Mad Men and The Sopranos: Dropping the Mask

If there is a single theme to such disparate productions as The Sopranos and Mad Men, a single theme that explains their hypnotic attraction, however different their settings, it may be dignity—the struggle of humans to hold onto it in their own, often enough crazy ways. In Mad Men, that struggle takes place in changing social times as the characters try to preserve the best of themselves and discard the worst. But the human condition being what it is, we may wind up doing the reverse. Maybe it depends on the models we choose.

– Paul Greenberg in today’s “Column One.”

There’s a lot of common themes between these two shows, but I’d never considered human dignity to among them. I suppose it’s there, particularly in The Sopranos, as Tony and his Family run roughshod over the whole of New Jersey, contaminating or destroying those they touch.

I’d argue the real common ground between these excellent series is in how these characters constantly lie to each other and themselves. These people are simply unable to tell the truth. And when the insights come, they are quickly dismissed or — worse — willingly misinterpreted.

This is why Tony might as well be dead in the series finale. At that point, his inner circle decimated, he’s out of therapy, persuaded his children to make the easy choices and insulated himself from any further insight. He’s anesthetized to the brutal truth of his world. There’s a reason so many of those final episodes open or close with Tony in bed, asleep.

It’s too early to tell how long Don Draper will maintain the lie. Early in the fourth season, the mask shows signs of slipping.

And maybe that’s where this talk of “dignity” comes from. Don’s been the very model of success and station, a complete transformation from his hardscrabble roots. That’s the struggle: At the core, what is the best of Don, and what must be discarded? Tony already made his choice.

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One Response

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