Monthly Archives: June 2015

Game of Thrones Season 5 Recap: A Mother’s Mercy

by Mike Visconti:

***The following is a recap of the Game of Thrones Season 5 Finale, A Mother’s Mercy. Spoilers ahead, read at your own caution***

I don’t know who I’m more upset at right now. The showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the creator of Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin or myself. We have known since season 1, when Ned Stark, the most honorable man in the realm, had his head chopped off by Joffrey Baratheon, that there is no happy endings in Thrones………ever. There is no one good heroic character in this series that we can root for. I am torn between directing my feelings of anger and resentment towards the people in charge of bringing this enthralling world to life on both words and the small TV screen, or myself for still being naïve enough to care about a heroic character to triumph all this evil being depicted in Thrones. The latest season of Game of Thrones left us with the likely winner of all of season 5, Jon Snow, former bastard of Winterfell, youngest Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and the best leader west of the Narrow Sea, to die by the hands of his own brothers. He was the best chance that we as an audience had to pull for. He made the tough decisions, he grew on us, episode by episode he showed us that there was hope for the North. For Westeros. For the entire Realm that will soon know of the unstoppable force that is slowly marching south. Winter is coming and the Night’s King will not stop or bow to no one. This series has shown us time and again, do not get attached to anyone. As Arya stark said in season 2, anyone can be killed. As the slogan of the show tells us, “Valar Morghulis”. All men must die.

This is a finale recap, so I will get onto the other plot lines, as they deserve much consideration. With a season that started very slowly, think the 2014 New England Patriots, it ramped up very much so in its final four episodes. I for one have been salivating for the crescendoing of story arcs to come to a head. We saw the episode open up to what we all thought, Stannis Baratheon’s hired guns had lost all faith and respect for him after he burned his daughter alive at the stake last week in hopes of boosting his chances in assuring a victory at Winterfell. Stannis quickly realized that his faith in Melisandre and the Lord of Light was downright foolish. His sell-swords fled, his queen of dark magic did the same. In the end, he was all alone; no Davos, no army, no family. He had lost everything that he put faith into. His decision to continue the march on Winterfell was as ill-fated as the one to leave Castle Black. It was a suicide mission and he knew it. But better to die fighting with honor than to be known as the king who retreats. But after last week, he had lost all honor and he knew it. So when Breanne of Tarth ran into him just outside Winterfell, he welcomed it, a death that he knew he deserved because he had nothing left for him in this life.

Next we see Ser Meryn Trant, the kingsguard who stuck down Syrio Forel, Ayra’s first combat teacher and one of the few left on her list that she must kill. He was in the middle of his disgusting act in a Braavosi brothel when it was revealed that Arya was one of the underage prostitutes in his room. She exacted her revenge in gory fashion, stabbing both eyes and repeatedly stabbing Trant just enough to wallow with satisfaction in his slow and painful death. Arya then returned to the House of Black and White where her thievery of a faceless-mask was discovered. She was then shown a lesson about lying to the Many-Faced-God. We had thought that her master had poisoned himself, only to find out it was just a face, and another face and another till Arya saw her own face lying there dead. I was a little confused about this scene and its meaning but it is safe to say that when Arya began to lose her sight, it seems permanent and her course as a many-faced assailant has begun. She now is no one and will have to be everyone.

After Daenerys had absconded with Drogon at the end of last week’s episode, the Meereen throne was left with her council to ponder the next move. Both Darrio and Jorah decided to pursue a mission to find their departed queen. Tyrion was left behind to manage what was left of a city on the brink of civil war. Even though he wished to join their mission, Tyrion was best suited for the job because of his experience as Hand of the King in Westeros. Peter Dinklage as always, left us with some humorous one-liners about his contribution in joining both Jorah and Darrio but the dwarf had to settle for the second best choice, despite his great skill of enamoring conversation and said drinking prowess. We see season six set up for a bro-adventure with two men who have fallen under Khaleesi’s spell. One only wonders when they start getting into the finer details of their relationship with the queen, can’t wait! Meanwhile, the Master of Whisperers, Varys, has found his way to Meereen. In a tongue and cheek exchange, Tyrion and Varys now know what the hierarchy of Meereen will be for the short-term future. And thank god, the more interaction that Tyrion and his said, “most trusted advisor” have going forward, the better. But what will become of Daeny in season six? Well she runs into the former ex-boyfriend, the Dothraki, while trying to find dinner for her and her favorite child. We see her ditch the ring of her short-lived second marriage. Will the Dothraki still honor her as their Khaleesi? Will she have to forge another marriage to gain another army? Will Dorgon come to her rescue again? I don’t know, but at least she is out of Meereen……for now.

