Sweater Manifesto

A blog about American zeitgeist and other things.

Month: May, 2013

All Pain and No Gain for Mismatched Lovers in Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Nine

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I have to admit, I’ve never been a fan of Abe’s.   I find his idealism to be an excuse to act smug and superior to others, and his egalitarian impulses borne of the need to lecture his fellow men about their own moral shortcomings.   I never believed he was truly proud of Peggy or understood what she did as advertising professional, nor did he much care about it.   And while Abe would practice what he preached about social injustice to the point that it literally almost killed him, he showed himself to be as graspingly ambitious in his own way as any Mad Man.  Peggy and Abe were as mismatched as they come, and the survival of their relationship over the years was as contrived a plot point as ever hatched from the fertile brain of Matthew Weiner.

But even I could not find a more creative- or invasive- means of severing that struggling relationship than Weiner did in the ironically named “The Better Half”.   In a sense, a terrified Peggy’s accidental stabbing of her nudnik lover was a fatal blow to a relationship that seemed on life support since their moving into the “gentrifying” neighborhood on the lower East side.    And while the blood flows in the ambulance, Abe tells Peggy what he really feels about her- which is she is a timid little flower who works at a job he despises in an industry for which he holds the same contempt as Midge’s lover Beatnik Roy did those many years ago.    But that’s all ok, because her stabbing has given him a great conclusion to some magnum opus that he’s crafting, ostensibly for New York Times magazine.   Well, Abe, good for you- have a great article and a nice life.   Game, set and mismatch is over.

We all hope that Peggy can do better, but given her history with men and the head fake at the end of the show that her recently confessed swain Ted Chaough gives her, we don’t hold much hope.   I’m laying better odds that Peggy is the first female CEO of a major advertising agency than she ever finds real love.   Peggy may be destined to always be the better half.

Meanwhile, another mismatched pair find their way back into bed, the original Mad Men fun couple of Don and Betty.   “Thin Betty” came back in full force with a vengeance in this episode, not only being her imperious, ego-driven (and Grace Kelly-gorgeous) self, but also looking hot enough to ignite the passion of both a major Republican donor and a gas station attendant looking like he’s wandered off the set of “Deliverance”, all in a 24-hour period.   (Of course, just to maintain Weiner-style attention to detail, “Deliverance” was several years later).   The ability of Betty to have men see her through the eyes of other men stimulates the two primary men in her own life- a rejuvenated Henry Francis, who jumps her in the limo after having to watch his donor friend do everything short of giving her the keys to his hotel room, and the suddenly amorous ex-husband Don.

Being out in the woods with a bottle of whiskey and mosquitoes hovering in the air have a bracing effect on both former spouses, but what is most interesting about the Don-Betty seduction scene is that Betty is fully in command (second most interesting is Don’s comparison of having sex to climbing a mountain).      She realizes that she will never hold his attention other than through sex, and so she uses that to get what she wants, which is validation from her original and most coveted lover that she is, indeed, still the desirable debutante that she was when she first met him.  Then, it’s back to reality and Henry, as her better half- whatever that is in the context of Betty- reasserts herself at breakfast with Henry the next morning.

“The Better Half” title is taken from the struggle that Megan is having trying to play a dual role on her soap opera.   She thinks she’s acting like two different people, but evidently not different enough, to the point where she fears she’s actually going to be fired from the show.  Meanwhile, everyone around her is acting like two selves, with the good one warring with the bad.    Arlene lets her inner lesbian out at Megan’s flat, after hearing Megan out and drinking parts of two bottles of wine that she interprets as a come-on rather than a plea for help from the younger woman.   Roger tries to act like a father and grandfather but ends up looking in need of parental supervision himself.  And Don and Ted continue their psychological warfare over dueling creative visions (for margarine, of all things,) finding it hard to put their rivalry aside and focus on those positives that make the two of them great advertising men.

While we wonder whether Pete Campbell even has a better half (and while his true better half, Trudy, continues to be offstage raising their child while Pete copes with his increasingly demented mother), he gets a pep talk that appeals to his better nature from the unsinkable Duck Phillips, back in the saddle and soberly (and successfully) pursuing a career as a headhunter.    Duck advises Pete in a depressingly lit interview at Pete’s sad city pad to get his personal act together, as it will help him give off a much more confident vibe as he searches for options beyond SCDP, etc.    (Great to have the smoothly professional Mark Moses back in the picture, no matter how brief.)

