Hey kiddos. I’m out of the country and won’t be able to watch the midseason finale of Mad Men for a bit. As soon as I get back, I’ll pop some thoughts on here! Til then..
Bob Benson and his shorts need a beard! image courtesy of Vanity Fair
Well, the penultimate episode of this faux-“season” did not disappoint. When I reread my notes for this episode, I found that I scribbled down a disproportionate amount of quotes from the characters alongside my thoughts. This episode has loads of strong character moments, and truth be told, if this happened to be the end of the series I would not have been let down. I was reminded of the greatness that is the s4 episode “The Suitcase”, arguably one of my favourite episodes of the series. “The Strategy” is rife with Hemingway references, Don/Peggy bonding, tantrum Pete cramming bottles into cakes, Bob Benson’s gloriously awkward beard proposal to Joan, Megan’s fondue pot, and above all, the idea of family.
Vin Diesel won’t stop yapping about FAMILY in these movies. image courtesy of The Grio
As an aside, I adore The Fast and the Furious franchise in all of its magnificent, totally entertaining absurdity. As last night’s Mad Men emphasised the unconventional family you choose in life, I couldn’t stop thinking about Vin Diesel’s incessant parroting of the word “family” in those movies. Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled programming..
Let’s start with the triumphant return of Bob Benson. I love this handsome weirdo, I can’t lie. He flies in from Detroit with some Chevy execs, and they’re apparently still just as out of control as when they shot Kenny’s eye out. Roused by a phone call in the middle of the night, Bob has to go bail out one of his Chevy colleagues. It turns out Bill is a closeted homosexual and gets his ass arrested for an attempted beej on an officer (REALLY), and Bob picks him up. The cab ride proves to be fruitful, as he lets Bob know that GM wants to take Chevy’s advertising team in-house for their doomed shitbox Vega. However, Buick would be approaching Bob with an offer soon.. so there’s that. Splendid. Bill also indicates that his wife is cool with him totes banging dudes on the side, and strongly insinuates that GM prefers the quintessential family man with a wife at home, the kids, that fence, etc. Does this archetype even exist anymore in 1969? More on that later..
This gives Bob an idea. He should ask his BFF Joan to marry him! Of course! He’s beloved by her and her rude mother, he can act as a father figure to Kevin, they could buy a mansion in Detroit, what could go wrong? Bob’s a fun guy with a lot to offer, but Joanie knows she deserves more.
Now. Bob’s engagement ring box is nowhere near as creepy as Ginzo’s nipple gift, but this scene is almost as awkward. Bob proposes (I was screaming), and confused, Queen Joan turns him down. She’s put in a super weird position, but handles it with grace and eloquence as only Joan can. She knows he’s obvi A Gay (which is extremely difficult in the 60s), and wants him to seek happiness and love with his preferred sex, and not just to have a beard and call it a day. How is that living? I mean, we all know that Bob Benson is Don Draper Lite, but Joan doesn’t know that. Her words seem to strike a chord with Bob, because she really cares about him, and a sham marriage wouldn’t do anything positive for either of them.
Joan and Bob have a nice friendship, and she lets him down really easily. Joan knows exactly what she wants, and she won’t be swayed from her own path in life. She’s done enough for the agency in landing Jaguar, and money as a lure is no longer appealing to her at this point. She’s accepting of Bob’s sexuality, and encourages him to seek love instead of an arranged easy way out. Their scene is strangely sweet in a way. He lets her know about Chevy jumping ship, and her concern immediately shifts to her career and future.
Plus, who in the fresh hell wants to live in Detroit?
Megan is in town from LA, as is Pete with Bonnie in tow. It’s funny seeing how being in New York affects them individually. Pete reverts to being a smarmy prat, but who can blame him? He sees his daughter once a year, and she doesn’t know who he is. Trudy is avoiding him, and Pete picks a rude fight once she gets home from a date, and eagerly jams his beer bottle into her shitty cake. It’s no roast chicken being launched out of an apartment window á la s2e12’s brilliant “The Mountain King”, but I’ll take it. It’s almost like being back east affected Pete in a way that he could not have imagined in the least.
During their secret shady conference call with Ted, Pete and Lou say that while they love Peggy’s pitch for Burger Chef, they insist that Don deliver it and instead, with Peggy playing the “mother” role. Hey, glass ceiling! Rude that they’d undermine her like that and go full-on traditional, saying that she’s the emotion and Don’s the authority, when it’s actually the other way around; Peggy rightfully corrects those motherfuckers. Plus, Pete telling Pegs to play the mother is SUPER awkward. Hey Pete, remember your gross lovechild?
