My, my, my! As I sit down to write this post, I find it impossible to single out a “scene” proper in an episode that was purposefully disjointed in order to transmit the feeling of SCDPCGC on drugs (and yeah, they have to come up with another name right quick). Roger and Jane’s mind-opening LSD excursion this is not. This is knives thrown at Stan, Ken dancing for his life (more on that in a sec), and Don consumed with the sound of his voice in between searching for old copy and reflecting on his formative whorehouse years. Heck, even Sally (and I’m pretty sure she was like one of the few people in the episode who wasn’t on drugs) has to deal with a funhouse “Grandma” while Megan is off for a night at the theater. This was a bad trip all around, and despite the lovely scene between Stan and Peggy (hmmm… now they could be a fun couple), it’s two smaller moments that stuck with me as I trudged through my own unintoxicated workday (although a dose of something would have improved things immeasurably).
Let’s get back to Ken. Mr. Cosgrove suffers through a thrill ride with the Chevy execs that leads to the titular crash (I really thought that this was one of those times where we were going to backtrack to see how Ken came to meet a kind of doom, but this was not that kind of episode). Ken gets fixed up as good as new with a cane and a shot of something that promises uninterrupted hours of inspiration. The drug leads to Ken’s realization that the only power he has lies in playing the part of the dupe in order to humor the money and bring home the accounts. Translation: he has no power, and all he can do is shuffle off to Buffalo in an effort to stay sane as impotence engulfs him. His routine momentarily drags Don out of his own drug-induced stupor to silently ask, “what the hell is going on around here?” Seriously. My Mad Men viewing buddy had to work, and I literally (Parks & Rec shoutout) looked at my cat and said, “Oh my God.”
But before Ken’s dance against the machine, we see the firm absorb the news of Frank Gleason’s passing. It hits Teddy hardest of all. And Peggy (they could be a really fun couple!) consoles her new mentor as Don watches from afar. And despite all his mooning over Sylvia and the past that forged him, in that second Don is undone. Time was when Peggy was at his beck and call when everything fell apart around him (notably, on the occasion of Anna Draper’s passing). But Don has alienated Peggy, and Teddy is just the sweeter guy. Don can’t compete, so he’s left with searching for an antiquated campaign in order to regain some of her respect. It doesn’t work, and Don ends the hour by throwing in his Chevy towel. So if Don can’t validate his own existence through someone else’s approval, be it memory’s whore or his own daughter or his disenchanted protege, he’s lost. This is going to get a lot worse.
I respect the fact that after watching the reaction to the MLK assassination in something resembling real time, Mad Men went in the other direction and simply punctuated a very dark hour with the news of RFK’s similar fate. Not only did it drive home the point that Megan and Don, completely unconnected from one another as the news played, are leading separate lives, it was also a clever way to show that Pete’s mom has not totally lost touch with reality (perhaps we should all put more stock in what our aging relatives see, hear, and comprehend). As I said, a dark hour. The merger of SCDP and CGC sees Don and Teddy trying various ways to one-up each other, both on the ground and in the air. Staying on the topic of Don, his weird sexual/psychological game with Sylvia was erotic for like an instant. It quickly descended into disturbing and then just plain sad. Oh, Don! Must you smash everything you touch once the hopeful beginning fades into a distant memory? Back to the office, Joan has a medical scare (don’t worry; she’s fine) and smiling Bob Benson steps into the shoes of her white knight. Joan’s mother is smitten; Joan is a little more wary. Me? Why can’t Bob be an opportunist with a heart (although I see Bob as a new confidant for Joan and not a lover; Joan needs a solid friend since she barely speaks to Roger, Lane is dead, and I doubt that she and Don will be going out for Jaguars and drinks after last week’s shenanigans)? Peggy is back on her home turf, and almost instantly Don is back to emotionally abusing her, insinuating that she is insinuating that the merger was all about Don’s desire to have Peggy back in his office. And it’s clear that that relationship ain’t gonna get better anytime soon. Peggy is clearly on Team Teddy. And despite all of the goings-on in the office, the one ray of light, albeit a twisted shimmer, in the episode lies elsewhere.
