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The Rich Inferential World of Mad Men

Serialized Television and Character Interiority

Jason Gendler


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.

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Jason Gendler

Teacher. Mentor. Dissertation committee member. Advocate. Colleague. Friend. These are the many roles that Ed Branigan filled in my life over the eleven-plus years I was privileged to know him. However, merely listing these roles does not really do justice to his impact on me, because it leaves out the kindness, generosity, wit, and enthusiasm that he always had in store for me in all of our interactions, be they postlecture dinners together in Santa Barbara, movie marathons at his house in Oak Park, California, or, as was more and more common over the last few years, e-mail messages.

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Jason Gendler

This article is an attempt to answer the question: Where does a classical narrative beginning end? It examines a series of epistemological concerns about the nature of beginnings before exploring two previous models that can be used to determine where a narrative beginning ends, one by Kristin Thompson that relies primarily on a narrative's formal properties, and one by James Phelan that relies primarily on cognitive processes. The article focuses primarily on the possibilities for a cognitive model for determining the end of a narrative beginning. However, ultimately, it argues that only by combining formal properties and cognitive processes can we arrive at a comprehensive and flexible model for how to determine where a classical narrative beginning ends.

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Jeff Smith, Dominic Topp, Jason Gendler, and Francesco Sticchi

Giorgio Biancorosso, Situated Listening: The Sound of Absorption in Classical Cinema (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), xi +246 pp., $55 (hardback), ISBN: 9780195374711.

Reviewed by Jeff Smith

Lea Jacobs, Film Rhythm after Sound: Technology, Music, and Performance (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015), 280 pp., $34.95 (paperback), ISBN: 9780520279650.

Reviewed by Dominic Topp

Miklós Kiss and Steven Willemsen, Impossible Puzzle Films: A Cognitive Approach to Contemporary Complex Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017), 240 pp., £70.00 (hardback), £19.00 (paperback), ISBN: 9781474406727.

Reviewed by Jason Gendler

Steffen Hven, Cinema and Narrative Complexity: Embodying the Fabula (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2017), 261 pp., 22.00 (paperback), ISBN 9789462980778.

Reviewed by Francesco Sticchi