Friday, May 22, 2015

Exploring the Mad Men Finale, Season 7, Episode 14: Person to Person

"A thing like that."

Our decade-long peek into the lives of Don Draper, Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell and the rest of the characters who came in and out of their lives ended with a commercial.  We shouldn't have been surprised.  A TV show after all is just another medium for selling a product.  It is what is sandwiched between pitches for cars, airlines, insurance and, yes, beverages.  In the end, the production companies, distributors and broadcasters don't really care who lives or who dies, who gets married, who gives birth, whether they live happily ever after or walk off into oblivion.  All they care is that enough people watch the show to make it worth their sponsorship dollars.

But we the viewers do care.  We commit our time in getting to know these characters.  We are invested in them and want their story to end in a way that is gratifying.  That is why the last half of this season of Mad Men has been so frustrating for so many fans of the show.  We see the clock ticking down and are concerned that there's not enough time to get the characters where we would like them to be.  When a show is done well, and Mad Men is and always has been done very, very well, the characters become so real to us that we have strong feelings about how we'd like their stories to end.  A bad ending can taint the entire viewing experience; a good ending can bring satisfaction, comfort and closure.

This was a very good ending.


Don Draper is racing cars at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  This harkens back to Ep. 4.03 The Good News when Don, stripping away his white collar, Manhattanite persona, stops by to chat with some guys building hot rods one lazy Southern California afternoon.  It was one of the few times we saw Don dressed casually and speaking not with the weighty timbre and precision of his ad man voice, but in a relaxed, friendly, conversational tone.  This, we know, is Don channeling Dick Whitman, the poor country boy who was used to working with his hands.  Don was testing their car and giving the guys tips on how to set her up for a land speed record.  But he was also doing what Dick Whitman could never do, financing their endeavor with some of Don Draper's wealth.

What to make of Don's leisurely cross-country odyssey?  Back in Ep. 1.09 Shoot, Don has the following exchange with Roger after he decides not to accept Jim Hobart's offer to join McCann Erickson (a deal which was sweetened with a Coke commercial for Betty to relaunch her modeling career):
Don: If I leave this place one day, it will not be for more advertising.
Roger: What else is there?
Don: I don't know. Life being lived? I'd like to stop talking about it and get back to it.
That's what Don has been doing since he walked out of the McCann offices.  He is living life, unhurriedly, aimlessly, with seemingly random stops along the way.  But this is not a joyous adventure.  Don is alone and lonely and each stop brings new experiences and brief encounters with strangers but no real emotional interactions with anyone.  Anna Draper told him back in Ep. 2.12 The Mountain King, "the only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone."  Yet this trip has only confirmed his deepest fear - that he is deeply, profoundly alone.

 But the first of three phone calls jars Don from his wayward fog.


At night, back in one of the many hotels rooms which now substitute for home, Don calls his daughter Sally.  This seems to be a ritual while Don is on his retirement journey, staying connected by having these weekly calls with Sally and also with her brothers.  But Sally is having a hard time engaging in small talk and she eventually tells Don what Betty had asked her not to tell him.  That she's dying of cancer.  Don is shocked and goes straight into Superman mode.  He will come home, take care of everything - Sally, the boys, whatever needs to be done.

But Sally doesn't want him to. Instead, she wants him to help her convince Betty to let the boys stay in their own home with Henry.   Because what the kids need now is not Don, but stability and what's familiar - and he provides neither of those.  It must be devastating to hear from your own child that at the moment they are about to lose their other parent, you are not wanted.  You will not make things better.  What will be better is if you just stay where you are and don't come home.

Don makes the second of three calls next, this one to Betty.  Their relationship has been complex to say the least.  They loved each other, they betrayed each other, they had three children and a beautiful home together and yet they were strangers who could not communicate until it was too late.  Don has never stopped loving Betty, we can tell in the way he looks at her and the nickname he still uses, and perhaps Betty shares that feeling (deep beneath her hatred and resentment at how he destroyed their marriage).  In this call, Don is struck again by the realization that he is not needed.  He can't help, he can't make things better, and things will be better if he stays where he is and doesn't come home.


Later, we have a poignant scene at the Francis residence as Sally, the head-strong daughter of Don and Betty, puts her plans on hold as she comes home to help take care of her mother and brothers.  She is perhaps the most level-headed, mature one in the family and the one who best reconciles what she wants and what's expected of her.  Betty, for all her faults, has matured as well and is living out the rest of her life on her own terms.  And if that's yelling at Don to listen to what she wants, or smoking the same cigarettes that are cutting her life short, she'll do it.  Because she's no longer that scared, anxious woman-child we met in the beginning.

The double-fisted rejection by Sally and Betty sends Don into another tailspin of heavy drinking.  He wakes up the next morning with the two car enthusiasts asking for the stake he promised them. Don asks them to take him to California, which was inevitable.  Don always goes to California when he's in trouble and he is in trouble, whether he admits it or not.  He goes to see Anna Draper's niece Stephanie, trying to relive the past, connect with his west coast "family," hear someone call him "Dick."  But Stephanie has her own problems.  She gave up her child - he's being raised by his paternal grandparents.  Her parents are mad at her and she's about to head up north to go to a retreat.  She doesn't want anything that Don has to offer - not money, not Anna's ring, and pointedly not a familial connection.

Stephanie had planned to deal with her shitty life by going on a retreat and, seeing that Don looks even worse than she feels, she tells him the next morning that he's going with her.   Don is suspicious at best about the retreat, not surprising considering Don showed disdain for the younger generation (Ep. 2.01 For Those Who Think Young), doesn't appreciate counterculture (Ep. 1.08 The Hobo Code) and doesn't believe in talking about your problems or feelings (Ep. 4.05 The Crysanthemum and the Sword).  So he goes in with his Don Draper cynicism and participates reluctantly, with great disdain, in their exercises.  As he walks around, arms crossed firmly across his chest, eyes rolling, a bemused look on his face, he is above his surroundings and everyone else there.  This is just a big joke.  But when he and the others are told to stop, turn to the person nearest them, and convey their feelings non-verbally, he gets shoved in the chest by a motherly looking, white-haired older lady.  She certainly picked up on Don's vibe.

Don and Stephanie also attend an encounter group, where they sit in a circle and share.  There, Stephanie opens up about how she's feeling, telling the group about how she feels judged for what she's done in the past - dropping out, hooking up, having a baby that she left.  Rather than nonjudgmental support, Stephanie heard judgement and disapproval and was forced to face the truth of who she was and what she's done.  Hearing the repulsion of the woman in the group, she ran out.  Don wanted to tell her to ignore their beliefs, their disapproval of her choices.  He could help her forget the past and move forward.  But that's not what she wanted to hear; his words rang false.  She knew the woman in the group was right and she knew that she could not run away from the truth.

The next morning Stephanie is gone.  She left hopefully to go back and fix things.  Don wants to follow her, but he has no car.  And the cute girl at the front desk tells him there's no way off the island no car for him and no way for him to get back to LA any time soon.  Stuck in some town he doesn't even know the name of, alone, he reaches out and makes the third call of the episode.  To Peggy.  The scene is short but perfect as she goes from anger, to encouragement, to worry:
Peggy:  Where the hell are you?  Don: Somewhere in California.  Peggy: Do you know how angry everyone is?  Don: Did everything fall apart without me?  Peggy: It's not about that. You just took off. People were worried. What have you been doing?  Don:  I don't know.  I have no idea.  Peggy:  Look I know you get sick of things and you run, but you can come home.  Don: Where?  Peggy:  McCann will take you back in a second. Apparently, it's happened before.  Don't you want to work on Coke?  Don:  I can't.  I can't get out of here.  Peggy:  Don, come home.  Don:  I messed everything up.
I'm not the man you think I am.  Peggy:  Don, listen to me.  What did you ever do that was so bad?  Don:  I broke all my vows.  I scandalized my child.  I took another man's name and made nothing of it. Peggy:  That's not true.  Don:  I only called because I realized I never said goodbye to you.  Peggy:  I don't think you should be alone right now.  Don: I'm in a crowd.  I just wanted to hear your voice.  I'll see you soon.
After he hangs up from Peggy, Don had a panic attack, like he did back in Season 4's  Hands and Knees when he thought that his past was going to catch up to him.  Because his past was catching up to him and what was worse was he was convinced at that moment that he couldn't get away from his past and couldn't get out of his current circumstance.  He was lost and would stay lost.  Peggy recognized that he was alone but Don didn't even see it.  "I'm in a crowd," he tells her.  But being in a crowd is not the same as not being alone.


Nearly catatonic, Don is plucked from the depths by the leader of one of the encounter groups.  She asks Don to come with her, smartly wording it not as her helping him, but him helping her not come to her own meeting late.  Don can't take of himself but he loves trying to save the day.  He sits in the circle, looking wrung out and unresponsive.  We expect when the talking seat opens that it will be Don who goes there an spills his guts.  But instead, he stayed still, unable to move.

