity be somewhat systematic (so much to keep track of!), but the creative aspect is more instinctual. I love diving in with a few ideas and then seeing where the show takes me.

nullI'd like to return to one thing Kevin mentioned earlier, about Joan's famous "orientation tour" for Peggy — which is also our introduction to the world of Sterling Cooper and "Mad Men." The series has been criticized from the beginning for trying to score modern feminist points by overplaying the sexism, but I don't see it that way at all. What may seem "over the top" to 21st century sensibilities was just taken for granted in the 1950s and 1960s. When Joan says, "Don't be intimidated by all this technology. The men who designed it made it so simple that even a woman can use it," she's echoing any number of popular advertising campaigns from the '40s and '50s. This kind of thinking (in the era when "women drivers" were routinely ridiculed on television, for example) was so common that it spawned parody ad campaigns — including the recent one for a British oven cleaning product, Oven Pride," that was accused of reverse-sexism: "So easy, even a man can do it." And by 1968, Virginia Slims cigarettes were marketed to women with the slogan: "You've come a long way, baby" — which, in some ways, is just as condescending as "even a woman can do it."

But about Peggy in the first season: Deborah is quite perceptive about her response to the post-party garbage in the office, and we've seen how she's grown, gained confidence, loosened up (especially in Season 4, when she broadened her social circle to include Village pals like Joyce and Abe). She was so eerie (Elisabeth Moss has talked about how deeply strange Peggy was at first, which is what she found so compelling about the role) that I actually wondered if maybe she was mentally ill when we first met her. Maybe the show should really be called "Mad Women" — because the men tend to drive them mad, one way or another.) She was almost zombie-like at times (not unlike Betty). And that added to the suspense when she put her trembling hand on Don's after her first day. Look at her eyes, unfocused and blank. Now we know that she was terrified, unsure of who she was and what was expected of her, and she did wind up institutionalized for a while. And I've always loved that about Peggy. You can never be entirely sure you're reading her correctly or completely, because there's such a gap between how she sees herself and how others see her and how she presents herself. Which makes her the perfect counterpoint to both Betty and Don. None of them are who they seem, but for different reasons.

Serena: Your extensive knowledge and grasp of the show are absolutely evident in your work. I hadn't heard that about "What do you want me to say?" but I think you get to the heart of it. I found an interview with Matthew Weiner on the AMC web site, and he said:

A: Well, when Don says, "What do you want to hear?" or "What do you want me to say?", that's on purpose. I feel like that's the ultimate thing for Don to say. But Peggy saying "Maybe this is my time" is the kind of line that should only happen once. Q: Why is that the ultimate Don line? A: Because he's being kind, but still being honest. I think it's a great way of dissolving a conflict in a powerful way. He's basically maintaining control, but at the same time submitting.

As you say, so much of the show centers around the differences between the internal person and the external person. It's all about what we now call "spin" — which is essentially what advertising is, too. And everything is a performance, from your job to your most intimate relationships to your clothes and your apartment. The integrity and authenticity of the performance varies from situation to situation, moment to moment, but there's always a (self-)awareness that it is a performance. As Weiner said in the same interview, he thinks Don is basically a "good person" (whatever that means), and echoes what Megan told him in bed in "Tomorrowland": "I feel like the theme of the show, when it's over, is that it's hard to be a person. You should try to be a good person, but you will fail, all of the time."

Now that two of the major characters are gone (one obviously for good), I really hope the series will develop Dawn more fully. You recall that Season 5 was delayed because of costs, and there was talk about cutting some prominent characters to keep costs down (good god, who's next? Ken? Pete?), but it seems downright odd that they've done so little with Dawn. In some cases they actually seem to be shooting around her. You know where she sits, but they don't show her. Surely the actress Teyonah Parris is not that expensive! The scene in Peggy's apartment was perfectly played (with Peggy hesitating over her purse just long enough to realize how it must look to Dawn; and Dawn, who'd been sleeping in the office, noticing Peggy's awkward hesitation) — and there's got to be somewhere to go with that. MLK was killed in 1968, so maybe the show will use that, as it used the Cuban Missile Crisis and the deaths of JFK and Marilyn Monroe. I think Dawn has great possibilities…

Jim Emerson is the founding editor-in-chief of and runs the Scanners blog.

Serena Bramble is a film editor currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Teledramatic Arts and Technology from Cal State Monterey Bay. In addition to editing, she also writes on her blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog and contributor to Roger Follow him on Twitter.