The big loser for the episode other than Peggy (although I think Abe’s exit is addition by subtraction) is Roger, who may be getting his groove back professionally but has let his Peter Pan act burn away any opportunity he may have to lead a normal personal life.   Roger’s rejection by both his daughter and Joan (the former after he ill-advisedly takes his four-year old to the movies to see- what else- “Planet of the Apes”) is appropriate but nonetheless heartbreaking.   We want Roger to be a better father and grandfather, but we know- and they know- that he can’t.

We’re perhaps less surprised than Roger to see the ubiquitous Bob Benson showing up at Joanie’s in his shorts for a trip to the beach, but while the two of them seem to be together, Bob shows none of the manly swagger that one would assume he’d take on if he and Joan were really an item.    Both of Bob’s halves just might be good, and we’re simply not yet buying it, continuing to believe there is a hidden agenda behind his do-gooding.    Credit James Wolk for creating a persona for Bob in which the text seems to be the subtext, unless it’s not– most brilliantly played in the scene with Pete, when he recommends a nurse for Pete’s mother and looks for all the world like he cares for Pete in a thoroughly unadulterated way.  It may be a while before we find out whether Bob is the realization of our ideals or justification for our cynicism.      But one thing seems apparent, and that is that Joan and Bob are a serious mismatch, especially with him in those shorts.

The irony is that the one person who is actually supposed to be playing two roles is really the most unitary character in the show.  Megan has been much maligned by other reviewers, but I believe that Jessica Pare has found the right tone for her character and has stuck to it steadfastly for the entire year, and in this episode it has paid off.   Megan is a fully realized person trying to bear her problems with equanimity and consistency.   She loves her job and loves her man, and is trying to balance each successfully.     There’s no better or worse half to Megan, and that’s what makes it so very difficult for her to play those two distinct roles.

Megan doesn’t give in to Arlene’s advances, even if it means that she gets fired.   She confronts Don when he comes home from camp when it would be easier to go with the flow and take advantage of his momentary tenderness.    Megan knows he’s been gone, because as she says plaintively to him, “I’m here.”     The question is at the end of the scene with Don (which Jon Hamm pulls off with enough ambiguity to make us wonder), does Don realize that Megan is his better half?

At the end of the episode, Peggy is in the same spot she was in at the beginning, wedged between two mercurial protégés, in some ways the two halves of her own personality, but cut adrift from a failed relationship and uncertain of her future.    The closing of Don’s and Ted’s doors leaves Peggy symbolically exposed, but perhaps in better position than ever to chart her own course and be her own person.    It’s Peggy time, and not a moment too soon.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

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Don and Ted’s Excellent Adventure Takes a Sadistic Turn in Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Seven

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In the midst of the semi-organized chaos surrounding the merger of SCDP and Gleason Cutler and Chaough, Don Draper’s season-long squeeze Sylvia comes down with a fever- and unlike the famous Saturday Night Live skit, it’s not going to be satisfied by “more cow bell.”   It’s something only our international man of mystery, Don, can satisfy.   Sylvia’s itch becomes Don’s cue to descend into a brand of sadism in the bedroom and the office that was almost painful to watch throughout this episode, otherwise largely about people and relationships in transition.

The world is changing, perhaps too quickly for Don to process.  While clients are reviewed and employees relocated or riffed, he decides to bring order to his life by essentially commanding Sylvia to be his love slave, only existing within the walls of Room 503 at the Sherry Netherland Hotel.  Linda Cardellini, continuing (and perhaps ending) her brilliant work as the guilt ridden yet compliant and complicit lover, treats Don’s commands with a mixture of shock, disbelief and excitement, delirious to be so desired by her lover but at the same time a bit scared about where this turn into the darkness is taking her.   A hot looking red dress from Saks- marking Sylvia as Don’s scarlett woman- does a bit to assuage her concern, but, let’s face it, being locked up in a small hotel room waiting for the man in your life to deign to come around, with no distractions other than the sound of your own thoughts (which run to fury with your husband and motherly concern for your son) can freak out the most ardent lover.   The only thing Don didn’t do was handcuff her to the bed, and I was waiting for that.   By the end of the hour, Sylvia makes a decision that shifts the balance of power between the two and disrupts Don’s equilibrium, perhaps for good.   Plus, she probably avoided the handcuffs, which probably were going to emerge from the Draper repertoire next.

