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.

image courtesy of Skift

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.

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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 s5e12: Commissions and Fees

“But what is happiness?? It’s the moment before you need more happiness.”

We all have good days that turn into bad ones, but some of us just can’t shake it. As much as it’s Real Life, the consequences of our own actions are sometimes too much to bear. Sometimes shit is just so devastating you can’t cope.. enter Lane Pryce and his illicit cash grab.

image courtesy of Vulture

We knew it was coming, but Lane’s been caught red-handed by Cooper, cancelled Christmas bonus check with Don’s faux signature and all. And we all know Lane is one proud motherfucker, so his chat with savvier than expected Don does not go well.

Sadly, this is grisly familiar territory for Don; it’s not the first time that a guy he knew has hanged himself as a near-direct result of Don telling him to get on with it and leave. Before Lane Pryce, there was of course Adam Whitman. Don’s motivations as well as the circumstances are super different, but the endgame is identical; Dick Whitman imparts some hobo code ‘run away’ advice and both of these guys instead choose to violently exit the world.

And the punch is that Don was truly doing do the right thing for Lane, giving him an elegant exit with a resignation– obviously trying to course correct after Adam.

Adam & Lane || image courtesy of Tumblr

Don really thinks he did the decent thing for Lane here, and he’s not entirely wrong. When that type of trust is broken, natch Don cannot keep working with him; letting him resign sans scandal is miles better than outing his embezzlement and shady shit to the partners, much less ringing the coppers. Trying to do him a favour and send him off on a semi-OK note, Don gives Lane a variation on the speech he gave Peggy in the mental ward back in s2 about moving forward from absolute shit circumstances.

“I can’t go back to England like this. What will I tell my wife? .. What will I tell my son?”

“You’ll tell them that it didn’t work out, because it didn’t. And you’ll tell them the next thing will be better, because it always is. Take the weekend.. think of an elegant exit. Cooper doesn’t know anything.”

“l feel a bit light-headed.”

“That’s relief. I’ve started over a lot, Lane.. this is the worst part.”

Seems like good advice on how to get on with it, but Lane ain’t Pegs and he certainly is not Donald Draper. Peggy has enough common ground with Don to make that hobo code a part of her aesthetic and make it work to her advantage. Look at her bounce to a better profesh situation as soon as the opportunity presents itself; however, Lane is not particularly equipped to do the same.

Take a look at the guy. Lane is a middle manager– the moneyman hemming and hawing over payroll and Jaguar’s fee versus commission structure, treated as a malleable marionette by PPL, seen begrudgingly as a necessary evil by the SCDP partners. The kicker is that whenever he strives to achieve more in life beyond his predetermined glass box, he gets beaten down.. quite literally by his crust-ass dad’s cane.

(Also, anytime I think of Lane Pryce’s father I think of Mr. Burns’ mother..)

Brass tacks– handsome and determined Dick Whitman could start over; Lane Pryce cannot. Don’s schpiele to Peggy gave her life a clean slate, but his speech to Lane instead brought his to a screeching halt. He’s got more at stake than Peggy did as well. Don’t forget that Lane is in the USA on a work visa, has a wife and apartment in Manhattan, kid in a good NYC school.. no wonder he thought it was all over. Being stripped of his visa would fuck that all to hell like your prom date; briskly and thoroughly. How could he return to England under those circumstances?

Trying to off himself in the surprise Jaguar he and his wife can’t afford (unbeknownst to her) and having the damned unreliable thing not start was a bitter touch.

Even though Don was of course never as close to Lane as he was to Adam, nor was he as arctic in his rejection, the parallels are suffocating. Insisting upon going into Lane’s office to prevent the guy from dangling up there alone until the coroner makes his appearance, I get the vibe that he’s attempting to deal with lingering memories of his departed half-brother. After all, Adam was long dead before Don even knew about it.

If you don’t learn anything from your past, you’re absolutely fucking doomed to repeat it. And though Don tried to do it right with Lane, at the end of the day he cannot control anything other than his own shit; a hard pill to swallow for sure.

I leave you all with this Don Draper iconography directed at Leland Palmer and Dow Chemical. Once he essentially sacks Lane, he yearns to move onto the big leagues account-wise, to think bigger than Lane ever did. And let’s be real, he ain’t wrong; what IS happiness? The moment before you need more happiness. Nothing is ever enough.

“Ed Baxter told me the Lucky Strike letter poisoned us with all those companies.

“What? Why didn’t you tell me that?”

“Because l wrote that letter.”

“You let that wax figurine discourage you??”

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?

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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 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.

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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.

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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?'”

Mad Men s4e9: The Beautiful Girls

“It’s a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are.”

This episode rattles me every damn time I watch it. Seeing Joan, Peggy, Faye and Sally all struggle with being put in a box and told what to do is infuriating and sad.. yet entirely too relatable even as a modern lady. Oof.

