Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mad Men Season 2, Episode 1: For Those Who Think Young

Let's twist again, like we did last summer.

The second season bursts onto the screen with vibrant music and color and -- while the show is set in the past, it feels fresh and new.  We are reintroduced to some of our favorite people, seeing them ready themselves for the work day.  The first thing we notice -- well, third actually after Joan readjusts in the mirror -- is that Peggy is looking much better than the last time we saw her, hospitalized after giving birth to a baby she didn't even know she was carrying.  Don's office has a new lock and Betty has a new hobby (flirting and holding onto her youth, not horseback riding).  Everything is fresh and new.

Don goes in for a routine insurance physical and if this were on the Lifetime channel there'd be repercussions for his heavy drinking and smoking, but this is AMC so a few pills will take care of his hypertension.  He's given a stop and smell the roses speech, which he'll ignore, and parses out a bit of info that we didn't know - he's 36 and both parents are deceased (childbirth/accident). There is no payoff for this scene, no medical emergency for Don.  More likely it is a sign that Don is no longer young.  Although the doctor refers to him as a "boy," the clear implication is that at the ripe old age of 36, Don can't be so cavalier about his health and needs to start being more careful. You're not young any more, Don.

It's Valentine's Day and Don and Betty have a romantic evening planned.  Betty bumps into an old friend at the hotel where they were about to eat and is shocked to learn that she's now some rich guy's escort.  She can't wait to tell her friend Francine all about it the next day and she naively peppers Don with questions about what it all means and why she's doing it. She seems intrigued by someone using their attractiveness for currency.and it's really not surprising considering how much she values appearance over all else.  Their romantic night turns into a dud when Don can't perform and they end up watching the First Lady's tour of the White House and eating in room instead.  Though the next day, she denies having seen the show, wanting Francine to think she was too "busy" in that hotel room for TV.  (Parenthetically, handing your husband a Valentine's Day card from your daughter is also not the best way to get him in the mood).

There's a new delivery at the office - a copier.  This technological breakthrough is greeted with oohs and aahs by the secretaries and it's a little reminiscent of the Coke bottle among the aborigines in The Gods Must Be Crazy. It's a behemoth and where to put it is a problem that Joan finally resolves by taking over part of Peggy's office.  This will not be the last time that creative has had to make room for technological advances and the tension between the new and the old will be a theme that plays out over and over.

Speaking of new versus old, Don is told he needs to hire some younger people for the firm.  Clients want that hip new perspective and while Peggy herself is just 22, she's not really part of the younger generation.  So Don interviews candidates almost young enough to be his offspring and the contrast between them and the button-downed '50s throwbacks in the office is jarring.  While the copier is a welcome sight, two young admen is scary and the existing Sterling Cooper employees worry (some with good reason) that they will become obsolete.

Don interviews a dynamic duo - 24 and 25, both named Smith - about coming on board to service Duck's coffee client and the rest of the staff is not happy with this change in direction. The one who should be most worried is Kinsey who drew up the list of candidates.  Don is doing what Duck asked - he's interviewing new copy-writing teams, they bought a copier - but it's now up to Duck to perform and actually land the coffee client.  There is tension in this relationship and Duck's look conveys a lot of pent-up anger.

The guys wonder behind Peggy's once again slim back what was the reason for her disappearing for a little while and then returning as a copywriter, with some guessing she had Don's love child and others (notably, Pete, the real reason - even if he doesn't know it - for her unexplained absence) surmising she went to a fat farm.  But regardless, she's now one of the boys writing copy and making pitches. She's very protective of Don and makes sure his new secretary knows what her job entails.

There's an awkward scene after the guys leave to go help Harry celebrate his wife being pregnant.  Pete and Peggy stay behind and Pete - not realizing that Peggy just had a baby and that it's probably his baby - mocks all the attention the father-to-be is getting and asks her if she ever wants children.  Someday, she says.  

