Mad Men Says Nothing — And Everything

Mad Men does loads of things better than just about any show on television.

But something it never seems to get credit for is its consistently excellent use of nothingness — no music, no sound effects, no dialogue — to convey its most emotional moments.

Ahead of Sunday’s two-hour season six premiere — on AMC at 9 — here are three of the most impressive non-speaking moments in the first five years of Mad Men, the best show on TV:

yup. that's the look.

Moment: “And who are you supposed to be?
Episode: The Gypsy and the Hobo, aired Oct. 25, 2009
It’s the best moment of the series, and the most marvelous blend of acting, directing and writing the show has ever given us. Don finally broke down and told his wife Betty of his secret, pre-Korean War life of squalor that he went to almost silly lengths to try and protect. It was the first time we saw Don — not Dick Whitman — completely and literally at the full mercy of another human being. He couldn’t weasel out of what Betty had accused him of, and in a way, he didn’t want to. Emotionally naked, his reward for being broken down psychologically was to take the kids trick-or-treating. Lucky him. The kids ring the doorbell, and the homeowner, seemingly sensing Don’s utter vulnerability, looks him straight in the eyes and asks the question Don’s asked himself for more than a decade: “And who are you supposed to be?” talking about his lack of costume, but inadvertently asking Don to own up for every lie he’s told. The reply is a one-second shot of Don’s face, which is mixed with embarrassment, confusion and horror all at the same time. With no warning, it’s a cut to black for the end of the episode. It was a gut punch for the viewer, and at the same time, the comeuppance we just knew Don had coming. His punishment wasn’t the loss of his family, it was the loss of the power in his relationship, one of the strongest ways he identified himself. And we saw it all in his face in that one-second shot.


Moment: Don locks eyes with Joan
Episode: The Other Woman, season 4, episode 11, aired May 27, 2012
We’ve always known Don and Joan had something together, you need a meat cleaver to cut the sexual tension between them. It’s been insinuated at least a dozen times that something happened between them years ago, long before we started following the up and downs of Sterling Cooper, or Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, or whatever it will be now since poor Lane is no longer with us, to the great delight of Pete. But we’ve never found out exactly what that something is, and we’ll probably never find out. However long it’s been since it happened, the two have obviously developed more than just animal lust. They truly love each other in a platonic, respectful way and it doesn’t look as if anything sexual is ever going to happen between them. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to — and that new love they have for each never burned as real as it did here. The morning after Joan sold herself to secure the Jaguar account, she and Don lock eyes to try and non-verbally figure out what the other knows. Their stare is even more significant when we learn later that Don told her not to sell herself — only an hour too late.

Moment: The final good-bye
Episode: Tomorrowland, season four finale, aired Oct. 17, 2010
At this point, I think we can all agree that Don and Betty don’t like each other. Fair? Fair. Now, the more complex question — did they ever love each other? Or did they get together out of 1950s convenience? Maybe Betty just wanted to social climb, and maybe Don just wanted some arm candy to trot out in front of clients. If that was the case, they both got what they wanted out of the marriage that ended after season four. The final moment between the two as official husband and wife was telling of how both viewed their past and future. Betty hands over her key to the house while the two are alone in the empty kitchen as they sell the house. She congratulates Don on his surprising, quick nuptials to Megan, he thanks her, and they walk away. They cross each other’s paths while they do, then exit through opposite doors in divergent directions — a perfectly simple metaphor for how the two spent their lives together.

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