We don’t just watch great TV shows anymore: we also read about them. The online TV recapping community, a tail that is increasingly wagging the dog at entertainment sites like The A.V. Club, Grantland, HitFix, Vulture, and even higher-brow publications like The New Yorker and Slate and Salon, dedicates itself to writing English major-style close readings of each episode of the growing ranks of “quality” shows, including (but not remotely limited to) Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Breaking Bad. (Comedies and reality shows also get the overnight recap treatment, but those pieces are recaps in the more literal “Chris Farley Show” sense.)
Mad Men has always particularly lent itself to this kind of scrutiny, layered as it is with subtext and literary themes and parallels, and this season has been no exception. The pieces that perceptive TV critics like Matt Zoller Seitz and Heather Havrilesky and Alan Sepinwall post on Mad Men have taught me how to appreciate the show the same way I appreciated The Great Gatsby (not the movie) in college, and have become the way I wind down after each episode: I collect my thoughts on what I just saw, and then read these pieces (and, as importantly, their insanely lively comments sections) to compare with and expand on them.
Two Sundays ago, Don Draper shared a scene with his second wife, comely Canadian soap actress Megan, on his Upper East Side balcony, in which they each admitted that their marriage was in trouble and they each recommitted to try and make it work. The unsubtle device of having Megan’s half of the dialogue — and only Megan’s half — drowned out by police sirens, indicating that Don can’t even hear her anymore, went totally unremarked upon in the Mad Men Analytical Community. I found this a little disappointing, because it was one of the few times I’ve felt I was smelling exactly what show creator Matt Weiner was cooking without having it explained to me. It’s certainly possible that either a) my interpretation of the scene is totally wrong, or b) my interpretation of the scene is so obvious as to be unremarkable. In any case, once some 60’s fashion scholar piped up in a comments section somewhere to point out that Megan wore a t-shirt in the scene with a red star on it identical to one that actress Sharon Tate, infamously murdered by the Manson Family in 1969, had been photographed in, virtually all Mad Men-related discussion pivoted to the idea that “Megan Is Sharon Tate” — that Megan is secretly pregnant and about to be murdered. (Tate was 8 ½ months pregnant at the time of her death.)
Having a major character murdered would be an enormous tonal shift from a show where a raised eyebrow can qualify as a major plot point, and I would remind my fellow Mad Men fans that predicting what will happen on a TV show (and on Mad Men in particular) is a sucker’s game: everyone was dead certain last season that Pete Campbell was going to do himself in because of various lines, images, glances, and other ephemeral clues, and yet a year later Pete Campbell remains, hairline receding and bitterness mounting.
Still, some of the evidence people are pointing to to suggest Megan’s imminent stabbing is compelling: there was a home invasion a few weeks ago, where Don’s unsupervised children gave a strange woman claiming to be Don’s mother the run of the house; the loud sirens I mentioned earlier could just as well be there to remind us that the crime rate skyrocketed in New York in the late ’60s; the season’s promo poster prominently featured some cops taping off a crime scene; and Peggy Olsen, having just bought a Brownstone in the not-yet-gentrified Upper West Side, accidentally stabs her boyfriend Abe, mistaking him for an intruder. If one were inclined to believe that Matt Weiner is such a mastermind that he’s foreshadowing later plot developments throughout the season leading up to them, there is plenty here to work with.
So this past Sunday I settled in for my weekly Night In Front Of The TV: Game of Thrones, followed by Mad Men, followed by Veep (love it) and Family Tree (want to love it, not quite there yet).
Not having read the books, I am usually more than a little confused by Game of Thrones‘ 75 concurrent plots, so while I enjoy the show enormously, Mad Men is the one I really look forward to. So I was caught more than a little off-guard at the end of the episode when, in probably the most graphically violent sequence ever put on television, Robb Stark, his wife Talisa, his mother Catelyn, and the rest of his party are brutally murdered as an act of vengeance for Robb’s broken promise to marry the daughter of House Lord Walder Frey.
This plot development didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, as Catelyn reminded Robb constantly, over the course of a season and a half, of the need to keep the peace with Frey and not to insult him and what a mistake it was to break his promise while Robb nodded dismissively and spent increasing amounts of time canoodling with his lovely new wife Talisa, who soon informed him that she was pregnant.
So the murder of Talisa, stabbed repeatedly in the belly, was by far the most disturbing part of a very disturbing sequence, long known to shut-ins and now known to the rest of us as the Red Wedding, and it stayed with me after the credits rolled and Mad Men began.
That’s when it hit me: Talisa, not Megan, is Sharon Tate! All the clues were there, but they were very cleverly placed in a different show!
Matt Weiner deserves all the Emmys, plus an Oscar and a Grammy and a Tony and a Teen Choice Award. The rest of us are playing checkers while he plays three-dimensional Space Chess: dude foreshadowed the biggest plot development of the season and IT WASN’T EVEN ON HIS OWN SHOW.