Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mad Men Season 3, Episode 10: The Color Blue

A week ago the Twitterverse was all a-twitter with the great dress debate.  Was it blue and black or white and gold?  Well, perhaps the boy in Miss Farrell's class who asked how he knows if the blue he sees is the same as the blue other people sees was happy to finally have the question answered some fifty years later.  Don Draper's cynical response back in 1963 is that it's his job to sell people and to know what they believe and act accordingly.  Suzanne asks him if he hates his job and he deflects the question, but we know it's the one thing Don probably doesn't hate about himself and the one thing he's now committed to (at least for the next three years).

This is a classic set up episode.  Nothing significant actually happens, but all the pieces are moved into place for something very big to happen.  Next episode, those pieces fall into place.

Sterling Cooper is for sale; but they don't know that.  The British overlords have a plan to sell the company now that, thanks to Lane, they are a lean, mean advertising machine.  The company is planning on throwing itself 40th anniversary party not knowing that it's really and horse and pony show for prospective new buyers.  Bert Cooper wants no part of the celebration as it only reminds him how old he is, how many of his compatriots are dead and buried, and how the company he co-founded is no longer his.  Lane goes to Bert and plays on his vanity to get him to make a grand appearance.

A late night phone call leads to much confusion for the Drapers, each believing it arose from their respective extra-marital relationships.  What's the old saying, a guilty mind needs no accuser?  Don is navigating the waters with Suzanne Farrell and it's becoming more complicated now that he's met her younger brother Danny, a troubled man whose epilepsy keeps him from holding a job.  Betty works her way back into Henry's life, still unsure what she wants from him, and it angers Henry who doesn't want to be toyed with.  But none of this matters, not compared to what Betty is about to discover.

Something is clacking in the clothes dryer and its Chekhov's keys.  They are the keys to that drawer that Don keeps locked, that drawer that Betty occasional tries to open, that drawer that holds all of the evidence of Don's secret past.  Thanks to a bit of absent-mindedness on Don's part, he left the key where she could find it and so Betty opens up the drawer and is overwhelmed with photos and documents and evidence that there is so much about Don that she doesn't know including a previous marriage.  The question that opened the show two and a half years earlier, who is Donald Draper, is a question she is now asking herself.


We know who Don Draper is.  He is a man who didn't like who he was so he shed his old identity and adopted a new one, reinventing himself.  When Don comes face to face with a young man running away from who he is (Suzanne's brother Danny), he tries to tell him that he can start fresh.  He can be whoever he wants to be, just like Don.  As Don drives him through the night to a new job, one Danny feels is both beneath him and also one he won't be able to hold, Danny tells Don that starting new and reinventing himself is not an option. The truth as he sees it - that there's something wrong with him - will come out sooner or later.

Don wants to do right by Danny. He promised himself he'd do this right next time, he tells Danny.  He's thinking back to how his half-brother Adam came to him and asked him for help, for a personal connection, and how he pushed him away.  He sees another sad, directionless young man and he worries that he'll meet the same fate.  Don gives his card to Danny and asks him to call if he needs help and remember that his sister loves him and doesn't want anything bad to happen to him.  Yet Don ultimately only aids Danny in running away from his problems which, after all, is what Don is good at.

Betty waits up half the night to confront Don about what she found, but he never comes home.  He's "out working late" the poor guy.  The next morning he calls Betty and since this is not a conversation she wants to have over the phone (and without the benefit of the many visual aids she discovered) she reluctantly pretends that everything is just fine and agrees to get ready for the party.  Don comes home to his beautiful wife and the perfect couple head out.


At the 40th Anniversary Gala, Roger Sterling introduces Don - the loyal husband, father and friend, decorated veteran and future of Sterling Cooper.  Betty can answer that boy's question about perception; the Don she sees is not the same as the one everyone else at the party is seeing.  But what is reality - what's in the shoebox or what a roomful of people believe to be true?

Observations:

While the color blue was mentioned as a thought piece on what is reality versus one's own perception, there are a few moments when the color comes to the forefront in the episode.  Don brings a slice of date nut bread made by his paramour to work, wrapped in a blue napkin.  Lane's wife is decked out in a blue suit.  Carla's wearing blue.

The secondary story line involves two different ad campaigns that both Paul and Peggy are working on.  The first, for Aqua Net, starts with Paul presenting his pitch to Don but as Don starts critiquing, Peggy comes up on the spot with some great fixes that make for a better spot.  He goes and complains to her for undermining him and tells her she's already Don's favorite.  If only Paul could hear how Don speaks to Peggy, he'd know you don't want to be the favorite if that's how you're treated.  The second is for Western Union and this time Paul - who thought of a brilliant idea but failed to write it down - sees his own mistake, and a ancient Chinese proverb he quoted, give Peggy the inspiration for another great idea.  His stock is falling while hers is rising - too bad she is still not treated well by Don.

The only person with a sorrier marriage than the Drapers are the Pryces.  Mrs. Pryce comes by for a visit and he asks her: "Am I to entertain your ballad of dissatisfaction or has something actually happened?" Ouch.  But she does complain, about New York, about Lane, about him complaining about traffic, about taxis, and, ultimately, about her husband not being what she wants him to be.   He has brought Sterling Cooper into shipshape and has impressed his bosses, but (in concert with the theme) her perception of Lane is totally different than theirs.

We learn for the first time how Don came to work at Sterling Cooper when Roger reminds Bert that he discovered him at a fur company, and that he was going to school at night.  This sheds some light on their relationship and why Roger feels Don owes him more and may be resentful of all the honors and praise that Don has received.  It has been made clear to Roger that Don, and not him, is the company's most valuable asset.  That has to sting.

And then it doesn't help when Roger's mother is so senile she confuses his new wife Jane with his daughter Margaret.  Her question, "Does Mona know?" is almost as funny as Jane's quick response.  "She knows."

How is Lois still working there?  And how not surprising is it that Paul is stuck with her?

Quotes:

Don: But the truth is people may see things differently, but they don't really want to.

Lane: So we finally have an answer to the question: "What makes Don Draper smile?" $5,000 seems to be the number.

Don: I wish you the best.
Danny: You don't even know me.

