Monday, April 28, 2014

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 3: Field Trip Recap/Observations

Well, Don's back.  Or some facsimile of Don - de-clawed, de-fanged, and cowed. Possibly more shocking than the lawnmower scene from Season 3 was seeing Don say yes to the partners' offer at the end.  No one-on-one with clients, no drinking, no ad-libbing. Pre-approved scripts and - it's hard to type this - reporting to Lou.  As we all yelled "No!" somehow Don ignored us and said "Okay."

There is a war brewing at SC&P and has been since Jim Cutler decided he wanted to be the top dog. It's a house divided and we're set up for some fireworks as Don tries to reintegrate himself into the firm.  Don is so desperate to right all wrongs that he's not thinking clearly. This new "stay and fix this" obsession of his will likely be as successful as his old "cut and run" attitude.  Don has no wiggle room at SC&P, one mistake and he's over - and likely wearing that "The End Is Near" sandwich board Roger joked about.  He could have gone to California and lived off his money if he really loves Megan or even moved to a new agency if he wants to get back into the game.  But he chose neither.  For some reason, he needs to make it right there, at the place where he started.

So, speaking of starts, where should we? Don is still relying on Dawn to feel less diminished, to retain some sense that he's still "Don Draper," but our new head of personnel does not have the time to keep buoying him.  He needs those nightly visits when he can put on the suit and pretend he's still that guy.  But Dawn is not his gopher anymore and he's losing what little connection he had to his old self.  Added to that sad thought is the mention of Megan's agent as the only call he received today.  Don reluctantly returns the call (after Dawn had to put Don on hold!) and he finds out that Megan's agent is worried about her behavior.  Seems she doesn't deal well with rejection.  She's stalking casting directors and otherwise coming off way too desperate.  So Don flies out to California to help her, give her a pep talk and get her to relax.  Well, that was the plan, anyway.

Instead, his presence only brings their troubled relationship to a head. She knows something is up - she assumes he's cheating.  As if!  The truth, when she finally gets it from Don, is actually worse. He's chosen to stay away from her not to be with anyone else, but just not to be with her.  Don, as he did successfully with Sally on Valentine's Day, comes clean and tells Megan that he was embarrassed for her to see him as a failure.  But this reluctant honesty doesn't bring them closer, it only makes her feel worse.  Finding out that he doesn't even know her well enough to realize that she wouldn't have thought him a failure, that she could have handled the truth, is more than Megan can handle.  He tries apologizing, he tells her he loves her, but Megan is unmoved. She asks him to leave.

SC&P has some good news - Ginsburg and Stan have been nominated for a Clio for their work on Playtex. Harry has calmed a client's nerves with some creative word gymnastics. And Peggy.  Oh, well, things are still not coming up roses for our gal. Not only did she not get a Clio nomination for her inspired Rosemary's Baby-themed commercial, but she found out Jim didn't even submit it for consideration.  Then, in her pitch with Lou, it's more of the same from him - he doesn't like her pitch or the money and time she's wasting trying to sell it.
We get our first glimpse of Betty.  She's looking fine and catching up with our favorite best friend Francine. Betty is still Betty, all wound up with nowhere to go.  But Francine is taking her place in the burgeoning women's movement and finding fulfillment outside of the home. Betty is her condescending self, noting that she still has a young child so can't be as carefree as Francine. Cut from that scene to the truth - where Betty has someone else raising her kids.

Don calls Dave Wooster about that job offer and meets at the Algonquin Hotel to discuss it.  Wells, Rich and Greene make him a nice offer, a pretty blonde he doesn't recognize makes an even nicer one.  But he ends up turning them both down.  Instead, we see Don go see Roger.

The Roger-Don relationship has been at the heart of this show since midway in the first Season.  As we discovered as the show went on, Roger did not exactly discover Don and Don did not exactly get his job through normal channels.  It was a curious and a bit nebulous dance that resulted in Don coming to work at Sterling Cooper in the first place, but what is clear is that Don's creativity helped build it into the company that it was.  There is a fondness between the two, yet there have been rifts in the past.  Not quite a father-son relationship, more older brother-kid brother, with them butting heads at times yet - as against the outside world - they remain united.

Roger may be perpetually in a drug and alcohol infused fog and may not care about anything or anyone anymore - his lunch with daughter Margaret was uncomfortable and devoid of any feeling - but it seemed genuine when he told Don he missed him.  Now, true, Roger may miss not just having someone who gets his jokes and can be a drinking buddy but also having someone on his side at the office.  With Don gone, Roger is alone at SC&P, marginalized to the point of afterthought.  His ex-mistress is now aligned with his arch enemy and even his old partner no longer defers to him.  Roger needs Don as much as Don needs him.  And perhaps that's always been their dynamic.

Don goes to Roger (instead of pursuing the comely stranger/working girl who flirts with him at the dinner) and, armed with an offer from a rival firm, asks him what he's wanted to know since last Thanksgiving.  Why would he let that happen to Don, why didn't he fight for him.  He calls Roger "Judas" (perhaps Don has a Christ complex to go with his other problems?) and admits finally, out loud, that he knew he was being fired - not put on leave.  He's hurt and he's mad, but he's finally ready to find out if there's any hope to fix what is broken.  At first, Roger defends the partners' decision and rightly so.  Don was a wreck, he'd completely fallen apart.  Being put on leave was the best thing they could have done for him, he'd be dead or locked up or wandering the streets if he kept on the path he was on.  So that's it?, Don in effect asks.  There's no place for him at SC&P?
Don: So I have my answer.
Roger: I didn't know the question! You want to come back? Come back. I miss you.

It was great to finally see Betty again even if she's no further along in her personal development than she was in Season One.  Her attempt at being the ideal mother falls flat.  She looks the part - just like how she looked in those Coca Cola ad shoot in Season One.  But inside there's no motherly instinct - just cold detachment and selfishness. She takes everything like a personal attack and to her Bobby trading her sandwich to some girl is just Don cheating on her all over again.  She doesn't see how excited Bobby is to have her there for the field trip, how proud he is that she tried the fresh milk and how devotedly he protected her spot on the blanket. All she knows is he had the nerve to give away her sandwich to some girl!  She can only see it in terms of what it means to her, not that he was being kind or helpful .  She takes everything so personally.    

Henry, poor patient, put-upon Henry, tries to get to the bottom of Bobby's sadness and her pique but there are no answers.  Betty fears that her kids hate her and with Sally musing about her being dead last week and Bobby wishing the whole day away, it's hard to deny her concerns. 

Later, back in New York, Don calls Megan and is hoping his decision to go back to work will show her he's on the right track.  He apologizes and tells her his trying to fix things.  He is as open as Don ever gets, admitting his charade and explaining it as best he can.  But for Megan, right now it's too little too late.  He doesn't get that he made a choice many months ago to live alone in New York with her clear across the country for no reason.  He had no job, no reason to be there, but every day he created this false story of a job he had to be at rather than be with her.  Megan understandably feels that he's been pushing her away and any mea culpas ignore the deep nature of their rift.  He says "I love you," she replies, tersely, "Good night."

The most awkward day at Sterling Cooper (and remember we've had a suicide and a dismemberment) is about to start.  Don comes into work just after nine a.m., but Roger isn't there and hasn't told anyone that Don was coming in.  Don might as well have been gone for ten years - the place is already so changed from when he left in disgrace.  Lou Avery is in his office, Dawn is no longer on the desk, there's a new receptionist, and some new faces.  He seems lost at sea.  An anchor by the name of Ginsberg comes in and rescues him.  Michael immediately starts talking shop with Don, which is just what Don needs.  He's happy to sit down and go over copy - this is something he can do.

The various reactions to Don's appearance are telling.  Michael, Stan and Dawn are happy, if surprised.  Meredith is drooling.  Ken is so excited to share his new baby picture with Don.  But Joan is angry and does nothing to hide her disdain for Don (she's not forgotten Jaguar) and Lou is apoplectic - reminding Jim that he has a contract and that things could get ugly when Don is forced out.  Jim and even Bert do not want Don to be there and had thought they'd never have to see him again.  Only Roger wants him to come back.

Don is powerless, at the mercy of everyone else's response to his existence.  He is a mirror and what he sees is the reflection is the effect he's had on everyone in the office - for good or, mostly, for bad.  Nowhere is that more evident than in Peggy's disgusted (and unnecessary) dig at him. She's resigned to the fact that whether Don comes back is not up to her.  But she makes sure he knows that it's not with her support.  Her "I can't say that we miss you" may be worded just a wee bit too cute - maybe she's in effect saying that they miss Don (at least his creativity and spark) but that she can't say that.  Some part of her has to recognize that Lou is not aiding the creative process and that she's become marginalized, but a bigger part of her resents Don - for not appreciating her more, for Ted, for so many slights over the years.