This episode was titled, “A Mother’s Mercy”. With Cersei at the mercy of her own creation, these same words have been muttered throughout the final episodes, her freedom was dependent on her confession. And we witnessed it. And then we saw the measures of atonement that the High Sparrow and more importantly, the Gods demand. Complete humiliation. It wasn’t enough to cut her hair, which in these times, was a status symbol. They had her stripped of all clothing and made her march the streets of King’s Landing naked all the way to the Red Keep. And for some reason, King Tommen is nowhere to be found. His wife is imprisoned, his mother was too and now her humiliation must be made public and he has nothing to say? I mean his stupid little cat, Ser Pounce can only demand so many hours of the day right? For as a reviled character as Cersei has been through the duration of the show, even the most harden of hearts had to feel for her. In many ways her degradation in public harkened feelings of Jesus Christ’s own journey of the cross. And I’m not trying to compare the two, but it did make me think of it when we saw her bloody feet, the public unrest and she fell to one knee during the laborious journey. I must give her credit though, she weathered the most public of any humiliation she could’ve ever dreamt of and made it to the Red Keep. Perhaps it was the love of seeing her child again that gave her strength. Perhaps it was a tolerable punishment to endure, all the while plotting revenge on the people who wronged her. And we see that that the latter is likely the ensuing outcome. Raised from the dead is Ser Gregor Clegane, the Mountain, who recovered from Oberyn’s Dornish poison (although it looks like Myrcella was not as fortunate). The Zombie-Mountain will take revenge on all the wrongs that the queen regent had to endure. It was a good run Faith Militant.

Earlier in the finale we saw Jon Snow talk to his best friend and confidant Sam about the massacre that he and his men suffered at the hands of the Night’s King and his army of dead at Hardhome. Sam expressed his desire to go to the Citadel to learn the ways of becoming a maester. It was a truthful exchange for the two brothers of the Nights Watch. And although I did not foresee what was coming, I knew that as Jon saw Sam ride off, it would be the last time the two would ever see each other. The final scene showed Jon being summoned to inquire about the whereabouts of his long since missing Watch brother and relative, Benjen Stark. In the words of Stars Wars, it was a trap. Jon came upon a cross that read traitor. His fate was sealed. Ser Alliser Throne, Jon nemesis throughout his time at Castle Black, shoved a knife into the Lord Commander’s stomach. And the remaining brothers of the Nights Watch followed suit. All to be capped off by Olly, the peasant boy who felt betrayed of Jon’s allegiance with the Wildlings. I was floored. This couldn’t be. If this season has been about anything, it has been about Jon. He became the youngest Lord Commander ever, besting out elder favorite Ser Alliser. He was innovative and brave in his attempt to join forces with the Wildlings for the greater good, even if it meant marching to sure death at Hardhome. He was every bit of Ned Stark, even though he bore the name of a bastard. He and Daenerys were perhaps the realm’s last chance at being the leaders worthy of the title. But now he lays on the frost filled ground, bleeding out, just as the chances of the Nights Watch, the North and the realm bleed out with the coming of winter and the long night.

I asked in the beginning of this post who I should be mad at for the demise of Jon Snow. I blame myself. As a consumer of Game of Thrones for five years now, I should know better. I should know better than to expect a rosy outcome. It’s too easy, too convenient. If George R.R. Martin has shown us anything, it is that his world is as cold and unforgiving as the North itself. Ned Stark, the Red Wedding, Oberyn and now Jon Snow. The people you yearn to root for, become attached to, never last. It is a world where Ramsey Bolten and Walder Frey still thrive but the heroes that are glorified and revered in the songs and fables of lore never have their day. Any good that you want to triumph is always snuffed out by the ones who hold the most power. I had visions of Jon becoming the lone surviving male Stark who would restore order in the North. Who would let his bravery and honor be his guide to uniting the entire Realm in a battle against the greatest threat to humanity in a generation. He saw firsthand the helplessness of his men against the Night’s King. Say what you want about the trials of Cersei and the Lannister name, the Bolten’s stronghold on Winterfell or Daenerys budding dynasty in the East. All that pales in comparison to what is coming. Will Ser Alliser honor the pact Jon made with the Wildlings? Someone is sure to tell him of the horror they experienced at Hardhome right? Will Daenerys and Tyrion cross the Narrow Sea to lay siege on King’s Landing? Does it even matter anymore? With Jon now gone, the Stark name is all but wiped off the map, only to be read about in the Citadel books like the great dynasty of Valyria. What I do know is this, “Valar Morghulis”, all men must die. And with Jon dead, the North’s and the Realm best chance just died with him.

