Thoughts on Mad Men s7e3, “Field Trip”

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Gumdrops are flop candy, Bobby. image courtesy of imgur

Last night’s episode was INTENSE. “Field Trip” is all about disappointment, the long road to redemption, and that ever-present theme of change. From the start, Mad Men has always been playing with the idea of “can people really change?” Can Don really change, or is this all a smokescreen? Will his ever-present manpain give him a jolt to finally move forward?

One of the strongest points this show has made over time is that Don has precisely zero control over his life, no matter how much effort he puts forth into that carefully crafted illusion. He tries way too hard to keep that control – he’s so desperate that it slips away rapidly the tighter he grips, like that sand metaphor you see emblazoned on shit at TJ Maxx. The only time he has any ounce of control in his life are those fleeting moments where he makes peace with being Dick Whitman. In this episode, we see Don finally admit defeat and accept a truly shit offer from SC&P. He’s starting to make his peace with himself and is ready to try and climb back up to his former glory. He’s ready to prove himself.

We find Don in a familiar place at the start of the episode – a movie theatre, where he’s seeing the French indie flick Model Shop. This pops us sometime in mid-April 1969, so it’s been a couple of months since we last saw everyone. Don is still in suspended animation, still longing for the agency, still lost. That particular film is a compelling choice, since it’s about a depressed, adrift guy running away from commitment to his live-in girlfriend along with other life obligations, and taking up with a French divorcée in Los Angeles. Seriously. Naturally, something about this movie undoubtedly sticks with Don, an adrift melancholy guy himself. He can’t admit to himself that he’s fallen out of love with both LA and perhaps even his LA-based wife alike, but I think he might be starting to get it now.

Flustered Dawn is buckling under the pressure of her new job. With all of that new responsibility on top of keeping Don’s shit in line, she’s becoming more unreachable, which Don absolutely hates since he’s still clinging to her leg like a fucking 2 year-old. She tells him that a call came in from Alan Silver, and Don begrudgingly returns the call himself. Silver, seeing Don as the manager-type, begs him to do something about Megan’s absurd/embarrassing thirst she’s parading around Hollywood.

This is not unlike Betty’s shrink calling Don to fill him in on her “progress”. Instead of being irritated like he was with Betty’s lack of direction, he decides to treat Megan differently and actually try to help and fix things; so, Don takes a field trip to surprise her in LA. He thinks he’s going to help set her career right, but he ends up almost destroying their damn marriage when he lets on the real reason for his visit. He manages to admit that he’s no longer at SC&P for the time being. Megan is horrified that he lied to her about his forced leave for actual MONTHS, when in fact he was trying to do the thing he’s never legitimately done before; stay the hell put and try to set things right in New York instead of just running off to LA and perpetuating the cycle. Their argument is sad and sincere, and it’s a lot to take in. Megan slaps him in the face with realness and tells him straight up to leave and get on a plane back to JFK. Daaaaaaaamn, Don. That backfired.

It’s interesting because instead of that horrid argument inspiring Don to booze and bang around, it instead motivates him to get his work ducks in a row for real, instead of faux-working. In the last episode, he embarks down that road a little bit with Sally, starting to repair familial relationships and coming clean in the process. After he gets back from LA, he takes a dinner meeting that ends up with a great fake-out where we think he’s going up to a hooker’s hotel room, but it’s actually Roger’s place. He has a frank and short discussion with Roger saying he’s had enough and wants to come back to the agency, showing Roger another offer he received at dinner. Roger complies, and tells him to come in on Monday, but uh, neglects to tell anyone else.

Betty is back, sharp as usual. She lunches with Francine, and their conversation is a goddamn sword fight. She’s straight up fascinated that Francine has taken a job a few days a week (ain’t that the dream) to get more fulfilment out of life now that her children are older. Betty is a little insulted and upset when she realises she’s old fashioned, only seeking reward in life from her children. Of course, the irony here is that her children who are old enough to know better hate and resent her. True to form, Francine throws shade, saying “Betty Draper, that is indeed how I would describe you”, hinting at her divorce being quite nouveau. She volunteers to be a chaperone for Bobby’s field trip to his braless teacher’s farm, and drinks gross fresh milk out of a bucket. How genuinely bizarre.

