From whence he came

[SPOILER ALERT: a minor one, but if you haven't seen the last episode of this season of Mad Men, I discuss the last scene.]

Whatever you thought of this season of Mad Men (it was not my favorite, it seemed to drift sideways a lot despite having so many of those oddly paced moments I love) , I loved the final shot of the final episode: Don and his children looking at the whorehouse he grew up in. It felt like the series ending shot, in a way.

This is where America comes from. This is where advertising comes from. This is where I was born. From vulgarity and nothingness and human relationship as commerce, I constructed this beautiful self, and maybe it's an illusion, or maybe it's the truth, or maybe they're one and the same.

Narrative volume imperative

I love Grantland's annual TV roundup which they structure as a series of short essays on various pairs of shows. Chuck Klosterman bats leadoff and takes the job of comparing Homeland to a pair of shows that also ran in its timeslot at various parts of the year, Breaking Bad and Mad Men.

For a variety for reasons, 10 p.m. on Sunday is where great shows are now supposed to live. The only snag is that one of these aforementioned shows is not, technically, "great." Homeland is merely "good" (sometimes "very good," for never more than). And I think I've figured out why.
On Homeland, something always needs to happen.

It's a very succinct summary of why Homeland doesn't belong in the pantheon. Homeland is, essentially, a genre show, with a self-imposed pressure to meet some quota of narrative twists per episode.

This shouldn't surprise anyone since the showrunners are the same ones from 24. That was also a program that started with a bang-up first season but then withered over the years as it confined itself to the narrative gimmick of occurring in real time across 24 hours.

In fact, both of the leading programs on Showtime, Dexter and Homeland, suffer from their slavish devotion to their core narrative conceits. What would improve both shows is recognizing that what is great about them is organic surprise, not the form in which it's packaged.