Series 3 of Mad Men has just ended  here. Kennedy’s been shot in Dallas, Cronkite choking up on the black and white sets. Don’s wife Betty has told him she no longer loves him. She has kissed another man; he has slept with many women. Roger’s daughter marries; only half the guests turn up, and some of them watch the TV in the hotel’s kitchens. In the final episode, as Betty takes the train to her divorce, Don and Roger execute a heist-like theft of their best clients as they set up a new agency.

That most TV is awful is a given. More problematic, really, is excellent TV, because you can’t help thinking it’s not meant to be this good. The Wire is far better made, better acted, better written than most films I have seen. And Mad Men presents some of the best dramatic writing I have ever experienced. Just like The Wire, Mad Men plays to TV’s strengths. It does not attempt cinematic scope and breadth, but instead plays with subtle shifts of tone and language. Events are closely observed, and simply portrayed. Characters develop slowly, episodically: one week Betty is radiant and confident, the next frigid and closed up. Roger is an arrogant buffoon, but still displays dignity and even poetry, when giving his daughter away the day after Kennedy’s assassination. This is TV’s great opportunity, to reveal characters changing over time. I suppose this one reason why some critics felt emboldened to compare The Wire to Dickens (whose novels were published by periodicals, chapter by chapter). The week between episodes thus becomes part of the fabric of the experience – time is passing,people changing. I remember teaching a novel writing class and hammering home this point, somewhat manically (I now see): that their characters must change and develop, that the action of the novel must in some way drive that development. In the class, we sought out examples from books we loved of those evolutions in character – I remember bringing an extract from Klima’s “A Summer Affair”, where a betrayed wife confronts her errant and miserable husband. We read the dialogue, two students playing the parts (there is no narration in the scene). I asked them what was happening. “There’s a shift in the balance of power,” one said, “From the man to the woman.” And I cheered, that he had got it exactly, and that that shift was fundamental, and showed the characters in the very act of change, not just their relationship but the very people.

Ivan Klima

So, is the Mad Men writing any good? I’ll let you decide. Here’s every fan’s favourite scene, a pitch Don Draper makes to Kodak executives:

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