Mad Men s5e1 & e2: A Little Kiss

“You think he’s looking at your breasts?? He’s looking at my calendar!”

Hello hello, and welcome back! I’m really looking forward to writing about this season, because season 5 is where shit starts to get dark. Right out of the gate, there’s talk of death, intense bitterness, underlying messes, how nothing is as it seems.. with a nice dash of good old daddy issues and Fragile Man Feelings. We pick up a few months after the conclusion of season 4’s Tomorrowland, Memorial Day Weekend 1966.

Staking your own spot in the world is at the forefront of this episode, with our main characters desperate to mark their territory. Pete vs Roger (and the fight for an office sans support beam), Megan showing off her marriage (and dope-ass home), Joan finding her identity through work (and not just being a mother), Lane and his place in the USA.

image courtesy of Amoeba

There’s a lot of Don and Megan in this episode, and they’re both starting to realise exactly how little they actually understand about one another. Don, as he is wont to do, assumed Megan would be simple and uncomplicated; turns out she ain’t no Canadian Barbie, she’s a real person. Ssssssshocker. The man is seething over the surprise party she threw for his 40th, especially inviting everyone into their home and the iconic Zou Bisou Bisou. As a happy go lucky girl, Megan can’t fathom the idea that Don would never want a birthday party, much less a big ol’ surprise involving making him the center of attention.

“Don’t waste money on things like that.”

“It was my money, and you don’t get to decide what I do with it.”

“Well, could you please not use it to embarrass me again?”

“I know why you’re upset.. you’re 40!

“I’ve been 40 for half a year.”

“When is that gonna stop? Only you know that. This is your birthday now.”

“Fine, I don’t like my birthday. I told you, I never had it when I was growing up and I’ve never wanted it since.”

“You never had a birthday? Didn’t Betty ever throw you a party?”

“No, because I forbid it.  I don’t need to be the center of attention.”

“You love attention!”

Well, the good news is that Don was up front with Megan about his Dick Whitman. And we all know that Don loves attention as Megan astutely points out; but he covets control, and wants attention on his own terms. Tale as old as tiiiiiime..

image courtesy of AMC

Switching gears, Lane finds a dude’s wallet in his cab, within which is a photo of busty Dolores; when Lane rings the owner, she’s the one that answers. He’s very flirtatious on the call, the man Lane imagines himself to be, suave and daring. Reality slaps him in the face when a disheveled fat dude in a hat that looks like it got run over by the E train comes to pick up said wallet. Boner killer.

image courtesy of Tumblr

Lane’s pining for something he doesn’t have, something he got a taste of last season with his Playboy Bunny ladyfriend. He fancies much more than just being the office middleman. I feel like that’s a big part of why he lets everyone out of their contracts to create SCDP in the first place– he wants to be one of the power players, the execs who get the gal and the cash and the respect and the power.. much like Don supposedly has.

And instead he has his vaguely severe wife, piles of bills, and he feels powerless. The titty photo is what he longs for, but like much of everything else in his life, is denied him. His effervescent longing gives him the get up and go. Lane has always been a man who feels desperately out of place, ironically looking to Don who’s pretty much in the same boat. Little does he know it’s mostly an illusion of happiness on Don’s front.

That 40th birthday party is the ultimate illusion of happiness, partly shattered by Peggy throwing some particularly uncouth Heinz-related shade. We see Pete’s suburban dreamhouse in Connecticut, a city boy woefully out of place in the wood-paneled country. He really thought that he wanted the life Don had back in 1960, and now that he’s got it (complete with a near-identical hideous knotty pine kitchen) it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Trudy hasn’t quite yet returned to her effortlessly chic self post-baby, and as usual Pete has no earthly idea what he wants, just that he yearns for so much more of it.

Joan is at home with her newborn and mother in tow, yearning to head back to work and to feel relevant again. Being a mother isn’t enough for her to feel needed, to feel important; and the private barb SCDP throws at the racist Y&R hiring policy doesn’t help, thinking they’re looking to replace her.

image courtesy of Tumblr

Looks like Roger and Jane’s marriage has run its course, with the amount of seething tension between them. Seems nice on the outside, but there’s no depth there.. more on this shocking story at 11. Roger is being rapidly outpaced by Pete at the firm in terms of bringing in new business, and he feels somewhat listless as a result.

