AMC's period drama 'Mad Men' is one of the finest and most nuanced shows on TV, but lately it seems that people are forgetting that. Instead, most of the blogosphere buzz regarding the series has recently been taking the form of absurd conspiracy theories and wild plot speculation -- Megan's going to die, Megan's already dead, Bob Benson's a spy, it's all in Don's head -- there's no end to the people trying to figure out what's going on at Sterling, Cooper, and Partners. But they're all missing the entire point of the series.
I'm in danger of coming across as some snobbish, wine-swilling critic looking down his nose at television fanbases, but I promise I'm not. I was an administrator of Lostpedia; crackpot theories are my bread-and-butter. I also know that the fact that 'Mad Men' is generating this much discussion is nothing but good news for the series, regardless of what the topic of conversation actually is.
But there's something incongruous about the discussion surrounding 'Mad Men' and the show itself. These theories are so off-the-wall and insane that it sometimes makes me wonder if these people are even watching the same show that I am.
'Mad Men' is a series about the subtle relationships between its massive cast of characters. Plot matters less for 'Mad Men' than it does for nearly any other show on television. That's not to say that the series doesn't have a plot -- the ghost of Lane Pryce would certainly tell you that it does -- but it serves as a background to the characters, not the other way around.
Perhaps this is why the cheapness of these 'Mad Men' theories rubs me the wrong way. One of the most prevalent theories was that Megan Draper's emulation of model Sharon Tate's costume was in fact foreshadowing that she would be murdered in her own home (playing in with the season's themes of home invasions and increasing unease in New York City). Some fans even speculated that Don's vision in last week's "A Tale of Two Cities" was him meeting her in the afterlife -- he just hadn't realized that she was dead yet.
Are these people confusing Matthew Weiner for M. Night Shyamalan?
That theory makes absolutely no sense within the context of the 'Mad Men' we've been watching for six years. It's just not that kind of show. Haphazardly killing characters for shock value -- perceived thematic relevance or not -- isn't something that 'Mad Men' has ever done, not even when Lane Pryce killed himself (that death, in retrospect, was the only possible resolution for that character). 'Mad Men' values its characters too much to marginalize them as objects for a quick plot twist. Especially a "She's been dead the whole time!" plot twist.
The same goes for all those theories about Bob Benson (James Wolk), a conniving character we just met this season. He's constantly sucked up to everyone at SC&P in a way that seems uncomfortably self-serving -- you can't help but wonder, for instance, if he grew closer to Joan in order to avoid being fired in the inevitable merger cullings.
But he's not a government agent, or a rival company's spy, or a psychotic murderer. This isn't 'Game of Thrones.'
Sunday's episode, "Favors," appeared to reveal, or at least insinuate, that Bob Benson is a man whose constant brown-nosing is just a search for affection. Though his pass at Pete was a little heavy-handed by 'Mad Men' standards, it seemed to be pointing out that Bob's character traits come from a place of emotional neediness rather than, you know, being a corporate spy sent to destroy the agency from within. This isn't 'Homeland.'
'Mad Men' doesn't need a twisty or shocking plot to be compelling television. Perhaps that's what's most frustrating about the wild theorization that has completely dominated much of the discussion surrounding the show this year: it feels like an attempt to turn 'Mad Men' into something it isn't, or perhaps a failure to appreciate 'Mad Men' for what it is.
So can we please go back to focusing on the emotional hang-ups and psychological breakthroughs of 'Mad Men's' characters? I've missed that.
'Mad Men' season 6's penultimate episode, "The Quality of Mercy," airs Sunday, June 16, at 10/9c on AMC.