While Don sat in the circle he listened as a sad sack Everyman open up:
I work in an office.
People walk right by me.
I know they don't see me.
And I go home and I watch my wife and my kids.
They don't look up when I sit down.
...
It's like no one cares that I'm gone.
They should love me.
I mean, maybe they do, but I don't even know what it is.
You spend your whole life thinking you're not getting it, people aren't giving it to you.
Then you realize they're trying and you don't even know what it is.
Leonard went on to describe this recurring dream of being on a shelf in the refrigerator when his family opens it up, reaches for something, only for him to stay there as the door closes and it's dark. You live your life and hope for love and you never get it and you die.  That's what his dream is telling him and it's what Don Draper has been saying since the pilot. "You live alone and you die alone."

But it doesn't have to be this way.  All you need is to find someone who cares that you're gone.  Someone who loves you.  And to do that, you have to be open to it and accept it.  Because it may be out there, it may have been yours all along, but maybe you refused to see it.


Through Leonard (which some anagrammers noticed was "Real Don"), Don saw maybe a reflection of himself.  How he had mocked the very idea of love, not because he doesn't believe it's real but because he doesn't believe he's worthy of receiving it.   Or maybe he saw for the first time that other people have the same feelings as he does - that many people walk around feeling alone and unloved. Whichever the case, and we can debate that for years, something moved inside of Don.  He was not alone, the only person who felt unworthy and unloved.  He got up and walked over to this stranger who spoke words that resonated with him and embraced him.  The two men cried together, not alone for once.  Don, by hugging Leonard, said, I notice you.  I feel what you feel.

The next time we see Don, he looks like many million of bucks.  He's rested, clean-shaven and tranquil.  He's sitting, lotus style, on the cliff overlooking the Pacific and he's chanting.  Ommm, (like the sound the watch made in the Ep. 7.01 commercial that Freddy Rumsen pitched).  A smile crosses his face. Is this happines? Is this nirvana? We hear a bell ring.  Is this satisfaction?  Inspiration?  An idea?

Fade to the most memorable ad in history, the mountain top Coca Cola commercial from 1971, done by McCann Erickson.  Don followed Peggy's instruction. He went home.  And he created something lasting. 


Roger Sterling has settled in nicely at McCann.  He's busy and happy and his only problem is how to let poor, sweet Meredith down easy.  While the focus is on Roger's love life, it's really nice seeing him busy and important at McCann.  It was sad to see him lose his company and legacy, no longer having his name on the wall, but it was gratifying to see him roll with it and go to work (with Caroline who he claims to hate but kept anyway, twice).

Roger's scenes with his new love, Marie Calvet are priceless.  She is his equal, not only in age but in spunk, intellect and humor.  He wants her to move in with him in New York, she bristles at leaving her children and her life in Canada.  She lets slip that she recently reconnected with her ex Emile and Roger is not happy about that.  They bicker, she kicks him out of bed, and we realize that Roger is never as happy as when he's sparring with a beautiful, spirited woman (a la Joan).  We later see Roger dropping Kevin off with Joan after a day out (with pancakes!) and the two of them discuss the future.  Roger wants to make sure Kevin is always taken care of and Joan accepts his offer.  She then learns that Roger has found happiness with a surprisingly age-appropriate woman and she wistfully says to him, " I guess somebody finally got their timing right."  With that our fantasy of Roger and Joan riding off into the sunset together is gone.

Instead, we get a glimpse of Roger's future as he and Marie are dining out and he orders - in French no less - for the two of them. Himself...and his mother.  Roger will go out as sly and witty as we'll always remember him, but hopefully to live a long happy life with Megan's crazy mother.


When last we saw Peggy Olson, she was walking into her first official day at McCann, like a boss.  It was total bad ass swagger (courtesy of a hangover, a pornographic painting and a perfectly placed cigarette).  Now, in the cold reality of life at McCann (especially after what we saw happen to Joan) how would our Peggy fare.  Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.  After a meeting assigning accounts, Peggy notes that (now that Pete is gone) she and Stan were not assigned to Pete's old Chevalier account.  Stan tells her to chill, but Peggy Olson does not chill.  She marches up to Lorraine and backs her into a corner and gets her to give Peggy what she wants.  Like a bad ass.

Peggy was supposed to go out with Pete for his goodbye lunch, but she's swamped with Samsonite.  Instead, they have their last onscreen conversation and it's a doozy.  Pete is charming and supportive and full of happiness for himself but also pride for Peggy.  He gives her the best compliment he can think of ("Someday people are going to brag that they worked with you.") and a small token to remind her of him - fittingly a prickly cactus.  I don't see the cactus as a symbol of their child together, but as a symbol of their relationship.  It sometimes bears a flower, sometimes it hurts if you get too close, but it's resilient and indestructible.  

If Peggy's ego wasn't stroked enough by Pete, Joan calls her to offer her a job writing a script for a corporate film and when they meet (and she gets a hefty check from Joan for her work) Joan offers her a partnership.  The fans' fantasy pairing looks like it might finally happen and Joan and Peggy will get together, kick ass and take names, well into the next decade and beyond.  Perhaps it was Pete's words about her becoming the first female creative director, or people bragging some day how they knew her when, or maybe it was Stan telling her  but she eventually decides not to go off with Joan and to stay at McCann and (as Freddy told Don in Ep. 7.04) "do the work."

Peggy may not feel she has any motherly instincts, but her words to Don  "come home" as well as the forceful tone of her voice was as parental as anything we've heard from her in a long time.  In fact, their whole phone conversation was reminiscent of the time Don broke down in front of Peggy, after learning in Ep. 4.07 The Suitcase that Anna had died.  Once again, Don is a broken man and Peggy is the one lifeline for him to grab onto. She told him then that he was wrong that no one knew him and she tells him again that he is wrong that he's ruined everything and done nothing.

She leaves the conversation with Don shaken and calls her closest friend Stan.  Over the years, we have seen how much Peggy relies on Stan, what a comforting presence he is in her life.  Especially on the phone.  In person, sometimes, maybe often, he gets under her skin and the two bicker worse than pre-kiss Sam and Diane on Cheers.  She's worried about Don and feels another Lane Pryce situation developing, but Stan calms her down.  He tells her Don will be okay and she believes him because Stan is always right.  And then, the moment we've all been secretly (and some not so secretly) waiting for.  Stan confesses his feelings to Peggy and Peggy slowly comes to realize her feelings for Stan and he runs down the hall and into her office and they embrace.  Peggy and Stan are in love!

Our last shot of them is at work, with Peggy typing away, and Stan giving her a kiss.  He likes it there and she likes it there and they like it together.  Hopefully, she'll be a creative director before 1980 and they'll still be together.  Not so sure how well the cactus will hold up, though.


Joan is living the life - trips to Key West, snorting cocaine with her rich boyfriend.  But she wants more.  And when Ken Cosgrove asks for her help on the Dow Chemical account, she uses her trusty Rolodex (which we saw her take with her when she left M-E) and gets to work.  She contacts Peggy to help with the copy for a script for an industrial film and puts together a team to produce the film for Ken.  This gives Joan an idea, to gets an idea.  She wants to go into business producing these types of promotional films for big corporations.  Companies like Dow have big budgets and they need someone who can do this work efficiently and cost-effectively and she has the contacts and the know-how.   She asks Peggy to join her, Harris-Olson, since "you need two names to make it real." "We won't answer to anyone.  It'll be something of ours with our name on it.

To Joan's surprise, Peggy does not jump at the offer. She fails to realize that their experience at McCann is not the same.  Peggy went toe-to-toe with Lorraine about getting staffed on an account, Pete pumped her up about how talented she is, she's not the victim of the leering attention of Ferg.  So Peggy wants to think about this.  Does this discourage Joan?  Not in the least.   She's setting up business meetings and arranging a "few little projects' and sees this as a way to perhaps build something.  She's excited about this new potential business and shares it with Richard.

But Richard is not interested in dating someone with their own business.  It was hard enough for him to accept that Joan was a mother first and that his playboy lifestyle would have to be adjusted to accommodate a child.  But that was a living, breathing human, this is a business that doesn't even exist yet.  Joan is choosing add this to her life, knowing it will take a huge chunk of her attention. And Richard is not looking for that at this stage in his life.  If he's painted as the bad guy, that's unfortunate.  How I look at it is she made a choice and he made a choice and that's how it should be.

So Joan chooses a new career path instead of love.  You've come a long way baby.  Last thing we see, she's set up the new production company "Holloway and Harris" (since you need two names) and becomes her own partner.  Her last scene, running her business from her kitchen table, with her babysitter acting as receptionist, was a beautiful callback to when SCDP ran out of a hotel room back in Ep. 3.13 Shut the Door and Have a Seat.  It also tied back to when Harry gave the job working on marketing for TV shows to some other guy after Joan had done such a bang up job on it.  Joan may not have found love, but she found the respect for her many talents and an opportunity to finally be her own boss.

I'm going to Wichita. Far from this opera for evermore
The very last shot of Mad Men focuses, as it should on Don Draper.  We first met him almost ten years ago when he was working on an ad.  He wasn't in his office, he was out in the world, talking to people, observing his surroundings, and taking it all in looking for inspiration.  Later that episode, he threw the research about the product in the trash.  Advertising wasn't about data or numbers, facts and figures, it was about a feeling.  As Don finally closed in on that first successful "Mad Men" pitch, he focused not on selling Lucky Strike cigarettes, but on selling "happiness."  And so it goes back to where we started, around and around like a carousel, and Don is inspired by his own personal journey of self-discovery to find a way to once again sell "happiness."  And he is okay.