Almost every character’s story centres around those fantasies of happiness. Let’s be real, we can all concoct a perf Happy Ending(TM) in our imaginations, but then we get to live with the messier (and oft disappointing) realities that come with it. Everyone coveted the gorgeous, immaculate white carpet Megan saw in that interior design magazine, but the reality is that they all wound up with the filthy version in Don and Megan’s place that survived that birthday party.

“Well, I want you to be happy. Somebody should be. You know, two weeks ago, Jane asked me, “Which one’s Mussolini?'”

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The Leftovers: a Nihilistic, Tighter Lost

What are the lies we tell ourselves every day? The lies that help us heal, move on, to feel okay? There’s a fuckton of those in the above shows.

Spoilers ahoy, kiddos. Time to yap for a bit.

image courtesy of The Verge

Alright.. I have an undying love for the show Lost. Is it a perfect series? Hell no, but it’s a show that crafted real characters, emotional drama, iconic moments, and a whole new world to explore. It’s aged really well, in my opinion. The Others! The Dharma Initiative! WE HAVE TO GO BACK! The numbers! What the fuck is in that hatch? THE CONSTANT. Time skipping to the 70s! Oof. I can go on and on.

The finale is polarising (and Across the Sea remains forever fucking awful), but I am firmly in the camp that loved the damn thing through and through. Such a satisfying emotional conclusion to these characters’ stories, and The Leftovers came to the same type of incredibly gratifying conclusion.

This show runs a touch contrary to Lost, depending upon whom you ask; the fascinating bits aren’t really the mystery itself, but rather how the characters live with said mystery, though Lost got there eventually. What’s the fun in laying everything out boilerplate, anyway?

The Leftovers has the typical Lindelof thematic strings; existential loneliness and finding purpose, daddy/mommy issues, daily lying to oneself, very handsome men crying, moving on and letting go, faith versus science, damaged people just trying to make it work. The tone is overall darker, and I feel like that’s a given. How would a world that suddenly and inexplicably lost 2% of the population evolve? Shit would be weird. As the episodes progress and it gets farther away from Perrotta’s source material, it becomes exceptionally more bizarre as it bursts and blooms into this wholly mesmerising viewing experience.

image courtesy of Giphy

As an HBO bonus, there’s titties and asses galore (and a commando jogging Justin Theroux in sweatpants). It’s a win-win at 28 hourish-long episodes. Lost had some definite wheel spinning going on in Season 3 (Jack’s fucking tattoos) and the first half of Season 6 (Christ, that trash temple, what the fuck). The shorter season structure on HBO allows a more efficient viewing experience, and more effective storytelling.

Simply put, both Lost and The Leftovers are about broken people trying to get on with it. Jack Shephard can’t let a single goddamned thing go, but he eventually gets his shit together and moves on (which is probably the most succinct summary you’ll ever find of that show). He saves the world and sacrifices himself in the process.

And unlike Jack, Kevin Garvey isn’t destined to save the world — only himself.

Does Kevin have something fundamentally broken inside him? Sure, none of his family departed, but it seems the Sudden Departure itself cracked him wide open. The metaphor manifests in the penultimate episode of the series, where Kevin literally faces his issues head on– his twin brother. He happens to have the nuclear football key planted inside of him, and Prez Kev has to kill International Assassin Kev in the process of getting to the damn thing.

Apparently, it’s the Fischer Protocol; an ethical deterrent for the President so he doesn’t blow up the goddamned world, since the prez has to kill the person who has the key in order to get it out. All orchestrated by Secretary of Defense Patti Levin, no less.

Let’s backtrack for a hot second. Patti, the monkey on his back, follows him around for much of Season 2 and in order to rid himself of her and move forward from that guilt, he has to kill her in this hotel world. First, she’s masquerading as a senator; he kills her, but apparently she’s got a double. Second, she’s a little girl– Patti at her most innocent, purest. Watching Kevin push her into a well is tough, heartbreaking. The third incarnation of Patti is her Guilty Remnant self, the one Kevin knew. He approaches each of these with empathy, but carries out his grisly task every time.

