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Entries in mad men (45)


In Which You Should See What You Look Like

Equally Offensive


Mad Men
creator Matthew Weiner

This is war. If the reference to Dickens' novel didn't tip you off, the frantic trench-digging in Sunday's episode should have. It's a battle between men and women, between peaceful protesters and the police, between the two factions at the newly-named Sterling Cooper & Partners, between the East Coast and West Coast. 

On radios and television sets, the 1968 Democratic National Convention drones in the background. While Don, Roger and Harry fly off to California to have a meeting with Carnation over instant breakfast, Ginsberg and Cutler break into a political dispute in the creative department. Cutler has the upper hand from the beginning, but only because Ginsberg gets too fired up and calls his boss a Nazi. 

Joan has what begins as a date and ends as a business dinner with Avon's new head of marketing, when she sees an opportunity to stick her foot in the door in accounts. "What makes a good agency?" he asks her. Joan bullshits her way through the initial pitch, picks up the bill and charms the man's socks off. Feminists across America yelled in ecstasy.

But Joan's victory is short-lived when Ted wants to send Pete and Peggy to meet with Avon without her. "You'll get all the credit," assures Pete, but from the look on Joan and Peggy's faces, we know that's not how it's going to happen   even if Pete wasn't, well, Pete. Joan decides to take matters into her own hands and schedules a lunch with Avon, to which Peggy is invited while Pete is not. Peggy warns Joan that she's walking on thin ice, but it's too late: Joan's rocking her powder blue suit and ordering coffee for the whole table. 

Nobody's rooting for Joan or Ginsberg more than I am, but this week both of them underestimated what they were dealing with. While Ginsberg put up a good fight, calling Cutler a Nazi was just uncalled for. In general Ginsberg seems a little bit overwrought. I'm not sure what's happening, but his usual neurosis is being replaced by a sort of mental distress. Like Pete, he's the thermometer measuring the general atmosphere in the agency, predicting where the wind will blow next. His breakdown before the meeting with Manischewitz is troubling.

It's high time that Joan got to show off her skills over the table rather than under it, but she failed to take into account the fact that although she's been working in the business for a good number of years, she hasn't acquired all the know-how she needs in order to connect with clients. Joan has poise and confidence, and is immediately ten times more likable than any of SC&P's account reps, especially Pete. Yet the lunch with Avon is halting and awkward, especially when she swoops in and steals the limelight from the more-experienced Peggy and makes cringeworthy generalizations about the cosmetics business.

Peggy is right to be irked, especially when Joan accuses her of not being supportive and then (ugh) of having slept her way to the top. It's not the double standard that bothers me here (after all, Joan did sleep with the Jaguar client in exchange for a partnership) but rather the fact that Joan doesn't understand that you've got to start at the bottom and work your way up, even if you've been in the business for a long time or you've slept with Roger Sterling or you're a partner at the agency.

Not only did Joan jeopardize her chances of being trusted with future opportunities, but she might have lost SC&P's opportunity with Avon. In the end, as much as I (and everybody else) want to make this about womenz issuez, it's more about good business practices and understanding your own professional limits. Not everyone is cut out for every job. That is, unless you're Bob Benson, in which case you're being promoted for making mistakes and also becoming a sort of scary den mother to the unruly creatives. While I don't think Pete, Ted or Cutler were right in any of these incidents, I know that Joan and Ginsberg and pretty much every other old SCDPer need to watch their backs if they're going to make the inevitable cut. 

It seems like Don's been able to keep it in his pants since Megan's tearful injunction that "something must change" between them, and the two share a couple of cute, flirtatious moments over the course of the episode. But the internet thinks that Megan Draper is going to end like Sharon Tate, and it would seem that something sinister is brewing. Don, Roger and Harry attend a party in California and Don smokes hash; during his high, Megan shows up in a hallucination and leads him out to the pool where he falls in and stops breathing, at least momentarily. Megan's appearance is followed by Dinkins, the soldier Don met in Hawaii way back in the first episode, who has since gone to Vietnam and died. Don wonders at the man's missing arm. 

"Dying doesn't make you whole," replies Dinkins. "You should see what you look like." Don turns around and sees himself floating face-down in the pool. 

The references to death, particularly suicide, and the rampant drug use are what have been holding a rather disparate season together. The two go hand in hand; if the restless abandon of a high or a trip induces more creativity in some, it gives afterlife experiences to others. We've got to wonder what it'll do to Pete, who's so angry with the way things are going at the agency that he steals Stan's joint at the end of the episode. Hopefully he'll chillax, but it is more than likely that his descent into drug use is a sign of the end times; I'm starting to believe that Bob Benson (did I mention that he's a newly-appointed member of the all-important Chevy account team?) is the leader of a suicide cult.