Did ESPN Just Let Michael Jordan Leave?

By Mike Visconti-

No, Michael Jordan did not really leave the four letter sports network. Michael Jordan has been retired for over 10 years. But in the legend’s heyday, he changed the landscape of his profession irrevocably. His Airness left a legacy that will probably never be matched. His contributions to his craft have had a lasting impact that has helped pave the way for many of the people that came after Jordan. So what does this have to do with ESPN you ask? Just last month we learned that ESPN will not renew the most influential personality in sports media today, Bill Simmons. Michael Jordan, Bill Simmons? Why do I even dare to compare the two? Because what Simmons has done for the sports media landscape in the last 10 years was revolutionary and his talents and audience will not be easily replaced when his contract runs out in September of this year. Bill Simmons is a titan of the sports journalism medium, and due to ESPN’s decision, he’s about to become a free agent.

To fully realize what Simmons has brought to ESPN, we must go back to his early days, his beginnings. Simmons was an everyday sports blogger in the late 1990s, when the internet was in its infant stage. Sports blogging online was just an after-thought, print sports journalism was still king. Although no one could predict the precipitous fall of that medium, Simmons was ahead of the curve as he made a name for himself, The Boston Sports Guy. His articles gained more and more notoriety, people started to create a buzz, corporations took notice, ESPN was intrigued. They brought Simmons on board in the early 2000s as a freelance contributor to be on their Page 2 site. Bill Simmons had a style that no one in the sports journalism landscape had seen before. He mixed humor and exaggeration seamlessly with passionate commentary on the hot sports topics of the day. Throw in a healthy dash of popular culture references and Simmons was a trailblazer in sports media circle in no time.

Eventually ESPN offered Simmons a contract and the Boston native relocated to Los Angeles. He wasn’t just a one trick pony either, in the early 2000s he also was a writer for his good friend, Jimmy Kimmel, and his budding late night TV show. Simmons eventually turned his full attention to ESPN and his sports journalism craft. He became a New York Times best-selling author with his book about the 2004 Red Sox, Now I Can Die In Peace . Now just being an author and a successful online sports columnist was nothing ground breaking. But his ever growing audience was, Simmons sports personality gained steamed every year. In the mid to late 2000s, his reach expanded more than ever. With the information age growing at an astounding rate, ESPN and their Sports Guy capitalized on the future of sports journalism. Podcasts. The BS Report was started in 2007, and now you could put a voice to words on a screen. His lists of guests included a whos who in the sports/pop culture medium. No one was out of Simmons reach. He brought in experts from the NFL (Mike Lombardi), NBA legends (Larry Bird) and the best of Hollywood (Jon Hamm). He reached the pinnacle when he interviewed President Barrack Obama where the two men discussed a variety of topics from Jeremy Lin to the pressure of throwing out the first pitch. For all the exposure that both Simmons and ESPN had gotten so far, he wasn’t done. His star was sky-rocketing.

So why is Bill Simmons such a huge loss for ESPN? The four letter network can replace any sports personality right? Simmons greatest achievements to this date include the universally acclaimed ESPN sports documentary 30 for 30, for which Simmons served as the executive producer. For anyone who has experienced the depth of sports storytelling whose impact reached to all levels of society over the last 30 years, can attest that it truly is a once-in-a-generation type of endeavor. You had film-makers combining with athletes and entertainers to share their experiences; from the society-shaking news of Magic Johnson’s diagnosis of HIV and the somber and sober look of drug addiction in “Unguarded”, to the legend of Bo Jackson in “Bo Knows”. 30 for 30 gave us a sports documentary series that was unrivaled in any arena. It went on to be nominated for a 2011 Emmy, Outstanding Nonfiction Series. It also garnered another four industry awards for the show. Simmons was a giant by now, and everybody at ESPN knew it. Colin Cowherd, a radio/tv host for the network, once had Simmons on his show. As a budding superstar at the company himself, he was unequivocal in his statement that Simmons was the biggest personality at ESPN, and it wasn’t even close.