Oof. Typing that out sounds absolutely fucking ridiculous. But man, there’s a few episodes of The Leftovers that absolutely should not work on paper, but are pure magic onscreen. There’s a tinge of supernatural with Kevin’s ability to die, visit the other side, and return relatively unharmed. Season 2’s International Assassin and a tidbit of the s2 finale have him working through his issues in the ‘hotel world’, which is pretty much an in-between place; an afterlife. These episodes are the show at its strangest, emotional best.

The themes that spoke to me the most were about how we all cope in the face of loss and the glaring black hole of the unknown. What does it truly mean to be okay? Can we ever actually be okay again after a great loss, or is there just a new normal? Or is life just an emotional roller-coaster, where we vacillate between happiness and self-destruction to push it all away?

Take a gander at Kevin’s journey across the seasons. He’s a broken and generally dissatisfied guy, who is offered love, family, and peace at the end of both seasons 1 and 2, yet he invariably goes on to blow his happiness straight to hell. Then there’s Nora, for whom the idea of moving on and being okay after her family’s departure is an enormous source of guilt and conflict. Despite her departed husband being a shitbird, all she wants to do is wallow in those feelings, pushing Kevin away in the process.

image courtesy of HBO

On a grander scale, these themes manifest in the small-town apocalypses of seasons 1 and 2; how the societal sweater of Mapleton and Jarden progressively unraveled via the wildly conflicting coping mechanisms of their denizens.

Not unlike Jack and ~The Island~, Kevin craves returning to the ‘other side’ to feel powerful and alive, since he can’t seem to grasp that in his real life no matter how hard he tries. The whole series he struggles with just wanting to go home, to be with his family.. and once he gets there, it’s never enough. Kevin yearns for more, lying to himself along the way that what he already has is the key though he knows that ain’t true. Guess it took losing Nora and that great love for a decade and a half for him to get it together and see what was in front of him all along. He blew up his afterlife in the process and eliminated that escape.

image courtesy of Reddit

But hey.. did Nora go to that trash dimension and fuck off for ~15 years? Or did she make it all up as an elaborate method of moving forward and forgiving herself?? I’m still on the fence as to whether it’s an intricate lie she concocted to move on with her life, but goddamn. And either way Kevin would’ve believed her.

What a ride. It’s a beautifully written and executed show, real damn good, Perfect Strangers included. I’ll definitely be revisiting this one.

Mad Men s4e13: Tomorrowland

“But I think, in my heart, it was an impulse. Because I knew what I needed to do to move forward.”

Ahh, the curveball season finale. As we all know, Don Draper is the reigning king of the fresh start, always moving forward and all that garbage. But life really isn’t conducive to clean slates as Henry makes crystal clear to Betty, along with those of us living on planet earth know intrinsically. One of the show’s central themes is prominent in this episode.. can people really change? Or is it all just a blip?

image courtesy of IMDB

This is and is not the Don Draper we’ve gotten to know throughout the series thus far. When it looks like he’s going to come to terms with his own identity in some meaningful way, he veers sharply left (and imitates Roger by making an impetuous and capricious move) and proposes to Megan. The hell? True to form, I guess.

Betty certainly thought her life would change when she married Henry. Sure, things are different, but it’s not all that she envisioned. As her journey continues, she’s learning that life is less and less the ideal iconography she was pitched and the only thing you can really control is your perspective.

Bets, you can move out of your house and leave Ossining, but your problems are gonna follow ya if you don’t look inward and work on that shit. Her fresh start with Henry hasn’t radically changed her nor her life, and a new house in Rye won’t do that either. At least she’s with a man who will communicate with her exactly what is wrong with her actions, and call her out on her bullshit instead of just disappearing, but it’s up to her to do the work.

Now that Don’s not around to blame for her erratic/childish behaviour, she’s gotta learn to adapt and be an adult. Henry has precisely no time for her impulsive shitfit re:Glen and Sally being friends which is probably for the best. Firing Carla inadvertently draws Don closer to Megan too, ha.

And man, Faye didn’t deserve such shit treatment. She really got a raw deal, but I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Don lost interest episodes ago, and it doesn’t look like he was ever really that into her; she’s not the right person for him. But getting some fucking phone call like “oh yeah bee-tee-dubs I met someone and am suddenly engaged PEACE” is crushing, but she blasts him with a truth H-Bomb before hanging up.

