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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in mad men (45)


In Which We Leave When We're Satisfied

Their Dorothea Lange Faces


Mad Men
creator Matthew Weiner

Neither Sylvia nor I have worn actual clothes for at least three episodes, which is perhaps why I felt a deep kinship with her this week. My excuse is infectious mononucleosis but she's just fed up with her husband, who recently quit his job as a heart surgeon because he is one of the most overdeveloped underdeveloped characters in television history.

When she cries to him that he hasn't been taking care of her, only himself, I bet she isn't thinking, gee, I'd really like to be locked in a hotel room as Don's sex slave for the next 48 hours. That would get me to put on my pantyhose this morning. When you're handed what you think you want on a silver platter, you should send it back roughly 90% of the time.

It wasn't troubling to me that Sylvia enjoyed the first half of the tryst. That Don assumes a woman wants to be cared for by being told that she exists for his pleasure is mildly offensive, but that Sylvia initially laps it up is her prerogative. I don't have the right to tell the woman what she does or does not want. Neither does Don, but his real mistake is to believe that the game can go on forever, that he can take a fantasy and impose it on her long after she has tired of it. 

This way of thinking created real problems for Don this week, as Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Cutler, Gleason & Chaough merge on geographical and personal levels. Ted Chaough isn't thrilled about Don's frequent disappearances, and Don's remedy is to get him stinking drunk while they brainstorm about margarine. 

Both Ted and Don love the business. They love it more than they love either of their respective companies or clients. They love it in the same way that Chevy loves cars: when the old methods or designs are getting tired or boring, it's time to move forward and make something new. Nobody really knows how it's going to work out practically but up until this point (almost) everyone has been going along with it because Ted and Don are visionaries and visionaries are fun and exciting to follow. 

The only problem is that a. it's incredibly difficult to put two visionaries in one room (or airplane) without eventually causing a massive power struggle and b. very few people are willing to keep on the rose-colored glasses anymore. Pete's a dick, but his continual discontent with Don has been the mercury measuring the mood of the rest of the office. As Pete's anger grows, it begins to spread to farther reaches of the board room.

It didn't take much for Joan to lose faith in Don after he lost the Jaguar account, for obvious reasons that become less obvious when you think about how no longer having to deal with Jaguar should have actually made her feel better. Peggy returns to SCDP with the same indulgent disapproval of Don that she's always had, except now she has a major crush on Ted Chaough. I'd make a list of the members of the creative department and whose side they'll surely fall on when lines are drawn, except Ted already fed them margarine toast so it seems like overkill. 

I'm really enjoying Bob Benson's miniature subplots with each of the partners: he is sneaking his way in, although his purposes remain unknown. He got Joan to stand up for him in an operations meeting just by accompanying her to urgent care and by bringing her baby an age-inappropriate gift. I don't know what it is about him that makes all the sirens in my head go off but at least we know he's not very smart. He started by attempting to butter (margarine?) up the male partners when he should have just started with Joan in the first place, and no, not because she's a woman, but because she fucking runs the place. 

The only black character we've seen since the MLK episode was, in Pete's words, "a two-hundred pound Negro prostitute", which... well, doesn't give Weiner much of a vote of confidence in that department. Even Dawn, Don's secretary who is secretly the next Joan, only gets mentioned briefly by Peggy. I know an episode is only forty-five minutes long, but really, do we have to see so many shots of Sylvia's pajamas? Even I've been getting dressed in the morning. 

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

"Bullet" - Young Wonder (mp3)

"Time" - Young Wonder ft. Sacred Animals (mp3)


In Which We Try To Catch The Deluge In A Paper Cup

Two By Two


Mad Men
creator Matthew Weiner

When the news breaks that Dr. Martin Luther King has been assassinated, we're sitting in a room full of white people listening to Paul Newman give a speech. Shock reverberates; it's a moment not unlike the one in a much earlier installment, when JFK was shot. Suddenly everybody is a neighbor. Everyone wants to make a call. Megan is up for an award for her writing on Heinz Beans, but the relevancy of an award show, not to mention the defunct Heinz account, is quickly lost in the fray.

I didn't hear at first who had been killed. This added to the mayhem of the moment, and I was just as quick to respond in worry as this room full of people. Nobody cares who died or what happened, what matters is what is going to come of it, who else is going to have to pay, how we can prove our mettle. Destruction seems imminent. Fires break out and, like the ancient flood which gave the episode its title, they threaten to engulf the city. 

So it is murder for King, and it is softcore murder of whatever uncomfortable unity had begun to creep into offices and apartment buildings. "Negro" punctuates scenes. Other than two moments in Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Cutler, Gleason & Chaough, we aren't privy to what any of the black characters are thinking or feeling. They are marginalized, either as the perpetrators of violence in their neighborhoods, looters and rioters, or as objects of pity.

When Joan puts her arms around Dawn and says, "I'm so sorry", it is deeply patronizing: what will you do now that you've lost your messiah? Compared to the compassionate hug between Peggy and her secretary, which happens just moments before, it creates more division than the street blocks separating downtown from the riots. Fear, pity and guilt are not the biggest feelings. They are not the only ones we are capable of experiencing, but they are the most difficult to sidestep. They sell. 

Critiquing, perhaps, the past weeks' media frenzy over Boston or the advertising industry in general, Weiner gives both Harry Crane and an insurance salesman that Roger is trying to court for business the callousness that we have almost come to expect alongside catastrophe. Profits will soar, but at what cost? People will buy a t-shirt if you tell them part of the proceeds are going to a good cause, but what they're really doing is filling their closet with more shit. Fear, pity, guilt. 