Betty comes face to face with the longterm consequences of her actions while having lunch with Bobby. For years, she has rarely enjoyed a meal with her children. They eat their hotdogs and fish sticks while Betty nurses wine and cigarettes. They’ve made quips in past seasons about how “mommy never eats” so when Bobby trades Betty’s sandwich for some gumdrops, he naturally doesn’t give it another thought because of how she’s always been. When Betty is pissed off that she has no lunch, Bobby feels ashamed and Betty is immediately confused when faced with that reality. That bizarre milk bucket tasting was indicative of Betty trying new things and sort of putting herself out there, and even going on the field trip at all was a small effort to bond with Bobby. She’s starting to realise it’s going to take a lot more work to repair that relationship than just that.

Henry comes home to a morose dinner in that tacky kitchen, with Bobby wishing he could turn the clock back to when he was so excited and optimistic about Betty coming along with him to the farm. That simple line “I wish it was yesterday” is totally gutting, and is a feeling that all of these characters are internalising as it is. It instantly strikes a chord with Betty, and thoughtlessly, she blames the horrible turn of the day on Bobby’s “behaviour” . She doesn’t quite know what to do with this information just yet, and true to form, she says something scathing and acts out in the most outlandish way possible. Later on, we see her in bed holding a sleeping Gene, visibly shaken and upset. I really felt badly for her when she sullenly asks Henry “why don’t they love me?” Betty is just now piecing together her past actions which have made her older children push her away. She’s played the part of this traditional wife-and-mother-archetype for so long, but has simply been going through the motions, not dissimilar to Don. Will Betty be able to course-correct? I hope so. I think she really wants to, she loves her children and wants to have a real relationship with them; she just has to figure out how to do that, like Don needs to figure out how to have a real relationship with Megan and basically everyone else he’s ever encountered in his life.

All I want to say about Peggy is DAMN, girl. Grow up and move past flop Ted. Don’s not the one who chicken-shitted out of your wildly inappropriate relationship, Ted did that all on his own; stop misdirecting your anger at your coworkers (past and present) and get on with it already. My eyes are going to fall out of my damn head from side-eyeing her so much. This shit is a bad look, Pegs. Peggy has myriad reasons to be pissed at Don, but this is actually the weakest one of them all.

In a fucked out way, I think that Don actually did Peggy a favour by outing her relationship with Ted. Of course he shouldn’t have done it in front of a client like a damn maniac, but it definitely needed to be done in a devastating manner to have some modicum of lasting effect. Everyone knew something was going on between them; the other employees were side-eyeing them and it was only getting worse and more obvious, so Don took the wheel and put a full stop to it by embarrassing the hell out of Ted and relinquishing all credit from Peggy for that ratchet mess of a St Joseph’s ad. That sting is rendered anew once the Clios roll around in this episode.

Don’s field trip to SC&P is super awkward to say the least. It runs parallel with Bobby and Betty’s jaunt to the farm, though Don actually manages to get a damn sandwich. He’s greeted with both abject coldness and warmth alike from the different employees, and this is the first time we actually see anyone inhabiting the creative lounge up to this point in the season. Not knowing what to do with himself and wondering if the inexplicably absent Roger just wanted to embarrass him, he sits around for hours like a child being punished. Don being back in the office knocks the partners off their respective axes, Cutler and Joan especially, and it was almost a total disaster until Roger finally shows up after a boozy “early lunch”.

Similar to Peggy, Joan has droves of reasons to be pissed at Don, but she actually chooses wisely like a normal-ass adult. In season 5 with the Jaguar creepiness, Don tried to rescue a woman he knew point blank did not want to be rescued. He tried to talk her out of banging hamplanet Herb in exchange for Jaguar’s business, but his timing was off; she truly appreciated that effort on his behalf, but she did gain a partnership out of that awful ordeal at the very least.

