At the SFPS We are Passionate and Mad about Suzanne
I enjoy Mad Men. I was hooked from the opening title sequence; the snappy drum beat plays as an image of an office breaks apart and a silhouette of a man falls. It was just that easy for me to be enthralled. I was prompted to tune in to that first show because its creator Matt Weiner was familiar to me from his association with The Sopranos, another program I needed no fuckin’ coercion to fuckin’ watch every fuckin’ week. (Salute, David Chase et al.)
One hopes that fine entertainment breeds more fine entertainment. With Mad Men, it is clearly evident to me that it did. But the compelling aspect of all art, all creative expression, is that it is widely open to varying interpretations by the audience. Each unique interpretation is based on the viewer’s perception of the art and how that perception is filtered through the viewer’s wealth of accumulated personal experiences and intellect. I have not done any research on this but I would bet that this distilled interpretation is (and I dislike this next phrase just about every time it’s used non-ironically in our popular culture but I will use it as is because I think it works here) every bit the unique and special snowflake.
Very few of us, though possibly very similar in many ways, will agree even, I don’t know, say seventy-three percent of the time on any one particular detail or on any one particular grand theory about any one’s interpretation of a TV program or novel or painting or ballet or yada, yada, yada. (that means any Seinfeld episode of course) And when humans disagree lots of things can happen.
However this is also the fun part of art; the individual interpretations can be and should be argued and discussed, very thoroughly and passionately if the participants feel the topic calls for it.
This brings me in a roundabout way to this post at Basket of Kisses, the unofficial Mad Men blog; a blog that I like to read and comment at. I became aware of the Basket prior to the beginning of S3 off a recommendation at another blog I lurk in. The hosts are very nice and they and the other posters and commenters are uniformly well tuned in to the program. The blog is “unofficial” really only because it’s not affiliated directly with AMC or the production company. In truth it’s very official-like because the hosts get decent access to Matt Weiner and the actors for personal interviews and other goodies. And it’s been noted that these creatives might even look in now and then. I enjoy the place and I’m sure any Mad Men viewer will.
That’s why I was especially disappointed to read the linked post by author Anne B. I’ve enjoyed her other featured writings and she’s fun to mix it up with in the comment pages. With her fine established track record I was expecting something more substantial than what I read.
The post appears to be a criticism of the writing and portrayal of the relationship between my sweet teacher Suzanne and my dramatized existentialist self Don Draper. They are only mine in the sense that they, like all the characters on this show, manage to display consistently, week after week, a significant piece of me. I like to think I really “get” a large part of each character because I always recognize a part of each that was, or is, or could have been me. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this attachment. The show resonates deeply with the people who allow some time for the program to soak into them. It’s much bigger and more complex than the usual television fare and Mad Men enthusiasts generally agree on this point.
I don’t know Anne B outside of the blogo-verse but from what I’ve read of her prose, I’m certain she “gets” the show basically the same way I do. And as I mind-numbingly detailed above, I don’t expect anything close to complete agreement on interpretations, and she and I have both acknowledged we disagree on our impressions of Suzanne and her relationship to Don.
I like Suzanne and her interactions with Don. I think the basic elements of the relationship fit into the overall momentum of the show. I feel the actress is capable and her scenes with Don have charm and emotion. But I appear to be in the minority.
Because Anne B asserts that the relationship has “left many viewers cold.”
OK . . . I don’t know if that’s true, but fine, assume many cold viewers are out there, now go and look for the reason(s) why and build a solid argument to convince us. Instead we get her generalized assertions about how real relationships start and how couples connect. We get her implication that seperate affairs with two very different women three years apart should feel the same to the viewers. Huh? Then we’re told what viewers (and I am to assume she is one of these viewers because she seems to believe she knows all about them. Here’s a tip I just got Anne B, they are left cold) want and what viewers need and that viewers are being denied the fulfillment of these wants and needs because the writers had decided to phone it in on this one particular character and this one particular relationship.
Allow me to dramatize what I heard in the reading room in my head while trying to make sense of it all,
“I don’t relate to her; it must be the writing. I don’t feel the same heat as with Rachel; it must be the writing. It doesn’t feel authentic to me; it must be the writing. Where’s the moment? I want my moment! I don’t believe there can ever be a relationship without a moment. It must be the writing. I want fresh, I want discovery and comprehension (whatever the fuck she might choose to define those to be), I want hope and surprise and . . eh . . silence!! yeah, shhhhh! lots of silence, oh wait maybe hopeful silence, yeah surprise me! Surprise me with hopeful silences, OOOO! How about hot, hopeful silences full of surprising chemistry!! I want them. I want them now!!! Where are they? I don’t see them!! I don’t feel it! I don’t like it!!”
Everybody now, sing along with Annie on three,
And a-one and a-two and a . . . . “IT MUST BE THE WRITING!!”
Really Anne? She goes on to write “Mad Men lost nothing in S3.” I think I recall she admits somewhere on a comment page that the only part of the show she doesn’t enjoy is Suzanne and this relationship. Everything else is fantabulous, so to speak. She loves all of the show but this part. And therefore because SHE, and maybe many viewers like her, doesn’t like it, then it must be someone else’s fault.
Really Anne? She composes a sparse alternative dialogue, which has been pruned, I assume, to allow for lots of silences, because she needs them I’ve been told before somewhere. The dialogue has a Hemingway-like simplicity working for it but that scene occurs late in the season. Don and Suzanne’s five previous interactions make Anne B’s re-write impossible unless both characters are being dishonest with each other in that doorway. The context of the subtle skirmishing between the two leading up to that late night knock on the door turns Suzanne’s rewritten lines into coy, soapy, deceptive posturing. The characters are way past that kind of dialogue by then; the terms of the affair were negotiated in each previous encounter over the course of the season. Anne B needs to go back and watch the progression again. It’s there.
I feel that blaming the writing and the acting and the directing, really the whole creative team and their process, for a character and storyline you don’t like is beneath someone of your evident intelligence, integrity and creative ability, my dear Anne B, bringer of cake. I feel you might be better off stepping back and looking at it in few weeks. I can’t and won’t theorize about your personal perception of Suzanne and I hate to generalize in the same post that I rail at you for generalizing, I’m a hypocrite for sure yet it doesn’t have to mean I’m wrong here, but I’ll offer a theory that you may find useful if you consider re-examining your opinion. Here it goes.
Many viewers passed a moral judgement against Suzanne the night she slipped the bra strap and dialed the Don. And this judgement painted her blue, in a pretty decent MM pillow talk reference, and they have not been able to view her objectively from that point in the show onward. We humans draw these lines in the sand all the time, frequently subconsciously, and sometimes once they are crossed there is no going back, future clarity and objectivity is hindered. They understand her well enough, they just do not like her. Let’s admit it and move forward. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
Unless when you get your mojo back Anne B you prove to me something else. Cereally, thanks for being a classy lioness.
I need a gibson. It’s been an emotional few days. My you-know-what is still sore. Where’s the waitress?