At work, Don moves quickly to mark his territory and show Ted Chaough who came out on top of this “merger of equals”.   While sex is not an option as a weapon on Ted, he uses his other favorite pastime, booze, to subjugate Ted to his will.   As a peace offering after slighting Ted earlier in the day, he comes into Ted’s office with a bottle of scotch and two cocktail glasses–always appropriate in Mad Men world–and he offers to brainstorm with Ted about Fleischman’s margarine.    Predictably, while Ted gets drunker and less able to keep up with our hero, Don becomes more articulate and insightful, ultimately coming up with a fully fleshed out creative concept out of thin air (you can almost taste the pancakes, as Don’s word picture makes margarine seem like a sacrament).    As a coda, Ted staggers into the creative bullpen, and veers far away from the oleo and into conducting a straw poll about who the creatives are supporting in the upcoming election.  Of course, the majority supports Bobby Kennedy, but one staffer’s support of Nixon seems to be the stimulus for Ted to pass out.

The next day, Peggy Olson makes it clear which side of the Don/Ted divide she is on, when the next morning she quietly reads Don the riot act, telling Don that she understands what he’s is up to and she doesn’t appreciate it.    She makes a damning declaration, telling her former mentor that she had hoped that some of Ted would rub off on Don, rather than the other way around.    Then, in a truly audacious turn that would have been unthinkable to the Peggy Olson of old, she intimates that the reason Don merged with Ted’s firm was to get her to come back to SCDP.    Peggy leaves Don with another Draperism that, from the look on Don’s face really stings, when she advises him to “move forward.”   Don has lost the ability to handle Peggy, and his haplessness in sitting still for a brief but scathing lecture from his subordinate is an eloquent counterpoint to his determined domination of his lover, still at the time holed up in Room 503.

This was a revealing episode for the increasingly endearing Ted Chaough, who in ways both small and large reveals a big-hearted sense of humanity that represents a spark of light in an otherwise dark and foreboding episode.   Ted gives up his seat in the staff meeting to a secretary after Pete Campbell imperiously demands that one be brought into the meeting room for him.  He is egalitarian and respectful with the creatives in soliciting ideas for the margarine pitch, while using words like “groovy” and “rap” in a stilted but appreciated effort to connect with them on their level.

And, he is a loyal and encouraging friend to his dying partner, Frank Gleason (Craig Anton, very affecting here as Ted’s source of moral support) sharing a brotherly moment at a hospital bedside, where the dying man provides some excellent career advice about how to handle his new SCDP situation (He counsels Ted to let Don “win the first few rounds”).   Kevin Rahm, who served largely as comic relief as a skittish neighbor on “Desperate Housewives”, does some particularly strong work in this episode, as he continues to subtly reveal deeper layers of Ted’s character, conveying real poignancy in his scene with Gleason.    He is becoming the yin to Don’s yang, and by the end of the episode, you begin to root for him to come out on top and give Don a strong dose of his own medicine.   He begins to do just that when he literally takes the driver’s seat on their harrowing flight to visit the Mohawk people- the tables turn and Ted is in control and knows what’s coming next, while a sweaty, shaken Don beats a terrified retreat into the book that he has purloined from Sylvia.

Speaking of darkness and descent, it becomes painfully clear that Pete is disintegrating before our eyes, increasingly paranoid and hysterical over real and perceived slights and terrified about losing his rightful place as the lead account man in the merged company.  What makes this plot line resonate even more is the parallel descent of his imperious mother, who clearly is suffering from Alzheimer’s or some other mental defect as she still thinks her husband is alive, confuses Judy and Trudy, the two Campbell spouses, and is generally disoriented.   She has such little credibility in Pete’s eyes that by the time she informs him in her scattered way that Robert Kennedy has been killed, Pete thinks she’s referring back to assassination of the president and pays no attention to her.

Another glimmer in the darkness is supplied courtesy of Roger Sterling, who fires Bert Peterson for the second time with such relish that you imagine Roger having Bert for dinner with some fava beans and a good Chi-ant-i.    His obvious joy at the prospect of ridding the newly combined firm of the sycophantic, ineffectual account man is evident in every word that Roger happily utters.     Roger is again a man in full, a major client win under his belt and happy to throw Peterson and his threats of client departures under the bus.

We would have hoped that Don would have reached his limit with Sylvia and been the one to call it quits and try to get his flagging marriage back on track.  But it’s Sylvia, with a well-developed Catholic sense of shame and an increasing concern with the person she was becoming with Don, who tells Don it’s over.    Don returns to his own apartment a defeated man, barely hearing a word Megan tells him while she recommends they go back to Hawaii together (when you’re hearing music that’s drowning out your wife’s voice while she’s telling you excitedly that she wants to cavort in a bathing suit with you in the middle of Paradise, your marriage is clearly in a world of hurt).

