Mad Men s4e7: The Suitcase

“My uncle Mac said he had a suitcase that was always packed. He said, ‘A man has to be ready to go at any moment’..

“..Jesus, maybe it was a metaphor.”

Where do I even begin with The Suitcase? What can I say? It’s probably my favourite episode of the entire series, one of the best for sure. I’ve got a lotta feelings here.

In life, who truly knows us? Sure, you can be close with people, but you’re never inside their head. What happens when the last vestige of who you really are through a human connection fades away? The hell do you do next?

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Peggy and Don both terrified of the phone and what news is on the other end. Stephanie rings and leaves word from California, and Don knows it’s not good news. Picking up the phone, he hesitates.. and picks up a bottle instead. Here we go.

It’s Peggy’s birthday, and drunkass Duck is on the line, begging her to meet up and throw him a bone via manipulation.

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I SEE YOU.

Megan and Peggy have a fun interaction in the ladies’ room; the forward thinking Megan compliments her for being 26, lets her know that she’s doing a-OK in life. Whereas Trudy emphasises that “26 is still very young”, reminding her that she’s unmarried and without some baby. Woof. As Trudy goes off with Pete to enjoy her evening, Peggy goes back to Don’s office to wrap up. Or maybe not.

Bland boyf Mark is surprising Peggy with dinner at a fancy Italian place.. and has invited her mother, sister/brother in law, and roomate along for the ride. Equal parts awkward and infuriating, Peggy finds out as she delays the dinner repeatedly to help out with Samsonite. When he reveals he’s there with all those people she can’t really stand, Peggy is enraged. 

Has this guy learned a good goddamned thing about her during their time together? Not bloody likely, but it’s also unclear what she’s offered; after all, she was doing a virgin impression for him at first. They break up over the phone.

I feel like I understand the aspect of Peggy that is a little tonedeaf to other people’s feelings, because I can certainly be like that in life. Pegs is whip-smart and can be very kind and empathetic, but she can also be oblivious, especially when it comes to other people’s subtle reactions. It’s clear that she wants marriage and a family in the abstract, as these things she Should Want(TM), but the actual realities of being in a long-term relationship are too much for her. She feels more drawn to her career and the office than she does to Mark, and let’s be real, Mark sorta blows anyway.

Peggy knows Don at least as well as Anna, and I think just a shade better. The details of how Dick became Don don’t matter as much as who Don is now due to all those deets. She’s seen him at his best and at his worst. I don’t think Anna ever really did, since California was Don’s New York palate cleanser. On the west coast, he was neither Dick nor Don, but sort of a hybrid; the person he might have been if not for the intense self-loathing and running. And I’d say it’s a lot harder to know and love Don in New York than that vaguely breezy California guy. But Peggy does.

And we’re right back to The Hobo Code, with Uncle Mac’s escapist advice ringing true to Don. But come on.. you can’t run forever, as much as you may try. Your problems will follow you everywhere if you don’t face that shit head on and fucking deal with it. It’ll hit you all at once.

Both Don and Peggy have painful memories that bubble up in mental reruns, things they’d rather forget, just like the rest of us. It’s revealed that Peggy witnessed her father’s violent death, just as Don did. Two people who know each other exceedingly well can articulate entire paragraphs by saying very few words. They sort of dance around what they’re trying to say, but the other person understands it intrinsically.

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image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Peggy lets him know that her mother thinks he’s the one who knocked her up in Season 1, since he was the only person who visited her in the hospital. People make fun of her at work, assuming she got the damn job by banging Don. Humiliating and sad, but Peggy persists. The evolution of Peggy and her creative career is absolutely fascinating. And it’s worth noting that Don is interesting because of his past, but Peggy is interesting because of her future.

Meanwhile, Drunk Duck pops to SCDP to take a shit in Roger Sterling’s office, mistaking it for Don’s like a truly gross maniac. In one of the best drunk sad sack man fights ever (spurred by Duck referring to Peggy as a whore), Don badly throws a punch and Duck then throws him to the ground, boasting about killing a bunch of people in Okinawa. Jesus Christ dude, simmer down.. why you gotta make it weird?

Apologising for Duck’s behaviour and about how long ago all that gross sex was, Don doesn’t judge. He gets it.

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Waiting to ring Stephanie and get confirmation of what he knows must’ve gone down is killing him. Anna is such a special person to him, and Peggy can see he’s clearly in pain. The thing is, Anna needed Don/Dick at that point in her life. Her husband was dead, and she was alone.. and then she tracks down Don and he’s just as alone and in need of a connection. It would take a far more cynical person than Anna to turn him in once she heard him out all those years ago.