The agonizingly long wait - for us the viewers as well as for Don - before he's summoned before the partners is just the end to a long, brutal day for Don.  Imagine spending some ten hours at the place you built, the place you were banished from after revealing the darkest part of yourself, and hoping you're given a chance to come back.  The work day continues around you and you're watching other people living your life and wondering if you'll be allowed to step back in.

Then, finally, he walks into the conference room and hears their offer.  And it's awful - emasculating, humiliating, infantilizing.  Who listening to all the restrictive provisions expected Don to do anything but stand up from the table, slowly button his coat, and stride out of the office?  But this job, this company, means something more to Don than we - or they- understand.  And so, with the most offhanded response, he listens to their extraordinarily rigid and restrictive terms and acts as if they're nothing.  "Okay."


The movie Don was watching at the beginning was Model Shop starring Gary Lockwood (who also starred in 2001: A Space Odyssey the year before) and French actress Anouk Aimée. New York Times movie reviewer Vincent Canby wrote  at the time that the movie was more about Los Angeles with many scenes involving cars and discussing the "Baroque geometry" of the city than anything else.  His brief description: "[T]he movie covers 24 hours in the life of a disenchanted young man, whose affair with a staggeringly dense, would-be actress is breaking up. He meets a [recently divorced photographer], falls in love with her, and after much coffee house philosophy about war, marriage, love and politics, they part."

Here's a clip of the final scene, where the photographer tells her would-be boyfriend, "I thought you'd make an effort so that things could work out. I really thought it was possible, a simple happy life. I didn't know that you didn't want it, that you didn't love me anymore."

The song at the end was "If 6 Was 9" written and recorded by Jimi Hendrix.  Check it out here.  As you might expect of a song of that time, it's about individualism and marching to your own drum beat.  The lines that seem to resonate for Don's situation:
Don't nobody know what I'm talkin' about
I've got my own life to live
I'm the one that's gonna die when it's time for me to die
So let me live my life the way I want to
The book Jim Cutler held up to Harry was Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death which dealt with the way funeral homes take advantage of those in their time of grief for profit.  The original came out in 1963 and she revisited the topic just before her death in 1996.  You can get the book here.

Not to beat a dead horse, but it was so sad to see how needy Don was at the beginning.  His call to Dawn  where he starts, "glad I caught you" - thinking she was already on her way (and he'd suited up for her visit!).  Then suggesting she come later when she said how busy she was.

So many call backs to Season One:  Francine, picnics, carousel, Betty on a blanket (like the Coke ad), Don being approached by a rival agency and using it with Roger, guy talking about getting married and borrowing money from his parents (shades of Pete), Francine even called Betty "Betty Draper," the "how do you sleep?" question (which Don answered that time with, "on a bed full of money"), Don having a clandestine call about his wife (then with Betty's therapist, now with Megan's agent) even his future at the office (back then, would Bert fire him for not being Don Draper, now, would they not rehire him for being Don Draper).

There was also a call back to Season 4 Episode 6, Waldorf Stories.  In that episode we learned how Don first worked his way into Sterling Cooper, starting by putting his business card in the bottom of the fur box Roger gave to Joan.  In fact, Roger says to Don that he found him in the bottom of a fur box.  In reality, Don went out to lunch with Roger, got him drunk, and used Roger's condition to con his way into a job by just showing up the next day and telling him Roger had hired him during that lunch.  This time, Don shows up at the office because Roger did actually tell him to come in, yet no one else knew about it and Don had to wait an entire day for Roger to come in and make it actually happen.

Notice the thick cloud of smog suspended just above the hills as we look out of the Hollywood agent's office.  Having lived in LA in 1969 I can tell you, it's not an exaggeration.  But it used to make for pretty sunsets. 

Bobby and Betty were "having a conversation" about super heroes.  It harkens back to some of the comments people in the show have made in the past about Don being either Batman (Harry in "Marriage of Figaro") or Superman (Ken Cosgrove's wife in "Signal 30" and Megan in "For Immediate Release").  It also parallels the idea that when he puts on the suit, he becomes this man with super powers - the alliterative Don Draper - not the nebbish Dick Whitman.  For more on the habit of giving superhero alter-egos alliterative names, check out this video.

Also, the phrase itself is reminiscent of Season 2, Episode 4 "Three Sundays" when Sally is visiting the office with her father and she goes up to Paul Kinsey (the only person not "resting" at the moment) and says, "Let's have a conversation."

The "adequate" word was used twice - once to describe Megan's auditions and once to describe Lou as a worker.  Such high praise!  Meanwhile, Don is called a genius.

Don could have been talking to himself, instead of Megan, when he said, of the rejection she'd been receiving "You can't let it erode your confidence. And you can't get angry or desperate."  Desperate Don surely was when he went to see Roger.  He had an offer from a good firm (and hints from at least one other firm that they might be interested).  Yet he ran straight to Roger.  Why?  Why is it that what he needs can only come from SC&P?  It's not enough for him to be a successful adman he has to fix things there.  That seems monumentally more important than anything else. 

If you're trying to keep your wife happy, FYI calling her crazy and a lunatic are not a good idea.

Don was so hush-hush about interviewing with other firms he had a pseudonym, Clarence Birdseye, for when he called.  Birdseye was the spokesman for his own frozen food line of products in some down home commercials back in the day.

Was Harry fired?  In the board meeting, this brief exchange occurs:
"I think it's more important we discuss Harry Crane.  Harry Crane? He's gone."  Last we saw Harry, he was walking out on his conversation with Jim Cutler, telling him to kill the interview he'd set up. Then tension between Harry and the rest of the firm has been around for years, most notably last year when he complained about Joan's partner status when his department was responsible for bringing in so much money to the firm.  Is he finally moving on?  Doubtful, since he's bringing in the lion's share of the money.  But the comment was still strange.

When will Dawn finally have enough of Don treating her like his secretary and pour coffee on his head or assign Meredith to be his new secreitary?  She's put up with his crap for long enough and he can get his own goddamn coffee.  She's the head of personnel now and needs to assert herself.

Lou's mention of Don going all Longfellow Deeds is a reference to the Gary Cooper character who, in the climactic scene of Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, punches an attorney (who's bringing the case to have the man committed for insanity) in the face.  Deeds, like Don, came from nothing and became wealthy, though in the former's case it was from an unexpected inheritance.  Check out the 1936 original, but not the 2002 Adam Sandler remake. 

It was like old home week. Francine! Betty! Bobby 5.0! Henry! Harry!

The Time Magazine cover that Don was looking at had former President Eisenhower on the cover.  That issue came out the week of April 4, 1969, which is less than two months after the original release date of the movie Don was watching. 

Can't ignore the scene with Betty and Francine.  It was so great seeing the power pantsuited Francine, all confident and worldly.  But of course Betty can't even show enough interest to get Francine's new job right (and the little dig about taking the real estate licensing exam again). Francine has come a long way from the woman we saw falling apart on the couch worried her husband Carlton was cheating. She's really adapted to the changing times and is finding her way - and all that is very threatening to Betty. She takes Francine's happiness and fulfillment as a personal affront. She goes home on a mission to prove that she's a great mother and is not wasting her life or missing out on anything.  But, the more she tries to prove something the worse it gets because she's looking for perfection and there is no such thing. She's doomed to fail.


Michael: But you shouldn't give them the power to decide who shall live and who shall die.

Lou: Who got your pantyhose in a knot?

Michael: That's comforting.  You weren't rejected.  You weren't even considered.

Francine: One of my clients told me that I redefined his definition of first class.

Harry: Did you not call for a fireman?

Jim (to Harry): Are you aware your self-pity is distasteful?

Harry: You know what? This conversation is over.

Megan: I've never, ever admitted that I've wanted this.

Megan:  It's sunny here for everyone but me. I'm walking around in a cloud of "no."

Don: You can't let it erode your confidence.  And you can't get angry or desperate.

Megan:  So you came out here to what? Pull me out of a bathtub where I slit my wrists?

Don:  I don't know if they want me or they don't want me.

Don: I messed up and I didn't want you to know until I fixed it.

Megan: So with a clear head, you got up every day and decided that you didn't want to be with me?

Megan: This is the way it ends.

Jim: You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man I have ever worked with.

Don (to Roger): How do you sleep at night?

Don: I guess you don't remember I started that company. I had to talk you into it.
Roger: I guess you forgot I found you at the bottom of a fur box.
Don: I would never have done that to you.

Roger: The man who talked to Hershey? I've seen that man wandering the street with a sandwich board saying "The End is Near."

Roger (to Don):  I miss you.

Don (to Megan): I shouldn't have lied to you. I'm sorry and I want everything to be okay.

Don: I can see now that I wasn't thinking clearly and I had this logic to what I did and hopefully now things can be the way we want them to be because I'm going back to the agency.
Don: I don't know if I can undo it, but I think I fixed it.
Don: I thought if you found out what happened, you wouldn't look at me the same way.... I know how I want you to see me.