After Don drinks him under the table, Teddy retreats to Frank Gleason’s hospital room to pour out his sorrows. Maybe it’s the impending hereafter, but Frank advises Teddy not to waste time with embarrassed regrets. Quite the opposite. Frank tells Teddy to get back on his horse and walk in “like he owns half the place.” Words of encouragement (still peppered with the notion that if Teddy simply “waits patiently by the banks of the river, the body of his enemy will float by”). Teddy literally takes this wisdom to the clouds, and his future suddenly seems so bright that the man’s gotta wear shades. Everyone else is still grounded in familiar patterns of insecurity, antagonism, and jealousy. Forget that our boys and girls are living in one of the most transformative decades in American history. It’s always just been a backdrop. Like any group of co-workers with shared histories, a tipping point is on the horizon. Pete’s lack of a chair, Peggy stuck with a column, Roger repeating firings, and Don underestimating everyone means one simple thing. A day will come when these people will no longer be able to work together. And Teddy, the “new kid on the block,” has the upper hand. This does not make him the series’ new villain. It makes him somebody who can learn from the past and try new tactics rather than slipping back into damaging habits. The others might be capable of the same feat. But not together. “Are you alone?” Essentially. And it will have to be literally before all is said and done.
Sad news for all self-respecting soap fans. Jeanne Cooper, Katherine Chancellor, is gone. Hers was a wonderful life, and she left a legacy of amazing work. Let’s see her in action and getting her due (with a classic acceptance speech!). Good night, Ms. Cooper.
Busy, busy night as two agencies become one (and Peggy better come up with something catchier than SCDPCGC!). This was one of those Mad Men episodes where so much worked that I’m hard pressed to find the highlight. Do we go with Pete spotting his father-in-law in a whorehouse? Pete losing the Vick’s account? Pete outing his father-in-law to Trudy (come to think of it, Pete and Tom were sort of the disturbingly odd couple of the evening)? Then there’s Peggy languishing in her hellhole with Abe while dreaming about Teddy and Emerson. Roger finagles a meeting with Chevy. Don severs ties with Jaguar (and sticks slimy Herb with the check) then decides to join forces with Teddy (you could practically hear the bile churning in Peggy’s stomach). Astounding moments one and all. But nothing topped the, shall we say, impromptu partners’ meeting.
Pete stumbling down the agency steps to rail at Don for losing Jaguar just as SCDP is about to go public was the perfect setup to this roller coaster of a scene. Pete is enraged. Don goes from righteous to petrified to his usual brand of smug thanks to Roger’s well-timed announcement of the Chevy pitch. So Don orders Joan to get the creatives in his office. And Red is not amused.
Now in Don’s defense, it wasn’t just his hatred for Herb that led him to send the jerk walking. The other partners whoring Joan out just never sat right with him on a chivalrous/chauvinistic level. In Joan’s defense, Don is an ass. Everyone knows that Joan can more than take care of herself, and Don should have given her the credit to live with the consequences of her actions. But instead he chose to play “the hero.” It, like so many of the poses Don Draper strikes, had nothing to do with reality but rather his idea of reality. Or as Joan so perfectly put it, “Just once, I would like to hear you use the word ‘we.’” We saw little fallout from Don’s miscalculation for the remainder of this episode as events roll towards the merger. But in addition to the repercussions from that bit of impulsiveness (and it already seems like Roger, and especially Peggy, are not at ease with Don’s Hail Mary pass), what does all this mean at the next partners’ meeting? Pete, already on the verge of some kind of breakdown, will be all shades of bitter. Joan will see Don, the one partner who ironically did not view her as a mere piece of meat, as an adversary rather than an ally (can’t wait for Peggy and Joan to commiserate!). And Don will be more and more isolated from the world around him on every imaginable level. Fabulous episode. And we’re only at the season’s halfway point! What will come next?
Maybe I’m in the minority, but I like the Mad Men episodes where our anti-heroes get hit with some devastating piece of historically horrible news and try to make sense of the increasingly chaotic times in which they live. Season Three saw
“The Grown-Ups,” and everyone barely enjoyed the wedding of Roger’s daughter in the wake of JFK’s assassination Last night’s “The Flood took things a step further. Nearly all of our major characters were attending and hoping to be recognized at the ANDY Awards (ironic that only Megan went home with a prize; but then again, she’s good at whatever she wishes to do at a given moment), when the news broke of another assassination, that of Martin Luther King, Jr. People act out in various ways in the aftermath of the tragedy. Pete tries to reconnect with Trudy, and when he’s rebuffed he takes it out on Harry (who totally deserves it for only focusing on how the murder will impact SCDP’s revenue stream). Roger’s creepy new friend, Randall, sees the tragedy as a call to change via an extraordinarily disturbing pitch. Peggy sees her dreams for an Upper East Side apartment lost in the sauce, but it doesn’t phase Abe who envisions a totally different future for them (and I’m still not quite sure if she’s elated or terrified by his idea of tomorrow). Dawn and Phyllis endure the awkward sympathies of their co-workers. We even get to peek into the Francis household as Henry ventures into Harlem and comes away from the whole experience deciding to run for state senate. And poor little Bobby worries that Henry will also be felled by a monster’s bullet (which is like a punch in stomach for Don and maybe not completely far-fetched given Henry’s new plan).