Next morning, Megan sits crying and unbelieving about yet another assassination- Bobby Kennedy’s.   Don sits on the bed inches from her but a thousand miles away, grieving not for another dead Kennedy but for the death of another relationship.    That final, brilliantly composed shot tells you all you need to know about where the Draper marriage- and the country- is headed.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

 

Author’s Note.  So, what’s with this Bob Benson guy?   Is he just a brown nose who is a nicer, more tolerable version of Pete Campbell, or is he a truly good person thrown into an Alice in Wonderland environment where he’s just trying to be helpful, get along and make his way in the world?   I thought he demonstrated genuine concern with Joanie’s illness, and brilliantly manipulated the crusty nurse who was roadblocking Joan from getting treatment.   Joanie is suspicious, but perhaps her mother is right- sometimes you need to accept acts of kindness for what they are.  Then again, Joanie did save his job- just as she thought he was trying to do in being her knight in shining armor.  Maybe you can be good and do yourself some good at the same time.   I think the jury is still out on the bright, good looking young man.   Then again, perhaps he’s the “Man with a Plan”, in the episode title.  At least one friend of mine thinks his name is going to end up on the door.

And, perhaps I’m looking a bit too closely for connections, but “Reach out in the Darkness”, which closes the episode, was recorded by the now forgotten duo of Friend and Lover.   We know by the close, that Don’s own friend and lover one floor below is gone, probably for good.

Don and Dick “Crash” Into Each Other during Mad Men Season Six, Episode Eight

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While poor Ken Cosgrove is the victim of a real car crash at the beginning of this episode–joy riding with a bunch of mid-level Chevy managers whose idea of fun evidently is torturing advertising client execs–the ultimate collision in “The Crash” happens in Don Draper’s life, as his ability to keep his memories of Dick Whitman at bay literally breaks down and the boundaries between his past and present seem fuzzier and more easily breached than ever before.

Don begins the episode frustrated both personally and professionally- rebuffed by Sylvia after she founds out about his lurking at her back door and angered by General Motors’ bureaucratic inertia in dithering over a new ad campaign for the Chevy that the merged agency came together for and won.   And on top of that, he espies his former protégé, Peggy Olson, sharing a quiet moment consoling a heartbroken Ted Chaough about the death of his friend and partner, Frank Gleason.  And that’s just in the first fifteen minutes.     Shot up with Benzedrine to keep the creative juices flowing, up against a client that doesn’t swoon over his brilliance and cast adrift by his very Draper-like lover, it’s not long before the Dick Whitman flashbacks start appearing like subliminal “popcorn” signs flashing at an old Drive-In movie theatre.

The merging of the professional and personal lives of our protagonist- one of the season’s primary motifs– plays out during one of the most hyperactive episodes of the year and possibly of the show’s entire run.  For those who complain about Mad Men’s leisurely approach to plot development, this episode is Matthew Weiner’s resounding rejoinder.   “The Crash” is essentially Mad Men’s brain on speed, and it is a wild ride.    In one episode, we get the death of a partner, a break-in, a car crash, the introduction of a “Dr. Feelgood”, the reappearance of  “Thin Betty” (who obviously took a couple weeks off the show to get into shape for husband Henry’s political campaign- better looking but still surly and self-righteous), an unrequited pass at Peggy by the increasingly endearing Stan, and a tap dancing Ken Cosgrove, who, while high on speed, does a passable imitation of Donald O’Connor to demonstrate his newly pain- free legs while providing an amusingly painful riff on the life of a client man.   All this, and Dick Whitman loses his virginity, predictably to one of the “hookers with a heart of gold” who inhabit his Uncle Mac’s House of Horrors.

Meanwhile, in the precarious present, the speed-fueled Don is ostensibly working on a new campaign idea for Chevrolet and imploring Ken to get him into the room with the Chevy brass so that he can pitch his ideas in person (making the bizarre assurance that “the timbre of my voice will be as important as the content”).     But that’s not what Don is really up to, as Peggy realizes in a horrifying moment near the end of the show, when Don calls them all into his office to hear his Big Idea.    She realizes- as we have suspected all along- that the idea was not meant for Chevy, but rather for something (or namely someone) else.   For the first time in his career, Don is pitching a woman, and the room he wants access to isn’t a boardroom, but a bedroom.   Ostensibly, the object of this pitch is Sylvia, but it could be any other woman who was ever in his life.    This is Don Draper at his most vulnerable, putting the pitch of his career together to sell himself as deserving of love.   Clearly, the timbre of Don’s voice would be important in that context.