Bert: I wouldn't have told Roger if I planned on it remaining a secret.

Hooker: Very rousing sir.
Lane: Churchill rousing or Hitler rousing?

Danny:  Julius Caesar had epilepsy.  He ran Rome.
Don: Things didn't work out so well for him.

*****************************************************************************
Spoilery Observations (Don't read unless you're caught up):

In Episode 4.6 Waldorf Stories we learn the real story behind Roger "discovering" Don Draper at a fur store.

Mad Men Season 3, Episode 9: Wee Small Hours


Betty may have told Francine that she was done with politics and we may have taken that to mean she was done with the man who was her political savior, but her dreams reveal something else. While in the arms of Morpheus, Betty imagines herself in a romantic seduction with Henry Francis.  Then the phone rings and snaps her back into the reality of domestic life, with clients who call at all hours and wake up the baby.

It's Conrad Hilton on the phone, of course, expecting Don to be awake and ready to work for him no matter the hour.  He talks about God and God's plan and that somehow dovetails into how to properly market the Hilton hotels in New York and beyond.  Because of course God speaks to Conrad Hilton and cares about his properties.  Connie tells Don his plans and offers him a chance at his international business.  He wants to spread Hiltons everywhere, like missions.  "I want a Hilton on the moon," he tells Don.  There was nothing concrete to come out of the call, but Don decided he couldn't go back to sleep so he decided to go into work - in the wee small hours - and start brainstorming for Connie.

As Don drives through the neighborhood, however, he sees Suzanne Farrell, Sally's teacher and the object of some extramarital interest.  She's out for a morning run, but agrees to get in Don's car for part of the trip.   They talk about Dr. King's recent speech, about school starting back, and about why she runs.  At her drop off, Don invites her to coffee but she politely declines.

At the office, Allison is startled to find Don on the couch of his office where he's already dictated a letter to Connie who he thinks was heading off to Europe, but Connie is a restless soul who changes his plans like Don changes nicely pressed white shirt.  Back at home, Betty is writing a letter of her own.  Henry Francis is still on Betty's mind.  She writes to him, first to find out if their conversation would be private.  And then, as the letters continue, to talk about her feelings.

Don is particularly tense as he and his copywriters brainstorm pitches for Hilton. He's snippy with them and it's clear the stress of putting together something great to present to Connie is getting to him.  He hates everything they show him, including a tag line that he had come up with, and he tells them to get back to work and be more creative and more productive.


A different group is working on shooting a commercial for Lucky Strike.  Poor Pete Campbell has to pretend to be a smoker while the client is at the office and his hacking cough punctuates the scene.  Salvatore Romano has been given the job of directing the commercial and has to deal with Lee Garner, Jr., a spoiled rich kid living in his father's shadow who believes he's smarter and more talented than he is.  His ideas are pretty bad and Sal has to walk a fine line between coddling the client and letting him ruin the commercial.  But that's not the biggest problem with Lee.  Lee makes a pass at Sal when they're alone and Sal immediately recoils.   Sal tries to brush it off - Lee has the wrong idea, he's a married man. Lee quips, so is he.  Sal does his best to let Lee down easily, we're at work, you have me wrong.  But Lee won't let this go as a simple misunderstanding or polite rejection.

While Sal is trying to remain faithful to his marital vows, Betty is breaking hers - in her heart if not her body.  She's writing and receiving (almost) daily letters to Henry and exposing herself to him as she doesn't to anyone else.  It's so much easier for her to handle the monotonous life as a suburban housewife of a distracted husband with this mystery man in whom she can confide.

Lee Garner goes from the editing room to his hotel room, with a stop to get hammered, before calling up Harry Crane.  He tells Harry to pull Sal off his account - "get rid of him."  Harry tries to back out, saying he doesn't have that power, he can't fire Sal.  He even butters up Lee as best he can, but poor Harry has no idea that he's in the middle of a losing proposition.  Lee wants Sal gone and doesn't want to or feel the need to explain himself to anyone.


At the Draper household the phone is ringing and it's Conrad Hilton and when he says jump, Don jumps as high as humanly  possible.  They meet for drinks a little past midnight.  Connie says he called Don because he's "in a bit of a crisis."  His idea of crisis is not the same as the rest of us.  His is an all-consuming fear that his business, his hotels, will not be the most successful and world-changing hotels ever.  He is desperate for a level of success that makes Hilton the number one brand not just in the world, but beyond this world.  "It's my purpose in life to bring America to the world, whether they like it or not," he tells Don.  This is a similar pitch to the one he made earlier, that America is what's good in the world and it's his god-given duty to spread that goodness everywhere.

The most important thing to come out of their talk is Connie confiding in Don about how important Don is to him.  He calls him his angel.  He says Don is more than a son to him, because he didn't have the opportunities his real children have had and he understands what it's like to come from nothing.  Don, who had a terrible relationship with his own father, must have felt his heart swell hearing these words.  He leaves wanting, needing, to do a good job to live up to all of Connie's faith in him.

A couple days after Lee Garner called Harry and told him to fire Sal, Lee comes into the Sterling Draper offices only to find Sal sitting at the conference table.  He takes one look at Sal and storms out, leaving Roger confused.  Harry tells him about his phone call from Lee and how he had hoped the whole thing would blow over.  If anything, Harry managed to make things worse and now Lee is pissed, Sal is nervous and Roger's about to have a stroke.  Roger needs to fix this but passes the buck to Don.  The two are not speaking, not since Roger called Betty about the contract, and Roger decides to put this on Don's plate to fix.

Don berates Harry for potentially killing off their biggest client and sends him off to update his resume and then Don asks Sal what happened to cause Lee to want to fire him.  Sal tells Don how a drunk Lee propositioned him and rather than getting an understanding ear - a response more consitent with Don's reaction to discovering Sal was gay in episode one - Sal is humiliated.  Don basically tells him he should have taken one for the team and later dismisses Sal with an insulting "you people."  Don pretended that their little secret was forgotten, but it tainted his view of Sal as a promiscuous homosexual who wouldn't possibly find the advances of a man unwelcome.  It must have been devastating for Sal to be seen that way by someone he thought understood him.


