Sweater Manifesto

A blog about American zeitgeist and other things.

Scenes from Two Failing Marriages Dominate “Mad Men” Season Seven, Episode Five

 

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You knew this was going to be a “very special Mad Men” even before the opening credits, when the AMC staff announcer warned viewers about sexual content, in a manner reminiscent of the run-up to an episode of “Justified”. And, Matt Weiner certainly didn’t disappoint, coming across with a ménage a trois so intricately choreographed that it was reminiscent of an aquatic scene in an old Esther Williams movie.

 

The recipient of this sexual largesse was a tired and slightly drunk Don Draper, on the West Coast ostensibly to check up on his very pregnant “niece”, Stephanie, who has flown the coop with a $1,000 check before Don hits the door of wife Megan’s Laurel Canyon home.   After smoking some weed with her pal “Amy from Delaware” and cleaning up the debris of a party with her “actor” friends, Megan is ready to go to some unusual lengths to make this a weekend for Don to remember. This, after earlier in the night Megan has performed a vampish dance with a guy looking suspiciously like Roy the Beatnik from the show’s early episodes (featuring the freewheeling and ultimately tragically fated Midge). So, the two women seduce Don, and the ad man, protestations aside, responds viscerally and positively.  

 

Then morning comes, Don’s in bed with Megan and Amy, followed by an exceptionally awkward scene in the kitchen, the latter a bit flustered and embarrassed and the former frustrated that her strategy hasn’t led to some kind of resurrection of affection in Don.   If the Draper marriage were on life support before shooting the adrenaline of a three-way into the morphine drip, it is certainly now about time to pull the plug.

 

There’s really no more reason for Megan to be in LA than for Don to remain in NY at this point.   Her acting career has hit a full stall, and she’s spending her days hanging out with the aforementioned Amy and fielding calls from her fellow struggling actors.   It’s all about the California lifestyle for Megan, and she’s been fully seduced by it.   Plus, if she and Don were actually in the same city for more than two days, they’d have to actually work on their marriage, and neither of them want to do that, because they’d have to admit that it’s all over but the occasional sex orgy.  

 

Plus, don’t we have a bit of an issue with show continuity? Last time we encountered Megan, she was telling Don it was over and then tolerating a less-than fulfilling bi-coastal phone conversation while Don made a half-hearted attempt to win her back.   In this episode, all of that seems forgotten, as when Don presumptuously asks Megan to take care of Stephanie, Megan responds cheerily about it and looks forward to Don making the trek back to LA to have his little family reunion.  What happened to Megan’s resolve to call it quits?  

 

It’s enough to drive one crazy, and indeed, that’s exactly what happens to Michael Ginsberg, who is transformed from being eccentric (and almost comically over-the-top) to a full-on nut job, all because of the leviathan-like computer that he believes is taking over his mind and revealing a pretty healthy dose of homophobia.   His first strategy for dealing with the humming in his head was strange enough- trying to seduce Peggy Olson in her condo.   His second strategy- cutting off one of his chest nipples in order to relieve the pressure from his brain, and then giving the offending body part to Peggy as a gift, lands him in a gurney on the way to a mental hospital.   That Peggy realizes that Ginsberg has crossed the Rubicon from annoyingly strange to truly sick shows there’s hope for her yet, and Elisabeth Moss plays the scene with just the right amount of horror, shock and sympathy.  

 

Speaking of horror, there’s the return of Betty after a one-episode hiatus, and we find that the pettiness, selfishness and immaturity that has been the hallmark of her approach to both of her marriages is beginning to finally get to the preternaturally tolerant Henry Francis.   At a progressive dinner, Betty reveals that she didn’t get the memo that Henry- evidently now a Congressman or state representative- is now against the war in Vietnam and supporting Richard Nixon’s effort to extricate the US from the decade-long quagmire. Betty seems pretty into the war effort, and assumed Henry was, as well.   Either she didn’t bother to check signals with Henry on this, or she simply doesn’t care.   Since Betty has elevated self-centeredness to an art form, I’d bet on the latter.  

 

Just to add salt to the wound, Betty bows out of the rest of the dinner with a “headache”, leaving Henry to meander around the neighborhood stag and putting him in a foul mood.   While Don at least has two stoned women to bed at the end of the night, there’s no such luck for Henry, who must be left to wonder what in the world motivated him to break up the Don and Betty’s marriage.     Maybe he should have had a heart-to-heart with Sally beforehand, who after breaking her nose in a mock swordfight and coming home to her mother and stepfather, seems to be permanently alienated from “Betty”, a term she uses contemptuously to refer to her mother.  

 

This episode reverses the previous proportion of office activity to personal stories, as there is only one plotline devoted to the office, but it’s a significant one—the machinations by Jim Cutler and his favorite “adequate” creative chief, Lou Avery (comedian Allan Havey) to get rid of Don once and for all.   The strategy involves winning the new Commander cigarette- newest from the Philip Morris line up- and then forcing Don’s resignation or firing because of the “open letter” he wrote several years ago, in which he atoned for working for cigarette companies.   Through a strange alliance with the insurgent (and gossip-prone) Harry Crane, Don learns of the plot, shows up unannounced to the clandestine meeting with the client and offers to fall on his sword to land the account- or run the creative effort, using the Intel that he gained from sleeping with the enemy.   It’s the old Don–slick, smooth, articulate and convincing—who walks in and out of that client meeting. No strange digressions about his deep dark past and total command of the situation and the room. Jim and Lou are less than enthralled with the performance, but Don feels pretty satisfied, choosing to interpret Lou’s parting shot (“you’re really something”) as a compliment, even as he knows full well that it’s not.  

 

That scene, coupled with Lou’s semi-unraveling when his creative staff finds his sketches of a cartoon character called “Scout” that he evidently thinks will bring him riches, establishes the circumstances for a potential Lou meltdown and a Don ascendancy.   Don now has his nose and a good deal of the rest of his body inside Lou’s tent.   The creative staff clearly respects him more than they do Lou, and the “Scout’s Honor” comic strip that is Lou’s pride and joy reinforces how clearly out of step he is with the current Zeitgeist, not to mention his own staff.   This is underscored when he attempts to connect with them by making a ridiculous comparison between himself and Bob Dylan.

 

The scenes with Megan and Stephanie are particularly well played, as Megan’s surface friendliness is stripped bare pretty quickly after she sizes up the younger woman.   Megan calls Stephanie “beautiful” and Stephanie says that Megan is “magnetic”, but it is clear that both women are uncomfortable with each other, and with the prospect of sharing their affection for Don.   And, there’s the undercurrent of regret spiced with resentment on Megan’s part, as she sees the visibly ripened and Madonna-like Stephanie in full bloom at the seven-month mark of her pregnancy—and being less than enthralled at the prospect.     Megan maneuvers Stephanie out the door by warning her about Don’s possessiveness and buying her off with the aforementioned $1,000 check.   It’s a passive-aggressive move on Megan’s part, and it demonstrates that the wound of her miscarriage is still just beneath the surface, not to mention her impression that Don seems to care more about this almost-total stranger than he does about her.     After all, he’s coming to LA to see Stephanie, not Megan.  

 

It’s interesting that both Don’s and Betty’s marriages are unraveling at the same time on different coasts.   It makes one wonder whether these two will ultimately decide that they belong together again, inflicting their own brand of solipsism on each other rather than disrupting the lives of everyone else.   Perhaps with only two episodes left, we’ll at least have the strands of these marital subplots resolved, even if Don is still playing the long game at work.   It would be nice to have something, anything resolved in this fascinating but frustrating brace of episodes as consolation for waiting yet another year for the inexorable conclusion.

 

 

Submitted by:

 

 

Harlan R. Teller

 

 

The Devil and Don Draper: Decoding “The Monolith” in “Mad Men”, Season Seven, Episode Four

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I’ll say one thing about the partners of SCP—they’re pretty creative when it comes to human resources strategy.   Their handling of Don Draper is a case in point. Their approach to dealing with their brilliant albeit troubled founding partner goes something like this: you bring him back to the fold and put a bunch of restrictions on his behavior to keep him in line.   Then you park him in an office and forget he’s even there, treating him with not-so-benign neglect and passive indifference, evidently in the hopes that he just gets frustrated and goes away.

 

Finally, you are forced to bring him into a new and challenging piece of business, and you pay his former protégé (and secretary) an extra hundred bucks a week to handle him as her new not-so-willing employee, and you give her no direction whatsoever as to how to make this exceptionally uncomfortable situation work.

 

Given this scenario, it should have been no surprise that Don reacts to all of this in a way that is sadly true to form—he goes on a bender, proving in the process that things really do go better with Coke, especially when the Coke is replaced by the better part of a bottle of Roger Sterling’s purloined vodka.

 

It is left to the newly steadfast friend Freddie Rumsen to remind Don of who he is and where his duty lies.   He tells him “do the work”, and that simple word- work- has a talismanic power for Don Draper.   He takes that counsel to heart, and the next day, while erstwhile friend and ally Peggy Olson strategizes as to how to handle her recalcitrant employee, Don assures her very simply and quickly that he is on board and will get the job done.   And, that’s where we’re left at the end of the episode- Don having put paper in his typewriter and beginning to effortlessly bang out new “tags” for the Burger Chef campaign.   Oh, and also looking soulfully out the window, ostensibly trying to figure out how his life has come to this impasse and what in the world he can do to extricate himself from it.