Weiner perhaps could have been subtler about this, as he uses a mysterious young woman (who later turns out to be Gleason’s daughter, finding a somewhat dubious means of coping with loss) as the messenger of this plot point.   She touts herself as a mind reader of sorts, and the question she thinks she hears Don wordlessly asking is “am I worthy of love?”   If that’s not obvious enough, she finds a stethoscope (probably Dr. Feelgood’s but perhaps a reference to Arnold Rosen) and when she puts it up to Don’s heart, she can’t hear anything.  She speculates that it’s broken (the stethoscope, not Don’s heart), but we’re faced with the prospect that it’s actually the latter- Don’s immediate and startled reaction to her remark.   She then propositions Don in that carefree, consequences be damned kind of way that make us baby boomers nostalgic for the sixties (in my case, NOT!), and ends up as the lovelorn Stan’s consolation prize after he strikes out with Peggy.

So what’s the previous creative work Don is looking for that will change his life and bring his lover back to him (while doing nary a thing to help Ken Cosgrove keep those rambunctious ad guys at Chevy from endangering his life again)?   An oatmeal ad with a mother who looks suspiciously like the prostitute who nurses him back to health and introduces him to his manhood—all the way down to a beauty mark on the mother/prostitute’s cheek.    If there were ever any doubt that much of Don’s creative inspiration comes from his own life, that oatmeal ad puts it to rest.    The line is “she knows what you need”, and it’s very much a line that any ad creative type would love- they like to believe that they understand human behavior and what drives wants and needs, and through entertainment, clever messaging and inspiration they can scratch that all-so-human itch like no one else.

During the brainstorm for yet another round of Chevy creative, Peggy utters a line that may be the theme not only for this year but every other year that we’ve watched the tormented Draper run just ahead of the demons on his heels.   She says, “the child is father to the man”, a famous line from William Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality” whose premise is that the older we get, the further away from the divine we become, and the more we yearn for that glimpse of divinity we had in childhood.  Although in this context it has an ironic twist, given what we know about the unfortunate and strangely passive Dick Whitman’s childhood.  In this context, it really means that the past for Don Draper is prelude-the manipulations of the people around him as a child; from the kindly prostitute to the physically abusive stepmother- all conspire to create the repressed, insecure adult he has become.   It is the Wordworthian romantic view of nature and man’s role in it stood on its head (who says being an English major doesn’t have its advantages?).

Finally, we can celebrate the timely and welcome return of the precociously talented Kiernan Shipka as Sally to the show, anchoring a truly memorable scene- an exercise in Kabuki theater with an African American thief (a remarkable turn by Davenia McFadden) who has broken into the Draper household, claiming she is the kids’ “Grandma Ida”.   The balance the gifted young actress strikes between credulity and skepticism, and the finely honed balance the older actress deftly strikes between kindness and malice, imbues this scene with real tension.     When the older woman leaves, we breathe more easily.  Not so the negligent father, who when confronted with the aftermath of Sally’s strange adventure, predictably crashes.

Some random questions:

Joanie and Bob sitting in a tree somewhere?   So where is the fun couple (if indeed they are a couple).  They’re nowhere to be found this week.

Longest elevator ride?  We hear neither the timbre of Don’s voice nor the content of his remarks while he and Sylvia take an agonizingly long elevator ride down at the end of the episode.   After coming up with all of those “words of love”, Don is angry, uncomfortable and somewhat tongue-tied post crash.  And what is that enigmatic look on Sylvia’s face as she watches Don stalk out of the elevator?   Is she thinking of backsliding?

Most appropriate song, or what?    Cass Eliot’s “Words of Love” may be the most appropriate musical selection the show has offered.   Clearly, Don was looking for those words that Sylvia had never heard before- something beyond the exceedingly warm embraces of his hyperactive libido.   But Don was also looking for words of love from others, to compensate for the crater-sized hole at the center of his own life.   It’s an appropriately haunting way to close out the show.

Will one night with Herb last a lifetime?    Joanie’s partner-clinching tryst with the sleazoid Herb is the plot device that keeps on devising, when at the end Don notes that every time he gets a car account the agency “turns into a whorehouse”.    This not only relates to his flashbacks of his own virginal deflowering, but also alludes to the way Joan locked up the Jaguar account and a partnership all in one coital fell swoop.  Don’s long memory- and his resentment that his own creative prowess didn’t carry the day- doesn’t bode well for the widening rift between him and Joan.

