Saturday, August 23, 2014

How CBS Big Brother Buried the Lead

It must be difficult producing a show that runs in nearly real time.  You may think going in you know what the narrative will be, who will be the stars, what the fans will care about.  For Big Brother 16, Alison Grodner and the rest of the behind-the-scenes players had their story going in - pop star Ariana Grande's brother and YouTube personality Frankie  was going in cognito with his secret identity. Secondary stories were sweet Duck Dynasty-bearded groundskeeper Donny and police sergeant Derrick (going undercover as a recreations coordinator).

Let's admit it.  Casting for a reality TV show is a crap-shoot.  Someone who looks great in their interviews turns into a dud (aka PowPow who was more like meow meow). Some story lines don't pan out (Christine the super fan became Christine the literal hanger-on).  And then there's 23-year-old recent University of Florida grad Zach Rance, or ZachAttack as he's now known to Big Brother fans.  

Cast as a Dr. Will wannabe, Zach was some background noise at first.  He was given a few seconds to do his "I hate everyone" bit then was moved off screen for the main stories. And then Zach and the star of the show Frankie started Zankie and now the powers-that-be were interested in the will-they-or-won't-they showmance. That became the new lead story.  Zankie was everywhere; even Ariana tweeted about them. Julie Chen asked questions about them. Tribute videos exploded and all eyes were on the two. 

But CBS mistakenly thought all this interest was because of Frankie and missed that a new BB star was born right before their eyes. Zach is watchable.  You can't take your eyes off of him.  Cody may be the cute one, Caleb the body, but Zach is the one who captures your attention. The unpredictable outbursts, the joie de vivre, the catch phrases and poems made Zach the one you cared to see what he'd do next.  His excitability, his spontaneity, and his enthusiasm captured the fans' imaginations.  Every minute he was on the screen was electric.

Only one problem emerged.  Zach and Frankie had a falling out.  Frankie targeted Zach, then Zach targeted him, and the showmance became a flop.  How to deal with this?  CBS could air what really went down, or they could devise a poor Frankie and Derrick narrative.  Suddenly, it was the 31-year-old former dancer accusing Zach of taking money away from needy Africans and the 30-year-old former undercover cop telling Zach he was taking food out of his daughter's mouth.  If you watched the live feeds, you heard Frankie talk about euthanizing Zach, putting the baby to sleep and then stabbing it.  But that didn't make the show.  On the feeds, you saw Derrick threaten to choke Zach out and break every bone in his jaw.  But that didn't make the show. 

Nothing negative that Frankie or Derrick said was shown; instead they were painted as reluctant heroes trying to save the alliance from the volatile Zach.  The home viewers didn't see them plant seeds in Victoria and Christine's minds that Zach was a danger to them.  They didn't see how Derrick made false allegations about Zach being a threat to Frankie's safety.  The producers tried their best to make Zach the goat, solely responsible for his own downfall.  They must have hoped this would keep their Team American trio, and especially Frankie, safe for weeks to come.

What they couldn't have imagined was the groundswell of support for Zach Rance. Never before in BB history has one houseguest become the center of such a large social media movement and the recipient of so much viewer adoration.  When his fans thought Frankie had violated house rules telling Zach he was nominated, "Renom Rules" trended on Twitter.  Before the eviction vote, #SaveZach was all over Twitter, as ubiquitous as #ZachAttack.  Past houseguests from the godfather of them all Dr. Will to Dan Gheesling tweeted their appreciation and support of Zach.  Even Ariana Grande, and her mother Joan, tweeted out support for Zach and their wishes that Frankie would come to his senses before it was too late.  As Big Brother co-producer Chris Roach tweeted last week: "I get the sense a lot of people wish they had voted to be a part of Team America."

Zach said often in the BB house that he hoped he'd have 79K Twitter followers by the time he exited the BB house; as of today he has 115K for an idle account that has just one tweet from two years ago.  His Instagram has 188K followers and is growing daily.  "Froot Loop Dingus" has entered BB parlance as a new favorite phrase.  The episode where he was evicted was the season's highest rated episode.

CBS let a star slip through their fingers and will continue to shove Frankie, and to a lesser extent eventual winner Derrick, down our throats.  But we will miss the former frat boy from South Florida with loose lips, questionable dance moves, and more personality than the rest of the house combined.  We can't wait for BBAllStars2 and the return of Zach Rance, who came into the house to be hated and to win $500K and failed on both accounts. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

CBS Big Brother and the Groupthink Phenomenon

Zach Rance, the phenomenally popular 23-year-old recent college grad from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is the latest cast member ousted from the Big Brother house, a victim not of his own doing, as he told Julie Chen in his charmingly honest post-eviction interview, but a victim, like many of those who went before him, of groupthink.

Merriam-Webster defines groupthink as "a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics."  The term was coined by William H. Whyte, Jr. in a 1952 Forbes article on the social phenomenon which occurs where mere conformity becomes something else - a kind of mutual brainwashing of a small group to all agree on what is right and wrong.  The "you're either with us or against us" mentality.  Social psychologist Irving Janis expanded on the research into groupthink in a 1971 Psychology Today article.  There he wrote:
I use the term groupthink as a quick and easy way to refer to the mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive ingroup that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action. Groupthink is a term of the same order as the words in the newspeak vocabulary George Orwell used in his dismaying world of 1984. In that context, groupthink takes on an invidious connotation. Exactly such a connotation is intended, since the term refers to a deterioration in mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgments as a result of group pressures
It is not at all surprising that Janis considered groupthink in the same breath as the novel from which the very concept of "Big Brother" arose.  It is by the very nature of the show that isolating a group of individuals and pitting them against one another results in just this type of phenomenon.  There is in any society a hierarchy, those at the top and those at the bottom.  There is the in group and the outcasts.  That is why CBS's summer reality show is not merely entertainment (and less so now that the dominant group is all that's left with no challengers) but a social experiment.  We see in real time how cliques are formed, how good and evil are defined, how fear and paranoia warp your perception and how even the kindest of us fall victim to the bullying mentality we all disdain.