 

The larger question is where it leaves the series, as by the time that last scene appears, we’re feeling like Don- looking out the window and wondering what comes next.   There are only three episodes left in this flight of Mad Men, and what’s happening is anyone’s guess.   While the show has always been much more plot driven than character driven, there are times when it seems like the themes of the show keep recurring and the characters, while demonstrating growth, often seem to be standing in place.   We think Don is facing up to his issues and problems and trying to be a better person, and then he falls off the wagon because his feelings are hurt. We think Roger is trying to be a better, more attentive father while bonding with his clearly troubled and searching (and extremely annoying) daughter, then he leaves her with her new commune friends after an impromptu mud fight, essentially giving up on his halting but sincere attempt to be the father that the wayward Margaret (now “Marigold”) never had when she was growing up.    We hope that Peggy is learning a bit more about herself as a person after having so many spectacularly failed relationships, but the optimism on that score is about nil.

 

And while there was a glimmer of hope that the condescending gasbag known as Lou Avery was showing some humanity to Peggy while giving her a raise, it turns out that it was more of a payoff for her to keep Don away from him and immersed in the fast food account than any real regard for his stressed out and increasingly petulant copy chief.

 

So, where’s Mad Men going?   Well, maybe it’s going to the devil, a theme introduced by Don after downing Roger’s vodka bottle.   This is courtesy of a very strange little scene between Don and Lloyd, the very earnest young computer-leasing guy, who heretofore looked to Don like a potential ad client. In Don’s boozy state evidently takes on the aspect of the “Man Downstairs” himself, come to SCP with his demon computer in an effort to take men’s souls.   At least where the conversation seemed to be going before Freddie pulls Don away from the startled leasing guy and out of the office, ostensibly to a Mets game, in this season of 1969, when the Mets would win the World Series and break Cubs fans’ hearts (and, when many suffering Cubs fans would feel permission to believe that the devil was clearly a factor in the Mets’ amazing stretch run).

 

Perhaps Lloyd is the devil because this clean-cut young ex-IBMer, still wearing Big Blue’s signature uniform of a white short-sleeved shirt and a string tie, has expropriated the creative department’s lounging area, in favor of Harry Crane’s new computer.   (We all know the devil never appears to mortals as a red fire breathing guy with a pitchfork—more often than not, he’s a mild mannered young man who entices you to part with your soul, in this case, in return for bringing your media department into the modern age via a contraption to which the episode, entitled “The Monolith,” may owe its name).     Perhaps the “soul” of the creative department is being sucked out of the office in favor of a soulless machine.   Whatever the motivation for Don to go into his devil riff, it’s pretty much of a turn-off to Lloyd, which is too bad, because unlike the Hershey’s pitch at the end of last year that was Don’s undoing, Don had earlier made a pretty great case for how advertising could help Lloyd’s business.

 

If the question the direction Matt Weiner is taking Mad Men is an open issue, I’d say the question of where he’s taking Peggy’s character is a puzzle as well. Peggy continues to wallow in her personal unhappiness and her cynicism about her new boss, although the additional hundred large a week does at least give her a momentary boost.   The astonishing lack of sensitivity that she displays in dealing with Don, coupled with her inability to articulate a strategy for the Burger Chef campaign, does remind the viewer that for all her strengths, she’s still a relative novice as a manager, and her touch is far from deft.   Making Don come into her office, rather than at least showing her former boss and mentor the courtesy of visiting his, struck me as a particularly immature and vindictive thing to do.   Perhaps a better run organization might have provided Peggy with a bit of management skills training before sending her out into the wild without a compass to try to supervise Don Draper.

 

One Mad Men character who is settling into his environment in great style is Pete Campbell, once the quintessential denizen of Manhattan and now totally enthralled with the West Coast and fantastic LA, as the Doors would call it. And, Pete’s LA woman is pretty taken with him, especially when he’s talking business with a once and future client (the guy from Burger Chef, who the beautiful Bonnie Whiteside thinks is checking her out, when actually he’s staring at Pete).   As mentioned in a previous post, Bonnie is at her most sensual when she is either talking business or watching business conducted, and it’s interesting that Pete seems to have got that figured out by the time the scene shifts to New York.     If I’m right, the Pete-Bonnie coupling is not going to be long for this world or series, unless, perhaps, the devil intercedes.   If we next see Lloyd in Los Angeles, we’ll know that something’s up.

 

Submitted by:

 

Harlan R. Teller

Most Awkward Office Visit Ever in “Mad Men” Season Seven, Episode Three

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I’ve said it before—it’s not easy being Don Draper. Especially given that the darkly handsome ad man isn’t really Don Draper to begin with.   But this episode made it particularly awkward.  

 

In “Field Trip”, the episode title ostensibly refers to Betty’s less than successful outing with son Bobby on his class field trip to a particularly bucolic part of New York. But it could just as easily refer to Don’s return to the offices of SCP, after a nocturnal visit to Roger Sterling’s bachelor pad scores Don a “get out of jail free” card from the reliably unreliable Roger.   Don makes his appearance at the office the next morning, and the reaction to him ranges from outright hostility (the increasingly unpleasant, unlikeable Peggy) to stunned stares (most everyone else).   Joan, who always thought of Don as a kindred spirit and supporter, is particularly stilted, reluctantly shooting out a right hand for a halfhearted shake, in a seeming attempt to keep Don at bay while fearing that he was about to transmit a communicable disease.  

 

When after Don has cooled his heels for enough time to run through all the creative being done under the watchful (and not particularly discerning) eye of his successor, Lou Avery, Roger finally makes his appearance.   He’s very late, half in the bag and seemingly put out that Don has actually taken him up on his offer.   But Roger rises to the occasion, amazingly enough. The irritated partners meet to decide Don’s fate, and most would just as soon see him leave while they deliberate.   That’s when Roger, in a remarkable and eloquent plea for his friend, makes a compelling case that SCP should rather want to have the still-brilliant Draper pitching for them than against them (summoning up a somewhat carnal image of Mary Wells and Don in high pitch mode dudgeon to make his point).   The partners relent- and offer Draper back into the fold, but only if he promises to be a good boy and doesn’t mind reporting to the cardigan-clad Avery.   The offer is on the table, and they wait for Don to make up his mind.   

 

And, in what passes for a moment of high drama in the most nuanced show in television history, there is a long, pregnant moment when there is total silence.   And, during that moment, I literally yelled at my TV, “don’t do it, Don!”   I had seen enough humiliation in the previous half hour to last me the rest of the series, and was rooting for Don to tell his former partners to stick and ride off into the sunset and on over to Wells Rich Greene.  

 

But Don takes the offer, setting up what should be an interesting battle of wills between he and Cardigan Man.   If Draper gets his creative mojo back and the staff is won back to his side, Lou could, as threatened, ride out the remainder of his contract selling newspapers in the office building’s lobby.  

 

The subtext of the decision to bring Don back is significant, as the partners—while protesting to the contrary—know the firm is in trouble.   It has lost its creative spark, and contrary to Jim Cutler’s absurd contention that media is the way to sell clients, it’s creative work that stirs hearts and opens checkbooks.   They know that a Don Draper, in control and on his game, can get people talking about SCP again.   On that score, Roger is thoroughly persuasive and entirely right.

 

If rejoining SCP is a way to win back the heartbroken and outraged Megan, it’s probably a losing strategy.   Don thinks that regaining his job will make him somehow more worthy of the younger woman, conveniently forgetting that the reason she made the trek to Los Angeles in the first place was to start over with Don out there. It’s really hard to buy Don’s reawakening of affection for his estranged wife, but his nocturnal phone call to her when he returns to New York was a bit of a surprise and made me think twice. I would have thought he’d have been relieved to return home a free man.

 

At this point, though, Don’s effort to resurrect his dying marriage is more about his struggle to be a good person and much less about his love for his wife.     He’s explicit about it when he protests to Megan that he’s not seeing another woman when he actually tells her, “I’ve been good.”   This is a still conflicted man trying to resurrect his sense of self-worth, and at least for the moment, he sees his flagging marriage as part of the equation.  

 

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe (and in a telling parallel to the Don-Sally storyline last episode), Betty once again takes a stab at being a caring mom, with middle child Bobby the object of her erratic affection.   Betty’s urge to parent is all about Betty- like Don, she’s on a quest for self-worth, in her case exacerbated by her seeing her formerly housebound (and terminally boring) friend Francine out in the working world as a travel agent, and enjoying it.

 

To compensate for her feelings of inadequacy (and perhaps with some remorse that her housekeeper seems to have a better handle on the kid’s homework than she does), she signs up to be a chaperone for Bobby’s field trip to a farm.   Things are going relatively well until Betty steps away at lunchtime and Bobby engages in some age-appropriate boy behavior, trading her sandwich to a little girl in return for some jellybeans.   She’s not as enthusiastic about the trade as her son, and she proceeds to spend the rest of the day in a snit, furious with the stricken boy.   By the time they get home, Bobby wishes the day had never happened, which just proves that the only thing worse than Betty ignoring her children is becoming involved with them.

 

When Betty wonders to Henry why her kids hate her, the long-suffering and ridiculously patient second husband can barely muster more than a tepid rejection of her feelings of dejection.   On the scale of “painful dark night of the soul leading to self-awareness and a more loving relationship with your kids”, Don’s arrow is pointing up, while Betty’s is down, way down.   She seemingly has no idea why her kids might have reason to dislike her, meanwhile clinging to youngest child Gene while watching TV as if the boy were her pillow.

 

Don’s bond with his kids is sporadic but palpable, as he struggles not to let his own sad, tortured childhood interfere with his being a caring, effective parent.   Betty, raised as a pampered princess, is only interested in being a parent when it reflects well on herself.     For all of Don’s transgressions, there is still love and forgiveness from his oldest child.   For Betty, there’s largely dismay, disappointment and indifference.   Henry’s sympathetic step parenting is all the more impressive in this context.  