An uneasy truce settles over the agency as the new name, Sterling, Cooper & Partners is chosen; everyone except for Roger Sterling and Cooper fall under the umbrella term "Partners". Seems a strange word for a group of people whose interests really only align when it comes to Chevy. At least that part of the business is going well. Chevy has finally signed off on creative, but so far, only Ted has been permitted to see the car that the agency must try to sell. It is as illusory as their future.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Mad Men. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"Oh, Look At Me Now" - Jo Stafford (mp3)

"I'll Never Smile Again" - Jo Stafford (mp3)


In Which Loving You Is The Worst Way To Get To You

Lousy Affair


Mad Men
creator Matthew Weiner

We couldn't have asked for a more perfect episode this weekend: it was vintage Mad Men, rich with everything that drew us in the early days. Romance was on the table, and it wasn't your garden variety Pete Campbell sleaze fest or Don Draper affair; it was about the deeper bonds, the ones that have been brewing and breaking since the very beginning. 

And like the early seasons, we find Don back in bed with Betty at their son Bobby's summer camp, and Peggy without a spot of make-up on her face, standing bewildered in the hallway of the agency, unsure of how to please. Even though Peggy is stronger this season than she's ever been, working with Don has put her back into an old rhythm, one we thought she'd avoid while working under Ted Chaough. But between Ted admitting his feelings for her then regretting it, and Don forcing her to choose between his work and Ted's, she ends up right where she's always been: a damn fine copywriter who happens to be a woman and who isn't sure which one she's supposed to be. 

Peggy doesn't play writer or woman any differently, because both sides of her want the same things. And why should she have to choose? Megan has started playing a new character in her soap opera — the twin sister of the character she was playing before. She's pressed by the director to distinguish the characters, but what stands between them is a blonde wig and a costume. "They're two halves of the same person and they want the same thing, but they're trying to get it in different ways," she explains. With the blonde wig and class she's a cheap Betty Draper, who glides into the episode as svelte and icily glamorous as we remember her from before. 

When Betty didn't feel desirable, we got a brief, exhilarating glimpse of her behind the broken zippers and flowing mumus. I've always been more tempted to psychoanalyze her rather than Don, but whatever differences lie between them, they face their unhappiness the same way: sex. Both of them are afraid of being abandoned — Betty if she's not beautiful enough, and Don if things become too comfortable. Afterwards, in bed, Betty reveals that she feels sorry for Megan because, "She doesn't know that loving you is the worst way to get to you." This, after she fishes for compliments on her appearance. 

Betty and Don are perfect for each other in the way that two incredibly fucked-up people can make each other somewhat less unhappy. She will never stop wanting a dangerous man, and while Henry will likely become a more powerful man, he's basically a softie. Betty is beautiful, certainly, but she's also got the sort of psychological dilemma that Don savors. Home is where the whorehouse is, and while she certainly keeps up the pretense of the perfect housewife, she's incapable of making a completely comfortable home. In other words, Megan's got her work cut out for her if she hopes to mend the distance between herself and her husband. 

Meanwhile, Peggy and Abe's utopian dream of gentrifying a rough neighborhood comes to a startling halt when Abe gets stabbed by local hooligans. He calls the policeman a "fascist pig" for asking what race the attackers belonged to, and is incredulous when Peggy takes the policeman's side. It's been the beginning of the end for them for a while. Peggy may have had her head in the clouds when Abe mentioned children, but ever since Ted Chaough came onto the scene, it's been a ticking time bomb with her long-locked hippie boyfriend. 

The shit really hits the fan when, paranoid because of conflict on the streets and rocks through bedroom windows, Peggy fashions a shiv with a broomstick and a kitchen knife and accidentally stabs Abe. It was a hilarious moment. You could see it coming a mile away, sort of like Betty and Don's affair, but the actuality was no less marvelous for all of the foreshadowing. The satisfaction I experienced in both moments was only mildly surpassed by Roger's "Bob Bunson" comment after we see Bob Benson in Joan's apartment wearing shorty shorts. 

Fatherhood comes naturally to Don in this episode as he accompanies Betty and Bobby to summer camp. Roger Sterling remains the token failure in this department after he takes his four-year-old grandson to Planet of the Apes and upsets his daughter. When he offers toys to Joan for Kevin, she announces that she'd rather her son think that Greg is his father. With Bob Benson hovering, however, it's likely he'll be playing with little Kevin on the beach before either Greg or Roger has a chance. 

Pete Campbell is basically ordered to get his life in order before considering taking on more responsibility at work, and Harry is still enterataining the delusion that he'll be made partner when "things calm down". Abe probably dies. Peggy consistently gets screwed even though she's the only one who doesn't expect to have everything handed to her, but if we know anything about Peggy, it's that when she reaches the end of her rope she makes good things happen for herself. That's the best we can hope for anyone, really. 