What Janis discovered doing his research into groupthink in the realm of foreign policy decisions, is what we have seen every year on Big Brother the TV show.  According to Janis, there are eight symptoms* of groupthink:

  1. Illusion of invulnerability – Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
  2. Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
  3. Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
  4. Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
  5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
  6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
  8. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions. 

(*These come from:

If you look at that list, you may get the answers to the questions you've had about the house guests the past two months.  Why does no one listen to Donny Thompson's warnings about Derrick Levasseur?  Check item #2.  Why does everyone gang up on the most recently evicted house guest?  Look at 4.  Why in week 2 was Devin Sheperd so upset with Zach for suggesting they keep Brittany Martinez?  See #5.  Item by item, you can click off why the house guests have done some of the head-scratching things they have done.

Tweeted by @BB16ZachRance

Caleb Reynolds knows he heard a fan shouting something negative about him and Frankie Grande when they were in the backyard with Zach.  Cody knows he heard a different fan shouting negative things about Frankie and Derrick yesterday.  Why don't they ever question their allegiance; why are they never suspicious?  Item #6 - ignore facts that don't conform to the group consensus.  Of the eight items, perhaps the most powerful is the last, the one used to great effect by Derrick.  A former undercover cop (who knows how to infiltrate groups) and current police sergeant, Derrick has repeatedly made sure that his minions stay away from outside influences.  Whether it is telling someone that Nicole Franzel should never talk to anyone alone, or making sure that Zach was accompanied wherever he went last week, Derrick has made sure to keep outside influences from his group's ears.

Because of groupthink, six different people (Caleb, Christine Brecht, Cody Calafiore, Derrick, Frankie, and Victoria Rafaeli) believe they each are in a great position in the game with final two deals that will guarantee them a spot in the finale.  Unfortunately for all but Derrick, he is the only common denominator in each secret final two pact.  Because they each believe they are in a great position in their alliance, none will do anything to upset the apple cart.  The simple mechanics of their situation eludes them.  Despite realizing that where there is a group of six players remaining, there is by its nature a hierarchy, a totem pole, each believes they are at the top and each believes someone else to be at the bottom.  While it's easy to chalk this up to poor gameplay, stupidity, or naïveté, the more obvious explanation is that this is how the game is structured.  It takes a very strong, or very crazy, person to veer away from the safety of groupthink and think for themselves.

They have had virtually no outside contact for two months.  They have little in the way of stimulation or distraction.  They are in a stressful situation without their usual outlets for coping.  Don't think you wouldn't act the same in their shoes.

Look what happened to the few players who deviated from the script, who argued against groupthink.  What happened to Joey Van Pelt?  She had the temerity to suggest forming a girl's alliance.  What nerve!  Outta here.  Hayden Voss tried to form a new alliance, plotting against Derrick/Cody. Adios.  Zach merely questioned what the powers-that-be suggested (early in the game not wanting to vote out Brittany, later in the game voicing that maybe he didn't want to throw the competition to oust Donny or maybe he can't trust people in his alliance who tried to evict him a week ago) and he was given his walking papers.  Opposing groupthink in the Big Brother house gets you a few minutes with Julie Chen and not a lot more.  And so we will continue to see scared little mice cowering in the corner hoping they're the last one the cat eats.

Big Brother promotes bullying, cliquish behavior and fear of straying from the group, and until enough players fight back, it'll be one boring season after another.  C'mon Big Brother, give us more unpredictable troublemakers like Zach Rance and fewer sheep like Cody and Victoria.  Watching Derrick the conformity cop serve up and the rest of the house drink his KoolAid for three months isn't riveting television.  It's actually, pretty sad. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mad Men Season 2, Episode 11: The Jet Set

Well, that was weird.

Don Draper escapes the uncomfortable present in New York but is it to revisit his past in California (signaled by the invocation of the name "Dick Whitman") or to forge a new future?  Don is literally carrying no baggage from home as he lands in California.  He falls in with a vagabond group of free thinkers, just the perfect sort of faux intellectual nomads that seem exciting and vibrant but are nothing more than bright, shiny yet empty shells.  He realizes that their rootless ways are not the answer he was looking for and he makes plans to leave them too. Don is bringing the Hobo Code to new heights, not just running away from his problems, but even running away from the first solution presented.

But first, we see Jane waxing poetic about life with Roger.  Roger is IN LOVE.  Jane is the answer to all questions, she is what he's been searching for, she will help him defy death and aging and professional impotence.  She is the one true answer.  He has never been so happy - not riding that twin, not flirting with Betty, not even with Joan.

Don is the worst travel companion ever.  Here he and Pete are at the hotel, with sunshine and swimming and lounging theirs for the taking.  But Don reminds Pete why they are there and tells him to get to work unless he wants to make this a permanent vacation.  After stuffing Pete's dreams of fun in the sun, Don walks through the hotel and catches a glimpse of a beautiful, ice princess across the room.  Betty?  It's not her, of course, but an illusion of her - beautiful, regal, happy.  Back in New York is the real Betty - tired, angry, fed up - ready to move on without him.  Don is in LA in large part because she has rejected him, and yet she is what he sees there.

Back at Sterling Cooper, Roger meets with his divorce attorney and learns the simple math that half of what you have is far less than the whole.  But he doesn't care because, as I mentioned above, he's IN LOVE, like no one before him, making Romeo and Juliet look like amateurs.  He was miserable and could see himself on a slow march to the end wallowing in his misery until death takes him.  OR, he can find new life with Jane.  Half a fortune is a small price to pay for happiness.  