 

We’re seeing glimmers of hope for Don as he returns to his hostile work family while trying to mend his family at home.   For Betty, however, 1969 may as well be 1960. It’s a different time, with a different culture, different fashions, and different politics, but it’s the same old Betty.   While still a beautiful woman, it’s not a pretty sight.

 

 

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

 

 

Hardly Working during “A Day’s Work”: Mad Men Season Seven, Episode Two

 

 

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Marking territories and engaging in office politics dominates the ironically titled “A Day’s Work”, an episode in which secretarial assignments are rearranged after fits of pique, Joan moves out of adjudicating staff disputes and into the account management hierarchy and Pete wins a Chevy dealership account in Southern California, only to find out that he’ll report to his bête noire, Bob Benson, as his reward.  

 

This is also the episode that gives us an impromptu road trip featuring Don Draper and his alienated (with good reason) daughter Sally (Chicago’s Kiernan Shipka, who continues to amaze), who finds out that Don is no longer working at the firm, after dropping in on her father at the office while in the city for a friend’s mother’s funeral, only to find the insufferable Lou Avery in his place.   Lou, demonstrating that he can be as imperious as he is charmless, blames Sally’s drop-in on erstwhile Draper secretary Dawn. Dawn’s reward for not being at her trusty post when Sally arrives is to be banished from Lou’s employ, which seems to me like a pretty good deal for her.   Of course, Lou does have some justification for feeling frustrated with Dawn, given that she continues to do secretarial chores for Don, and, unbeknownst to Lou, a bit of covert Ops work by keeping Don apprised of what’s going on at the office (although I’m not sure what Don plans to do with the intel about where Lou sits while in client meetings).  

 

Lou is far from the only petulant manager on duty at SCP on this Valentine’s Day, 1969.   Peggy is feeling the sting of being alone, not to mention becoming the butt of Stan and Ginsburg’s jokes.   After finding out that the roses she thought that Ted had given her were actually meant for her secretary, she of course does the perfectly rational thing and blames her secretary for embarrassing her- not to mention causing her to have an entirely unproductive day.   Once again, another secretary is sent packing to somewhere, anywhere, across the office.  

 

The episode gives us a shocking bit of racial insensitivity from a surprising source, Bert Cooper, who opines to Joan that having Dawn out on reception duty could be bad for business.   One would have hoped that Cooper, who seems to be guided by his own lights and after having shown little or no concern about Don Draper’s past so long ago, would be more enlightened.   Joan is outraged but compliant, leading to her accepting Jim Cutler’s suggestion that she might be more comfortable- and happier- in an office near the other “account men”.   It’s a disappointing moment for those of us who have enjoyed Robert Morse as Bert slipping in and out of the camera frame since the show’s inception, and we’d have expected this from Lou Avery and not the avuncular older man. But it probably serves to demonstrate the widening gulf between the baby boomers and the old guard, and in that it’s a reminder that we’re still in the sixth decade of the 20th century.  

 

What doesn’t happen during “A Day’s Work”, however, is very much work.   This is an episode that is a lot more concerned about who’s getting along with whom, who’s working for whom and whose personal stock is up, down or sideways.   And, for Don, we find that this particular day at work is more about eating Ritz crackers while watching the “Little Rascals” and hanging out at lunch with an old advertising contact.   Don’s ennui, which he thinks can be remedied by putting on a suit and tie, demonstrates how easily bad habits comes to those who aren’t regularly putting in a “day’s work.”

 

On the West Coast, Ted continues to be perfectly miserable and seemingly not just job locked, but chained to his desk, while Pete and his smoldering real estate agent, Bonnie Whiteside, find an altogether more exciting use for Pete’s own desk, the aphrodisiac of Pete’s winning the local Chevy account making him seemingly too appealing for the cool blonde realtor to resist.   Pete continues to enjoy the California sun, certainly a lot more than his officemate, but in the wake of finding that he is about to be drawn yet again into Bob Benson’s orbit after the partners vote to manage Chevy as one global account, reverts to form as “petulant Pete”.   Self-pity as always is very unbecoming on Pete, and is a bit of a turn-off for Bonnie, who essentially tells him to get his act together and start making his own breaks.  

 

In fact, the Chevy decision- to have Benson be the overall manager of the account, with the Chevy dealership business in LA reporting into him- is about the only work-related decision that we see in this episode, and it’s a telling one.   For one thing, it’s entirely realistic- the strategy as outlined by the ascendant Jim Cutler is to consolidate the firm’s resources and rationalize its account management structure to win more Chevy and General Motors business.   It’s the right strategy, and the partners other than Roger Sterling (who has his own animus against the oily- and unseen- Benson) see the wisdom in it.   Unfortunately, it leaves Pete in thrall to his nemesis, questioning why he’s in LA and what he’s still doing at the firm if he can feel so disrespected.  

 

The decision also represents a break between Jim and Roger, heretofore two silver foxes with very similar worldviews. Whether Cutler is sincere with Roger in their ice-cold encounter on the elevator about not making him an adversary or is just playing him to buy more time to consolidate his own power, remains to be seen.   The subtlety of Harry Hamlin’s performance as the clever and acute Cutler makes the viewer believe it could go either way.  

 

Given the office comings and goings during this eventful yet unproductive day, the Don-Sally scenes feel a bit airlifted in from another time zone, but affecting and effective nonetheless. We’ve been waiting for a full episode to see what kind of impact visiting her father’s squalid childhood home would have on Sally, and at first it doesn’t seem like much.   She’s too busy engaging in age-appropriate teenage behavior with her equally stuck-up private school friends to seem to care much about her dad. But as the road trip takes shape- with a terrific scene in a local restaurant where the exasperated albeit guilt-ridden Don finds a way to unlock Sally’s repressed affection for him ever so slightly (and believably, symbolized by the troubled girl accepting a patty melt from her dad).   What is brilliant about the scene is that we realize- as Don takes Sally through a brief yet accurate account of why he has been suspended- that this may be the one relationship in the entire series that is not based on lies, half-truths or evasions.  

 

One of the most resonant lines of the series comes when Sally asks her dad what he could have possibly said about himself that would merit a suspension. In response, he looks almost right through her and says, “nothing that you don’t already know.”   It’s a poignant moment, followed soon by yet another one, when Sally is dropped off at school and tells her dad in a purposely offhanded yet significant way, “I love you.”   This is a beautiful and hopeful grace note to end what has been a perplexing addition to the Mad Men canon.   As Blue Oyster Cult could always use more cowbell, “Mad Men” can always use more Sally.   We look forward to the twists this relationship will take as the show winds its way toward its conclusion.  

 

 

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

Cyrano de Draper Simulates Work in Mad Men Season Seven, Episode One

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He’s Freddie Rumsen as we’ve never seen him- slicked back, focused, aggressive, talking a mile a minute while creating an indelible word picture of an ad campaign for a space-age timepiece that every businessman must have in the pre-moonwalk months of 1969.   This Freddie is a far cry from the boozy sad sack that was given his walking papers years ago by Sterling Cooper.

 

And there’s a good reason for this new souped-up Freddie: he’s not really Freddie at all.   Rather, he’s Freddie channeling his erstwhile boss, Don Draper (courtesy of another consistently masterful Joel Murray turn).   Don, still in exile from SCP and Partners, is trying to keep his creative muscles flexed while waiting for what he thinks will be the inevitable call for him to come back to the fold.   He’s using Freddie to sell his ideas- essentially playing Cyrano, as Freddie admits toward the end of the episode.   The “Roxanne” in this case is none other than protégé Peggy Olson, smitten by “Freddie’s” unexpected creative output and in a bit of a bind of her own, working for an insufferable new boss and old fogy who admits to her that he’s “immune” to her charms while rejecting virtually every good idea she pitches.

 

In between Freddie/Don pitching an Accutron watch to young professionals and Don and Freddie watching Richard Nixon pitching the country on a new presidency at the inauguration of his first term, we see how the months since Don’s departure have treated the main characters- Ted, surly, sad and in denial, coming back to New York and looking like a ghost, despite living in the California sun; Joan taking her client management prowess to the next level, schooling what looks to be a teenager who has taken over as director of marketing for a shoe client; Roger continuing to soak in some kind of New Age marinade, maintaining a 24-hour orgy in his hotel suite with kids half his age and continuing to be the most unreflective of fathers; Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton veering dangerously close to self-parody) acting like he’s about to go over the deep end due to overwork; and Pete finding his inner Angelino, dressing like a Hollywood producer, living near the La Brea tar pits and getting in touch with the late-sixties Zeitgeist (and author of the most awkward moment of the episode, when he hugs Don in an LA restaurant while the astonished Draper stands like a statue in incomprehension and surprise).

 

The first episode of the final Mad Men season is about work- who’s working too much, not enough or not at all,  and how any of these states tend to define a person, for better or worse. Don’s not working but pretending that he is, which gives him the freedom to strut in and out of wife Megan’s life (she tells him not to work all day when he comes out to LA to see her, not realizing that he’s not really working at all). It also gives him an escape route from yet again cheating on his wife, when he tells his seatmate on the plane back to New York (a nearly unrecognizable but quietly affecting Neve Campbell) that rather than accompany her back to her place so that they can console each other (she, about her deceased husband, he, about his inability to be a good husband), he tells her he has to go to work.   No work for Don- just handy excuses to leave Megan alone in LA and send a sad, albeit beautiful young widow back to her apartment without a comforter. (the latter being one of the strangest and against-type moves in the history of the Draper persona).

 

Once again, Matt Weiner does an adroit job of telling multiple stories while getting back at the end to where the show has always been, with Don and Peggy and their struggles to balance work and life and not let one overwhelm the other.   Don is trying to reconstruct his life with Megan, continuing to get real about who he is as a husband and father, and while continuing to drink—although doing it in more moderation than his young wife, whose drunkenness, clearly arising from nervousness and exhilaration at seeing her husband for the first time in months, results in the couple sleeping in separate rooms on their first night back together.

