I watch Mad Men the way I read. I scour Don’s interactions and facial expressions for meaning, trace motifs strung like pearls along episodes, pore over images like prim and proper Betty shooting birds in her backyard.
The theme song repeats in my head long after the show closes, and the graphic of Don falling in perpetuity gets under my skin every time. I want him to stop falling. I don’t care if he lands and lives or crashes and burns. But at the same time, I don’t want the show to end.
Good serial television, like Serial the podcast and 19th century serial novels, casts a spell that is hard to shake. It distracts, delights, disturbs. Last night I didn’t sleep because I couldn’t decide whether or not this season’s new character Diane, a waitress with as angular a face as Don’s and as little compassion, is a figment of Don’s imagination or a reality. Every scene involving her feels like a scene out of The Sixth Sense.
Analyze as I will, I know that there is no right answer. Moreover, I know that it doesn’t actually matter if she exists or not. Don doesn’t exist either.
But we do. When we read fiction in any form, although we can never know things absolutely, we nevertheless experience truths. As Heidi Julavits writes in The Folded Clock, “Readers… experience real feelings as a result of fiction.”