While Roger has found happiness with Jane, Duck wants validation and reward from Roger.  He's been with the firm for two years and he feels it's time for him to get a partnership.  Duck has confused length of service with quality of service, unfortunately, and Roger gives him a harsh dose of reality.  Put that meeting in context - Duck is trying to stay sober, is divorced from his wife and becoming further removed from his kids.  All he has is work and he finds out just how little he is valued there.  This kind of knowledge can cause a man to do some desperate things.

During a presentation on the missile race, and humanity's ability to wipe each other out with the push of a red button, Don has a YOLO epiphany.  Leaving New York wasn't enough, he needs to drop off the radar all together.  So he hitches a ride with the comely Joy and heads for a hedonistic adventure in Palm Springs.  He meets the gang around the pool, then passes out from the heat.  Willy toasts Don for "not being carried out in a pine box" and again we're bombarded with the specter of death.  But Joy will take all that away.

With the boss away, the kids do play and Peggy strikes up a conversation with Smitty 2 that leads to an invite to a Bob Dylan concert and some awkward moments.  The rest of the office is buzzing about their date, but Kurt doesn't understand their interest.  He is, he states matter-of-factly, homosexual.  Try to put this revelation in perspective.  This is 1962, not 2014, and while there were rumors about this celebrity or that celebrity being gay, virtually no one admitted to it because of the stigma then associated. Look at his co-worker's reaction, look at Sal reading the room.  Harry says, "so Kurt is a pervert," and Ken joins him in his bigoted revelry and Sal knows without a doubt that he was right to stay in the closet.

Meanwhile, Duck is plotting his revenge against Roger, Don and the rest of Sterling Cooper by meeting with his old bosses from England.  He crawls back to them, then falls way off the wagon as he prepares to sell them on his evil plan to take over the company.  Hell hath no fury like a mallard scorned. 

While Duck is planning on a hostile takeover of Sterling Cooper, two of its young employees are about to embark on their date to see Bob Dylan.  Peggy is crushed that she once again has struck out romantically and even suggests that Kurt might want to take a guy out tonight instead of her.  Kurt fulfills the gay stereotype by explaining to Peggy why she's not attracting men and performing a makeover to bring her into the modern era.  And we all bid a sad goodbye to Peggy's ponytail.

Pete Campbell returns form California and is surprised to find out that Don isn't there.  Duck makes his pitch to Roger and Burt, while across the country Don contacts someone using his real name Dick Whitman.  His suitcase makes it home, but Don is staying in California to meet with someone who knows him by his real name.

Don's experience with the European nomads is an interesting diversion from real life, but Don cannot run away from his problems.  He's lying in bed with someone's daughter.  He sees a divorced man dragging his sad children away from his ex.  Joy may seem to offer an escape, but she can't keep the real world at bay.  Don will have to deal with these issues, his marriage, his kids, his mortality.  So he makes plans to leave to go where someone knows him by his real name.  Don has chosen not to run off with the latest incarnation of Midge's bohemian friends, instead Dick Whitman is heading for a rendezvous.


Jane's poem:
Delicious and destroyed.
Inhaling the fragrance of the sheets.
Feeling the warmth of where you were just laying.
You make me new with laughter.
You make me old with wisdom.
You make wine taste sweeter.
Roger did not like hearing he made her old.  Her most attractive trait to him is her youth.  She's almost Margaret's age.  She's young, alive, vibrant, and new. Is it true that he and Mona have "been miserable for years," is it true that he doesn't want to die with her - or is it just that he doesn't want to die and he's convinced himself being with Jane will make him young again?

Don is also consumed by Joy's youth.  I'm not sure it's for the same reasons as Roger, so much as it serves as a great diversion from his real* life (*which, of course, is not so real). Don had carefully crafted his storyline - married, two kids, professional success - but with part of that crumbling, he seems lost.

Joy is reading William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" a novel about the death of a storied southern family.  The title is taken from Shakespeare soliloquy in MacBeth that also contains reference to "The way to dusty death."  Again, this reinforces the death/rebirth themes of this episode as both Don and Roger strive to stave off death by their dalliances with younger girls, taking solace in satisfying their sexual hungers.

The look Don gives the father who shows up with his two kids at Palm Springs is quite poignant.  Does he see himself in that man, forced to take extreme action against his ex-wife?  Or does he instead see himself as someone who runs away from his problems, rather than stepping up like this father?

We've been teased for over a year with Don's "Dick Whitman" back story and it is shocking to hear him make arrangements with someone who knows him by that name.  He ran away from that identity, even indirectly leading to his half-brother's suicide. And now he's willing to face someone who knows him by that name??

It was an interesting parallel, both of our male leads taking up with much younger women.  But while Roger seems to have found "true love" (or at least a great opportunity to defy aging and death), Don's sidetrip with the young Joy seems to be part of trying to find an answer to a question that is plaguing him in light of the dissolution of his marriage.

Time stamp - news report of James Meredith becoming the first African-American student enrolled at the University of Mississippi, which occurred on October 1, 1962. 


Roger: Who wrote that?
Jane: I write a lot of poetry when I'm inspired.
Roger: I guess I shouldn't be surprised by anything you do.
Jane: You shouldn't.  It's insulting.

Smitty:  Did you read what's going on down there?
Peggy: In this day and age.
Ken: The papers said it's going to be Little Rock all over again.
Harry.  I don't know why people keep stirring up trouble. It's bad for business.
Just another reason not to watch TV.

Don: You want to be on vacation Pete cause I can make that happen? 

Willy (to Don): My friends and I have been speculating about you, trying to decide who you are and what you do.
Don:  Why?
Willy:  Are you an actor?
Don: No.
Willy: Are you an astronaut?
Don: No.
Willy:  Someone over there would like to meet you - a young woman - only if you were none of these things.