Megan:  Stop pushing me away with both hands.

Bobby: We were having a conversation.

Bobby: She really likes you.
Betty: Yes, well, that blouse says she likes everyone.

Don: Ready to get back to work.
Lou: Good for you.

Michael (to Don):  Boy, you smell good.

Roger:  I don't have to tell anybody. That's my name on the door out there.

Joan: We were allowing him to preserve his dignity while seeking other employment.

Jim: Lou is adequate.

Roger (to Jim): Since when are you allowed to use the words "long term" in this office?

Roger: Do you want to walk into the room and find Mary Wells sitting on Don’s lap the next time you go in to present?

Bobby: I wish it was yesterday. 

Peggy: Well, I can't say that we miss you. 

Betty: It was a perfect day and he ruined it. 

Betty: Do you think I'm a good mother?
Henry: Of course. 
Betty: Then why don't they love me?

Don: Okay.

Suicide Count:
Megan's comment about slitting her wrist.
Don assigned to Lane's office.
Less likely, Lou's comment about calling security (he's more worried about Don being violent than suicidal).

Whore Count:
The girl at the Algonquin.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 2: A Day's Work Recap

Yes, Donald Draper has been a jerk and is getting what he deserves.  He lies, cheats, boozes and generally only cares about getting his own needs met no matter the cost to the other people in his life.  He's a terrible husband, a rotten father and a lousy coworker.  Yet the opening scene is heartbreaking, especially as you see him suiting up to look presentable to Dawn after a day making Al Bundy look dapper.  He's alone and scared, trying to keep it together.  He's thumbing through magazine ads, he's marking the liquor so he can keep track of how much he's drinking.  He's a lost soul.

The highlight of the day is Dawn coming by.  Seeing Don put himself together for their excruciatingly brief time together, his desperate attempt to get her to stay if only for a few minutes, it's a new vision of what rock bottom looks like.  For those minutes, Don feels connected to SC&P.  He feels important.  He's still in the loop.  But the crumbs of information are so insubstantial, they won't sustain him for long.  You can see Don moving farther away from the company he helped create.  The old Don never stayed in a rut like this, his motto was "keep moving forward." 

Dawn is happy to help Don keep some connection with work, but she balks at taking money from Don, even though it obviously costs her something to make this detour before going home.  But it makes what she's doing seem unsavory and Dawn isn't doing this for anything but the best intentions--to assist Don as she always has.  She doesn't want to sneak around or do anything of questionable morality, but she'll do her best to keep him up on what's going on as long as she can.

Again, we see the contrast between Don and Pete.  Pete is on top of the world, scoring left and right in California.  He nailed the SoCal Chevy Dealers account and nailed Bonnie the pretty real estate agent as well.  Pete's life could not be any better...until he shares his great news with the East Coast and gets nothing but push back.  Have to bring Bob Benson into this, have to run it past Detroit.  As much as he's loving life in Los Angeles, Pete is learning the hard lesson that you don't want to be the branch office, the red-headed stepchild of the corporate world. His counterpart Ted hates California, too, but at least for him it serves its purpose by putting 3,000 miles between him and now psycho ex-girlfriend Peggy.   

Valentine's Day is a tough day for the unattached, especially when your ex is cross-country with the missus.  But Peggy was completely bonkers today. She's still pining over Ted so she assumes she's in his thoughts as well.  Somehow she convinces herself that the roses on her secretary's desk were hers. And from Ted.  Her jumping to conclusions and ignoring any evidence to the contrary was a completely believable moment.  We're all convinced that the world and everything on it revolves around us and so it was not at all surprising that Peggy would assume the roses on Shirley's desk must not be Shirley's, they're Peggy's.  The fact that there's no note shouldn't change anything.  The hesitation in Shirley's response only confirms what she assumes, these are from Ted!  Yep, Ted's not over her and is still thinking about her and sent her these roses even though he's a continent away with his wife.  Peggy had to work very hard to create this fiction in her mind, but she's now convinced.  Unfortunately for Peggy, they're not from Ted, in fact they're not hers at all.  But she lets her wild imagination lead her to lose an entire day, much of her sanity and a good secretary.  All in a day's work!

But Don's Valentine's Day starts not with Don in his undies chomping Ritz crackers and watching an old Little Rascals show; today he's in full Draper regalia, at a business lunch with Dave Wooster from Wells, Rich and Greene.  They're doing a little pas de deux as Don refrains from asking for a job while Dave mentions he's heard tell of a certain adman who had a certain meltdown at a certain pitch meeting.  Into this awkward situation comes Jim Hobart, who famously tried to recruit Don to his company McCann Erickson way back in Season One's Shoot. Even with the word on the street about Don's break with SC&P, Don's reputation is still strong enough that Jim tosses out another veiled offer.

Speaking of SC&P, all is not well in the Don, Ted and Pete-less main office.  It's not just Pete who's dissatisfied with the new power structure at SC&P, Roger is not enjoying getting shut down at every turn.  He and Jim Cutler are constantly butting heads and it seems that Roger never gets his way.  Earlier, we see how lost Roger is at the new post-Don firm, when his attempt at levity falls flat at the feet of the humorless Lou Avery.  Now Roger can't even fight for Pete even after Pete lands a big new account and Roger is losing even Bert's support.  SC&P has never been a merger, it's been two different companies pretending to be one big happy Brady Bunch-like family but all the time keeping track of whose kid is whose.  Roger's line at the end to Joan, about it not mattering whether he agrees with Jim or not, shows just how impotent Roger is, just a name on a building and nothing more.

The scene where Pete is in Ted's office, fumbling for the word purgatory when that's right where he is, is great.  How he storms in, storms out, grabs a bottle, storms back in.  In a shout out to the fans, he says what we're all thinking, this is where he is supposed to say to Ted, let's start our own agency.  So now we know that's not going to happen.  Pete realizes he's in exile, not on a path anywhere worth going.  He's just counting the days til death.  Ted has resigned himself to all of this and it's about time Pete gets on board. 

But soon the focus is back on Don, greeted by a surprise -- his daughter Sally is in his apartment.  He's dressed from the lunch meeting and so quickly spins a story to her that he was at the office but left early because he wasn't feeling well. But Don doesn't know that Sally had come from his office and knew he wasn't there and, more significantly, knows that his name is no longer on the door and there's some crotchety old man now occupying his office.  Sally, who you'd think would be used to the dissembling her father is wont to do, looks perplexed and caught off guard to watch him fabricate another lie in front of her.  

Before we get back to them, we see more evidence that Lou Avery is the worst person on TV (Hannibal, the Bates Motel kid, Mr. Burns, Joffrey, all preferable).  He berates Dawn for being away from her desk (to buy his wife a Valentine's present!!) so that he had to deal with Sally showing up at the office and looking for her father.  He tries to get Dawn fired but Joan knows and likes Dawn and doesn't like Lou and recognizes his overreaction and irrationality for what it is.  She moves Dawn off his desk and saddles him with the nearly brain-dead Meredith.  Dawn, nailing down the title of world's best secretary, quickly calls Don with a heads up.  Sally was there and she knows he wasn't.

In the car, Sally is understandably cold and distant.  She's not interested in idle chatter.  She's not at all interested in anything her father has to say.  Don now has to fess up to Sally that he lied to her about where he was, but not before first getting mad at her for not telling him she knew he was lying (and how twisted is that!?).  "Why would you let me lie to you like that?" he asks.  As if it's her fault he can't tell the truth.  Don compares her with Betty (which is about the lowest blow you can hit Sally with), claiming that she relished in trapping and ambushing him with the truth.  But Sally fights back.  She lets Don have it, letting him know what an uncomfortable place he put her in and how she doesn't even feel comfortable going to her Dad's apartment for fear of running into Mrs. Rosen. The newsman on the radio says it best, it's a chilly Valentine's Day.

The relationship between Don and Sally is one of the most complicated and important ones on the show.  So much is at stake that I find myself holding my breath as they do their dance.  There's a bond there that he has broken but the question is is it irreparable.  The car ride is so tense and the final release of anger on Sally's part is a necessary part of the healing.  She just wants him to stop talking, because if he stops talking to her, he'll stop lying.

In the diner, he tries to connect but Sally has her guard up.  She knows something, he knows something, they slowly reveal the truth to each other.  For once, Don seems real.  He stops and tells her the whole truth, about what he did and what the consequences have been.  He takes the blame for his actions.  Neither the suave, perfectly pressed Don Draper nor the unnaturally relaxed Dick Whitman he was with Anna. This may have been our first vision of who Don can be if he can finally embrace the truth.  And you can see how much just telling the truth means to Sally.  She doesn't need Don to be perfect, she just needs him to be real.

They've reached a new place, a new understanding.  There must have been a step or two in this direction last Thanksgiving, after Don showed Sally where he was raised.  It now seems he told her the whole story.  Perhaps, that bit of honesty is what made his regression to lying so painful for her.  But now he's embraced the truth again and maybe this will be how it will be from here on.