Pete’s former life on the east coast is a goddamn mess and it’s getting to him. Something about that city seeps into Pete’s headspace like toxic goo, and he becomes neurotic, defensive, and condescending. Bonnie isn’t safe from it either. Pete’s been hinting here and there that she should play the more traditional role with him, but she gives precisely zero fucks about that housewife life. She’s sharp as a tack and sees right through his shit – “Don’t try to fuck your way out of this”. DAMN, girl. Shots fired. She then splits for LA early; Bonnie ain’t got time for that shit, she’s got houses to sell.
Pete is bound by the gravity of his name in that city, and in LA he’s simply free of it. He can be his own man. LA is the first thing he’s had of his own; he’s building something for himself rather than standing on the shoulders of his parents, throwing his name around, or being forced to rely on Trudy’s family. Pete may be struggling, but he’s finding himself and making his own way. As an east coast transplant in LA myself? I get you, Pete.
The way Pete acts reminds me of a nostalgic feeling I can’t quite place. It’s that feeling you get when you go home at Christmastime, and you’re living in your childhood home for the week or however long you’re there. You’re sleeping in your old room, sometimes your posters and knickknacks are still around, and things are just sort of.. off. At any age, you’re transported back to that fucked out headspace of being a kid/teenager, and you find yourself sometimes doing strange things like you did when you were a kid. Pete is for sure experiencing a lot of this in his former home in Cos Cob, and in his old stomping grounds of Manhattan. Being back east activated his asshole switch just a little bit.
Megan is more of the same, though far less brash than Pete. It’s clear that she’s not comfortable in Don’s part of the country and is working hard to get every last piece of herself moved out to the west coast, fondue pot and all. As Megan is tearing the apartment apart in search of her things, Don finds a newspaper from the day JFK is assassinated in 1963, and pauses for a beat. After all, this is the day that Betty decided to leave him and end their marriage.
Megan plays the good wife and sets up a lovely breakfast on the patio for Don, but it’s almost an illusion, an act. Her big/awesome LA hair is gone – she’s been wearing falls to add length. Instead, she sports her natural elongated bob in New York. The funniest part of this is that she’s so eternally thirsty for Don’s gaze, yet she misses all of the very clear signals that he wants her to move back to New York. He wants her there, and it’s plain to see that she has no interest in moving back east; this is a massive thing that he’s overlooking, as well. They seem to barely communicate – when Megan showed up to surprise him at work, one of the secretaries didn’t even know that Don was married. Awk.
Next week is the midseason finale; the hysterically vague episode description says “Don is troubled by a letter”. That better be divorce papers, girl. Just end it already, that marriage is disintegrating rapidly. Ironically, the likely reason Don won’t move to LA is that he truly wants to dig his heels in and repair his life and relationships in New York from the ground up. Too bad he’s neglecting his marriage as a result.
Let’s get to the real meat of this episode, the Don/Peggy stuff. These two have a rich history and are forever tied together in their creativity, their struggle, and ultimately their misery. They have more in common with each other than they think and I am so, so happy with this episode. I love when Don and Peggy fucking get along like normal-ass people. Though Peggy is at first antagonistic towards Don for thinking of another Burger Chef pitch on the fly and thus starting the chain reaction of her rethinking it, he manages to diffuse her anger with.. kindness and understanding. That’s certainly new. They spend Sunday in the office together, working on Burger Chef and bonding, just like in “The Suitcase”. This episode doesn’t have drunk Duck Phillips barging in trying to take a dump on Roger’s bizarre modern white furniture, though.
Peggy’s original Burger Chef idea is, for lack of a better word, dated. It focuses on that wholesome nuclear family with the mom feeling guilty about feeding her family maaaaad burgers, and how to create an ad that will give her permission to hit up fast food for dinner on the reg and annihilate that guilt (Ameri-caaaaaa). Lou, ever the dinosaur, loves the archaic idea of the mom asking the dad for permission (since that’s what people do) and making Burger Chef an a-OK choice for dinner. Ugh.