Observations:

Bye to Harry Crane.  We first met Harry on an elevator, where he, Ken, and Paul Kinsey spied a new secretary coming to work - Peggy Olson.  He makes a little joke, "not right away" suggesting the elevator operator take his time getting them up to their floor so he can enjoy the company of the new girl.   He's not the most boorish of the three - that honor goes to Ken.  By the end, he's an insufferable boor who dabbles in sexual harassment (he'll fit right in at M-E) and drops names like an Extreme Weight Loss contestant drops pounds.  Unlike nearly every other character, he gets no closure - just a mouthful of cookies as he goes offstage for the last time.  Trust fund baby Kevin gets more of a resolution to his story than Harry does.

Peggy repeated what Pete told her back in Ep. 1.08 The Hobo Code when he heard that Freddy Rumsen was going to present her copy to the Belle Jolie people.  "A thing like that!" (He also used that line in Ep. 2.11 The Jet Set after telling Don he thought he saw actor Tony Curtis in the men's room at the hotel).

When Joan first escorted Peggy around the Sterling Cooper offices, she said to her about her job, "if you really make the right moves, you'll be out in the country,|and you won't be going to work at all."  Ten years later, when given her own long overdue chance to be out in the country (on a permanent vacation with Richard) for the rest of her life, Joan chose to go to work.

Teddy Chaough told Don that there are three women in every man's life (in Ep. 7.08 Severance, in the context of trying to sell Wilkinson razors) and in this episode Don had phone calls with the three most important women in his life.  Betty, Sally and Peggy.  Three women who have tried, in their own ways, to love Don and three who he, in some ways, failed.  Betty and Sally each tell him to stay away,  That everything would be better if he didn't come home to them.  Only Peggy tells him to come home.  And by home she means McCann.  She lets him know he's still welcome there.  It is not a surprise, then, that when he reaches nirvana on the cliffs of Big Sur, he decides to go home.  Which he described, way back in Ep. 1.13 The Wheel, as "that place where we know we are loved."

In Ep. 7.10 The Forecast, Peggy comes in for her performance evaluation.  The discussion get redirected by Don who want to discus her hopes and dreams for the future.  When pushed, Peggy says she'd like to create something of lasting value.  Don, snorts. "In advertising?"  She gets mad and counters, "This is supposed to be about my job, not the meaning of life."  Don challenges her.  "So you think those things are unrelated?"  They are related to Don and he can finally admit that.  Happiness and satisfaction at work can lead to personal fulfillment and could even create something of lasting value.

While in the real world, Don Draper did not create the famous Coke ad, it did come from McCann Erickson in 1971.  Like with the "It's Toasted" ad for Lucky Strike in the pilot episode, Mad Men used real commercial pitches to show the creative genius of Don while playing around with the true origins of the work.

There was a nice juxtaposition of Don encouraging Stephanie to run from her past - and the months on the road of Don running from his - and Stan Rizzo running to his future with Peggy.

Joey Baird predicted the Peggy-Stan ending back in Ep. 4.08 The Summer Man.  After Stan made a joke about Peggy, "Peggy Olson, pioneering the science of wet blanketry."  Joey responds, "You love her."

The Coke commercial was filmed on a hilltop in Italy.  Italy was the only place we ever saw Don and Betty on vacation together and so in love.  It was also where Betty studied after college.  And it was in the title of the book the woman by the pool was reading in the last episode.  Plus, Betty is not stupid, she speaks Italian!

Quotes:

Roger:  Are you trying to kill me? 
Marie:  I'm trying to make you happy.

Marie:  You are the one that will throw me over and leave me for your secretary.  ...
Roger:  Yell at me slower or in English.

Pete:  Someday people are going to brag that they worked with you.
Peggy:  What am I supposed to say to that?
Pete:  I don't know.  No one's ever said it to me.

Peggy:  A thing like that.

Stephanie:  Be open to this.  You might feel better.
Don:  She took my money.  That's a good sign.


Joan:  Greg had twins with some nurse.  As far as he's concerned, Kevin never happened.
Roger:  So he knows?
Joan:  No, he's just a terrible person.

Joan:  Are you ill? Is everything okay?
Roger:  For the time being, but I'm getting married.
Joan:  Well, those skirts are pretty short at McCann.
Roger:  Nah.  I met her through Megan Draper.  She's old enough to be her mother.  Actually, she is her mother.

Joan:  I guess somebody finally got their timing right.

Joan:  That's the tip of the iceberg, Peggy.
Peggy:  I never know if that's good or bad.

Peggy:  I really thought you'd be on a beach by now.
Joan:  I've been to the beach.

Stephanie:  You're not my family.  What's the matter with you?
Don:   I just know how people work.  You can put this behind you.  It'll get easier as you move forward.
Stephanie:  Oh, Dick, I don't think you're right about that.

Stan:  You have such a rare talent.  Stop looking over your shoulder at what other people have.
Peggy:  You don't think I can do it.
Stan:  I said the opposite.

Stan:  There's more to life than work.

Don:  People just come and go and no one says good-bye?

Don:  Did everything fall apart without me?

Stan:  He always does this and he always comes back.  He's a survivor.  He's going to be okay.

Stan:  You've got to let him go.  It doesn't mean you stop caring about him.

Peggy:  I'm going to stay.
Stan:  Good, because I didn't want you to leave.
Peggy:  Then why didn't you just say that?
Stan:  Because every time I'm face to face with you, I want to strangle you.  And then I miss you when I go away.  And I miss you and I call you on the phone and I get the person I want to talk to.

Stan:  I don't even know what to do with myself because all I want to do is be with you.
Peggy:  What? What did you just say?
Stan:  I want to be with you.  I'm in love with you.
Peggy:  What?

Meditation leader:  The new day brings new hope.  The lives we've led, the lives we've yet to lead.  New day, new ideas, a new you.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Survivor 31: Second Chance - Who I'm Voting For


After 30 Season, and almost every theme one could imagine and a few we'd like to forget (I'm looking at you One World), Survivor has come up with a new twist. They have brought back a group of 32 players who believe they deserve a second chance to play the game.  Out of this group, fans have to vote for ten women and ten men.  Those with the most votes will be revealed after the finale of Survivor 30, Worlds Apart this Wednesday night.

By definition, this crop of contestants did not win their season and have not had another opportunity to play.  Some of the players had bad luck on their side, some had twists that undid their game, and others simply made mistakes.  Since the pool goes back to the very beginning of Survivor, we have some players in contention that never played with a hidden immunity idol before.  Never went to Exile Island.  Never had the chance to buy an advantage at an auction.  Never saw booted players return to the game.   Some played when the show was focused more on scenery than strategy, when survival of the elements was bigger than surviving the social game.  The show has evolved over the past fifteen years as has the way the game is played.  Add onto that the fact that some players are ten or more years older than the last time they played and others may be on the island with past friends or foes, you can see the appeal of this upcoming season.

Best of all, we the fans are casting the show.  No more wondering how that person made it on.  We put them there.  So, in the interest of an entertaining and exciting season, having watched every season of Survivor since the first, here are my picks for Survivor 31: Second Chance.

My Top 10 Men

1. Jeff Varner
Season 2, “Survivor: The Australian Outback”
Varner was my favorite contestant in the second season of the show, with his wry wit and his devious mind.  He promised to play both a strategic and social game, with more charm and looks than the inaugural winner Richard Hatch, but just as clever.  Unfortunately, a twist since dropped - having prior votes cast against you used in case of a tie - and Kimmi Kappenberg's loose lips sunk Varner's ship way too soon.

2. Andrew Savage
Season 7, “Survivor: Pearl Islands”
Savage is an alpha male who was dominant in the game, back when physical threats were not the early targets.  But his run was cut short when a new twist, thankfully never to be repeated, was used.  Unbeknownst to anyone, eliminated survivors were not sent home but were kept nearby, fed and then given the chance to compete to get back in the game.  The return of two of the "outcasts" spelled the end for Savage.

3. Shane Powers
Season 12, “Survivor: Panama”
If you enjoy good TV, you want to have Shane Powers on the show.  He will not bore, he will not under-perform.  He will be crazy, frenetic, irrational, spontaneous, upset, and loud. Shane is not boring.  He talked on a rock pretending it was his Blackberry.  He had a special thinking stone.  The guy is nearly certifiable and one can only imagine they either failed to give him the psych test or there were a lot of erasure marks before it was submitted for scoring.  For the love of everything holy, he has to be back on my TV.

4. Terry Deitz
Season 12, “Survivor: Panama”
He's Captain America and Superman rolled into one. An honest to god fighter pilot.  He'll carry his team on his (nine years older) back.  It will be interesting to see him butt heads with Savage, and watch as the two older alpha males have to compete with golden boy Joe.  Terry is used to being in front of the camera and has the swagger and attitude that comes with being an airline pilot.  What he lacked in strategic play he made up for with an immunity run.  If he learns to work on his social game, he could go far.