 

Soon enough, Megan and Don do consummate their rocky marriage, with a tenderness we’ve rarely seen from the older man. This is truly a different Don Draper, but played with such nuance and subtlety from perennial Emmy bridesmaid-actor Jon Hamm that we really need to watch closely to see the difference.   One clear sign of the difference in Don is his choice of eating partners- Pete in LA and Freddie in New York- and the affection he shows each man, in his own semi-aloof Draper way.   Not working has not only forced Don to assess who he is, but also who the others are who have been in his orbit for so many years.   The Cyrano act he does for Freddie is therapy for him, but also an act of kindness for the freelancer, who’s looking to camp out at SCP for more than a cup of coffee (the line of the night happens after Freddie announces to Peggy that he’s taking another cup before leaving the office. Peggy tells him that he truly puts the “free” in “freelancer”).

 

For Peggy, work is just about all that she has in her life, other than demanding renters who insist in the middle of the night that she unclog their toilets.   Without Ted, Peggy has predictably thrown herself into her work, the rewards of which become dubious when she runs into a brick wall named Lou, a major agency refugee who regales his staff with what we used to call “grandpa” jokes and is the polar opposite of the dynamic Draper, who was her kindred spirit and protector (and, admittedly, sometime antagonist) for so many years.   Stan, her constant admirer and a one-man Greek chorus on all things Peggy, tries to keep her from letting her self-righteousness and sense of pride in her work begins to get the best of her, but to no avail.   When she crumbles in a heap inside her apartment in the penultimate scene of the episode after an awkward office encounter with Ted, it’s in recognition that work is not enough and that it threatens to engulf her life.

 

Meanwhile, life is not enough for the idle Draper, who we last glimpse on his balcony, trapped in a penthouse prison, unable to plot his next move.   While the Vanilla Fudge performs its electrifying cover of “Keep Me Hanging On”, Don hangs on by a thread- to his marriage, his sobriety and his tenuous sense of self, badly tarnished by his banishment from SCP.   It is a great and satisfying set-up for the final reckoning and a worthy inaugural episode for the season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Interloper’s Perspective on She & Him

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Dear reader, to seal our compact I must confess a lack of credentials. Prior to the night of Saturday, June the 29th, I had (a) heard of but never heard Camera Obscura (opener); (b) not once taken leave of my chance, Starbuckian encounters with the music of She & Him (headliner) to exercise my rights as an able but increasingly recalcitrant consumer with iTunes and YouTube accounts; and (c) never visited the Aragon Ballroom (venue), oxidized icon of Chicago’s varied musical landscape. I am, without a shadow of a doubt, an outsider, an interloper; but perhaps there is value and a mite of insight in this perspective.

First, you must appreciate, dear reader, the surprise with which I’d entered the Aragon’s lobby. Wedged between public transit tracks and branches of commercial banking, its doors—I had assumed—could yield no more than a chute for drug-addled urban professionals eager to replace the memory of Ticketmaster surcharges with overpriced Coors refreshment. My, how mistaken I was! What luxury! What extravagance! The lobby immediately flared into a wide berth of chiseled ceiling, mosaic tiling, and designated concession areas. Dear reader, I read your thoughts as you these words. Insidious plot! Corporate price-gouging trap! Stay your contempt and trust your humble reporteur: outsize prices rarely fail to confer magical qualities upon the goods to which they are affixed. Indeed, a seven-dollar Coors Light, released from tap and encased in translucent twelve-ounce plastic cup, tastes of nothing less than ambrosia.

I ascended a grand staircase. Gummy wooden handrailings extended like tiger paws. I found myself in a hall large enough to accommodate King Kong. It put me in mind of the Alhambra, vestige of the Moorish occupation of Spain. Perhaps the Alhambra as imaged by P.T. Barnum, if I must give the scene a bit more cultural context. Breezy arcades lined the room’s perimeter, turrets breathed warm light from either side of the stage—and all of the walls caked in garish reds, yellows, and cerulean blues.

As I savored my dearly acquired ambrosia and carved a place for myself behind an overly affectionate couple, Camera Obscura took to the stage. The Glaswegians were at first all snare and 80’s-redolent keys. All wop and no doo, I should say. A problem of the technical variety, no doubt, that I trusted the sound engineer to sort out in due time. But as the set dragged on, I couldn’t help but pursue the theme. How to pithily describe Camera Obscura in this Twitterfied age of ours? Rhythm without the blues? Rock w/o the roll? Perhaps wop without the doo is sufficient enough.

Lest you think, dear reader, these are the words of an incontinent crank with none of the enlightened tolerance of the Continent, allow me to balance the scales a bit. CO competently paid homage to an earlier era of rock ‘n’ roll history, with Smiths-like pathos and Love-like brass. In short, their music was pleasant, but perhaps excessively so. Like a gentle wave that washes over one’s squibbly toes and recedes, leaving one cold and nipped-at by the bitter sea breeze.

During a particularly hushed moment between songs, a young woman in the crowd screamed, plaintively. Had she been the victim of a purse-snatching? Spilled ambrosia? Frotage? She was, as you may have already determined, dear reader, simply a fan of Camera Obscura. And so the set dragged on, with the languid rhythms and tender vocalization that could only have come from Albion’s hinterlands.

She & Him provided much-needed energy, which had (thankfully, since I’d passed on a second round of ambrosia) a somewhat inebriating effect. Ms. Zooey Deschanel (She), fey and enchantingly demure, crossed the stage in a high-waisted frock even I thought adorable. How can such deliciously husky sounds emerge from such a tiny frame? I wondered. This is Ms. Deschanel while nestling into the foundation notes, the warm folds of a song. But there are moments in which she ventures into more strident registers, as in a torrid yet still somehow inert rendition of “I Put a Spell on You.”

Mr. M. Ward (Him), meanwhile, was a veritable whirling dervish, unleashing virtuosic rockabilly riffs that reminded your humble reporteur of the complex patter of rain on cobbled London roads. Like all compelling entertainers, Mr. Ward, by some occult formula, harmonizes and effortlessly cultivates a set of contradictory traits. He is elfish (barely taller than Ms. D.) and saturnine as he concentrates on the guitar’s fretboard, and yet also debonair—a hoary-templed Robert Downey, Jr., one might venture to say. And, as though receiving radio transmissions in an underground bunker somewhere in the Pampas, one feels the urge to lean in as M.W. croons of soda-fountain liaisons and moonlit automobile drives. (Nota bene, dear reader, if you are a bachelor in search of ever more creative methods for ensnaring the fairer sex: if my experience bears any representative insight, women outnumber men, conservatively, by a ratio of 10:1 at She & Him concertos. However, the vast majority are either shoring up one-half of an overly affectionate couple, pining for Mr. W., or both.)

Prom-night lighting studded the stage and much of the audience. Songs of the stars and the moon, star-crossed lovers and moony eyes, poured continuously. I drank deep of the narcotic cocktail. And yet my thirst was never wholly quenched.

Ms. Deschanel sipped from her bottle of Crystal Geiser and opened her impossibly blue eyes. “I like this room,” she said. “It looks like EPCOT.” Thus in one offhand remark Ms. D. captured the essence of what I—what we all, possibly—had been feeling. This place was no Alhambra. The Moors had been purged from Spain hundreds of years previously, and their mosque become a cathedral. We humans of the twenty-first century traverse one elaborate funhouse hall of mirrors, an endless series of simulacra. While the world outside does whatever it will, we stand in this cavernous facsimile, swaying to love songs.

California Dreamin—Going West the Default Option in Mad Men’s Season Six Finale

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The last episode of the season of Mad Men finds a number of central characters seeking a new start and a new life in the City of Angels.   Los Angeles may be “Detroit with palm trees”, in the words of Don Draper (a useful line at the time to get Stan off his back about relocating there), but with the Sunkist account providing the prospect of an anchor client for the firm, it’s time to heed the words of Horace Greeley a century earlier and “go west”.

For Don, it’s an opportunity to give up the bottle and rekindle his flagging relationship with Megan, while reliving the moments when things were still young in their relationship and the possibility of happiness with the younger woman was palpable.   For Ted, it’s a way out of a relationship that will destroy his family, and lead him down the path that has made his nemesis, Don, such a sad basket case.   For Pete, it’s the means of starting over, and getting away from an increasingly manipulative and malevolent Bob Benson (yes, that Bob Benson- the fallen Christ figure who’s beginning to look like Jesus’ opposite, literally killing Pete’s chances of a successful tenure as lead on the Chevy account by suckering the notoriously awful driver into getting behind the wheel of a stick shift Camaro, with embarrassing and career deflating results.  Not to mention his shaky choice of friends– at the very least his pal Manolo has married Pete’s mother for her money, and at the worst, has thrown her overboard during a honeymoon cruise as shark bait to hasten the collection of said money).

Don Draper’s noblest gesture- allowing a stricken, panicked Ted to go out to LA with his family in his place in order to save his rival’s marriage- may ironically have destroyed his own marriage while sending Megan to Hollywood stardom.    Don pleads for understanding from a fed up Megan when he breaks the news to her that LA is no longer part of the plan, and she notes that she has all kinds of meetings with producers already lined up, implying that she’s moving with or without him.    Chalk this up as an ingenious plot device hatched from the fertile brain of Matthew Weiner in order to send Megan to what we’ve thought all along was her manifest destiny.   It’s Don’s idea, but she acts on it by getting herself written off her soap opera, and he’s likely left behind, temporarily or perhaps for good, his vision of a “bicoastal” relationship notwithstanding.  Last year, it was Don walking off the set of Megan’s commercial breakthrough and back to his former ways; this year, it’s Megan walking out the door toward a new life, leaving Don to contemplate what’s next for him.    Whether he intends to win her back or go it alone is left tantalizingly unsaid.

