Mad Men s6e1&2: The Doorway

“How do you get to heaven? Something terrible has to happen.”

Hi there, and welcome back! Mad hiatus up in here, but now we’re back in the room. It’s late December 1967, about 8 months since s5 left off; in those passing months, there’s a whole pile of facial hair and substantially less Brylcreem at SCDP. There’s also a 2nd floor! Hey-o.

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Don looks a little out of place as we enter the late 60s– that shot of him walking into the creative lounge surrounded by hair is a jolt, and lends some context to PFC Dinkins assuming Don is an astronaut. Even the ideas for ads are shifting; a concept like ~wholesome marital love~ as it relates to Dow oven cleaner seems positively Paleolithic as we edge closer to 1968. And I guess Leland Palmer let em in on a part of Dow after all!

Though it may be Christmastime, nearly every scene is tinged with the macabre; and as always, death is trailing just a few steps behind Don. We’ve got The Real(tm) Don Draper, Anna, his drunk father Archie, the Korean War, and now Vietnam saturating everything within reach. The doorman in Don and Megan’s building nearly dies.. thankfully resuscitated by Arnie. Nevertheless, Don is obsessed with what he ‘saw’ while he was faux dead, drunk and hot off the heels of a funeral.

And there’s the plain as day suicidal ideation of the Sheraton pitch.

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I dig that The Doorway parallels the pilot a touch. You think Don is growing to be at ease and well adjusted in his married life, even making what seems like a legit-ass friend (!) in the Good Doctor Arnie in his building.. and then there’s the reveal at the end, where he’s banging the guy’s wife, Sylvia. Oy.

The hat trick of making it appear as if Don is content and then dropping the concluding truth bomb is skilfully done. We’ve got the inverse of the pilot here, which reveals his picturesque family at his suburban home at the end; turns out all of that sprawling perfection is humming in the background of his city life/bonking Midge. And here, we’ve got this affair that lurks in the backdrop of his day to day.

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In spite of being in Hawaiian paradise with Megan, Don appears to be in his own personal hell. Megan’s being recognised and signing autographs, and aside from the opening voiceover (reading Dante’s Inferno, fittingly), we don’t hear Don utter a damn word until meeting the drunk and unassuming PFC Dinkins in the hotel bar. They have a frank conversation, where Don listens more than he reveals; Dinkins references Army weapons with a splash of excited violence, eventually convincing Don to walk his bride-to-be down the aisle.

The Hawaiian Sheraton ad is unique in that it makes luminous sense to Don, but would obvi signify suicide and death to anyone else who doesn’t happen to inhabit his head. Dick Whitman shed his skin to become Don Draper, but to the scant people who knew him, Dick Whitman died. The ad evokes all kinds of imagery, but ultimately, can you truly change without dying? Roger seems to think you can’t, but Peggy and Betty suggest you can, slowly but surely.

image courtesy of Reddit

The funeral for Roger’s mother is a goddamned mess. Some overeager/hysterical rando named Bob Benson sent over a shitton of delicatessen, and some Great Aunt rolls in and gives an absurd fuckin speech which moves Don to vom. Roger tries to connect with his daughter after telling everyone to get to steppin’, but he’s discouraged and hurt that there’s nothing deeper there than surface cash-grabby hands for her husband’s flop endeavour, water from the River Jordan left behind.

Roger’s mother was a woman who made a Real Big Fucking Deal out of him, and yet he felt profoundly disconnected from her; but when the news of his shoeshine’s passing hits, he weeps in his office. Seems like Roger and Don are drifting through their days in a world they no longer recognise, unable to shake the belief that it all amounts to a big pile of nothing– just more doors, as Roger wryly tells his therapist.

On New Year’s Eve, we’ve got Don once again watching scenes from his life on a Kodak Carousel, feeling like an observer, detached. Still startled when a photographer tells him to be himself, and he hasn’t got the faintest idea of what in the fuck that means.

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And it turns out no matter how many doorways you walk through, there’s still shit you can’t change about yourself; like knocking on the back door of Sylvia’s pad to get it in. Wherever you go, there you are.

“People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety.”

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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.”

image courtesy of ChicagoNow

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.

Mad Men s1e13: The Wheel

One of my favourite episodes of this series, The Wheel is a sincerely magnificent episode of television. It’s nearing Thanksgiving 1960. Rachel Menken is on an ocean voyage to Paris for a few months, Don finds out via Cooper and his light ‘cowboy’ jab as Cooper knows pretty much everything. Don has no interest in joining Betty’s family for the holiday, and Betty doesn’t understand why he can’t make her family his, and is at her wit’s end. The struggle is real.

A visibly shaken Francine pops by, and confides in Betty that she’s found out that Carlton has been banging around in the city, and right before a huge family holiday to boot. Francine confides in Betty because she thinks she’ll know what to do, and Betty is alarmed at her implication. It seems so obvious to Francine on the outside, and if Carlton is doing it, what’s to say that Don isn’t doing the same?

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image courtesy of TomandLorenzo

(Real talk for a hot second though, who would fuck Carlton anyway? He gross.)

Betty knows deep down that Don is unfaithful to her and won’t admit it to herself, but for what? Out of pride? Wanting to keep up the illusion of the perfect life? She’s been told all along to want this and to be that perfect wife, but is that really any way to live life?

