“Psychiatry is just this year’s candy pink stove”: Remembering ‘Mad Men’

By Zilla Rocca and Martin Douglas
By    May 19, 2015


Essay by Zilla Rocca

There’s never been a show I re-watched more than Mad Men.

What do women want?

Who cares?

The suitcase episode.

Ida Blankenship.

One minute you’re on top of the world and the next minute some secretary’s running you over with a lawn mower.

Michael Ginsberg.

You know what happiness is? It’s the moment before you need more happiness!

The Jaguar account.

We drink because it’s what men do.

Sal Romano.

How do you sleep at night?

On a bed made of money.

I’ve read Sterling’s Gold. Johnny Walker, Bulleit bourbon, and Old Fashions were the bottles and cocktails that were tapped at my wedding first. My closet is lined with skinny ties in black, blue, and gray. I tried to get into the advertising business as an entry-level copywriter, though I had zero experience. A colleague once mailed me a fashion magazine out of the blue simply because Christina Hendricks was on the cover.

We’re flawed because we want so much more.

When the first episode of Mad Men aired, I had just moved back in with my parents after a 4-year relationship ended with a girl I thought I was going to marry. As I watched the finale of Mad Men, I was sitting in my first home with my pregnant wife.  In the years between, I wanted to be a dashing alpha male like Don, a lovable boyish charmer like Roger, the clean, understated bookish  Lane Pryce. The reality was I spent most of my 20’s occupied with work at the expense of anything resembling a normal life, like Peggy Olson.

Now, I’m Pete Campbell—a man who values nothing more than his family but needed a lot of work, failure, and soured relationships to get there.

Fear stimulates the imagination.

I’ve meditated consistently since 2011. It has changed my life in more ways than I care to share in this humble essay.  I will tell you that the best ideas a creative person can get come when you are relaxed. You FEEL more alive when you’re in pain and you think that FEELING will convey itself in great art. Pain is not the ignitor, it is the suppressor of ideas. To create while in pain is also painful.

Nobody knows what is wrong with themselves but everyone else can see it right away.


When Don finally owned his pain, all of his pain, in some New Age retreat along the coast of California in 1970, he put his mind in a place where it would breathe easily.  The long drive through the Midwest, the late night WWII stories with vets, the niece who knows him as Dick – none of it could calm his mind like he thought. He meditated, and in that moment of relaxation, he sparked the most ambitious and memorable idea that would become the biggest campaign for the most recognizable American product. Don co-opted hippie culture to sell Coca-Cola to the masses. Only in pure relaxation can the sparks of fun and inspiration ignite something huge.


People always tell you who they are but we ignore it. Because we want them to be who we want them to be.

Don will always be the son of a prostitute without a father who only had a Hershey Bar to look forward to. Don’s salvation is not his family, nor his legacy, nor his wealth. His salvation is products and the stories behind them that he creates. Because Don Draper is the perfectly crafted product of the coward Dick Whitman.

It didn’t work out because it didn’t. The next thing will be better because it always is.

I don’t know how much more time I can give to a show. I don’t know if the next thing can ever be better than this show. I’ll try to stay on top of newfangled critical darlings that bloggers and smart friends embrace. As a soon-to-be father, I don’t know if I’ll ever have 7 seasons to religiously dedicate to a series like Mad Men again.

It’s your life.  You don’t know how long it’s gonna be but you know it’s got a bad ending. You’ve got to move forward, as soon as you can figure out what that means.

In 2007, I watched Mad Men to get ideas on what kind of man I might want to become one day–what he wears, what he drinks, what he should avoid, what he should say to impress strangers.

In 2015, I just want to spend time with these people again.

You want to come back? Come back. I miss you.


Essay by Martin Douglas

I have a hard time explaining to people what my favorite books, movies, and television shows are “about.” There’s usually an easy explanation in there somewhere–it’s about a getaway driver who does freelance stunt work and wants to be a racecar driver, it’s about a guy who befriends his girlfriend’s depressed brother who has a deep infatuation for fantasy novels, it’s about a mob boss who starts seeing a therapist because he suffers debilitating panic attacks–but those easy explanations shortchange the work. When somebody asks you what a particular piece of narrative fiction is “about,” they want you to break down the story into a digestible, sentence-long synopsis. They don’t want to know what it’s really about, they want the broad strokes.

Sure, Mad Men is “about” an advertising agency set in the 1960s. It’s “about” a handsome man who drinks and philanders way too much and also happens to be a war criminal. That’s what people want to hear. But the series, as much as any great creative work put in front of us, is really about a lot of things. It provokes questions without easy answers. Are people truly capable of change? Does great art always have to come at the expense of great relationships? Are we preordained to make the mistakes of our parents? What is a Chip and Dip? These ideas are explored through the fulcrum we all experience them through: People.

People are, by and large, hopelessly predictable. Life itself is the opposite. Mad Men is a show that perfectly captures the rhythms of real life, the randomness with which people enter and exit our lives, how a decision will affect one person a certain way and another person a completely different way. It’s about how we don’t necessarily kick old habits but instead find new ones. The characters don’t exist as plot devices or avatars for society’s ills or winning qualities. They’re not presented as ideas or meditations on good and evil. They’re presented as people, full of multitudes and shifting moods. There’s no moralistic tone hovering over the characters and their actions, either; Everything is presented at face value, as real people are, respecting your intelligence and quality of character enough to make your own judgements.

As people, our roads in life are all a series of bus routes; they’re all different, they all pick up and drop off different people along the way. Mad Men is made up of an ensemble of characters, as is life. It’s not about any single one of them so much as it’s about all of them. This is where so much of the emotion of the series comes from, people being around each other, talking to each other, affecting each other’s lives. By proxy, they’ve affected our lives by reminding us what life is, a deep cast of individuals, each with our own set of characteristics and circumstances, on their own routes in life, intersecting and rerouting the course as we make connections.

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