Mad Men s5e10: Christmas Waltz

“You do not know how hard I’ve tried to ignore this at work. I know what I’m doing, I have some control.. but then he found a way to ruin that, too.”

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Ahh, Christmastime! How appropriate considering this will be my final review of 2017. This episode is jammed full of advantageous lies and harsh/totally awkward truths. Don is finally back in action at the office, Joan gets served, Kinsey cosplays as a giant baby, and Lane is in deep shit with the British taxman.

Hey-o, once mega pretentious Paul Kinsey resurfaces with the Hare Krishna! He’s apparently fucked it up/tumbled down the ranks of every ad agency in town, and goes to the Hare Krishnas for guidance but at his core, he’s still that arrogant writer we know. He turns to Harry Crane for help getting his atrocious Star Trek spec script to Roddenberry and co. Oy vey.

Lakshmi comes to seduce Harry to keep Kinsey on the line, purely because he’s a great Krishna recruiter; she’s got zero romantic interest in him. Part of the reason Kinsey even sticks around there is the prospect of building a life with her, so it’s a real dick move on her behalf. Thinking of his friend, Harry decides to lie to Kinsey re:his garbage script, and pops him cash and a plane ticket to start a new life in Los Angeles (not unlike what Don tried to do with Adam). Just get away from it all, Kinsey. The lie is more beneficial than the truth here.

Sure, maybe he’ll get shit on in LA, maybe he’ll be rejected 1000 times over, but at least it’s real; Los Angeles would be way better than living in Krishna limbo just to be exploited by a lady who ain’t ever gonna fuck you, Paul. And for once, Harry isn’t acting like a total knob, it’s a Christmas miracle! (Though he does bang Lakshmi in the process. Whatevs.)

“You’re all getting bonuses, and we aren’t!” || image courtesy of Twitter

Let’s move on to Lane and his shady shit. Looks like he’s in a giant money hole with the UK government, owing a whole pile of taxes on his portfolio with no way to pay. Pride is one hell of a drug; he further’s SCDP’s line of credit at the bank semi-fraudulently, claiming that the numbers for 1967 were commitments instead of just projections. He spins it to the other partners as a ~cash overflow~, so his now-possible Christmas Bonus could cover what he owes. The other partners put the kibosh on their bonuses, opting to give them to the staff. It’s blinding how quickly his entire plan was fucked.

As if it all couldn’t be shadier, he forges a check. A truly shit idea; pride and desperation lead him down that path, as those books were once sacrosanct to him. He won’t even tell his wife what’s up.

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This side of Lane is super sketch, similar to his season premiere infatuation with the wallet titty lady. Lane is culturally (and somewhat literally) so far removed from the other characters at the office that any time we peep some insight, it feels like we’re seeing something he’s been grappling with for months, whether it’s this tax debt or his estrangement from Rebecca and subsequent Chocolate Bunny.

Lane very rarely opens up to others, so we can only take a stab at his motivations. We know he’s been knocked about and beaten down by life (and his total dick of a father), but instead of being Don about it he’s pretty .. meek? Stiff upper lip and all that, I guess. And similarly, Don is a guy who plays shit close the the vest, but we see him 24/7 and thus understand him a little better. Pride also interferes with Lane even entertaining the thought of asking Don for the cash, which we know that he would’ve given without batting an eye.

Joan gets served with divorce papers via Shit Husband (and person) Greg, and after launching an airplane model at poor Meredith, she’s more than ready to engage in some Jaguar roleplay with Don. Natch, they end up at a bar. Don and Joan are both survivors of failed marriages, wondering whether tomorrow will be better than yesterday.

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Don’s connection with Joan reminds me a touch of his relationship with Anna, in that their affection for one another is unmistakable but never turns physical. Intimacy can be profound and non-sexual; I think that for Don, this is super important. He’s a guy who uses sex for a lot of things, but feeling love/showing affection ain’t it. The emotional damage he experienced at the hand of Archie and Abigail growing up adds to it, especially living in a whorehouse. He has the ability to be open and relatively honest with ladies who keep him at arms’ length, like the numerous casual bang partners. Joan’s instincts about men are so keen that she knows this better than most. After all, she and Don are alike; they’ve both used their overt sexuality and attractiveness to entice and manipulate other people. They get it.

Dancing around the idea of banging around and the lingering sense of ‘is that all there is’, Don references Bobbie Barrett’s attitude of “I like being bad and then going home and being good”. That’s obviously been rattling around in his head with all the recent changes in his life; and his analysis of those dudes who are obsessed with a sporty Jaguar is pretty telling. “He doesn’t know what he wants.. but he’s wanting.”

They’re both in a headpsace at that bar; boozing and deflated, Don feeling estranged from Megan in her new iteration, Joan begrudging her (soon to be ex) trashhusband. She admits that she tried to use her success at work as a way to be in control of her life, in denial about the end of her marriage. Don brings a touch of wisdom and lightness, a really nice gesture. Keep moving forward.

“Congratulations.”

“For what?”

“For getting divorced. Nobody realises how bad it has to get for that to happen.. Now you get to move on.”