Pete:  I just saw Tony Curtis in the men's room.
Don: Handing out towels?
Pete: Tony Curtis, Don. A thing like that.

Roger:  We've been miserable for years.  I don't want to die with that woman. ... This is the life I was always meant to have.

George Rothman:  Think of all the good things in life and cut them in half.

Duck: listen, we're coming up on two years together here. 
Roger: Did you get me something?

Duck: I'd be proud to present my accomplishments.
Roger:  Good.  Because I'm at a loss.

Joy (to Don):  Why would you deny yourself something you want?

Willy:  Everyone, to our guest. To not being carried out in a box.

Willy:   The humiliations have been spectacular.

Greta: So, Don, What's your story?
Don: I don't know how to answer that. 

Don:  Who are you?
Joy: I'm Joy. 

Harry:  So Kurt is a pervert.  How about that?
Ken:  I knew queers existed.  I just don't want to work with them. 

Willy: The humiliations have been spectacular.  

Peggy:  I don't know why I pick the wrong boys.
Kurt:  You're drinking sad.

Joy:  My father will take care of you.  He likes having you around.  You're beautiful, and you don't talk too much.

Harry: I don't know why people keep stirring up trouble, it's bad for business.

Duck:  On the table will be mounds of money, international prestige, a chance at going public. And we don't have to change our name.

Cooper:  Let them open the kimono.

SPOILER-Y OBSERVATIONS (Don't read until you're caught up):

This trip to California pays off in a potential client in Episode 4.10, "Hands and Knees," when Pete is about to reel in North American Aviation as a client. Unfortunately, their efforts to get security clearance for Don come back to bite them, and they lose this opportunity.

Pete says, of his first impression of California, "I don't know that I'd wan to live there."  He complains about the people and says he's glad to be home.  In Season 7, Pete thrived when he worked in the California office and enjoyed his time there although ultimately it did not work out. 

Foreshadowing - Pete brings oranges back from his trip.  Sunkist later becomes a client. 

Duck Phillips may ultimately fail in this attempt to take over Sterling Cooper, but it doesn't stop him from trying to damage the company at every turn, whether by poaching Peggy or by trying to leave a little "present" in one of the Sterling Cooper offices. Yet in the penultimate episode he actually does something good. 

We know now that Don was contacting Anna Draper (and his use of his full name was a little awkward considering their relationship).  We also learn shortly that it was to her that he sent the book at the beginning of the season.  When Don is troubled and confused by the current state of his life, he runs back to the only person who really knows him. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mad Men, Season 2, Episode 10: The Inheritance (Recap)

Pete Campbell rattles off the list of companies that the two-person contingent from Sterling Cooper will be able to court when they're in Los Angeles next week and Don jokes that it "Sounds like a hell of a stock portfolio."  Funny you should mention stock portfolios, Don, considering that Pete learns this episode that his recently-deceased father was broke and that the storied Campbell/Dyckman dynasty has barely a pot to piss in.  So Pete won't be receiving any inheritance thanks to his father's death, only bills and a crusty recently-widowed mother.

Betty is also dealing with her inheritance.  It's been two years since Betty's mother died and she finds some of her mother's things missing and her father ailing when she goes back to her childhood home, now taken over by her father's new lady-friend, Gloria.  Betty fears she's about to be an orphan, with nothing of her mother to remember her by and only newly-forged unpleasant memories of her father, now distorted by the brain damage of his recent strokes.  The past generation is leaving nothing but misery to the next generation - which is doing its part to either avoid creating or damaging its own progeny.  And so it goes.

The episode starts with a discussion of the aforementioned upcoming trip to Southern California which Don is making sure is not a boondoggle but sticks to the mission of getting more clients for the firm.  The impression these Manhattanites have of orange groves, beaches, and lazy afternoons is a real stereotype the East Coast holds about the West even today.  Pete can't wait to get out there, grab his putter, work on his tan, and start making contacts.  Paul Kinsey is also looking forward to the trip, even though it interferes with a planned trip down south to register black voters with his girlfriend Shirley.  Doing something for mankind is good and all, but a chance to rub elbows with Ray Bradbury (who, to name drop, I once sat on a writer's panel with!) can't be passed up.

Later that night, Don gets a call from Betty.  Her father's had a stroke.  Don wants to come in on his white horse and save the damsel, but she tells him it can wait till the morning.  The next day the two of them head up to her father's house to check on his condition.  Betty finds out that this was not her father's first stroke and that his new girlfriend didn't think it was serious enough to tell her about.  Betty is furious - that her father is ill, that her mother isn't there any more, that this witch has moved in and is taking over.

Her father comes downstairs and at first he seems none the worse for wear - until he calls Betty by her mother's name and seems very confused.  It's one of the many small moments that I love in Mad Men.  At first, nothing happens.  The conversation is stilted and superficial, with Betty's brother William and Gloria both making awkward small talk. It's realistic, exactly like that moment would play out.  Later, the chitchat takes a decided turn as Gene suddenly erupts at Don.  He's furious and vicious in his attack on Don and the family take it as another side effect of his stroke, yet they don't realize that he's right on target about Don.  He may have suffered some brain damage, but he still recognizes that there's something wrong with Don.

The profound effect of her father's illness on his perception and personality, along with the emotional toil of facing his mortality, is what likely drives Betty into Don's arms later that night.  But it's just a temporary deviation from the separate path she plans to take from Don.

Pete and Trudy have been trying to add to their family for some time and,
despite their best efforts, Pete has yet to do on purpose what he was so easily able to do by accident with Peggy.  So Trudy suggests they consider adoption.  While at first cool to the idea, Pete does warm up to it and even mentions it to his brother, Bud.  BIG MISTAKE.  Bud blabs to their mom and she refuses to consider handing her inheritance (if you can call a name with no money behind it) to someone who would bring in a child from outside of the family.  Adoption, she reminds him, was something his father called "pulling from the discards."  It's not something their family does.  But then her family also doesn't go broke...or they didn't before now.  The rift between Pete and his family just grows and grows; they don't understand him, appreciate him, or value what he values.  He's a stranger there, yet he doesn't feel at home with Trudy either.

