The Rich Inferential World of Mad Men: Serialized Television and Character Interiority

in Projections

This article addresses how television narratives create psychologically rich situations, those moments where viewers are able to make many distinctive and sophisticated inferences about the mental states of characters. Focusing on season five of Mad Men, it examines the extent to which individual episodes create rich situations through the information established within an individual episode, versus the degree to which rich situations are created by relying on information accrued over the course of previous episodes, as well as the extent to which these two kinds of information are blended together in a given situation. While it is easy to assume that serial narratives routinely call upon accumulated character knowledge in order to enrich viewer inferences, somewhat surprisingly, most episodes in Mad Men season five are actually largely enriched through episodic rather than serial information. The article also analyzes interesting patterns that emerge in these qualities across the entire season.