Watching Don and Peggy figure this out is magical. I liked the visual switch of roles too – Peggy is in Don’s old office, with his old desk placed in the spot that he hated from that photo shoot in s6. She sits at that desk, while Don sits across from her. Peggy is expecting anything other than kindness and honesty from Don when she asks how he does it – what’s his creative process? How does his brain work? What does he have to worry about? His answers are striking and stark; “That I never did anything, and that I don’t have anyone.” Heartbreaking and so completely relatable. Don being that honest and open with her is a huge step forward.
They talk about how the traditional family is dead; everyone watches TV at dinner now, nobody sits down to a nice meal and has conversations anymore. How can they make this work in 1969? Peggy breaks down because she is simply exhausted. She’s done the work, gone above and beyond, but none of it feels right. She doesn’t know what she’s doing wrong, and then it clicks – change the conversation. What’s a place you can go where there’s no TV? Those people with whom you share a meal, with whom you break bread? Whoever you’re sitting with is family. Every table at Burger Chef is the Family Table.
The traditional 1950s Leave it to Beaver-type family unit is rapidly eroding. SC&P has to switch gears to advertise to this new normal, they have to evolve to keep up with the times. Just look at the characters here – Joan is a divorcée single mother with her own mother living in her apartment and has just been proposed to by her gay friend. Don and Megan are clear across the country from one another. Pete is still married on paper, but has essentially been ejected from his family by Trudy. Peggy is single, just turned 30 (“Shit.. when??”), living alone in her apartment in an up and coming neighbourhood. She’s estranged from her family because of her modern ambition and intelligence, and her mother and sister don’t understand her in the least. The people they’re trying to reach with the original Burger Chef pitch simply don’t exist anymore.
This episode is remarkable. While dancing with Peggy to “My Way” (of course), Don finally realises that he gets to choose his own family. He’d never really been alone if he’d bother to not be a complete narcissistic dick all the time. That scene with them dancing is one of the sweetest scenes in this show’s history; these are two people who truly care for one another, who are connected. Don is genuinely encouraging of Peggy’s talents and plays the supportive role to her very well, in an honest attempt to repair his relationship with her and move forward. He realises that she isn’t his competition, and instead wants to be her friend and colleague. He wants to collaborate and create shit with Peggy already. Move forward. Evolve.
This episode closes with an actually perfect scene – Don, Pete and Peggy all sharing dinner together at Burger Chef. These characters are all orphaned in their own ways, and now they are their own family. Pete tries his damndest to get Don back where he belongs at SC&P, a younger brother sticking up for his big brother. Peggy is at her wit’s end and Don helps her, coaxes brilliance, and talks to her frankly like a father figure. It’s a quick little scene but it’s immensely satisfying to see them enjoying one another’s company. So much Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper realness.
A Clean, Well-lighted Place. image courtesy of imgur
Hemingway’s short story “A Clean Well-lighted Place” is about a deaf old man who enjoys staying in a café all the live long day and night for the companionship. It’s a pleasant environment where he can have the coveted illusion of togetherness, so he doesn’t have to face that despair – the ever-present “nada” of life. There is a waiter who understands this man, who gets that many people are affected by that very same problem, countering the other waiter who’s super dismissive and blasé, and wants to go to bed already. The protagonist is presumed to not have anyone in his life, so he makes his own family to a loose extent, just like our characters here. Peggy, Pete and Don have seen and gone through some dark shit, so it’s natural that they seek out friendship and solidarity in one another now.
One last bit – Meredith clearly gets her “winking eye alcohol suggestion” blatant wink faux talent from Lucille Bluth. Obvi.
images courtesy of Tumblr
OH! I almost forgot. Man, Cutler really has a humongous boner for Harry Crane and that damn computer. In light of the Chevy news, he seems pretty focused on making Harry a partner, an idea which both Joan and Roger reject (Don has his back for obvious reasons). Bringing in some massive computer does not a partner make, but Harry’s always been ahead of the curve when it comes to media. He’s intelligent and knows what he’s doing and has proven himself for at least a junior partnership. I guess he deserves it, but I bet he’ll be a smug dick about it all the way to the market.
And finally.. Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” dropped on June 14th, 1969. That means we’d better see the fucking moon landing next week, Weiner. I also want to see Ginsberg! Glad he was at least mentioned this week, but I definitely miss his crazed self on my screen.. not to mention Queen Betty and Sally. I’d even settle for freaky-ass Glen, I hope he didn’t get drafted; though that peculiar guy might feel right at home in Vietnam.