This episode had its share of showing individuals triumphing over the efforts of others to keep them down.  Joan walking into her new office, upstairs next to all the other account executives.  Dawn taking her seat as the new head of personnel.  They battle glass ceilings and racism (I can never look at Bert Cooper the same) but still they rise.  Of course, to keep the karmic balance of the office, Shirley has her Valentine's Day ruined by Peggy and, possibly worse, is reassigned to Lou.  Peggy has completely lost her mind and let her unresolved feelings for Ted keep her from moving on with her life.  And Pete found that he's no more the alpha male here with Bonnie than he was back in the 'burbs with Trudy.  He might as well put his balls in a jar, he doesn't need them.

But it ends, as it begins, with Don.  When we first saw him, he was a lonely, disheveled wreck, sleeping away the day and wallowing in misery.  The last glimpse was of a man startled to find out he was loved.  There is so much hopefulness in the final scene of Don and Sally.  Last season she said, "my father's never given me anything."  Today, tonight, he gave her another look at his real self and she accepted it and it brought them closer together.

Don has run away from love before and and much as hearing Sally say "I love you" had to make his heart swell, it's always out there that Don won't feel worthy and will find a way to destroy this.  I really hope not.  It's hard to ignore Don telling Sally that he's in New York because he wanted to stay and fix things.  When has Don ever chosen to stay before?


Sally: I'd stay here till 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground.

Bonnie (to Pete): You're such a big deal.

Michael: She has plans.  Look at her calendar.  February 14th: masturbate gloomily.

Stan: Hard to believe your cat has the money.

Lou (to Roger): The strangest things happen to you. 

Dawn: Hello, Dawn. 
Shirley: Hello, Shirley.

Dawn: Keep pretending.  That's the job. 

Dave Wooster: I don't know what the truth is and I really don't care.

Don: I'm just looking for love.

Jim: Ted, weren't you there when we signed Chevy? Roger seems to have failed to get a head count.
Roger: I don't see any reason to keep score.

Jim: Don who?  Our collective ex-wife who still receives alimony?

Don: Sally, what do I say?
Sally: Just tell the truth.

Pete: I don't seem to exist.  No one feels my existence.

Ted: Just cash the checks.  You're going to die someday.

Meredith: Maybe I should get a pencil.

Don: Why would you let me lie to you like that?
Sally: Because it's more embarrassing for me to catch you in a lie than it is for you to be lying.

Bonnie: Our fortunes are in other people's hands and we have to take them.

Don: The reason I didn't tell you I wasn't working was because I didn't want anyone to know. 
Sally: Got it.
Don: I didn't behave well. I said the wrong things to he wrong people at the wrong time.  
Sally: What did you say?
Don: I told the truth about myself. 

Sally: Why don't you just tell her you don't want to move to California.

Jim: What are the skills required down here? Organization? Fortitude? Lack of concern for being unliked?

Jim: There's an office open upstairs. It's for an account man not the head of personnel.

Joan: How about Meredith?
Peggy: She has the mind of a child!

Don: Life goes on.

Sally:  I'm so many people.

Roger: Does it matter?

Jim (to Roger): I'd hate to think of you as an adversary.

Sally: Happy Valentine's Day.  I love you.


On the TV when Dawn came over was "That Girl," starring Marlo Thomas--a cute, modern (for its time) take on a young girl trying to make it as an actress in NYC.  The episode they showed was not by chance.  It aired on February 13, 1969 and had the lead, Ann, go out for an audition.  She was chosen because she had a sophisticated, classy look.  The scene?  She gets a pie in the face. Ann is torn--she could use the job and the money, but the part is degrading.  She ends up taking the part, then feels embarrassed and feels like she'll never get the kind of work she really wants.  There are enough parallels to Don's story for a novel.  He needs the job, if not the money, and so goes on an interview, yet he feels that he may never get back to being the old Don Draper because of his breakdown in the Hershey meeting.  The sophisticated, classy Don is now the punchline of jokes circulating in the ad world.

There really is a Wells, Rich and Greene and its president was Mary Wells Lawrence.  Read about her here.  It's interesting that while Peggy is having trouble moving up at SC&P, elsewhere there was at least one woman running a successful ad agency. 

The two songs that played during the episode were The Turtles's "Elenore" and "This Will Be Our Year" by The Zombies.  Relevant lyrics: "Can I take the time, To ask you to speak your mind,
Tell me that you love me better" and "The warmth of your love's, Like the warmth from the sun,
And this will be our year, Took a long time to come."

It was mentioned in passing that the ad firm Ogilvy and Mather landed the Hershey account.  Apparently, their first commercials did not take place in a brothel, shocker, but instead featured "sentimental shots of young children at play, along with the jingle, 'There's nothing like the face of a kid eating a Hershey Bar'" along with the tag line the Hershey is the "Great American chocolate bar."

This may be the first time the man who was famously instructed in The Hobo Code didn't choose to run away but chose instead to stay and try to fix things.  At least that is Don's explanation to Sally why he's still in New York and not with Megan in LA.  If true, this would be a huge step in the right direction for Don. 

Not only does Sally go to a funeral, but Peggy mentions -- when taking the flowers out of her office and putting them back on Shirley's desk -- that her office smells like an Italian funeral.  Put that with Pete's comment that maybe he's dead and doesn't know it and Ted's suggestion that he not worry about anything since he'll be dead someday anyway, and you see how much Mad Men piles on the death references even in what otherwise was a pretty upbeat episode.

Bert Cooper's racism really shocked me.  Telling Joan, of her decision to place Dawn at the front desk,  "People can see her from the elevator."  And "requesting" that she reshuffle her reshuffling of personnel, was a great insight into the times and the man.  He may not think he's a racist, and we may thing times are a-changin', but it's all there ready to bubble up to the surface. 

Roger hanging up on Pete.  He couldn't argue with him and he certainly understood Pete's frustration, so what better way to handle him than ignore him.  But that's what is happening to Pete, in his mind.  No one sees him, no one hears him.  He told Ted to pretend he's in New York.  Everyone else pretends that he's invisible.  It was bound to catch up to Pete.  The happy-go-lucky Pete from the season seven debut just couldn't last.  You know what they say, wherever you go, there you are. 

Loved Don's conspiratorial dine-and-dash plan with Sally and how great it was to see a genuine smile pass between them. 

If you didn't feel like the Grinch -- whose heart grew three sizes -- by the end of this episode, you need to have it checked.  The way Sally said, "Happy Valentine's Day, I love you" - not like a chore or an obligation, but with genuine feeling.  And Don's reaction.  I thought his heart would explode right there.  It's a testimony to the writing and the acting that we know just how significant this moment was, what a potential game changer for Don.

Shirley is rid of Peggy but, despite her Valentine's Day meltdown, I don't feel that getting Lou is a step up. I loved her and Dawn's conversation in the lunch room, their joking about others at the office getting them mixed up and the frustration of being a second class citizen among second class citizens.  I hope she and Dawn can stay friends and allies and that Dawn's promotion won't cause any problems.

Roger realizes he has no power at his firm anymore and seems completely broken.  I don't think we're in line for another suicide, and maybe the drug-fueled orgies will keep him from offing himself, but Roger cannot be happy with the way things have turned out.  Cutler has made it clear from last season that he was unhappy with the power balance at SC&P and thought they were too hasty to jettison their own CG&C people in favor of the SCDP staff.  Getting rid of Don, marginalizing Pete, he's well on his way to wresting control back.

Season one, episode one Don scoffed at the very notion of love.  It didn't exist, it was something we admen created he told Rachel.  Last season, he had a breakthrough when he realized he felt genuine feelings of love for his son Bobby, as opposed to the love he pretended to have because that's what one does.  Will he accept that he is loved by Sally and that it's real?  That love is real and is something to find and accept?

Finally, will this road trip with Sally encourage Don to stop wallowing, stop letting other people decide his future, and start taking action to get his life back on track?  Will he take her suggestion to tell Megan that he doesn't want to move to California and he still wants to be a Madison Avenue ad man?  Will he make a fish-or-cut-bait demand at SC&P or will he asked to be relieved of his contractual obligations?  Who does he want to be from here on out?

Spoilery Observations - (Don't read until you're caught up)

So much foreshadowing of what was to come in episode 7.13! That entire diner scene from when Sally gets back from calling her friend to the end.  The discussion of the funeral and "life goes on."  