What probably stands as Simmons greatest accomplishment, his “Sistine Chapel”, is his launch of the sports/pop culture website, Grantland, in the summer of 2011. As editor-in-chief of Grantland, Bill Simmons changed the whole game of sports journalism by combining every aspect of not just sports or entertainment but society as well, on to a singular site. With a nod to famed sports writer, Grantland Rice, Grantland quickly became the hub of all things buzz worthy in consumership. He blended everything perfectly and brought in a talented roster of writers that put the site on the map almost instantaneously. Whether it be Bill Barnwell and Robert Mays for the NFL duties. Zach Lowe and Jonah Keri for basketball and baseball respectively. Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan for television. Every piece of Grantland was Simmons but yet still a separate voice that engrossed you with different styles of writing that left us wanting more. For as much traffic as ESPN the site gets, its upstart younger brother’s site was just as good if not better in content, diversity and captivity.

Bill still contributed his weekly columns in the same taste that got him recognized early on in Boston. Only now, he had his own people, handpicked to give us their story on the best of buzz worthy material that we as the starved consumer, just could not get enough of. He thought of innovative ideas to keep evolving, like televising the first day of March Madness with his staff and life-long friends. An inside look at Bill Simmons, Rembert Browne, Joe House and Jalen Rose bullshitting and reacting in real time to the insanity that is March Madness on opening weekend. Even his off the wall ideas of filming his buddy House challenge the staff in eating contests at the local hotspots if Grantland was on location for a NBA Finals or Final Four, kept us entertained. All this brought a legitimacy to Grantland that ESPN has long since ditched in favor of over-sensationalism. There is only so much LeBron James, Tim Tebow and Skip Bayless I can take. Sometimes you want to know why the Spurs are ageless due to tactics and scheme. Why the Carolina Panthers are doomed because of over-investing at the running back position. Or if the Astros division lead can hold up as long as their home rate does. Grantland became a place where one could scroll through the latest Game of Thrones recap, thoughts on Jay-Z’s new album, the latest Kardashian gossip and yet still get the NFL power rankings, all while never leaving the front page. For a millennial like myself and in an information age that is ever expanding,  Grantland is the pinnacle of sports entertainment, all the while under the massive umbrella of ESPN. And the four letter network has one man to thank for that. One man that has revolutionized the sports journalism landscape in just over the decade that he has been there. Look around and try to find another personality that has done so much for the medium over that time. And this is why Bill Simmons gets the Jordan comparison. But question is now, with him gone, what becomes of the Roman Empire that Simmons has built?

ESPN president John Skipper has said that the company is bigger than one man and it will still retain the goldmines of 30 for 30 and Grantland after Simmons leaves. And I will not pretend to know the insider information on what led to this split. And don’t get me wrong, Bill Simmons hasn’t been without fault in his time at ESPN. He has been twice suspended for his outspokenness. His Twitter rant about the ESPN radio show Mike and Mike and his comments about Rodger Goodell’s handling of the Ray Rice fiasco to name a few. But like all great personalities, Michael Jordan comes to mind, it comes with the territory. My question is, what will become of Grantland? In an email sent to his staffers, Simmons implored his staff to not “let this bullshit affect you”. Although the site was made to feel more than just a job, the cold hard reality is that is only a job and to keep putting out great work. April of 2015 was there best month as they surpassed “10 million uniques without chasing any traffic and without any leading-the-site promotion whatsoever from ESPN”. “We have built an audience because of quality and quality only. And you guys should feel good about that”. It has become known that the spilt was more than just money, perhaps ESPN couldn’t keep Simmons under their thumb should any more controversial issues arise and try and censor him as they had in the past. It is in ESPN’s full right to end the relationship, but in doing so to such a giant to the company, they will deal with the fallout of life after Simmons.

The Chicago Bulls of the post Jordan era were a mess. Jordan rode off into the sunset, Pippen went to go play for the Trailblazers, Steve Kerr left for a budding dynasty in San Antonio. Since then the Bulls have never reached the same level of greatness as they did with Jordan. Sure they have been competitive and have posed some formidable runs in recent years, but glory of the 90s still stand as the pinnacle of success. All this makes me think of what ESPN and in particular, Grantland will be in the coming years. The Bulls had no choice, father time was at Jordan’s door. Maybe ESPN has no choice, maybe the relationship has run its course. All I know is that ESPN had a chance to bring Simmons and his millions of loyal followers back. Maybe the four letter network just swallowing a little bit of pride and giving Simmons his creative freedom was never an option. And don’t get me wrong, ESPN and Grantland will not fall into obscurity. They are too big to fail. But will they achieve the same level of greatness as they did during the Simmons era? To be the pioneers of an ever expanding medium. To be the envy of every sports/entertainment site on the planet. There will be staff defectors that follow Simmons onto his next landing spot. And there will be a decrease in audience almost assuredly. Maybe ESPN doesn’t care. Maybe they’re looking for the next Bill Simmons to plug into their cog. But make no mistake, just like there will not be another Michael Jordan, there will not be another Bill Simmons. And it is ESPN that will have to live with that.