5.  Stephen Fishbach
Season 18, "Survivor Tocantins"
Stephen had a great bromance with country boy JT Thomas and the two carried each other to the end. That's where Stephen's game fell apart.  He was still so enamored of his partner in crime, so mesmerized by his dimpled smile and aw shucks demeanor, Fishbach he could barely articulate a reason not to give him the million.  Stephen has since spent the past few years analyzing not only his own mistakes in the game, but everyone else's game play both for People.com as well as the Survivor Know-it-Alls Show on Rob Has a Podcast.  I'd like to see how his picking apart strategy week after week helps him in the game and whether he can manage not to take pretty boys like Joe or Woo to the end with him this time.

6. Jim Rice
Season 23, “Survivor: South Pacific”
We need some players with HUGE chips on their shoulders, and Jim has been carrying around the Cochran flipped vote for years.  If Cochran hadn't flipped, and they'd gone to pulling rocks, there might have been no need for a second chance.  Whether that's true or not, Jim Rice believes it with every fiber of his being.  Almost more than anyone else, he feels wronged and will go back with an intensity and a desire to do whatever it takes to get to the end that should make for good TV.

7. Spencer Bledsoe
Season 28, “Survivor: Cagayan”
Spencer is a super fan, like Shirin, Kelley and Stephen, and knows how to scramble for the hidden immunity idols and play strategic.  His last time out he was hampered by one borderline psychotic rice trashing tribemate and another more vindictive than savvy.  Spencer makes good soundbites and though not a physical threat, should get another chance to use his social and strategic skills.

8. Jeremy Collins
Season 29, “Survivor: San Juan del Sur”
There is not one player, not even my beloved Shane, who is more entertaining to watch.  Jeremy gives the best confessionals of any player.   His frustration and aggravation-laden rants against the stupid people on his tribe are so funny.  He's like the lovable dad in every TV sitcom, who sits and complains about everyone else, sighing loudly at the nincompoops he's forced to deal with.

9. Vytas Baskauskas
Season 27, “Survivor: Blood vs. Water”
Vytas was hamstrung by playing with his brother, a former Survivor winner.  Despite this, he managed to use his looks and way with the ladies to stay in the game longer than he should.  Physically fit and hungry for redemption (and wanting to best his brother), Vytas will play hard this time out.

10. Keith Nale
Season 29, “Survivor: San Juan del Sur”
Why do I want to see some old guy who spits, knows nothing about Surivor and couldn'st spell strategy?  Four words:  stick to the plan.

I'd have voted for Mike Galloway but I'm pretty sure that he's the winner of World's Apart.

My Top 10 Women:

1. Kelly Wiglesworth
Season 1, “Survivor: Borneo”
She lost to Richard Hatch, one of the greatest players in Survivor history, by just one vote.  She was the subject of the famed rats versus snakes speech.  She was a young girl with outdoors skills who came for an adventure and ended up helping carrying her foursome all the way to the end.  She's fifteen years older and wiser and I believe we owe it to the island spirits we have come to know to let it end in the way that Mother Nature intended, for the rat to have a second chance.

2. Kimmi Kappenberg
Season 2, “Survivor: The Australian Outback”
I am automatically voting for all of the old timers.  I have a nostalgic twinge in my chest just at the thought of these early seasons and I appreciate those whose gameplay for better or, in Kimmi's case,  worse have left an indelible mark.  Kimmi was loud and feisty and stirred the pot.  And the opportunity for her to play against, let alone with, Jeff Varner gives me the goosies.  

3. Teresa “T-Bird” Cooper
Season 3, "Survivor Africa"
Again, early Survivor = automatic vote.  She's sweet and loyal and we can't have a season with all crafty back-stabbing jerks.  And us old ladies need to stick together.  

4. Abi-Maria Gomes
Season 25, “Survivor: Philippines”
I hated her on the show.  I never, ever, ever wanted to see her on my TV again. I was thrilled that she lost.  I'm pretty sure I cheered.  She was a pain in the ass who thought she was god's gift to the world. But I'm willing to put that aside for the fireworks that will result when anyone does or says the wrong thing and she sets her sights on them.

5. Kass McQuillen
Season 28, “Survivor: Cagayan”
Kass is another player whose game I did not enjoy, but who I think will make great TV.  She flip-flopped more than a recently caught flounder and made moves as much to hurt others as to benefit herself.  She acted without thinking, dug her own grave, and then jumped in.  But she fully embraces her Chaos Kass nickname and promises to bring the same level of craziness and overplaying that led Cagayan to being one of the most entertaining seasons ever.  

6. Tasha Fox
Season 28, “Survivor: Cagayan
Tasha is the Yin to Kass' Yang.  She's affable and endearing, cute as well as smart (she could easily have been on the Beauty tribe instead of the Brains) and had she been playing with smarter "brains" could have gone even father.  She's got a good mind for strategy and can play a great social game.

7. Kelley Wentworth
Season 29, “San Juan del Sur”
Kelley is a hardcore fan and a devoted member of the Survivor family.  Unlike many relatively early boots, she does not have any animosity or hurt feelings, but she does feel like she was robbed of the chance to really play.  And I tend to agree.  Her father made himself a target and she was the unlucky recipient of the collateral damage.  She's strong and fit and smart and personable and would make a good heroic foil to some of the villains in the cast.

8. Peih-Gee Law
Season 15, “Survivor: China”
Peh-Gee played a hard game, was a good strategist, and was good in challenges, but let her emotions get the best of her.  This is perfect candidate for a second chance season.  She was a leader of her tribe and was in a good position pre-merge, but lacked the numbers after the merge and couldn't make any headway against Todd's alliance.

9. Shirin Oskooi
Season 30, “Survivor: World’s Apart”
I'm hoping, especially with Max not there to amp her up, that Shirin can put aside her geeky fandom and actually play to win.  She showed no signs that she had learned anything for her years of devoted fandom, not until after Max's ouster.  Only then did she start to show signs that she could play a strong strategic game.  I'd like to see her have that chance.  And no Will to crush her spirit in the process.

10. Ciera Eastin
Season 27, “Survivor: Blood vs Water”
If Keith Nale squeaks into the tenth spot on my list for four words, Ciera does it with five:  She voted out her mother.



Cast your votes here and then tune in Wednesday night to see who gets their ticket for Survivor 31: Second Chance.

Mad Men Season 4, Episode 7: The Suitcase

"I know what I'm supposed to want, but it just never feels right." - Peggy Olson


It's March 25, 1965.  The office of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is abuzz with plans to watch the big fight - Muhammad Ali's rematch with Sonny Liston.  Their first fight in 1964 was one of the biggest events in sports history and this rematch galvanized the nation.  It was a generational battle as much as a contrast of styles.  It presented the the then-champ, Liston, who had been one of the most formidable boxers of all time, going up against the ten years younger, brash upstart Cassius Clay.  The braggadocios Clay defeated the champ who, after a punishing sixth round, surrendered in the seventh. Between that first fight and this rematch, Clay had converted to Islam and taken the name Muhammad Ali.  He represented youth, the future, the new generation.  Liston, at 33, represented the old guard.  Ali's stunning TKO in some ninety seconds, and the image of him looming over his vanquished opponent, symbolized for many the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.  The younger generation is being heard and knocking the older generation on its ass.

It is against this backdrop that Peggy Olson finds herself turning 26.  She's in that transitional phase of life, she's no longer the youngest at the office, no longer the wide-eyed girl of the pilot, but she's still not old by any stretch of the imagination, not fully part of the establishment.  She's been dabbling with youth culture - hanging out with Joyce and her Village friends - and trying to stay connected to her peer group.  But Peggy is also a junior executive of a Madison Avenue ad agency and with that comes responsibility and maturation.  She's constantly trying to find the right balance between the two parts of her life.  The only thing the two halves have are that they both are leaving her feeling unfulfilled.

Mark, her boyfriend, is part of her life more because she didn't want to spend New Year's alone than because he's "the one."  She feels that he doesn't appreciate or understand her and nowhere is that more on display than at the restaurant where he planned a surprise birthday dinner for her - with her family.  That is not what she wants and he should have known that.  His calls with her over the long evening, as he goes from devoted to irritated to over it, are as funny as they are tragic.  Peggy may not want to be alone, and certainly didn't plan to break up with her boyfriend on her birthday, but she can't waste her time any more on someone who is not worthy of her and who doesn't understand her.

Earlier in the day, she received a present from Duck Phillips.  Her former lover, and former coworker, is still trying to woo her.  He was canned from his agency and is throwing out a lifeline to Peggy to save him.  If she would come join him, with her clients and her talent, they could start a new firm together.  Peggy knows this is more about Duck needing to be rescued than helping further her career.  And yet, she is dissatisfied at SCDP.  She has been mad since the Glo-Coat commercial - which came from an idea that she pitched - has gone on to be a huge victory for Donald F. Draper, lone wolf creative genius.

She is tired of being used and abused by Don - he takes her ideas and turns them into his masterpieces.  He gets all the accolades and money and she just gets yelled at.  He either steals her ideas or criticizes them.  If her personal life can't be fulfilling at least she should get a sense of personal satisfaction from work.  But Don seems incapable of providing that and Duck - drunk, unfocused, desperate - is not the answer either.