Like a tiny hobo, Sally hitches a train to the city to see Don; it does not go well. A kind judgmental stranger pops her to SCDP, and in a panic, Don shoves Faye in her direction. Turns out she’s not good with kids, much to Don’s chagrin.

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Women in this era were made to feel like horrible people and general failures for choosing not to have kids, and especially for not being good with kids. Hell, women today still get the same sort of shite judgement but it comes in more insidious forms masquerading as Encouraging(TM); “you’ll change your mind”, “you’ll be maternal when you have a baby”, “it’s different when it’s yours”, “what kind of guy would want to stay with a girl who doesn’t want a baby?”. Fun fact: these are real life sentences said to me by real life men (and women), all of whom I swiftly told to fuck off.

Anyhoo!

“These domesticated suburbanites still have a primitive desire to get their hands dirty, but they have become so removed from nature that they can’t. They don’t know how to hunt, or swing a hammer, or fix their cars.”

“You mean like these two!”

“Actually, no.. I’m from Vermont, and Don’s a competitive fly fisherman.”

“What our findings show is that this demographic will spend a good amount of money for the satisfaction of being useful with their hands. Ladies love a man who’s good with his hands..”

There’s a nice splash of irony when Don is meeting with the Fillmore Auto Parts guys. Faye is rattling off research about how men want to feel like they’re Real Men(TM), getting their hands dirty and all that junk, since the suits we know don’t tend to do that often. Just as she’s not a Real Lady for not being great with kids, men can be viewed as lesser than for not being able to fix shit. However with the dudes it’s more of a joking context, versus the reality of women being judged pretty harshly.

Sally is super unhappy at home, and who could blame her? She doesn’t get along with Betty in the least, she misses her father, things just aren’t right. Don has no idea how to really connect with her, and popping Faye into that Woman(TM) mould doesn’t really work.

It’s striking how much Don is using Faye, and it really hit me over the head watching it now. Back when this initially aired, everyone on the damn internet was ALL UP ONS Faye and Don ending up together, and I remained as indifferent and skeptical as Sally. The way he treats Faye is absurd. Watch my kid, make me a drink. What’s going on at that other ad agency? Tell me. It’s pillowtalk subtle, but it’s definitely undermining what she does professionally and he still, a tiny bit, doesn’t take her seriously.

Speaking of disrespectful trash, Peggy gets a drink with Joyce and hey, Abe pops in! Good god, Abe. He’s a journalist, an opinionated know-it-all type, and admonishes Peggy’s very real concerns about equality for women versus the Civil Rights movement. Pegs isn’t one to take it on the chin, and puts him in his place for trying to tell her how she should feel.. cause fuck that noise.

Granted, I feel a lot of this Abe guy is just being awkward and jamming both feet in his mouth in the process but nonetheless, Pegs splits. He tries to apologise (somehow) by writing a literal fucking manifesto; Peggy is mortified, since it’s taking down her profession. In the days following, Abe is clearly on her mind, radical nonsense and all; has she met her opinionated, overconfident match?

At least he’s got better bone structure than Mark.

But man, the fact that Faye doesn’t magically “fix” Sally’s outbursts or offer any insight cements the idea that she’s nothing more than a fling for Don, and she rightfully calls him on it at the end of the episode. Woof. Don definitely needs someone to help him understand his kids better since he seems to be quite shit at it on his own.

Oh yeah, and during Sally’s surprise visit, Miss Blankenship fucking DIES. Jesus Christ.. and she dies at her desk. It’s a bittersweet scene with some good comedic punch, but Bert and Roger are clearly upset. Roger had a bang with her way back when, Bert knew her for most of his life.. very sad.

“She was born in 1898 in a barn, she died on the thirty-seventh floor of a skyscraper.. she’s an astronaut.”

image courtesy of ONTD

Ah, poor Ida. Feeling the immediate pang of life being too short, Joan agrees to have dinner with Roger at their old out of the way place which doesn’t seem so nice anymore since the Bowery’s turned into a toilet. After getting mugged, they have a filthy alley fuck high on adrenaline. It’s a good distraction for them both, at least. Roger is evidently bored in his marriage to Jane, and Joan’s shithusband is about to be popped off to Vietnam. She doesn’t regret the bang, but she wants to respect her marriage. Fair enough.

But man, do I love their banter.

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Megan steps it up and works hard to cover Don’s desk as well as reception. When faced with the reality of returning home to Betty, Sally has a horrifying meltdown causing everyone to come running; faceplanting in the process, she hugs Megan and tearfully admits that she knows things won’t be OK. Ugh, heartbreaking and unnerving. Sally’s sadness and helplessness is palpable, radiating to everyone within earshot.

As the elevator doors close, we see the faces of Joan, Faye, and Peggy. It’s like the curtain closing on a play; who are these women in the office versus their real lives? What do they really want at the end of the day? They all want more out of life, that’s for damn sure.

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

“Men never know what’s going on.”