We see Sal putting together his portfolio as he prepares to leave Sterling Cooper.  His assistant says goodnight, boss, and Sal looks at all the great work he's done and starts to cry.  Later in the episode, we see him, apparently in New York's gay district, calling his wife to say he'll be working late.

Don comes home after a long day of trying to make Conrad Hilton happy while not losing the firm's biggest client to Betty wanting to talk about hosting a campaign fundraiser at their house.  Don is all, sure, whatever, but Carla can't help but notice how Betty makes a point to connect her visit earlier in the day from Henry Francis with the dinner party.  She knows how it looked for her to be hosting a single man in the middle of the day, so she tells Don about the visit in front of Carla.  And if Carla read any Shakespeare, she's thinking the lady doth protest too much.  She goes on with the ruse by calling up Henry and "confirming" the date for the fundraiser, all within earshot of Don.

It's time for the presentation to Conrad Hilton.  How to lure the American traveler abroad - and to Hilton properties specifically.  His pitch - one word that promises the thrill of international travel with the comfort of home: Hilton.  It's a good pitch, that wherever you go, you can find a Hilton to make you feel at home.  Connie seems to like it. He says it's good, friendly, draws you in.  Then he looks at Don and says, as serious as a heart attack, but what about the moon.  Remember that off-handed idea Connie pitched him earlier in the episode, "I want a Hilton on the moon?"  Turns out, he wasn't kidding.

Just that quickly, Connie goes from praising Don to scolding him.  "I couldn't have been more clear about it."  The love and pride he shows at the immediate end of the pitch turns on a dime to deep disappointment.  It's a typical abusive relationship set up - build someone up, bring them close, then knock them down.  And it completely deflated Don.  As he fights for his campaign, and his dignity, he gets nothing in return from Connie other than the clear message that he failed.  And that the love that he has extended to Don as a lure - you're my angel, you're like a son to me - was an illusion.

Betty storms into Henry Francis' office after he was a no show at the fundraiser.  He explains that he wanted her to come to him since she's the married one and they kiss and then Betty puts on the brakes.  She's obviously very attracted to and interested in Henry but she doesn't want a tawdry affair.  He asks what she does want, but Betty doesn't know.

Don has had a crappy day.  He was built up and then knocked down by his brand new father figure, he was indirectly blamed for and directly ordered to fix the firm's recently client problems.  And Don does not deal well with things going poorly.  So he leaves his wife in the middle of the night under the ruse of having to go in for Hilton and he heads over to the school teacher with whom he's been flirting for weeks.

Despite the fact that he's married, that she used to be his daughter's teacher, and she lives just two miles from his home, he wants her and that's all that matters.  She knows he's done this before and she knows it won't end well but she wants it too.

Observations:

Betty isn't the only one who wants what she wants when she wants it.  The only difference between her and Lee Garner, Conrad Hilton and her own husband is she doesn't know what she wants.  She's clearly in love with Henry Francis, yet unwilling to let it go beyond surreptitious phone calls and letters.  She's still caught up in how things look and in 1963 married women don't just run off and have affairs.   But more than that, what she wants has nothing to do with power and everything to do with love.  But in the other examples, the men are guided by the need to control someone else (or help them cope with feelings of powerlessness).

In the car, we hear the news playing excerpts of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech" that he made on August 28, 1963.  Later in the episode we see Carla listening to his eulogy for the children who were killed in a bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church which was delivered on September 18th.

There is some discussion on race relations and the struggle for equality in this episode, with some at the political fundraiser talking about segregation in the south and its fundamental unfairness.  Betty tells Carla, in light of the recent murders, that maybe now isn't the time to fight.  It's a stark reminder that someone educated and well-meaning could be so out of touch.  But more telling is the dichotomy between the words of support for integration down south and the sight of de facto segregation - at the office, at the home, everywhere.  "Carla works for me, not you," Bobby is told, and we're all reminded - as Carla helps Betty with her alibi or takes the coats of the women at the fundraiser - that Carla is just the help.

In the scene where Don gives the Hilton pitch, Conrad Hilton is wearing a purple suit.  Purple is often associated with royalty and Connie had referred to himself earlier in a conversation with Don as King Midas.  At that moment, he is the king talking down to one of his subjects.

Connie says he doesn't like the sound of Hamburger and Hilton.  Maybe he was prescient, because Hamburger Hill became the name of a bloody battle of the Vietnam War.

The song playing as Suzanne and Don sleep was not "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" as one might have imagined from the episode's title.   Instead, it was a 2001 cover of Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss."

Quotes:

Betty: 'I want what I want when I want it.' And you don't care what it does to the rest of us - like someone else I know.


Connie: America is wherever we look, wherever we're going to be.
Don: That's very good, Connie. 
Connie:  You're the one who said that to me.
Don:  Well, I guess it's not that memorable.

Don: Now that I can finally understand you, I'm even less impressed with what you have to say.

Harry: I'm not going to panic and do something stupid like I usually do.

Connie: After all the things we threw at Khrushchev, You know what made him fall apart? He couldn't get into Disneyland.

Connie: You did not give me what I wanted.  I'm deeply disappointed, Don.  
Don: This is a great campaign.  
Connie: Fine. What do you want from me? Love? Your work is good. But when I say I want the moon, I expect the moon.

Don: I want you... Doesn't that mean anything to someone like you?

*************************************************************************
Spoilery Observations (Don't read unless you're caught up)

Here, Don tells Sal that he shouldn't have rejected Lee's advances. The client was too big, too important, so he should have just agreed to whatever Lee wanted.  In the future, when the Jaguar executive wants Joan and the boys at the firm want her to take one for the team, it is Don who tells her not to do it.  Did he have a change of heart or learn something from Sal's situation, or was this a sign that his reaction to Sal was based on homophobia (that he didn't respect Sal's sexuality the way he respected Joan's)?  When Sal asked him what if it were a girl, Don said, it depended on the girl and what he knew about her.  But he knew Joan was no saint, yet he still protected her.