Peggy and her team present Don with what they've come up with so far for Samsonite luggage.  It's a commercial, using recently-drafted Crimson Tide starring football hero Joe Namath to sell the strength of the suitcases.  Don hates the idea and thinks using a celebrity is lazy.  It's another example of Don being out of touch with the times and not having much of an eye towards the future. Lazy or not, using celebrities to sell products was and is a good idea and one which ad agencies and their clients will embrace from the '70s on.  Hating this idea (and, in fairness, even Stan admits he hated it as it was going on), Don sends them all back to the drawing board.

But the team does not plan on burning the midnight oil.  Most of the office is going to watch the Liston-Clay fight on closed-circuit TV at a local movie theater.  Don is not in the mood to hang with the frat boys.  Under normal circumstances, he and Roger would find their own hangout, away from the underlings.  Roger wants Don to join him at a business dinner with AA poster boy Freddy Rumsen and his similarly dry client, but Don claims he has to stay at the office to work on the Samsonite pitch.  But what Don really wants is to hide out, drink, and not think about a phone call that he does not want to return.

Don received a message that Stephanie had called from California.  He knows what that means and he does not want to face it.  She's calling with news about Anna.  Anna Draper is dying, or already dead, and hearing it will only make it real.  So, he takes the message slip, folds it in half, places it in his pocket, and spends the rest of the day and night doing anything to distract him.  Don is prickly and hard to work in general and the anxiety he's feeling is not making his temperament any better.  His words, which can soothe and inspire, can also cut to the quick.  And so it is that, when the team presents the Samsonite pitch, he pointedly tells Peggy, "I'm glad that this is an environment where you feel free to fail."

At the end of the day, the office empties out.  Don is staying behind, drinking,  Peggy makes the mistake of dropping by on her way out.  Or, was it a mistake?  Maybe she was reluctant to leave and was looking for an excuse not to meet Mark for dinner.   Maybe what happens next - the most perfect 35 minutes of TV ever - was supposed to happen.  After the build up of tension and frustration between Peggy and Don, they needed to have this time together, mostly alone, to clear the air.


Don:  So, where are we on Samsonite?
Peggy:  We'll have something to show you in the morning.
Don:  But the suspense is killing me.
Peggy:  Well, I kind of was on my way out.
Don:  Let me just see where we are.
Peggy:  I guess I've got a minute.
A minute turns into all night.  At first, they talk business.  Peggy throws out ideas, Don shoots them down.  He claims she's done no work, and they're going to stay there and keep working.  She tells him she's been working hard, but he's rejected all her ideas. And when he finds one he likes, he'll just change it and take credit for it anyway.  That was not a random comment.

This has been building for some time.  Peggy has been frustrated for months that her idea - about a boy locked in the closet until the wet floor his mom just cleaned is dry - became the super successful, award-winning Glo-Coat campaign for Don.  She felt that she came up with the idea and Don got all the credit and praise.  She didn't even get to go to the Clio awards.   He says it's her job, she brings him ideas and he gives her money.  He never thanked her for her ideas, she yells at him.  And he yells back, "That's what the money's for."  Don continues on the attack, telling her that she's too new in her career to care about praise and awards, that she should feel lucky that she even has this job.

Pegy turns and walks out of his office and Don knows he's gone too far.  As Roger told him back in Ep. 3.13 Shut the Door, Have a Seat, Don's not good at relationships because he doesn't value them.  Business transactions he understands, how to be kind and patient and empathetic he doesn't.  He doesn't even know how to apologize when he's been a jerk.  But he tries.  He calls Peggy back into his office, under the ruse of wanting to play for her Roger's dictation of his autobiography. But it's the only way Don knows how to get her back without actually saying, I'm sorry, I was a jerk.  He needs her there, needs the distraction, needs the company.

She tells him she has nothing to say.  What's troubling her is personal and they don't have personal conversations.  And while Don protests, it's true.  Five years they've worked together and Don has kept their relationship at arm's length.  He was there when she was hospitalized after giving birth, she was there when he needed bail money after a drunken car accident, yet he kept their relationship businesslike.  Still, Peggy is as much in need of someone to talk to right now as Don is and so she tells him about the failed surprise party and her breakup with Mark.  They spy a mouse in the office, which spooks Peggy, and so they retreat for a bite to eat.


Don opens up a bit at the diner, talking about Korea, his Uncle Mack, sharing that he too watched his father die.  It's the beginning of a night full of honesty and openness between the two of them,  Don drops his facade and relates to Peggy  person to person.  The reticent Don Draper becomes downright chatty as he and Peggy build a new bond.  Even though they're not that far apart in age, the scene at the diner reminds one of a dad taking his daughter out for a bite and there is a familial warmth in that moment.

They move next to a bar, where they hear the play by play of the fight on the radio, while Don continues to drink.  While there, they continue the sharing of the evening.  Peggy ruefully toasts her current status, "single," while Don gives her a pep talk.  "You know you're cute as hell."  But haring your dad tell you you're cute is not what Peggy wants, she wants to hear that there's someone out there for her.  She claims guys are exactly lining up for her and Don asks, is that what you want?  And is it?  Peggy seemed to be with Mark more out of a belief that she should be with someone rather than any real desire.

Peggy tells Don that some in the office think she slept with him to get where she is.  And considering his track record with secretaries, it's not that far fetched.  Yet he never did make a pass at her, in fact, he turned her down her first day at the office.  Peggy can't help but wonder what's wrong with her that was right with all the other women who sat at that desk. Then Peggy tells Don that her mother assumed he was the one who got her pregnant since he was the only one to visit her in the hospital and Don now knows why he's never been invited to Peggy's mom's place for dinner.  He asks Peggy if she thinks about the baby and she tells him, "I try not to.  But then it comes out of nowhere."  But before she has the chance to talk about the past any more, the fight is over and the moment is gone.

When they come back to the office, Don is beyond drunk and Peggy has to carry him to the bathroom where he retches more than Roger after an afternoon of martinis, oysters, and cheesecake.  While a drunk Don empties his stomach, a drunk Duck Phillips sneaks into the offices of Sterling Cooper to empty his bowels.  As he tries to drop a deuce on a chair in Roger's office - he's so drunk he doesn't realize he missed his intended target Don - Peggy comes and rescues him.  Duck is melancholy without a job, without Peggy, and without his sobriety.


On the same night as the famous prize fight between two athletes at the physical prime, we get a drunk Don taking a swing at (and missing) a similarly drunk Duck after the latter makes an inappropriate comment about Peggy.  Duck quickly get the upper hand, and Don says "Uncle" to get Duck to take his TKO in this fight.  Peggy then escorts him out of the office, but only after Don learns that she had a relationship with Duck.

At this point Don is drained.  He wants to keep drinking and Peggy is tired of watching him drown whatever sorrow is plaguing him.  All he tells her is that there's a phone call he has to make and he knows it'll be bad news.  He asks if he wants to be alone and he doesn't answer, instead he asks for another drink.  But as she brings it, he pats the couch cushion next to him, inviting her to keep him company.  She lets him fall asleep of her on the couch, then falls asleep herself.  We hear footsteps and Don wakes to see an angelic Anna Draper standing in front of him, holding a suitcase, as her spectral self smiles at him, then fades away.

In the morning, the sun wakes him and Don finally places the call and hears the news from her niece.  Anna has died.   Don holds it together until he sees Peggy looking at him and he starts sobbing.  He tells her that the person who died was the only person who really knew him and Peggy said, that's not true.  Maybe it is the the literal sense, but she's right in the abstract.  Don has been trying for years to hid the real person underneath the image and there have been glimmers.  If people don't know all there is to know, it's his fault for not trusting that if they knew the truth they'd love him.

Peggy forgoes returning home, falling asleep on the couch in her office, only to be awaken very loudly by Stan and the gang.  She goes in to find Don looking perfectly put together, not a sign of the long night or emotional morning.  That's what Don does.  He transforms himself.  And so it is that in the morning, looking at the photo of Muhammad Ali standing victorious over the vanquished Sonny Liston, he sees not a significant athletic feat or an historical cultural touch-point but an advertising opportunity.  

Observations:

Roger Sterling's memoirs are indeed gold.  "Bert Cooper hated me and I thought it was because he thought I 'd be an ally of my father; but it turned out it was something to do with my joie de vivre, my romantic prowess.  See tape 3.  Including some time with the queen of perversions, his secretary Ida Blankenship.  You know what? Don't use her name.  But it was all about him hating my very youth, all because the poor guy had been out down in the height of his sexual prime by an unnecessary orchiectomy.  Lyle Evans, M.D.  I think he had him killed."

Don learns a lot about Peggy.  That she has to deal with her coworkers all thinking she slept her way to her job, while also dealing with the fact that she's one of the few secretaries Don didn't sleep with.  He learns that Peggy knows who the father of her child is, but that her mother assumed it was Don since he was the only one to visit her in the hospital.  That she is mostly successful in heeding his advice not to think about the baby she gave up, but that she can't help at times but be reminded.  And that, like him, she saw her father die in front of her eyes.  It says much about the nature of their working relationship, as well as his "Midwest" reticence," that they've never shared as much as they do that night.

