Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 3: Marriage of Figaro

The "Marriage of Figaro" is the name of a comedic opera written by Mozart in the late Eighteen Century (about ten years after we Americans launched our revolution against British rule and just a couple years before the French people declared their own revolution).  Why this title?  The four-act opera is about love and lust, cheating and faithfulness, class distinctions and relative power, but also about mystery and intrigue - hiding one's identity and then revealing the truth. Before the episode is over, we should have an ample supply of all of those things. 

The episode begins jarringly with a chummy, chubby man on a train approaching the dapper Don Draper, convinced he is some other man he used to know - Richard Whitman, from Ft. Sill (a US Army post outside of Oklahoma City).  The gregarious Larry muses over old times and engages in some quick catching up with his old pal "Dick."  Don doesn't correct him on a mistake, rather he shares in the old memories and promises to keep in touch.  He did blink a bit excessively and look over his shoulder repeatedly during their brief, odd exchange, but other than that, Don maintained his composure remarkably well during what looks like a case of mistaken identity.

Pete Campbell gets quite the welcome back from the office upon returning from his honeymoon, which confuses us as much as him until he opens the door to his office and sees the surprise waiting for him.  "Who put the Chinamen in my office?" he asks as he backs into the hall and quickly shuts the door behind him.  Everyone (except for his secretary, Hildy) laughs at the prank and goes back to business.  Peggy greets Don with news of the hijinks, "They paid an Oriental family to be in Mr. Campbell's office," which allows Don to retort, "Someone will finally be working in there." 

But Don isn't being funny so much as denigrating as we can tell from his sour demeanor in the office meeting with Paul, Ken and Sal to discuss the Secor Laxative account.  Sal suggests they use humor, a la the VW bug advertisement that Don was looking at on the train.  But Don hates the ad and hated their ad last year, "Think Small" - a half page ad on a full page.  So does Roger, but Pete likes the approach.  And even Don, who hates it, recognizes that they are talking about it and it must be having some effect. The meeting goes nowhere, after highlighting the divide between the old way of thinking about advertising and this new school that Pete and Sal seem to appreciate.  Kudos to Pete, in particular, for standing up for what he believes in.  A mid-level exec with his eyes on ascension is usually more of a sycophantic toady rather than an independent thinker.

I found the parallels between Pete's awkward reunion with Peggy and his with Don to be notable.  She is all smiles upon seeing Pete approach her desk, but he quickly lets her know that things have changed now that he's a married man.  She goes from beaming happiness at his return to quiet sadness in a matter of seconds.  She understands the rules, what happened between them never happened.  Conversely, when Pete is alone with Don, he's expecting a warm reception and leads the way, letting Don know that he missed him (oh how Peggy would have loved to hear that).  But Don cuts him down with a withering, "then it must not have been much of a honeymoon," before sensing Pete's hurt and offering Pete a sliver of the camaraderie he so dearly craves from Don. 

The girls of the office are tittering about Lady Chatterley's Lover, the then-scandalous D.H. Lawrence novel of love and sex between a taciturn working class married man and an upper class married woman.  Joan is returning the book, which she much enjoyed, but poo-poos the idea of letting Peggy the demure one read it, thinking it would be too shocking for her.  What with its tale of wild sexual escapades between a man and woman married to others, it's clearly not suited for someone as prim as Peggy Olson, according to Joan. Oh, Joan, aren't you familiar with the saying "Still waters run deep?" There's more to Peggy than meets the eye! 

Speaking of sexual attraction between an unmarried couple, the office meeting with Rachel Menken over recent research on her competitors is giving off a lot of heat between the client and Don, which does not go unnoticed by Pete. The pheromones sent out between them are so heavy it's surprising they didn't create their own weather pattern. The presentation seems to be going quite well, it's detailed and thorough.  Only...the suggestions made by the researcher, Mr. Pelham, reflect things her store already offers.  Turns out, none of the men in the meeting took the time to actually visit Menken's Department store, so busy were they in scoping out the competition.  Now, they didn't come straight out and admit that.  Ken and Harry tried to pretend they had been to her store, but Don quickly recognized that this approach was failing.  So he in effect admitted their mistake, apologized for the oversight and promised to correct it that afternoon.

Harry Crane also noticed the looks between Don and Rachel, but he's not as troubled by the flirting as Pete is. The way Harry looks at it, when you're married, there's nothing wrong with a little flirting.  Pete agrees that a married man can have fun in this limited way, but he always thought Don wouldn't take it any farther.  Watching the looks that passed between them in their brief moments together, he's now not so sure.  But newly-married Pete, like Harry, is still marveling at the wonders of married life, just the fact that there will be dinner waiting for him when he comes home.  It couldn't possibly get any better than that.  As he leaves for the evening, he readily turns down an invite to join the group after work.  Yet he takes the time to tell Peggy that she looks nice.  Well, Harry did say that there are some things that a married man can still do.

Don's visit to Menken's Department Store nets him a new set of cufflinks - medieval knights - and a tour of some of Rachel's favorite parts of the store, especially the rooftop where the security dogs are kept.  These dogs, and their younger incarnations, gave Rachel some of her happiest moments growing up and she wanted to share that with Don.  She tells him about her childhood and as she bares her soul to him, he kisses her.  But then he utters those two words that you really don't want to hear after your first kiss.  "I'm married."  Don doesn't wear a ring, so Rachel had hoped this meant he was single, but she never asked because she was worried about the answer.  And now she knows.  She doesn't want to be the other woman (little does she know she'd be the other, other woman) and so she leaves in a hurry and asks that someone else be put on the account.

Don looks upset as he sits on the train heading home.  But is he feeling guilty and, if so, over leading Rachel on, or because he wanted her to be okay with his being married?  Does he realize what a pathetic jerk he is?  He can't even be faithful to his mistress!

The next morning, it's all unicorns and rainbows as the Drapers get ready for little Sally's birthday party.  Don looks decidedly un-Draper-like, wearing just a t-shirt and khakis.  He's quite the hunky specimen, as Francine notes (love when she asks Don if he'd like company in the shower).  He's building Sally's playhouse, but seems to require a six-pack of beer to get through the job.

The party starts and Don could not possible look any more uncomfortable in his own house.  When Francine's husband, Carlton, asks rhetorically how "Mad Ave" is treating Don and remarks that they must be taking good care of him, marveling "We got it all," Don looks at him with thinly veiled disgust and responds, clearly mockingly, with "Yep, this is it." Yet Carlton is as clueless as the husbands were when one of them told the "who do you save, your lawyer or your wife" joke in front of all the not-amused wives.

This little piece of 1960 domestication is straight out of a time capsule, with the discussion of the polio vaccine and boys playing with BB guns.  So when Helen Bishop shows up in slacks (!), it's really noticeable how different she looks from the married ladies.  The husbands look at her like she's a rare steak and they haven't eaten for a week.  Betty gives Don his orders - get the cake, don't forget - like you always do - to take movies at the party. It seems that neither the husbands nor wives are happy with their respective partners, but they all play the game.

The men might be obsessed with the new divorcée and her sex life, but the women are just obsessed with her upsetting the apple cart of their domestic suburbia with her differences.  She goes for walks, "swinging her hips" it is noted, around the neighborhood.  It unnerves them, where is she walking to?  They don't understand her; she might as well be from Venus.

Don has his camera out and he shoots a cute moment of the kids running around, with Sally waving to her daddy.  He also catches the tail end of an awkward exchange between Helen Bishop and Carlton, when she takes his offer to help with her son Glenn as what it likely was, an invitation for an affair.  She's been down this path before and puts Carlton in his place very firmly.  Don also espies another couple, this one happy together, their tender, loving moment standing out in stark contrast to everyone else's lives of quiet desperation, and this gives him pause.  It's as if he's seeing what's could be real, but for him is just an act.  The whole day has felt like that.  Assemble the big present, welcome the guests, make small talk, take the movie, get the cake.  He's sleep walking through the role of husband, neighbor, father.

He drinks some more while in the backyard, listening to the kids playacting their version of married life.  It's not a pretty scene, the backbiting and sniping, the petty grievances.  This is the most depressing view of married life since Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Inside, the women are still cattily discussing Helen, though Betty tries to stick up for her, saying it must be hard working with two children. Outside, Don is briefly joined by Helen, who seems to feel a little of what Don's feeling, but soon Betty observes her husband outside with that woman, and whatever sympathy she felt for Helen disappears.  She quickly breaks up their chat, sniping at her husband to get the cake.  Let me step out of narration to mention what a bang up job Jon Hamm does in displaying Don's exhaustion and resignation in this moment.

Don has the cake in the passenger seat of his car and returns home, only he doesn't pull in to the driveway.  He slows down, then just drives off.  Yes, Don ditches his daughter's birthday party and takes the cake.  For someone who's already shown himself to be a serial philanderer, he has now sunk to a new low.  Helen rescues the party from total collapse with her frozen Sara Lee cake and those who are still at the party do their best to sing a jolly birthday wish for Sally (producers didn't spring for the cost of the official Happy Birthday song - Mad Men had a small budget first season!).

Night comes and Don is still in his car, alone, in front of the train tracks, staring as a train passes in front of him.  Back at home, Betty is cleaning up - and her hands are back to shaking - when at last Don makes his return.  We hear a dog bark and Sally squeal in delight.  Daddy is home and he brought her a doggy and as excited as Sally is, that's just how angry Betty is. Not only did he neglect his responsibility, go AWOL for the afternoon, and leave her to deal with the repercussions, but he comes back the hero with a dog they didn't even talk about ahead of time. 


When we first saw Don, he was looking at a full page ad for a fairly new product, the VW bug.

It was a bold ad for a bold innovation in cars.  Not just for the small size and unique styling, but for the fact that we'd just wrapped up a war against Nazi Germany not 15 years earlier, and now they wanted to sell us cars built in a Wolfsburg plant originally built by the Nazis.  It was a new approach for advertising, using humor and the product's apparent weaknesses and turning them into strengths.  The Bernbach that Roger refers to was William Bernbach, the creative mind behind this ad. He also came up with the "We Try Harder" slogan for Avis and the "Mikey" commercials for Life cereal.

Francine's anti-Semitic comments about feeling "uncomfortable" during Spring Break in Boca Raton harkens back to Don's "not on my watch" comment about whether they've ever hired a Jew.  Francine did not feel comfortable around those people, and Roger noted to Don that they didn't have any Jewish admen because they felt more comfortable working with other Jews.  Kudos to Betty for chastising, if only mildly, Francine for her "big nose" comment.  

Was anyone else surprised to learn that Betty graduated from Bryn Mawr, one of the prestigious and rigorous Seven Sisters Colleges?  And that she traveled abroad, circa 1954 (around the time of the movie Three Coins in a Fountain).  Neither of those things were common at all for young women in the 50s and gives us a little insight into Betty, that there may be more to her than the nervous Suzy Homemaker we've met. 


Paul: Here comes Romeo without his roe.  Like a dried herring.

Roger: I want the Chinamen out of the building by lunch.
Don: I'm still waiting on my shirts.

Peggy: I understand.  It never happened.

Don:  I was raised that men don't wear jewelry. 

Roger:  I'll tell you what brilliance in advertising is - 99 cents.  Somebody thought of that. 

Pete:  I missed you. 
Don: Then it must not've been much of a honeymoon.  

Rachel:  it's hard to get caught in a lie. Don: It wasn't a lie.  It was ineptitude with insufficient cover.

Harry:  Draper?  Who knows anything about that guy.  No one's ever lifted that rock.  He could be Batman for all we know.

Don: Don't try to convince me that you were ever unloved.

Rachel:  What do you do, just kiss women all the time? Women you aren't married to?

WHORE COUNT: 0 (2 total)
Though Peggy is warned not to read LCL on the train, lest men get the wrong idea.

SUICIDE COUNT: 0 (1 total)


Lack of subtlety: Pregnant Francine drinking mint juleps.
Lack of subtlety runner up:  Father smacking someone else's kid in the face.

Oh, things were so quaint back then:  Betty only made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids because everyone eats that.  These days, we're so fearful of allergies, no one would think of having peanut butter within five miles of a kids' birthday party.   Lady Chatterley's Lover was scandalous, to be passed around in secret.  These days you see 50 Shades of Gray in nearly every woman's hands.

Spoiler-y observations (don't read unless you're caught up)

Carlton says to Don, we've got it all and Don replies, yep, this is it.  But both men are lying.  They're not satisfied and are cheating on their wives, looking for that something more that will make their lives better. 

First introduction to Glen Bishop who stays connected to the Draper family for years. Also first time we see Allison who later becomes Don's secretary until Ep. 4.04. 

Rachel tells Don the family store originally sold hosiery.  In Season 7 when the agency is coming up with new ideas for selling Topaz pantyhose, he thinks of reaching out to Menken's Department store.  He dreams about Rachel and then finds out that she recently died. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 2: Ladies Room

Season 1, Episode 2, "Ladies Room" raises the question the show wants us to be asking, "Who is Don Draper?"  From the dinner with the Sterlings, to the late night questioning by Betty, we are clobbered over the head by the fact that Don does not talk about his past. And we realize that Betty has not pushed the issue as she went through an engagement, a wedding, and two children without needing to get any details on Don's side of the family.  Was it her passivity, and perhaps fear of learning hard truths, that caused her to be so content not to know?  "Who is in there," she asks as he sleeps.  He's her husband, the father of her children, and she doesn't know the answer to that simple question.  That says more about her than it does Don.

But the title of this episode is "Ladies Room" and it is in those rooms we learn about the women of Mad Men.  Roger Sterling's wife, Mona, marvels at Betty's beauty which she believes will keep Don faithful, as if men only cheat on or leave their wives because of some physical failing on the wives' part.  Betty, so poised and charming at dinner, is a huge ball of nerves in the bathroom, fumbling with her lipstick and still misty over her mother's recent death.  Yet she gets no comfort, just help reapplying her makeup and a request to move along.  At the office ladies' room, Peggy sees one of the other secretaries in tears and while she starts to offer help, Joan signals to leave the poor girl alone.  You may go into the ladies room to cry or break down or try and pull yourself together, but you won't find any solace there.

Outside of the literal ladies room, we see the spectrum of issues facing women in 1960. There's Peggy receiving unwanted attention from Ken Cosgrove, while Joan trades on their sexuality to get their lunches bought for them.  Paul Kinsey flirts in a more restrained way and even suggests that Peggy look at the work he's submitting to Don (and mentions that there are women copywriters). His comments are the first hints that women have an option of becoming anything other than someone's wife or have anything to offer beyond their looks.  Back in the suburbs, Betty and her friend Francine are gossiping about the new neighbor, Helen Bishop - a divorcee no less! - and they shudder to think what it must be like to be a single mother.  But rather than feeling sorry for Helen, they seem almost offended - how dare she be divorced with two young children.  There goes the neighborhood!

Betty passes by the new neighbor during her move in, driving with the kids (mostly) in the backseat and suddenly she loses control and crashes the car (albeit at a leisurely 25 MPH).  What has her so riled that she's losing feeling in her hands, can't concentrate enough to maneuver down her own street?  What was so unsettling about what she saw?  Betty is a wreck, but how can this be?  Her life is perfect.

And what is her loving husband doing while this is going on?  Visiting his girlfriend Midge for a little afternoon romp.  Their fun is interrupted when Don starts grilling her about the new TV in her apartment, accusing her both of hypocrisy and alluding to her getting it in trade.  She doesn't take to his accusatory tone and quickly launches the set out the window, without even checking to see if anyone is lingering on the street below.  The set goes crash, you hear a woman scream in outrage (though, thankfully, not in pain), Midge chuckles and Don says that is better.  It's very disconcerting scene - these hedonistic, bourgeois dilettantes who don't care about whether they hurt anyone else by their actions. The TV out the window is just a metaphor for what Don is doing to his marriage, after all.

Don comes home to an idyllic scene, his beautiful wife and children around the kitchen table.  He makes up some story about why he couldn't be reached about the car accident (he attributed it to a besotted Freddy Rumsen, our first mention of that character). He looks a bit chagrined; while an agile liar he at least seems somewhat troubled by it (the nervous cough).  The conversation turns back to Betty's hands and her anxiousness and she says the doctor suggested she see a psychiatrist.  During the earlier dinner with the Sterlings, Roger mentioned his daughter was the last girl in her group to go to a shrink, so we know that's become more socially acceptable.  Yet Don doesn't understand why she should need it.  How can she not be happy?  She's beautiful, married, has a nice home, two children. 

The next day, in the brainstorming session on the new aerosol Right Guard, Don may not realize that Betty's unhappiness is on his mind.  Yet he asks, what do women want?  He's given it some thought.  We think they want the cowboy, bringing the cattle home safely.  But "what if they want something else?" he asks.  Inside, perhaps, "some mysterious wish that we're ignoring."  Yes, Don, just imagine that.  Do you know what Betty's wish is (other than a husband who comes home every night)?

Like the pilot, I am surprised to see a fairly emasculated Don Draper, at least in the office.  He can't push around senior partner Bertram Cooper the way he can the mid- and lower-level execs at the office and his opinion is completely ignored when he tries to weigh in on Bert's desire to go after the Nixon campaign.  When he finally agrees - as if there were another choice - Cooper dismisses him with a patronizing "Goodie" and then lopes off, shoeless, back to his office.  Did Don catch Cooper's message?  Cooper says that he knows better than the client what the client wants - a theme repeated in the show whether it's the number of times pitches are made contrary to what the client asked for or, more potently, by someone sexually asserting themselves despite resistance or objection.  Why ask what a woman (or anyone) wants - you know best.

Meanwhile, Paul Kinsey tries again with Peggy and this time he's successful at getting a lunch date.  She gets a sandwich with him then he shows her around the office, describing what each department does.  He even mentions to Peggy that there are women copywriters, which she seems surprised to hear. Paul is nouveau-hip - he says "dig" and talks about another agency where everyone smokes "Mary Jane." You get the impression that he's more evolved than some of the other guys in the office (like Don who refers to Peggy as "Honey").

Don is still hounded by the "what do women want" question, enough to ask Roger.  His response?  A Sterling-esque, "who cares?"  Roger dodges the question about his daughter seeing a psychiatrist - that conversation never happened, mind you - but does give Don some advice - "I think it behooves any man to toss all female troubles into the hands of a stranger."  Don doesn't think much of shrinks; the one he knew in the army was a gossip, he says.  Roger sees them as necessary, but Don questions why anyone would be unhappy with all they have.  Don, are you happy?  Is that why you drink so much and sleep around on your wife?

Don actually comes home after work this time.  He's a bit pickled, having started drinking with Roger.  He has a surprise for Betty, a new white gold watch.  Now she has everything - more happiness!  Only...she's still upset about the accident and how much worse it could have been and she's just really out of sorts.  She still wants to see someone, she's not happy and she doesn't know what's wrong with  her.  But she needs Don's blessing.  He seems to waver.  The next day, he agrees to take her into the city to see a psychiatrist.  What a good husband.

While Betty's with the doctor, Don goes to see Midge.  He mentions his wife, and she asks him not to - it makes her feel cruel.  But it doesn't seem to bother Don at all.  There's a compartment over here for the girlfriend, a compartment over there for the wife.  Simple.  He tries, unsuccessfully, to figure Midge out.  Is she happy?  Does she have everything?  She says, "nothing is everything."  They're perfect for each other.  It's one thing to lie to other people, but to be able to lie to yourself that well.  That's a special kind of skill.

By the end of the episode, we discover that Paul is really no different than Ken or any of the other boorish guys at the office - Paul just hid it behind the aura of hipness.  He takes Peggy's agreeing to have lunch as a sign, as she later puts it to Joan, that she is the dessert.  She rebuffs Paul (and how telling is it that he won't accept that she's saying no unless there's another man), then Peggy gets an earful from Joan about how her work is suffering.  Peggy is tired of being treated like a piece of meat and complains to Joan who is so sympathetic.  "You're the new girl, and you're not much, so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts."  But Peggy did enjoy some of it, because in her desk we see the postcard that Pete sent to Ken from his honeymoon.  She runs to cry in the ladies' room, but seeing another broken-hearted secretary stops her in her tracks.  She's not going to be like that girl.  Peggy composes herself and walks back out, determined.

Betty is on the couch, talking with her psychiatrist.  She's nervous, anxious, she has trouble sleeping.  At first she's reluctant to talk, but soon she's mentioning her mother's recent death.  She's mentioned it to Mona and now to the doctor, and when she brings it up she acknowledges that she's already talked about it.  It's so obvious that this has unhinged something inside her, yet no one asks her about it.  It's sad.  Whatever you think of Betty, she's clearly hurting and she's being fairly open about what's bothering her, yet no one seems to hear her.  So she shuts down, takes off the watch that Don just gave her and lights up a cigarette, offering randomly that "we're all so lucky to be here." 

Don and Betty have a lovely dinner and they're gorgeous and perfect and Betty has regained control of her hands - one agilely squeezing a lemon, the other holding Don's.  It's all so sweet, if you didn't remember that Don just came from seeing his mistress or if you skip the scene afterward where Don calls Betty's therapist.  He gets the lowdown on what Betty talked to her psychiatrist about.  Don's betrayal of his wife know no bounds.

Season 1, Episode 2 

Don: I can't tell you about my childhood.  It would ruin the first half of my novel.

Don:  Just think of me as Moses.  I was a baby in a basket.

Betty: When you're with strangers you know exactly what you want.
Don: Well, I'd like to think I always know what I want. 

Don: I was raised to see it as a sin of pride to go on like that about yourself.

Joan (to Peggy): You'd never know you were the very bottom of the food chain. 

Bert Cooper: I always thought it was Sterling who was responsible for the Navy attitude around this place.

Bert: So much yarn, so little time.

Don (to Betty):  I always thought people saw psychiatrists when they were unhappy. But I look at you and this, and them, and that and I think, are you unhappy?

Don: whar do women want?  ...  What if they want something else? Inside, some mysterious wish that we're ignoring.

Paul:  Creative is just window dressing.

Paul: I mean, you can always tell when a woman's writing copy, but sometimes she just might be the right man for the job, you know?

Paul:  Account management. Where prep schoolers skip arm-in-arm, "Wizard of Oz" style, joined together by their lack of skill and their love of mirrors.

Roger (to Don):  I can never get used to the fact that most of the time it looks like you're doing nothing. 

Don: What do women want?
Roger: Who cares?

Roger: I think it behooves any man to toss all female troubles into the hands of a stranger.

Don:  Who could not be happy with all this. 

Roger: Psychiatry is just this year's candy-pink stove.  It's just more happiness.

Don: I can't decide if you have everything or nothing.

Joan: You're the new girl and you're not much so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

Betty: My mother always told me that it wasn't polite to talk about yourself. 

Don: What do women want?
Midge:  Well, one of the things has to be not being asked something like that.

Psychiatrist: I had a very interesting hour with your wife this afternoon. She's a very anxious young woman.  I think you're doing the right thing.


We don't know how long has been working at Sterling Cooper but it seems that he's well respected and important.  Paul tells Peggy that he's the Creative Director.  Still, even with this title, he makes the quip that dinner at Toots Shorr means Roger likes him, Four Seasons means he trusts him. 

After just one session with the psychiatrist Betty has the manual dexterity to squeeze a lemon wedge one handed. He's a miracle worker. 

Roger's wife Mona is played by his real-life wife Talia Balsam (daughter of a wonderful character actor Martin Balsam and ex-wife of George Clooney)

After Betty mentions her mother's recent death, Mona says nothing but we hear what she should have said, "Sorry."  Only the sorry comes from one of the attendants who is asking the ladies to move along so others can use the mirror.

This is our first introduction to Bert "the sock man" Cooper.  He's an odd duck, but smart.  He knows that what's best for Wall Street is what's best for his company on Madison Avenue and so he's backing the Republican candidate for president, Richard Nixon.  The only problem is Nixon doesn't want to hire an ad agency for his campaign, though the Ted Rogers they refer to was not only a former TV producer, but had worked in an ad agency.  The disastrous debate between Nixon and Kennedy was, actually, in large part due to Rogers being kept from Nixon before the debate and not due to his lack of understanding about how politics and TV could work together.    

Betty imagines the worst after her car accident - not that she could have killed the kids, but that Sally might have had a scar that would have left her miserable and lonely for the rest of her life.  Betty was raised that a woman should be beautiful so she can find a husband and live happily ever after.  Only, she did that and she's decidedly unhappy.  That is a huge theme for the show - how you can conceivably have "everything" and yet not be happy; that happiness comes not from material possessions but from something else, whether family, or fulfillment, or making a contribution.  Betty, the pretty prized possession, is not happy despite seemingly having it all.

This theme continues with Don's mistress, about whom he wonders whether she has everything or nothing.  "What do women want?" is the consistent question, but no one knows the answer.  Don thinks Betty must be happy with her perfect face, her handsome husband, her big house, her cute kids.  When Roger throws out the line "We live in troubling times," Don responds, "We do?  Who could not be happy with all this?"  It confounds him that Betty could "have it all" and not be happy.

Don tries to placate her with more "things" - baubles, bright and shiny to scare away the bad feelings.  But Betty has troubles that even a new watch can't solve and he finally gives in to letting her go to a psychiatrist (and let's think about that sentence in today's world when a husband would not be asked his permission for something like that!).  

Lack of subtlety: Pregnant Francine smoking
Lack of subtlety runner up: Sally being scolded for wearing a plastic bag over her head...because the clothes that came in the bag may be wrinkled.

Oh, life was so quaint back then: Most restaurants wouldn't serve your raw eggs these days as they'd worry about the lawsuits if someone suffered salmonella poisoning.  The aerosol revolution, now just an ozone layer-puncturing memory.

WHORE COUNT: (2 for the series)
Paul: "My favorite aging whore, radio."

"There's even a third option, paying you."

Paul is late because someone threw themselves in front of a train.
He later says he'd kill himself if CBS cancelled the Twilight Zone.


First mention of Freddy Rumsen - Don mentions him, and his alcohol problem, by using him as an excuse for why he was unreachable when Betty and the kids went to the hospital.  Freddy is finally of real help to Don in Season 7, when he gives him a symbolic kick in the ass with the instruction to "Do the work."

Don was very judgmental about this Bohemian girlfriend having a TV.  Years later, he surprised his wife (who was trying to live a Bohemian lifestyle in the hills of California) with a brand new color TV.

Fans were surprised by Bert Cooper's somewhat hostile turn in Season 7, but you can see in his first scene that he wants things his way and has little patience with his underlings.  Same with Joan.  She could be quite bitchy with Peggy and was set up early to be someone not to be crossed.

Paul Kinsey talks about another agency that is much cooler than theirs - "all they do is smoke Mary Jane and play darts, and honestly, I think they're the best store on the street."  He doesn't stick around to the late-60's when that's pretty much the same atmosphere at Sterling Cooper, with their own, even more dangerous, form of darts.

In Season 7, Sally busts her nose and and Betty still freaks out how she could potentially ruin her whole life by risking her looks.  Yet, there is part of Betty that thinks she may have an idea that sitting around being pretty isn't all there is to life and she in later seasons wants to be heard, not just seen.

When Midge sees Don at her doorway at 11:00 am, she asks if he'd been fired.  That's probably too random to be foreshadowing, but what the heck.   

They hammer home that Betty knows nothing about the man she married and had two kids with and he uses a line he uses again in Ep. 4.1 - how he was taught not to go on about himself.  We realize now that's a lie, that Don was intentionally mysterious lest anyone discover the truth about him. 

Peggy complains to Joan about all the unwanted looks and advances she gets from the men at the office and Joan is not exactly sympathetic. In Ep. 7.8 Joan complains to Peggy about the sexist treatment by the men at their workplace and this time it's Peggy who lacks sympathy, blaming how Joan dresses for her problems. 

There are two mentions of divorce in this episode - Betty mentioning that the food and drink from the dinner with the Sterlings (currently fighting in her stomach) should get a divorce and the mention of a divorcee moving into a house down the street. Foreshadowing to their divorce?

Don that about the sin of pride.  We later learn he was raised by a very stern, religious woman who had strong opinions about sin. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 1: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes


When Mad Men debuted on AMC on July 19, 2007, it did so without me.  I was vaguely aware of the show as an experiment in developing TV shows outside of the normal channels (if you pardon the pun) and became more aware of it as it wracked up awards at the expense of shows that I was already invested in.  By 2013, AMC was now home to three blockbuster, water cooler shows and I was starting to doubt some of my viewing choices.  I raced through all of Breaking Bad so that I could catch up in time for the series final episodes.  That accomplished, I thought I should give another of the channel's original programming a try and so I watched the pilot for Mad Men - "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

Many months later, I cannot count the number of times I've seen that particular episode, nor rewatched the entire series.  To say I'm addicted to Mad Men is to grossly understate just how obsessed I am with every aspect of the program.  From the theme music to the writing, the acting to the set decoration, the editing to the cultural reminders, I literally cannot get enough of this show.  I hound my family endlessly to watch it and thus far just my daughter has agreed, reluctantly I'm sure at first, but after that first episode, she's found herself plowing through the series almost as ravenously as I did.

I'm am certainly not alone in my feelings about the show as any quick Google search will show you dozens upon dozens of writers and bloggers writing passionately about the show.  I've read them all.  Sepinwall, Vulture, Slate, Basket of Kisses, Grantland and way too many more to mention here.  I've listened to endless hours of podcasts and dissected every quote, plot point, music choice, historical reference and more.  So what is it about Mad Men that makes us all so nutty?

For me, it's a combination of really superb writing (not every line, every scene, but in every episode there is that moment that makes you want to doff your fedora to a well-crafted set of words), some painfully honest acting (not to be confused with just painful acting - I'm looking at you, Trudy!) and nostalgia.  Not nostalgia for the 60s which, while encompassing my first decade on the planet, does not have a romantic tug on my memories.  Nostalgia as in a sentimental longing for an idealized vision of the past.  A way to experience the era in a new way, in a very different place and through the eyes of different characters.
From the opening scene, you are transported back in time, for better or worse.  While the early episodes hit you over the head with the "look how things have changed" message (with a shocking lack of subtlety), it's still true that the world of 1960 looks and feels vastly different from the world of today.  It's hard for me to relate to New York City and the men (and to a lesser degree the women) of Madison Avenue in 1960.  I had my first birthday that year, clear across the country in the former citrus groves that were turned into the San Fernando Valley.  I don't remember men wearing hats nor dressing so nattily.  And in a weird way, I don't remember women being "girls" either, or feeling their options and future were limited by their sex.  While in school I took home ec (cooking and sewing) - and did quite poorly - I don't recall thinking that meant I was going to have to grow up to be a homemaker anymore than I thought that the boys taking shop would have to grow up to be mechanics. 

But most of the men and women in Mad Men are from a different era than me and have certain expectations formed from that time and place.  Men are supposed to be strong and successful, women are the needy damsels in distress who shouldn't tire themselves by thinking too hard.  Women are searching for that "band of gold" that labels her as her husband's property and solidifies her station in life.  Men want wealth, success and recognition in the workplace.  Yet while these are the main stereotypes trotted out, the ideas are turned akimbo.  Note how the sentiment of longing for marriage is sung by a man, who claims not to want material things but just to settle down.  Similarly, the first woman we are introduced to, Midge, is not an air-headed Suzy Homemaker, but a strong-willed unmarried bohemian artist.

Things are - and are not - as we expect them, making for a dizzying ride.  Let's begin.

Season 1, Episode 1: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

That first scene introduces us to the show's centerpiece, Donald Draper, the ad man trying to come up with a pitch for the firm's largest and most important client - Lucky Strike cigarettes. The first line of dialogue is, "Finished, sir?" If we want to plumb the depths of every utterance for subtext (and why not), that question is not just about his drink (an Old Fashioned, the very name of which has enough subtext for a treatise) but about Don himself.  He looks drawn, ragged, and is intently scribbling on a napkin in a smoke-filled bar where he is being served a succession of libations.  We later find out that he's very worried that his well of ideas is bone dry and that he is "over and they're finally gonna know it."  It is his career he worries may be finished.  He may be finished.

Don engages Sam the busboy in conversation about the wonders of tobacco in an attempt to jar some idea out of his brain, and you can tell he's reaching here as he gets a wee bit too excited at Sam's "I love smoking."  They joke about how the Surgeon General's report that smoking is dangerous has the Reader's Digest readers all worried, but they're not about to stop smoking.  Not only won't they quit, Sam doesn't think anyone could talk him out of switching his favorite brand.  But that's Don's job, to find the right words to get you to do what you wouldn't otherwise do.

After this brainstorming session, Don goes to see his girlfriend Midge.  She's an artist, a bit of a Bohemian.  She thinks he is there for a late night booty call (did it even have a name back then?) only to find that his request to bounce some ideas off of her isn't an in-artfully phrased sexual innuendo. He actually wants her help with the account. But she knows him well, and knows that he's had difficulties like this in the past and came up with a solution and will again.  She mocks his Superman image before it even seeps into our consciousness - Don Draper will not fail.  He will come up with a brilliant pitch to save the day and everyone will live happily ever after (until they die of lung cancer or emphysema).

The next scene gives us the quintessential frat boy stereotype with a trio of young ad men gawking at and tossing vague innuendos towards a young lady on the elevator, Don's new secretary Peggy Olson.  What we now easily identify as sexual harassment, hostile work environment, or just general douche-baggery, is then supposedly the norm. The men run the gamut from quasi-rapey (Ken) to guilty by association (Paul), but they clearly establish the vast chasm between men and women in the workforce - what is expected of each and what is allowed by each.  As Ken Cosgrove says, "You got to let them know what kind of guy you are.  Then they'll know what kind of girl to be." 

The view of women as mere sex objects continues throughout, with nearly everyone encouraging the newly-hired Peggy to show some skin.  Not just the men, but the women in the office, especially the women, explain to Peggy that a shorter skirt, a cinched waist, and a sexy scarf are what will get her what she really wants. And what any girl wants in 1960 is to find a husband.  So pervasive is this concept that Peggy herself goes in for a move on Don by the end of the day, assuming that this is the role she is supposed to play, and she seems startled that he rejects her (little does she know just how full his dance card is).  But Peggy is not the only woman we see dealing with the blatant sexism of the time.

Potential Cooper client Rachel Menken is dismissed because she's not a man, and their paid researcher Dr. Guttman's femininity is under attack (Sal calls her their man in research) for being a nontraditional woman in a man's field.  Office manager Joan Holloway tells Peggy that with any luck she'll be barefoot and pregnant and living in the country in a couple years.  In the office, women answers phones, fetch aspirin and fill drinks; outside, they are prey, repelling unwanted attention while trading on their looks for free drinks. Rachel is asked point blank why she's not married.  Would Don ask an attractive, smart man the same thing?  Of course, not.  She acknowledges the double standard, but Don doesn't. 

Don is the head of creative at Sterling Cooper, a small Madison Avenue ad agency.  We get that he is highly regarded by partner Roger Sterling who jokes around with him when he comes into the office on the day of the big pitch.  They have a comfortable rapport and even when, later, Don loses his cool with the client, Roger does not get mad at Don but asks him if he could mend fences.  At first, we the audience don't see what Roger sees.  The Don we see is nervous and insecure when he's talking with his girlfriend, bullying and arrogant in the first client meeting we observe, and unprepared at the big client meeting the episode has set up.

That Lucky Strike meeting was a great big failure at the start. Don had nothing prepared.  Don, fumbled and stalled, hemmed and hawed, flipped pages and "uh'd" his way through a rambling set up with no pay off in sight.   If Pete hadn't done or said something in that meeting, Don was halfway down the side of the building, free falling.  A full 35 agonizing seconds go by as Don flails while the clients look on, until Pete speaks up and presents Dr. Gutman's research and builds a pitch around it. The idea of cigarette smoking as fulfilling a secret death wish, linking smoking with danger and risk-taking, a precursor to the Marlborough man image of the tough guy smoker.

The time that Pete's pitch gave him, along with the adrenaline spike from the anger it likely roused in him, with the added incentive of the client about to walk out the door, finally gave Don the chance to save the day as Midge predicted. He recognized the opportunity presented by the fact that they could no longer extol the health virtues of cigarettes.  There was a level playing field and they had the chance to give Lucky Strike an edge over the competitor.

They would sell the idea that, while every other brand was poisonous, like the Reader's Digest warned, there's was wholesome, "it's toasted."  Take the same product, call it something different, voila instant re-branding.  What you are selling is the idea that it's okay for you to continue what you're already doing.  You smoke Lucky's, good for you.  They're not bad for you, they're toasted.  At first the client isn't sure they understand the approach, but Don explains it.

The job of an ad man, he tells them, is to sell happiness. Which leads to this great quote that is as much about life is it is on the business.  "Advertising|is based on one thing: happiness.  And you know what happiness is? Happiness|is the smell of a new car.  It's freedom from fear.  It's a billboard|on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing it's okay.  You are okay."

Having saved the day with the Lucky Strike account, Roger asks Don if he can patch things up with Rachel Menken.  So Don agrees to have drinks with Rachel and try to be his charming self this time around.  He apologizes for treating her badly, blames it at first on the pressure he was under then admits that is no excuse.  But Rachel is quick to forgive Don and you can see the physical attraction between them two.  Don may have a girlfriend, but he is sending very strong sexual vibes to Rachel and she is picking them up and letting him know they are not unwelcome.  It's doubtful a less handsome man could get away with the things Don said at that first meeting, but Don doesn't have to worry about that.  He's charmed her.

Their discussion of love is another significant moment as it tells us quite a bit about Don.  He is quick to dismiss the idea of marrying for love, actually pretty dismissive of the notion of love at all.  He tells her, smugly, "What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons."  He then goes on, all macho individualist, how you are born alone and you die alone and should live like there's no tomorrow.   It's all very cynical and disconnected and yet so over the top that it's hard to believe he actually believes what he's saying.

Don's brilliant "It's Toasted" slogan (which, in reality, was an actual ad earlier in the century) gave us our first vision into the great Don Draper mystique.  But that should not distract from the fact that our first full day with Don Draper showed him insulting and alienating a new, prospective client (Rachel Menken) and nearly crashing and burning in front of the firm's largest existing client (Lee Garner of Lucky Strike).  This is our hero?  This is the miracle man?  Heck, he couldn't even properly button his shirt without help!

Peggy is an unknown quantity, clearly put off by the leering men in the elevator and the unctuous Pete at her desk.  She seems demure when we first meet her, dressing like she's starting a job in the Vatican and not on Madison Avenue.  We are at times embarrassed and irate at her treatment at the office and everyone judging her on her gender and relative sex appeal.  Yet, by the evening's end, after the failed moved on her boss, she has sex with the tipsy future groom of the lucky future Mrs. Pete Campbell.  Is she a victim of the times or is she a woman finding herself and exerting her own sexuality?  Did she make that choice or did she feel compelled by convention to sleep with him?

At the end of the episode, the big reveal is that Don, with the girlfriend and the not-so-subtly seductive drinks with Ms. Menken, is actually married to a beautiful woman with a bunch of (okay, two) little kids.  He has what the guy at the beginning sang about - this woman wearing his band of gold.  And yet, that clearly isn't enough for Don who had earlier in the episode suggested getting married to girlfriend Midge and later pointedly asked Rachel why she hadn't taken the plunge.  He claims love is a fiction, devised by creative admen to sell products.  Is that what he really believes?  Does he love this wife, did he ever?  Is love real?  What is happiness?  Is it attainable?  It's hard to tell with all that smoke in your eyes. 


While the overt sexism is what jolts at first viewing, what I am most startled by upon subsequent viewings is the nervousness of Don at the Lucky Strike meeting.  He is fumbling for words, his hands flipping pages looking for divine inspiration as he sputters and struggles to say something, anything, to placate the client.  This is not Superman, this is a scared child who is practically frozen in place.  He is unprepared and at a loss.

If it seems incredible that no one could tell that Salvatore Romano was gay, remember how in the 1960's women just loved Liberace, whose flamboyance they dismissed as charming, and how Rock Hudson was then one of the biggest screen heartthrobs.  Closets were plentiful and crowded back then and it was the very rare exception that anyone voluntarily exited one.

Roger asks Don "have we ever hired any Jews" to which Don responds, "Not on my watch."  Roger responds, "very funny" so we're left wondering if Don is anti-Semitic or just kidding.  Being Jewish was not something that was widely accepted by the mainstream - look at how many Jewish actors changed their names and hid their heritage back then (Edward G. Robinson, Leslie Howard, Danny Kaye, John Garfield, Tony Curtis).  The notion of Jewish writers working for the Jewish firms may seems dated now, but it was the norm once.  It's all about networking and working where you feel comfortable and accepted.

While Roger had to go all the way to the mail room to find a Jew, I doubt he would have found a black employee anywhere at Sterling Cooper in 1960.  Besides the elevator operator and Sam the waiter, we didn't see any blacks in any of the scenes.

Did you notice the sound of bombs exploding when Don drifted off to sleep on the couch? That and the not-too-subtle shot of him with the Purple Heart are there to let you know he served.

Don was using a "chest expander" when he was in his office.  It had two meta coils set between two wooden handles that you pulled across your chest and the tension was supposed to build up your muscles.

The song that serves as the episode's title, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, was written in the 30s but later became a hit for the Platters in 1959.  The lyrics, about a man crying over a lost love, were written by Jerome Kern for the musical Show Boat but he had too many songs and this one was cut.  Ten years later, it was resurrected for the musical Roberta and was sung by a Donald Draper type: a 6'2" former high school footballer whose heart has been broken:
My love has flown away
I am without my love
Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide...
No fewer than three separate people tell Peggy to show off some leg at the office. Not very subtle. 

The photograph that Pete looks at when he's talking to his fiancée is not of the woman who later plays the part of Trudy. 

"Band of Gold" by Don Cherry.
"Shangri-La" by Robert Maxwell and His Orchestra
"Caravan" by Gordon Jenkins
"On the Street Where You Live" by Vic Damone

Lack of subtlety winner: Peggy's doctor smoking
Lack of subtlety runner up: "So we're supposed to believe that people are all living one way and secretly thinking the exact opposite?" - Salvatore Romano 
Oh, life was so quaint back then: Don's comment about there not being a magical copying machine, Joan referring to an electric typewriter as potentially intimidating, Reader's Digest was ubiquitous and impactful, Richard Nixon was described as a "young, handsome Navy hero."  Would anyone today say, something looks complicated "but the men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use."


Midge: I know I slept a lot better, knowing doctors smoke.

Don: All I have left is a crush-proof box and "four out of five dead people smoke your brand."

Don: Next time you see me, there will be a bunch of young executives picking meat off my ribs.

Don: We should get married.
Midge: You think I'd make a good ex-wife?

Ken:  You got to let them know what kind of guy you are.  Then they'll know what kind of girl to be.

Joan (to Peggy):  In a couple of years, with the right moves, you'll be in the city with the rest of us.
Of course, if you really make the right moves, you'll be out in the country, and you won't be going to work at all.

Joan (to Peggy): Go home, take a paper bag, cut some eyeholes out of it. Put it over your head, get undressed and look at yourself in the mirror. Really evaluate where your strengths and weaknesses are. And be honest.

Don (to Pete): I bet the whole world looks like one great brassiere strap just waiting to be snapped.

Don (to Pete):  Keep it up, and even if you do get my job, you'll never run this place.  You'll die in that corner office, a mid-level executive with a little bit of hair who women go home with out of pity.  Want to know why? Because no one will like you.

Rachel Menken: You were expecting me to be a man.  My father was too.

Dr. Emerson: Even in our modern times, easy women don't find husbands.

Don: I'm not gonna let a woman talk to me like this.

Pete: A man like you I'd follow into combat blindfolded, and I wouldn't be the first. Am I right, buddy? Don: Let's take it a little slower.  I don't want to wake up pregnant.

Roger:  I don’t think I have to tell you what you just witnessed here.

Don: Advertising is based on one thing. Happiness. And you know you know what happiness is?  Happiness is the smell of a new car.  It's freedom from fear.  It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is okay.  You are okay.

Don: It's not like there's some magic machine that makes identical copies of things.

Don: Fear stimulates my imagination.

Don: Oh, you mean love.  You mean the big lightning bolt to the heart, where you can't eat and you can't work and you just run off and get married and make babies.  The reason you haven't felt it is because it doesn't exist.  What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons. 

Don: You're born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts, but I never forget.  I'm living like there's no tomorrow because there isn't one.

Rachel: I don't think I realized it until this moment but it must be hard being a man, too.... I don't know what it is you really believe in, but I do know what it feels like to be out of place, to be disconnected, to see the whole world laid out in front of you the way other people live it. There is something about you that tells me you know it too.

Pete: Actually, for the first time today, I'm not selling anything.

Whore References:

Dr. Emerson mentions hoping that putting Peggy on the pill won't turn her into a strumpet or "that kind of girl" or "the town pump."

Don calls Roger a whore for wanting the Menken account (worth $3 million).

Peggy says she hopes Don doesn't think she's "that kind of girl."

Spoilery observations (don't read unless you're caught up on the series)

The song playing over the beginning image is "Band of Gold" in which the male singer croons that he's never wanted "wealth untold" just a simple band of gold that says "you are mine."  Seven seasons later Don does not care about his money and is still looking for love.

Joan tells Peggy that "he may act like he wants a secretary but most of the time what they're really looking for is something between a mother and a waitress."  This comes back around in Ep. 7.08 when Don falls for a stranger that happens to be a mother and a waitress.

Don won't shake Pete's hand joking  they should take things slow - he doesn't want to wake up pregnant.  Of course, by the end of the season we find out that Peggy's decision not to take things slow with Pete ended up with her becoming pregnant.

"Readers Digest says it'll kill you."  "Four out of five dead people smoke your brand."  It takes ten years, but this all ties up when one of the show's main chain smokers develops lung cancer.

Joan instructs Peggy on her job and how to get what (she thinks) Peggy really wants from this job - a husband.  By the series end, both are working women who put their careers first.  In fact, Joan goes so far as to pick her business over love.  Peggy spends the entire decade focusing on her career and it is only in the last episode where she finds love.