In Sunday’s final Mad Men episode for 2014, it’s fun to watch how effectively people pick up social attitudes, poses, styles, interactions, and ideas by imitating others when they believe it will help them achieve their goals. Take for example Sally’s perfect replication of her mother’s body language when she smokes a cigarette, along with the self-absorbed attitude that pose communicates. One of the main things Sally wants at this age is to attract a boyfriend, something her mother has done quite successfully. Therefore, it makes sense that, beyond her genetic similarities, Sally would choose to imitate her mother’s appearance and poses, even though Sally is a more thoughtful person than her mother and doesn’t like her mother very much or feel loved by her.
Adopting a meme (a “unit of culture,” such as an attitude, pose, style, interaction, or idea) through imitation or rapid processing of an idea is a quick and effective learning technique. It’s what we all do around our role models. For instance, Sally, who’s attracted to Sean, hears him level a criticism about the exorbitant expense of the Apollo mission. A few minutes later, she repeats this idea + attitude to Don when he calls to ask her what she thinks of the moon landing. It’s possible that her goal is to align her thinking and attitudes with Sean’s to gain his favor or feel closer to him.
On another front, when introducing Peggy at the Burger Chef presentation, Don copies Peggy’s line, “Every great ad tells a story, and here to tell that story is Peggy Olsen.” Next, Peggy, who has seen Don deliver presentations on countless occasions, imitates Don’s thoughtful ways of talking, vocal cadences, eye contact, posture, and attitudes as she relies on her memetic learning to present their ad campaign convincingly. What they both deeply want is to engage the client and win the business.
Meanwhile, Roger wants above all else to save the agency. Therefore, he very quickly processes Bert’s most recent statements about leadership and suddenly develops a vision for the agency so that he can lead it forward. Although Bert also tells Roger that he’s not a leader because he lacks a vision, Roger disregards that idea because it doesn’t serve his purposes. He adopts only the part of Bert’s comments that Roger believes will help him achieve his goal of saving the company, and in the process of succeeding, he proves Bert wrong about his inability to lead.
Drawing from his own experience, Don later utilizes his self-knowledge about what it’s like to be unemployed in order to persuade Ted to stay with the agency. Here, Don may be driven by more than one compelling goal. He definitely wants to get Ted onboard so they can all reorganize their agency under McCann’s offer, and he can get his old position of authority back. But he also may deeply want to work with someone as creative as Ted because he finds the competitive and collaborative aspects of their relationship beneficial to his own productivity, or because he sees himself in Ted. Another possibility is that Don feels the strong desire to “pay forward” the kindness, leadership, and inspiration he recently received from Freddy Rumsen when he was at a self-destructive low point in his career and personal life – which is right where Ted seems to be in this episode.
Don’s demand that Sally not be so cynical about the moon landing falls flat because it interferes with her desire to connect with Sean, and because pleasing her dad is no longer among Sally’s major motivators. Joan votes against Don’s retention at the agency because day in and day out, she works to account for the agency’s money and deeply wants to avoid wasting it. Neil tells Sally – without concern for how his statement makes her feel – that smoking causes cancer because he deeply wants to be knowledgeable and accurate. As frustrating as such disagreeable actions and attitudes may be to others, these Mad Men characters are motivated by their central desires and screen out any idea or behavior they feel could distance them from getting to be, do, or have what they most fundamentally want.
How will the rest of the season play out? Whether Jim McCann becomes a guiding light or an evil dictator to SC&P, and whether Peggy ends up with Ted, Don, the new handyman, or her cat, the core desires of these fascinating, complex characters will lead the way.
Need more Mad Men before 2015? Until then, I’ll occasionally be writing about older episodes here on BlogCritics, so watch this space.[amazon asin=B00KBUL5P8,B00C94I8FY,B001A5HBJC,B008359JXI,B002B7GJOQ,B003VVSHLY&template=iframe image&chan=default]