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Mad Men. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here

"You Know" - Laura Marling (mp3)

"Master Hunter" - Laura Marling (mp3)

The new album from Laura Marling is entitled Once I Was An Eagle, and it is out today from Ribbon Records. You can purchase it here.


In Which The Timber Of Our Voice Is Important

666 Ideas


Mad Men
creator Matthew Weiner

"Every time we get a car," said Don at the end of Sunday night's episode, "The Crash", "this place turns into a whorehouse." Powerful judgment coming from a man who, with many of his colleagues, spent a weekend in the office high on a cocktail of B vitamins and speed. As it turns out, the Chevy account has been every bit as much of a bitch as the Jaguar account before it, and the new SCDP/CGC mashup agency is sweating, crying and running their way through the halls trying to come up with a pitch that will satisfy their nitpicky clients.

But as the frequent flashbacks to Don's youth prove, the relationship with the whorehouse is complex, and not as easily dismissed as Don's bravado would have us believe. I think we're all sort of done with these peeks into Draper's past: we don't need to see a play-by-play of his Freudian dilemma as the whore who nurses him back to health from a severe fever subsequently initiates him in the ways of sex. If anything, these yawn-inducing scenes exist simply to illustrate Don's last point: a whorehouse is not an ideal habitat, but it's where your mother and your lover live. It's where there's comfort and excitement. It's sexy and dangerous and terrible for you, and it'll keep you — and your agency — afloat.

The episode was hard to follow, partly because it was supposed to be but mostly because so many divergent plotlines tried to sneak in the back door and make an appearance. Some of them, like Don's continuing obsession with his neighbor Sylvia and his habit of smoking outside the service door to her apartment at night, are quickly lost in the carnage.

Others, like the Draper children being held hostage in their apartment by an elderly black woman who wants to rob them blind, are so strange and misplaced that they're laughable. I swear, back-to-blonde Betty and her righteous indignation is what kept me from going crazy this week, as well as Peggy's serene, smiling response when Stan tells her she has a nice ass: 

"Thank you." 

For most of the episode, we're not sure what day of the week it is or what time of day it is, whether or not anybody has been sleeping or whether anyone is making any progress on Chevy. The work becomes an excuse for unbridled frenzy, as each character becomes a caricature of themselves on their best or worst days. Kenny Cosgrove, who opened the show in a speeding car full of drunk Chevy executives brandishing weapons and yelling, tap-dances in response to an inspirational speech from Don. He's got a foot injury from the car accident, but it's like it doesn't exist. In the business, injuries become assets, the worst possible work ends up inspiring the best. They're all taking it in the butt for Chevy. It's their job. 

We're forced to pay attention to Don, but his trip is the least interesting: he merely becomes a heightened version of himself on the job, pitching cheesy lines left and right and striding meaningfully in and out of rooms. "The timber of my voice is as important as the content," he yells at Kenny. "I need to be there in the flesh."

It's easy to assume the role of the hero in an environment where everyone admires you, but the sentiment doesn't extend far past the creative department. At home, Don is the father who doesn't give enough of a shit about his kids to come home and babysit them, or the husband who needs to be pitied and nurtured because Megan isn't sure how to communicate with him otherwise. It's a fair guess on her part, if mother/lover are as intricately entwined in his mind as it would appear. 

Disguises are important. If the strange black woman looting your dad's apartment in the middle of the night tells you she's your grandmother, should you believe her simply because you don't want to fall prey to racism? A granny holding up a bank is the oldest joke in the book, but this plotline felt forced, especially since it gave Sally an excuse to tell her father, "I don't know anything about you." We get it, Don's a mystery to everybody, even himself. Except he's not, so let's not waste Grandma Ida's time. It was really cool when Dawn the secretary had a super interesting life just waiting to be plundered for our entertainment. Now she's back to piling files on Don's desk.

Grandmother/thief, mother/lover, blonde Betty/brunette Betty, Don/Ted, Peggy/Ginsberg. Swapping roles comes easy to this lot, and the only person who is completely incapable of deception — Pete — clocked out early in the episode. We weren't asking for a high-speed chase when we asked Season 6 to get interesting. The frenetic, frequent drug use and its consequences (waking up? getting dressed? taking an uncomfortable elevator ride?) are distractions from the meatier, character-centric drama I appreciated so much in early Mad Men. It may seem like we're moving forward, but we're just running around in circles. 

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Mad Men. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here.

"Asleep at the Wheel" - Jamaican Queens (mp3)

"Black Madonna" - Jamaican Queens (mp3)

The new album from Jamaican Queens is entitled Wormfood and it can be purchased here.