Self-deception never ends well, as reality will always barge in to fuck things up. She seeks out the phone bill to see if he’s been ringing any ladies, and instead finds a more intense form of betrayal. Don has been calling her therapist to get the scoop on everything she’s been yapping about during her sessions, keeping tabs. She’s both relieved and infuriated.

Doctor patient confidentiality wasn’t a thing in 1960, apparently. When Don comes home later on that evening, Betty tells him about Carlton, pointedly saying how awful it is to do something like that to the one you love, asking how can someone could do something like that to the one they love, to gauge his reaction.

“Who knows why people do what they do?”

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I SEE YOU, DON.

Don immediately changes the subject to the whereabouts of their photo slides, and maybe they have an offscreen night of looking through memories together. Sounds nice on paper; but Betty knows it’s hollow because of what she’s found out re:Don’s calls to the shrink, and that their life will most likely be used as part of a pitch.

So naturally, Betty stirs the pot at her shrink’s office. She decides to drop the “my husband is having an affair” bomb not even yet admitting to herself that it’s true, but as she says the words she feels it. I love the crafty switch of her saying this to the shrink, and then at some point in the future Don will be calling him, so he’ll know that she knows. The seed was planted with Francine’s visit, and the wheels in Betty’s head start turning.

“The way he makes love, sometimes it’s what I want.. but sometimes it’s obviously what someone else wants. I suppose it means I’m not enough.. but maybe it’s just him.”

Absolutely spot on, Bets. She’s slowly coming into her own sort of sentience, gradually becoming the person who is strong enough to get on with it and get out of a bad marriage. Breaking out of denial is the first step, gotta yank your head outta the sand.

Let’s talk about the importance of photos in life for a hot second. There’s a scene with Don and Harry latenight in the office; Harry having told his wife about bonking Hildy for whatever reason so he now lives at SC, and Don having just learned his half brother hanged himself and promptly boozing it. They speak about cave paintings and photography, and how these are evidence of someone being there for future generations to see and to wonder. The impact of these things on the time to come.

My apartment is absolutely blasted with photos, its walls adorned nearly everywhere you look. Family, friends, people long gone and the places that I love, beautiful things. Anytime I feel discombobulated, all I have to do is glance at my walls and I am right back to where I need to be again. I am home. Photos are grounding; the very physical essence of connections you have with others, with places, with a time in your life. You can revisit it all.

And this Carousel pitch, it’s fucking iconography right before our eyes.

Fun fact: I have never watched this scene and not cried. Home run. To me, there’s nothing more innately human than seeking out those movie moments in real life, capturing them. Looking at pictures and knowing that whatever you’re doing is OK.. You are OK.

(I also love that Don does exactly what he tells Peggy not to do in a pitch, re:using Latin and sounding like a Valedictorian..)

Pete’s father in law is really hammering him to knock up Trudy, which is sort of terrifying and wildly inappropriate. As he sits down with Pete and states that he wants to treat him as a son, Pete takes this to mean some new business; after all, the guy is an exec at Vicks Chemical, and he wants to look good for Don and Duck. Having a baby isn’t exactly on Pete’s radar right now, and instead, he gets Clearasil.

Don loops in Peggy for Clearasil, and Pete is pissed.. Don therefore promotes her to Junior Copywriter. The way she wrangled the radio auditions with Kenny is pretty impressive as well– here’s a woman finding her way in a man’s world, and owning it.

At the same time that she gets a new office and promotion, she gets a baby she doesn’t want, and it belongs to Pete Campbell. Christ on the Cross, this is my actual real life nightmare, being on an episode of TLC’s I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant. The way she acts about learning she’s pregnant in the ER and how she acts post-birth are telling; she’s far more interested in getting on with her life and getting back to work and her new copywriting job. Her name is Don.

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No thx.

image courtesy of Imgur

There’s this elaborate fantasy of the man Don wants to be, but back here on earth it’s stark, desolate; false starts and empty promises. He portrays such an idealistic existence in the Carousel pitch, but the reality is that he’s disconnected and unreachable to those that should be closest to him. He learns his half brother committed suicide via a phone call with an uninvolved hotel manager. His lover has bounced on some Euro cruise. He’s cruelly alienated his wife.

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Betty undeniably has nobody to talk to, so when she spots Glen in the bank parking lot, she expresses her profound sadness to him. It’s upsetting to watch; her desperation and longing to connect with someone is palpable. When the show began, her and Don’s marriage was ostensibly broken beyond repair, and now the cracks are turning into canyons.

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“Adults don’t know anything, Glen..”

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Don is a man living on the outskirts of his own life, a truly isolated guy on the outside looking in, but this season finale shows that perhaps he yearns for something deeper. Coming home alone to an empty house with Betty and the kids already gone for Thanksgiving, he slumps on the stairs as the idea of his loving fantasy life evaporates. He knows it’s his own damned fault.

He started this episode not wanting to spend time with his family and being flippant about joining Betty and the family for the holiday, and he ends it being unable to spend time with his family. As much as this guy wants to escape all the time, he profoundly yearns to come home to a place where he knows he is loved.

Is it too late? Can he really connect with Betty and be a legit family? Can he be a damn person already?

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Time for a brief hiatus between seasons. But fear not, I shall return! Thanks for following me throughout Season 1 of Mad Men. More to come.

And hey, you can find everything I’ve written thus far over here. Adios for now!