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On 'Mad Men' and the waitress: Can you ruin a final season by adding too many characters?

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Everyone who’s been watching Mad Men‘s final season has a theory about the waitress. She’s Don’s mother, his lover, and a Jon Dos Passos character combined into one human being. She’s Diana, the Greek goddess of childbirth. She’s the female version of Don. She’s a killer. She doesn’t exist. She’s a return to the beginning. But the most popular theory about her might be this one: she has got to go.

Right now, everyone seems to hate the waitress, whose name actually is Diana. On Twitter, they’re literally calling for Mad Men‘s writers to set her on fire. I don’t think this has anything to do with misogyny, or a flawed performance by Elizabeth Reaser, or some general Freudian hatred of the people who serve us grilled cheese at diners. If the waitress had popped up in season 3, no one would be mad. The problem is that there aren’t many episodes of Mad Men left, and this character we’ve just met is taking up precious time that could be devoted to people we’ve spent the past eight years caring about. More of the waitress means less Peggy, less Joan, less Sally. At this point, I’d take more Glenn if it meant less Diana.

So allow me to make a vast overgeneralization: Adding more characters during a show’s final season is never a good idea. I’m still mad that it ruined True Blood, a show that relegated Eric to a minor storyline in the finale and kept introducing new characters right through its final hour. And in talking about this with coworkers, I’ve realized that the trend has derailed many final seasons of the shows we used to love: Heroes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Office, Ally McBeal.

Even dramas that managed to create real suspense by adding new characters have felt overpopulated in the end. Lost was bogged down by the “new” Others at the temple, who served no purpose, while Jacob and the Man in Black will be remembered as two of the biggest red herrings in TV history. Weren’t they supposed to be gods? And The Wire gave us so many beloved figures that we can still call them by a single name–Omar, Wallace, McNulty–but I can’t name a single member of that newspaper staff in season five without looking it up.

For me, there’s only one right way to pull off late-stage new character additions: the Breaking Bad way. Namely, if you’re going to bring new people in, it’s best to kill them off by the end of the series. I’m not saying that Mad Men has to do that literally. But whether Diana happens to fall out the window or just disappears, I want her gone.

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