And obvi, it’s way easier in the mid 60s for a Don Draper to get on with it than it is for a Joan Holloway, or even for a Paul Kinsey. But no matter who you are, moving forward is way smoother when you have someone in your corner to help and when needed, along with a good kick in the pants to force you to be honest with yourself.

At home, a rightfully pissed off Megan releases him back to the office with her bit about how he loved that job way before he ever loved her, and I suppose (along with Joan) that’s enough of an asskicking to launch him back into Inspirational Rallying Speech Don. Thank fuck.

“Last year at this time, whether you knew it or not, the survival of this company was on the line. l look at the faces in this room who have given their all to this tenuous recovery and l say, prepare to take a great leap forward. Prepare to swim the English Channel and then drown in champagne. There are six weekends between now and the pitch.. we are going to spend them all here. We will celebrate Christmas here, we will ring in the new year together.. And in the end, we will represent Jaguar, and it will be worth it. Every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by the moment they got their car. When we land Jaguar.. the world will know we’ve arrived.”

Thanks for reading, everyone! Here’s to 2018.

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Mad Men s5e9: Dark Shadows

“Don’t wake me up and throw your failures in my face, it’s Sunday, for Christ’s sake!”

Hello, self-involved garbage– as Roger succinctly puts it in this episode, it’s every man for himself. Betty gets insecure and stirs the pot with Sally re:Anna, Don clips talented Ginzo’s wings, and Roger’s doing God knows what with Jane.. they’re just grabbing whatever they want in that moment, everyone else be damned.

image courtesy of Reddit

So, there’s Don and his work mojo .. or lack thereof. Shockingly, turns out all his fucking off has left him real rusty. Heading in on a now-rare weekend, Don attempts to get some SnoBall shit done to no avail. On his way out, he glimpses Ginsberg’s folder, overflowing with great ideas.

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He’s jealous of Ginzo’s raw talent, and even though Don trashes Ginsberg’s (better) SnoBall idea en route to the meeting so the client would favour his pitch instead, he hasn’t won the war; this is just temporary satisfaction, a band-aid on some horrifying wound. The Michael Ginsberg looming talent threat persists, in spite of Don’s cultivated façade of indifference.

Though Betty is actively trying to better herself and get on with it, it’s one step forward and 2 gigantic steps back. At least Henry is a steady positive in her life.. and actually present for Thanksgiving with his family. Waiting to get the kids one weekend, Betty snags an accidentally intimate look at Don and Megan’s lavish lifestyle on Park Avenue, and immediately feels intensely uncomfortable and insecure. Can you blame her?

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Oof. That love note to Megan is probably the best writing Don’s done in awhile. Seeing him being so outwardly kind, romantic and loving with someone else can’t feel good for Betty.. especially after all the bullshit he put her through for years on end. But Bets, don’t forget that appearances can be deceiving. Don didn’t immediately land on his feet after the divorce, after all.. and shit’s a damn mess on and off with Megan.

Every one of these characters experiences moments of great happiness tempered with terrible real life shit. Betty’s life, though cushy from the outside, can be just bleak as we know Don’s can be. It’s all a real mixed bag; good shit happens, bad shit happens, just like Forrest Gump’s Mama said. What matters is holding onto your humanity, keeping an eye on your moral compass .. which can be exceedingly difficult when life circumstances throw everything they’ve got at you. Gotta keep your shit together during times of adversity, which is harder than it looks.

In this case, Don’s lie about his upbringing and being previously ‘married’ to Anna is a lie so big, so insurmountably massive to Betty. Sally’s doing some busywork family tree for school, but to Betty, there’s an exposed nerve there; it kicks up a whole bunch of bad vibes and negative feelings.

But when she’s with Henry and living her day to day, Betty shows real flashes of insight, clearly absorbing the life advice from her Weight Watchers meetings. There’s some understanding and personal growth, slowly unraveling why she feels the way she does about shit in order to get on with it. But Betty is also human; she really could not sustain this level of zen as she felt jealous and sad about Don’s new life. Though this may be petty and absolute shit, it is relate-able and human.

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Absolutely apoplectic that Betty casually mentioned Anna Draper to Sally, Don blasts towards the phone to give her an earful. Megan astutely tells him that’s a bunch of shit, effectively putting him in his place; let her stir the pot, Don. One step forward, maybe. Megan ain’t wrong.

Remember, bad behaviour is generally motivated by alienation and fear, irrational things that we all feel every now and then. Betty is natch capable of compassion and affection, but those behaviours fly in the faces of immaturity and selfishness.

And even though doing acid hasn’t actually changed much of Roger’s day to day, it’s impacted how he deals with his own feelings as well as how he deals with the people around him. It’s given him a touch of introspection and clarity. The morning after he and Jane have a bang in her now tainted Clean Slate(TM) apartment, he shows real remorse for brazenly hurting someone he once cared about a great deal. Think about this Roger versus the guy from a season or two back; he would have made some super sardonic quip and sauntered off about his business. There’s some semblance of growth with Roger as Don and Betty backslide a little.

Thanksgiving 1966 brings a gigantic toxic cloud to descend upon Manhattan, a pretty literal vision of the negativity and selfish garbage floating around in this episode. Shit’ll clear up soon, guys and gals.