Want more on early 1969?  Here's a cool video with clips of some of the top pop songs from the beginning of the year: click here.  There's also this website that gives you a brief view of that day in history: click here.  And here's my Spotify playlist of some of the best songs from the year:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 1: Time Zones

What a way to start. Almost ten minutes before we see the centerpiece of the show.  And the agonizingly long wait to find out what's going on with him post-Hershey meltdown. Don's story unfolds slowly, then spreads out over the entire hour.  Don getting off the plane and gliding through the airport greeted by his toothy bi-coastal actress wife. He can't stay long in LA, he has to get back to work. He cuts short his time with his tan preppy former co-worker Pete, he has to get back to work. He doesn't take up his attractive widowed seatmate on her offer for a little tryst, he has to get back to work.  It isn't until  Freddy Rumsen walks into Don's place that the pieces all fall together. Freddy's brilliant pitch.  Hell, even his new look - hair slicked back, dark suit, skinny tie - was so Don.  He was Don.  It gave me chills.

"Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention.
This is the beginning of something."
How ballsy, I thought at the outset, starting with Freddy.  But we were fooled. That may have been Freddy we were looking at, but that really was Don Draper we were seeing.  But then, Don's been fooling us all along and he never was what we thought we were looking at. 

Freddy's pitch was good, really good.  It was surprising that Freddy had such a great approach - even if rude of Peggy to point it out - and aggravating that Peggy felt compelled to tweak it. But then when you see what Peggy is dealing with back at the office it all makes sense. The Peggy we saw last season, taking her place in Don's office and his seat, hit her head on the glass ceiling and is now working for a less talented, less charismatic, and less motivated boss. She should have listened to the lyrics of that other Joni Mitchell song ("Big Yellow Taxi") - Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?

Don't know what to say about Roger and his experimentation with walking on the wild side.  Is it an existential crisis brought on by his mother's death or his own aging?  And the brunch with Margaret as they take turns forgiving each other was beyond awkward.  Margaret seems to have begun to practice some form of Buddhism (which I remember we all seemed to dabble in during the late sixties, early seventies) in her quest for spiritual peace.  Step one, let go of anger.  Roger doesn't register his daughter's search for meaning and meditation and is extremely suspicious.

Roger needs to pull it together, get back with Mona (if she'll have him) and stop acting like an idiot. I wonder if part of his problem is feeling guilt over what the firm had to do to Don?  Roger has been rudderless for a long time.  A spoiled, overgrown baby forever searching for fulfillment and happiness externally.  Maybe cheating on the wife with a spunky redhead will do that? Maybe ditching the wife for a young hottie will do that?  Maybe dropping acid and getting in touch with his true self will do that?  Roger is as lost as Don.

Joan is coming into her own and she smartly has her own Cyrano to feed her info that she can use at the office.  While it was disheartening to see, even in 1969, that she was still overlooked and undervalued by that young exec, still not taken seriously.  But she's a fighter and Joan will not be pushed around.  Ken Cosgrove's frustration and exhaustion may open the door for her to take a more hands-on role as an account exec at the firm.   

Megan has a convertible, a funky pad in the Canyon, a new agent and her career seems to be taking off.  She thinks her bi-coastal arrangement with Don is because he's still working at SC&P - notice how she offers to drive him to the office when he's in California.  Don's still keeping secrets from her.

Pete is on top of the world and for a character I'm so used to loathing it was actually nice to see him - or anyone on this show - happy.  In a show about a man adopting a new identity, only to see that cause him unending misery, it seems the "new" Pete is not just a temporary fix but a real, positive change.  He has found his place and it's not the place of his birth or his history.  The man with deep ties to the East Coast, whose name there can open doors, is actually happier in the new, wild west where who your family was doesn't matter.  He has completely gone LA. 

As content as Pete is with his new life, that's how desolate Peggy is with hers.  Post-Abe, post-Don, post-Ted she's not the powerful career woman she envisioned.  Free of her lovers and her mentors, she's now free to rise...but only so far as society will let her.  SC&P brings in Lou Avery to be her new boss and he shoots down her ideas, and, worse, tells her that caring about ideas is a waste of time.  All the sacrifices she's made, all the pleasures she's postponed, all the pain she's suffered, were for naught.  She has nothing.
But, as it always does, it comes back to Donald Draper.  He still cleans up nicely and can convey the image he created years ago.  But inside?  As Nixon says of the country in his inaugural address, "we are rich in goods, but ragged in spirit."  So too is Don.  Don tells a stranger on a plane: "I keep wondering, have I broken the vessel?"  It is both an understatement and the profound statement of the show to say that Don Draper is not himself.

We've seen Don puke at a funeral, cry over the loss of "the one person who truly knew me," hallucinate a murder, be caught in the act by his minor daughter, and have a mental breakdown in a client pitch and yet this was the lowest we've ever seen him.  Alone on the balcony in the cold, he was a sad, lost little boy.  Welcome to rock bottom, Don.  Truly tragic. 


The Vanilla Fudge cover of Keep Me Hanging On was an inspired choice. But who in the show really wants their freedom? Does Don want to be free of Megan?  He hasn't told her the truth about his work situation and he's staying 3,000 miles away from her for a reason. Peggy's been cut loose by Ted and she's not happy.  She's free of him and now free of any hope of career fulfillment.  What is keeping her at SC&P? 

I keep coming back to Don being no different that he was in the pilot. He's still deceiving everyone around him, pretending to be something he's not.  We thought he hit rock bottom last year, perhaps he still has to fall farther. 

And yet ... Don didn't run this time.  He's staying put. He's miserable and lonely, but he's there.  Weathering it. Not hiding in a bottle or on top of some girl.  He's alone with his misery and feeling it.  Maybe that's progress?

“Haven’t you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight?”  The Lost Horizon (with its Shangri La endgame) reference can be a call back to Rachel Menken in Season 1 discussing utopia or it could be nirvana but it's something that is currently escaping most of our characters. 

Continuity! If you get shot in the eye, that doesn't fix itself in a couple months.  Looks like the eye patch is here to stay, along with Ken's newly-discovered lack of depth perception.  Remember the Ken who didn't care about work, who was just working at Sterling Coo to make bank while he fulfilled his real desires as a writer?

Matt Weiner reads your emails!  Did Joan ever get the Avon account we asked, yes she did!  Gawd I hate Megan most of us said, her agent discusses how polarizing she is!  Those teeth we blog about endlessly, her agent mentions getting them fixed!  Will Megan be caught up in the Tate murders we ponder, look she's living IN THE CANYONS and it's sure spooky there!  Will we see Bob Benson we wonder, Ken gives a BB shout out.

Meta!  Freddy starting out the final season: "Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention.
This is the beginning of something."

How much do I hate Lou Avery?  His horrible attempts at humor, his mediocrity, his stupid sweater.  Mad Men has been good and not giving us one-dimensional bad guys before, but I fail to see anything redeeming about this guy.

Did you catch Megan's slip up? "But my next house is gonna have a pool. Our next house."

How out of touch is Don to think that Pete is a hippie?? 

The woman on the plane, telling Don the cautionary story of her alcoholic husband.  It was a little too on the nose, and a little too cute (he was thirsty, he died of thirst), but it gave Don a rare opportunity for honesty ("She knows I'm a terrible husband.").  He seems deeply hurt by his own shortcomings and wonders if he's managed to irreparably destroy everything in his life, but the stranger extends a faint glimmer of hope that there's still time to fix what's broken.


Peggy: That is not what I expected.

Freddy: There's a nice way to say that and there's the way you just said it.

Pete: The city is flat and ugly and the air is brown, but I love the vibrations.

Lou (to Peggy): I guess I'm immune to your charms. 

Margaret:  I've come to understand that anger can be vanquished by love.

Don: She knows I'm a terrible husband. 

Megan: Everyone I know here is starving. 

Peggy: I'm tired of fighting for everything to be better.  You're all a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with shit. Nobody cares about anything

Lady on the plane: He was thirsty. He died of thirst.

Don:  I keep wondering have I broken the vessel?

Freddy: You’re making quite a name for me out there.

Freddy: You don't want to be damaged goods. 


Since I was ten in 1969, I thought I'd make a playlist of the songs I remember from that year:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 13: The Wheel

Missed opportunities, words left unspoken, moments that pass too soon, futures that may never be had - all these themes circle in the air around the characters in the Season 1 finale.  Harry has been kicked out of his house by his wife Jennifer for cheating on her with Hildy.  Rachel has left the country for a long vacation to get over her misguided affair with Don.  Francine discovers that her husband has been cheating on her.  Betty learns that both Don and her therapist have been talking about her treatment behind her back.  Peggy discovers a pregnancy and a baby she had hidden from herself, so singleminded was she in her otherwise successful efforts to get ahead.  And Don come to too many realizations about the importance and fragility of family  All these people feel so very alone.

But we start with Pete.  When last we saw him, he was still reeling from the one-two punch at work.  One, that Duck Phillips and not Pete would be the new Head of Account Services at Sterling Cooper.  Two, that what he thought was his ace-in-the-hole to improve his hand at the company (Don Draper is not who he says he is!) turned out to be so much nothing as Bert Cooper flicked it away with a discussion-ending "Who cares?"  Home with his wife and her parents, Pete has to deal with a new double-fisted attack on his manhood: his failing to get the promotion and his failure to perform his familial duty to give Trudy's parents a grandchild.  Perhaps Pete should remove the giant Kick Me sign on his back.