Who’s got a fork?  Can someone tell Megan what’s going on, so she can stop trying to save her marriage, move to Hollywood and collect three or four more husbands?

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

 

A Bulls Bandwagon Is Being Built

Editor’s Note: Introducing “Bullish,” Rory MacPhail’s semiannual syndicated column about your Chicago Bulls. For reasons that are technical, contractual, but really just boil down to good old human sloth, we pick up “Bullish” after game one of the Bulls-Heat Eastern Conference semifinals. In today’s installment, Mr. MacPhail reminds us that, while “Don’t Stop Believin'” are sage words, you must believe in the first place. 

If Peggy Noonan wrote about sports, her column today would read something like, “It is Spring, which means there are vibrations of basketball glory in the air and they have found their way to the Bulls of Chicago, who have accepted and transferred them into desperately needed energy. The Bulls are beaten down, yet their flags and pennants fly high in the windows of apartments along Fullerton and Belmont and Clark. Men in fine shirts and ties gather around water coolers in corporate highrises on Wacker Drive to speak giddily of the Bulls’ victory over the hated Heat. But the vibrations are concentrated not just in Chicago. They are spreading out and beginning to infect the country like meningitis, for which a spinal tap is unnecessary, for we know the diagnosis already, the cause of the stirring in our souls: a team of destiny: the Chicago Bulls.”

This is all bullshit, of course. Anyone who’s been paying attention knows the Bulls are a good team, that they can beat Miami (twice in the regular season), that they play stellar defense, that Tom Thibodeau is an excellent coach, that they can get under LeBron James’s skin (remember LeBron’s interview after the Bulls ended the Heat’s 27-game winning streak, in which he complained about getting tackled by Kirk Hinrich [6 ft 4 in, 190 lbs]; about the Bulls’ hard fouls that “were not basketball plays”; about not being able to defend himself because whenever he does he gets called for a flagrant [even though his flagrant foul, after driving an elbow into Carlos Boozer’s beautifully immovable chest, was his first of the year. LeBron has three career flagrant fouls: one this year, and two in the ’06-’07 season. So seriously, what was he talking about?*] LeBron’s demeanor in the interview was calm and collected, but the content was nonsense. LeBron James, barely in control, drove directly into Kirk Hinrich on that non-basketball play, resulting in both players [and, specifically, the back of Hinrich’s head] hitting the floor. Hinrich simply did his job and did it well, without any sort of malicious intent. When the MVP of the league is accusing Kirk Hinrich of committing a Bill Lambeerian play when video evidence suggests the play was nothing of the sort, a shift has occurred. LeBron James talking out of his ass means something interesting has happened).

Simply put, LeBron James can be rattled, and the Bulls are the ones who have done the rattling.

Which is why the Bulls stealing game one against the Heat really isn’t that much of a shock. They didn’t have Deng, the Bulls’ usual LeBron-defender, and they didn’t have Hinrich, for which LeBron must have breathed a deep sigh of relief, because Kirk is a cheap tackling asshole! But it didn’t matter. Nate Robinson stepped up and hit big shots and had a game-high 27 points. Jimmy Butler played 48 minutes for the third straight game and held the MVP to 2 first-half points. The Human Viaduct Mural (tattoo that on your dick, Bird Man), had 1 rebound in 16 minutes. Chris Bosh was minus 11—that is, the Heat managed an 11-point deficit with him on the court. Ray Allen was minus 16 and 1-4 from three.

Plus: Carlos Boozer sucked! If he can get it going at a double-team-worthy level against the smaller Heat, the Bulls can have more success in this series. The Bulls can win this series, dammit! The vibrations!

But will they? As Peggy Noonan wrote in her November 5, 2012 column predicting a victory for Mitt, “Nobody knows anything. Everyone’s guessing.” Were the Heat rusty? Did sweeping the Bucks, playing an embarrassingly overmatched team, hurt them? Will the Heat win four in a row? Was LeBron tripped up by his sick new kicks? God fucking dammit, why did the Heat lose?!