The plot is propelled by Don’s belated but real recognition that he has a drinking problem, when he wakes up in the drunk tank after having punched a preacher who had the misfortune of looking to save souls in the wrong bar, engaging Don in a conversation that harkened back to—what else? —a distasteful episode with a preacher in his former life as Dick Whitman.     Don being Don, thinks that pouring some booze down the sink and moving to California are the only things he needs to do to avoid the DTs.   But as he finds during his pitch to the Hershey’s people, it’s not that easy.

About that Hershey’s chocolate presentation—when a lot of the dust settles from this season, and scenes are argued about for their seminal importance, Don’s true confession about his upbringing in a whore house and what a Hershey’s bar really meant to him (as he calls it “the only sweet thing” in his life) is sure to take on a life of its own as a mini-classic.    It has the emotional resonance of the Carousel pitch from year one, and while Harry Crane wasn’t there to run out of the room in tears, there were no doubt a lot of moist eyes across America watching as Don, channeling the young Dick Whitman, having run out of places to hide and literally spent and dissipated from his lifetime of deceit, unspools the most nakedly honest two minutes of his life in front of total strangers and aghast (and at least in Ted’s case sympathetic) colleagues.   The Carousel pitch was about the “ache of nostalgia” for a simpler time when life was better or more fully realized.  The Hershey’s confessional was about the ache of a scorned young boy searching for something- anything- that would bring him recompense for the rejection he felt every day just by living.     In this scene as in others in this excellent season finale, Jon Hamm has reached for something extra in taking his characterization- and character- to a new level of complexity and richness.   This scene is Matt Weiner’s gift to Hamm and the one that will surely resonate with Emmy voters.

What makes the scene more resonant and ingenious is the reaction the partners have to watching essentially a train wreck unfold before their eyes.   It reminds viewers of how much of the show still rides on the formidable coattails of Hamm, and how often the scenes around the conference room table hinge on the reaction shots of others to his verbal wizardry.   You can see the minds of the old pros Sterling and Cutler (the great John Slattery and the career resurgent Harry Hamlin) spinning, trying to figure out how to weave an acceptable narrative out of Don’s behavior that will keep the meeting from ending in disaster.    You can also see Ted—who may at this point understand Don better than anyone—change his aspect from tortured resignation at the impending implosion of his life to concern and sympathy for Don’s plight.   It is noteworthy that in the penultimate scene of the season, when the partners convene to give Don his temporary walking papers, it is Ted who is elsewhere, perhaps too respectful to be present for Don’s humiliation.

Ted’s crisis is in the form of a beguiling Peggy Olson, who vamps it up in a short, suggestive outfit that clearly is meant to turn Ted’s head and turn on his libido.  And it works—Ted confronts Peggy at her apartment at the end of her date, confesses his love for her and promises her that he intends to leave his wife and start a new life with her.   Since this is Peggy, and her taste and track record with men is ridiculously bad, we have a sense that this is not going to end well, and it doesn’t, with Ted giving her the prototypical “you’ll thank me one day” speech while breaking her heart.   Ted has been the anti-Don all year, and while his behavior with Peggy is Don-like, he really doesn’t have it in him to cheat, lie and break up his family.   We can see that as he slinks into bed with his wife after betraying her, showing her the kind of tenderness and affection that men about to leave their wives generally do not display.   He knows that leaving his wife will destroy a good part of what make him who he is, and so he stops himself at the brink.   What booze is to Don, Peggy is to Ted, and so the two men are looking to go west to avoid the very thing they believe will kill them.  And in a display of selflessness that would have been unheard of before this episode, Don gives Ted what he wants.     As Don says to Dawn on his way out the door, “have a great Thanksgiving, sweetheart”, and he essentially has said the same thing to Ted a few minutes before when telling him that he’s stepping back from his LA adventure in favor of Ted.

Ironically, the move to Los Angeles is considered a “demotion” when Don suggests that he go out there instead of a more junior person, like the eager Stan, who lobbies him for the role at the beginning of the episode.   The partners still see LA as the boondocks and don’t really get the attraction.  What they do know is that they love the Sunkist business, and Sunkist has insisted on an LA presence.    Sometimes it’s not great business decision-making but sheer luck- or an insistent client- that turns a decision of necessity into a great decision.    And, there’s no doubt that with so much economic activity shifting to the West Coast well into the seventies, this promises to be a great move for the firm, especially with the earnest Ted Chaough, newly recommitted to his marriage and his children, at the helm of the enterprise.

Thanksgiving is a mixed bag for Roger, as Joanie allows him to participate in Kevin’s life, but at the price of watching the ubiquitous Benson taking on the head of household role by carving up the turkey.   Benson, now thoroughly revealed to be a manipulator at a world class level, turns the knife a bit into Roger’s gut, by noting that Joanie’s mom went out and had her hair done for him, as if it’s only Gail and not Joan who would be attracted to a geezer like him.

And in a subtle surprise, Thanksgiving is the day that Pete says goodbye to Trudy and his daughter Tammy, to venture out to Los Angeles, ostensibly on his own.    Pete has always been a bit ahead of the game when it comes to where the ad business is going, so perhaps he’s the one SCP person going out there for the right reasons, rather than to get away from or get cured of something.   Carving a turkey for Benson seems appropriate, given how adroitly he carved Pete out of Chevy and perhaps out of the agency for good.     The havoc Benson may be able to cause, given his increasingly iron grip on the Chevy account, is only hinted at, but it’s likely that his guile and amorality will play a significant role in the final season.

The episode’s name, “In Care Of”, comes from the letter from the government requesting Sally Draper’s testimony about the intruder, Grandma Ida, from the past episode.   The irony is that Sally is beyond Don’s care, and charting her own Don-like course as the new scourge of Miss Porter’s.   In a “like father, like daughter” move, Sally uses the alias “Beth Francis” to score some beers and entice her classmates into getting drunk with her.   Unlike her dad, who has gotten away with this behavior for far too long, there are immediate consequences, starting with being suspended from school.    The suspension is yet another signpost along the way that reveals to Don that a new path for his imploding life is called for.

For those who see Peggy Olson as the female Draper, there’s a huge payoff at the end of the episode, as the firm that Don conceived is left essentially in her care.   Peggy, tossed aside by Ted and left again alone with only her work to occupy her, is last seen sitting in Don’s office, feeling her mentor’s vibe, perhaps only a small consolation for the love that she has lost again.

So much of Mad Men’s power are the echoes and reverberations from previous episodes and years.  Three years ago, in “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”, it was Don calling the shots, leading the conspiracy that led to the formation of the new firm. In this episode, it was Don taking a seat, as the partnership administered the tough love that at one point—with a Don at the height of his charismatic and creative powers– would have been unheard of.  A subtle irony is that Bert Cooper (the reliably excellent Robert Morse), essentially background noise for much of the year, reasserts himself and takes the lead, much as he did years ago in a more encouraging time, when he first urges Don to take his seat at the table of New York movers and shakers.   Don Draper, the indispensable ad man, is told by the firm’s oldest name partner to go home and not come back until the partners are good and ready to see him again.   In a way, it was Draper’s sheer audacity and innovativeness that emboldened the SCP partners to do away with him, as through the merger he had conceived he bought himself additional management firepower in Ted Chaough and Jim Cutler. The irony of Duck Phillips coming back inside with a job candidate while Don is going down, is a bit heavy handed but appropriate, and Don takes his comeuppance grimly albeit gracefully.

This is the resignation of a man who knows he has a mountain to climb.   What is yet to be seen is whether he decides to take the hike.   The scene with the three Draper kids at the end, where he at last provides the puzzle pieces of himself in a desperate attempt to reconnect not only with the wayward Sally but with his own sad and forlorn past, may be the first step.   Whether it is or not will have to wait for the next and final season of this groundbreaking series.   Season Seven—Bring it on!!

Author’s Note: 

 

  • There’s nothing like kicking a city when it’s down, and Detroit these days is nothing if not down for the count, given the decades of corruption and cupidity that has brought it to the brink of bankruptcy.   For the Mad Men cast, Detroit isn’t a dysfunctional city but a place for dysfunctional clients, and that’s the source of their antipathy—and Bob Benson’s opportunity.   The implication is that among the city’s shortcomings yesterday that led it to where it is today is a case of hubris, borne at a time when it was Motor City and the center of the automotive world.
  • While Don’s “Come to Jesus” moments are more numerous and played for more emotional resonance, the other character who leaves the season in a more hopeful but lonely place is Pete, who is reconciled to his mother’s passing and his failure at Chevy and seemingly is seen striking out on his own in California (although never overtly stated what he plans on doing once he gets there).  Trudy pointedly says that Pete is free not only of his mother, but also “them”, undoubtedly referring to SCP, and the fact that he along with Ted are not present at the partners meeting ejecting Don from management underscores this supposition.  Given how frustrated Pete has become about Don’s antics, if he were still partner he’d want to have a ringside seat for Don’s emasculation, but as he says earlier, he has bigger issues on his mind.  It will be interesting to see where this leaves Vincent Kartheiser in the final season- he has been a worthy foil to Don for all these years, and one can assume we’ll see Pete among the palm trees next season.  He had better learn how to drive proficiently if he intends to stay out there, though.