Also having his own in-law problems is Don.  Betty wants him to join her and the kids at her father's house for Thanksgiving dinner with her family, but Don is not interested.  He would be fine if she wanted to throw the dinner at their house, but he's not keen on making a big trek to hang out with her father, who hates him, her brother and his wife and their unruly children.  But this is Betty's first Thanksgiving since her mother died and it's important to her that the family be together.

Harry's familial problems are closer to home - the home he currently is exiled from.  He's been kicked out by Jennifer for his indiscretion - one wonders how she found out.  Was Harry so guilt-ridden he admitted it or does she, as a phone company employee, have her ear to the ground?  Harry lies to her about where he's staying; he's not at Ken but at the office.  He's sad and pathetic and misses her and you can just tell that he is not a great philanderer and it wouldn't be surprising if Harry is completely faithful from here out.

You know who it would surprise me if he were faithful?  Don Draper.  But right now he's all out of paramours because after his crazed plea to her to run away with him, Rachel Menken has in fact run away.  From him, from New York, from terra firma.  She's on the high seas to clear her mind and forget all about him.  Her father suspects it has to do with Don, Bert Cooper suspects it has to do with Don, and he's not happy that the man he recently pulled out of the fire is alienating clients.  He makes it clear to Don to keep his personal affairs from negatively impacting the business. 

There is a housewife in Ossining who's discovered that her businessman husband has been having an affair.  But surprisingly, it's not Betty but Francine.  She's distraught as you might imagine but instead of anger outward towards Carlton  for what he's done, at first she blames herself both for discovering the truth and for not discovering it sooner.  But then her anger redirects and she talks about poisoning Carlton and if this were Desperate Housewives you know that would absolutely happen next week.   

Betty is supportive until Francine says, too convincingly, that she came to Betty with this because she assumed Betty would know what to do.  And then it hits Betty that she can no longer ignore reality anymore than Francine can. She shares the story with Don and it is so awkward and uncomfortable watching him console her about her friend's marital problems knowing the truth about Don own indiscretions.

Duck may have crashed and burned in London, but he's coming on strong in New York and so far looking good.  He already has a lead on a new client, Kodak, and inspires the team to start being more aggressive in getting new business.  Peggy is similarly trying to get her footing in her new position as she tries to cast the radio spot for the Relaxicizor.  But her instincts are not great and she'll need to work on that part.  She's got the strong, forceful and confident side down - the male side.  But she has to work on the more traditional feminine "feeling" side.  For now, Ken will take that role.

Don is surrounded by pictures that tell one story about the past.  A story that's at odds with the present.  He smiles at the old snapshots he took from home as he prepares the Kodak pitch.  That gets him to revisit some of the memories in the box Adam sent him.  Perhaps realizing that he is not in imminent risk of exposure thanks to Bert's "Who cares?" and maybe sentimentally touched by the photos, he reaches out to Adam.  Only we know it's too late.  We don't get much right away of how finding out what happened to Adam affects Don.  And that's probably for the best.  It wouldn't be sincere for him to cry or otherwise show much visible reaction; he probably can't process it at the moment. 

Betty is in for her own shock as, home alone as is so often the case, she decides to do what Francine did and call one of those mystery numbers on their home phone bill and find out what Don is up to.  But what she discovers is possibly a worse violation than if Midge had answered.  She discovers that Don has been talking to her therapist and that the one person who swore in a wedding ceremony to honor her was breaking that vow as another person who swore to uphold patient confidentiality is breaking another vow.  She has no one that she can trust and, as Betty has already been acting like a child, this must make her feel like a scared little girl.

I love the conversation between Don and Harry, not just because of the awkward nature of Harry being in his underwear as they otherwise carry on a very normal conversation.  It's a refreshingly relaxed picture of who Harry is, the dorky guy taking pictures in order to meet girls in college.  But he's also the deep guy who marvels at the cave drawings and thinks about the artists' leaving their mark for future generations to see.  Don is drunk and tired and he curls up on his couch.  And somewhere the reality that he turned away his little brother who just wanted to know him and that his brother went and killed himself is buried deep in Don's psyche.  Adam is dead and all that's left of him are a few weathered photos.

I know that at this point "Mad Men" and I should get a room, but please let me tell you how much I love love love the next scene.  That someone even thought up Betty seeing Glen and going over and having that conversation with him is amazing.  It is so wrong and uncomfortable and yet it shows us the depth of Betty's loneliness, despondency and childlike quality.  She literally has no one, so she reaches out to a boy and bares her soul not knowing where else to turn.  Glen's concern about his mother showing up and seeing him talk to Betty leads to one of the best lines ever on this show, "I don't know how long 20 minutes is."  The same boy that Betty is pouring her heart out to, who appears to be the only lifeline she can grab onto before sinking, is really just a little boy and in no position to rescue her.  What does that say about Betty? 

Oh Pete.  He comes into Don's office, still hoping for that pat on the back.  He starts by namedropping his pedigree (Deerfield Academy) then brags how he landed a new account.  He doesn't even register that Don's response, "How'd that happen?" is a slap in the face.  Nor does he seem to realize that nepotism will not be something Don will be able to respect.  Sure, he's happy to have the business and he'll gladly take their money, but Pete is still that entitled spoiled rich kid that Don will never respect.

It's time for the pitch to the Kodak clients.  It is so beautifully timed, so well designed and so hypnotically wistful that you are transported along with everyone else in the darkened room.  Don has just sold not just Sterling Cooper, not just Don Draper, but the very essence of family.  Harry, currently apart from his wife, leaves the room in tears as this hits too close to home.  The clients sit in stunned silence and they, and we, all feel part of witnesseing the luckiest man in the world sharing a slice of his heartwarming and happy home life. 

After the success at the Kodak meeting, we find out that Pete has some good news too.  He's brought in his father-in-law's Clearasil account.  There is much celebrating by all and Pete is feeling pretty good, all things (i.e., getting passed over for promotion by a guy named Duck) considered.  Until he finds out that Don's plan is for Peggy to be the new junior copywriter on this new client.  Pete is incensed and insulted and that must make this all even sweeter for Don.

Peggy is pleased and flattered by her promotion and is happy with her new digs (even if the recently replaced copywriters chair is still warm, the office isn't big enough to change your mind in, and her office mate barely seems to have a pulse).  But Joan seems a little envious, so that's good.  Peggy can't enjoy her success for very long, however, as she gets a very bad stomach ache.  She heads over to the doctor only to find out, it's not her stomach that's the problem.  She's in labor.  She's in denial!  Surprise!  The baby's coming whether you think it's real or not.  She declines to hold the baby and we're left to wonder if she'll be welcoming him into her family.

And speaking of family, Don goes home and calls out to Betty and catches her and the kids before they head off to her father's place.  Everyone is so excited that Don was able to make it and that they'd all be spending Thanksgiving together, just one big hap...

And speaking of family, Don goes home and calls out to Betty and there is no reply.  The house is empty.  They've gone off without him.  And Don is alone.


Betty: What about Sally and Bobby's childhood memories?

Don (to Pete):  Bringing in business is the key to your salary, your status, and your self-worth.

Harry: But I thought it was like someone reaching through the stone and right to us.
"I was here."

Betty: Please Please tell me I'll be okay.
Glen: I don't know. I wish I was older.
Betty: Adults don't know anything, Glen.

Pete (to Don):  Self-worth and status.  You said it.

Betty: I can't help but think that I would be happy if my husband was faithful to me.

Betty:  He's kind inside.  But outside, it it's all there in my face every day.  The hotel rooms.  Sometimes perfume.  Or worse.  He doesn't know what family is.  He doesn't even have one.
It makes me sorry for him when in fact I should be angry ... very angry.  You know?  But I put up with it like some ostrich.  It's interesting, isn't it?  The way he makes love?  Sometimes it's what I want.  But sometimes it's obviously what someone else wants.

Don: Technology is a glittering lure, but there's the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on the level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.

Don:  The most important idea in advertising is "New". Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia.
...  in Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a space ship. It's a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called the Wheel. It's called the Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.

Duck:  Good luck at your next meeting.

Don: Miss Olsen, you are now a junior copywriter.  Your first account will be delivering Clearasil to the spotted masses.

Joan:  Although sometimes when people get what they want, they realize how limited their goals were.


As series creator and show runner Matthew Weiner has been hinting that Season 7 of Mad Men may resolve or in some way deal with some things that happened in Season 1, it's hard to say if one should be hopeful or not.  The debut season began with us learning the secret that Don has a secret life - a mistress - and from there it grew to another mistress, a secret past, a false identity, broken promises, hurt feelings, recriminations, mistakes, some fatal, some that maybe can still be resolved. Don may be handsome and slick, but that's all for show.  Inside he's barely keeping it together.

