Mad Men s6e3: Collaborators

“I know there’s a part of you that’s glad to see me!”

“And I know there’s a part of you that you haven’t seen in years.”

Man, there’s so much infidelity everywhere! Pete’s doing his best impression of a sloppier Don, cool ketchup vs uptight beans, Peggy at CGC vs Stan at SCDP, and obvi, Don and Sylvia.

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Don is on autopilot at the office as well as at home with Megan. The guy is way more engaged selling The Don Draper Experience to Sylvia at dinner— except for when he’s expertly tanking Herb’s dickbag flop ideas for Jaguar. And thankfully, Joan hits Herb with a barbed greeting to show exactly where she stands.

The whole Sylvia thing feels different than Don’s other myriad affairs. He seems exhausted by it all at this point, slumped in the hallway outside of his apartment. The endless push and pull, the relentless longing.  And let’s be real.. there’s nothing Megan can realistically do to stop him from needing other women. He’ll seek out something more, something intangible.

It’s clear that the more a lady comes to actually know Don, the more she accepts and loves him for who he is and not in spite of it, the less Don wants to be with her. He prefers ladies– and people in general– who don’t know him. Megan knows about most of his covert junk, so he can’t realistically pretend to be anything other than himself with her; and there’s nothing that guy loathes more than being himself.

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In lighter news, Pete bangs Stage Five Clinger (and suburban neighbour) Brenda and shit blows right the hell up in his face. Fleeing her husband and screaming to be let into the Campbell’s house, poor Brenda is bloodied and Pete is understandably on edge as Trudy drives her to a hotel. Now, Trudy ain’t no Betty; proclaiming that she knew what she was getting into with marrying Pete, she’s understandably pissed off that he’s shitting where he eats and banging around the neighbourhood. Tacky, Pete. Trudy confidently gives him the boot, so it’s time for him to live some sad sack bachelor life in the city.

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Turns out Megan had a miscarriage after Hawaii, and confides in Sylvia who immediately averts her eyes. Good old Catholic guilt. Megan feels like a horrible person for being grateful in a way, since being pregnant and having the subsequent baby would derail her career; she’s also not sure she wants a family, and in 1968, that isn’t something that women really talk about save for hushed tones. Gotta love those age-old societal expectations.

When Megan comes clean to Don, he can’t face the unmitigated intimacy of the raw hurt and emotional turmoil that Megan is going through, especially since he just wandered in fresh off a bang in the Rosen’s maid’s room. It’s too close to the chest, and could potentially draw him out of his carefully compartmentalised world. Although he has genuine concern for her wellbeing, there is something incredibly stilted, almost perfunctory about his reaction.

As an aside, a lady going through a miscarriage ain’t just some walk in the park either; Don must be astonishingly checked out not to notice that something was really going on with Megan. Oof.

image courtesy of Tom & Lorenzo

This contrasts directly with Don’s look of tacit empathy, warmth, and concern when Joan states ‘he’s here’ upon Herb’s arrival, as she helps herself to a drink. That exchange felt so intimate, so genuine in comparison.

When he tells Sylvia he simply doesn’t think about their bonking to explain how he can have a nice dinner with their respective clueless spouses, it echoes that advice he gave Peggy post-baby. But in this episode’s context, it’s a touch shadier. For Pegs, it’s an empowering speech; time to get on with your life and don’t let a single event define you. Here, it’s just sort of gauche.

And honestly, I don’t think he’s necessarily sick of banging around and lying– this shit is Don’s modus operandi extraordinaire, even down to his fucking identity. He does all of this as he lives and breathes, but everyone has a tipping point. Maybe he’s beginning to splinter at the edges, unravelling just a touch.

The end of this episode reminds me of season 1 and Sally’s birthday cake. The man really doesn’t feel at home anywhere.

“Now I understand– you want to feel shitty right up until the point where I take your dress off.. because I’m going to do that. You want to skip dinner? Fine. But don’t pretend.”

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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.”

Mad Men s5e13: The Phantom

“Stop being demure, you’re already on the bed!”

And here we are, another iconic season finale. Do people ever really change? Is that all there is? And so on. Will Roger drop acid with Marie? Will Peggy get her dolt copywriters to churn out good work at CGC? Will Pete get his existential dread in check? Can Don keep it in his pants? These are the days of our lives.

are you alone?? || image courtesy of RogerEbert.com

Turns out Beth is married to a total dick! Shocking, I know. Howard’s taking her to the city for shock therapy, and Pete happens to be on their Manhattan-bound train. They have an illicit bangarang in a hotel room, and Pete manages to sneak in a visit to non-remembering Beth to drop some truth bombs.

