This was a scary time in the world of television. A month before, The Soprano’s had permanently departed the screen, during the process redefining the format of cable television and paving the way for successes such as Dexter, Breaking Bad, Homeland and Game Of Thrones. No other drama series at the time had as much appeal and accolades as this famous Mob drama, and it was unforeseen whether a series, on cable or network television, would ever again rise to the heights of Tony Soprano.
Enter Matthew Weiner, an executive on The Soprano’s. Weiner had sold a pilot to AMC, the future home of critically acclaimed hits The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. This pilot, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, was the critically acclaimed first installment of Period drama series Mad Men. Directed by Alan Taylor, future director of Thor: The Dark World, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” expertly provides a welcoming, broad introduction into the world of advertising in New York City.
One catch. It’s 1960.
We are introduced to our Don Draper, an advertising executive in a bit of a pickle. The world has (finally) caught onto the fact that smoking is bad for your health, and Draper is struggling to maintain the stock price of ‘Lucky Strike’. Throughout the episode, we see Draper’s assistant enter Draper’s world, in a time where sexism is very present in the workplace. In Draper’s personal life, we meet his mistress, an artist by the name of Midge. Oh, and it turns out that, as revealed in the final moments of the pilot, Draper actually has a wife and kids at home.
What is interesting about the episode is how Weiner (the episode’s writer) and Taylor are able to incorporate a variety of characters, social issues and plots whilst simultaneously spending time welcoming viewers into an authentically depicted time period. The costumes and sets appear realistic, helping to not only establish the world that the show is set in, but also compliment the concepts introduced throughout the plot. We see Draper’s new assistant, Peggy, treated hostile by her male co-workers, which not only draws the audience into Peggy’s journey, but addresses social standings in the 1960’s and reignites feminist debates in audiences.
Everything about the show, from the production, sets, costumes, and music, screams “authenticity”. Everything about the cinematography and lighting perfectly compliments the feel of the time, using contrasting colours against a black-white palette to invite the viewer into the show’s world. Perhaps the smartest move was featuring period music that compliments the production values, helps compliment the show, and in itself attracts the viewer. The music adds depth to some of the episode’s defining and perhaps most important moments.
Whilst the sets and costumes of the show are an important drawing card of the show, and the camera work, lighting an cinematography are used to expertly showcase these elements, it is fact the writing and acting that is the strongest throughout the production. Draper, as played by Jon Hamm, is revealed throughout the episode as a complex man with many different sides. The viewer isn’t quite sure how much they are supposed to like or dislike him, and this in itself is a powerful reason for viewers to continue with the series. Perhaps one of the episode’s most all-around well-produced scenes is the reveal that Draper is secretly both a husband and a father. Hamm’s acting, combined with an intelligently introduced music track, perfectly convey the character’s conflict and lack of purpose.
“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is an intelligent, powerful introduction to the world of Mad Men. The plot moves at a steady pace, introducing characters whilst not allowing the viewers to forget about the 1960’s world constructed around these characters. Each character is perfectly designed as a piece of the puzzle peace, representing a stereotype and feeling that allows the viewer to feel the world of 1960’s New York City as realistically as the characters are meant to. Each character is complex, each one showing positives and negatives, and the confict over to fall into a good or bad direction makes the show hard to resist.