I will be out of the country when the midseason finale airs, so next week’s thoughts will be delayed until I can watch it! If any of you motherfuckers spoil it for me, I will lose my damn mind. Til next time!
Time to start another semi-irregular series here! This one, “Shows that Rule”, will visit shows I’m digging at the moment as well as revisiting shows of yore. As far as the latter is concerned, I plan on doing write-ups of True Detective, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Twin Peaks, and Lost at some point, so stay tuned. Just because a show is over doesn’t always make it irrelevant, after all. That’s actually the hallmark of a great show!
Onto 2014. Fact: Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley is fucking brilliant. As someone born in 1984, I am part of the so-called Millennials or Generation Y or whatever the hell we are. Silicon Valley manages to capture this era without being lame and promoting it in some weird way, and there’s thankfully no shoehorned faux-nostalgia that’s so annoyingly rampant in media these days.
I’ve always admired Mike Judge, from the early days when I’d sneak around to watch the quintessential Beavis and Butt-head rerun on MTV while trying to avoid explaining what I was watching to my parents. As a brazen 12 year-old, I snuck into a screening of Beavis and Butt-head Do America and told my parents I was seeing Jingle All the Way, for shit’s sake. There was that certain something I latched on to and dug about his style and writing even from a very young age.
Judge has a knack for creating down to earth portraits of specific archetypes. His honesty and humour are sharp and the dialogue is always tight, traits which carry over easily to Silicon Valley. His eerily prophetic Idiocracy still hits all the right (unfortunate) culture commentary notes here in 2014, and he’s continuing that trend now. Silicon Valley has a fantastic ensemble cast, and they’re all really entertaining to watch; I feel like I know these guys.
Let’s face it, someone has to poke fun at Palo Alto and the complete absurdity going on in and around the tech sector. This show goes after brogrammers, god complex engineers, hysterically eccentric billionaires, and weirdly zen CEOs. Most of these real-life people are so fucking ridiculous and/or silly that the show writes itself, but Judge and his team really succeed in creating interesting and sympathetic characters amongst the dark dredges of insufferable Hip(TM) tech companies.
Speaking of the tech sector, I’m also very interested in how AMC’s upcoming 1980s period drama Halt and Catch Fire will fare. The PC revolution is a really fascinating time in history, and (if it’s good) I think it could serve as a bizarro companion piece to Silicon Valley for sure. I feel like Silicon Valley serves as the dark 1985A future of Halt and Catch Fire that none of those poor schmucks saw coming.
So, get your ass on HBO and check it out already! You’ll be glad you did.
Oh my god, what a fucking straight-up bizarre episode this was. More 2001 parallels, especially in this scene where Ginsberg is attempting to lipread Cutler and Lou á la HAL-9000 lipreading Dave and Frank talking about shutting HAL down. Ginsberg takes on the role of HAL, and we learn that Cutler and Lou are talking about how to shut down Don, via Commander Cigarettes.
It’s ironic that Ginzo takes on the “computer” role since he loathes and fears technology so much. More on that in a bit.
images courtesy of tumblr.
This episode is about people trying to find their role of importance – seeking that all-important feeling of being needed, and how to get it. On a small scale, Lou tries to make himself important with his flop idea “Scout’s Honour”, and loses his damn mind when Stan finds it, lashing out at the creative team like an uptight teacher punishing children for no real reason. In my experience, guys who have a personality comprising of 98% dick tend to not be packing much “elsewhere”. Lou is an example of that dude, and it’s becoming clearer with each episode that airs.
Betty and Henry sure are bickering a lot, yeah? That was awkward. Henry (unintentionally) undermines Betty and her opinion of the Vietnam war at a block party event, and Betty has no idea how to cope. Her previous experience being some Important Man’s Wife(TM) meant that Don coached her on what were the right and wrong answers ahead of time. Even in her final scene with Henry in the episode, she feels the need to assert her worth as a real person, that she’s indeed intelligent and capable of independent thought. She’s surrounded by people telling her what to do or what to say, her older kids fear and loathe her, and she’s fed up. Betty embodies the very principles of The Feminine Mystique. I feel very sad for Betty, she’s really lost in this changing decade. This is a woman so damaged by her upbringing (and atrocious marriage to a controlling Don) trying to figure out where she fits. Her real opinions and thoughts apparently are not needed by Henry, not while he’s in politics. Her thoughts and feelings are not needed by her kids who don’t want to listen.
