April 2, 2014

Why Mad Men is the Most Spiritual Show on Television.

mad men

As I shared, April is my favorite month for several reasons. It also happens to be the month that AMC’s Mad Men returns to the screen for its final season.

I make no bones that I am a die-hard Mad Men fan. Indeed, it’s the only series that I regularly watch. (I’m ashamed to admit that I only started watching that other acclaimed series that everyone loved, Breaking Bad, after it went off the air.)

I didn’t begin my love affair with Don Draper and Co. until the show was well into its third series. I started watching the series from the beginning weeks after the birth of my daughter. Like many new parents, I was feeling overwhelmed and wondering just what in the hell my life and life in general was all about. Mad Men was just what I needed even though I did not know it at the time.

While I love the costumes, writing and intriguing story lines, there is another huge reason why I am such a fan. Simply put, Mad Men is one of the most spiritual shows that I have ever encountered.

It serves its spirituality in a subtle way: it’s never preachy or overt.

Below are four recurring spiritual lessons from Mad Men. (Warning: For those that are new to the series or haven’t caught up on all the seasons, the following contain major plot spoilers.)

1. Money and material success does not buy happiness.

In the pilot episode it is clear that Don Draper has made it in the business world. He isn’t just good at advertising, he’s a freakin’ genius. However, Don is not happy. Despite having the “perfect” job, the “perfect” home, and the “perfect” family, he could be the inspiration for T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.”

He is hardly alone there. Many of the characters including Don’s first wife, Betty and his wise-cracking business partner, Roger, are not happy despite the fact that they appear to the outside world to have it all.

While these characters certainly enjoy all the trappings of the good life, it’s clear that stuff alone cannot make us happy or at least not in the long-term.

It’s probably not a coincidence that one of the few characters who seems to be genuinely happy, Ken Cosgrove, is not only married to someone he truly loves by also has a creative outlet as a writer. Clearly, there needs to be more to life than just money and success.

2. We cannot run away from who we are.

Don took the hand that he was dealt in life and traded it in for a new one. How else could the dirt-poor farm boy formerly known as Dick Whitman become the suave Madison Avenue ad executive known as Don Draper? However, as we learn throughout the series, Don never really escapes his past.

Pesky problems aside—including the reappearance of his long-lost brother and the fact that a younger, ambitious co-worker has discovered his secret—Don never really stops being Dick. He may not wish to admit it, but until he can come to terms with who he really is, he cannot be truly happy or truly move forward.

Plus, as last year’s Season 6 showed in that infamous meeting where he reveals to would-be clients and his co-workers, that he spent his teenaged years living in a brothel, it’s quiet tiresome to live a fantasy and keep track of all various lies that go into the makings of it.

This ties into number three.

3. If we want to break old patterns, we have to do the work. It isn’t enough just to change the scenery or characters in our lives.

When Don married Megan, many viewers asked if Don was going to turn over a new leaf or if he was going to cheat on her like he did when he was married to Betty. Season 6 answered that question in the first episode where we learn that Don is having an affair with the neighbor’s wife.

While some asked why Don would cheat on his beautiful new wife, it was clear to me that Don’s serial philandering was never about the women in his life. Rather, it was always about him and his intimacy issues. Until those are addressed, any woman he is involved with is probably going to find herself in the same boat.

Speaking of change, this brings me to the last and most important spiritual lesson of the show.

4. Change happens. It is the only thing we can ever be sure of.

While Don has certainly undergone a lot of changes, he is far from alone. All the characters have undergone significant change including his former secretary/protegee, Peggy Olsen, who is now a copywriter and making her way in a predominantly male world.

In fact, creator Matthew Weiner once said in an interview that the show was as much about Peggy’s journey as it was Don’s. While Weiner is as notoriously tight-lipped about this season as he has been about previous ones, it would not surprise me if the series ends on a note with the understanding that the characters will continue to change well after they exit the TV screen.

In closing, I am looking forward to the final season of Mad Men, even though I know that I am going to miss it well after the final episode ends.

While the characters might be fictional, the lessons of the show are anything but. Hopefully, those will stick around long after the show takes its place in the annals of TV history.

(Note: The first half of Mad Men’s series finale will begin Sunday, April 13th.)


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Flickr

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