I think what’s so great about Don and Anna’s friendship is that it’s a mutual relationship where each is able to get something from the other and give something in return. A sense of comfort, no judgement, ease. Being faced with the reality of these things disappearing in her death is haunting Don.

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image courtesy of MadMenWiki

With Peggy asleep beside him on the couch, a vision of Anna appears to Don. She’s holding a suitcase and smiling, radiant, as she walks off. Don finally rings Stephanie around 5.30a, confirming the worst; Anna passed away in the night. Putting the phone down and making level eye contact with Peggy, he wholly falls apart, sobbing.

“What happened?”

“Somebody very important to me died.”

“Who?”

“The only person in the world who really knew me.”

“That’s not true.”

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image courtesy of Fanpop

As the morning stretches on, SCDP is back to the usual bustle. As he shows her an idea for Samsonite, Don holds Peggy’s hand for a beat, subtly acknowledging their night. The gesture alone speaks volumes as they both take a moment.

“I know what I’m supposed to want, but it just never feels right.. or as important as anything in that office.”

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Mad Men s4e6: Waldorf Stories

“Make it simple, but significant.”

Ever wanted to see a drunk fucked out version of the iconic Carousel pitch? Welcome to Life Cereal and the Clios. We get a peek at Don’s advertising origin story, the introduction of the nude Stan Rizzo, Roger’s writing a book, and.. Don is back to being a human landfill. Ah, shit.

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“I GOT DIS” || image courtesy of Giphy

Everyone’s seeking out some sort of credit. Don laments that it’s been so long since Glo-Coat premiered that it feels like he didn’t even do it anymore.. and apparently this is a half-truth. Turns out Peggy came up with the initial idea and Don slapped the old west gimmick on it to make it Iconography(TM), and she’s feeling forgotten. Granted, that’s what he literally does as a Creative Director, but Peggy still wants a nod.

Eternal chip-on-shoulder newbie Art Director Stan complains that his last agency didn’t give anyone credit where credit was due. And of course, Pete Campbell worries that everything he’s worked his ass off to build at SCDP will be eclipsed by the return of Kenny and his haircut.

And then there’s Roger, who wants credit for discovering Don all those years ago at the bottom of a box of furs– though that’s not entirely true, either. Roger writing his memoirs is pretty great, because he likely knows the book may be shit. He doesn’t even have anything particularly profound to write about, no real story to tell; he’s just seeking validation that he offers some kind of value.

We all wish we could rewrite history to suit our own narrative, but shit doesn’t always pan out that way.

“Donald Draper”, a persona invented by Dick Whitman, is rapidly disintegrating in an Olympic-sized swimming pool of booze. What we saw in the “I got this” apocalypse Life Cereal meeting was Dick himself handling a pitch; his sweaty, overtly keen cockiness can be seen shining through the shattered fragments of Don Draper’s Mysterious & Suave(TM) persona.

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 Drunk mess Don, high on the Clio win and a million old fashioneds, jacks an idea that idiot Danny came up with.. though Danny actually ripped it from Alka Seltzer. Cure for the common ‘insert word here’. I mean, it’s way better than “Enjoy the rest of your Life….. Cereal!”, but it’s certainly not as hilarious. What a fucking gauche mess; Don is lightyears away from his more masterful pitches.

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After ordering Stan and Peggy to be sequestered to a hotel room all weekend to work, it’s time to head back out and celebrate. Don’s bender starts off sort of hilariously (and with a patriotic blowjob), but rapidly devolves into sad mess territory. He fucks it up by blacking out for what appears to be an entire day and sleeps through to when he’s supposed to pick up the kids in Ossining, waking up to an understandably pissed off phone call from Betty. And he’s in bed with a rando lady he doesn’t recognise.

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“I’ve made a huge mistake.” || image courtesy of Fanpop

This Don Draper, cowering from a lady he boned in his goddamned bathroom, is not the guy we know. But then again, he’s been incredibly off his game. The mystery diner waitress even calls him Dick.. Christ on a cracker.

Lord knows things get stuck in my head all the time, and I don’t know from whence in the fresh hell it came; Peggy strikes that creative chord with Don when she finally reaches him at his Hiroshima apartment regarding The Cure for The Common Breakfast.