One nice thing from this episode is that we get to see Sally and Bobby have a sibling moment. This is something that’s been pretty much absent from the series thus far, save for Sally taking on a parental role taking care of the boys from time to time. They’re both terrorised by their mother, and Bobby seeks out Sally for comfort. Bobby needs positive attention and non-creepy love from a family figure, and I’m sure Sally is seeking that same thing from Bobby. As a girl who is growing wise to Betty’s outward focus on looks as life currency in finding a husband, Sally spits straight venom back at her mother. While at boarding school, she gets in a swordfight with one of her friends and ends up getting bashed in the face. Naturally, Betty thinks Sally’s life is over because something so absurdly minor as a broken nose will prevent her from getting places in life, since she inherited Betty’s “perfect” nose. Yikes.
“The Runaways” has, for sure, one of the most shocking and flat-out dark things I’ve seen on Mad Men thus far. Let’s do a fun recap of previous horrifying dark moments on this show! In no particular order:
- Lane’s suicide in the office.
- Sally catching Don in the bone zone with Sylvia.
- Joan being raped by her dickbag fiancé in Don’s office.
- Flu-ridden Don hallucinating strangling/murdering some broad post-bang and shoving her under the bed.
- Joan landing Jaguar for SCDP by bonking hambeast Herb.
- Old lady burglar in Don and Megan’s apartment, threatening and intimidating Sally and Bobby.
- Betty’s senile elderly father grabbing her boob in front of the family, mistaking her for her dead mother.
And now, we have Ginzo and his Nipple Gift to Peggy. I was, in actuality, screaming. Ever since the great Michael Ginsberg neurotically graced our screens in s5, there was obviously something up with this guy. He was born in a Concentration Camp? He’s a self-proclaimed martian? Dude is also obsessively and hilariously fixated with who’s a homo and who’s not, no doubt some sort of headspace fuckery thanks to his dad’s constant probing of his own sexuality. We don’t know much about Ginsberg’s past, but this particular passage from s5 is very telling in light of what we’ve seen in “The Runaways”.
“Actually, I’m from Mars. It’s fine if you don’t believe me but that’s where I’m from. I’m a full-blooded Martian. Don’t worry, there’s no plot to take over Earth.. just displaced. I can tell you don’t believe me. That’s okay. We’re a big secret. They even tried to hide it from me. That man, my father, told me a story I was born in a concentration camp, but you know that’s impossible. And I never met my mother because she supposedly died there. That’s convenient. Next thing I know, Morris there finds me in a Swedish orphanage. I was five, I remember it.”
Peggy: “That’s incredible.”
“Yeah, and then I got this one communication. Simple order. Stay where you are.”
Peggy: “Are there others like you?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find any.”
-Ginsberg and Peggy, s5e6 “Far Away Places”
After the hum of the monolith drives him out of the office, a weary Ginsberg shows up at Peggy’s apartment on a Saturday. He’s rattling on about how the computer is damaging everyone and building pressure inside of his body, and he has no way of releasing it. It’s invaded his head and apparently it’s turning everyone into homos, which is admittedly ridiculous/hilar, but not too far out of his realm of past absurdity. Peggy shrugs it off as him being a weirdo as usual, until she wakes up with him staring at her a few inches from her face. He kisses her, it’s hilarious and awkward, and Ginzo insists they have to reproduce though he’d prefer to do it without having sex if he could. L O L. Yikes. Exasperated Peggy brings him back to earth for a second when she yells at him that “IT’S JUST A COMPUTER”, and he agrees.
I was uneasy at their interaction that weekend, because.. yeah. So when Monday rolled around, and he goes into Peggy’s office with a jewellery box, I worried that he might be proposing to her on the spot. He tells her not to worry and reassures her that he’s back to being himself, and even among his yapping about data and outlets, I wanted to believe him. But then, he presents Peggy with his goddamned bloody right nipple, hacked off of his own person, in a fucking gift box, with some hair still intact. I CANNOT. Apparently, hacking it off has “relieved” the “pressure” from the “computer”; he tried to get it done by a doctor (???), but said that they’d only “sew it up” and not .. take it off like he needed. What in the world?! He’s gone full Van Gogh. He’s lost the fucking plot.