On the subject of Don and Bobby, I appreciated their shared awe when watching Planet of the Apes as well as Bobby reaching out to the usher with his innocent (and spot-on) observation that human beings like to escape into fantasy when the real world becomes to much to bear. But as Don finally talks to Megan (like really talks to her for the first time all season) about his complicated feelings for his children, I thought that I might be watching the most honest depiction ever of what it means to be a father. Getting the girl pregnant is essentially an everyday task for the virile male, and while the mother-to-be likely forms some connection with the being inside her over the course of nine months, the father does little more than wait for the child to enter the world. When he or she does, can you really blame the man for not instantaneously adoring the stranger in his midst (especially if he had the tortured childhood of Dick Whitman)? So it’s no wonder that Don, the King of Fakery, only played at loving his oldest son. But whether it’s the shared experience of taking in the film or Don seeing his son capable of the empathy that is often foreign to him, Don has a moment of clarity and feels what he always thought a father should feel. Will it last? Can Don get past Bobby’s concern for Henry, who is currently the more consistent father figure in the boy’s life? Who knows. But for a brief moment, Don solves one of the many mysteries of his life. An unspeakable tragedy will do that to a person.
When you have an episode that features Joan and an old friend making out with young boys in the East Village and Joan on the verge of becoming a different, possibly wiser, mentor to Dawn than she was to Peggy, and those are not the best scenes of the night, you know you’re getting a superior Mad Men outing. When Peggy comes face to face with three men (four if you count Ken in the restaurant) whom she has personally and professionally betrayed for a shot at the Heinz account, you’re headed for a classic. And yet, it’s a smaller character in the Mad Men universe who stands out on a night that completely erases my fears that the show will no longer be fun in the wake of Lane’s demise (and I really had that concern; brilliant as that last season was, nothing was ever quite the same on The Sopranos after Silvio whacked Adriana). But back to the man of the hour…
Harry Crane first appeared on our screens as a dumpy, bespectacled, sweet, and shy media buyer for the old Sterling Cooper. His one-night stand with Pete’s secretary, Hildy, leads to a rarity among these characters: a guy showing true remorse for stepping out on his wife. The Crane marriage is righted by Season Two (and a little Crane is soon in the picture). Then Harry does something kind of unexpected and ultimately brilliant. He recognizes the power of television with regard to advertising and essentially invents both a job and an entire department for himself. Good on, Harry! He’s still a bit of a bumbler (Sal might still be at the agency had Harry not screwed things up so royally with Lee Garner, Jr.!), but he more than earns a spot when Sterling Cooper as we know it is put to bed and SCDP is born.
Then Harry starts to devolve. His slimmer physique brings with it a brashness, an arrogance, an all-around smarminess that makes him less than an office favorite (and we come to learn that his home life is far from ideal), and yet Harry manages to succeed where television is concerned (go figure!). So naturally he’s pissed that Joan “slept her way to the top” (look, we all know that Joan more than deserves to be at that partners’ table, but she had to make a calculated sacrifice to get there). Harry is not without a leg to stand on. Sure his defense of Scarlett is more about waving his dick around than actually caring about his secretary (and let’s be real; Scarlett did break the rules), and Harry’s assumption that Joan starts the partners’ meeting by ratting Harry out just goes to show how self-involved he is. And yet, Harry is kind of right. His finger is on the pulse of what will ultimately become the best tool in the world of advertising, his ideas are not without merit (“Broadway Joe on Broadway?” I’m in!), and hard as it was to listen to him abuse Joan, “I’m sorry my accomplishments happened in broad daylight,” caps off one of those beautifully awful moments that Mad Men does so well (“That’s what the money is for!”). Harry might be an ass, but he’s an ass with a point (and make no mistake; if SCDP continues to underestimate Harry as Don did Peggy, the firm will be short yet another employee who sees what the next decade is about to unleash).
Before we get to the highlight of the evening, let’s give props to Jon Hamm for a far superior directorial outing (“Tea Leaves” was arguably last season’s weakest episode). It started a little slow (Peggy’s getting no respect at work, Don’s whoring it up with Sylvia, and Pete has a quickie that, to him, is of little consequence).
Then things start to happen. Megan shares the saga of her miscarriage with Sylvia (and does anyone else think that Sylvia’s kind but critical reaction foreshadows a new kind of crisis for Don should he not cool it with this lady?). Herb from Jaguar reappears and drives Joan to drink (and however much of a douche Don was in this episode, kudos for sabotaging the jerk in front of the Jaguar higher-ups). Pete’s afternoon delight comes back to bite him in the form of a battered wife with a bloodied nose. And that’s when Trudy starts to get wind of what Pete has done. And that’s what leads to the best moment of the night.