 

  • One of the loose ends not tied up in this episode is whatever happened to the Avon account.   Joan is still standing and her presence is felt lightly but decisively in the “Don is toast” scene.  So did she get Avon?   It’s not like Weiner to leave a plot point dangling like this, so I’m assuming this will be resolved either overtly or subtly some time next season.  

 

  • Last week, I mentioned that Kevin Rahm, who plays Ted, was not in the opening credits.  I was as wrong as I was about Peggy’s flat being on the West Side rather than the East Side.  For this as well as other small and larger mistakes this year (the use of protégé rather than mentor was a good one), I apologize.   And now I take my leave.  

 

 

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

Don the Merciless Reigns Supreme in Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Twelve

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Don Draper as Rosemary’s Baby?    That’s the thought I had watching the ad man crumple into a fetal position after an aggrieved and outraged Peggy Olson, tried beyond her patience by his continued vindictiveness and jealousy about her relationship with Ted Chaough, calls him “a monster.”    Clearly, Peggy’s closeness to Ted brings out Don’s demonic side, and in this episode we’re treated to what petty and petulant lengths Don will go to humiliate Ted and put Peggy back in her place- preferably by his side, as opposed to Ted’s.

When the episode begins, the long-suffering and supernaturally patient wife Megan is reviving a clearly over-served husband the morning after, finding him camped out in the extra bedroom (in and of itself not a good sign for their flagging marriage).  Listless and bored by his life (and his wife) and blocking as best he can his estrangement from his daughter Sally, Don finds something to rouse himself with when he and Megan check out a late afternoon showing of “Rosemary’s Baby”, the cult black comedy phenomenon that made Mia Farrow a star and short hair literally molded to a woman’s scalp the “in” thing among young American women.

On the way out of the theater, Don and Megan run into Ted and Peggy, who have gone to see the movie to ostensibly do some research for a breakthrough TV spot for St. Joseph aspirin for children that parodies the famous final scene of the film.   Clearly uncomfortable at having been caught at the movies by Don and Megan, Ted and Peggy make a hasty retreat, each with separate excuses for not joining the Drapers for dinner- but not before Don’s competitive juices and jealousy kicks in like a balky Jaguar suddenly brought to life.   The last time Don saw Peggy at the movies was when they ran into each other during an afternoon, both seeking creative inspiration.    It was something that Peggy learned from Don- the movies as a creativity igniter- and now she’s sharing the technique with her new mentor and object of affection.

Of all the women that Don has loved, lusted after and seduced, it is finally clear after almost six years of the show’s run that the most important woman in his life is the one he has never known carnally.  Peggy is Don’s alter ego, someone he instinctively feels knows and understands him- someone whose talent he is not too selfish to have recognized, cultivated and promoted.   She is also someone he seeks approval from, as evidenced in the justifiably celebrated episode, “The Suitcase”, when the most important thing in the world to him becomes her endorsement of his “Ali-Liston” Samsonite ad.    He can’t bear the thought that her creative drive and enthusiasm is being channeled, nurtured and cultivated by someone else.   So, he sets out to destroy the bond between Peggy and Ted, and by the end of the episode, an embarrassed Ted treats Peggy like she’s radioactive, and Don has his revenge.  But other than being sweet, it is just another bitter pill that pulls him deeper and deeper inside of himself.

It’s not that Don doesn’t have any justification for taking the action that leads to Ted and Peggy’s extreme discomfort.   Ted and Peggy are literally acting like school kids around their coworkers, taking on the kind of goofy aspect that teenagers have when they are first falling into love.  Virtually everything they say to each other is brilliant and funny, and when brainstorming with the creative staff, they act like there’s no one else in the room, except when Ginsberg suggests a bathroom break.  Ted is smitten not only by Peggy, but by her big idea for the St. Joseph’s campaign, so much so that he’s willing to risk having the agency absorb a huge amount of out of pocket expenses for the concept that he thinks is going to win Peggy a Clio.    Ted figures he can talk the client into spending the extra cash after the fact, but Don scotches that idea by giving the client the heads up about the revised upward budget before they have a chance to shoot the ad.   I’d like to say that what Don did was out of bounds, but in fact it wasn’t.    Spending unauthorized funds on a project isn’t exactly in the account management handbook, and it’s no way to exercise financial responsibility, especially in a relatively small firm.   So on that thread of fiscal justification (which ironically is something in which he has rarely shown the least bit of interest), Don hatches his plan for convincing the client to spend additional dollars on the ad.

He succeeds by making a devil’s bargain—invoking the name of Ted’s partner Frank Gleason to make the sale, claiming to the client (who was clearly fond of Gleason) that it was essentially the dying man’s last idea and his testament to the ad business.    And he makes that outrageous claim while dangling Ted and Peggy over a pit of fire, allowing them to twist slowly enough to feel the heat before springing his particular lie on the client.   There has rarely been a more suspenseful moment in the history of the show than when Don tells the client that for Ted, the commercial was “personal”- looking for all the world like he was about to tell the client that Ted was doing the commercial for Peggy’s love, rather than as a tribute to a dying partner’s final request.     The horror on Ted’s face as he begins to realize the extent of Don’s perfidy and the lengths he will go to mark his territory was certainly as real as anything caused by what’s on the screen during “Rosemary’s Baby”.    So much for that favor Ted did for Mitchell Rosen—for Don that’s yesterday’s news, as is his commitment to play nice in the sandbox with his new partner.   Also forgotten is Don’s promise not to pursue Sunkist, once the orange producer offers to sign on the dotted line for a TV campaign three times the size of Ocean Spray.

If the classics are more to the viewer’s liking than a 60s horror movie, perhaps Don Draper is Shylock.   The title of the episode, “The Quality of Mercy”, is drawn from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”, and refers to Portia’s eloquent appeal to Shylock to show mercy to her husband.   Don, like Shylock, is intent on getting his pound of flesh, but rather than money, he’s looking to break the back of Ted and Peggy’s relationship, putting Ted in a subservient position to him and reeling Peggy back into his orbit.   It is a merciless mission, and he executes it to perfection.

More merciful- and perhaps craftier—is Pete Campbell, who takes to heart the adage “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”   After learning that the mysterious Bob Benson is, above all things, a complete fraud, he decides to let Benson stay at the firm under his conditions.    It is a sadder and wiser Pete who has learned his lesson from trying to out Don for lying about his own antecedents back in Season One, and all it won him was enmity from Don and a lecture from Bert Cooper.  This time, Pete realizes that the rattled Benson will be willing to do about anything to hang onto his job, and uses that knowledge to maintain control of the situation, deciding to handle Benson as one might a cobra.   This has been a great year for Vincent Kartheiser as Pete, but this episode contains clearly his best and most subtle work of the season.   His admission to Duck that he’s seen Bob’s situation before—an allusion to his knowledge of Don’s real past–is so brilliantly played that he turns a simple sentence into a profound and revelatory moment.  His brief and well-underplayed satisfaction at the bargain he has struck from the overmatched Benson strikes just the right balance between relief and joy.  In this episode, Kartheiser milks every potential drop of sympathy for a character that is always complex but very hard to root for.

So, the mystery of Bob Benson is solved.  He may be gay, or may have been using subtle signals as a misdirection play in an attempt to gull Pete into intemperance and self-destruction (which means that I’m sticking with my initial take on this last week that the jury is still out).   He is not a spy, or a counterculture mole digging up dirt on the manipulations of the ad business, or doing an Abe-style expose on the excesses of capitalism.   He’s not- as I perhaps alone have speculated—some kind of Christ figure that has mysteriously landed among their midst to support staffers in times of crisis and preach a self-help gospel.   He’s not Don Draper’s illegitimate child, as some blogs have speculated, but he is in a sense a Draper descendant, someone who has recreated his past in order to shape his future, albeit perhaps more manipulative and calculating than Don in making that future happen.    The battle of wills between Kartheiser as Pete and the impressive James Wolk as Benson- and the subtle slippage of the Benson mask as Pete learns more about him—is one of the most satisfying features of this impressive penultimate episode.

Always impressive as well is Kiernan Shipka as Sally, who decides that her revenge on her father will be to burn up a bunch of his money on Miss Porter’s, one of the most exclusive boarding schools on the East Coast.   Sally’s guileless guile serves her well, as she passes a test from her hazing-obsessed prospective classmates by luring her lifetime pal Glen (now looking leaner and longer in his later teen years) to campus, complete with booze, reefer, cigarettes and a truly creepy friend who’s looking for a make out session with our heroine.   Sally plays the situation for all it’s worth, and learns a valuable lesson about the usefulness of the “damsel in distress” card.    While she doesn’t want to give Don credit for anything in her life at this point, her talent for subtle manipulation comes from her dear old dad.   I still think that Sally has a thing for Glen, and his Sir Galahad routine, somewhat unexpected but truly poignant, solidifies her regard for him and demonstrates her ability to bend situations to her will.   She’s a Draper, whether she stays beyond the reach of her father or not.

This is a season in which some of the strongest and most welcome performances have come from subsidiary players, as opposed to the main cast.   Alison Brie, Linda Cardellini, Harry Hamlin, James Wolk and to a lesser but immensely entertaining extent Julia Ormond have lifted and enriched their material and crafted indelible characters throughout the year.    But this episode was for the big guys and gals, and they come up big.    And I include in this circle Kevin Rahm as Ted, who while still not in the upfront credits has become a huge factor in the show.    His reaction to Don’s spiel to the St. Joseph’s client struck the appropriate balance of shock and horror, and his confrontation that follows makes it clear that while able to mix it up with Don he knows full well he has been wounded and compromised.   The mortification is written on his face, as he has given the hypocritical Draper the opening to take the moral high road about putting the needs of the business above personal feelings.   It’s a sad moment, and Rahm plays it with the right amount of humility and resignation.