Remember that IPO Joan put a lot of hard work into making happen? When Don deftly destroyed it in one fell swoop with the merger, she’d had it with his self-serving behaviour and not thinking of the agency. His temper tantrum where he felt he was Doing the Right Thing(TM) rendered all of her hard work completely worthless and irrelevant. This includes bonking Herb, which is a slap in the face for him to insinuate that it essentially didn’t happen. Joan doesn’t have time for Don’s recklessness, hence her icy salutation when she sees him in the office. She wants to drag him, and rightfully so.

Bert and Roger are the only ones defending Don, both for practical and personal reasons. Bert aptly says “I don’t like the way this agency is spoken of”, meaning that the work has taken a major hit in Don’s absence, and they all know it. Cutler tries to change the subject to buying a computer, which would take the focus off flagging creative and place it on media, but thankfully Bert and Roger aren’t buying that bullshit. Joan is on the fence but ultimately sides with Cutler, as he pretty much secured in the last episode. Cutler doesn’t seem to get that Don’s value to that company is immeasurable and it’s only a matter of time until they start losing clients in rapid succession because of the shit creative headed by Lou. Roger is a lot smarter than everyone gives him credit for as well; he doesn’t just want his friend back to have some rapport in the office, he knows that the company has a definite end date in short sight with the way things are going now.

So, the partners air their grievances and come up with a solution; a massive demotion that I can only assume they thought Don would reject. Roger’s bottom line says what we’re all thinking; if SC&P lets him go, they’d have to compete with him and his unavoidably great ideas with some other agency. Who wants to do that? This is the first time Roger has had some spark in him this season, which is really great to see. After all, he’s the one who “discovered” Don at that fur shop.

Also, it was revealed that Lou has a 2-year contract. Really? Him?? That’s some shady business right there. Turns out that “leave” was really just a soft firing after all. But Don accepting that insulting offer from SC&P and calling their bluff was nothing short of amazing. He was one of the founding fathers of that agency, and they all know damn well it’s too much of a financial burden to buy him out.

One of the things I love about this show is their consistent way of having characters say so much by uttering so little in the way of actual words; Don saying “okay” to their garbage offer and accepting that dismal demotion is his version of CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. The old Don would’ve smugly thrown it out with a disgusted look on his face, but this guy is selfless, cold and composed. Boss.

The road to redemption for Don is undoubtedly going to be a long and embarrassing one – reporting to dickbag Lou? No booze on the clock? Stick to the pre-approved script? He can’t even be alone with clients?! Jesus Christmas. I can’t wait to see what happens. You’d better slay, Don.

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Thoughts on Mad Men s7e2, “A Day’s Work”

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Cooper seeing Dawn in the SC&P lobby. image courtesy of Taringa.net

So! Sunday night’s episode puts us at Valentine’s Day 1969. Don is entering month 3 of his leave, and is a damn mess. The hell is he doing? Snoozing the alarm for 5 hours, eating sleeves of Ritz crackers while watching The Little Rascals and methodically marking lines on his booze to make sure he doesn’t overdo it? This is a man who is almost completely adrift without SC&P. He watches his television with a distinct human familiarity – as that form of company when you’re alone. He’s despondent and fervently ogling ads in a magazine, still trying to give himself purpose by working, and working even harder to not lose his goddamn mind.

As he pops on a suit and cleans himself up for a guest, we see that it’s Dawn at the door. He’s been employing her on the side to keep tabs on everything in the office, take calls for him, and we find out for certain that he’s hidden his forced leave from both Megan and Betty. Yeesh. Guess the guy’s really ashamed of the Hershey meeting, and hasn’t quite come around to being totally himself just yet. The moment Dawn leaves, he crumbles; his posture slumps down and he loosens his tie while turning on the television.