Don does not acknowledge Peggy’s work on Glo-Coat; but then again, we only have her version of how it went down and it’s entirely possible that she’s blowing out her role just as much as Roger does when yapping about how Don came to be at Sterling Cooper. At the end of the episode, Don does let her talk to him like he’s the subordinate re:Danny cockup, and she gets to enjoy having the power position with Stan. So, Peggy’s making strides bit by bit.

Grown-ass men acting like children, and the ladies have gotta keep em in line. TALE AS OLD AS TIIIIIIME. Look at the way Peggy handles Stan and calls him on his shit; working nude in a hotel room just to call his bluff, but at the same time, they bond and he learns to respect her a little more and be less of a dick. Look at how Joan sarcastically calls out Roger’s mopey mood; miles away from the gleeful girl who was so impressed with him and his Mink.

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image courtesy of Todoseries

During his bender, turns out Don lost his damn Clio at the bar. Roger retrieves it, and wants Don to admit that he couldn’t have done it all without him. Don doesn’t even say that, but vaguely acknowledges Roger’s role in the whole thing.

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Just like young enthusiastic Don bugging Roger like a fly on shit, Danny is overeager and eerily persistent in getting what he wants. And just like Roger back in the day, Don can’t recall ever being that outwardly tacky or hungry to grab an opportunity.. though we know better. It’s also funny to see the tonedeaf Don of yore with Roger, completely shit at reading his audience when he innocently inquires if he ever needed to be cut a break.

Both Don and Danny snag their jobs because the man they’re trying to impress gets too fucking blotto to realize what in the hell they’re doing. Up, up, up the ladder of success!

“Award or no award, you’re still Don Draper.”

“Whatever that means.”

Mad Men s4e5: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

“Christ on a cracker, where do you get off??”

This is one of those episodes that seems light on the outside, but there’s so much to dig into. Oof. Realistically, just how long can you hold onto a grudge? How long can you continue to define yourself by something that happened literal ages ago? How long can you use those prehistoric events to justify trash actions today? What does that garbage do to a person? Taking a closer look at Roger and Betty in this episode, this sort of shit is all on display.

Let’s take a moment for Miss Blankenship, because I love her in general, but also because she’s an excellent foil to Don. The guy treats people so fucking poorly sometimes; showing him tolerating generally harmless gaffes by this hapless bat he’s been saddled with humanises him a touch. He can’t just fuck off to California every week. Miss Blankenship’s weird hidden talent of transforming the guy from Don to Dick for a hot second is pretty great.

Roger Sterling has always been shown as a guy who doesn’t take life (or himself) too seriously, the life of the party and the guy who knows everyone and loves to schmooze and joke around. Apparently, the notable exception to this rule is World War II. When Pete brings up that he’s landed a meeting with Honda, a Japanese company, it’s meltdown city. Roger wholly rejects the idea of doing business with them, and almost fucks their chances entirely by acting like an asshole in the meeting to boot. Awkward.

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But hey, it’s nice to see Bert Cooper take an active role in something besides preserving the carpets. His extremely intimate knowledge of Japanese culture and customs contrasted well with his confusion over the march on Selma.. “They got what they wanted. Why aren’t they happy?”

There are tons o’reasons a guy like Cooper would grow fascinated with Japanese culture while generally shrugging off vast portions of his own culture. Remember that Cooper is an Objectivist; a large part of it may be due to that adoration of authority and order at the centre of so many of those guys and gals.

Through that, a theme of the episode emerges as well; utter goddamned frustration when someone is unable to force one’s will onto the people around them. Roger hits the fucking ceiling when Don and Pete decide to follow the Honda exec’s orders and not his own. Betty is absolutely livid when Sally asserts her independence and cries out for attention by cutting her own hair. Don is pissed when dear sweet Teddy Chaough grabs control of the narrative Don is building with SCDP.

That confrontation with Roger and Pete is intense, with Don in the middle. It was fun to see Pete echo Don’s sentiment from the s3 finale in this episode: “The rest of us are trying to build something.” Don knows Pete’s in the right. Lashing out and “wrapping himself in the flag” of Lucky Strike providing most of the company’s cashflow, Roger wants to cut Pete down for bringing in new business and shifting the importance off of him ever so slightly.

He’s gonna have to get over that bullshit real quick if he wants to keep the lights on.