Because the Bulls played well, as they have for the majority of the season, and the Heat played shitty, as they haven’t for the majority of the season. “A season that originally promised absolutely nothing great has grown strangely and unexpectedly delicious,” writes Michael Wilbon in his column titled, “Believing is Enough for Bulls.” Isn’t this why we watch sports? Because nothing is promised, and unexpected shit can happen? Despite the fact that it’s been implied by Big Sports, Inc., all season that the only thing standing between the Heat and their rightful championship is a bunch of stupid, boring basketball games; despite the fact that Derrick Rose has been advised by many sober-voiced, mainstream basketball columnists (including Wilbon) to sit out the season because the Bulls can’t compete with the Heat with or without him; despite the fact that no serious pundit cares about the Bulls’ two regular season wins over the Heat (because the regular season doesn’t matter, unless a team goes on a 27-game winning streak, in which case it’s time for sports nation to collectively climax); despite all of this, the Bulls continue to compete, and we are surprised. Believe!

The Heat’s story is the story of this season’s NBA, even though it’s a pretty boring story when you think about it. It’s tantamount to a shitty novel called Life as Tina Lived It, about a woman named Tina who was raised by loving, open-minded parents, who worked really hard in high school and managed to get accepted to an Ivy League college (paid for by a trust established by a wealthy grandfather upon his death), who was kind to everyone with whom she came into contact, who married an equally kind man with whom she raised equally kind, bright children, and who ultimately died of natural causes in her loving husband’s arms with a tender smile upon her beautiful, wrinkle-free face, her last words being, “I regret nothing. Life as I lived it was life as it should be…” The End. Nobody wants to read that piece of shit, which is why it hasn’t been written. The Heat are supposed to win. Everything has aligned for them. They’ve had a near perfect season. So why would anyone outside of Miami want them to win?

Which is why that sound you hear—that continuous banging—is hammer on wood. It is the sound of a Bulls bandwagon being built. The vibrations are out there, souls are stirring: people outside of Chicago—away from the banner-waving apartments and sexy middle-aged men on Wacker Drive—are beginning to pine for a Bulls victory. Let us all climb aboard and ride, ride into the heat of the fire in Florida. The Bulls are rising like so many phoenixes and have taken their talons to South Beach.

Can the Bulls win the series? Yes. Will they? It remains to be seen. It is unlikely, but possible. There is plenty of basketball yet to be played, which is a wonderful thing. And if the Bulls lose the series, I will be Karl Rove on election night 2012, questioning every call that has led to this egregious mistake of a result: “How could this happen? The Bulls were the team of destiny! This was David and Goliath! I believed! I believed!” But in this time of NBA confusion, when the Eastern conference seems to be up in the air, one thing is certain: the Bulls have a better chance than Mitt ever did.

Submitted by Rory MacPhail

* “Every time I try to defend myself, I got to face the consequences of a flagrant for me, or a technical foul, or whatever the case may be.” Again, LeBron James has 3 career flagrant fouls. He has 40 career technical fouls, an average of 4 per season. He is not oppressed by officiating.

Strange Bedfellows, Unlikely Alliances Dominate Mad Men Season Six, Episode Six

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I have often called one of Mad Men’s great strengths to be the intensity of quiet moments- a longing gaze about things past, a rueful look between two estranged partners, the caress on the cheek that carries meaning and import.   Well, there was none of that in Season Six, Episode Six.

The episode was certainly intense, but it was never quiet.    Bravura and showy performances among the core members of the ensemble cast underpinned some truly unexpected developments- events that will undoubtedly play out for the remainder of the season, if not for the series stretch run.

The show began with a potential initial public offering of SCDP and ended with a merger of convenience between SCDP and Cutler, Gleason and Chaough, with Elisabeth Moss as Peggy showing genuine confusion, concern and excitement all in one exhilarating moment as both of her mentors order her to write the press release that announces the merger and christens this episode (titled “For Immediate Release”).    In between, a dizzying array of alliances and break ups reorder the Mad Men cosmos.

Joan for the first time shows her frustration with Don, voicing the “it’s all about Don” mantra we’ve heard from other characters in the wake of Don’s disastrous dinner with the oily Herb the Jaguar Guy.   Joan, seven figure payouts dancing in her head, was finally about to get her ultimate reward for compromising her principles and body through her liaison with Herb, and Don in a fit of ego and pique screwed it up.   For Joan, this was the ultimate disrespect, and a sad irony, given the chivalry Don displayed throughout the Herb episode.

In turn, Don’s break with Herb and Jaguar works like an aphrodisiac with his increasingly frustrated wife Megan, as their lovemaking threatens the bedroom walls,  while Megan’s French Canadian mom (Julia Ormond, in a small but unexpectedly hilarious reappearance) sits in the next room, ruefully listening to the result of her motherly handiwork while chain smoking and downing yet another bottle of wine– and showing a languid kind of pique toward the AWOL Roger when he phones to ask for forgiveness (and a word with Don).    For once, Megan accepts her mother’s advice before the fateful dinner with Herb, wears a flashy outfit that shows off her leggy, youthful frame, and this, in addition to the Herb-sized piano that comes off Don’s back at dinner seems to do more than Sylvia’s absence to reignite the dormant Draper ardor for his soap opera star wife.   The dinner scene, where an increasingly bored and frustrated Marie cracks wise in French as she loses her patience with the Herbs is a minor Mad Men classic, solidifying Ormond’s stature as one of the series’ most memorable supporting actors.