What to make of Don being able to shed his skin so easily?  To be the relaxed guy at the diner, sharing stories about his Uncle Mack and his father, with the tightly wound business exec with not a hair out of place even after an all night bender.  And to be able to take the stress, anxiety and pain of the last twelve hours and come out with a great product pitch.  Is this a strength or a weakness?  How long will he be able to pull this off?

Irony, anyone, about Don favoring the quiet, goes about his business Liston, rather than the braggadocious Clay?  Don may have the largest professional ego in the business and may have seen some of himself in the boastful, eloquent boxer.

Songs:
'Bleecker Street' by Simon & Garfunkel

Quotes:

Danny:  How come we have to pay when everyone knows damn well they were free?
Harry:  You're such a Jew.
Danny:  Your friends in Hollywood know you talk that way?

Peggy: I don't know if you could tell, but he hated it.
Stan:  I was hating it too while we were doing it, but not before.  I'm not gonna lie.

Don:  I wouldn't be good company anyway.
Roger:  That's never bothered me before.

Joey (to Danny): I don't know what it is, but I look at the side of your neck and I wish I had one of those James Bond pens so I could jam a dart in it.

Trudy:  My days are spent sleeping and visiting the ladies' room, although it's an incredible feeling having this baby kick me.
Peggy:  Is it any different than living with Pete?

Trudy (to Peggy):  You know, 26 is still very young.

Don:  You think elves do this?

Don:  Do you like Cassius Clay? ... He's got a big mouth. "I'm the greatest." Not if you have to say it.
Muhammad Ali. ...  Liston just goes about his business, works methodically.

Roger:  This guy Rutledge killed a man with a motorboat.  You know what gets you over something like that? Drinking.

Don: Do you have someplace to be? Maybe tap your foot so I get the message.

Don:  By the way, you are 20-something years old.  It's time to get over birthdays.

Katherine:  I don't know how many nice boys you think are lining up for you. You should be grateful.

Mark:  Should I have invited Don? You never stand him up.

Don:  You could've just told me it was your birthday.
Peggy:  Right, and there'd be no repercussions.
Don:  So, now this is my fault?
Peggy:  Well, it's not my fault you don't have a family, or friends, or anywhere else to go.

Don:  Don't get personal because you didn't do your work.  And by the way, I know it kills you, but guess what? There is no Danny's idea.  Everything that comes in here belongs to the agency.
Peggy: You mean you.
Don:  As long as you still work here.
Peggy:  Is that a threat? Because I've already taken somebody up on one of those tonight.

Peggy:  You know what? Here's a blank piece of paper.  Why don't you turn that into Glo-Coat?

Don:  There are no credits on commercials.
Peggy:  But you got the CLIO!
Don:  It's your job! I give you money, you give me ideas.
Peggy:  And you never say thank you.
Don:  That's what the money is for!

Don: You're young.  You will get your recognition.  And honestly, it is absolutely ridiculous to be two years into your career and counting your ideas.  Everything to you is an opportunity. And you should be thanking me every morning when you wake up, along with Jesus, for giving you another day!

Don:  Well, as Danny would say, "There's no use crying over fish in the sea."

Don:  You know what? There's a way out of this room we don't know about.

Don:  My Uncle Max said he had a suitcase that was always packed.  He said, "A man has to be ready to go at any moment." Jesus.  Maybe it's a metaphor.

Don:  But the best idea always wins and you know it when you see it.  Keep banging your head against the wall, then it happens.

Peggy:  I know what I'm supposed to want, but it just never feels right.  Or as important as anything in that office.

Don:  You'll find someone.  You know you're cute as hell.
Peggy:  Men don't exactly stop and stare in the streets.
Don: Do you want that?
Peggy: That's not what you were supposed to say.

Duck (to Peggy):  You don't belong here.

Stephanie (about Anna):  She left her body to science.  She said she wanted to go to UCLA Medical School tuition-free.

Peggy:  What happened?
Don: Somebody very important to me died.
Peggy:  Who?
Don:  The only person in the world who really knew me.
Peggy: That's not true.

Whore reference:
Duck says, "Turns out she's just another whore."


********************************************************************************
Spoilery observations. (DON'T READ UNTIL YOU'RE CAUGHT UP)

Peggy suggests to Duck that he contact a head hunter after he was fired from Grey.  In Ep. 6.09 The Better Half  (which takes place in July,1968) he becomes a head hunter.  By the end of Season 6, he has hired Don's replacement.  By the series end, he's instrumental in getting Pete his dream job.

When Don finally talks to Stephanie and hears that Anna has in fact died, he tells her he's going to fly out and take care of everything, but Stephanie tells him not to bother, it's already been taken care of.  This is echoed in the series finale when Don gets news from Sally and he wants to immediately hop of a plane and take charge. There, too, he is told that he's not necessary. He visits Stephanie again in the series finale and she does not want anything he has to give her and pointedly tells her that he's not her family.

Peggy make have hit below the belt with the "it's not my fault you don't have a family, or friends, or anywhere else to go," but it's true.  Don has isolated himself from everyone and everything and is hiding out in the only real home he has.  By the series end, when Don is once again all alone, with not family or friends or anywhere to go, it is Peggy who summons him home - with home meaning, back to work where you belong.

Anna is the first of three women in Don's life to die from cancer, followed in Season 7 by Rachel and (post ending) Betty.  His stepmother died of cancer as well, but in that case, he was happy about it.

In the series finale, when Marie was arguing with Roger in French, he responds that "all I got was 'suitcase.'"

Here, Don shouts at Peggy, that's what the money's for.  In Ep. 5.11 The Other Woman, when he is frustrated and angry he literally throws money at Peggy (leading her to finally walk out on him and the agency).

The scene where Don tells Peggy that the only person who really knew him just died, she comforts him, saying, "That's not true."  This is echoed in the finale when Don goes through a laundry-list of his sins and Peggy again tells him "That's not true."  She's been the one supportive constant in his life, the one who lets him know that things don't have to be as bleak as he sees them.  

Initial impresion: Mad Men Season 7, Episode 14: Person to Person

Part one - Don's Journey

The Don Draper we met in the pilot was an empty shell.  He looked great and sounded great, but inside was hollow.  He prattled on about there being no such thing as love, which he had to not only say but believe because how else to justify cheating on his wife and not being there for his children?  He belittled coworkers, he was arrogant and rude to potential clients, and was agnostic about everything.  He was also handsome and good at selling people and so he had all the external signs of success. 

Don has been in free fall for a long time.  He's been at war with this created persona, he's been in fear of being discovered and he's been convinced that no one would or could love the real him.  He has run away whenever cornered, or scared, or challenged.  He lacks the basic coping mechanisms to get one through the day.  So he drinks and cheats and naps and loses himself at movies.  He has many ways to keep himself from feeling.  

But all this avoidance behavior eventually has to catch up with you, doesn't it?  How many casualties can you leave in your wake?  How much damage can you withstand?   Don had been grappling with this for years. It's been tedious watching him seem to gain some amount of self awareness only to go right back to the same bad behavior.  People don't change.  We've heard that.  Don has said that.  But then why live life if that is true?  We have to believe that it's never too late to learn and to change.  


Two phone calls help lead to that change.  Don learns to painful facts in rapid succession.  His wife, who he loved but who he cheated on, is dying.  His daughter was hesitant to tell him, worse, she didn't want him to come in on his white horse and save the day.  She doesn't see him that way, the dad who comes in and fixes things and makes them all better.  He's someone she talks to on the phone once a week to chitchat.  And Betty told him the best thing he could do if he cared about his children was stay away.  He hasn't been there for them up to now and changing that would only be unsettling.

He takes this news and heads to California, where he's gone before looking for that elusive happiness. California has made him feel like himself in the past, maybe it can be that for him again.  He goes in search of Stephanie, Anna Draper's niece.  He will swoop in with Anna's ring and save the day.  He will have a new, ready made family, his faux niece and her new baby.  But what he finds there is another lost soul, another broken, empty shell.  She's heading up to a retreat and invites him to come along.


There, Stephanie faced the truth of who she was and what she's done and hearing the repulsion of the woman in the group, she ran out.  Don wanted to tell her to ignore their beliefs, their disapproval of her choices.  He could help her forget the past and move forward.  But that's not what she wanted to hear and that was not the answer.  She knew the people in the group were right and she knew that she could not run away from the truth.  She left him, hopefully to go back and fix things.


And so somewhere in Northern California Don comes face to face with all the sins he's committed.  This awareness was triggered by a trifecta of sadness.  The wife who tried to love his is dying, the daughter who does love him does not want him to come home, the woman he considered his niece rejected him and abandoned him.  Don had a panic attack, like he did back in Season 4's  Hands and Knees when he thought that his past was going to catch up to him. 

His past is catching up to him.  All the lies that are his life. His betrayals, his transgressions.  The opportunities for happiness he let slip away and the people who tried to love him who he hurt and pushed away. As Stephanie explained, Don was wrong believing that you could put what you have done behind you.  You can't run away from your past, not if you want to find peace.  But facing it, especially when you're Don Draper, is a monumentally difficult endeavor. 