BTL Baseball Hour Podcast

We have a full table for this one. BTL staffer Tim joins myself and our two special guests Ryan and Adam for our AL West discussion for the first two months. We also dish in our Fantasy Corner about under valued pitchers and how to use certain tools to identify them. Enjoy!

Mike Visconti

BTL Pop Culture Podcast: Mad Men Part I

Mad Men Week at BTL continues, this is Part I of our Mad Men podcast. Part II will be out Wednesday. In Part I, I am joined by special guest Lisa, a Mad Men enthusiast. In this we discuss:

-How we found Mad Men

-The 3rd Golden Age of TV and why it’s important to Mad Men

-The Male-Anti Hero

-Thoughts on the men of Mad Men

-And much much more, enjoy!

Mad Men: A Series Review

By Mike Visconti:

The Mad Men series finale just aired a couple weeks ago, you can find my thoughts on the series finale here . I am here now to tackle to the series as a whole. What it brought to the table that we as a TV audience had never seen before. What made it so great, and why its reach expanded to all television watching audiences. It truly is one of the greatest TV dramas/shows of all time.

How I found Mad Men:

It was the early summer of 2012. I was searching for a new show to watch. As an avid TV show consumer of the 21st century, the majority of TV shows I watched all had a common thread. At the time I did not know what exactly scratched my television itch but in the coming years I came to understand that I was drawn to a certain overriding and predominant theme in the TV shows I watch, something that has been the benchmark for the 3rd Golden Age of Television these last 15 years.

To this point in my TV experience, I had little to no time for the network programming, i.e. CBS, CW, ABC, FOX etc. To that date, some of my favorite series were on broadcast cable. A medium that had gained steam in the early 2000s. Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me, from the burgeoning TV network FX, were some of my favorite shows. I had just recently been exposed to Dexter, Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy. All those shows, especially the latter two, really peaked my interest and struck a chord with me. They all had a conflicted, complicated but still admirable male anti-hero as the lead character. This goes back to the late 80s and early 90s in its infant form but really broke out in a big way with The Sopranos, and the portrayal of New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano. Most of the popular shows that followed, had that very same theme. And it made for can’t miss television.

Breaking Bad was probably my favorite show to that point. But with it in-between seasons till mid-summer time, Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me already finished and SOA set to start again in the fall, I needed something to quell my TV fix. In comes Mad Men, with the benefit of Netflix (quite possibly the greatest creation ever) I had access to the first 4 seasons of this critically acclaimed series. And that is initially what drew me in, critics everywhere, people in the know about what good TV was, had heralded it one of the greatest TV series of all-time. I had to see what the fuss was about.

When I first delved into the series, the period of the 1960s immediately grabs you. In 2007 when this premiered, period pieces of the 20th century were not really commonplace. Especially when it was not centered around a war, a western or a glorification of organized crime. This show had its bread and butter audience hooked, the baby boomers, who lived through this very engrossing period in American history. But what would it bring to me? A millennial, a target audience that grew up with cutting edge video games, iPhones, Facebook and the information age at its finger tips. I guess in the initial foray into Mad Men was a little slow for me, but with all great things, time and patience pay off when you give it a chance. The costumes designs, the set décor pieces and the general feeling that this show was a departure from anything I had ever seen before, just added to the excitement. It was a fresh take on a time period that I had only read about the 1960s in school books, and as we all can attest, they did not do it justice. But all this is the superficial layer of what Mad Men brought to the table. Let’s delve in more than just skin deep.