But the whole show this week—and perhaps the series as well—comes down to Don and Peggy and the battle of wills between these two strong minded, supremely talented and ultimately flawed characters.    Don and Peggy…Peggy and Don.   Who knew when she was first introduced to Don as his naïve, raw and green secretary that she would one day be more than a match for her charismatic Alpha male boss?   It may be the ultimate genius of Mad Men, that she is all of that, and then some, and that we thoroughly believe it.   The last scene is Peggy as Portia, grieving at the harm that Don has caused Ted, and she brings all of the moral outrage, eloquence and ferocious loyalty that she can muster to the task.   She knows that by scampering home and away from her that Ted has conceded to Don and perhaps given the tormented Draper a bit of his flesh in the bargain.    She may not get what she wants from her passionate diatribe, but what she misses after her departure is that she has reduced Don to a fetal state.   These are bravura, “bet the ranch” performances by two great actors at the very pinnacle of their game, and if the Emmy voters deny Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss their awards yet again this season, it will be at the risk of their own credibility.    It doesn’t get any better than this.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

 

Author’s Note:  I’m sure there will be much ado this week about the clever reenactment of the St. Joseph’s ad for Don’s edification and approval.   For me, the entire bit was worth listening to Jon Hamm channel a crying baby and the sight of Christina Hendricks as Joan role-playing a Jewish mother prescribing chicken soup- a truly inspired bit of business.   But the real question is what Peggy is symbolically doing by offering the hypothetical aspirin to a Don who has been thoroughly distracted by the simple physical gesture of Ted’s placing his hands on Peggy’s hips.   Is Peggy offering Don a sacrament to assuage his tortured soul, or is she the mother that he never had, ministering to him in a way he has never experienced?   Yet another example of how comfortable these two consummate pros feel in the skins of these characters, and the layers of meaning they can convey from such simple gestures and looks. 

One Door Opens, Another Slams Shut in Mad Men Season Six, Episode Eleven

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My favorite band of the sixties was The Doors, fronted by legendary front man Jim Morrison and his brilliant accomplice, the recently departed keyboard genius Ray Manzarek, who kept the flame of the renegade band alive for more than four decades.  The name of the band came from a line from William Blake, referencing the doors of perception, which ostensibly would open up when listening to The Doors’ moody mix of extraterrestrial rock and roll, punctuated by the sultry, evocative voice of the mercurial Morrison, who died from a heart attack (and failed liver) at the ripe age of 27 in Paris in July 1971.     In July of 1968, The Doors– at the top of their creative powers and one of the most popular and revered bands on the face of the earth, released “Waiting for the Sun”, the band’s only album that ever reached #1 on the charts.  The album included one of their most famous–and overtly political–songs, “The Unknown Soldier”, a searing and controversial exploration into the heart of darkness known as the Vietnam War.

It turns out that Sally Draper doesn’t need William Blake– or Jim Morrison, for that matter– to open doors of perception at her tender age of 13; a regular, garden variety door will do. Last year as a tweener, she opened a door that found Roger Sterling and Marie Calvet in flagrante, which was tough enough to handle and certainly enough to ensure that young lady a lifetime of therapy.  But this week, another door opened that provided a bit too much clarity about her philandering father–with potentially tragic consequences to follow.

Her break-in to the Rosen household found her dad collecting on a favor from an old friend– the sensual Sylvia Rosen, her passion for the nonpareil ad man suddenly reignited by Don’s initiative to rescue her sullen, idealistic son from a potentially fatal excursion to Vietnam.   Mitchell Rosen, looking and dressed like a Jewish Morrison, all sullenness and attitude encapsulated in puffy shirt and bellbottoms, stole the heart of the susceptible Sally in an earlier and very brief encounter in the lobby of Don’s coop building, and she was trying to retrieve a missive her mischievous girlfriend Julie had left for the young man that catalogued the extent of Sally’s puppy love.   Sally uses a ruse to con the doorman out of the Rosen’s apartment keys, and while she’s trying to retrieve the letter, she espies her father reunited in a coital embrace with Mitchell’s mom.   Sally’s reaction is shock, horror and betrayal, while Sylvia’s is guilt and humiliation.  Don’s reaction is to try to figure out a way to spin it so that what looked like sex was simply a means of his “comforting” Mrs. Rosen.   As Don says to Sally through a door that stays closed to him, “it’s complicated.”   I’ll say.

What’s complicated is the tangled web of deceit and lies that Don has woven in a desperate attempt to recreate himself.  And, now, as the result of a favor that he does for the Rosen family- courtesy of a favor done for him by his partner and rival Ted Chaough (in return for Don’s granting Ted the favor of keeping his finger off the self-destruct button around his clients), that web finally seems to be unraveling.   Who says that no good deed goes unpunished?

“Favors”, the eleventh installment of this astonishing season of the celebrated dramatic series, is ostensibly about the favor that Don does for a stricken Arnold Rosen in helping to get his son out of the draft, after Mitchell, in a youthful burst of idealism and idiocy, tears up his draft card and is reclassified as 1A.    But it’s really about parents and their children- what makes their relationships tick, the subtle indignities that each party heaps on the other, and the lengths we will go to keep our kids out of harm’s way, even when we’d like to lock them up in the basement and throw away the key.

Pete, acting as “parent” to his own dementia-afflicted mother, finds out that she didn’t really like him any more than the rest of us do when he was growing up, even as he struggles to try to take care of her and pull her away from the clutches of a male nurse that takes his role as a companion to the addled parent perhaps a bit too literally.   Betty, knowing she’s losing control of her intemperate oldest child, and struggling to maintain some semblance of parental authority as Sally heads to Don’s flat for some early teen adventure.   Peggy, reminded about the child she gave away, when Pete’s mother in her confused state mistakes her for Trudy (Elizabeth Moss’ range in this scene, as she migrates from shock and horror to the recognition that the old woman isn’t really talking about her at all, is truly vast).   Ted, tempted by his attraction to Peggy, ultimately resolving to remain committed to a woman with whom he seems to have virtually no relationship with, because of the love of his two boys.  Sylvia and Arnold, clearly angry with their son yet frantic to keep him out of the war, are willing to do whatever is necessary to save him from the consequences of his own precipitate and immature actions.    And Don, recognizing his own terror in Korea and his decision to recreate his life in order to escape from the carnage and potential death, thinks of his own underage children and is moved to find a ruse for keeping the Rosen child from having to endure a war that he finds repellent and unnecessary.

The final shot of the show is of Don walking dejectedly back to his bedroom after failing to reach Sally with his “this is adult stuff that you don’t understand” BS, firmly closing the door to his daughter and puzzled wife and no doubt working his way toward a stratagem that will get him through another day.   At this point, what’s Sally to believe–her enigmatic father or her own lying eyes?   Even at thirteen, it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on (the younger Dick Whitman certainly knew the score when peeping in on one of his stepmother’s sessions with one of Uncle Mac’s clients).    One door opens–a door to perception–and another door closes, and we’re left to consider the potential wreckage to Don’s marriage, not to mention any kind of future relationship with his children.

And we find that perhaps the only person left in Pete’s life who is willing to provide him with unconditional love is the enigmatic Bob Benson, who in a truly creepy scene tries to talk Pete out of firing Manolo Colon for ostensibly servicing his mother’s carnal needs while implying that his own feelings for Pete may be not merely Platonic.   Last week Ginsberg, who has no filter and sometimes can be unwittingly perceptive, asked Bob if he were gay.   This week, Bob seems threateningly close to making a pass at Pete; but then again, perhaps it’s just a physical closeness meant to try to reach Pete in a more profound and convincing way than otherwise possible.  So, is Bob the reincarnation of the ill-fated Salvatore Romano, or is this a total misdirection play on the part of Matt Weiner, who wants us to assume that appearances are reality when they’re really not.   Either way, James Wolk as the ubiquitous Benson continues to keep us guessing in a performance has us engaged every moment he’s on the screen, keeping his performance along the surface of Benson without revealing the psyche underneath.

What is most tragic about the episode is that we see a selfless side of the Draper persona in this episode- whether he’s thinking about his own terror in Korea or fear for his underage sons or perhaps the more deeply embedded need to be a worthy friend to a man that he no doubt admires (but has shamelessly cuckolded), there’s no doubt that Don goes out of his way to help Mitchell avoid Vietnam.  When he calls the Rosen household to tell Arnold the good news- that Ted has gotten him a gig as a pilot in training- he has no intention of reigniting his relationship with the tempestuous Sylvia.   But when Sylvia, in a fit of motherly gratitude and misplaced remorse for the way she’s treated Don welcomes him back to her bed, Don’s egotism and self-indulgence gets the best of him as usual, ensuring that his one good deed will certainly not go unpunished.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

Author’s Note:

  • Did everyone else enjoy hearing Ted call Don an “asshole” as much as I did?  Ted is the one person in Don’s life who is willing to confront him with uncomfortable truths, and call him out on his childish and self-destructive behavior.   Increasingly, Ted is the anti-Don– tempted by Peggy, he remains the constant albeit miserable family man, while Don’s recklessness continues to threaten his life, career and marriage.  Ted is as ambitious as Don, if not more so, but he speaks in team-oriented language and looks holistically at the business, while Don focuses on himself and what matters to him.   Even Don’s attempt to generate a discussion of the war with the Chevy execs at dinner, while ostensibly about Mitchell’s predicament, is an exercise in self-indulgence, as it jeopardizes the firm’s relationship with its largest client.  Any rational assessment of Sterling Cooper & Partners has to have Ted’s arrow going up while Don’s is going down- way down.
  • I find it particularly rich that given the many women that Don has taken advantage of and betrayed, Sylvia feels guilty about her treatment of Don.  In essence, Sylvia has become the “Don” in their relationship, with the added element of sporadic Catholic guilt.   Turnabout is fair play, and given that this episode gave us another helping of Linda Cardellini’s compelling portrayal of Sylvia, perhaps that’s a good thing.
  • The conversation about conflicts hit close to my home, as it is one of the key issues any agency has to navigate, especially a smaller one like Sterling Cooper, where the principals are frantic to build critical mass.  We all become attached to our own clients– it’s not a Draper phenomenon.   What’s most interesting is that Pete has seemingly swung over to the Chaough/Cutler “team” by taking over Ocean Spray, and seems happier than when he was carrying water for Don.  This may have a longer-term impact on the agency balance of power.  Time will tell.
  • And will someone give Peggy the phone number for the Orkin man??  They had been in business for 67 years by the time this episode is supposed to take place.   At this point it’s probably a better option than offering sexual favors to your pal Stan.