The morning after Betty and Don sleep together, Don wakes up to find Betty gone.  She later lets him know that they are not reconciled and her father's illness has not changed anything between them.  He's there for her as much as he can be, standing by and supporting her as Gene again uncomfortably mistakes her for her mother Ruth, this time with a horrifyingly sexual suggestion.  Yet Betty is so distrustful of Don that even his sympathy for what she's going through is suspect.  Viola, the family housekeeper who Betty seems very close to, gives Betty some growing up advice.  "You are supposed to take care of your husband and your beautiful children now."  But Betty doesn't want to take care of her lying cheating husband and she's not all that interested in being a parent either.  She hasn't really moved beyond being the child herself and does not know how she can handle not being taken care of. Still, she rather be alone than with Don.  So once they get back home, she sends him away, again.

Don comes back to find the office nearly deserted as most everyone is in a conference room celebrating Harry Crane's baby shower.  While Pete is plagued by his inability to get Trudy pregnant, Harry is being feted for planting one in Jennifer.  He takes in quite a haul - cigarettes, coffee, girlie magazines - all the things a new dad needs.  Harry, who's always had a sentimental streak, seems pretty moved by the occasion, despite the efforts of his coworkers to trivialize and mock the moment. As is so often the case, there are great little moments in the scene including Joan bristling when she's reminded of Roger's new lady love (the Tiffany present from Jane..."and Roger") and Peggy and Pete exchanging a brief but to us meaningful look as she hands him a piece of the celebratory cake.

Did you notice how Don zeroed in on the guidebook to Los Angeles when he first arrived back at the office?  Well, Don suddenly cancels all his meetings and tells Joan that he'll be going to LA for the conference. Don has been known to run away from his problems before and so it's not surprising that after being told by Betty that he's still not wanted at home, he decides to fly across the country. Joan relishes the opportunity to tell Paul that he won't be going after all - giving him the bad news in front of everyone at the party.  Maybe Paul will think twice before outing someone's age publicly again.  But you still have to give him credit for trying to make lemonade by quickly calling Sheila and pretending it was his idea to stay and go to Mississippi with her.

Pete needs to confide in Peggy, needs to have some connection with her (if only he knew!).  But Peggy is always so formal with him, he never seems to get the interaction he wants.  He throws out some hints to what's going on with his life, especially his decision whether to adopt or not (again, not realizing how awkward having the conversation with the woman who gave up his child for adoption).  She doesn't know what he's talking about or what he wants, but, sadly for Pete, there's really no one else for him to talk to.

Cue Jaws music.  There's something lurking in the dark, something scary and dangerous.  It's...Glen Bishop.  He's hiding out in the playhouse that Don had built in Season 1 for Sally's birthday.  Glen is in a too typical situation, torn between split homes, feeling like a burden to both parents, and looking for salvation.  As was the case in Season 1, his happiness fantasy is tied to Betty Draper.  In her he finds a kindred childlike spirit and she's as much in need of rescue as he is of someone to save.  Their interactions would be even creepier if Betty weren't such a victim of arrested development and didn't so much appear to be his peer.  But, then, Betty is the adult and she finally acts like one, calling Glen's mother.  He takes it as a betrayal, but it's more likely a sign that maybe Betty knows she needs to grow up. 

When Helen comes to talk with Betty about Glen, their interaction is much different than it's been in the past.  Betty shares with her that she and Don are separated, and this bond brings them closer.  Helen opens up, Betty opens up and each seems to much better understand the other.  Helen has been there and is making it on her own - even if she admits that she's not a very good mother.  Betty is scared about life without Don, but here is someone telling her she can do it. 

Meanwhile, some 30,000 feet overhead, Don is heading for California. "It should be a pleasant day."


Don (to Paul): As much as I'd like to indulge your Twilight Zone fantasy of being shot into space
Sal:  Believe me, it's our fantasy, too.

William:  In New York.  Right.  Where everything's better.

Paul: If you don't mind, I'd rather face Mississippi and those people screaming at me and maybe getting shot after I go to California.

Pete:  What about all that money Dad gave to Lincoln Center? Get that back.
Bud:  You can't take a donation back.

Betty (to William): Stop counting other people's money.

Gene:  Who know what he does, why he does it? I know more about the kid who fixes my damn car.

Gene (to Don):  Nobody has what you have.  You act like it's nothing.  My daughter's a princess.
You know that? ... He has no people! You can't trust a person like that!

Viola:  The minute you leave, you'll remember him exactly the way he used to be.  It's all good outside that door.

Betty (to Don): I know how you feel about grieving.

Betty: Nothing's changed.  We were just pretending.

Betty:  Daddy used to fine us for small talk, remember? Conversation is an art.

Joan: How is everything?
Don: About how those things are.

Paul:  And I want you to know I've thought about it.  Let me finish. I'm going to stand there arm-in-arm with you and make a stand. It's not just about you and me.

Glen:  I didn't know if I was going to see you again.  ... I haven't seen you in so long, except driving down the street.

Glen:  I know I'm a problem for them. ...  I know I am because they keep saying I'm not.

Glen:  I came to rescue you.
Betty:  Did you bring your cape?
Glen:  I'm not joking.  We can go anywhere.  I have money.

Betty: Sometimes I feel like I'll float away if Don isn't holding me down.
Helen:  The hardest part is realizing you're in charge.


Let's run away, "I have money."  I'm not quoting Glen Bishop, but Don Draper in Season 1, Episode 12 "Nixon v. Kennedy."  When backed against a corner by Pete Campbell, Don's answer is to leave everything behind and run off with Rachel Menken.  He's not that much more evolved emotionally than a 12-year-old child of a broken home.