“I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.”

image courtesy of Imgur

Let’s be real, the Hobo Code stuck with him. Dude is always looking to hop that midnight train going anywhere; Faye represents facing his issues and working through his Dick Whitman/desertion garbage feelings like a real life person, whereas Megan represents a clean slate and bright-eyed optimism that only youth can foster. Poor girl doesn’t know what she’s signed on for..

I’m drawn back to the season premiere, and that reporter snapping Don out from his thoughts; “Who is Don Draper?” Good question. He’s tried to make himself a better man this season, but suddenly jerks to the crutch of the Fresh Start(TM) personified, Megan. The first time I watched this finale, that ending gave me whiplash– but going back and examining the earlier episodes, it adds up pretty neatly. All along there were these little snippets planted that she’s the shining star for Don; the Pond’s focus group, being naturally nurturing to Sally, actually getting what The Letter was about.. etc. The pieces are all there.

Megan’s on the level. Maybe she’ll be the one to accept Don for who he really is, to love Dick Whitman and all that mess entails, allowing him to get on with it sans too much manpain. And hey, maybe he’ll do it right. He tells her he feels like “himself” around her, the best version of the man he aspires to be in the day to day. Maybe she’ll coax more of that out into the open.

At the end of the day, Don is someone who needs to be needed, and Faye didn’t really deliver that; Megan does just that little bit. He also needs someone who will nurture his kids in the way that Betty simply can’t at this point, in a way that he’s unable to as well; since he grew up with no loving mother figure, seeing that in Megan is magnetic.

image courtesy of Slant Magazine

She also didn’t have a fucking meltdown over a spilled milkshake, which Betty certainly would have done. Between Megan’s sunniness and Don’s slight ability to even acknowledge his past to Sally (“that’s my nickname sometimes” re:Dick and Anna on the wall) and have it go well, Don seems on top of the world.

It’s an optimistic ending for a season fraught with such darkness, yet I can’t help but wonder how pristine that slate will stay as lives move on. Fundamentally, people don’t change– not wholly.

Peggy and Joan share a moment over the absurdity of the engagement; Peggy signed the first bit of new business with Topaz that day, but natch.. that’s not as important as getting married. Those dudes are all just between marriages, after all.

image courtesy of Roger Ebert

And it didn’t slide past Roger that Don did the exact thing he was judged harshly for back in Season 2, either. Granted, Roger reacts much better than Don ever did— and there’s absolutely fuckall Don can quip back about it.

Don and Betty have one last encounter in the house on Bullet Park Road, and it’s a bittersweet adieu. It’s also one of those rare moments where she softens towards Don, and they have an easy interaction; she’s vulnerable about how things aren’t ideal in her life. Don lets her know that he’s engaged, and even in her sensitive state, Betty manages to not say anything shitty which is pretty good progress.

She does ask if it’s to Bethany Van Nuys, and Don is essentially like “WHO??

image courtesy of Tom + Lorenzo

Adios, house; thanks for the memories. Onto the next one.

The finale closes with Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” as Don stares off into the void, his new fiancée asleep on his chest. Natch, the first thing I thought of was the always relevant Groundhog Day, the tale of a man trapped in a fucking time loop with endless fresh starts as he relives the same day over and over.

And once he gets it right, he breaks the loop and can live happily ever after.. but only after something like 100 goddamned years.

Here’s hoping Don gets his shit together sooner than Bill Murray. As a man who’s started over quite a bit, maybe he’ll stick the landing this time.

That’s a wrap on Season 4, kiddos! Stay tuned for Season 5 reviews, starting soon.. will Don do it right with his marriage this time? Will Pete’s hairline continue to evaporate? Will Peggy be running the place by the time we return? Will trash Greg do the math on Joan’s baby??? Do people really change or is it all just smoke and mirrors?

Mad Men s4e12: Blowing Smoke

“I bet I could get a date with your mother right now.”

Ah fuck, this is the episode with THE LETTER. Iconic Don Draper shit, kiddos.

image courtesy of YouTube

Turns out desperation truly reeks, as Don takes meeting after meeting and is met with continual rejection, a feeling he ain’t used to in the slightest. SCDP is teetering on the edge without Lucky Strike, and everyone in Manhattan seems to know it.