Don Draper, the Male Anti-Hero:

I can’t go any longer without bringing him up or I risk losing credibility in writing about Mad Men. Donald Draper. The astronaut-looking, Old Fashion drinking, Lucky Strike consuming, woman chaser that had a commanding presence the first moment you laid eyes on him in the pilot when he asks a black waiter his thoughts on his cigarette brand preference. The man who walked into Sterling Cooper like a king and everybody was there just to service Don Draper. Even the name, it carries a certain gravitas and authority that should not be questioned. I had always heard about how great a portrayal the actor Jon Hamm did with Madison Avenue executive Don Draper. That greatest compliment you can give an actor/actress, is that they are the part, you don’t see a hint of the person who plays them, ie Walter White. And that is why I was so interested in the early part of Mad Men. For years I had heard that it was a travesty that Jon Hamm could not garner an Emmy win for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Bryan Cranston had gone 3 for 3 from 2009-2011 in that category for his portrayal of Walter White. And believe me, he deserved it. But did Don Draper deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Walter White? With each passing episode I became more and more transfixed on WWDDD- What Would Don Draper Do? He was the epitome of every male and female fantasy. As the adage goes, every guy wanted to be him and every woman wanted to be with him. When someone questioned his authority like the snotty Pete Campbell did many times in season 1, he was never rattled, he put Pete in his place time and again. When one of his copywriters gave him sub-par work, even if they worked hard on it, he was demanding but left the littlest hint they could be better. He was even ahead of his time when he promoted his secretary Peggy Olson to Jr. Copy Writer after she flashed potential in her Belle Jolie ideas. This is 1960, women advancing in the workplace, especially in an Ad Agency medium dominated by males was not commonplace. Although he was never shy to fire a woman from his desk for incompetence and failure to manage expectations of being his secretary, as he did with Lois, and sent her packing back to the SC&P switchboards. I was mesmerized but the way Don handle every situation, I got the feeling he was untouchable, nothing was beyond his control, nothing could get to him. But as I found out later, Don was just selling us his perfect vision of himself. He was far from infallible.

Very early on, Mad Men upped its stakes at the end of their pilot, When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, by showing that this All-American fantasy for looks, charm, charisma and presence was only the surface of the complex male anti-hero, that we as an audience couldn’t get enough of. He went home at the end of the day to his perfect house in the suburbs, with his perfectly blonde wife, Betty Draper, and his two adorable children as he tucks them in. How could he balance everything seamlessly? And the reality was, he couldn’t. He was a deeply flawed man. He cheated on his wife. He lied about his actual name. He conned his way into one life and left his real family behind to think he died in the war. Even when his half-brother Adam comes to find in him in season 1 after years of searching, Don turns him away coldly, tells him to forget about him. The more I watched Don, the more I saw Tommy Gavin, Dexter Morgan and Walter White. Some of the things he did were horrible for a married man to do, but I couldn’t get enough of him, call it my man-crush on Mr. Draper. If I had the same type of power he held, would I do the same thing? Don always meant to be good and not hurt anyone, but on more than one occasion he threw caution to the wind and did as Don Draper wanted.

SC&P Deep Bench:

But as Mad Men is Don Draper, the sell line, the perfect idea that Sterling Cooper pitched in every meeting, Mad Men was more than a one person show. The wealth of characters that back up Don and make SC&P run reminds me of a an incredibly deep bench on a sports team. Sure they have Magic Johnson, but now here is Kareem, James Worthy, a little dash of Michael Cooper and Kurt Rambis. Oh and don’t forget we have Byron Scott in the corner. Pick your character and they all bring something to the table. My personal favorite was Roger Sterling, Don’s personal drinking buddy. A throwback to the brash men of the 1940s and 50s. Never ran out of one liners, women he couldn’t charm or a glass that needed to be filled. For the prominent position Roger holds, partner at SC&P, you get the feeling that he’s that college kid who never grew out of the frat days. Throughout most of the show, I viewed him as the little red devil on Don’s shoulder. Always urging him to drop responsibility, turn a 3 martini lunch into a 5 martini bender. Convincing Don to forget dinner plans with Betty and go for a round with the boys, because it was good to keep your wife guessing. Was anybody really surprised when it was Roger who knew of a seedy little brothel house to take Don and Freddy Rumsen out as a last hurrah before Freddy’s “six month leave”? I could describe Roger all I want but I think a clip of his best one liners does more justice to why I love his character so much than words will ever do.