“He got involved with another man’s wife.”

“Why did he do it?”

“Well, all the regular reasons, l guess.. He needed to let off some steam, he needed adventure, he needed to feel handsome again. He needed to feel that he knew something.. that all this ageing was worth something because he knew things young people didn’t know yet. He probably thought it would be like having a few tall drinks and feeling very, very good. And then he’d go back to his life and say, ‘that was nice.’ When it went away, he was heartbroken. And then he realised everything he already had was not right either and that was why it had happened at all. And that his life with his family was some temporary bandage on a permanent wound..”

Let’s be real, none of Pete’s confession is breaking news. #thingsmensay and all that. What counts is that he’s facing the truth about his own shit both openly and voluntarily; nobody backed him into a corner. It seems as if he’s gone through his fancy bag o’Pete Campbell tricks; bitching, fantasising, banging around, pout-y resentful, etc etc.. and now there’s fuckall left to do but admit that he has some heavy shit to confront. It’s Pete Campbell conceding that he’s super damaged and confused, and it’s the most self-aware thing he’s ever done on the show to this point.

Megan is floundering with her auditions, and seeks out Don’s help to land a part in a Butler shoes commercial– he’s inherently reticent to throw her name in the ring, though he wasn’t bothered by the glaring nepotism of making her a copywriter at SCDP. And even though it sucks to tell her no, he has a point. You DO want to be someone’s discovery, not somebody’s wife. On top of that, her acting career also ain’t on his terms which he can’t quite grasp; that’s what happens when you help someone. They succeed and move on.

at last the 2nd floor is real! || image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Completely rattled by his laughing gas ghost Adam dentist visit, Don fucks off to the movies where he runs into Peggy. Along with his earlier visit to Rebecca Pryce to deliver a postmortem check, Don is reminded of how effortlessly the people in his life can leave him in the dust at a moments’ notice.

Both Rebecca and ghost Adam treat him with understandable hostility (“it’s probably difficult for you to believe, but it was even more than $50,000 that already belonged to him, so don’t leave here thinking that you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself” and “it’s not your tooth that’s rotten”.. fucking hell), but Peggy shows him genuine kindness and interest. Not everyone bounces after all, Don.

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While Don mulls over submitting Megan for the ad, I’m taken back to The Wheel. Looks familiar– here’s Don Draper in a darkened conference room as a projector flickers images of the wife who’s slowly but surely slipping away. But even though he never quite knew how to captivate Betty, in this instance he’s able to give Megan exactly what she wants; even if it leaves him feeling a touch used and distant from her.

Maybe Don does that favour for Megan out of wanting to show kindness to someone close to him, unlike the way he pushed both Adam and Lane away with both hands. He’s not great at being close to people out of straight up fear, but baby steps in the right direction can’t hurt, even if it’s not necessarily the right fix longterm. Popping Megan in for Butler has healed the problems in their marriage for the moment, that old temporary bandage on a  permanent wound, but now Don will probs be on edge thinking that Megan will bounce like Peggy. The transactional nature of his band-aid scrubs some of the joy from their marriage, in the same way that Joan can no longer take a particular type of pleasure from fending off flirty advances at the office.

Don begins this season doting on Megan and unable to entertain the idea of stepping out; shit between them ain’t perfect, but his visceral reaction to that fever dream says it all. And now, he ends this season walking off shrouded in shadows as Megan gains the spotlight in dazzling technicolour. Gimme an Old Fashioned.

image courtesy of Tom and Lorenzo

Even though Megan knows Don’s Dick secret, she doesn’t really know what he actually needs on any kind of deep level; it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love him, more that she simply doesn’t get the guy. He doesn’t know what he wants, but he is wanting. Lane’s suicide would of course have a profound impact upon Don for a few reasons, something she should have picked up on. And Don ain’t blameless here either– he obvi has trouble understanding women and what they want and need in a relationship. Sure, they have clear chemistry, but is it sustainable in the day to day?

~Are you alone??~

Asking a truly isolated guy if he’s alone, what a hoot.

Let’s see if Don fucks it all straight to hell. And as always, thanks very much for reading! I’ll resume with Season 6 reviews soon!

“You hate him because he voted for Goldwater.” || image courtesy of Tumblr

Mad Men s5e8: Lady Lazarus

“Have you seen those pictures of earth from space? .. Do they make you feel small and insignificant?”

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The concept of Suburban Alienation has been pretty heavily explored throughout Mad Men thus far, and it’s about to catch up with Don with nary a suburb in sight. We also see that Pete Campbell’s dull train rides are getting under his skin. He gets to know some doughy dolt named Howard; natch, he’s casually cheating on his disproportionately hot wife.