Lee Garner was a bully and losing Lucky Strikes almost did "shut off their lights."  We see escalations of his boorish behavior culminating in his dismissal of Roger and all along the way we see how the were so desperate not to lose him as a client they would put up with anything.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Voice Season 8, Episode 5: Let the Auditions End and the Battles Begin

After two weeks of blind auditions, almost all the teams are complete.  Going into tonight's episode, Pharrell still has two open stops, Adam, Blake and Christina need just one more singer.  After we get through the last of the blind auditions, we'll move on to the battle rounds.  As in past years, the judges will be assisted by various, sometimes random, musicians.  This season's group of artists who had a break in their schedule and some need for TV time are Nick Jonas (for Team Christina), Meghan Trainor (for Team Blake), Ellie Goulding (for Team Adam) and Lionel Richie (for Team Pharrell).


First up is 17-year-old Nathan Hermida with "Sure Thing" by Miguel.   Was his song choice to plant a subliminal message to the judges or was it ironically chosen for him to fail with?  Looks like the former as the self-described nerdy Asian, whose mother worries will ultimately move back home if he tries to make a living from singing, has a lovely voice.


Nathan has a very current sound - velvelty and soulful - with a slight vibrato and sexy tone perfect for R&B/Pop.  He gets two chairs to turn, Adam and Christina.  They like the "doesn't look like he sounds" vibe they get from Nathan and both plead their case on why he should pick them.  In the end, he picks Team Adam.

Paul Pfau sings "Fly Me to the Moon" made popular by Frank Sinatra.  Another young guy singing an old standard.  Are we allowed two crooners in a season? I think that violates some FCC rule.  Adam wishes his team weren't full (maybe you can throw back the guy who sang the Johnny Cash song last week) and he risks injury to his multi-instrument playing hand by repeatedly hitting his now inactive button.


I hated this when he started.   It sounded like he had just suffered a stroke as he was incapable of pronouncing all the letters in any of the song's first words. "Fy me to the moo, let me pay among the stars."  But as the song went on, this affectation faded to the background and you could hear some promising tonal quality, a gritty-yet-silky-smooth sound that is distinct.  And Paul has a good look for the show.  Despite hailing from Oklahoma, Paul does not fall under Blake's spell and chooses Pharrell.

Mechanic Vance Smith takes on "I'll be There" by the Four Tops.  You know where he won't be, in the live rounds.  He was scared and breathless and brought nothing to the song and we were seconds away from David Spade coming in to escort him offstage with a dismissive Buh-bye and then he hit the last two notes, reaching high up in his vocal repertoire for a note even Adam would consider too high, and Pharrell and Christina both hit their buttons.


Maybe it was a Pavlovian response to that note, but what should have been a nice sendoff and a "better luck next time" pep-talk turned into a bidding war.  Ultimately, Christina "won??" this one and completed her team.

Caitlin Caporale sings Christina's "Impossible" and once again the person who most inspired the contestant is not able to turn for them.  Caitlin is gorgeous and has perfect hair so it takes a while to realize that she's not just another pretty girl, but the owner of a nice set of pipes. It's a medical curiosity how that much power and passion can come out of the small person, as Blake aptly puts it she has a 700 pound voice in an 80 pound body.


Caitlin only gets stronger as the song goes on and it's a rare audition you don't want to end.  Caitlin gets a late in the game all chair turnaround (albeit just two).and the would be R&B singer surprises no one by picking Pharrell.  But the big surprise comes in her impromptu duet with Christina when Caitlin vocally demolishes the vocal powerhouse.  I hope Pharrell doesn't mess this one up, this girl could go all the way.

The last audition of the night is Hannah Kirby, a girl who plays the fiddle and goes to college in Texas, but chooses an old rock classic "The Letter" instead of a country tune with which to audition.
She sounds angry.  Really pissed off.  That must have been one brutal letter.  What?  The letter is that your baby wants you?  So why so mad, Hannah?  I'm concerned she shows such a disconnect between the lyrics and her tone.


 She scowls, growls, yells throughout the song and while there is something in there, she needs to take a Xanax, drink some herbal tea, and meditate before her next performance.   Didn't anyone ever tell her that just because you can do something it doesn't mean you should?  Try singing next time, use that deep powerful vibrato for good, not evil.   Blake heard something he liked, or he was tired of going through the blind auditions, so he chose Hannah to complete his team.

With all the teams set, it was time for the Battle Rounds to begin and for the first "steal" of the season.  Let me get this out of the way, this is not a steal.  You are saving, rescuing, salvaging, giving second life to, and resuscitating the artist, but you can't steal something that was given up.  Okay, now, moving on.

The first pairing of the night was James MacNeiece and Tonya Boyd-Cannon from Team Adam.  We hadn't seen James before, so it was a forgone conclusion that she would win the battle.


James is just an average singer - perfect for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, but not a national singing show.  There's just nothing unusual, distinctive, or gripping in his voice.  But he did a sold job in this performance. Tonya wasn't as strong as in her blind audition - this song really did her no favors - but she has a great tone and more promise.

The next battle pit background singer Ashley Morgan against teen Mia Z singing "Put the Gun Down" by ZZ Ward (does that give Mia Z an edge?).  During the rehearsals, Pharrell correctly identified the difference between the two.  Ashley is a great technical singer, but she's not that interesting.  Mia is distinctive and unusual, but she might not always be accurate.  So each had to work on the other's best attributes.


The battle was a clear choice between someone who sings all the right notes in all the right ways (Ashley) and someone who has fun doing her thing on stage (Mia).  The decision, according to Adam,  boiled down to whether you like pancakes or waffles.  I think he was partially correct, but more apt would be the choice between plain pancakes and Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and bananas, whipped cream, and chocolate sprinkles.  Mia has more vocal tricks and more facets to her voice than the technically perfect but bland Ashley.  Pharrell picked Mia and then there was a three coach "steal" of Ashley (so much for my assessment) with the three fighting tooth and nail for her and Christina ultimately winning.

The last battle of the night was Team Blake's Brian Johnson and Joshua Davis singing Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."  Kudos for the song choice, as it really highlights the men's vocals and the differences between the two.  Joshua is grittier with a raspy/breathy tone, Brian has a really sweet. cool tone that cuts through like a knife.  They both did a great job with this sad song.  During rehearsal, they brought assistant coach Meghan Traynor to tears!


