There’s No Such Thing As Aging Gracefully In Mad Men

Trudy Mumu Mad Men Allison Brie
We’ve hit the awkward muumuu stage of Mad Men. It’s season 5 of the show, and the action has progressed to 1966. The cast members are older, but they’re certainly not wiser.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) turned 40 on the season premiere last night. And in between mocking him for his agedness, his new wife Megan (Jessica Paré) learned that Don does not like birthday parties. Or being reminded of his age at all.

In fact throughout the show, the subject of aging was a heavy weight on everyone’s minds.

The men are either rebelling against the constraints of their marriages or entering new ones with younger women who are starting to catch on to their flaws. Meanwhile, many of the women have shifted from pencil skirts and cone bras to muumuus and housecoats.

It’s not a good look (see Trudy’s mumu above). But rather than simple jokes about women who gained weight after having a baby (though there were plenty of those), the men were dealing with the subject of their own demise.

Last night Megan told Don he was a “dirty old man,” while Roger’s new wife insinuated that Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) is going bald. At one point Roger (John Slattery) had to reassure Don that the laughter of his wife and others at his birthday party wasn’t at his expense. There’s a generational divide and it’s only getting wider.

The 1960s did a lot of things better than we do. The killer pencil skirts, the smoking affectations, the glasses of scotch during lunch. But they certainly didn’t know how to slack as well. As last night’s episode showed, recreational looks involved a lot more shapeless house dresses than anyone would be caught dead wearing today.

And while the cast of Mad Men looks a lot cooler doing their jobs and walking around Manhattan than we do today, they’re also aging harder. You can’t live on a diet of steaks and martinis and hope to look good over 40. And this season that appears to be what Don will be dealing with now.

Mad Men ushered in a colossal cultural craving for the impeccable stylings of the 1960s. But the highball martinis and seamed stockings have given way to unwashed hair and wives who “never used to go outside in a bathrobe.”

The executives at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce may not care about the civil rights movement, but they inevitably got themselves embroiled in it when they took out an ad in The New York Times to mock a competing agency for throwing water on protesters.

The joke resulted in a waiting room full of African American job applicants. And the agency inadvertently becoming an equal opportunity employer.

The rules have been inverted, for the simple reason that time moves on whether you’re ready of not.

Now the striver Pete Campbell is the one bringing in business. And like millennials today, he doesn’t understand why that doesn’t entitle him to be in charge.

Today old school companies like Chevy hire millennials to come in, act as “insurgents,” and tell the older guys they’re doing everything wrong. As a baby boomer, Pete has to act like an ass all on his own to get his way. But he is making progress in that direction.

And while Roger and Don have tried to get closer to the younger generation through their second marriages, they’re both now realizing that there is a gap they can’t cross with their young brides. Don at least is still at the point in his new marriage where sex can solve a disagreement, which we saw at the end of the episode.

And the hope of sex conquering all seems to be a theme that transcends the ages. For instance, during the commercial break of Mad Men, I learned that “this is the age of knowing what you’re made of.” Apparently, what we are made of in 2012 is Viagra. Or at least that was what the ad was selling.

In 2012, we have pills, surgeries and therapists to slow or reverse the aging process in our minds. It doesn’t actually work, but we’re all trying to cope with our imminent demise in more positive ways.

In Weiner’s Mad Men, aging is a much more defeatist process. And it’s not just the women who have an expiration date now. As Don explained to Megan when she refused to understand his lack of interest in being at a birthday party filled with his underlings:

“I’m 40. It’s too late.”

Images: (Trudy in a muumuu: AMC. Megan saying “40″: @ditzkoff)

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