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After their onetime spontaneous bang and brief pillowtalk, Pete becomes consumed with this fantasy of Howard’s wife Beth. Maybe she does help him to see the world a little differently, inspiring him to think a touch deeper.. or maybe she’s just tapping into his innate desire to feel needed. And in a first for Pete, he learns that he’s pretty much powerless to hold onto her. Beth is a lady who is able to make whatever their faux-relationship may or may not be dissolve as naturally as rolling down her fogged heart-drawn car window. Pete feels just about as lonely as the Earth looks from space in that moment.

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Beth echoes Trudy’s good looks, acts fairly frosty à la Betty, but is independent like Pegs. She exudes the same Betty vibes of a bored/trapped housewife with no legit access to her aspirations and passions, stuck in an episode all about just those things.

(And on a sidenote, seems like Beth has done this before– hookin’ randos at the train station. Get it, girl! Howard suuuuucks.)

Megan is pretty much Don’s dream lady, but in fulfilling all that junk for him she’s put her own shit on the backburner. Turns out she still wants to be an actress, and has been auditioning on the sly. Desperate to bounce from SCDP, she wants to pursue her dream but needs Don to OK it first. Don saw what happened with Betty not being able to follow through on what she wanted with her life, so he’s pretty quick to agree with Megan re:her quitting SCDP.

Rewind to the Codfish Ball with Don and Megan blowing up Heinz together, working flawlessly as a team/power couple that anyone would envy. That marriage/work moment is everything Don could have dreamed of and more, a sky-high blip from which things could only careen straight back down to hell.. and how.

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Unfortunately for Don, this dynamic is not designed to last; and realistically, what is she supposed to do, anyway? Work with him legit forever? Nope. Megan musters up the courage to deal with her feelings head on. She admits to both herself and Don that she doesn’t want to work in advertising (although she has innate talent), but she would rather be an actress and have her own career; one that’s separate from Don, which is totally normal. Feeling better at failing in an audition than she did succeeding with the Heinz idea says it all.

And how does Don react to the news? On the outside, he’s understanding and perhaps supportive. This is hundreds of miles away from how he would have reacted with Betty, even going so far as to admit to Roger that he doesn’t want Megan to end up like her; bitterly unhappy and unfulfilled because he held her back. (Don’t do what Donny Don’t Does, Don.)

Surface niceties aside, Don can’t help but feel a tremendous dogpile of deep disappointment, melancholy, and abandonment within his bones. When Megan leaves SCDP for the last time as an employee, sweetly ensuring Don she would see him at home, he stares down the empty elevator shaft and something feels acutely wrong. Though it’s not something he can articulate just yet, that backhand of existential dread hits him square in the solar plexus. It’s a mere moment, but you know things won’t be the same ever again. Stare into the abyss and the abyss stares right back atcha.

Rattled and lured by his office bar’s gravitational pull, booze is the way he chooses to deal with it for the time being. When Don takes that drink, he looks noticeably worried and a little weathered. A goddamned mess in contrast to how bright and happy he looked with Megan in their shared Heinz success, and even during that silly Cool Whip play-acting.

Not to mention that generally Don is the one who does the bouncing.. so when Megan splits, it throws him for a loop. The power dynamic shifts to her favour and he’s uneasy about it.

Why does Megan pick what is probably the least mainstream accessible track on Revolver? Because it’s what’s next, the ever-evolving culture that will pass him by if he doesn’t wake up; he’ll be a man out of his time. The 60s are about to explode into psychedelic fun mania both music and style-wise.

As the episode ends, Don picks up the record needle and abruptly stops the music. He shuffles to the empty bedroom in silence, back to being adrift at work once more. Megan’s been keeping him straight at the office, but what now? Will he lose Megan to a strange new acting world he knows practically nada about?

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Will that frightening moment be Don’s undoing? He’s been so Good(TM) up to this point.. Tomorrow Never Knows, indeed. Megan and Beth have bounced, leaving Don and Pete in their wake feeling equal parts isolated and confused. Time to get on with it and get with the times, fellas.

“Why do they give you a glimmer of hope in the midst of rejection? A little thread to hang on to, a misplaced word, a suggestion of the future..under a court of law, it would look like an accident, but it’s not. Why do they get to decide what’s going to happen?”

“.. They just do.”

Mad Men s5e7: At the Codfish Ball

“No matter what, one day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away..”

“.. Wings, daddy.”