This was a hard one to pick.  Brian has such a cool R&B sound, but Joshua brought his baby to the stage!  Do you want to make the baby cry like Meghan Trainor?? What am I saying, it was easy.  Brian has so much soul in his voice  (just the sound on the word "coming" gave me goosebumps), that I'd give him the win.  Blake agreed, but Joshua needn't despair. Adam hadn't gotten over losing him in the blinds to Blake and was only too happy to get him back now.

 Tomorrow night, more battles.  Here's a sneak peek for tomorrow's show as two powerhouse belters go head to head:


Monday, March 9, 2015

Mad Men Season 3, Episode 8: Souvenir

It's August in New York and most people head out of town.  But not Pete Campbell, he's loves the hot, sticky month when everyone else leaves and he can stay and enjoy the quiet.  You know it's hot, not just from the thin line of sweat on the Drapers, nor the oscillating fan that clearly appears to be in over its head.  No, it's the fact that for once Don had a hair out of place.  He goes out in the street to watch his kids catch fireflies, a lovely family moment if you don't focus on the fact that Betty is working on the petition that she hopes will bring her in contact with Henry Francis once again.

Don has been traveling quite a bit for Conrad Hilton, his last trip to Dallas (which will be a significant city in the country's history later this year, but in August of 1963 it's apparently not an exciting destination).  While Betty is making calls to stop the water tower, Don gets a call from Connie's office.  Another trip.  This time to Rome. Even though it'll be  whirlwind two-day trip, with no time for sight-seeing, it still sounds glamorous to Betty.  Don suggests she come, but with a two-month-old Betty demurs.



Pete is enjoying his time alone, listening to music, watching TV, eating on the couch, when he bumps into his neighbor's very attractive au pair who is crying at the garbage chute (she damaged her employer's dress and is trying to hide the evidence).  He is just like a Boy Scout, ready to offer the damsel in distress some help.  And I"m sure if she looked like Mrs. Doubtfire, he would have been just as interested in helping her.

Speaking of Boy Scouts, Henry Francis swoops in during the City Council meeting to help Better and her fellow members of the Tarrytown Junior League.  Betty's eyes light up when she sees Henry there and she visibly blossoms as he makes his presentation.  Betty's friend Francine notices the spark between them.  There is so much sexual tension between the two of them, but Betty is married, Henry is a quasi-public figure, and this is the early Sixties.  So nothing will happen.  They innocently walk to her car, she gets ready to go, and he leans in and tells her that he saw how happy she was during the meeting and he asked himself, "dear god. did I have anything to do with that? Because that would make me happy."  Then he kisses her and she kisses him back.  After a line like that, who wouldn't?

Betty goes home to her husband and three children and she's still overcome with excitement about the night.  Don recognizes that Betty is in a particularly good mood and she tells him all about her big victory and even does a little victory dance.  He's impressed with her sudden political savvy.  Perhaps feeling guilty, perhaps hoping to rekindle her feelings for Don, that night Betty changes her mind and tells Don that she wants to go with him to Rome.

Pete goes to a local department store to get a replacement dress for the cute/sad nanny next door.  His little (for now) innocent indiscretion takes a backseat to the more shocking sight - Joan is now working there.  Last thing the Sterling Cooper family had heard, she was off to live the life of luxury as the wife of the new head of surgery.  They have no idea that she was in no position to quit her job.  Since neither she nor Pete really want anyone else to know their secret, they dance around the fact that each of them is lying and they make a sort of pact not to let this meeting go any further.


Don and Betty are in Rome and look like something from a Hitchcock movie - she's any one of his icy blondes, Don is Cary Grant.  They are the beautiful people.   Betty comes from the hair dresser looking like a movie star and is immediately propositioned by some Italian men.  She spurns their advances and Don comes over, pretends to be a stranger, and she lets Don join her (even though the Italians claim he is old and ugly) and they flirt like strangers until Connie comes over to be wowed by Don's Barbie wife.

It's hard to reconcile the woman who's been flirting with Henry Gale with the vision of domestic tranquility who stands before her husband, full of pride and sparkling with affection.  She's clearly proud of Don, how successful he is, how he has someone like Conrad Hilton impressed.  And Don, while joking about how tiny she is when she takes off her shoes, is also not the annoyed husband with the wandering eye, but is enchanted by the Betty he sees in Rome - the Venus de Milo who speaks Italian and has all the men drooling in various languages.  I suppose this is why they say Rome is for lovers.  Too bad they can't stay in Rome.

Back home in Ossining, Sally - who earlier in the episode was mirroring her mother as she applied her make up - is again playing Betty, this time while sitting in a pretend sedan with Francine's young son Ernie, who (unbeknownst to him) is playing Don.  Sally leans over and kisses him.  Ernie is at the "ew, girls" stage and not happy about the kiss and Sally's little brother Bobby sees the whole thing unfold.  Being the little brother, he of course starts to tease her but Sally is not in the mood.  She tears into him and lucky for Bobby, Carla comes in and breaks them up before Sally can do any real damage.  Sally has quite the temper - and she's a liar as well (claiming Bobby hit her first).

While the cat's away, the mice do play.  Trudy is away on holiday, so Pete goes over to the nanny next door and presents her with the brand new dress. He's hoping for a suitable thank you, but instead finds out she has a boyfriend and will not be repaying him for solving her dress problem.  Pete goes back home and stews on his rejection for a while then drinks himself tipsy and goes back over to the nanny so she can properly show him her appreciation for taking care of the dress.  He kisses her and we switch back to the Drapers...

Who are waking up in the same romantic bliss in which the ended the night.  The stiff, prickly Betty is gone as is the aloof Don.  Today, they are the only two people in the world.  Which only makes their abrupt return to real life that much more startling.  Carla standing at the door, holding the baby, with news of Sally's temper smack the Drapers in the face with what they left behind when they were in Rome. But the next morning, as Don tenderly kisses Betty behind, it seems the bloom is still on the rose.