While Bert Cooper, Joan and the increasing agitated and lonely Pete Campbell conspire to bring a huge payday and badly needed outside capital to the still-fledgling enterprise, Don and Roger solidify their own often-shaky alliance through Roger’s landing of an opportunity to pitch Chevrolet.  (The pitch is for a new car, which sounded alarmingly like the car that in Spanish is translated as “won’t go”.  We’ll see if that’s what it is, since they landed the business.)

Don once again does some of his best thinking on a barstool, as that’s where he and Ted Chaough hatch the plot that brings their two firms together and wins them the Chevy business.   In a great scene where the two leave their respective stools long enough to pitch each other with their ideas for the new Chevy, we are reminded that beyond the booze, sex and dangerous liaisons, these guys- like others in their orbit- truly get off on making great advertising.    It’s a “dad loves his work” moment, and an important one, demonstrating that Don and Ted may be competitors and may not even like each other, but they share something in their love of craft that is truly transcendent.

We also witness the continued resurgence of Roger Sterling (with the parallel, equally astonishing star turn of Sterling alter ego John Slattery), as he completes his transformation from a puppy dog begging for Pete Campbell’s scraps to becoming the central player in putting a halt to SCDP’s brief but scary slide from potential IPO darling to potentially failing enterprise.    Roger has shown a remarkable facility for getting women to help him pursue business (through his socially connected corporate and first wife Mona, and later the conveniently Jewish Jane Siegel, who helps Roger try to land Manischewitz), but nothing comes close to his alliance with Daisy, the deceptively bright and wily flight attendant who plays his wingman to help him sidle up to the Chevy exec at the gate (and who later conveniently misplaces the competition’s luggage).    `

Finally, we’re reminded of the poisonous relationship between Pete and his father-in-law, as even the “mutually assured destruction” moment of finding themselves face to face in a brothel can’t deter Trudy’s outraged daddy from sticking the knife in Pete’s back.   Without Vick’s and Jaguar, there’s no IPO and no fat payday to compensate Pete for the increasing void at the heart of his life.   And, no Trudy, who sees Pete’s betrayal of her dad as the final nail in the coffin of their dying marriage.

Some may view the big question coming out of the episode as can Don and Ted find harmony and success (while putting their dueling egos aside) battling the ad behemoths together?   Perhaps it will be old pros Roger and Jim Cutler (the gracefully aging and former Sexiest Man Alive Harry Hamlin, essentially playing Slattery/Sterling’s less charming but equally smooth doppelganger) that take the edge off the Don/Ted relationship and keep the merged ship on an even keel.

But for me the more interesting issue may be whether Peggy and Abe’s relationship can survive their adventure in the gentrifying upper West Side and, more importantly, Peggy’s fantasies about Ted (not to mention his advances toward her).   I’ve always considered Abe and Peggy mismatched- she’s been a counter culture dilettante rather than a true believer like Abe, and she seems much more suited for the Upper East Side condo that she lost out on than a fixer upper in a “transitioning” neighborhood.   My prediction is when Nixon wins the presidency (rather than one of Abe’s two heroes, the quixotic Gene McCarthy and the star-crossed Robert Kennedy), Abe and Peggy’s relationship won’t make it through the inauguration.

Author’s Note:  In the “here’s something I’d never thought I’d hear” department, Dr. Rosen, complaining to Don about “pissing my life away in New York City” when Dr. Michael DeBakey takes the honor of doing the first heart transplant away from him (after which, Don counsels him to make his own breaks, ironic given that it’s Roger’s ingenuity that has given Don his latest shot at redemption).  And in the “here’s something that’s hard to believe” department, imagine a company doing an IPO working with one investment banker sitting on a couch with an adding machine, rather than a conference room full of number crunchers, lawyers, and, yes, PR consultants.   Pretty hard to believe, but after all, it was 1968 and the SCDP offering would have been pretty small potatoes.   Finally, in the “here’s something I’ve never seen before” department, there’s an advertising person writing a news release.   Now, that’s something completely different.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller