Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 4: New Amsterdam

We open to the sounds of Bob Newhart's 1960 comedy album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, coming from inside Pete Campbell's office. Pete, Harry, Paul and Ken are listening to and laughing along with the album.  Not laughing is Pete's secretary Hildy who notifies Pete that Mrs. Campbell is there.  The newlywed groom, who so recently waxed romantic about married life, is noticeably put off by Trudy's unexpected appearance at the office.  Trudy is hurt, but undeterred, and less than a month into the marriage we get our first inkling that their marital dynamic may not turn out to be what Pete wants. 

You can't help but love Don's attempts to be nice, complimenting Pete to his wife with such glowing words, yet the pained expression on Don's face says it all.  But the true pain is in Peggy's eyes as she has to stand there in front of the happy couple and pretend to smile.  I did enjoy Trudy's comment of surprise that Don was so nice - so not what she imagined.  We can guess at what she'd heard about him from Pete.

If you are one to feel sorry for Pete being the butt of jokes at the office, prepare to discover that he's treated better there than in his home life.   We observe the total emasculation of a man in 1,500 sq. ft. of apartment space in just under two minutes.  Trudy wants what she wants and she wants it now and Pete has no choice but to give it to her.  And if he's not man enough to do it by himself, well then they'll get the help they need. Because she's not about to wait for what she wants.

Rachel Menken can't have what she wants and she's not about to pretend that she can.  Don tries to talk to her, asks if they can have lunch, but she knows it wouldn't lead where she wants it to lead, so why bother. 

Betty is living the suburban mom dream, reading bedtime stories and tucking her children in for the night, promising that Dad will be there when they wake up in the morning.  The next day, we see her out walking the new dog when she comes across a man pounding on Helen's front door.  Betty tries to ignore the man, doing the normal "it's none of my business" head down tactic, but he approaches her and asks to use her phone.  He's Helen's ex and he says it's his turn with the kids, but Betty says she's not about to let a strange man into her home and off she scurries.

Helen comes over some time later to apologize - she was at the window and saw her ex talking with Betty.  Betty invites her to stay and chat.  What she says about her ex must sound familiar to Betty - he didn't care enough to spend time with the kids when they were married, his work in the city was his priority.  Betty asks what happened (she meant, over at the house) and Helen takes it as an invitation to answer what all the hens have been clucking about behind her back.  And the story she tells could not more closely parallel Betty's situation - Helen's ex Dan (how conveniently similar!) was always in the city doing this and that, only this and that turned out to be a number of women. 

Into this confab comes Don, after a long day's work.  He looks confused and unsettled by the presence of Helen in the house and quickly goes upstairs for what Betty says is his nightly ritual of some quiet time.  When she explains to Helen that Don "works so hard" it's difficult not to imagine that Helen is a wee bit suspicious about what qualifies as work.

Does anyone in 2014 remember when you used to keep your living room furniture covered, protecting it until you had company over?  Pete is sitting on a wrinkled bed sheet covering a couch, nursing a drink.  He looks quite uncomfortable.  The man in the uncovered chair is his father, straight out of an LLBean ad for the weekend on the Cape.  If we all had the chance to see our coworkers with their parents, how might our perceptions of them change?  Rather than the obsequious go-getter trying to scratch and claw his way up the corporate ladder, Pete is a sad, unappreciated little boy whose father belittles him and claims he doesn't know what Pete does for a living, calling it "no job for a white man."  Interestingly, Pete actually looks more masculine, more powerful as he's staring down his father than he does when surrounded by his peers at work.

Pete gathers up all his courage and discusses the reason for his visit.  The apartment that Trudy wants is expensive and they'll need some help to afford it.  He deals with his father disparaging the neighborhood, after listening him do the same Pete's job and chosen profession, because, one assumes, Pete believes that all this abuse is worth it to make Trudy happy.  Only, Pete's father is not playing along.   "No, I don't think that's a good idea," he says about the loan.  Things degenerate rather quickly from here and we learn that Pete was, in effect, to the "manor" born and now his father believes he has squandered what should be his by birthright. They're not going to give him anything more than he's already received from them - his name.

When Trudy, after Pete comes home, asks him "Did you have a nice visit?" we expect she'll get an earful.  But he lies to her, says he didn't bring the matter up about the loan, citing some health problems his father has (perhaps, the absence of a heart?).  She asks what's wrong with him and this time Pete tells the truth, "Nobody knows." 

Pete is back to his usual self the next day at the office as he brings in a client, Walt Veith, for a pitch meeting.  Walt is from Bethlehem Steel and they make their pitch based on something the client had said looking out at the city.  "It's all steel."  So they present a retro ad with buildings from various big cities with the tag line - brought to you by Bethlehem Steel.  The client hates it and Don at first is willing to throw Sal's art work out if that helps, but it's the whole approach the client hates.  Don gets defensive and snitty quickly, but Pete intervenes.  A power struggle breaks out, with Don defending the pitch - reminding the client that it is exactly what they talked about - and Pete defending the client - telling Don that if this isn't what the client wants they'll come up with something else.

Pete's week is not getting any better.  Once the client, and Sal, leave the meeting, Don closes the door to lay into Pete.  Pete's job is handling clients, Don's job is making pitches.  Don wants Pete to know that he feels he failed in his part of the job, getting the client ready to hear - and love - the pitch.  But Pete is not content to be the account exec, he wants to be an idea man as well.  He already tried in the Lucky Strike meeting, and he weighed in briefly during the Secor meeting; he wants his ideas heard.  It's not hard to see what's going on here.  Trudy tells him what to do at home, his father tells him what he does - that he - doesn't matter.  Pete is going to get the respect he thinks he deserves somewhere.

Helen Bishop is back in the Drapers' life, this time asking Betty for emergency babysitting.  Betty obliges, and we have another awkward Betty-Helen interchange.  Helen is getting read to go out to work on the Kennedy campaign, Betty is not up on the candidate (other than to know he's handsome, though no Don Draper, mind you) and assumes Helen is going out because there might be an eligible bachelor there.  When Betty arrives, Helen's creepy son Glen is playing Liebesträume, a romantic piano piece that translates to Dreams of Love which will come into play shortly.

In the second go-around of asking for familial help in getting the apartment, Pete and Trudy fare better.  Her father is happy to invest in Pete and his little "Jellybean" and their future.  Trudy's father envies, rather than mocks, Pete's job and Trudy's mother is happy to hear that he's thought of well by his boss - though watching Pete react to the description of Don as his boss is fun.  But their support and offer of help doesn't make Pete any happier than his father's rejection.  He doesn't want to have to take her parents' help and would prefer they don't get the apartment if they can't afford it on their own.  Poor, prideful Pete.  It's not about what you want, Lovely.  Just a couple weeks into the marriage, Pete realizes what he's in for, and he's not at all happy about it.  What happened to the guy who felt baptized by their wedding vows?

What a beautifully framed shot of creepy Glen and Betty on the couch watching TV.  I love Glen holding an apple (better to tempt you with my dear) and the sound of gunshots from the TV western his mother said he could watch before bed.  Betty leaves to go to the powder room and wouldn't you know if but someone I've been calling creepy Glen barges in on her while she's peeing.  But before that, Betty goes all CSI:Real Housewives and starts rummaging through Helen's drawers.  Not cool.  She's particularly fascinated by Helen's birth control pills (that trollop!).  So karma comes into play as her privacy is invaded by Helen's son.  

The whole scene only takes a few seconds, but it feels like an eternity that she is there, with her pants halfway down, and Glen refuses to just back out and shut the door.  Yes, we can wonder why Betty didn't lock the door, but we're too busy wondering why Glen would just stand there and keep looking at her.  The creepy moniker is sticking to you like wet on water, kid.  A few minutes later, he's back on the couch, looking chagrined, and Betty gives him a lecture and demands an apology.  The whole scene is uncomfortable - she is looming over him, angry, he shrinks in tears, then hugs her hard when she offers a soothing pat on the back.  He says she's pretty and then the creepiest thing happens.  No, not Glen asking Betty for a piece of her princess-like hair.  Betty actually complying.  You don't even get to wonder what she was thinking - she's not thinking at all.  Betty says she's 28, but she's acting no older than Glen - not making a grown up decision, but acting like an elementary school girl who's flattered by the attention.

Pete continues to try and prove that he is not some lowly account executive, but a man with ideas. He has arranged a nightcap for the Bethlehem Steel client which involves the company of some working girls.  Walt wants to get down to knowing more about the ladies, but Pete tries to sell him on a pitch about Bethlehem Steel being the backbone of America.  Walt just wants to party and tells him he's off the clock and Pete cannot catch a break.

Back in Ossining, Betty doesn't tell Helen about the bathroom or the lock of hair and goes home to find Don asleep after having worked on night on his pitch for Walt tomorrow.   Don and Sal make the pitch and Walt likes it, but he thinks Don is doing the old bait-and-switch.  This is the idea that Walt is supposed to pass on so Don can come in with the pitch Pete mentioned last night.  Only, that was not an official pitch - Don knew nothing about Pete's backbone idea.

Pete looks like the cat who ate the canary, so proud is he that his idea carried the day (regardless of the fact that the client thought it was Don's idea).  He has been trying to reclaim his masculinity, trying to be the important, creative person he wants to be, and he's accomplished it.  His father can reject him, his wife can control him, his in-laws can own him, but he showed Draper that he's just as good at coming up with ideas as Don is.  This is a red letter day for Pete.

