Archetypes: Television: Review: ‘Mad Men’ (2015): Jung’s Unlived Life of the Parent



“Severance,” the first of “Mad Men”’s final episodes, refers to the financial exit package for Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), newly fired from SC&P. The timing is eerie, because just the other day Ken had seriously addressed both his disenchantment with his industry and his lack of time to pursue his literary talent. Because he has a wife who comes from money, Ken is in a position to permanently sever ties to life as a salaried employee.

It’s “spooky,” says Ken, telling Don (Jon Hamm) about the synchronicity that’s “not a coincidence.” Rather, it’s a sign of “the life not lived.” As it turns out, Ken will not be able to muster up the courage to walk away. He accepts another advertising position, at Dow, where the signing bonus is so big – “like a second helping” – that it impels him, rather gleefully, to turn down SC&P’s severance offer.

In contrast, when Don pays his respects to the family of recently deceased former lover Rachel Menken, a potential life match whom he let slip through his fingers, her sister tells him, “She lived the life she wanted to live – she had everything.” Here, “severance” goes beyond Ken’s being cut from a job. Rachel’s metaphysical silver cord, which connects the physical body with the astral one, has been severed.

One cannot separate “Mad Men”’s shallow characters’ coping (albeit briefly) with desperation for lives of meaning away from the industry they serve. The name of the game of advertising in all its forms is to create conduits – “advertisements” – for its clients to sell stuff. At their most effective, the ads go deep – past consumers’ reasoning mechanisms and into their unconscious where passions and desires and motivating drivers to purchase goods and services reside.

If these Mad Men pursue access to the unconscious because it’s where the jewels – spending potential – are buried, what of an individual’s personal treasures of potential and intentions? In a television show that depicts how these ad professionals go deeper to sell better, referencing Carl Gustav Jung is hardly out of place.

One of Jung’s strongest tenets, which applies especially to those in the second half of their lives, is that the unlived life of the parent has a strong psychological influence on a person’s children and also on the environment. Ken has an infant. Rachael has left two young children, both seen sitting on the sofa. Don has his passel, as do most of the main characters. It’s as though bringing children into the world makes living an authentic life an even more non-negotiable proposition.

Rachel – she appears in one of his dreams, just prior to her death, as though to share a final good-bye – tells Don that he has missed his flight. We can interpret her message as a warning that Don, unlike herself, has lost his chance to deliver his children from the burden of living a life of distortion. It’s a telling missive from a woman whose own soul is ready to take flight, to a man who, when it comes to “fight of flight,” tends to flee, mostly from himself.

Facebook Twitter Email