Trudy Campbell has always held a special place in the Mad Men universe and in my heart. I shouldn’t have liked Pete’s too-cheerful, poor little rich girl wife, especially in the beginning when it seemed like Peggy and Pete were being primed as the show’s ultimate love story (that ship has long sailed!). Maybe it’s Trudy’s ever-optimistic outlook or Alison Brie’s charming portrayal, but Trudy is far from the caricature she could have been. In Brie’s hands she is a bright and loyal individual whom Pete has not been worthy of for quite some time. So when the shit hits the fan, when she shows him the door in her own unique style, it’s a thing of utter beauty. For a split second, Pete almost seems relieved to have an out of the marriage that has dissatisfied him for so long. But Trudy’s playing a different game. Whether or not she knows Pete for the dog he has been for years or she’s finally wising up is besides the point. Pete is about to endure an entirely different kind of hell than the ones he’s known in Cos Cob. Trudy is not Betty, and Pete doesn’t get to pull a Don and start over (possibly for the best considering how well that’s currently working out). He will keep his distance and appear on Trudy’s arm when the situation requires his presence. Or as the lady herself puts it, “I’m drawing a 50-mile radius around this house, and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.” And she ain’t fooling. I’m sure that Don’s own fraternization with a neighbor will yield its own horrific consequences. But for now, Pete truly has nothing, and while I have moments of sympathy for the man, he currently deserves every dose of Trudy’s bitter medicine.
Mad Men is back! All is right with the world. Last night’s super-sized episode, “The Doorway,” might not have packed the same punch as last season’s opener, “A Little Kiss,” but it still provided two fantastic hours of television. What stood out for you? Was it Roger treating his therapy session as an opportunity to indulge in a little performance art, or the silver fox finally breaking down over his mother’s passing while clutching Georgio’s shoeshine kit? How about “Slumdog Betty” mixing it up with the hippies in search of violin prodigy Sandy (I think Betty might be on the verge of her most compelling storyline since Season Three). Don losing his lunch at Mama Sterling’s funeral, and Peggy in full Don mode with her new underlings were also highlights.
But you can’t go wrong with a Don Draper pitch. Sheraton is not too keen on Don evoking suicide when suggesting the Sheraton experience is “the jumping off point” for something better. Don doesn’t even try to backpedal in light of the association; rather, he pushes forward and ultimately hits on the notion that the aspiration for anything better is morbid to the core because gain means leaving something behind. It’s sort of the antithesis of Roger’s therapy rant. Mr. Sterling sees all of us going through doors and getting nowhere whereas Mr. Draper knows all too well that you can approach a doorway as Dick Whitman, a man with misery as his only prospect, and emerge on the other side as a dashing advertising executive ready for love and professional glory. So we can, we do move forward, but the realization of goals is bittersweet because something is always sacrificed when jumping off from one point to another. And that, my friends, is where I think we are in the Mad Men universe. Heck, Peggy’s already made the leap away from Don; what she has seems to be working, but it’s come at the cost of the place that was her home for so long (it is nice to see that she and Stan are finally friends given the grief he gave her when he first came on the scene). Everyone is about to jump off, and I think that in some cases people are going to find kinds of happiness. But every triumph will be coupled with a loss. There’s a great quote from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Perestroika: ”In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.”
Welcome to Mad Men, Season Six.
I can’t quite believe it! After months of waiting and worrying and wondering, Don, Peggy, Joan, and the gang (sans Lane – sad!) are about to return to our homes in a new year with a new set of adventures. There are burning questions to be answered! What is the current state of the Draper marriage, and is Megan’s acting bug burrowing into Don’s side in the form of a frustrating thorn? Is Peggy missing Don as a mentor at her new job, or she is blossoming into the next phase of the modern woman now that she is no longer dealing with his stifling tutelage? What of Roger? Is he dropping acid on a daily basis in the futile hope of recreating the magic of that first, blissful trip? Will Ken pick up where the late Lane left off and throttle Pete for… well… just being Pete at some point in the season (one can only hope!). One question that needs no answer, needs not even be posed, is whether of not SCDP is benefiting from Joan’s place at the partners’ table (the woman can do no wrong when it comes to business affairs).
I’m counting down the seconds until 9pm, and I hope to able to revisit each episode after it airs by spotlighting a specific, standout scene. While my posts are likely going to be briefer this time around, I will do my best to pay tribute to what will undoubtedly be some of the best episodes of any TV show this year. Happy watching!
Short and sweet. Long week, people! Kenneth getting the keys to the NBC Kingdom and Liz adopting little carbon copies of Tracy and Jenna brought tears to my weary eyes. Way to surprise me even at the end, Lemon!