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.

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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.”

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Mad Men s5e4: Mystery Date

“You know, there are some parts of town where we can run into some people I worked with.”

Hello, dark-ass episode! This episode is filled with nightmares, fever dreams, literal murder, shame, but not without a tinge of light at the end of the tunnel.

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As we all know, Don’s a guy with a whole lotta hangups. Even with our initial glimpses of Don on the show, he’s ~an adulterer~ though of course, we don’t know it just yet. You see him banging Midge in the pilot and hanging around at her Village digs, and that’s what we know of him. They have a chat like a couple would, he frets about work and being a fraud while she soothes and reassures during their pillow talk. Then as Caravan pipes up, he boards the train home to his idyllic suburban home in Ossining at the very end.. revealing his picture-perfect wife and 2 kids.

quelle surprise.. || image courtesy of Giphy

What starts to come into focus as Mystery Date unfolds is just how deeply ashamed Don is of his past fucking around, how intrinsically broken he is inside. This show has never really presented Don’s philandering in a good way, but there’s a pretty harsh fluorescent DMV floodlight blasting directly upon his bullshit here. Here’s a guy who hates himself, deep down.

Banging around with Midge, Rachel Menken, Bobbi Barrett, that annoying Palm Springs teenager Joy, the incredibly irritating Miss Farrell, tons of other randos like the remarkably uncomfortable elevator encounter Andrea.. he’s looking for someone or something to fix whatever the hell is wrong with him, and he plunges in hardon first. We know he’s never had a loving mother figure in his life which certainly doesn’t help.

That feeling of isolation and shame eats away at him, and he’s terrified that it’s some keystone part of his personality he can’t move past; marrying Megan was maybe a move to convince himself that it’ll be better this time around. He was unhappy while married to Betty, and you never know.. perhaps he’s right, Megan will save the day with her sunny bubbliness and her love for him. Maybe she’ll coax him and love him into fixing that part of himself. But hey, Don.. we create our own demons.

Ginsberg knocks a presentation out of the park for Butler Shoes Footwear, and natch, rattles off like a maniac about the idea of Cinderella being inherently dark; and it does make sense. Think about it– a woman with only one shoe desperately running, hobbling, to get the fuck away from a dark, imposing figure of a man. Ginzo describes the ad’s moneyshot with the chase, Cinderella’s shoe, as we see Andrea’s limp leg from under Don’s bed later.. juxtaposed against that sumptuous white carpet after he strangled her to death in his fever hallucination.

And Don frantically shoving Andrea’s body under the bed is the inverse of the oft-discussed Speck murders in this episode; instead, it’s a dead girl under the bed versus a frightened live one.

Because of Speck looming over everyone, there’s talk of people popping up at your door and what might happen. The soldier who crosses Joan’s threshold should theoretically be fulfilling a dream for her; Greg, her husband, back from Vietnam on leave, with less than a few months to go before he’s back home for good and they can be a family again.

But we all know Greg is more of a shit nightmare creep than a daydreamer’s hero. We know that he raped Joan on the floor of Don’s office. We know that he’s a wildly insecure manbaby, whom Joan married more for the expectation of a lady of her time than true love. We know that they’ve tried to make things work, with some nice moments here and there, but at the end of the day Greg is just the handsome face she settled for. Either way he’s her husband, and she’s relying on him to be home soonish and help her day to day make sense; instead, he volunteered to stay in Vietnam for another year because he feels “needed” over there. Fucking hell.

The surprise news is dumped on Joan at a classy Italian dinner with her mother and Greg’s distraught parents, immediately followed by some bro blaring an accordion to ease the tension. Last time an accordion made an appearance on this show was when Joan had to serenade a similarly uncomfortable trash dinner!

image courtesy of The New Yorker

So, Joan ditches said shitbag husband once and for all, thank fucking Christ. She has reached her limit of bullshit, and Greg and his microscopic dick can go and be Very Important(TM) in Vietnam. Good riddance, dead weight.

As the dawn of the next day arrives, it seems everyone’s waking from their nightmares, and probably none more than Joan. Don’s shit fever dream only lasts that night, whereas Joan is breaking out of one she had been living for years.

And while Don is left feeling wary of his wandering eye in the harsh light of day, Peggy is consumed with guilt and embarrassment over a split-second moment with Dawn and her cash-addled purse. And in fairness to Pegs, I feel like she was more worried about having a relative stranger in her house when she’d swindled Roger for so much cash that day (roughly $2600 in 2017 dollars!) rather than a race thing. Either way, that split second moment of hesitation with her purse on the coffee table as they said goodnight is something she can’t really bounce back from.. awkward.

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Joan lies on her bed next to her tiny baby and her mother, mulling everything over and wide awake. This isn’t the life she thought she’d have, and it’s certainly not the one she was sold, but at least she doesn’t have to worry about Greg and his bullshit Fragile Man Feelings(TM) anymore.

Can everyone break out of their bullshit? Can we ever really do that? Guess we’ll have to see.

“I mean, she’s running down this dark side street. And it’s outside a castle, so it’s got those walls and the cobblestones. And she’s running, but she’s only got this one incredible shoe for her incredible gown, so she’s hobbling, wounded prey. She can hear him behind her, his measured footsteps catching up.. she turns a corner; those big shadows.. And she’s scared. And then she feels a hand on her shoulder and she turns around. And it doesn’t matter what he looks like, he’s handsome at that moment offering her her shoe. She takes it. She knows she’s not safe, but she doesn’t care. I guess we know in the end she wants to be caught.

….See? It’s too dark.”