This episode had a lot of great moments with Don and Sally, which was much-needed. We see Sally at boarding school, putting on a mean mug teenage jerk personality for her catty girlfriends. Her roomate’s mother just died, so they’ve been granted off campus permission to attend the funeral. Naturally, they’re all being hyper-dismissive and chatting about going to the Village after the funeral so they can get some undoubtedly shitty hippie sandals. Real sensitive, teenagers.. though probably true to life. Sally reminded me a lot of early Betty in this scene actually, in mannerisms and aloofness alike. She loses her purse somewhere along the way and goes to SC&P, to see Don and get train fare back to school. The scene reminds me of that episode in season 4 where she runs away from home and shows up at the office, upset and not wanting to go home to Betty. This Sally, however, is completely sure of herself – she confidently strides right in and makes a beeline to Don’s former office, and is greeted by an unfamiliar, annoyed Lou. Sally is confused, and Lou handles it obnoxiously, which is par for the course; he’s overly pissed that Dawn wasn’t there to absorb the blow, but she was busy buying him perfume for his wife since he couldn’t be bothered to walk away from his damn pastrami sandwich and get his ass to Saks.

Lou Avery is not only a Bland Dad(TM), but kind of a dick. The way he faux-handled Sally coming to the office looking for Don and being completely rude to Dawn about it after the fact was out of line. On the one hand, I get it. He’s had it with Don’s ghost haunting SC&P, but on the other hand, he keeps bringing up ME ME ME ME and “it’s not my problem”, and demands that Joan shuffle the secretaries around to satisfy his needs, with no regard for anyone else. Now, don’t get it twisted – Don is egotistical as well; there were many times in prior seasons where he put his own needs ahead of the agency, and Lou is doing the same thing here, albeit to a much less damaging extent.

We sympathise with Don a little more in those instances since we know about his past, and a bit about why he is the way he is. Since Lou is a new character, I don’t view him with as much empathy as I probably should. Maybe he’s supposed to symbolise that upcoming shift in corporate culture. The days of hard-drinking career-defined, schmoozy suave men like Don and Roger appear to be ending and the rise of button-up professionalism is coming in. He doesn’t appear to believe in a friendly rapport, or rapport of any kind for that matter; he shuts Roger down with a condescending “wow, strange things do happen to you” type response to his (hilarious) story, and then twists the knife with the news that Ogilvy signed Hershey. Message received, a crestfallen Roger retreats to his office. Lou represents that apathetic middle manager who’s there to wait out the clock and get his paycheck. He’s not there to make friends with anyone, he just wants to get on with it. He cares about his job, of course – it’s just not a way of life for him like it is for Don and Roger, or even Peggy and Joan.

Speaking of complete assholes, man.. Cutler? I’m not too hot on that guy. He sufficiently creeped me out last season when he was peeping Stan boning Gleason’s daughter in the office while everyone was on speed, but I generally have always thought he’s a smug dick. Since the merger, it’s as if he’s cherry picking people he really likes from the former SCDP, strategically trying to get the people he wants on his side. He consistently undermines Roger, determined to make Roger feel as useless as possible. He promotes Joan in a moment of well-timed clarity, but also shuts down Pete immediately in regards to a new account, demanding that he report to Bob in Detroit. It was almost like he shut it down entirely because Roger thinks Pete is doing a good job. Roger eventually gives in to Cutler’s opposition when Cooper agrees, and says as much to Pete – but he’s over it when he sees that Joan’s been promoted and it had nothing to do with him. Roger and Cutler end their day in the elevator together. Cutler says that he doesn’t want Roger to be his adversary – it’s framed as an olive branch, but that shit sounds like a threat to me. Forming a prayer circle for Roger Sterling.

Joan’s promotion is definitely well-deserved, and I’m glad she’s getting the recognition she deserves for all that she does. After the end of last season, I thought that she might be grooming Dawn for her position, and it turns out that was spot on. Joan has pretty much had it with the myriad bullshit being slung her way. First Lou is yelling that she shuffle secretaries so he has his “own girl” and not sharing with Don, so to throw shade, Joan pops vacuous Meredith on Lou’s desk. Dawn is out front as the face of SC&P in reception, which horrifies oldschool “I’m not a racist, but….” Bert Cooper. I guess since Cooper was likely born in the 1800s his faux-cern could be understandable, and thankfully Joan doesn’t have time for that bullshit. Then Peggy comes in yelling, and then Cutler busts in asking about Avon, and she’s had enough. At least Cutler promotes Joan upstairs. So to fix all of this nonsense, she promotes Dawn! I can’t wait to see how she fares as the new Joan.