We don't know what else happened between Pete and Gertrude the au pair, but we do know that whatever happened left the young girls in tears.  Her employer comes over to have a word with Pete (who unsuccessfully tries to pull the "I don't know what you're talking about" card).   He encourages Pete to stay away from his nanny and if he must cheat while his wife is away, do it with someone else.   That shouldn't be an issue, at least not until Trudy's next vacation, as she is back from the beach the next day.  And who does she happen to run into but the neighbor's red-headed children and their young au pair?


Trudy gets frisky with Pete, but he's not interested.  Guilt?  Fear?  Trudy reads his reluctance differently, telling Pete that he gets a melancholy look whenever he's around children.  Pete is overcome with guilt and leaves suddenly. Later at the dinner table he doesn't confess, but he does tell Trudy that he doesn't want her going off again without him.

Betty also seems to be overcome with guilt as she looks at the couch that reminds her of Henry Francis.  She tells her friend Francine that she's done asking him for favors.  It seems that Betty, like Pete, has rediscovered her love and fidelity towards her spouse.  But as the Drapers go to bed, Betty is upset.  She wants to be back in Rome, just the two of them, no friends/neighbors/kids (well, maybe Gene could visit).  She misses who she was, who they were as a couple and the small souvenir Don presents her with only reinforces that the two-day vacation was just a dream and that this life is what's real.  And Betty is not happy in this life.

Observations:

Very little time spent at Sterling Cooper this episode, consistent with the theme of "August in New York."  We don't see Roger, Bert or Peggy and the only client discussed is Hilton.  The episode focuses more on the parallel stories of Pete's roving eye and Betty's attempt to ignore the temptation to seek love from someone other than her husband.

There is a nod to the past in the exchange between Joan and Pete in the department store.  When they both realize that the other has a secret they'd like to keep, Joan says "this never happened."  This harkens back to Ep. 2.05, when Don visits Peggy (in flashback) in the hospital he tells her to forget all about the baby and put it in the past with those three words.   Pete repeats the refrain to the nanny.

The song played at the end is "There's a Small Hotel" written by Rogers and Hart in 1936.

Quotes: 

Ken: Still working, Campbell? There's no reason to show off.  Cooper's in Montana, Sterling's in Jane - And Draper's on vacation.

Pete: Why is it that a man on his own is an object of pity, when she's the one you should really feel sorry for? 

Ken: New York in August? It's like a great big melting wax museum.

Henry: Well, I think you'll find that I put my heart into things when something's important to me.
Or someone.

Pete:  Let me speak to the manager.
Saleswoman: Of the entire store? 
Of the republic of dresses-- Whoever can help me with this, because you're falling short.

Connie: By golly, you are an indecently lucky man.

Betty: And you don't kiss boys.  Boys kiss you.  The first kiss is very special.
Sally:  But I already did it. It's over.
Betty:  You're going to have a lot of first kisses.  You're going to want it to be special, so you remember.  It's where you go from being a stranger to knowing someone. And every kiss with him after that is a shadow of that kiss.

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

When Joan and Pete are having their awkward discussion at the department store, Joan asks him how things are at the office and he quips, "Moneypenny hasn't self-destructed but I think it's only a matter of time."  Of course, he was correct, Lane Pryce would eventually self-destruct, so this was a big piece of foreshadowing.

Betty tells Don that Conrad Hilton adores him, and it certainly does appear that way.  But this will only make his disappointment and anger at Don that much harder for Don to take.  Another father figure to hurt him.

One of Betty's best lines of the series comes in Season 7 when she says, "I'm not stupid.  I speak Italian."  Here we first get to see what she learned when she went to Italy after college..

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Voice Season 8, Blind Auditions Episode 4

After Monday night's forgettable, lackluster array of hopefuls, would tonight's show have any memorable performances?  Sadly, I don't really think so.  After a strong debut episode, the last three haven't exposed us to any potential superstars.  Maybe this will be a good thing, the show will start out weaker and as the coaches do their thing the artists will get better.  We could call it, a reverse Taylor Phelan.

First up is freelance singer Ashley Morgan.  She hopes to be The Voice's Melinda Doolittle, a background singer discovered on a reality show and given her own spotlight.  She chooses "I'd Like to Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston to showcase her range, if not her awareness of any contemporary music.  Christina was excited when she heard the song choice, but not excited enough by the vocals to turn her chair.


I'd have to agree with Christina's assessment.  I was surprised that Blake turned around, shocked that Pharrell did.  Not to be snarky (when would I ever do that?), but this performance made it crystal clear why Ashley is a background singer.  She's on tune, on tempo, and does not mangle the song - all key attributes of a good background voice. But she lacks any originality or spark.  She should be singing in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle or behind Janelle MonĂ¡e, but not on the stage alone.  Sorry, but the Kara Dioguardi look alike was just, in the words of Randy Jackson, aight.  Welcome to Team Pharrell.

By contrast, 16-year-old Koryn Hawthorne would probably not make a great backup singer.  But she could easily be up front.  She growled and powered her way through "My Kind of Love" by Emeli Sande.  She doesn't blend effortlessly into the background, instead, she grabs you by the lapels (even if you're wearing a tee shirt) and pulls you in to take notice.  She has a sound, and a confidence, beyond her years.





Only Pharrell and Christina were smart enough to hit their buttons and recognize the awesome instrument she has.   She delivers so much depth and resonance in her lower registry and then can go hit those high notes without a hitch.  She has a real connection to what she's singing and can blow away the audience without overpowering them.  I'm a little worried that Christina may have her go overboard with her vocals, but I hope the tough-sounding singer is as tough with her coach.

The next singer is 17-year-old Lexi Davila who describes herself as shy.  But not too shy to stand on the stage in front of millions of viewers, singing "Dreaming of You" by Selena.  Despite her nerves, and the fact that no one turned around for an excruciatingly long 45 seconds, she got stronger as the song went on.  She's beautiful and young and tears up talking about her late grandfather. She's the whole package.



Only Adam and Blake turn around for Lexi, the other too concerned that the girl who went with the voice might be too young and inexperienced.  But the other two recognized she has raw talent - a distinctive and solid voice with a pretty good range. She has a nice vibrato, warm rich low notes, and (when she doesn't go too screechy) an angelic tone on her high notes.  She chose Team Adam,

After a montage of singers that were put through, and an uncomfortable unsuccessful audition by funk/soul/reggae lead singer Quincy, we had another cute teenager, Brenna Yaeger.  She told us a sad story about missing her childhood home after her parent's divorce, that made her song choice of Miranda Lambert's "The House That Built Me" even more poignant.  