In more astute terms, he has no grasp of the consequences of his actions and that what he’s done is completely not ok; he’s now a danger to himself. Does he have a brain tumour? Is he a full fledged paranoid schizophrenic?? Signs of schizophrenia tend to manifest in people in their late 20s, so it’s not entirely implausible that his once endearing neuroses would take a turn for the worse around his age.
This is a remarkably sad turn of events, considering how people with mental illness are treated in the 1960s and 1970s. A prime example is Beth, Pete’s married love interest from s5. Her husband sent her off to a mental hospital to receive electroshock treatments when she was “feeling blue” but most likely seeking male companionship elsewhere, to keep her in line. Fucked out for sure. Heartbroken Peggy makes the tough call to get an ambulance, and we see Ginzo being wheeled out, strapped to a stretcher. He’s been cracked by the hum of the monolith, yelling “GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN!”, and it’s genuinely upsetting for everyone at SC&P. A visibly upset Stan accompanies him to the hospital. Super jarring, especially compared to his singular “order” as a martian.
I’m scared for Ginsberg’s future, and I hope we get to see him again on the show. Forming a prayer circle for Michael Ginsberg right now.
As Ginzo loses touch with reality, Stephanie reappears. Anna’s niece from a few seasons back pops back onto our screens as a knocked up filthy hippie seeking help. She calls Don from LA, who tells her to head to Megan’s apartment in Laurel Canyon and that he’ll be there soon. Stephanie represents a few things in this episode. She is what Don wishes Megan could be – pregnant and dependant on him, and what Megan wishes she could be – more confident, gutsy, and spellbinding. Don moves mountains to be out in LA ASAP, which is upsetting to Megan since he hasn’t done that for her unless it was to “check in” like when her agent called.
And the obvious ace in the hole is that Stephanie knows that Don Draper is Dick Whitman, and has known all her life. Between Don and Megan, this secret was something that provided a sense of intimacy, something that was “just the two of them”, so coming into contact with someone who knows more about Don’s past leaves her shaken. Also, something interesting I noticed: Megan has no trouble wielding Don’s checkbook to cut Stephanie a “please leave” check for $1000, yet she balks at Don buying her a colour television saying it reflects badly on her image? Guuuuurrrrl.
Let’s talk about Megan’s effervescent, unrelenting thirst. Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d say: in what was probably the most excruciating threesome ever, Megan uses her vacant friend Amy to attempt to lure Don’s indiscretions back into their marriage, to draw him back in. Naturally, it backfires because she misread him entirely; Megan trying so goddamned hard to be what Don chases is really sad. She even tries to keep his attention and make him jealous by flirtatiously dancing with some basic Charles Manson doppelgänger at her party, which Don rightfully ignores.
Don leaves the party to go have a drink with surprise guest Harry Crane, which is a square punch in the solar plexus for Megan since she knows how much he generally dislikes Harry. This turns out to be a lucrative outing for Don – Harry has always liked Don from day one, and Don doesn’t have a hell of a lot of allies at SC&P right now. Harry lets him know that Cutler and Lou are pursuing Commander Cigarettes in secret (which is what Ginsberg spied in the computer room), knowing full well that if they go with SC&P then Don will have to bounce because of his damning Lucky Strike “he didn’t dump me I dumped him” letter in the NYTimes back in s4. Shady shit.
This is another devious attempt from Cutler and Lou to get Don the hell out of SC&P, and Don delightfully intervenes thanks to Harry’s intel. The main reason Don is “allowed” to stay at the firm is that the partners don’t have the cash necessary to buy him out; however, if they land a big tobacco account, they would for sure be able to do just that. Don crashes their secret meeting with Philip Morris, and acknowledges the letter and that he’d quit if need be. By acknowledging this, Don takes that trump card and spins it right the hell around. Instead of Cutler and Lou having a threat to hang over his head, Don has the advantage. He surprised them all by stating that fact, which gave him some time to plead his case and explain. He’s an impressive ad man with a keen business sense and invaluable tobacco experience, and everyone in that room damn well knows it. He can offer the opposing strategy as well, since he took a meeting with the American Cancer Society post-Lucky Strike letter. Suck on that one, Cutler and Lou.
Above all else, he places the good of the agency above his own personal vendetta, effectively shutting down Cutler and Lou for the time being. He did it in a classy albeit sneaky way, but he didn’t lose his cool. He knows he’s needed when it comes to American tobacco. Well done, Don.
(theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey plays somewhere in the distance) images courtesy of Slate
My God, this episode had SO MUCH jammed into it. So many Kubrick references. So many self-referential moments. So many goddamned hippies. Where the hell do I even begin?
In short, “The Monolith” is about evolution and advancement, fear of technology and change, and how if these characters don’t begin to evolve, they’re going to be obsolete. Or, you know, clubbed to death by the apes that have learned to use tools. That massive computer taking over the creative lounge is both a literal and figurative symbol of the way things are headed – everyone has to get on board with it or be left behind.
On a deeper level, these characters have to move past the failed versions of themselves in order to get on with it, to continue to exist in any meaningful capacity. They have to learn, move past what does not work, and just get on with it already. Don being popped in a dead man’s office is no mistake – and in order to become relevant again and remain that way at SC&P he needs to Do The Work, both in the sense of Peggy’s requested tags, and the sense of actually working on his damn self in his own life. Keep moving forward, another recurring theme on Mad Men.
Don walks into the SC&P office to what appears to be telltale signs of The Rapture; abandoned desks, a phone hanging off the hook. Sadly, no Jesus is kind enough to rapture Lou – it’s just LeaseTech Lloyd yapping about the new gigantic computer they’re going to be installing. Cutler enthusiastically shares the news of the agency entering the future, appropriately at a time when man is so close to the moon. 1969 brings in some hope after the turbulence of 1968, and that computer brings in a giant leap forward for SC&P; One Giant Leap for Mankind, as it were. As much of a boob Harry Crane tends to be on a regular basis, he’s on the nose about needing a computer to move forward and keep ahead of their competition.
Lloyd Hawley is eerily reminiscent of HAL-9000, and that’s absolutely no mistake. His calm, near-monotone inflection, his generic happy face and demeanour, all point HAL to me. Their interactions are laced with an undercurrent of bizarre antagonism, The Future versus The Ape, and if Don doesn’t get with it he’ll soon become the fate of the now-defunct creative lounge.
(And don’t think the irony of Don playing Solitaire at his desk while the engineers are installing the new computer was entirely lost on me.)
True to ridiculous form, Lou is attempting to grasp at whatever sense of glory he has as Creative Director. He immediately denies the need for Ted to come back east to work on Burger Chef, entirely so he can pit Peggy against Don and keep Don at bay as much as possible. As an aside, I’m glad that Pete isn’t totally lost in the LA haze. Running into a former Vick Chemical colleague, he manages to snag the Burger Chef account while bonding with him over his former father-in-law having a heart attack. Apparently, the guy’s a nightmare to work for so I suppose this is good news? He ain’t dead, but incapacitated for the time being, so I guess it’s okay that they both joke about it. But hey, Pete’s still got it!
Shocking news at 11pm: Lou doesn’t perceive Peggy as competition for his job or even as anything close to resembling an equal. He has an agenda to keep Don from actually accomplishing anything and taking away “his” glory, and uses Peggy to do his bidding. He throws some money at her (much more tactfully than Don did in s5’s “The Other Woman”) in just the right way with some guidelines, and his plan is set into motion. I mean, it’s always been obvious that Lou is a complete dick from the first episode, but this just cemented it for me. He’s manipulating Peggy because he’s too damn lazy and entitled to deal with Don himself, and frames this grunt work as a promotion to her. Rude.
We’ve seen Peggy evolve from mousy secretary to junior copywriter to copy chief, and watching Peggy become Don’s boss is pretty satisfying. As this reality slowly sinks in to Don, he ain’t too happy about it. In fact, it looks like he’s trying to telekinetically burn a hole in her fucking head as she’s diplomatically asking him to be on her team and turn in tags for Burger Chef.
daaaaaaaamn, Don. image courtesy of Previously.tv
Turns out he accepted SC&P’s offer because he thought he was calling their bluff, and it appears they were playing it straight after all. Don, still ever-resistant to being taken down a few pegs, sees an opportunity with Lloyd’s needs to advertise LeaseTech and floats the idea to Cooper. And of course, Cooper knocks Don right back down to size. He firmly reminds Don that he needs to show he can crawl before he can run, and Don takes this .. not so well. He backslides with a bottle of Roger’s vodka, which is understandable given his shitty circumstances of returning to work, but nonetheless still hard to watch. Don is forced to embrace being a dead man for the second time in his life, and it’s not going well.
