TV Series: The Cathartic Journeys of Merle (Walking Dead), Don (Mad Men), and Jaime (Game of Thrones)

In all three of this year’s biggest TV series thus far, there have been some huge changes for many of the main characters. I was reminded of Merle when I watch the last episode of Mad Men. And reflecting on this theme I also thought of Jaime. Merle and Jaime were presented to us as nearly irredeemable characters. Merle as the hard-core, violent, ignorant redneck and Jaime as the proud, regicidal, incestuous, arrogant golden prince. Don, in the meantime, is darkening into alcoholism and womanising with no sign of introspection or self-analysis. When we see Merle again early in season 3, he is allied with the most evil character thus far on the show, the Governor, and he is shown as a blood-thirsty torturer – his only weakness being his fraternal love for Daryl. We see him brutalize several characters and in particular Michonne (my favorite! go girl!). There is at no time any hint of self-realization or humanity. Until E15 which I mentioned was my favorite episode of S03. It is at this point that we see Merle turn into a human being and sacrifice himself for the good of his brother and Team Prison. It was a startling and surprising turn of events. For Jaime, the road was far more gradual. We see him seduce verbally and brutally slaughter the young groom in S02 but then get captured by  Cateyln’s forces. His travels with Brienne as her prisoner and they have their comic moments, but more importantly, the rapport that develops between them humanizes him to the point of his defending her in the bear pit. This humanity is of course also helped by his own personal suffering (the loss of his sword hand), but he could have equally become bitter and hateful but rather chose a path of pseudo-enlightenment. In the closing scenes of S03, it seems that when Cersei sees him for the first time since he has returned, she sense s that humanity and it visibly repulses her, or so it seemed to me.

All this brings me to the most complex of these three characters. Don Draper, over the five previous seasons, has demonstrated his cold, reptilian nature by going through multiple women and drinking and smoking more or less constantly. He is able to hold up his career and legendary brilliance at the agency despite its many changes, but we don’t really see a chink in the thick armor that he build around himself after stealing the identity of “Don Draper” in the Korean War. This season opens with the vacation/business trip in Hawai’i where he bonds on some level with the young Vietnamese vet for whom he witnesses the wedding and then tries for forget. Reminders pop up a few episodes later with the lighter…this initial crack starts to open as he falls in love with his neighbor Sylvia. When he tries to control her tyrannically, she rebels but he still can’t get over her. This was strike #2. At this point, he is hitting foul balls all over the agency: not showing up to meetings, screwing up some customer one’s he did attend, nearly blowing the cover on the Ted-Peggy shenanigans IN FRONT OF A CUSTOMER, and just generally being an asshole to everyone. Then, the final strike is when his daughter discovers him and Sylvia together. This sends him in a tailspin with a confession in front of a customer leading to his (shock!) being laid off “temporarily” from the firm. He could of course drink this away, but like the previous characters I mentioned earlier, instead, he turns the situation around by finally being honest about his past to his kids by taking them by the whorehouse where he grew up. I felt this was a huge moment and very moving. It remains to be seen how much he reveals to Megan and how far the confessions go, but this particular step for him was the biggest leap in any of three in this article.

The optimist in me wants to point out that perhaps everyone is redeemable to some degree. Put them in the right circumstances and get them in the right mind set, and catharsis can come. As unusual and surprising as that could be. And it all makes for extraordinary television. I think that for each of these shows, the current seasons that ended in 2013 were the strongest yet – primarily because of these personal journeys and many like them.

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About mfinocchiaro

IT Architecture Guru for large PLM software company but dabbling in Web 2.0 and other stuff.
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