Let’s talk about what an embarrassing git Peggy was in this episode, in one of the most absurd storylines I’ve seen on this show. So. Shirley, her secretary, gets a dozen gorgeous Valentine’s roses. Peggy, only thinking about her own dissatisfaction with her life, jumps to the conclusion that Ted sent them to her (meaning Peggy) for some inane non-reason. She panics, flies into a bizarre rage about it and passes some 6th grade cryptic-ass rude message to Ted in LA via his assistant, and proceeds to be miserable all damn day about it. Shirley and Dawn have a great exchange about all this dramatic garbage in the kitchen. Later on, Peggy unleashes her wrath on Shirley when she admits that her fiancé sent them to her to begin with as Peggy tries to trash them, and it’s super awkward to watch; it’s not Shirley’s fault that she’s happily engaged! Cool it, Pegs.

Peggy was way out of line yelling at her, and managed to turn a basic misunderstanding into the end of the goddamn world and a commentary on her unhappiness with her life at this point. In her overall sadness about how the whole Ted thing went south, Peggy has successfully managed to isolate herself from nearly every ally she had in that office. Ginsberg won’t even hold the elevator door for her, and when she demands that Joan give her a new secretary and Joan wants to know why, she yells back at her like an entitled crazy person. Peggy’s going through some shit, and I feel sympathetic toward her most of the time, but this was just unbearable enough that I’m side-eying her.

Ted looks to be just as miserable, and it’s actually really sad to see. I love Ted. Last season, he brought a much-needed lightness to the other side of the Don Draper equation. That glimmer is gone from his eyes, and he looks completely dejected the few times we see him in this episode. Maybe he’s bitter because Pete is banging his real estate agent Bonnie in the office? Who knows. I wonder if LA isn’t working out for him as he’d hoped. You can move across the country, but your problems will always follow you.

Don and Sally have it out in the car en route to school. I’m glad she grilled him about why he wasn’t in the office. I’m even happier she finally brought up how upsetting it was to be in his apartment building with the distinct possibility of running into Sylvia, when the last time she saw them together they were mid-bonk. So gross. Sally doesn’t let Don bullshit her about what she saw, and though it’s not mentioned specifically, it’s inferred and Don apologises to her.

When they stop to eat dinner, he explains what happened with SC&P and the reasons why he didn’t tell anyone, and Sally softens. As soon as he’s honest with his daughter and lets her in just that little bit, she gives him understanding and tries to help. The final scene in this episode brought me back to that moment in season 6, when Don confesses this to Megan:

“I don’t think I ever wanted to be the man who loves children. But from the moment they’re born, that baby comes out and you act proud and excited, hand out cigars. But you don’t feel anything. Especially if you had a difficult childhood. You want to love them but you don’t. And the fact that you’re faking that feeling makes you wonder if your own father had the same problem. Then one day they get older, and you see them do something and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have, and it feels like your heart is going to explode.”

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I mean, goddamn. That last scene when Sally says “Happy Valentine’s Day, I love you” as she gets out of the car is powerful. It washes over Don like a profound wave, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the last sentence in that quote. Here is another woman besides Anna who hasn’t shunned him for being honest. Hey Don, maybe forming normal-ass healthy relationships is a good thing. Maybe he’s finally realising what love actually means, rather than it just being a word he says from time to time. Roll “This Will be Our Year” by the Zombies, fade to black.