I cannot think a show except maybe Game of Thrones or The Wire whose cast of secondary and tertiary characters could rival a main character like Draper as unforgettable. Peggy Olson and Joan Harris come to mind. In the premiere, they couldn’t have been more polar opposites. Joan, the sexualized and gorgeous-looking head of secretaries, who knew the inter-office politics game and played it better than anyone. She knew how to use her looks to get what she wanted but at the same time, wasn’t prisoner to any barb or reference men threw at her. And Peggy, the wholesome girl from Brooklyn fresh out of secretary school and yet still stuck in 1955. The advancements that both made throughout the series were amazing. And really a comment on the progressiveness of woman in the workplace in the 1960s.

I cannot forget to list Peter Campbell, the sliver-spoon fed entitled rich kid. Whose privileged upbringing showed more unflattering personality flaws then I could list. But, I will say two things about him. At least he was self-aware enough to accept and own those flaws, even if he rubbed more than a few people the wrong way. As he said to Peggy in the finale during their goodbye, “people will brag about working with you”, in part because he knows they will never echo the same sentiments about him. The second lasting trait of Mr. Campbell, was his need for Don’s approval. In the early seasons of Mad Men, Peter Campbell was always trying to validate his worth to SC&P by his work, especially when it concerned Don. His insistence on hearing that he was a valuable part of SC&P’s future when they offered him a partnership stake in the soon to be newly formed Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce agency, could only be sealed if Don said it. In turn, he became the best account man the firm had, bringing in new business after new business. As much as he sought to earn new accounts, he was only trying to validate his worth to Draper. A man who he said he despised and considered a child on more than more occasion, but in reality, Don’s approval meant the world to him. And when we see Peter’s real relationship with his parents, it’s pretty easy to understand why he needed it. For as much notoriety as Bertram Cooper and Roger Sterling got, they had their names on the building for Pete-sake (pun intended). Donald Draper and Peter Campbell were the life blood of the agency. Don once said this about the Kennedy-Nixon campaign in season 1, “Kennedy is a rich kid who had everything handed to him. Nixon is a hardworking man who came from nothing and that got him to where he is today. When I look at Nixon, I see myself.” Now while Draper and Campbell weren’t running for president, they were in competition, and it made for great TV.

Mad Men’s core:

For a show that is centered around Madison Ave. and the 1960s, it gave us an unlimited view of the human side of things, on the reality of life. Whether it highlights its highs or more then often, its lows. This really highlights what is a dying concept in today’s TV shows. The unlimited series. And by that I mean that Mad Men, at its core is a sober look at the life and times of these characters. There is no end game in sight, like Walter White eventually getting found out by his brother-in-law, Dexter getting caught or a solution to the zombie apocalypse. What’s Mad Men’s end game? Is there some overriding arc that we can’t wait to see? There is Don’s secret of the truth of Dick Whitman. Maybe you could say that the end game is what will be the fate of Sterling Cooper. But I don’t buy it, and I know that is not what Matthew Weiner was selling us. What he did sell us on, was a show about humanity at its core. And that to me, even as a millennial, who is use to the over-riding threat of violence, death or despair that accompanies most shows, made me love this series.

Don is an empty bottle. At first glance it looks full of promise. But over the course of the show, he can never keep it filled, no matter what he tries to fill the void with. For the man that makes his living selling happiness or perceived happiness to his clients, he himself can never find it. Peggy even says, “You have everything, and so much of it” Don answer’s, “you’re right”, but deep down inside he is never satisfied. Not with Betty and a family, not with Megan and a fresh start. Not with Peggy either. There is a great scene with Don and Peggy, in what is considered Mad Men’s greatest episode (The Suitcase), where Don gets an urgent phone message from California. He knows what it is, Anna Draper has passed away and he doesn’t call back because he knows that he’ll have to deal with the reality of the one person who knew his closet full of skeletons, the real Dick Whitman, is gone. And with that, a part of Don is dead. He stays at the office, buries himself in the Samsonite campaign and takes it out on Peggy:

In this we see Peggy sum up Don. He has no friends, or family to go home to. Don’s auto-pilot is his work and he’s taking whatever he is dealing with out on Peggy. But she herself is dealing with the break-up of her boyfriend but decides to work, because like Don, she gets her satisfaction from her work. But this is one of the first times Peggy stands up to Don, as she got no recognition for her idea on the Glow-Coat commercial. And to me, this is what I relate to. Who else hasn’t buried themselves in their work when times are tough? Who else wants more recognition for their contributions? Who else thinks that their boss doesn’t value them as they should? As much as Don relates himself to Richard Nixon. I find the human story of Mad Men is what I relate to about the show the most. It’s about what would you do when your work doesn’t appreciate you enough and you leave to maybe not greener pastures but where you get validation, as we see Peggy do at the end of season 5. Sometimes it is about finding true happiness. Don has been searching forever for that. But he himself sums it up during a pitch to Dow Chemical, “What is happiness? It is the moment before you decide you need more happiness.”