She started out strong, with a really beautiful, lacy tone.  I was shocked that she wasn't an immediate four-chair turnaround.  But as the song went on, she actually seemed to lose her mojo.  I don't know if was nerves (why isn't Miranda's husband turning around) or the distraction from Adam, but the second half of the performance was weaker.  Still, she has a great tone and sound for a country artist and she's undeniably cute as a button.  She got two hugs from a desperate Adam while Blake did "the finger thing" and she seemed genuinely torn.  Eventually, she had to choose and she went - shocker of all shockers - for Team Blake.

I hate when singers audition with songs I love, because I find it hard to evaluate them separate and apart from the song.  West Point Band vocalist Jeremy Gaynor sang "Superstar" written by Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett (of Delaney and Bonnie) and later made a big '70s hit for The Carpenters.  It's such a great song, a perfect platform for a vocalist to show what they have.  And Jeremy did just that.


He slowed it down a bit and caressed each individual note like a long-lost lover.  He hit some Adam-esque hit notes as easily as he hit the lower notes.  Not surprisingly, he was the first four-chair turnaround of the night.  How do you not love a soldier who can sing like an angel?  He's goodlooking, passionate and sings a wide variety of music (apparently that's a military requirement).  He has his pick of judges and goes for the first one who turned around, Christina.  West Point's loss is her gain.

Next up is Jack Gregori who is no teenager.  His parents encouraged him not to try and make a living at music so he went from college to law school and practiced law until things went south.  He rediscovered his love of music.  Despite hailing from New York, he plays in a band called "Country Music Juke Box." He auditions with Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."


The 40-year-old has a deep, rich country voice.  Almost Scotty McCreary deep.  But he reminds me of the first singer of the night in that he sings the notes but doesn't stand out as an artist.  It was nothing you couldn't hear in any bar, any night.  I was not surprised that Blake didn't turn around and Adam did a pretty good job pretending he didn't step in it with his premature button push.  But this one is DOA at Team Adam.

Briar Jonnee sings almost all of Rihanna's "Take a Bow" before any chair turns around.  And I think I get why.  It was so close to being a great vocal, but was just under the radar.  A little shaky, a little unfocused.   But she benefited from choosing a great song that can make an average singer sound great.


Sadly, that's what I think Briar is, just an average singer.  She tried her hardest and gave it her all, but she's not unique or memorable.  Her vibrato was more nerves than vocal trait and the most interesting part of her segment was Christina and Adam's walks.  Pharrell thinks she has some raw talent under the nerves and maybe he's right, but I didn't hear it.  Blake begs her to come to his team and almost jerks his finger out of its socket, but she ultimately doesn't even make eye contact with him as she is mesmerized by Pharrell.

The chubby kid with the high voice is now getting his revenge.  He's married and auditioning for The Voice.  Take that middle school bullies!  Brian Johnson chose "Reason to Believe" written by Tim Hardin but first popularized by Rod Stewart.  Another song that a wounded jackal could sing and I'd like.  I'll try and put aside my bias and listen to his voice, ignoring that the melody and lyrics make this one of the best songs of the last fifty years.


He gets the first turnaround just on his pre-song crooning.  And it's the judge who he wanted most to turn, Adam.  Blake turns around too, after actually hearing some of the song.  Brian sings with a lot of feeling and puts his own spin on the song (and liberties with the lyrics), but he doesn't completely nail it.  Still, there's a good amount of jousting for him between Adam and Blake, with Blake saying all the right things so that the high-pitched vocalist actually changes his mind and chooses Team Blake.

Finally.  What this season has been missing is the three-named country artist.  Along comes Corey Kent White to fill that voice.  CKW may not have a name that rolls off the tongue, but he has his country music bona fides taking on Zac Brown Band's "Chicken Fried."  Corey toured with a country band for a while and had his dream come true when he got to sing on stage with Willie Nelson.  From that day on he focused on singing.


He has the full support of his grandfather and experience playing small venues.  It doesn't hurt that he's a cute looking kid with a nice voice.  Adam and Blake look back and forth between each other while Christina is looking at both of them wondering what's taking them so long and while this is going on, Pharrell sneaks in and hits his button.  Blake all of a sudden realizes he's about to miss out and hits hit button just before the song ends.  The battle begins and Pharrell goes for the nuclear option right off the bat.  Adam makes a strong case for Pharrell. And then Blake reminds him that he had The Swon Brothers on his team and Corey, a fellow Oklahoman, decides to trust Team Blake.

Rankings:
Jeremy Gaynor (Team Christina)
Koryn Hawthorne (Team Christina)
Lexi Davila (Team Adam)
Brenna Yaeger (Team Blake)
Corey Kent White (Team Blake)
Brian Johnson (Team Blake)
Briar Jonee (Team Pharrell)
Ashley Morgan (Team Pharrell)
Jack Gregori (Team Adam)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Voice Season 8, Blind Auditions, Episode 3

It's time again to dash some hopes, make some dreams come true, and be amazed by all of the Jedi mind tricks of one Pharrell Williams as week two of The Voice Season 8 kicks off.  There are eight more full performances to go through and none that made me forget Sawyer Fredericks' performance last week. And that includes Adam's shaky, oops I forgot the words, faux audition to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer."

Starting off the night was Kelsie May who has not only the perfect name for a young country artist but the cutest giggle and biggest dimple of the night.  She takes on Loretta Lynn's "You're Looking at Country" and there is so much steel guitar and twang that three of the judges immediately look over at Blake.


She does a serviceable job, albeit with a few warbly moments.  She talked more than sang, but she has undeniable charm and stage presence.  With the right songs (i.e, nothing that requires too much actual singing), she can be an enjoyably bubbly performer who makes the audience smile, if not rush out to buy her music.  Absolutely no one was surprised when she went to Team "I'm married to Miranda Lambert" Blake.