Here’s some of that good old deep-rooted dissatisfaction and the ever-present yearning for more.. TALE AS OLD AS TIIIIIIIME. This pair o’themes are on display in this delightful episode. There’s a bunch of semi-fulfilled and partially crushed dreams here. Peggy comes to the realisation that she may indeed want to get married, and then .. sort of gets it but not entirely. Megan longs for creative success, subbing in advertising for acting, and when she really succeeds it still ain’t quite right. Sally gets to hit up the eventually disappointing grand staircase-less ball in the mod dress she wanted, but not the gogo boots and makeup.

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And of course we have Don, thinking he is about to pounce on the opportunity of a lifetime at said ball; he bags Heinz, but ends up being cast aside from the big corporate fish due to the reverberating consequences of The Letter. Natch, nobody wants to work with a guy who would fuck them dirty like that.

There’s Peggy and Abe, with her modern sensibilities in competition with her Catholic upbringing. When Abe insists on a dinner together, Pegs is rattled; sounds like bad news to me too. But Joan puts the marriage proposal bug in Peggy’s ear.. when it turns out all Abe wants to do is shack up.

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Peggy chooses to be with Abe because he’s modern and not like those other dolt dudes who expect her to be a certain way because of ~Society~, but now she has to actually live with the fact that.. he’s a modern guy. Grappling with being a modern 60s career gal on an explosive upward trajectory and the future she’s Supposed To Want is no easy task. But hey, moving in together is pretty awesome too– as Joan kindly points out, reassuring Pegs it’s the right choice for her.

Joan: “Sounds like he wants to be with you no matter what.”

Peggy: “I thought you were going to be disappointed for me..”

J: “I think it’s very romantic.”

P: “It is, isn’t it? We don’t need a piece of paper! I mean.. not that marriage is wrong or anything.”

J: “Greg has a piece of paper with the US Army that’s more important than the one he has with me.

P: “.. I’m sorry..”

J: “It is what it is.. I think you’re brave. I think it’s a beautiful statement. Congratulations!”

Obvi, the dinner at their newly minted shared space with Mrs. Olsen did not go well. And it’s not that shocking that the woman who claimed moving to Manhattan meant certain rape would be less than supportive of Peggy and Abe’s choice to live together In Sin(TM). Yikes on bikes. Admittedly, I think Peggy was trying to do the right thing and attempt to have an adult relationship with her mother where she doesn’t have to lie about her life, but some people are just stuck in their ways. Not much she can do about it.

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At a fancy client dinner, Megan gets wind that SCDP is about to be fired; she and Don close that Heinz deal expertly. It’s also probably the first time this season we see Don actually, you know, working. Fuckin’ finally.

Though she’s very talented at this gig, Megan definitely wants more; her father expresses his disappointment at her giving up the acting dream to this job and this shortcut life with Don. All Marxist and pretentious academic junk aside, Emile ain’t wrong.

You can see it on her face when Peggy is genuinely thrilled for her re:Heinz; Megan’s got some lingering discontent and indifference to the whole schtick. If this type of professional success is ‘as good as it gets’ according to Pegs and Megan feels this nonchalant.. that’s not a great sign of things to come. Here’s that enormous, central theme of the series.. is that all there is?

On top of all that– since she’s Don’s wife, the reaction is sort of overblown. Peggy even remarks on it, saying that when she did that very same thing with a great campaign that the men in the office didn’t really bat an eye. And the nightmare fight Don and Megan had in the previous episode stemmed in part from her wanting to be seen as more than Mrs. Don Draper, home and office wife who just does whatever the hell he says. If this happens again and she has another idea that’s not in line with what he’s thinking, will he have another fucking meltdown?

And Megan’s tag for Heinz, ‘some things never change’, is true of all our characters. Try as they may to throw on a fancy persona, they’re all the same people deep down. Don as the ever-glib brilliant adman who’s now happily remarried is still a human mess just below the surface. Roger is charming and magnetic as ever with Sally, until Marie catches his eye and he’s gone in a flash to get blown. Pegs wanting to shack up rather than get hitched, though at the end of the day maybe she DOES want to be married after all. Megan knocks it outta the park with Heinz, but deep down she would prefer to be IN that commercial.

Don really did fuck it up with The Letter, as Kenny’s father in law Leland Palmer succinctly points out. Don’t bite the hand, Don.

image courtesy of Reddit

And here’s Sally wanting to be more grown up, but then sees something TOO grown up when she walks in on Roger getting his knob enthusiastically schlobbed by Marie. Pretty much nobody but Roger’s had a good night at this ball.

image courtesy of The AV Club

Ringing Glen, he’s at the communal phone of his boarding school in absurd flasher gear of a winter coat (and apparently nothing else) on the phone to Sally, asking.. How’s the city?

Dirty, indeed.

“He’s at Dow Corning– they make beautiful dishes, glassware, .. napalm..”