Hey, remember Midge? One of Don’s OG boho mistresses, she happily runs into him in the lobby of the Time Life building, but all is not as it seems. Don’s genuinely happy to see her at first, this familiar link to who he was just a few years back.

When he told her that he had been expecting to run into her in The Village, maybe he was hoping they would reconnect or have a catch-up sesh about all the seismic changes in his life this past year; he seemed crestfallen to learn how far she had tumbled, and that her reasons for seeking him out were motivated by cash. Ugh.

Turns out Midge is married to some idiot and lives in a real shithole now, with no use for a check. Said dolt lets it slip that she sought Don out and didn’t just happen to be in the Time Life building that day.. thanks, heroin.

Don gives her some cash for a painting, staring at it once he gets home, lost in the void. Maybe he’s not that dissimilar from the trapped junkie who sold it to him; someone willing to whore himself out for cash from Lucky Strike. Seeing Midge could be a partial wakeup call for him, maybe an extreme glimpse at what could’ve been had he not cut back on his boozin’ earlier this season.

image courtesy of Uproxx

Snapping out of the void, Don starts writing. After all, part of Don’s entire life mantra includes “if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”. Midge’s knob of a husband informed Don that the painting is an after-image– what she sees when she closes her eyes. Time to change the after-image of SCDP post-Lucky Strike.

Tearing the pages out of his sobriety journal, he’s set on moving forward and can’t seem to shed that dark period of his life quickly enough. In the process of creating this defiant statement, Don ditched an honest part of himself with his journal’s pages to make way for this very public (and fundamentally faux) declaration of independence.. looks like he’s done dabbling with authenticity for the time being. Nothing like splashing out for a page in the Times, huh?

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

I mean, GODDAMN. Natch, the other partners do not react well. Don didn’t sign their names, nor did he tell anyone about his plan. Then again, it seems to have done its job; the phones are ringing off the hook at SCDP, and it’s not all bad news.

Both Don and Betty act out of self interest in this episode, damaging others in their wake. Sally is growing up and becoming more of her own person, to Betty’s chagrin and vague confusion. Sally is absolutely a different person than Betty is at this point, and she has limited context for how to relate to her daughter outside of Dr. Edna’s sessions.

image courtesy of Tumblr

Sally and Glen have stayed in touch, and sneak off to hang out in secret as kids sometimes do; Betty finds out and has a fucking meltdown. In a fit of bizarre jealousy over Sally and Glen, she announces to Henry that it’s finally the right time to move. Poor Sally.

Paired with Lucky Strike leaving, Don’s tobacco tantrum on a full page of The New York Times gets a lot of people laid off.. Faye Miller included. Time for all the partners to pay up, let people go, and keep the lights on. The junior partners have to put in 50 grand apiece to keep the company afloat, and Pete doesn’t have that kind of cash. Turns out it’s not that big a deal, as Don pays Pete’s share; a very generous nod to his discretion with that whole Dick Whitman mess.

“I heard from all my clients this morning, mostly out of morbid curiosity. But one thing’s for sure, they’re not talking about Lucky Strike anymore..”

Everything is uneasy, but in the midst of it all, Megan lets Don know that she ‘gets’ the letter and what it symbolises; one of the few times that day that Don breaks his Draper façade. And, Megan is the other person in the office aside from Peggy who comes to Don with something resembling a positive reaction, some form of understanding what exactly it is that he’s trying to pull. It feels different that day at SCDP.

And she’s right, Don does stand for something.. even if it’s through the guise of an ad rooted in a self-serving motive.

“I thought you didn’t go in for those kinds of shenanigans.

Mad Men s4e11: Chinese Wall

“Lee Garner Jr. never took you seriously because you never took yourself seriously.”