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Mad Men s5e3: Tea Leaves

“They know I’m going to the doctor a lot, and they know I’m sick, but I’ve always been in a bad mood, so I joke with Hank.. he should just tell them I got hit by a car. It’d be easier to deal with than saying goodbye.”

Ahhh, the old looming threat of being replaced, that static humming fear inside all of us. This episode has Betty and her health scare, Roger vs. Pete, the generation gap with Don and a Rolling Stones groupie, and Peggy with new hire Michael Ginsberg.

Apparently, so much of Betty’s past energy was expended pushing and pulling at Don’s inexorable mystery that when she lets go of that rope.. she really lets it all go to hell. And though she may look different from season 4 (mainly to work around January Jones’ pregnancy), she’s still herself; habitually negative, insecure, and indelibly myopic. She’s just as unhappy and unfulfilled with her housewife life, even though she’s married to faithful Henry. Don’t forget that emotionally, Don let Betty stay a little girl; he let her have her temper tantrums and get her way, since he was getting his way too. It’ll take some time for her to acclimatise and work through those literal years of garbage treatment.

On the quest for diet pills, she has a legit health scare; some sort of node on her thyroid that could be cancer, and everything in her world understandably screeches to a halt. What would happen to the kids? How would they remember her? God forbid her dinosaur mother in law and ‘teenager’ Megan raise them.. ay yi yi, Bets.

I know everyone reacts differently when they’re faced with something frightening, but she’s still so threatened by Megan that she refers to her as Don’s girlfriend instead of his wife.. not a good look. And it ends up that Don is the one to remind her of how the kids might react to the news. The fact that Don is her first call is pretty telling; she knows he’ll tell her what she wants (and needs) to hear, that everything is going to be OK.

It’s not all bad, and she does come back down to earth for a bit; the way Betty cuddles with Gene as she and Henry look on at Bobby and Sally running around with sparklers is a very Norman Rockwell moment in time.

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When she heads to another doctor for a biopsy, she runs into an old friend on her way out; turns out she’s going through cancer treatments, and Betty is morbidly curious about what it’s really like to be that sick.

“I’m sorry, but I have to ask you.. what is it like?”

“Well, it’s like you’re way out in the ocean, alone, and you’re paddling.. and you see people on the shore, but they’re getting farther and farther away. And you struggle because it’s natural. Then your mind wanders back to everything normal.. What am I gonna fix for dinner? Did I lock the back door? And then you just get so tired, you just give in and hope you go straight down.”

“.. That’s horrible..”

“No one’s ever asked.”

Pretty terrifying, honesty. How’s that for some light fucking afternoon tea conversation?

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

But even when Betty receives the good news that she’s out of the woods with a clean bill of health, she manages to twist it into putting herself down as “just fat” .. instead of being clear of fucking cancer. And here’s Henry, intensely relieved that he will get more time with his wife; he truly loves that difficult woman. Time to gain a little more perspective, Bets.

When it comes to Roger, he’s pretty much already been replaced by Pete in most ways (save for the name in the lobby). Despite that reality, he still resents Pete.. and Pete’s Mohawk Airlines lobby antics don’t help that shit. Roger has the inherent natural charms of an account man, whereas it’s a little obvious that Pete has to work a lot harder for it. Just a little kick in the teeth there.

image courtesy of Screenrant

And let’s face it, Roger practically coaxed Pete to step up because he became so goddamned complacent in the first place with Lucky Strike.

“Your plate is full, and, frankly, Mohawk is going to insist on a regular copywriter. Someone with a penis.”

“..I’ll work on that.”

In a similar vein, Roger pushes Pegs to hire the whacked out Michael Ginsberg (whom Stan prophesies will surpass her in the talent department) mostly due to the fact that he’s a guy, which suits Mohawk’s oldtimey copywriter needs. Though Roger knows that the times are changing, he doesn’t necessarily dig it.

Back in the 1960-set pilot, it was a joke to Roger that the agency might have a Jewish person in a meaningful role– and now in 1966, he acknowledges to Peggy that having a guy like Ginsberg on board “makes the agency more modern”. Ginzo himself is a transitional figure as well, more adapted to the current times; for example, Michael is leagues apart from Rachel Menken’s immigrant father, or even his own father, who reacts to news of his new job by reciting a blessing in Hebrew.

(And suggesting they get hookers, but that’s beside the point..)

No matter which way you slice it, Ginsberg is a talented guy, and Peggy feels good about hiring him because she wants to work with talented people; shit’s inspirational. She saw a little beyond his encyclopedic eccentricities, and his portfolio is one of the only solid ones that were sent in. Mentioning The Letter to Don certainly didn’t hurt his chances at the job.

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Turns out Don is much more at home charming an older lady like Heinz guy’s wife than he is at chatting with Bonnie backstage waiting for the Rolling Stones; but Don also zeroes in and hits a nerve in a way that she feels the need to step away from him for a moment, transparently asking to give his business card a whirl on the bouncer. At the end of their interaction, you can tell that the new generation doesn’t necessarily understand the people they will eventually replace either. She complains that older guys like Don don’t want her to have fun “just because you never did”, to which he quips, “No. We’re worried about you”.

The way Don handles Megan re:Betty being sick is pretty fascinating as well. Apparently, at the age of 26 she can’t understand how death works, and what that would mean to him? Try again, Don. He wields it when he’s conveniently too consumed by the idea of meeting up with Megan’s friends and she sees through it immediately; a different gal than Betty, for sure.

“You know, back in Pittsburgh, everybody is pretty much who you expect them to be.”

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.

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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.

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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.