What is Don’s identity now that he’s not at SC&P? Who the hell is Don Draper without SC&P, for that matter? Who is Roger Sterling now that he’s essentially impotent at SC&P? Who is Peggy without a team who likes her, or love in her life? Who is Megan in LA if she doesn’t succeed? Who in the hell is Ted without an idyllic happy marriage and great ideas at an innovative agency? Who is Pete now that he’s free of obligations like Trudy, a baby and a home in the hellscape suburbs? A sense of individualistic identity and what defines these characters as people will probably be one of the over-arcing themes of this season. It’s been sprinkled throughout the show, and I’m excited to see where it goes in these final episodes.

A final historical note.. Conrad Hilton Jr dies in March 1969 at the age of 42 from a massive heart attack brought on by too much boozing. Don’s around that age, and lives pretty hard himself. Since Hilton Sr had such a bizarre fatherly relationship with Don, I wonder if the death of his actual son will have him seeking Don out again? He never DID get that Hilton on the Moon he was so eerily obsessed with..

And hey, where in the fresh hell is Queen Betty??

Thoughts on Mad Men s7e1, “Time Zones”

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the end is nigh. image courtesy of Deccan Chronicle

Holy hell am I glad that Mad Men is back. I’ve been an avid watcher since the show’s start in 2007, and it’s easily one of the most compelling shows on television. I have immense beef with people who claim it’s “boring” or that “nothing happens”; that’s a nice web of lies! The hell show are YOU people watching? Mad Men is subtle and the characters are multifaceted, I feel as if I actually know these people, which is no simple feat when it comes to writing. The writing on this show challenges us to look a little deeper, to examine things closely, and to know these people. The arcs and themes from episode to episode flesh out the season, and it all comes together to form a tightly-knit bigger picture – which is not entirely in focus until you see it all. It’s sublime. The show is the very definition of a slow burn – we watch these characters learn and grow throughout one of the most insane and formative decades in American history, the 1960s. Boring? Really? Consider yourself side-eyed into oblivion.

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Weiner’s homage to The Graduate and Jackie Brown. image courtesy of imgur

The premiere starts with now-freelancer Freddy Rumsen giving a pitch that is frankly way out of his league, and I immediately wondered if Don was the man behind the curtain, the Wizard of Oz. In breaking the fourth wall, it’s almost as if Freddy is pitching directly to us; we see that Peggy is in the driver’s seat, delivering ideas to the glib Mr. Rogers-esque Lou Avery. The episode is, in a word, dark. To say the very least. We see that it’s only been a couple of months since Don/Dick’s Hershey pitch manpain meltdown the day before Thanksgiving 1968, placing everyone around mid/late January 1969. Here’s a refresher of where we last saw Don:

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“it was the only sweet thing in my life.” (tumbleweeds)

image courtesy of Tumblr

As I expected, Don seems to be struggling to find purpose during his non-negotiable leave of absence from SC&P, and rightly so; advertising is the only thing he really knows how to do, and do well. SC&P is a place where he was in control, he was calling the shots. What does he do now? Don is still quite early 1960s in his look – clean-shaven and no sideburns creeping down to his jawline. The only sign we see that it’s 1969 in Don’s outward appearance is an ever so slightly wider tie. Working with Freddy as his mouthpiece, we can see that he still cares about the company, and putting out quality work.

Don’s entrance scene is one of his best in the series, I think. We see him en route to LAX, looking impossibly sharp, all set to the tune of Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man”. Despite not being at SC&P, Don still gives off the vibe and posture of being in charge. Megan rolls up in a gleaming emerald Austin-Healey convertible, and the show busts into slow motion as she gets out of the car to greet him in an insanely short dress. What the hell show am I watching again? So stylised! So fun! So.. out of character? Then I remember that all is never as it seems. In a mere few seconds, this scene shows the façades they both put on to appear happy and in control of their lives. In reality, Megan’s fate is decided ultimately by her agent (who makes a rude quip about her teeth at dinner) and Don’s fate is decided by the partners at SC&P. They live on opposite coasts and have separate lives. She lives in a wood-panelled nightmare abode tucked away in the hills, Coyotes howling in the distance, and is nervous about her own husband visiting; there is a ton of tangible tension between her and Don. I’m shocked they’re still married, but I have a feeling that won’t last for much longer once her career takes off. Girl can do better.