Welp, the cat’s outta the bag re:Lucky Strike and everyone at SCDP collectively shits themselves. Don, Pete, Peggy, Roger and Joan all get a certain sense of fulfilment from their work that their home lives just cannot seem to provide; having the possibility of SCDP being no more really scares the bejesus out of everyone, but especially the aforementioned guys and gals.

image courtesy of Tumblr

Sunday night. Kenny is out with his fiancée and her parents (including Leland Palmer), and inadvertently gets the Lucky Strike news and blows shit up. The partners (sans Lane, who’s still in London picking up the pieces) all anxiously gather at the office as Roger puts on a show, faking a phone call to Lee Garner Jr in an attempt to save face and pretend he’s in the dark. He’s sat on the news for whatever reason, mostly embarrassment and booze I’d guess. Nada on the new business horizon, apparently.

image courtesy of Monsters of Television

When he fakes a last plea/flight down to the North Carolina HQ and rings Joan from his Manhattan hotel hideout, she understandably ain’t impressed. Somehow, Roger thought that maybe this crisis on top of the alleyway mug-bang would bring her back to him; instead, it’s reminded her of why she keeps her distance. Candor isn’t inherently negative, but when it’s rooted in some vague form of lazy self-immolation tinged with pity party, it’s a bad look.

Oh hey, Pete has a daughter! Then he hits up the most cringe-worthy funeral on the entire planet earth. A big account dude from a rival company died, and the partners deemed it astute to try and poach clients at the funeral; a desperate decision. The guy’s former colleagues are telling old war stories, as his widow and daughter look on; they appear glazed over as if they’ve all heard this work junk a thousand times before. They talk about David Montgomery The Man, but seem way more interested and animated when talking about David Montgomery The Adman. Clearly, the guy devoted a lot of his life to his work.

Granted, there’s truth bombs here — nobody on their deathbed wishes they’d worked more, and this sentiment washes over Don and Pete. I mean, look at Pete; missing the birth of his own daughter to chase a hearse. I know it wasn’t uncommon in the 1960s for fathers to be absent for the birth of their children, but this is pretty bleak. It’s one of the shittiest times they’ve experienced to date, business-wise, but hitting up a funeral for this purpose is grasping at straws. The last days of Rome.

Shocking statement: Don Draper is a self-loathing guy with a whole heap of fucking mommy issues. With his continual banging around, he seeks out the unconditional love he never received from a mother figure, and will go after anything that even vaguely resembles love like a moth to a light.

At the same time, he ends up blowing nearly every relationship he has straight to hell. This is usually either because the woman won’t give him what he wants — i.e. Rachel won’t run off into the sunset with him, Bobbie Barrett won’t put a sock in it — or because they WILL give him what he wants.. and then he won’t respect them for doing so.

image courtesy of Giphy

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Either way it’s some manpain horseshit.

With the loss of Lucky Strike, Don is tense as hell and Faye is dunzo.. she’s pretty much stuck in a lose-lose situation with Don at this point. If she doesn’t break through her own Chinese Wall of business ethics, to Don it looks as if she does not care about him enough and wants him to fail. Pretty damned big leap there, Donnie, and real unfair to put Faye in that position.

image courtesy of Tom & Lorenzo

And in the end when she throws him a bone in the form of non-ketchup related Heinz, Don is very happy for the meeting.. but he also loses any remaining respect for Faye. Ugh. I mean, I never thought they were a great match to begin with, but he doesn’t need to be such a shitheel about it.

These two conflicting feelings are a fucking mess. His unrelenting thirst to be unconditionally loved and the unwillingness to actually accept unconditional love out of self-hatred means Don is probably going to be banging around for the foreseeable future. But this yearning to feel something and glimpsing it in rando beds is grounded in the very core of his character.

Meanwhile, here’s Megan saying all the right things at the right times. She even fixes the busted Clio Don hurled across the room post Glo-Coat exit call. She’s interested in the inner workings of his job and how it all works at SCDP, which Don is obvi totally into.. and they have an office bang. Megan is modern and savvy, letting him know point blank she understands this has nada to do with work (unlike Allison) and won’t have a fucking meltdown (also unlike Allison). Go girl, get it.

image courtesy of AMC

Speaking of banging, Peggy is seemingly unflappable in her post-bang lavender haze despite walking into the Lucky Strike apocalypse the next day. I guess Abe learned to put less of his foot in his mouth. She even uses her encounter with him to flavour her Playtex gloves presentation, just like Don has used his personal life in past work. Ooh la la!

“Every time something good happens, something bad happens.”