Family was important this week, even if nobody can get along. Pete calls Trudy and offers to come spend the night, but the only thing uniting them, even in this moment, is the television blaring in his Manhattan apartment and her suburban living room. Megan may be exasperated by her father's intellectualism and Don's drinking, but it hasn't been enough to push her out on her own yet, although we're catching more and more glimpses of how successful she is becoming.

Peggy, who opens the episode dreaming of a future in a new apartment on the Upper East Side, seems surprised to learn that her live-in boyfriend Abe has imagined their future children and the "different kinds of people" he wants them to be exposed to. Don is worried about Sylvia, whose husband whisked her away to Washington D.C. for a medical conference, and whom he can't call.  

Tragedy has a way of showing us what we really want — and nobody is content, no matter how much they may talk themselves into it. Like Don's (hilarious) speech: "When you have children, you act excited, but you don't feel anything. Especially if you had a difficult childhood. You want to love them, but you don't. The fact that you're faking that feeling makes you wonder if your father had the same problem", we are made aware in this episode by the fragile presence, not the previous episodes' absence, of the things that are soon to disappear or fall apart. Megan and Don's intimacy and marriage. Don's relationship with his children (who are quickly growing into adults who know better.)  

Even Peggy, who seems so excited about new apartments and Abe, keeps making eyes at Ted Chaough. Michael Ginsburg, who doggedly refuses his father's attempts to set him up with a nice Jewish girl, reveals how nervous (excited) he is by prattling on at her in the diner about children and the fact that he's never had sex before. 

We finally got more of a glimpse of brunette Betty, whose dreams for her political husband seem to be coming true as Henry reveals that he'd like to run for state senate. "I can't wait for them to really meet you," he murmurs, and we know Henry well enough to understand that he means his supportive, charming wife, but Betty still parades in front of the mirror holding a party dress of yore against herself. These old habits are comfortable; it takes calamity to reveal how poorly they fit. 

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 our recordings about Mad Men here.

"King Sized Death Bed" - The Weeks (mp3)

"Harlot's Bluff" - The Weeks (mp3)


In Which We Will Not Keep These Vows



Mad Men
creator Matthew Weiner

In a certain light, Megan's resemblance to Anne Hathaway is remarkable. Perhaps it is just that aura of unappreciated talent, the tender tears, the innocence. When Mel, the writer of her soap opera, and his wife invite Megan and Don to swing one evening over dinner, what holds the Drapers back is Don's dogged determination to prolong the pain as long as possible. If you experience something mildly unpleasant for long enough, you begin to think it's the best you've ever had. 

Take ketchup, for example. In the summer, living outdoors, you cannot imagine yourself consuming anything else but hot dog after smothered hot dog. Hibernating inside, it's another story; I'm not sure I know anyone who would partake except under duress. When you can only appreciate something in a certain context, an outside experience feels foreign, new, almost forbidden. I don't think Pete and Don would have gone for Heinz's Ketchup if it wasn't a little bit like an affair. Hell, they even conduct the initial conversation in Pete's Manhattan apartment, far from Roger's nagging and Ken's worrying. But if we learned anything from Pete's tryst-turned-sour last week, it's that the pretty visitor in your bed might have some secrets of her own. 

Much like the beginning of a tragedy, the show's central conflicts express themselves through outlying characters. If this week's ensemble was bigger than ever, it's because the weight of what's to come has to rest on everyone's shoulders. Harry's secretary Scarlett brought out a side of Joan we hadn't seen in a while when she skipped out of work early to attend a party and had Don's secretary, Dawn, punch her timecard. And here we were thinking that Joan's biggest problem was that she had to sleep with a sleazeball to make partner at SCDP. When Joan fires Scarlett and (eventually) gives Dawn additional responsibilities, we see a side of her we haven't truly seen since the very early days of the show: Joan the office manager. 

If Harry is angry at Joan because she was made partner and he wasn't, it's for the wrong reasons. He's quick to call out the dirty deed that got her to the top, but what he doesn't know about Joan is that she feels no shame in being desired. In fact, quite the contrary: a girls' night out with an old friend from out of town, Kate, proves that. If Joan is willing to do anything for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, it's because she needs to be essential; her greatest fear would be to discover that in the end, she's just a glorified secretary, as replaceable as all the other girls. 

But Harry never was very good at reading people, which is why he demands to be made partner and is actually surprised when they don't hand him the title on a silver platter. You've really got to hand it to the people who have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, by which I mean, hand them a consolation prize and show them the door.

Don and Peggy face off for ketchup, and there's no moral high ground here. Both of them sold out to be in this hotel room: Peggy betrayed Stan's confidence, and Don betrayed Heinz Baked Beans. Their pitches are doppelgangers, simple and sophisticated, but it is Peggy's that has the defining characteristic that lets the rest of the world know which is which, who is who. What makes her better than Don is her ability to capitalize on what the client actually wants without having to justify a vision. Regardless, neither SCDP nor Cutler, Gleason & Chaough win the business, and in the process, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce loses the rest of Heinz's business because of their indiscretion. 

We'll have to wait and see whether or not this exposure of infidelity presages things to come. For now, we can only celebrate as one character's honesty pays off. Like all Don's secretaries of yore, there are big things coming for Dawn, although we're not sure what. He promoted one of them and married the other, so I can only assume she will be made queen.

The council for human rights has begun investigating the advertising industry in the interest of black employees. Risky, perhaps, in an episode where Dawn and her friend have coffee (twice! in two different scenes!), the first time characters of color have been given any significant screen time or personality on Mad Men since Carla, the Drapers' maid. It's possible that Lena Dunham wrote to Matthew Weiner and shared her concerns for the future of the show. The irony is painful, but like all wounds the more you press on it the better it feels.

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 twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here 

"Mountain Child" - Nora Jane Struthers (mp3)

"Beyond the Farm" - Nora Jane Struthers (mp3)