“This is a setback. You’re always thinking about other people, and then you’re angry because no one’s thinking about you.. But I am. It’s so easy to blame our problems on others, but really we’re in charge of ourselves. And I’m here to heIp you, as you’re here to help me. We’ll figure out what’s next.”

Mad Men s5e8: Lady Lazarus

“Have you seen those pictures of earth from space? .. Do they make you feel small and insignificant?”

image courtesy of TheBigLead

The concept of Suburban Alienation has been pretty heavily explored throughout Mad Men thus far, and it’s about to catch up with Don with nary a suburb in sight. We also see that Pete Campbell’s dull train rides are getting under his skin. He gets to know some doughy dolt named Howard; natch, he’s casually cheating on his disproportionately hot wife.

image courtesy of YouTube

After their onetime spontaneous bang and brief pillowtalk, Pete becomes consumed with this fantasy of Howard’s wife Beth. Maybe she does help him to see the world a little differently, inspiring him to think a touch deeper.. or maybe she’s just tapping into his innate desire to feel needed. And in a first for Pete, he learns that he’s pretty much powerless to hold onto her. Beth is a lady who is able to make whatever their faux-relationship may or may not be dissolve as naturally as rolling down her fogged heart-drawn car window. Pete feels just about as lonely as the Earth looks from space in that moment.

image courtesy of Uproxx

Beth echoes Trudy’s good looks, acts fairly frosty à la Betty, but is independent like Pegs. She exudes the same Betty vibes of a bored/trapped housewife with no legit access to her aspirations and passions, stuck in an episode all about just those things.

(And on a sidenote, seems like Beth has done this before– hookin’ randos at the train station. Get it, girl! Howard suuuuucks.)

Megan is pretty much Don’s dream lady, but in fulfilling all that junk for him she’s put her own shit on the backburner. Turns out she still wants to be an actress, and has been auditioning on the sly. Desperate to bounce from SCDP, she wants to pursue her dream but needs Don to OK it first. Don saw what happened with Betty not being able to follow through on what she wanted with her life, so he’s pretty quick to agree with Megan re:her quitting SCDP.

Rewind to the Codfish Ball with Don and Megan blowing up Heinz together, working flawlessly as a team/power couple that anyone would envy. That marriage/work moment is everything Don could have dreamed of and more, a sky-high blip from which things could only careen straight back down to hell.. and how.

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Unfortunately for Don, this dynamic is not designed to last; and realistically, what is she supposed to do, anyway? Work with him legit forever? Nope. Megan musters up the courage to deal with her feelings head on. She admits to both herself and Don that she doesn’t want to work in advertising (although she has innate talent), but she would rather be an actress and have her own career; one that’s separate from Don, which is totally normal. Feeling better at failing in an audition than she did succeeding with the Heinz idea says it all.

And how does Don react to the news? On the outside, he’s understanding and perhaps supportive. This is hundreds of miles away from how he would have reacted with Betty, even going so far as to admit to Roger that he doesn’t want Megan to end up like her; bitterly unhappy and unfulfilled because he held her back. (Don’t do what Donny Don’t Does, Don.)

Surface niceties aside, Don can’t help but feel a tremendous dogpile of deep disappointment, melancholy, and abandonment within his bones. When Megan leaves SCDP for the last time as an employee, sweetly ensuring Don she would see him at home, he stares down the empty elevator shaft and something feels acutely wrong. Though it’s not something he can articulate just yet, that backhand of existential dread hits him square in the solar plexus. It’s a mere moment, but you know things won’t be the same ever again. Stare into the abyss and the abyss stares right back atcha.

Rattled and lured by his office bar’s gravitational pull, booze is the way he chooses to deal with it for the time being. When Don takes that drink, he looks noticeably worried and a little weathered. A goddamned mess in contrast to how bright and happy he looked with Megan in their shared Heinz success, and even during that silly Cool Whip play-acting.

Not to mention that generally Don is the one who does the bouncing.. so when Megan splits, it throws him for a loop. The power dynamic shifts to her favour and he’s uneasy about it.

Why does Megan pick what is probably the least mainstream accessible track on Revolver? Because it’s what’s next, the ever-evolving culture that will pass him by if he doesn’t wake up; he’ll be a man out of his time. The 60s are about to explode into psychedelic fun mania both music and style-wise.

As the episode ends, Don picks up the record needle and abruptly stops the music. He shuffles to the empty bedroom in silence, back to being adrift at work once more. Megan’s been keeping him straight at the office, but what now? Will he lose Megan to a strange new acting world he knows practically nada about?

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Will that frightening moment be Don’s undoing? He’s been so Good(TM) up to this point.. Tomorrow Never Knows, indeed. Megan and Beth have bounced, leaving Don and Pete in their wake feeling equal parts isolated and confused. Time to get on with it and get with the times, fellas.

“Why do they give you a glimmer of hope in the midst of rejection? A little thread to hang on to, a misplaced word, a suggestion of the future..under a court of law, it would look like an accident, but it’s not. Why do they get to decide what’s going to happen?”

“.. They just do.”