Pete mentions "Rope," the Hitchcock thriller about the murderous University of Chicago students Loeb and Leopold who in 1924 killed a teenager in an attempt to prove they could commit the "perfect murder."  By virtue of the fact that we know their names, suffice to say they were unsuccessful.  But Weiner and Co. must be very fond of the story as this is the second mention (the first being Don referring to Roger and Ken in episode 2.03 "The Benefactor").

Don's comment to Paul and Pete, when it was clear they hadn't read the material Peggy had prepared, was meant as an insult to the boys - "maybe I should send her."  But, maybe he should have.  Had this not been 1962, it would have occurred to him to send his best copywriter, not his most hirsute one. 

Much discussion of mourning and death, obviously:  Bud says, "all we have to do is go over there, get her signature, mourn over the loss of our birthright, and move on."  William says, of their father's home "It's like a tomb in there."  Gloria reminds Gene, "Ruth is dead."  Betty asks of her father, "Is he dying."  Pete mentions not having been on a plane since his father died. 

Though confused by his stroke, Gene has a moment of clarity when he lets rip on Don "the cypher" Draper.  He correctly notes that Don does not appreciate what he has and that he has "no people" and can't be trusted.  It's unfortunate when the sanest comment comes from someone with brain damage.

Love the little moment when Bert Cooper comes into the baby shower party and wishes Harry a Happy Birthday.  Classic.  Also appreciated the call back to Harry and Hildy's one night stand as she drunkenly wishes him the best with his new baby.

The conversation between Pete and Peggy mirrors others they've had in the past, such as when he regaled her with his hunter fantasy in episode 1.07.  

Betty perks up when Glen mentions that his mother Helen doesn't want to be with him, she wants to be with her "boyfriends."  She's always considered Helen to be a slut (a divorced woman!), and after their unfortunate interactions in Season 1, she's happy to hear anything that gives her the upper hand.

There is much gold to mine in the Betty/Glen interactions.  First, where do the writers come up with this stuff.  "G: Can I tell you something? B: Of course. G: I don't like ham. I don't like meat at all, actually."  So random.  But not random is his fantasy of saving Betty, of being the super hero who takes her away from her sadness to a place where they can be together, and happy, forever.  This magical thinking is normal for kids and yet is the kind of magical thinking that Don suffers from.  Whether it's his fantasy of swooping in to win the client or save the day, or his fantasy of pullig up stakes and running away, he's as childlike in his thinking at times as Glen is.  Only, Glen still has the excuse of youth.

When Carla comes home with the kids and asks "how is he," Betty is confused by the question.  She's so entranced by Glen's presence that she seemingly forgot she was just visiting her ailing father.  Carla's offhanded comment "what's he doing here" may have snapped Betty back into reality.

Even strangers find Paul Kinsey boring and pompous.  Imagine that.  His exchange with Hollis on the elevator was priceless.  "Please, Hollis, it's Paul."  What a coincidence the first time he tells Hollis to call him by his first name, Sheila is in the elevator. 

How long has Joan been waiting to get back at Paul for putting up evidence of her age in the breakroom?  She relished the opportunity to tell him that his trip to Los Angeles was canceled.  Let's face it, he had it coming.

Lack of subtlety:
Closeted Sal Romano toasting the new baby: "Here's to the little one, whatever it may be."  We get it, Sal's gay.  Please stop hitting me over the head with obvious nods to Sal's double life.  Also, enough with the "everyone smokes."  I can't imagine even in 1962 someone would joke about hoping their child grew up to like Lucky Strikes.  Although I don't begrudge them showing us people lighting up on the plane as soon as the no smoking sign was turned off. 

Suicide count:
Pete mentions to Peggy that his flight to California crashing "wouldn't be the worst thing."


Betty tells Don, after she finds out about her father's stroke, "You know, I've been dreaming about a suitcase."  That image will come back in Season 4, The Suitcase, when Don has his hallucination of the recently departed Anna Draper - holding a suitcase.   

There are two times that the Draper grandchildren discuss the art of conversation and it was nice how Betty and her brother referenced their father stressing to them the art of conversation.Once was in 2.4 Three Sundays and the other time in 7.3 Field Trip.

Don comes into the office, after being kicked out of the house for a second time by Betty, and walks by the receptionist.  He smiles, "Hello, Donna."  "Allison," she replies.  Sadly this will not be the last, nor most serious, slight she suffers at the hands of Don Draper as their crash-and-burn mini affair will show us in Season 4's Christmas-themed episode.

While Glen is still deserving of his "creepy kid" reputation in this episode, as the series progresses he becomes one of the beacons of sanity, shining a bright spotlight of rationality while others cling to their fantasies.  It's interesting to watch his evolution and growth, while seeing how stagnant others (notably Betty) are over the years.  

In Glen's last interaction with Betty, he comes to say goodbye before he heads off to war. He is 18 now and he still has fantasies of being with Betty, but she explains matter-of-factly that she's married.  She hugs him then and she's scared of what might happen to him in Vietnam, wondering if this would be the last time shed see him.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mad Men Season 2, Episode 9: Six Months Leave

It's easy to identify the date, the episode starts with Don waking up with his smoker's cough and lazily going to pick up the newspaper in front of what we realize is a hotel room, not his home.  We see the lead story - Marilyn Monroe was found dead the day before.  It's April 6, 1962 and Peggy is feeling pretty good about not having sold the Marilyn v. Jackie ad to Playtex.  But at the office, the rest of the women are shown sobbing over the fallen starlet.