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well, this is uncomfortable. image courtesy of Grantland

Man, Roger. What in the hell is going on in your head? Season 6 ended on such a positive note for Roger! He was being welcomed into Joan’s home (with an aproned Bob Benson carving a turkey) for Thanksgiving last we saw, joyfully playing with their mugging-related lovechild, and now he wakes up to a mess of a home the morning after some gross Coachella orgy. Roger is having some late-life crisis where he’s both rebelling against his own mortality, and railing against losing control of his life. He’s been rendered nonessential to the day-to-day at SC&P; Cutler is chomping at the bit to cut him loose on an invite-only event once Ted pops into town unexpectedly. His awful daughter Margaret calls him for brunch, only to offer a blatantly condescending apology. Roger is in a sad state. A man who has lost control of his life, Roger doesn’t know what his purpose is anymore. I’m worried about Roger Sterling.

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 Queen Peggy. image courtesy of Slate

Peggy Olson. I love her, and I had high hopes for her at the end of last season. Too bad she’s reporting to Lou Avery, the dad-joke making schlub that Duck recruited to temporarily replace Don. A man who willingly accepts mediocrity with open arms, which Peggy simply cannot reconcile. Peggy is frustrated at SC&P, feeling that great work isn’t being produced as it once was. While Stan appears to be happy with Avery’s lax standards, ambitious Peggy is a student of Don and only wants to strive and struggle for brilliance. Can you blame her? Meanwhile, she’s still living in that shithole Upper West Side apartment Abe convinced her to buy. I’m really glad she stabbed that guy and all, but I was hoping she’d have moved by now. She’s being bugged by foreign tenants to fix things, and can’t even get a moment of silence at the office since they’re now calling her at work. Peggy is at her wit’s end. She cares about the idea, the real meaning behind advertising, the feeling – and her new boss just wants a paycheck. It’s heartbreaking that she can’t know that Don is still involved in her day-to-day, that someone is watching over SC&P and still cares about excellence. To top it all off, Ted shows up at the office unexpectedly one morning and they have a nice awkward kitchen encounter. Oy vey.

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CATCH! image courtesy of imgur

Joanie is back, in a super-involved business role! After landing Avon at the end of last season, Joan feels a sense of pride that she’s helping the company prosper in a way she couldn’t previously (and hey, she didn’t have to bang hamplanet Herb to make a difference this time around). Joan takes Butler Shoes into her own hands when they attempt to take all of their advertising in-house, and does so with class and persistence. She resourcefully speaks with a Professor about the finer points of business management to fuel her arguments. Joan gains some semblance of control while Kenny appears to be losing his mind. He’s still recovering from the boozy lunatics at Chevy shooting his eye out, and is beginning to crack under the stress of managing all of the accounts at SC&P.

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this hilarious image courtesy of IBTimes

Ironically, the only person who looks like he’s really doing well is another one of my favourites, the ever-absurd Pete Campbell. Pete’s had a rough go of it these past few seasons, and I’m glad to see him finally experiencing a little bit of peace in a place where he truly seems to fit in. He’s escaped the gravitational pull of his namesake and is now living in Los Angeles, a fresh start. This guy now looks like an LA supervillain with that hair and wardrobe. The ex New Yorker has adjusted almost suspiciously well to Los Angeles, and Don experiences what looks like a twinge of jealousy when he sees how honestly carefree and happy Pete is. Greeting Don with a hug is the first sign that something is different in Pete; come to think of it, his whole persona is warmer. Knowing how roughly these two started off working together, this role reversal is a pleasant surprise.

As the episode wraps up, we see that everyone is in fact pretty damn miserable. Peggy collapses onto the floor of her awful apartment sobbing, the hellish sounds of the neighbourhood swirling in the background. She’s lost control over everything that matters, and she can’t even find peace in her own home. Don is sitting alone and sullen on his gorgeous balcony, freezing in the January cold. Roger lies restless in bed with patchouli-stank strangers, his home taken over. Jesus, that’s dark.