As an aside, Don being in Lane’s old office is a trip for sure. He finds Lane’s discarded NY Mets pennant under the radiator, and hangs it on the wall as something of a reminder. The only other things on the walls in there are his advertising awards, so to have something so personal hanging up is a little different for Don. After all, him and Lane started that agency together. And hey, 1969 is the year of the Miracle Mets! Initially dismissed as a team that year, they rose from a season of mediocrity to defeat the Orioles in a massive World Series upset, since that particular Orioles team was one of the most flawfree in the history of Major League Baseball. I guess we’ll see how this parallels with Don’s own hopeful rise among the ranks at SC&P.
Switching gears for a hot second, let’s talk about Roger Sterling. Roger has a pretty meaty storyline in this episode with his absurd adult-ass daughter suddenly running off from her life and marital responsibilities (and her kid who strongly resembles Danny from Kubrick’s The Shining) to join a bunch of filthy hippies at some gross commune upstate. Roger and Mona team up to retrieve her when Brooks gets arrested for punching some yokel at a bar, and seeing their version of Park Avenue faux-royalty at a terrible commune is pretty great. Roger sticks it out and stays overnight, as he’s more in tune with the counterculture than Mona. His bottom line is that he wants to bring Margaret (Marigold?) back home so she can be a mother to her kid and wife to Brooks, to stop running away from her responsibilities. Remember the last time we saw her, she smugly told Roger she forgave him for being an absent father; I guess “hippie cult” was the answer to her self-satisfied faux-lightenment. As someone who’s supposedly happy and at peace, she sure has a lot of vitriol to sling at Roger when he tries to forcibly get her to come home already.
“But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”
-Don, s5e12 “Commissions and Fees”
A recurring theme on Mad Men is the pursuit of happiness, whether it’s within reach, and what that specifically means to each of the characters. Margaret seeks instant gratification, and Roger has been doing the same for decades in different forms. Margaret is more similar to Roger than she’s willing to admit, and Roger is faced with this fact when he tries to step in in a legitimate parental role for probably the first time ever. At first he thinks she’s being idealistic in shirking her nice life for a simpler existence, but instead he’s faced with his own glaring irresponsibility. It serves as a wake-up call.
Lying in the open-roof barn and staring up at the stars, Roger and Margaret talk about everything except what’s actually happening in their lives right now. Roger has pretty much had it when some unwashed creature comes into the barn in the middle of the night to bang Margaret and they sneak off together. Something in that moment clicks for him, and the next morning he’s set to bounce. Seeing all of this in the daylight, he snaps back into reality, recognising that they’re all running from real life – just like he has been in his haze of booze, drugs, and weirdo orgies of free love. He doesn’t end up getting her to come home, but I feel that it’s the start of some heavy self-realisation for him. It all remains to be seen, of course.
Speaking of Roger, watching how Don uses booze as a crutch really makes me wonder if Don just shouldn’t drink at all. I know that’s a taboo thing to say about a character who exists in 1969, but the guy has gone too far down. The fact that when hit with an obstacle he immediately makes up an excuse to raid Roger’s bountiful stash is troubling. He’s not the type to become a Friend of Bill W. anytime soon, but the fact that he calls Freddy in his drunken stupor is telling. How many allies does Don have left at this point?
Don’s drunk ass thinks they’re going to a Mets game, but Freddy instead brings Don home to sleep it off. Right back there the next morning, Freddy drops truth bombs and black coffee, since he’s been in something very similar to Don’s shoes before. He simply states, “Do The Work“. He reminds Don that he’s been given a second chance and to not fuck it up. Freddy is the closest thing he has to an actual friend at this point in time, and Don realistically doesn’t have any options anymore but to listen.
Relinquishing that kind of control is difficult for anyone, for Don especially, as this series has shown us time and time again. Sure it’s degrading, but he’s been given another chance at work, and at life: this is not something everyone gets. Start at the bottom, play by their rules, work your way back up and prove yourself; wise words from Freddy Rumsen, a man who’s been there/done that. Freddy is living proof of the “after” side of that equation. He’s freelancing all over the place while living a sober life, and trying to help Don get back to where he’s supposed to be. If Don behaves as he’s been clearly instructed, things will fall into place in due time. Arriving at the office that morning, Don gets right to work on tags for Peggy.
As much hope as the end of last week’s episode gave me with how he handled himself, I wasn’t expecting Don not to stumble; nobody is that good, not even Don Draper. Don’t run, Don: Do The Work. Evolve.