What does Marilyn's death tell us about the Mad Men world?  Beautiful, successful, married to a baseball hero, yet so depressed that she let pills take her life?  Is the takeaway that not everything is as it appears?  That beneath the stylish veneer, things are ugly?  Sterling Cooper is a hot, young(ish) Madison Avenue firm, yet behind closed doors there are men literally pissing themselves.  "Don's perfect" says Betty's friend and for everyone on the outside the Drapers have the ideal marriage.  But we know of his lies and infidelity and even her toying with an affair.  Roger, married for 25 years, is secretly pining for the beautiful new secretary in the office?  Joan, engaged to a doctor, has a deep sadness as well, what is her unfulfilled dream?  Was it for Roger to leave his wife for her?  Was it to be married and a mom by now?  Or was it to have a bigger role at the office, be something more than just an office manager?  There is how it looks and there is how it really is, and those two things are far apart in this episode.

Pete, Sal, Peggy and Freddy get ready for the Samsonite pitch and Freddy does a great job with his part, until he manages to wet himself and then passes out drunk at his desk.  We'd been foretold about Freddy's drinking, and thought him a funny guy (with his musical zipper) but this was shocking and sad.  It's all fun and games until you pee your pants.

The three cover for him and the pitch actually goes well in his absence (they love Peggy), but Pete is not about to let this go.  Pete is the kid who reminded the teacher when they forgot to assign homework, so you know he's going to go blab about this, violating the bro code.  Even though Sterling Cooper is run like fraternity row at Dartmouth, Freddy has violated their unspoken commandment - thou shalt not be an embarrassing, sloppy drunk. Pete runs with the info to Duck and Duck, either because he's dealing with his own alcoholic demons or because he wants to gut Don's department, uses the information to demand Freddy's head. 

Up in Ossining, Betty's riding partner Sarah Beth comes over to borrow a dress and finds Betty still in her nightie, hair a bit disheveled, and Betty still pretty out of it.  But like any good housewife in the 60s, her friend is oblivious and only concerned with her own problems.  And what are they?  Boredom.  She fantasizes over Arthur, the young stud at the stables, and is surprised Betty doesn't.  But then she doesn't have to.  "Don's perfect."  Betty didn't even roll her eyes at that, it would take too much energy.

Betty has kicked Don out of the house, but communication was never their strong suit so he takes her words to mean he should stay away entirely and that only confuses the kids.  Sally even called his office to find out when he'd be home and Jane, in a confused panic, said "Wednesday" before realizing she should have said nothing.  So Don picks the kids up and spends time with them so they're none the wiser, though hearing him promise "Salamander" he'll be back before she knows it is heartbreaking.  Betty gets a good look at the real Don when he comes up with a perfect lie on the spot that they can tell the kids - she still has no idea just how good Don is at lying. 

The locked, private drawer in Don's office comes into play as Betty is seen trying to jimmy it before noisily dropping the screwdriver and drawing Carla's attention.  Poor Carla.  She tries to be helpful and supportive but is just shut down.  Betty shows such fondness for her mother's housekeeper, yet seems pretty hostile (jealous??) towards her own.  Carla tries to give her sage advice as a married woman, but Betty doesn't want to hear it.  The only help she wants is in getting to the bottom of all of her husband's lies.

Don is told about Freddy's unfortunate accident but does not react the way Pete, Duck or Roger expected.  They realize Freddy broke an unspoken code.  They can all drink themselves into an early grave, but they can't do anything that makes them or the firm look bad.  And Freddy crossed that line. But Don likes Freddy and doesn't want to see him thrown away like that.  Still, when Roger praises Don for his loyalty to Freddy it's hard not to wonder why he can't be as loyal to his wife and kids.

Betty proves to be fairly manipulative and diabolical, setting her "friend" Sarah Beth up for an affair with Arthur.  Betty is taking misery loves company to a whole new height.  She manipulates those two for her own pleasure and it's a really ugly side of her.  If she can't have the perfect marriage with no infidelity, then no one can. 

There's more misery at the dinner when Roger and Don have to tell Freddy that he's taking a "six month leave" which everyone knows means he's getting fired.  Freddy puts up a weak fight, but there's nothing much for him to do.  At least Roger and Don seem troubled by having to fire him, but Freddy is such a sad, lost puppy (maybe he can meet up with Chauncey?).  It is a sobering (pardon the pun) side of alcoholism, that you can be the funny, life of the party, that everyone jokes about, and then you become the pathetic loser that everyone makes fun of.

So Don is separated from his wife and kids, he just had to fire a guy he really likes (because of another guy he regrets hiring) and he's been drinking. A lot.  Roger tries to talk to him, man-to-man, but Don doesn't engage.  He doesn't want to talk about his private life (huge surprise).  He's fully cocked to the pissed off position and he needs only to hear Jimmy Barrett's voice to send him over the edge. He punches the "comic" in the face and then leaves to go drown his sorrows with Roger.

Roger finally gets Don to open up a bit.  He admits there's trouble in paradise and Ken and Barbie are having marital trouble.  But instead of the discussion being about Don's infidelity and Betty's knowledge, Roger is actually having a completely different conversation in his mind.  He's apparently fallen in love with Don's secretary but feels that she's the unattainable prize that his marriage to Mona is denying him.  But the combination of alcohol, desire and magical thinking leaves him taking away from his "it's your life" conversation with Don that it is his god-given right to leave his wife to pursue Jane.

Freddy's ouster makes room for Peggy to move up and while she doesn't want her ascension to be at her mentor's expense, Pete is right that she should be proud of herself. She achieved this promotion because of her talent, not because Freddy pissed himself. Regardless, she feels a connection with Freddy and this is bittersweet.  It's also, sadly, a realistic portrayal of office politics.


The main event occurring at the office is the annual blood drive and it brings out the competitive streak in the men.  While Don talks about its humanitarian benefit - doing something good for mankind - he also tries to figure out ways his department can win and get the press that comes with it. 