I’m very interested to see where this season takes our cast of characters, and this is one of the few shows where I cannot predict a goddamn thing. I want to see Betty, silver fox Henry Francis and Sally in the next episode; they were sorely missed in the premiere. I have so many questions! Will Don/Dick actually deal with his manpain? Will Megan make it big in Hollywood and leave Don firmly in her rearview? Is Bobby still the same actor? Will Pete move out of Miracle Mile? Does SC&P help fake the Moon Landing? Will Peggy finally get the hell out of the Upper West Side and become Creative Director? Is Harry Crane still an offensive boob? Is Margaret on LSD? Is Ken’s eyepatch permanent?! Only time will tell. Thanks for reading!

Thoughts on the movie Joe.

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dat beard. image courtesy of Studio System News

I had the privilege of seeing David Gordon Green’s Joe yesterday afternoon, and it did not disappoint. A key thing about me: I am a die-hard, completely un-ironic Nicolas Cage fan. Ever since I first saw him in the Coen brothers’ masterpiece Raising Arizona, I’ve been completely fascinated by him. Cage makes even the most abysmal movies an actual delight to watch, he’s that talented and dedicated. The guy never phones it in, and takes every role seriously no matter how ridiculous – I’m looking at you, Season of the Witch. And hey, I’m sure The Wicker Man would have been nowhere near as raucously entertaining were it not for his performance.

Joe gives Cage the chance to do something I haven’t seen him do in a long time, maybe since Adaptation at least; strip it way down to bare emotions and subtle nuances. As a character, we can immediately tell that Joe has a dark past; the way he moves, the way he looks at people. Though he works hard, he drinks excessively, gambles, and frequents an anxiety-inducingly filthy whorehouse. Though he has a clear no-bullshit persona, he almost immediately establishes a rapport with Gary (Tye Sheridan), the new kid in town looking for work. Almost as if Joe sees an opportunity to be the father he never could be and guide this kid down a better path than his own, Joe builds a relationship with Gary.

Watching Cage and Sheridan play off one another is captivating; Sheridan is a gifted actor, wise beyond his years. Gary comes from a horrific broken home with an absolute subhuman wretch for a father, drugged out mother and mute sister in tow. They’ve “moved” into a condemned house by simply taking the boards off the windows and doors and squatting; basically, Gary lives in a nightmare with an absolute hellscape to call home. His father frequently beats the holy hell out of him in drunken rages, takes his money, and verbally degrades him. I have never loathed a character so much, so abruptly in a movie before, but Wade is a truly vile man. Gary just wants to help his mom and sister out of that hell, and Wade tries to cut him down at every pass so he can blow that hard-earned cash on a bottle of Night Train.

Then, I started to wonder about the actor behind Wade – Gary Poulter. Earlier today, Nick and I were talking about how Gary Poulter’s performance was so well lived-in and authentic. He was this completely believable drunk mess/homeless person, he had some city miles on him for sure. This was some next-level method acting, as he seemed almost too authentic. I was wondering what he looked like as a “normal” person, and what else he had been in, since he was so utterly fantastic. Turns out Green took a massive risk when he hired Poulter for the flick, because Poulter was a real-life homeless man and severely mentally ill alcoholic. Green stuck to his guns. Though Wade is an intrinsically cruel man, Poulter’s performance really resonates. It’s completely jarring, a once in a lifetime rendition. Unfortunately, the film made noise in the media around September 2013 when Poulter was found dead, and I still can’t believe it now. Yikes. You wonder and hope this role might have turned things around for him, but we’ll never know. It’s sad to think that if this character had been portrayed by, say, Nick Nolte or another well-known older actor, they would likely be nominated for an Academy Award. Something to think about for sure.

The atmosphere in this movie is thick and tangible. You are catapulted straight into this dismal world, where Gary lends just that tiny bit of light; he gives Joe a positive raison d’être. There’s a ton of grittiness and frighteningly real violence with real depth of character; not an easy thing to balance, for sure.

So. David Gordon Green, consider yourself forgiven for Your Highness.