Only, that's not how things work around Sterling Cooper.  Rather than getting a pat on the back from Don for giving the client what he wants, Pete gets the boot.  His sad, defeated walk back to his office, the tears, the bottle of booze, it's all so tragic.  All Pete wanted was some satisfaction from his job, some appreciation.  And now he has a mortgage and no job. 

Only, that's not how things work around Sterling Cooper.  Because Pete Campbell is Pete DYCKMAN Campbell, an old family with great connections throughout New York.  He is the company's entrée to the upper echelon of power.  Pete stays.  Don at first thinks it's a him-or-me situation, but Bert lets it be known that Don is very important to the agency.  Don doesn't like when things don't go his way, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with Pete in the future.  But for now, Roger is going to put on a clinic on how to make lemonade. 

Roger concocts some story about how Pete was fired, but Don came to his defense, saving face for Don and also making Pete more of a supplicant to the person he feels saved his job.  And Pete is none the wiser that his lineage is a powerful ace-in-the-hole that gives him some special privileges at the office.  And not just there. When he goes to visit the new apartment, all they want to talk about there is that now there'll be a Dyckman living in the building!  What Pete has to offer Sterling Cooper, his wife Trudy, and his new neighbors is his lineage, nothing more. We should at least respect that Pete wants to be more than his name, but right now that's all he is.

The penultimate scene, with Roger and Don, is a classic one.  They're maybe ten-fifteen years apart in age, but Roger is a whole other breed.  He's from the "greatest generation," those who fought in WWII and would still like the younger generation to show some appreciation.  They're from the "when men were men" time, where you didn't complain about every slight, you manned up.  He's disappointed by what he sees in the men coming up now, even though he recognizes that this sentiment is as old as time.  Don sees things a bit more clearly with his one line:  "Kids today, they have no one to look up to 'cause they're looking up to us."  If any one line explains the sixties, the generation gap, and the chasm that still separates the Tom Brokaw generation from those who came up after it, it's that one. 


Don (about Pete): He's essential to the process around here. I think we're almost as happy to have him as you are. 
Trudy: I don't think that's possible. 
Don: Well, maybe you're right. 

Pete: Why is it so hard for you people to give me anything?
Mr. Campbell: We gave you everything, we gave you your name, and what have you done with it?

Don: Would you prefer an I-beam on a plate with a pat of butter on it.

Don: Sterling Cooper has more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich.

Don:  Listen, Pete, I need you to go get a cardboard box, put your things in it, okay?

Sal (to Pete):  You picked the wrong time to buy an apartment.

Don: Remember Pete Campbell's last day? It's today.

Roger: There are rules.
Bert: There are other rules.

Bert: New York City is a marvelous machine, filled with a mesh of levers and gears and springs, like a fine watch wound tight, always ticking.

Bert: How much do you know about Pete's family?
Don: Nothing, except they put out a mediocre product.

Roger (to Pete):  I know that your generation went to college instead of serving, so I'll illuminate you.  This man is your commanding officer, you live and die in his shadow, understood?

Bert (to Don): You're going to need a stronger stomach, if you're going to be back in the kitchen seeing how the sausage is made.
Don: Thought it was a big watch.

Roger: I bet daily friendship with that bottle attracts more people to advertising than any salary you could dream of.
Don: That's why I got in.

Roger (to Don): You don't know how to drink, your whole generation.  You drink for the wrong reasons. My generation, we drink because it's good, because it feels better than unbuttoning your collar, because we deserve it. We drink because it's what men do.

Roger: Your kind, with your gloomy thoughts and your worries, you're all busy licking some imaginary wound.
Don: Not all imaginary.
Roger: Yeah, boo hoo.
Don: Maybe I'm not as comfortable being powerless as you are.

Roger: I don't know, maybe every generation thinks the next one is the end of it all. I bet there were people in the bible walking around complaining about kids today.
Don: Kids today, they have no one to look up to 'cause they're looking up to us.


Bob Newhart started out as an advertising copywriter and his comedy routine came out of funny phone calls he used to make with a coworker. Sterling Cooper is filled with execs who dream of leaving the office to pursue some other passion and Newhart was someone who made that dream a reality that has now spread over 50 years.  Interestingly, the first track on the album is “Abe Lincoln Vs. Madison Ave,” in which he portrays an advertising/publicity executive who tries to keep Lincoln on message at Gettysburg.

The title of the episode "New Amsterdam" was a Dutch settlement at the southern tip of Manhattan Island; you may know by its current name, New York. 

Oh, the little dig Pete has at Trudy's expense.  "I only make $75 a week. Now I know that you're not good at math, but that's $3,500 a year."

Does anyone else miss records?

WHORE COUNT: 1 (3 total)
Pete's father describes his son's work as "whining and whoring."

Pete introduces Walt to some of his attractive, female "cousins" at a bar after work.

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis, looking forwards to more