I love Sal's subtle reaction to Freddy handing him a very full glass of alcohol.  If that's the norm for Freddy, no wonder he's about to lose his job.

Joan had told Roger in Ep. 1.06 Babylon that he would one day leave her for a younger woman and she was right.  Only, he didn't leave her (she did get engaged in Ep. 2.05), he just never tried to move their relationship to the next level.

Repeated iterations of "There's no reason to talk about it" - the recurrent theme that some things are best put in the past and forgotten.

The bag where Jane picked up some extra shirts for Don is from Menken's.  Karmic?

The pseudonym Don gives to the bouncer - Tilden Katz - is the name of Rachel Menken's new husband.  Don has Rachel on the brain.

When Roger sends Freddy to the cab he tells Don to send him to McCann.  This firm is constantly used as a foil to Sterling Cooper.

Don doesn't realize how he is giving Roger permission to leave his wife for Jane.  He thinks he's the subject of the drunk conversation at the bar, but it's really Roger who's wondering why he can't pursue what he really wants and why being married means you can't chase happiness.  When Mona comes and chews him out it's too late.  Roger has made his decision and Don is angry, he never intended to be part of that. 

The Draper advice for all situations - don't look back, move forward - is in direct contrast to the wonderful carousel he spoke about in Ep. 1.13 that went forward and backward, around and around, to a place where we feel loved.  This new advice encourages not taking responsibility and not being accountable.  If you never look back, you never have to face those you hurt in the past.


Don (to Ken): There'll be women fainting. I'd think you'd like that.

Roger (to the reclining Joan):  Many's the time I've dreamed of finding you like this.

Joan: This world destroyed her.
Roger:  Really? She was a movie star who had everything and everybody, and she threw it away.  But, hey, if you want to be sad.
Joan:  One day you'll lose someone who's important to you.  You'll see.  It's very painful.

Don:  Bets, what do you want? Listen, if your mind's made up, I'm not going to talk you into it.
Betty:  I thought you can talk anyone into anything.

Carla:  Splash cold water on your face and go outside.  You'll notice things are right where you left them.

Don: I don't think it's in my contract that Duck can fire someone in my department.
Roger: You don't have a contract, and I can fire anyone I want to.

Roger:  Your loyalty is starting to become a liability.

Don:  Freddie had a bad day. Can't you find something else to do besides dining on the drama of other people's lives like a bunch of teenage girls?
Paul:  Sorry, Don.  It's funny.
Don:  Sure. It's just a man's name, right?

Roger: There's a line, Freddie, and you wet it.
Freddy: You see? We're laughing about it.

Roger:  All I'm going to say is do you want to be right, or do you want to be married? I know marriage isn't a natural state, but you do it.

Roger (to Don):  You're so secretive.

Freddy: What am I going to do?
Don: It's not an ending. It's a fresh start.
Freddy:  If I don't go into that office every day, who am I?

Don: That was a real Archibald Whitman maneuver.
Roger: Who's that?
Don: This hothead drunk I used to know.

Don: I don't feel bad at all.  I mean, sometimes.  Mostly, I'm just relieved.
Roger:  Really? Do you fall in love?
Don:  That would be easier.  Then I'd know what to do.

Don:  It's your life.  You don't know how long it's going to be, but you know it's got a bad ending.
You have to move forward.  As soon as you figure out what that is.

Don (to Peggy):  Don't feel bad about being good at your job.

Lack of subtlety: 
Hollis saying, "Some people just hide in plain sight."

Suicide count:
Don saying, of Marilyn Monroe, "Suicide is disturbing."

Oh how quaint things were back then:
Yes, that is how we used to defrost freezers.  You people have no idea how we suffered in the old days.

Literary references:
Betty is reading Ship of Fools which came out in 1962 and dealt with a disparate cast of characters on a trip seeking happiness and fulfillment but ultimately finding it all an illusion.  It was named after a Platonic allegory about oblivious passengers on a voyage to nowhere and mirrored the world's (oblivious journey) turning a blind eye toward the Holocaust.


This is one of the most called-back episodes.  At the end of Season 6, Don, like Freddy here, is a drunk liability to Sterling Cooper and is given a "leave of absence" that the man is supposed to recognize as the boot.  Unlike Freddy, however, Don ignores what the partners really meant and continues to think that he'll be coming back to work as Season 7 starts.  We discover then that Don is still working, in a fashion, by using none other than Freddy Rumsen to act as his Cyrano.  The support and kindness that Don showed Freddy here will come back around as Freddy tells him to "do the work" and gets Don back on path.

The line Freddy says just before he leaves - "If I don't go into that office every day, who am I?"- sums up Don at the beginning of Season 7.  Without Sterling Cooper to go to, who is he?  Don may be courted by other firms, but for some reason he is no one if he's not at that office.  He needs it so badly he agrees to ridiculous terms of rehiring, working under Lou, taking orders from Peggy, no longer being the cock of the walk.

Freddy does "go for the cure" as Roger suggests, joins AA and gets his drinking, and life, mostly back together, though he stays a freelancer, possibly forever tainted by his reputation at SC. Peggy remains loyal to Freddy who she believes was instrumental in giving her a start in the business.  In Ep. 4.02 he comes back with a new clients, Ponds Cold Cream, and he and Peggy butt heads about creative approaches.

Betty does not yet act upon her desire for another man, instead using her friend as a stand in with the young stud at the stables.  But soon she will take that next step.

Roger mentions that one of the top ad agencies, BBDO, just hired "a colored kid."  That is the first time racial integration of the big firms has come up and it will be a bigger issue in seasons to come ("backfiring" for SC when their pro-equality ad is taken literally, leading them to hiring their first black employee Dawn in Season 5).

Don's smokers cough is a misdirection as someone will develop lung cancer by the end of the series but it won't be him.

Don mentions his father, without letting Roger know that's who he's talking about.