Don sat in the circle and heard a sad sack Everyman who felt unloved and wasn't even sure if that feeling was correct.  "They should love me.  Maybe they do."  This average Joe (actually, Leonard) had this recurring dream of being on a shelf in the refrigerator when his family opens it up, reaches for something, only for him to stay there as the door closes and it's dark. You live your life and hope for love and you never get it and you die.  That's what his dream is telling him and it's what Don Draper has been saying since the pilot. "You live alone and you die alone."

But it doesn't have to be that way.  Not when you have children who love and need you and coworkers who are friends and care that you're okay.  Who want you to know they appreciate you and accept you. Someone - many people actually - notices when Don is there and care when he is gone.  Someone wants him to come home. It's time for him to accept that and not be afraid of it and not feel unworthy. 



So cleaned up and clear headed our one-time cynical ad man sits in the lotus position with the smell of the ocean filling his nostrils and he's at peace.  And he wants to share this feeling with the world.  And maybe sell a little Coca Cola while he's at it. 

Observations:

The phone call with Betty was almost too painful to talk about. The truth that the children need consistency and normalcy and that Don not being there would provide those things. The unspoken feelings between the two.  It was beautiful and sad. 

Don sputtered when he tried to recycle his forget the past speech, it wasn't slick and convincing like when he gave it to Peggy in Season One or every other time he used it as the panacea to all ills.  It was jarring seeing how shaky his attempt to sell this pitch was in contrast to his usual glib smoothness. 

Don has always been out of touch with what was current. He never understood the Beatles or the youth movement or the civil rights movement.  Since he was stuck in an artificial construct of the persona he created for the fictional Don Draper, maybe he couldn't connect with what was current.  But in the end, what was so meaningful in his creating the Coke pitch, was his first real connection with what is going on in the world around him. Don finally understood and could speak to the younger generation. 

The first time Don interacted with the others at the retreat he was his cynical, aloof, disconnected self.  Privately mocking the touchy feely vibe, he could not hide his disdain.  During his first interaction with the others. He comes face to face with an older, motherly type. The instruction is to convey what you feel about this person nonverbally. He looks bored and amused - and soon finds out that this attitude stirs up angry feelings.  The woman pushes him hard in the chest - and we're reminded of the fight he had with Betty in Ep. 2.04 Three Sundays when she too pushed him in anger.   

When Don calls Peggy he tells her that he's not the man she thinks he is.  He believes this to the core. He goes through his laundry-list of his sins.   Reminiscent of their soul-baring moment in Ep. 4.07 The Suitcase, after Don tells her all the terrible things he's done, she simply responds, "That's not true."  Her belief in him is more than Don can take and he drops to the ground, paralyzed.

In Ep. 2.12 The Mountain King, Anna Draper does a tarot card reading for the disbelieving Don.  The exchange is particularly meaningful as the show draws to a close:
Anna:  You're definitely in a strange place.  But here is the sun.Don: That can't be good.
Anna: It is.
Don: It's the end of the world.
Anna:  It's the resurrection.  Do you want to know what this means or not?
Don:  No, I don't.  I smell the ocean.
Anna:  This is the one.
Don:  Who's she?
Anna:  She's the soul of the world.  She's in a very important spot here.  This is you, what you are bringing to the reading. She says you are part of the world. Air, water. Every living thing is connected to you.
Don:  It's a nice thought.
Anna:  It is.
Don:  What does it mean?
Anna:  It means the only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone.
Don:  What if that's true?
Anna:  Then you can change.
Don: People don't change.
Anna:  I think she stands for wisdom.  As you live, you learn things. 
Don, with the sun, smelling the ocean, is told that he is part of the world.  "Every living this is connected to you."  She follows that up with telling him that happiness is within his reach - once he gives up the belief that he is alone.  His spiritual awakening leads him to embrace what Anna prophesized for him.

While in the real world, Don Draper did not create the famous Coke ad, it did come from McCann Erickson in 1971.  Like with the "It's Toasted" ad for Lucky Strike in the pilot episode, Mad Men used real commercial pitches to show the creative genius of Don while playing around with the true origins of the work.

There was a nice juxtaposition of Don encouraging Stephanie to run from her past - and the months on the road of Don running from his - and Stan Rizzo running to his future with Peggy. 

Teddy Chaough told Don that there are three women in every man's life (in Ep. 7.08 Severance, in the context of trying to sell Wilkinson razors) and in this episode Don had phone calls with the three most important women in his life.  Betty, Sally and Peggy.  Three women who have tried, in their own ways, to love Don and three who he, in some ways, failed.  Betty and Sally each tell him to stay away,  That everything would be better if he didn't come home to them.  Only Peggy tells him to come home.  And by home she means McCann.  She lets him know he's still welcome there.  It is not a surprise, then, that when he reaches nirvana on the cliffs of Big Sur, he decides to go home.  Which he described, way back in Ep. 1.13 The Wheel, as "that place where we know we are loved." 

In Ep. 7.10 The Forecast, Peggy comes in for her performance evaluation.  The discussion get redirected by Don who want to discus her hopes and dreams for the future.  When pushed, Peggy says she'd like to create something of lasting value.  Don, snorts. "In advertising?"  She gets mad and counters, "This is supposed to be about my job, not the meaning of life."  Don challenges her.  "So you think those things are unrelated?"  They are related to Don and he can finally admit that.  Happiness and satisfaction at work can lead to personal fulfillment and could even create something of lasting value.  

We got some nice comic relief, and some trolling of those who guessed that the finale would end with Don Draper's death, in Roger's exchange with secretary extraordinaire Meredith:
Roger: Sweetheart, I have some sad news.
Meredith:  Is he dead?
Roger:  Don? No. I don't think so. I think we would have heard about that. ...
Roger: I really thought he'd be back by now.
Meredith: Well, I hope he's in a better place.
Roger:  He's not dead.  Stop saying that.
Meredith:  There are a lot of better places than here.

Quotes:  

Don: People just come and go and no one says goodbye? 

Don: I messed everything up.  I’m not the man you think I am.

Peggy:  What did you ever do that was so bad?
Don:  I broke all my vows, I scandalized my child, I took another man's name and made nothing of it. 
Peggy:  That's not true. 

Don:  I'm in a crowd.  I just wanted to hear your voice.  I'll see you soon.  

Leonard: It's like no one cares that I'm gone.  They should love me. Maybe they do. But I don’t even know what it is. You spend your whole life thinking you're not getting it, people aren't giving it to you.  Then you realize they're trying and you don't even know what it is.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Men Season 4, Episode 6: Waldorf Stories

Danny Siegel is interviewing for a job at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.  What he lacks in experience, and height, he more than makes up for by being related to Senior Partner Roger Sterling's  wife Jane.  Jane is his cousin and that should be enough to get his tiny foot in the SCDP offices.  His work is pedestrian - mostly riffing off the "cure for the common cold" idiom. Under normal circumstances, he'd never have a shot at a job there as a copywriter.  But his familial relationship is not a normal circumstance.

Regardless, Don is still reluctant to hire Danny, much to Roger's disappointment.  He's starting to wonder if having his name on the door means anything anymore. First he couldn't stop the partners from pursuing Honda, now he can't get them to hire a junior copywriter to make his wife happy?

After the interview with Danny, Peggy goes to talk to Don. While she's talking about the poor quality of his book, considering the fact that he's not much younger than she is, she is also fishing for a compliment from Don.  He's going to an awards dinner that evening where their commercial for Glo-Coat is up for an award.  Peggy is looking for acknowledgement that her work is being honored and that her original idea is up for the award which Don will be picking up in her absence, but Don deflects and discussion of Peggy's role in the campaign. He even gives the extra ticket to the awards dinner to Joan rather than Peggy. 


Don and Roger pre-game before going to the Waldorf for the Clio award gala. This lead to a flashback of Roger Sterling's first meeting with Donald Draper.  Don was then a slick fur salesman, Roger was a philanderer who needed a token of his appreciation for his new mistress, Joan.  Nothing says I appreciate you like an expensive fur and nothing says mink like mink. Roger noticed the posters in the store and asked who did their work and Don said that he did.  Advertising was an interest of his. In fact, he had put together a portfolio of his work and other ideas.  Roger handed him his card and Don was surprised to see the man he was talking to was the president of his own Advertising agency.  Don asked if he could call him to discuss the profession, but Roger was not interested in being anyone's mentor. 

Later, when Don sent the mink to Roger he included samples of some of his advertising work.  Roger was not impressed with his spunk and ingenuity, he was irritated.  Don did not give up.  Instead he planned for a chance meeting at the lobby elevators for Roger's office and managed to entice him with the promise of an early drink to meet and discuss the business.  Don plied Roger with booze but still Roger had no interest in even considering hiring Don.  So Don did what he does, he made up a story, acted like he belonged there, and marched into the offices of Sterling Cooper as their newest employee.

Peggy is butting heads with her new art director, Stan Rizzo.   She complains to Don how he loses his art work and doesn't get back to her fast enough.  But Don doesn't want to hear that Stan's the problem.  "Stan is talented and more experienced. You need to learn how to work with him, not the other way around," he tells her.  Peggy is already irritated that she's not only not going to the Clios but not getting any acknowledgement for coming up with the idea that lead to the potentially award-winning commercial.  On top of that, she now has to deal with a dilettante who thinks he's her boss.  Stan is arrogant and goes on about nudity and the human body and how uptight and repressed Peggy is. If this were a network sitcom, they'd be dating by the next episode.