The next one up was Kimberly Nichole who sang "Nutbush City Limits" by Tina Turner.  I had mixed feelings about this artist as her septum piercing was off putting, but her tutu was adorable.  It became instantly clear to me why blind auditions are such a good idea.  Without the distraction of that thing hanging under her nose, you could focus on the vocals.


So about those vocals,  A little screechy, but I still liked the confidence and attitude.  She was definitely channeling Tina.  I'd like to see her use her lower register more as she has some power there.  But what she does have plenty of is a connection to the music she's singing and the ability to deliver a strong performance.   Surprisingly, Blake is the first one to turn and only Pharrell joins him, just before the end of her song.  Despite Blake's promise that he'd be good to her (see what I did there...the Tina Turner reference?  "Better Be Good To Me?" Anyone?),  she decided to join Team Pharrell.  And by "decided" I mean, fell victim to whatever powers he has to look through you, deep into your soul, and convince you to follow him to the ends of the earth.

Dontcha know the next contestant is Michael Leier from Fargo, North Dakota.  He hates that everyone copies the Marge Gunderson accent and so please read the rest of his review as if we were in the movie.  So that little fella, he chooses, dontcha know, to sing "Last Kiss" famously covered by that nice lookin' fella Eddie Vedder.  Michael looked really bored and I thought maybe he should have had some coffee and maybe a donut to wake him up before he went on the TV in front of all those people and sleep-walked his way through his one big chance.


Bias alert - I LOVE this song.  I LURV it.  When Eddie Vedder (who I'll try, but fail, to name check as much as the judges did) sings this, I want to strip off my clothes and roll around in melted chocolate. TMI?  So just being reminded of his vocals, even by a bored to tears watered down version of the song, I had to hit my button.  Michael was very lucky that Adam and Blake turned around for him and if he wants to go any farther in this contest he's going to have to show he wants it.  He chose Team Adam and I hope he can kick this young fella's ass because he does have a pretty good '90s alt rock sound.

By contrast, Travis Ewing came out on stage and sang as if his life depended on it.  He put his own spin on Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" and worked the stage and the crowd like a pro.  He has a good sound for the studio and is cute enough to get votes.  Not sure about the anchor necklace or his news anchor hair; maybe we can get Gwen Stefani back to give him a make over. But he's got the voice and that's what the show is all about, right?


Surprisingly, Adam was the only judge who didn't turn around.  Travis did lose a little steam by the end, but he still showed some good Blues instincts and vocal ingenuity.  He got a little breathless which could be nerves and needs to work on his breathing.  But he has a lot of raw talent and this may be just the tip of the iceberg of what he can do.  He was powerless to withstand the power that is Pharrell locking eyes with you and telling you just what you need to hear.  Let's hope this goes better for him than being on Team Pharrell worked last season.

Last week we had a contestant whose parents are deaf, tonight we have a singer who is deaf in one ear.  Sonic chose Sam Smith's "Money on My Mind" which was a questionable one as the range of that song is daunting.  A poorer choice was the chain that went from her nose to her ear, a sort of "The Fault is in Our Stars" nasal chic.  The judges were lucky they didn't have to look at her and wonder what would happen if her hand or the mic got stuck on the chain.  Not a good look and distracting as hell.


The only thing worse than her jewelry choice?  Her voice.  Sonic "sang?" as if she was a robot that was short-circuiting.  She screeched, chopped off notes, and basically flailed around until the song mercifully came to an end.  For some reason, two judges turned and Adam dodged a bullet when Sonic chose to go to Team Christina.

Every season we have at least one vocalist whose voice is gender-bending, whose chair turnaround results in many shocked "that voice came out of that person" reactions and this year it was Jacob Runnell. The exceedingly cute teenager sang Bruno Mars' "Count on Me" and did a great job.  He has the whole package - nice voice, great look and likability for days.


I wonder if Pharrell and Christina would have turned around had they known it was a cute boy singing that song.  Jacob has a smooth as silk voice, nice vibrato and great range.  And he picked the perfect song and genre as Bruno Mars is right in his wheelhouse.  He has great potential and his unexpected choice to go with Team Blake could be genius, considering the success he's had with young artists.

Another reliable archetype of The Voice is the middle aged singer with the dynamite voice and filling that role was Barry Minniefield.  Barry sang a daring-at-its-time "Me and Mrs. Jones" (an extra-marital affair, gasp!),  originally sung by one-hit wonder Billy Paul.  Barry is a big teddy bear of a guy and recently qualified for AARP, is it too late for him to see his musical dreams come true?


It was a close call.  Despite a great vocal, only one chair turned around.  Adam heard the solid R&B sound, a clear throw back to the '70s, and instead of thinking Vegas lounge-act like the rest of us, he decided the guy deserved a button push.  The rest of the judges recognized that his vocals, while rich and powerful, are neither current nor in demand, so there was no competition for this singer.  Welcome to Team Adam.

We knew the last singer of the night would be a four-chair turnaround.  India Carney showed herself to be brave by singing the oft-mocked Billy Joel's classic "New York State of Mind."  I happen to be a Billy Joel fan and don't get why he's often the butt of jokes and derision.  This is one of the most lush, beautiful songs written in the past forty years and a great platform for any singer.


I thought India did a good job, using her rich deep tones pretty well.  But she started warbling with the world's shakiest vibrato that bordered on Elmer Fudd territory by the end.  I don't know if it was nerves or if she always sings with that shaky a voice, but I hope it's the former.  Because that rat-a-tat-tat, singer in a blender, sound was unnerving.  She's an absolutely beautiful girl with a billion dollar smile who just needs to learn to control that vibrato.  Unfortunately, she went with Team Christina and it is unlikely her coach will tell her to reel it in.

So another eight have been selected and we're one day closer to having our teams set. Who was your favorite?  I felt this was a rather thin, weak field.  What did you think?

Rankings:
Travis Ewing (Team Pharrell)
Jacob Runnell (Team Pharrell)
India Carney (Team Christina)
Michael Leier (Team Adam)
Kimberly Nichole (Team Pharrell)
Barry Minnifield (Team Adam)
Kelsie May (Team Blake)
Sonic (Team Christina)