I can't stop thinking about Ginsberg's nipple. While shearing off that irksome "valve" may have relieved some pressure and brought a measure of peace to Mad Men's resident alien, even a month later, it still stares at me from its dainty gift box as a symbol of sadness and frustration, and a reminder that computers haunt me as well.
It's a wonderful time to watch TV: We have more freedom and choice than ever thanks to DVR, On Demand, and online streaming. Hand in hand with this is a (mostly) insightful media eager to overanalyze every plot twist, or parse the deeper meanings of every mundane action, every word. It's fun to talk about this stuff, and boy, do we do talk about it.
But this comes at a cost. It may be the most first-worldiest of first-world problems, but the "two-screen" approach to prestige television threatens one of the great joys of watching prestige TV in the first place: surprise.
I knew something was up with Ginsberg's nipple long before I actually watched the scene in question, because the internet told me so. I didn't watch that Mad Men episode right when it aired, but by Monday morning, pictures of actor Ben Feldman and links mentioning SHOCK and NIPPLE were all over the place. Sure, there weren't specifics beyond that, but Ginsberg clearly was in for some trouble.
This isn't about spoilers in the basic, blatant sense; this isn't a scolding of a-hole internet commenters bent on ruining the fun of others. It's merely a lamentation that balancing avid viewing of TV and regular consumption of media is nigh impossible. We can get what we want when we want it, but you'd better want it the very second you can have it: Every minute you're not watching, you're at risk of stumbling upon information you'd rather not have. Sunday nights alone are a nightmare: You may get to Mad Men in time, but put off The Good Wife, and BOOM: Will Gardner just got shot.
The combination of a word or two in a headline plus a picture is enough to tip off most savvy viewers; the immediate post-episode Q&A is practically a tombstone. Even when a modicum of discretion is exerted, it isn't enough: a bold-faced spoiler warning may as well just announce that Character X is dead/fired/short a nipple. You may not even click it, but you don't really have to: Acknowledging SOMETHING practically says EVERYTHING.
Which brings us to this Sunday's season finale of Game of Thrones, which currently sits upon the Iron Throne of spoilers-by-implication amid the Monday-morning media blitz. I pity the poor souls who don't watch this episode in real time, as any number of characters (Tyrion? Jon Snow? Littlefinger? Hodor?) may be breathing their last televised breath, and even the "OMG! #GoT" Twitter avalanche Sunday night will be a smorgasbord of well-intentioned but ultimately futile stabs at subtlety. The show's last couple episodes have featured the demise of two well-liked characters, followed immediately by the obligatory rounds of Q&As and future casting news; sudden quantity of coverage for any character is a dead giveaway.
Nor is this scourge limited to heavy hitters like GOT or Mad Men; even shows further down the internet-hysteria spectrum fall prey to this. Consider FX's Fargo: After a recent episode, an actor Q&A popped up by the next afternoon with a headline screaming about said character's FATE in the midst of a SHOCKING episode. Recappers and headline-writers gotta eat, too. But still, FUCK.
There are two obvious solutions, but I don't like either of them: Why not just watch it right when it airs? is impractical (especially on three-show-pileup nights like Sunday), and Why not just cut out the media? would deprive me of invaluable Star Wars casting rumors. Oh, well. As for Game of Thrones, I at least have some insulation: I've read the books, and pretty much know what to expect. Reading: the ultimate spoiler.
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