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image courtesy of NYTimes

As Betty finds a shrink for Sally, she connects with Dr. Edna– an older woman who obviously sees through Betty’s façade. Betty smiling at the dollhouse says so much; here’s this perfect little life in this perfect little house, a husband and wife with 3 kids, a life that she still yearns for on some level though she knows it ain’t real.

Sally craves her father’s attention desperately, and has no clue how to get it; and she probably needs attention in general, to be acknowledged. What Sally feels matters, and Betty is perhaps starting to get that; the effect of the divorce on her matters. Sadly, Betty was more of a prize to her mother who paraded her for show; she’s still got a lot of anger and resentment there. Slowly but surely, Betty is trying to evolve.

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image courtesy of AVClub

At home, Henry is helping her with her transformation, but the vibe is sort of bizarre. Sometimes his interactions with her sound more father/daughter than husband/wife. When he helped settle the fight between Betty and Sally it sounded as if he could have been talking with two siblings about getting along. It’s almost as if Henry has stepped in as a faux father to the whole bunch, Betty included.

While many dislike Betty as a character, she is such a significant illustration of the consequences of the position women were put in at the time. I’ve written about it before, but with no real options open to Betty other than becoming a mother and housewife, she (obvi not happy with either) turns bitter and spiteful as she struggles under those limitations. Remember how free and herself she felt in Rome? Sadly, not reality.

To this point, Betty has not been able to garner a foothold in any world outside the home that has been slowly suffocating her. It’s way too easy to blame her for not going out and forging her own shit, but we’re in a super different world today; the constraints on her along with so many women of that time are vast. The expectations for ladies like Betty are super fucking problematic and sky-high, and the people around her get hurt as a result when she lashes out against said expectations.

Similarly clueless on how to help Sally, Don reveals a tiny bit about his situation to Dr. Faye Miller.

“Well, I can’t say there’s any evidence to support this, but I’m pretty sure that if you love her and she knows it, she’ll be fine.”

And that kitchen discussion between Don and Faye is damned impressive to watch. Take a look at the timing of when Don chooses to open up to her.. he offers absolutely fuckall about his personal life until he’s poked into hers, and discovered that she’s living her own faux life with the fauxgagement ring to discourage dudes from hitting on her.

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image courtesy of MadMenWikia

And Don is in enough of a personal crisis that even he needs to talk to someone about it, even if he doesn’t directly come out and say what’s happening to a T. He wants to be a good father to his kids, but has no earthly idea where to start. Shit’s complicated. But ironically, this is the most on point we’ve seen Don this season to date, craftily out-maneuvering indecently handsome Ted Chaough of CGC for the Honda account. Capery and all!

“Please tell me I missed everything.”

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image courtesy of Junkee

Anomalisa: Bloated White Guy Ennui for Beginners

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image courtesy of comicsbeat.com

This was a massive disappointment as Charlie Kaufman is usually an A+ in my book. The man wrote some of my favourite movies in life – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation. They’re absurd, heartfelt, meaningful and fun with flawed, true to life characters. While Anomalisa is absolutely stunning to watch, I think I would’ve enjoyed it a hell of a lot more on mute.

Everyone, everywhere, is collectively shitting themselves over this movie. And I’m not writing this to be some contrarian blowhard. Yes, the meticulous craft and work put into the stop motion 3D printed characters and environments was absolutely hypnotic and gorgeous.. but for me, the actual plot was a mess. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good fucked out movie portraying existential loneliness and the human condition, but it needs to be done well. “Is that all there is?” always rings true, but it has to be done thoughtfully.

Existential drudgery as justification for seeking out the Manic Pixie Dream Affair with the Damaged Girl is not unfamiliar turf; take a look at Lost in Translation. That’s a shining example of this story done well. A similarly broken man looking for something he’s lost, grappling at finding it in an adventure with an attractive stranger. That burning need to feel something. Getting it, and relishing it.

We are all familiar with the Bloated White Male Fantasy of running away from your wife and family because it’s all just so ordinary (American Beauty), the crushing mundanity of the days that turn into weeks and months and years. That whole not giving a single fuck because #YOLO/time is precious/”she just makes me feel so ALIVE” trope, the yearning for adventure attached to a girl with crazy hair or a gap in her teeth or something.

Clementine turns this around on Joel with her now iconic schpiele in Eternal Sunshine, and I appreciated how purely meta that scene played. It was what I always needed that female character to say to her vaguely nebbish male counterpart;

“I’m not a concept. Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to ‘make them alive’.. but I’m just a fucked up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.”