Across the Great Divide- The Political Becomes Personal in Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Ten

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The anti-war demonstrations at the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968 form the backdrop for more intimate albeit less physically dangerous conflicts among the Mad Men cast.  The conflict between the demonstrators and Chicago police are mirrored in numerous ways throughout the episode- doves versus hawks, baby boomers versus the Greatest Generation, Democrats versus Republicans, intense New Yorkers versus laid back Los Angelinos, and closer to home, Joan versus Pete, who sees Joan’s involvement in cultivating a relationship with the new marketing director at Avon as yet another encroachment on his turf and diminution of his role at the firm.

The demonstrations and subsequent physical confrontation in Chicago—later termed a “police riot” in the Walker Commission report– is an allegory for the internal conflicts- both personal and political, happening at the merged advertising firm that at the beginning of the episode is still searching for an identity and struggling to migrate from an “us versus them” to a “we” mentality.  The opening scene at the office is almost a tutorial on the need for merger integration and branding expertise, with Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin, continuing to impress) noting that if the firm doesn’t define itself,  “the world will do it for us”.

While the John Slattery-helmed episode is called “A Tale of Two Cities”, reflecting yet another sensual and surreal Don Draper excursion into the foreign country known as the West Coast, it is really a tale of two agencies- the successful one being run by Ted Chaough and an increasingly Machiavellian Cutler versus the fraying-at-the-edges one being at least nominally helmed by a distracted Don Draper and his own Silver Fox sidekick (more silver but perhaps less sly), Roger Sterling.   The divide becomes so pronounced that Ted needs to rein in his older, affronted partner from keeping him from staging a palace coup while Don, Roger and Harry are on the West Coast.   By the end, however, the one consensus builder in the group, Ted Chaough, lands on an elegant solution to the firm’s identity (Sterling Cooper and Partners, which eliminates both he and Don from the firm’s business cards), while demonstrating once again that he’s the one partner capable and wiling to play the long game.

Unless you’re a big Betty and Henry fan (come on, admit it–you’re not), this episode had something for everyone- an increasingly assertive yet still-enigmatic Bob Benson, who provides a Tony Robbins-style pep talk for an internally-riven Michael Ginsberg, the volatile young copywriter experiencing near-paralysis at his guilt over participating in a presentation at Manischewitz; an all-female team (Joan and Peggy) pitching the firm over a business breakfast (ironically to the male marketing director of Avon); a beautifully realized moment where Joan, at home at night folding baby clothes, realizes what she’s looking at on television and is moved to tears, contemplating the world gone mad that her son may be inheriting; and  a brilliantly shot scene where Don and Megan on the phone are watching the riots at the same time across the continent, commiserating with each other while each tells the other exactly what they need to hear (an interesting counterpoint to the Bobby Kennedy assassination scene two episodes back, where the Drapers were physically together but worlds apart).

But the scene that I’m sure will be burning up the blogosphere over the next week are not any of those, as well developed as they were.   And, no, it’s not the great final scene where a stressed-out, outraged Pete, his protests about Joanie’s behavior deflected by first Ted and then Don, retreats to the creatives’ inner sanctum, snatches a joint from Stan’s lips and, surrendering to the “que sera” vibe around him, begins to toke up.  (Whether the joint will lead to Pete’s growing a beard to accompany those long sideburns, or at least mellows him out enough to stop considering any meeting called without him a personal affront, will no doubt garner some speculation.)

What is going to make the biggest impact, however, is the ominous, foreboding climax of the great set of scenes in LA, when Don, once again under the influence of mind-altering drugs (hashish the drug of choice in this case) hallucinates the presence of Megan–her long, flowing raven hair parted in the middle and looking mind-bendingly beautiful as a flower child–who just happens to catch Don in mid-seduction with a spaced out blonde.   Megan tells Don that she’s quit her job to devote more time to him, and has no problem sharing him with the rest of the female population, because, let’s face it, we’re in LA.  Then beatifically smiling at him, she rubs her belly, signifying that she’s pregnant, telling him that they now have a “second chance”- perhaps referring to the miscarriage from earlier in the season, or the opportunity to recommit to each other and save their tottering marriage.   Don follows her to the bar, where Megan disappears.  In her place is the GI from the first episode who was shipping off to Vietnam after marrying in Hawaii.   His right arm has been amputated and he tells Don that he’s dead, and that if Don thinks the GI looks bad as a dead man, he should take a look at himself.    Then, we cut away to Don at the pool, looking in the water at his own floating, lifeless body, when none other than Roger dives into the water, retrieves him and brings him back to life.

For those who are buying into the premise that rather than All My Children’s femme fatale Erica Kane, Megan’s character is actually modeled after Sharon Tate, the ingénue actress and star of Valley of the Dolls who was brutally murdered at husband Roman Polanski’s home in Benedict Canyon almost exactly one year later (while pregnant with Polanski’s child) by the Charles Manson family, this scene is your “tell.”  Polanski urged Tate to live a hippie lifestyle, and her motto was said to be “live and let live”, which would explain why Megan was so copacetic about finding Don in a clinch with another woman.   Also, a lot of strange people evidently kept coming in and out of the Benedict Canyon mansion, in much the same way that strangers and former lovers- real and imagined- seem to find their way into the unlocked Draper flat.

For others who have believed that Don’s steady personality disintegration and obsession with death this season would lead to his own, there’s ample evidence of that, as well.  But one thing is for certain- there is nothing the least bit benign about this scene, and unless Matt Weiner is just messing with our heads, something disquieting this way comes.   Don had also imagined seeing Betty in his first trip to the Coast, but that was for just a moment, and his reverie was interrupted by his encounter with the appropriately named Joy.   This time, there is something so spooky and off-kilter about his conjuring up of Megan- and the juxtaposition of Megan’s appearance with the dead soldier–that the scene has the unmistakable air of tragedy wafting over it.    Remember Megan’s horror earlier in the episode while watching the Chicago riots- at one point, she says, “all it takes is for one blow to the skull to land to change your life forever.”   Keep in mind that, like the kid in “The Sixth Sense”, Don does see dead people- Anna Draper and Adam Whitman have appeared to him in other altered states.  Are we to believe that the young GI has been a casualty of war, and if so, what are we to think of Megan’s appearance, or of Don himself, face down in a California swimming pool?

One plot line that lives on is Joan’s continuing sense of guilt for sleeping her way to her partnership, and her continuing attempts to show that she’s more than a coolly efficient administrator and truly deserving of her partnership status.    Joanie cuts Pete out of a follow up meeting with the Avon exec, after a typically condescending Pete tells her in essence that she shouldn’t worry her pretty little head (and killer body) over the next steps with the client- that he has things under control and she can get back to her real job.    Christina Hendricks, always exceptional, may have done her best work yet in this episode, especially in the penultimate scene in the show, where we see her famous self-control begin to slip while sitting with perfect posture and hands clasped in front of Ted and Pete as they tear into her- then struggling to reassert her sense of poise when Peggy figures out how to get her out of the room.   Peggy invented a ruse to save Joan- a fictitious phone call from the Avon client- that reaffirms the somewhat frayed bond between the two women.   Both earlier had seen the other as having received favored treatment from powerful men as a means of succeeding, and their resentments flared.    For a moment, at least their conflict receded a bit in a show of female solidarity.   We can’t say the same for the other agency principals- or the country, for that matter.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

 

Writer’s Note: This episode was the most overtly political of the show’s entire run, and featured a truly searing confrontation between Air Force Veteran Jim Cutler and Michael Ginsberg over the war- the older man calling the younger one a hypocrite for taking a salary for working on Dow Chemical, and the younger man calling Cutler a fascist who only cares about business- all in response to Ginsberg’s frustration over the Democrats not putting a peace plank in their convention platform.   While much of Hollywood, including Weiner, veers to the left- and some of this is baked in the creative cake of much movie and TV fare– I find Mad Men to be remarkably even keeled and intellectually honest about the politics of the day and the grievances and fears that divided the country.   Other than one gratuitous swipe last year (when Henry Francis calls George Romney- Mitt’s father- a “lightweight”, clearly meant as a commentary on the younger Romney), Weiner tends to show a more morally and politically complicated world.  For example, while Cutler can be unlikeable, it’s more about his manipulative and egocentric nature, rather than his politics. (In fact, we don’t really know what his politics are—only that he wants to keep them out of the office, which is actually a very good idea).  While the Carnation executive is somewhat of a cartoon cut out of a conservative, with his fear of the Bolsheviks being at the gate and his admiration of “Dutch” Reagan, some of the more annoying characters over the years have been committed leftists like Abe and Roy (Midge’s beatnik boyfriend from Season One whose shallow, formulaic indictments of the ad business Don swats away like flies).    I think Weiner knows that Mad Men fans cut across the political spectrum and is one activity that may truly be considered bi-partisan.