There's darkness, and there's complexity, and far too much in the aesthetic world confuses the two. I am not much interested in a grim slog through the faux-real, when the darkness is not reality but a series of choices by a writer. One might have thought Sullivan's Travels addressed this once and for all, or Stardust Memories--people who treat the comic as lower and lesser than the dramatic do not understand human beings, and are blind to their own self-indulgence. All of this to say that Mad Men lost me definitively last night.

I don't like The Lost Weekend despite liking Billy Wilder's work, nor do I like Days of Wine and Roses. Don't like, as distinct from thinking them to be bad--they may well be good. But their appeal is vice exactingly rendered, which means prurience and voyeurism are unavoidable, and constitute the appeal. They're unpleasant stories. The resolution of The Lost Weekend is the creation of a book about the struggle with alcohol, so it isn't even as though that film proposes any larger meaning to its action: it eats itself.

Mad Men has become a very, very long version of The Lost Weekend, and it's tiring. In much the same way that Betty's arc has been one 80-hour character assassination, Don's is about how low a person can be brought. But rather than bring him low once, it does so again and again--the same problems, the same vices, except portrayed even more slowly. Whether the last season has his resurrection or his damnation is irrelevant. It appears that the show doesn't do positive or affirming moments because it can't do them, that underneath the costumes and the character work there's the churning heart of a soap opera, where nothing gold can stay because there needs to be conflict and turmoil, and the people associated with this particular show cannot generate conflict except by threatening to rip characters apart.

The thesis of Sullivan's Travels, insomuch as there is one, is that people who make cinema want to make serious movies because they think the rubes out there need to be elevated, but they're wrong: the people understand themselves pretty well, and want comedy because it elevates them. And that's approximately correct: Parks and Recreation is recognizably human, Mad Men is not. Realizing this doesn't require a diet solely composed of the light and unserious, but it does require recognizing that rolling around in the pigsty is not a shower.

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