Kaufman is no stranger to meta, which is why Anomalisa is so spectacularly disappointing; unless I’m missing the damn joke.

Oh yeah, and then there’s some wild/tragic event that makes the guy realise that hey, maybe he’s being an asshole and should knock it off. And he comes to grips with What Really Matters(TM), roll credits.

(Or the wife finds out, leaves him, strong independent happy woman/sad bastard sleeping in a racecar bed sequence, roll credits.)

Anomalisa ends with Michael Stone staring at a bizarre one-titted Japanese antique sex robot he brought home for his son. It’s arguably the most interesting character moment in this movie.

The sex robot has a different voice as well, and he stares longingly at her like a dipshit on the landing of his stairs at his own surprise party. Maybe this robot semen-spewing woman could make him whole? What.

I keep thinking to myself, what did Michael Stone learn from all this, if anything? He’s a repulsive character. From his thousand-yard stare at the sex robot, looks like he learned approximately fuckall. What are we to take away from this movie besides “don’t be like this guy”? It seems too obvious and a bit too late to be a cautionary tale. What is it, then?

I think what bothered me the most about Anomalisa was how goddamned on the nose everything was. I get it- the guy is lonely. He’s the famous reigning authority on Customer Service and how to deal with customers, yet he cannot relate to real people. HEY GUYS, IRONY!

The morning after Michael and Lisa have uncomfortable 3D stop motion weird sex, his whole fantasy falls to bits when he realises she’s a person with idiosyncrasies he distinctly dislikes. IMAGINE THAT, he gets bored easily? You don’t say. Her blazing, radiating insecurity actually makes this scene pitiful and hard to watch.

Lisa even comes out and plainly says she doesn’t like herself, that guys tend to go for her Attractive Blonde Friend(TM). Ugh. Show, don’t tell. He was creeping on Lisa from the getgo and it gave me douche chills. I understand that people who have not been involved with an asshole of this calibre may pick up on the slow reveal much later and be captivated by it even, but I saw it almost immediately miles away.

Speaking of some asshole preying on insecure women, his ex-girlfriend of a decade ago for some reason agrees to meet up with him, and also immediately says negative things about herself and he feeds into her low self esteem; I experienced a douche seizure. Even rewinding to the start of the movie when he arrives in his hotel and calls his wife, his blatant dissatisfaction and loathing for her and his son are heady. ENOUGH ALREADY, MOVIE. Jesus.

Seriously, some of the dialogue in this movie made me want to leave Earth.

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It’s fucking 2016 and we’re still here. Here’s a narcissist who’s trapped in the day to day, everyone is exactly the same, bluntly down to the same person voicing every single character around him, for Christ’s sake. The movie took a turn for the exciting and absurd with a particularly creepy and well done dream sequence, but it snapped back to garbage ‘reality’ disappointingly quickly.

The scant detail we got from his prior relationship was that he ran off at the first sign of intensity (and rereads the ‘fuck you’ letter from the ex because he’s, like, so deep) and regretted it. OK, we’ve all been there. Being vulnerable in a romantic relationship is wholly and completely terrifying; that was the one part of the movie I could relate to. This dude responded to that feeling, of course, by getting married and having a baby somewhere else. Another set of decisions he regretted.

This manpain bullshit all stems from a lack of self-awareness; if he’d quit looking for The One to make him whole and spend some time looking inward, he’d be a hell of a lot less awful. He’d also stop repeating the same mistakes and find the depth he’s craving.

If you’re going to write a movie about seeking out the adventure as attached to and defined by a person, do it in an engaging way. I love Up in the Air because it turns this trope on it’s head. When that effervescent human flaw and longing is part of the larger narrative, the reveal of “my real life is not what I imagined it to be which is why I bang around on business trips” has more punch and way more character payoff. The fact that in this instance it comes from a woman deepens the impact.

If you want a great movie about the aridity of loneliness and isolation, check out The Rules of Attraction. This is a movie I keep revisiting, year after year. The characters are all extraordinarily well-developed and human. It manages to capture the stark loneliness of the college experience in a way I’ve never seen before or since. This idea is rarely addressed in mainstream media.

Anyway.. that’s my story. What a mess. A testament to the filmmakers is that at least I had such a visceral reaction to how gross Michael Stone is; he’s a fucking 3D printer puppet, and I hate him. So, there’s that.

Apologies for the 8-month hiatus; turns out getting married is really fucking time-consuming.

I’ve got a top/shite movies of 2015 post in the works as well.. stay tuned!