Monday, September 20, 2010

Mad Men - Soup, Salad, Pot?

Here is a tidy summary of the closing moments of last night's very untidy Mad Men:
Joyce sums up women's auxiliary role in an extended, and confusing, metaphor ... She compares men to vegetable soup and women to pots, with no other purpose than helping men be the best soup they can be. Why can't women be the meal?
"Men are like this vegetable soup. You can't put then on a plate or eat them off a counter. So women are the pot. They heat them up, hold them, contain them. Who wants to be a pot? Who the hell said we're not soup?"
Confusing is right -- why would it be better to be the soup than to be the pot that forms it? Soup has no shape of its own; soup spoils; soup is often composed of odds and ends that don't belong; even if fresh, soup may or may not be appetizing or nutritious -- soup might be empty calories. It can easily be too weak, too salty, too chunky, lacking in spice. It requires its own specialized utensils and fixtures, and it spills easily; it can't finally defeat salad in its status as the default first course. There is no end to the trouble with soup.

In a way, the entire episode was taking shape -- so to speak -- right up until Joyce delivered that peroration. Before then, it had featured variations on a theme of women finding their way, articulating their needs and aspirations, and otherwise moving albeit haltingly toward self-determination, with greater and lesser success, pratfalls and all, while men haplessly tried to respond appropriately (Don, Bert and Roger), or worse and more commonly, while men tried to deny, dismiss, and deflect whatever they found troubling or challenging with ham-handed grand gestures (Peggy's beatnik suitor) and wise-cracks (every other male shown).

And then Joyce spoke of soup and pots, the beautiful women boarded elevators, and the doors closed.

The brilliance of Mad Men is in how it keeps us enthralled and yet always off-balance. Best of all, it refuses to fit any sort of pat, easy framework. That's how life is, and it's how only the very best tee-vee is.

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