The episode is framed by a book of poetry by Frank O'Hara called Meditations in an Emergency.  We first see it as Don is having lunch in a bar rather than be in the office for the staff meeting everyone else is waiting for him at.  The man next to him is reading the book and when Don inquires about it, the man sizes Don up and tells him that he wouldn't like it.  Challenge accepted.  By the end of the episode, Don has not only read the book but liked it enough to send it to an unknown recipient. 

Don feels old, not just because he's forced to hire 20-somethings, but just the overall recognition that he's now part of the older generation. The guy at the bar thinking the book he's reading wouldn't be of interest to Don, his disgust at the two uncouth frat boys in the elevator, even the vast difference in age between him and Peggy, all solidify his position as a grown up.  But his wife is fighting that.  She's enamored of the new young guy at the stables and she flirts blatantly with the car repairman. And then lies about it to Don.  So, see, he's not the only one with secrets.


Betty really hammers home what she thinks is important this episode.  She grumbles at the idea that everyone in Sally's class was forced to give everyone else a Valentine's Day card - this should be a meritocracy!  And she encourages her friend's young daughter in skipping meals to stay trim.  Great values as always from Betty!

Don had trouble performing in the hotel room after Betty ran into that old modeling friend of hers who is now a "party girl."  It could be that Madonna-Whore complex thing because he was very interested in being alone with Betty when she was wearing that puff pastry of a pink dress, but when she stripped down to the naughty black nighties (and after showing him their daughter's Valentine) maybe he lost interest.

The mention of Julian Koenig's work being apparent in the book the two young admen brought in refers to a copywriter known to be one of the best ever - responsible for, among other things, the Timex "takes a licking and keeps on ticking" tag and the "Think Small" ads for Volkswagen (which we first saw in episode 1.3).


Roger (about Don): Just assume that he knows as much about business as you do, but inside there's a child who likes getting his way.

Roger: They say once you start drinking alone, you're an alcoholic.  I'm really trying to avoid that.
Don: So I guess I'm helping both of us.

Don:  Clients don't understand. Their success is related to standing out, not fitting in.

Don: One wants to be the needle in the haystack, not a haystack.

Don:  Young people don't know anything, especially that they're young.

Duck (to Don): You know, there are other ways to think of things than the way you think of them.

Peggy: Sex sells.
Don: Says who? Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this. And they take all this monkey crap and just stick it in a briefcase, completely unaware that their success depends on something more than their shoe shine. ...  They can't do what we do.  And they hate us for it.

Spoiler-y Observations (DO NOT READ unless you're caught up on the whole series):

The physical seems like a throwaway scene since Don's health has never been an issue in the show. 

The secretaries worry about losing their lunch room for the new copier.  In Season 7, the creative lounge is displaced for the new computer.

Peggy tells Don's secretary: "I want you to imagine, when you talk about Mr. Draper, that he's standing right behind you, and think about that whenever you speak of him" In Season 7, she says something negative about Lou with him standing right behind her. Also, last season it was Joan giving her advice on the proper care and feeding of Don Draper.

Sally makes her Dad a Valentine's card.  One of the most poignant moments in the series comes many years from now, in Season 7, when teenaged Sally tells the father she now really knows "Happy Valentine's Day, I love you."

Roger tells Don, "I had Paul Kinsey make up a list.  He had no idea he was signing his own death warrant."  And, indeed, Paul was replaced (while Pete and Ken are still there).

Ken Cosgrove tells Pete, Sal, Paul and Harry that Don has a rope under his desk that is coiled around Duck's neck and that Duck would run around and around until - thump - he's hanged himself.  Well, it's not Duck that happens to, but it is perhaps foreshadowing of Lane's suicide.  

The book of poetry we later learn was sent to Anna Draper and the passage Don was reading would be particularly apropos as it discusses becoming "myself again," something that he does when he's around her.  The book also contains these line: "I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love."  That is a major theme of Mad Men.  Don claims early in the show that he doesn't believe in love, yet so much of his journey seems to be alternately searching for love and running away from it.

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