Think Thrice, It's Alright: Mad Men's "The Wheel" and the Future Study of Television Narratives
Abstract

ABSTRACT:

This article discusses three strategies that TV shows have increasingly employed in recent years to produce what Jason Mittell, in an essay that marked the beginning of his thoughts on the issue, has called "narrative complexity": unreliable narration, counterfictional scenarios, and ellipses and anachronological narration. It uses the last minutes of "The Wheel," the final episode of the first season of AMC's Mad Men (2007–15), as its primary example. More specifically, this article proposes three different interpretations of the final moments of that episode. These readings have in common that they underline one of Mittell's central claims, namely that serial television shifts comprehension processes toward conscious hypotheses in what he describes as "operational aesthetic." However, the article will also assume a broader perspective throughout and demonstrate that the three interpretations it develops are instances of more widely spread phenomena that merit far more attention than a single article can provide. Thus, the article offers, on the one hand, a close reading of an episode of Mad Men against the background of the early seasons of the show, but, on the other, it also identifies three topics for further fruitful research on television narrative more generally.