The Clio Awards were exciting enough with the prospect of winning their first award, but on top of that we have Duck making a drunken fool of himself and Pete getting some gossip about a possible buyout or merger of the company involving his old rival Ken Cosgrove.  Don and Ted Chaough get to snipe back at forth with each other, with Roger classically referring to him as Chao-guh-guh.  Don accepts the award for the Glo-Coat commercial and then immediately decides to ride the wave back to the office to meet with the Life Cereal reps (who came by unexpectedly).


We've seen good pitches and we've seen memorably brilliant pitches, but this is the first time we've seen Don Draper look at work like we've seen him in his sad lonely out-of-the-office life.  He's drunk and (for him) disheveled and rambling.  He does what he criticizes Danny for doing - plagiarizes someone else's idea.  First he goes back and pilfers parts of his own successful pitches, most obviously the Kodak carousel one, as he scrambles together ideas on the fly.  He's unprepared and unrefined and he only needs to piss himself to complete the full Rumsen.  In the middle of all of this sputtering, he comes up with an idea they like.  "Life, cure for the common cereal."  He's happy, they're happy, everyone's happy.

Except for Peggy who realizes what just happened. Don just sold Danny Siegel's pitch.  She can't help but appreciate the irony - once again Don gets credit for someone else's idea, once again he believes he invented the idea all on his own.

She's not the only unhappy employee.  Pete comes to Lane to ask him if their firm is merging with the one where Ken works, only to find out that Lane has been negotiating to hire Ken for the new SCDP.  Pete, who was always in competition with Ken, is mad that he wasn't consulted, and madder still that his rival will be coming back to challenge him for accounts.  But Lane puts it in pragmatic terms that Pete can understand - they need Ken's business, they can't continue to rely on just Roger.

Don goes out for more drinking, to continue the award winning celebration into the night. While there he sees Faye Miller.  They engage in a little verbal foreplay before the heavily drunk Don does what he's been doing every time he's had one (or five) too many - he hits on Faye.  Even though she's a psychologist and an expert in human behavior she's also a red-blooded woman, but so far she's able to resist uber-handsome Dob Draper's oily charm.

 While Don grabs the attention of an attractive woman at the bar, Roger thinks back again to when he knew Don before he came to work at Sterling Cooper. Don intercepted him in person after repeated efforts to reach him by phone failed. As part of his pitch, Don asked the silver-spoon fed Roger if he ever needed a break.  Maybe feeling guilty that everything was handed to him in life, or just intrigued by the offer of early morning drinking, he agreed to have a drink.  But he doesn't make Don an offer, joking that he always needs a good fit man. 

While Don was plastered earlier in the evening, he told Peggy that she and Stan   needed to get a hotel room for the weekend and figure out a pitch for Vicks by Monday. The two spend the night needling each other, sparring and trying to be creative.  But mostly, there's a power struggle between the two.  He accuses Peggy of being a prude, she calls him on just how free he really is - calling his bluff about nudism.  They strip down and go about their work.  If this were a network sitcom they'd be dating by now. 

The next time we see Don he's sprawled out in bed with a woman next to him. Betty's on the phone and she's furious, Don has missed his time to pick up he kids.  He thinks she's got her days mixed up until he discovers that he was so black-out drunk that he missed an entire day.  It is Sunday and instead of being with his children, he's with the second of two young women he's been holed up with.  And she thinks his name is Dick.  Not Don's finest moment as a father. 


He spends the rest of the day with his phone off the hook, hungover. sleeping it off.  Peggy comes to his apartment to tell him how he stole Danny's idea and pitched it to the Life Cereal team.  Don has no memory of that.  Nor does he remember ordering her and Stan to spend the weekend locked in a hotel room brainstorming.  She doesn't let Don try and wiggle his way out of the trouble his drunken presentation his gotten them into.  She frustrated with his behavior, how he gets away with so mug and is never held responsible. And how everyone thinks she's his favorite and yet he treats her like dirt. 

Observations:

Stan tells Peggy that he knows that she's Don's favorite.  (He also says he knows there hasn't been anything romantic between them, because, basically, Draper can do better.  Stan's a classy guy)  Peggy hears this all the time (Pete was be first to tell her) but she certainly doesn't feel it. Don is like an abusive boyfriend, sending her mixed signals, praising her one moment and ridiculing or demeaning her the next. 

The quote Danny was looking for was: "Success is the good fortune that comes from aspiration, desperation, perspiration, and inspiration."

That's Betty Draper, fashion model, in the Heller Fur ad.  We knew that she was a model, and that's how she and Don, met, and now we see the proof.

Ken is back.  Pete understandably was reluctant to have his position at the new offices challenged and, having won the war, he certainly doesn't want any new battles starting up. But Lane brings him into the negotiations and let's him set the rules - he's a partner. Ken is not, and that seems to mollify Pete.   Pete may be prickly, and emotional at times, but he has a good sense of what's good for the bottom line. 

The parallels between Don and Danny are there - both are eager and will do anything to get into the advertising game.  Both play on Roger's weaknesses to get their jobs (Don gets Roger drunk and then lies to him, Danny uses his cousin).  But where Danny is upfront about who he is and how he expects to get hired, Don uses deception to get his.  He lacks the connections that Danny has, so he has to reinvent himself.

We also see the differences between Roger and Don.  One, the spoiled rich kid who inherited his wealth, status, career, company.  The other, the self made man, raised in poverty, who did whatever it took to become successful.  Roger feels envious that everyone thinks he's never really had to work and that he coasts through life.  Don is perennially afraid of being revealed as a fraud and constantly needs validation.

At least Don knows that he gave Danny  the job.  Roger does not realize - or at least does not acknowledge - that he didn't actually discover or hire Don.  Not only is Don Draper's life origin story false, his career origin story is a lie as well. So Roger cannot even take credit for hiring Don.

First introduction of new art director Stan Rizzo, who immediately butts heads with Peggy.  But Peggy does a great job getting the upper hand with him.

Songs: 
"Ladder Of Success" by Skeeter Davis

Quotes:

Danny: You know what they say, aspiration's as good as perspiration.
Don:  That's not how it goes.

Peggy: What's his connection to Roger?
Don:  Besides being delusional?

Don: You finish something, you find out everyone loves it right around the time that It feels like someone else did it.

Roger:  Plagiarism?  That's resourceful.

Don:  Can I assume this is some kind of an apology?
Roger: No no no, I know exactly how much that costs.

Don:  Make it simple but significant.

Peggy: I was clapping and he thought I was clapping for him.
Stan:  Who claps for themselves?

Lane:  Roger Sterling is a child, And frankly we can't have you pulling the cart all by yourself.

Faye: Just think how you'd feel right now if you lost.
Don:  About the same, I suppose. It doesn't make the work any better.
Faye: That's very healthy.

Faye: Award or no award, you're still Don Draper.
Don: Whatever that means.

Stan:   I know you're his favorite.  I bet he takes you hunting and lets you carry the carcasses in your mouth.

Woman: Is that Don Draper?
Roger: Yes it is.
Woman:  Is he attached?
Roger:  To that glass? Absolutely.

Roger: They don't seem to give awards for what I do. 
Joan: And what is that?
Roger:  Find guys like him. 

Joan (to Roger): You've crossed the border from lubricated to morose. 

Don:  It's just I've left some messages for you.
Roger: And I've ignored them.  That's my message for you,

Roger:  My mother always said be careful what you wish for because you'll get it. And then people'll get jealous and try to take it away from you.
Don:  I don't think that's how that goes.
Roger:  You're an expert on everything, right? And how can I hire you? You know too much about me.



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Spoilery observations. (DON'T READ UNTIL YOU'RE CAUGHT UP)

Megan stumbled pulling the projector out of Stan's office.  Was that to have continuity for when she tells Sally in Ep. 4.09 The Beautiful Girls that she falls all the time?  We should have seen Megan coming, she suddenly was everywhere on the screen.  Why couldn't they have put Clara on his desk?  She wouldn't have gotten knocked up by Torkelson in Season 7 and Don wouldn't have married Megan.  We can dream.

Stan and Peggy have a long wonderful non-sexual relationship and I thank the Mad Men writers every day that they kept them as close friends (the times they spend on the phone together is priceless) until the very end when Joey Baird's prescient "you love her" finally was proved correct and the two proclaimed their true feelings for one another. 

Fur comes back into Don's life in Ep. 7.08 Severance when he auditions models wearing fur (and hallucinates Rachel also in fur) as part of the Wilkinson Razor commercial. 

In Ep. 4.12 Blowing Smoke Don's ex-girlfriend Midge uses the same ruse to bump into Don - pretending to have a meeting in his office building.

The rivalry between Ted Chaough and Don Draper finally becomes a partnership as the two of them joined (in Ep. 6.06 For Immediate Release) to try and out maneuver the bigger agencies only to end up together in the type of behemoth agency they each tried to avoid. 

Danny won't stay at SCDP forever, but his career path takes him to heights no one could have imagined.  In Ep. 6.10 A Tale of Two Cities we discover that the little guy is now a Hollywood big shot.