The time for Mad Men is almost over. Next Sunday is the finale, and we can hardly stand the thought that our tv screens will no longer harbor Don Draper, his predatory, boozing advertising colleagues, his aggrieved family, and all those random acquaintances who either wanted to love Don or beat him about the head with a telephone book. There has been a lot of speculation about how the show will end. Chief among the theories is that, consistent with the opening titles imagery of a man falling, Don will exit through a skyscraper window. A crazier notion is that Don will end his latest On the Road odyssey by becoming the notorious 1971 hijacker DB Cooper. But as the great tv critic Alan Sepinwall pointed out, when the last notes of the title song fade, Don ends up safely in a chair, with the inevitable cigarette tucked in his right hand.
A couple of weeks ago the episode was called “Time and Life.” The ad agency had been gobbled up by a much bigger agency, and was being forced to move out of its offices in the Time/Life building. “Time and Life” sounded suspiciously to our ears like Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), a big, forbidding book that birthed existentialism. When Heidegger wasn’t busy canoodling with Hannah Arendt or cheerleading for the Nazi party, he wrote perhaps the preeminent work of 20th Century philosophy. He said that we are thrown into the world, are baffled by our existence and its impending end, and struggle for authenticity under the vast indifference of the skies. If there is anything about Sartre that you thought was insightful or cool, odds are that he cribbed it from Heidegger. Anyway, Heidegger had a phrase for people who departed from authenticity. The English translation for the original German word is “falling.”
But any connection with our junior year class on The Political Philosophy of Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger (the class was taught by
Harvey C. Mansfield, and he ended up concluding that those three German philosophers were brilliant but wrong and, worse, irresponsible, because their writings supported the most murderous regimes of our time) is not why Mad Men matters so much to us. More than any other of the ‘difficult men’ shows of the current Golden Age of TV, Mad Men is relevant to more than our jiggling neurons. We don’t kill people or cook meth, so The Sopranos and Breaking Bad seem diversionary by comparison. Mad Men is about things we do do: persuade people, muck up personal relationships, and drink whisky on school nights. Moreover, because of its 1959-70 setting, Mad Men feels like a conversation with our parents that we were never able to have. They had lived through the depression and then found themselves in the midst of a nutty American hegemony that could be easy, cruel, fun, and wildly unfair all at the same time. There was a lot to admire about that generation and a lot to make you shake your head in fury. But one way or another, they were ours. Maybe Mad Men will end by taking a stab at the same questions that drove so much of the action in The Sopranos and Breaking Bad: Can people learn? Can they change? In The Sopranos, it seemed that Tony Soprano never really could change, no matter how much he could goofily appropriate the language of psychology. In Breaking Bad, Walter White certainly did change. The creator of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, famously described the arc of the show as taking Mr. Chips and turning him into Scarface. People can get worse. Perhaps on Sunday Don Draper will emulate the original Odyssey by finally going home and doing right by his family. That would be something of a surprise, since the creator of Mad Men, and the writer and director of the finale, Matt Weiner, wrote some of the darker episodes of The Sopranos.
But even writers learn and change. The title of the Mad Men finale is “Person to Person.” That title incites optimism in our scurvy soul. We bet Weiner and Don stick the landing.
Today’s case is a straightforward one with a good result, and there is some learning to be had from it. It is about one issue that we love to discuss, preemption, and one that we do not say so much about, statute of limitations, because that issue is usually so fact-specific. The case is called Williams v. Ciba Vision Corp., 2015 WL 1903429 (S.D. Mississippi April 27, 2015). The plaintiff received a replacement lens during cataract surgery in 1999. Over the next couple of years, the plaintiff experienced problems with the lens, including infections, pain, and an inability to see. But it was not until 2012 that the pain became so severe that the plaintiff underwent an extraction of the lens. Testing on the lens confirmed the existence of a foreign substance. The plaintiff filed suit in 2013 and alleged that the defendant deviated from an FDA-approved manufacturing process and thereby permitted biofilm formation on a majority of lenses.