The unknown pregnancy seems like a silly old TV trope, but this being Mad Men, I'm willing to give them a pass.  Peggy is Catholic, driven and able to compartmentalize.  Perhaps she could ignore all the signs.  The pregnancy, of course, provides an obvious contrast between Trudy (and, more to the point, her parents) who want Pete to plant his seed and Peggy who we can assume must be devastated by her dalliance(s) with Pete and what they brought forward.  The irony of all the baby talk between husband and wife, when the husband and another woman now have that bond forever, is pretty in-your-face.

They cheated (time wise) a bit with the end song, Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice," which came out in 1962.  But if you check out the lyrics, there are many reasons that the song works perfectly for the man we've come to know over these 13 episodes.  Alone, distant, tempted to flee - Don shares all those traits with the singer.  But this line in particular makes you think of Don and Betty.  Whatever there are now, those pictures of them as a young couple showed us a different reality:  "I once loved a woman, a child I’m told I give her my heart but she wanted my soul."

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 12: Nixon v Kennedy

It's election day, Tuesday, November 8, 1960.  There's nothing left to do but wait (unless you're Chicago Mayor Daley, in which case it's time to manufacture some votes). We've been given the Nixon/Kennedy contrast all season with the narrative of the hard-scrabble self-made man versus the silver spoon fed millionaire's son.  There's been a similar battle brewing at Sterling Cooper all season as Don, who, while we don't know his whole story, was not from a well-to-do family versus Pete who was born into a family of some money and prestige.  Don doesn't like Pete nor respect him and Pete desperately wants both from him.  Who will prevail?

Don is taking his next offensive move in their fight, bringing in Herman "Duck" Phillips for the Head of Account Services position that Pete has been wrangling for.  He had been at one of the big firms, but in London, and Bert Cooper questions whether a smaller firm like Sterling Cooper is a step down, but Duck says he is eager to get back to New York.  Which means, yes, it is, but he'll take it.

Pete sees that Don has taken Duck in to see Bert and he knows that this means that he is a serious candidate and he feels threatened. Pete wants that position - he feels he deserves it - and is seething at the thought of someone from the outside coming in to take it out from under him.

It certainly doesn't help when Pete hears that Duck crashed and burned at his old job and that bringing him in here means they are "bottom feeding" for some cheap talent.  What this means to Pete - and I'm not sure he's wrong about this - is that Don would rather hire a potential burnout than let Pete get what he wants.

Pete marches straight to Don's office to give him a piece of his mind, but is stopped by Peggy who requires he follow protocol - which only makes him more irate.  Don is not a total jerk here - he admits that Pete is good at his job, but he is of the opinion that Pete is too young, he's only been there for two-and-half years, and that right now there should be someone senior to him. Pete points out that there are people with that title his age at other firms, but Don does not appear to be budging on this.  Don doesn't know that Pete feels emasculated at home and devalued by his father and wants, no needs, this title to prove that he has accomplished something on his own.  And Pete doesn't know that Don resents him for the opportunities his pedigree has given him and for his sense of entitlement.  Silly men, they think they're bickering over who's best for the job.

After making Pete miserable, Don is done for the day.  As soon as he leaves, the election night partying can begin.  Even the usually grim Hildy breaks out a smile (probably has something to do with Pete being gone for the night as well)!  With Don and the rest of cats away, the mice are at play and much of it is hard to watch.  Ken chasing secretary Allison around the office, taking her down and then pulling up her skirt to see what color her panties are is all sorts of not cool and the only thing that makes it worse is that Allison doesn't seem at all troubled by it, it's just the mode de vie circa 1960.

But soon Ken has a new victim as he and Allison come across a play that Paul has been working on as they were searching his office for more booze.  Ken starts reading the one act play aloud as Paul tries to wrench it out of his hands.  In no time, however, Paul is directing the play and Joan and Sal are taking the leads.  It's a thinly veiled vanity project where Paul gets to counter his feelings of unfulfilled potential through his fictitious alter ego.  The scene culminates with a kiss between Joan and Sal that gets big cheers from the audience, though whether Joan's gaydar was working is still not clear.

The dancing and revelry continue and then Harry, who to this point had been a boy scout among lecherous old men, kisses Hildy in a friendly manner and Hildy kisses him back in an "I want you" manner.  She blames alcohol and he looks guilty (while in the background the singer goes on about a kiss, kiss, kiss).  He goes off to his office and Hildy follows him to apologize.  He takes off his glasses and says it was his fault, he was drunk.  But, it's too late, they're not getting out of that office that easy tonight. 

The next morning it looks like clean up at Caligula's house as women are sneaking out of offices, men are hung over, and there is trash and other sundry signs of the debauchery that went on last night strewn around.  Peggy has an unwelcome surprise in her trash can.  She finds out that the offices were ransacked, her cubby and others were broken into, and she goes to report it to building security. 

Don and Bert talk politics with the election still too close to call.  The consensus, at least among Republicans, is that Kennedy's father bought him the election.  Nixon could try and fight, demand a recount and an investigation into voter fraud, but to what end?  The election was very close, much closer than it should have been.  If he concedes, he lives to fight another day (and - spoiler alert - win in 1968 and again in 1972). Don is angry and talks about it not being fair, while Bert, the pragmatist, is convinced that Kennedy will be just fine for corporate America. 

And finally the other shoe drops and it's time for Nixon v. Kennedy part two, as Pete comes into Don's office with the box that holds the lies that are Don's life.  Pete fully expects that he has a bomb and that he will be given whatever he wants on the threat of detonation.  For the third time this series, Donald Draper is told by someone that they know his real identity.  One he brushed away, one he paid off, what can he do to keep Pete from revealing what he knows?

"I know your name is not Donald Draper.  It's Dick Whitman."  With those words, Pete becomes Don's biggest nightmare.  He's always had the fear of discovery hanging over his head as anyone who is pretending to be someone else must have.  But for Pete Campbell of all people to know the truth?  Don briefly tries to pretend he doesn't know what Pete is talking about or that Pete is mistaken and you almost wonder if he really believes that by disputing it he can make the truth go away.

Pete doesn't come right out and blackmail Don, but there's no question that he recognizes that their power dynamic has changed drastically in his favor.  While he doesn't know the whole story, what he has is plenty.  Dick Whitman died in Korea in 1950 and Donald Draper is a 43 year old man.  But even with his heavy stubble and the damage that cigarettes and booze have worked on his face, this Don Draper does not look anywhere near 43.  All Don has to do is "reconsider" Pete for the Head of Accounts position and Bert Cooper never has to hear a word of this.  This can all be forgotten.  But he's not blackmailing.

Don tells Pete to get out of his office and you can practically see the wheels spinning as he starts to come up with a plan.  An exit strategy.

But first a flashback.  Young Private Dick Whitman shows up for duty at a future field hospital at the start of the Korean War and Lieutenant Donald Draper, an engineer, is the only one there.  He tells Dick what he'll be doing there - digging mostly and trying to avoid being shot.  He says that he's almost done with his tour and asks Dick whatever made him thinking volunteering for the army was a good idea.  Dick says, in a line that could be Don Draper's mantra, "I just wanted to leave."  And there we have it, Don/Dick summed up in five words.

Don just wants to leave.  He goes to Rachel and tells her to pack her bags.  He's ready to leave his wife, his kids, his job, the city, the planet if possible.  He wants her to run away with him.  Now.  At first, she's excited at the prospect of going off with Don until it becomes clear to her that this is not about him leaving his wife for her, this is about him leaving period.  The way he says to her "I want to go" is so packed with meaning.  He says it like a four-year-old having a tantrum, not like a grown man.  

Don tells Rachel, "I just don't want to be without you, and I don't want to be here."  But she realizes very quickly that only the last part of the sentence is the full truth.  Don wants to run away, not run away to be with her, but just to get away.  She doesn't even have to know why he wants to leave to know that it is not a rational decision being made by a stable mind.  When he says that there is nothing for him there in New York, she's shocked to find out he's the kind of man who could run out on his children.  Who can leave them without a father.  She realizes he wasn't the man she thought he was; he's a coward.

Returning to his office after his failed escape, Don finds Peggy on his couch crying because by her reporting to security two innocent men were fired.  This is a great scene as all Don can think is that he needs privacy and for everyone and everything to disappear and instead he's right in the thick of it. He effortlessly switches gears and handles Peggy's tears as well as he can considering he tried so hard not to be there.  If Rachel had been another kind of woman, he'd be free now.  Of course, if a month or two ago Midge had been a different woman, they could be off somewhere now as well.  But instead he's here in his office and everyone's life is going on even as he faces the fact that the life he knows is under attack.

Before Peggy leaves, she says something to Don that must have an impact.  She points out how unfair it is that she follows the rules and others don't and they get away with it.  Rather than seeing himself as the person who doesn't follow rules and gets away with it, Peggy's speech has him focus his anger back on Pete.  He decides that he will not be cowed by him; he will go ahead and hire the person he wants for the job and will not let Pete win.

