Serial Offenders 'Mad Men,' 'True Detective,' and the miseducation of the fanatical TV viewer

February 6, 2015 9:18 PM

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“Mad Men” begins airing the second half of its final season in April, and chances are you are due to be disappointed. Maybe Don Draper will topple out the window of a Manhattan skyscraper like the shadowy figure in the show’s opening credits, or maybe he will perish by more prosaic means. Maybe he will earn redemption, or maybe he will turn out to be notorious skyjacker D.B. Cooper. (Yes, that’s an actual theory circulating online.) Maybe the final scene will flash-forward through the rest of the twentieth century; maybe the screen will just fade to black. But the safest prediction about the finale is that it will make people very angry. Expect furious debates asking whether the show rewarded loyal viewers’ 80-something hour investment, or whether it wantonly betrayed their trust. It’s an outcome “Mad Men” showrunner Matthew Weiner has tried, futilely, to forestall. While the series began in 2007 with the intrigue of hidden pasts and switched identities, it’s never been propelled by a central question or mystery. When asked what viewers should expect from “Mad Men”’s end, Weiner has warned that the show will close on an ambiguous note: “My god, people must be prepared for that,” he told NPR’s Terry Gross in 2013.

If anything, the serialized television that has risen to the top of the cultural firmament in the last 15 years has prepared us for the opposite. The contemporary cult of the showrunner comes with its drawbacks, and one of them is the obligation to provide satisfying closure. “The Sopranos,” “The Wi...

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