The personal growth of all the core characters is what leaves me wanting more. In many ways I became fascinated with Mad Men during the shows final two half seasons. We saw the fallout of the Hershey pitch from Don at the end of season 6. As Roger so eloquently put, “You shit the bed in there!” Don was asked to go on leave. SC&P had had enough of his shit. His drinking, his personal problems, his flaws. Don Draper, the golden boy of Madison Avenue was done. He didn’t bother to tell his wife that he had no job. He thought many times of leaving for another agency, but he couldn’t. As suave as Don was, he needed SC&P. He wasn’t strong enough like Peggy to go out on his own. He eventually was brought back into a partners meeting, mainly because Roger didn’t want to lose his drinking buddy and his only friend at the agency. But for a man who prided himself on always having the power, (one of the many reasons Don didn’t have a contract at SC&P in the early seasons), his fate was at the mercy of his peers. He was brought back but on conditions. He was a stripped down version of a copy writer. He worked for Peggy of all things. Answering to her and making up tag lines. The role reversal was fascinating. I thought that was an amazing portrayal of a broken man just begging for second chance. Who would’ve imagine the infallible Don Draper like that?

End of an Era:

In the end, Roger saves the company and Don, in turn for selling SC&P soul to the devil. McCann. In the meanwhile, lead partner Bert Cooper’s death foreshadows the death of SC&P. These last couple weeks echo the fall of the Roman Empire for Sterling Cooper. The once vibrant SC&P is slowly but surely stripped away, colleague by colleague, office by office till there is nothing left but a bunch of walls, and Peggy and Roger in one of the better scenes of season 7 part II, have one last dance.

Courtesy of AMC

Courtesy of AMC

For Don, he finally had to relent to McCann’s advances. They finally got there white whale in Draper. But that didn’t last long as Don found out he wasn’t the biggest fish in the pond. In a creative directors meeting that ran 20 strong, Don stared out on to a view of the Empire State Building as a plane flew behind it in the background. He stood up and left. Maybe he wanted freedom, maybe he needed to escape. Whatever it was, Ted Chaough recognized it and quietly smirked, Don doing as Don does. We all know how the narrative ends. Don tries to chase down one last woman to save, but instead, gets the cold hard truth is that she’s not worth saving. He goes further and further west till he’s met the Pacific Ocean in California and finds Stephanie, Anna Drapers niece. But he can’t save her either as their trip to a wellness camp only lasts a mere day as Stephanie abandons Don. With no one left, Don shares a deep and profound moment with a stranger whose group therapy story is practically the life and times of Donald Draper. We see him meditating on a cliff-side with his group. He’s at peace, whatever enlightenment Don has found is very real, he smiles and we cut to the world famous Coke ad, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”.

Now I thought that Don had finally found his inner peace, accepted Dick Whitman and rode off into the sunset into the west. But as I was told from the horse’s mouth, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, Don’s “moment” led him to create the world famous ad for Coca-Cola. Maybe a new and enlightened Don won’t need this monumental work success to fill his void, maybe he is changed in the way he can accept other people’s love and turn that into happiness for himself. Whatever it was, Don or Dick, is finally at peace with everything that is him.

Nostalgia:

Every character I have grown to love has evolved, changed, matured and even decayed. To see how this show ended and where all the beloved characters finally end up is satisfying to an extent, but with the end now here. I’m left with wanting more. I’m left with a certain feeling…

I think Don, as always, explains it best

When I look back on the End of an Era, I look back fondly but with that underlying pain that Don Draper and Sterling Cooper are no more. No more brilliance from Peggy in the pitch room, no more annoying Pete Campbell and his snobby attitude that makes me want to go Layne Pryce on him. No more eccentric words of wisdom from Bert Cooper, no more of the greatest one liners from Roger Sterling. No more Don breaking every rule in the damn book and yet, on the surface still coming out ahead. No more of one of the greatest TV shows ever. A show that the characters, themes and story, cement its place on TV’s Mount Rushmore along with The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and The Wire. Nostalgia, well done Matthew Weiner, you showed that this millennial doesn’t need the violence, the CGI or drug running drama to feel something in a television show. Just a relatable moment, a laugh, a human experience that will not soon be forgotten.