So Don proceeds to tell Pete that he is going ahead with his plan to hire Duck Phillips. Pete is stupefied.  He can't imagine that Don would risk his job, and possibly more, just to deny Pete the promotion that he feels he deserves.  Pete says, frustrated and shocked, "why can't you give me what I want" and that is such a perfect encapsulation of this and so many other moments in Pete's life.  No one gives him what he wants, what he thinks he deserves.  Not even someone against whose head he is currently holding a loaded gun.  But Don is put off by Pete.  He resents his pampered and privileged upbringing and thinks Pete is not entitled to this promotion - even if denying him costs Don his job (or more).

Don heads down the hall to Bert Cooper's office, with Pete trailing behind, and it would be comical were it not for the will-he-or-won't-he tell tension brewing.  The two of them stopping to remove their shoes before entering the office where one is planning on metaphorically detonating a bomb and the other is hoping to smother or defuse it is so weird and ridiculous.  Don gets the first word and he tells Bert that he's hired Duck and then we wait and I think the reasonable expectation is that Pete will not reveal the secret.

But when was Pete ever reasonable?  He tells Bert what he knows and he, and the audience, waits.  But, as is the custom in Bert's office, there is no shoe there to drop.  Instead of the reaction he's hoping for, or that the viewer is expecting (unless we focus on Bert's admiration for Ayn Rand), Bert utters the perfect retort.  "Mr. Campbell, who cares?"

Bert is a believer in the romantic story of America - as a place where you can come from nothing and rise to the top, where who you are now is more important that who you once were, where you can reinvent yourself, where all that matters is how good you are at your job and what you are contributing.  He values Don Draper, the man with the ideas who has breathed life into his agency.  And he believes in Don Draper and no one can tell him that person is a figment of his imagination or a fictitious construct.

The only one more shocked than Pete by Bert's lack of concern is Don.  He was ready for the worst and practically did a double take when Bert uttered those magic words.  The subtle but significant growing realization spreading across Don's face that life as he knows it may not be about to end is something to behold.  On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Pete is apoplectic at the thought of Don getting away with...whatever he was getting away with.  But Bert sweeps it all under the rug and suggests that nothing good will come of trying to dig it out again, but some good can come of going along with maintaining the status quo.

When Pete leaves, Bert gives Don some good advice.  He's free to fire Pete, but it may be the wiser course to keep him around as "one never knows how loyalty is born."  One can pretty clearly say that from this moment on, Don should feel some intense loyalty to Bert Cooper who single-handedly pulled him out of the fire.

Which is a great segue to a return to Korea where we see beginnings of the transformation of Dick Whitman to Donald Draper.  Born of fire, the survivor of a freak accident (of his own doing), Dick survives as Don perishes and then in a split second Dick sees a way out and he takes it.  He came to Korea to get away from his former life.  Now he has the chance to leave it all behind forever.  Switching dog tags, he becomes Donald Draper.  He accepts the purple heart and the early discharge.  He takes the responsibility of transporting the dead body back to the states.  Dick Whitman is dead, long live Don Draper.

The girl on the train tells him something that sticks with him like the hobo code.  "Forget that boy in the box."  He sees young Adam, and Adam recognizes him through the train car windows, but Adam is mistaken.  That's not his brother on the train, he's in the box.  That man on the train is someone else.  And he has his whole life ahead of him.


Paul: I have a bottle of absinthe in my office.
Hildy: Isn't that illegal?
Paul: It's marvelous.  I become incantatory.
Marge: And what does that mean?
Joan: It means he starts making up words.

Sally: What's the Electoral College?
Don: I don't think that's a conversation appropriate for children.

Marge: I used to think I'd find a husband here.

Trudy: It's not yours.  What are you doing with it?
Pete: I got it by mistake.
Trudy: So give back. It's peculiar. It's not yours.

Hildy: I've never really seen your eyes before.
Harry: There they are. Just the two of them.

Paul: The meaner you are, the more I like you.
Joan: I know.

Bert: I just spent the night literally in a smoke-filled room at the Waldorf with every republican luminary save MacArthur and Jesus.  There's been widespread fraud. Daley gave Joe Kennedy every corpse in Cook County.

Don: It shouldn't have been that close.

Pete (to Peggy):  If I were you, I would be very, very careful from now on about the way you speak to me.

Pete: You're not who you say you are, and there's obviously a reason.

Don: When you threaten someone in this manner, you should be aware of the fact that, if your information is powerful enough to make them do what you want, what else can it make them do?

Don (to Rachel):  Something happened, and I want to go, and I want you to come with me, and I don't want to come back.

Don:  I just don't want to be without you, and I don't want to be here.

Don:  We'll start over like Adam and Eve.

Rachel: What kind of man are you? Go away, drop everything, leave your life?
Don: People do it every day.

Rachel: You don't want to run away with me.  You just want to run away.

Peggy:  I try to do my job. I follow the rules, and people hate me. Innocent people get hurt, and-- And other people-- People who are not good-- Get to walk around doing whatever they want. It's not fair.

Don (to Pete): And then I thought about you and what a deep lack of character you have.

Pete: Is this like in the movies where I have a gun and you don't think I'm going to shoot you? I will shoot you.
Don: I won't let you hold this over my head.
Pete: So you'd rather blow yourself up than make me head of accounts.

Bert: Who cares?

Bert: This country was built and run by men with worse stories than whatever you've imagined here.
Pete: I'm not imaging anything.
Bert: The Japanese have a saying: a man is whatever room he is in, and right now Donald Draper is in this room.  I assure you, there's more profit in forgetting this.

Bert:  One never knows how loyalty is born.

Lady on the train: You have your whole life ahead of you.  Forget that boy in the box.


That scene!  From the moment they enter Bert Cooper's office until they leave it, every frame is perfect.  Don's deep breaths and attempts at remaining calm.  Pete's fidgety-ness as he weighs his options before speaking. The beat Bert takes as he moves from behind his desk to in front of it.  How Don slowly, ritualistically, lights his cigarette.  Is he acting like he hasn't a care in the world or is that the last cigarette before the firing squad? Pete's eyes growing wider, waiting for a reaction.  It's all so beautifully choreographed.  And then the pay off, so simple.  "Mr. Campbell, who cares?"  Of all the possible responses, that is the most eloquent.  It says, I know you care, Pete, but you're wrong to care.  I don't.  It's not important.  Reality is so inconvenient at times.

This episode is so rich.  The way Don says "I want to go," Bert's line about a man being whatever room he's in (boy does Don take that to heart, being so different depending on who he is with), Pete's petulant demand that Don should give him what he wants, all the references to explosions and shooting, Rachel's realization that her fantasy of having Don to herself could be true but would be a disaster, Harry the loyal husband who completely falls off the wagon and onto Hildy, the parallels of Don saying the election was not fair and Peggy saying those men getting fired was not fair, the parallel between Bert's "who cares" about Don's real identity and the country's "who cares" about how JFK may have won the race.  And the constant drumbeat of the theme that Don needs to leave whether it's home, Korea, himself, the truth, the desire to run is always there.

Sally asks Don what the Electoral College is and he skirts the issue.  With her Bryn Mawr education I'm surprised Betty can't answer, but it seems as if Don doesn't know either.

Remember in episode one, where Joan calls Paul one of her mistakes?  They touch on their past relationship after the party has died down and when Paul asks what went wrong Joan tells him that he has a big mouth. Note to everyone, no one wants their sex life talked about with others.

Spoilery Observations (Don't Read Unless You're Caught Up):

Trudy mentions that she once found a similar box in her father's closet when she was younger and opened it and it was a mistake.  Years later, Pete find his father-in-law with a prostitute so maybe there was something hinting towards his sexual proclivities in the box.

The dates give us a time frame to work with.  Dick and Adam are in a picture together dated 1944 and we know that Dick/Don was in Korea in 1950.  Don is now in his early 30s, so he was probably 16 in '44 (thereby too young for the draft by the time the war ended) and 22 when he was in Korea.  We know in 1968 that Don is 40, which confirms this date.

Betty becomes much more interested in politics once she meets Henry Francis, who works for Rockefeller, in Season 3.

Poor Allison.  Not only is she the recipient of unwanted attention from Ken, but she becomes infatuated with Don and receives unexpected (but drunken) attention from him only for him to forget about it all the next day.

Don sees Rachel again, later, married and we know she's in his mind as the one that got away.

Don fights to have Duck Phillips on board and that becomes one of his worst decisions.  Duck fails to bring any business to SC and is eventually cut loose, while Pete does move up to become a very capable head of accounts.

Not only does Don earn Pete's loyalty this episode, but Bert cagily earns Don's.  When, years later, he needs Don to sign a contract, he cashes in on the deposit of loyalty made with his "Who cares" comment this episode.