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 s5e6: Far Away Places

“Look at me. Everything is okay. You.. are okay.”

Time is all outta whack with this episode, with three separate looks at the same 24 hours through the eyes of our characters. We’ve got Peggy’s total shite day, Roger on LSD, and Don and Megan’s HoJo’s mess. They’re all disconnected from their partners for different reasons. Peggy has a long, lousy day that starts with an Abe fight and stretches on as Don has a nightmare night that seems neverending.. while Roger is having the time of his life on drugs.

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Turns out that while Don is currently doing his best impression of 1963 Roger, Peggy is now 1960 Don.. and I love that both Peggy and Pete are trying to be the New Don(TM) and failing in different ways. Stressed about work, she’s on the outs with Abe. Her Heinz presentation takes a nosedive and she tries on the strangely hypnotic Draper Stubborn Man(TM) routine to shit results. Taking another page from the Draper playbook, she pops out for a movie and gives a stoned handjob to some rando with awesome pants.

Unlike Don, however, she’s brought back down to earth by Ginsberg and his Martian/concentration camp origin story. The well-off over-educated guests at Roger and Jane’s fancy LSD party yap about whether or not the truth is the same on other planets, but we of course know that Ginzo’s truth is the same no matter what. His origin undoubtedly amplifies his eccentricities, and his Martian spin to make everything seem less awful is telling.

“We’re a big secret.. they even tried to hide it from me. That man, my father, told me a story I was born in a concentration camp, but, you know, that’s impossible. And I never met my mother because she supposedly died there; that’s convenient. Next thing I know, Morris there finds me in a Swedish orphanage. I was five. I remember it.”

“That’s incredible.”

“Yeah. And then I got this one communication, a simple order: Stay where you are.”

“Are there others like you?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find any.”

Peggy’s history isn’t a tragedy akin to this level, but she’s probably more like Michael Ginsberg than she realises. Affected by his story, she rings Abe and they reconcile, so at least someone is on the right path.

(On another note, Don isn’t that dissimilar from Ginsberg re: the origin sense. He, too, never knew his mother; and for all he knows, maybe she wasn’t even a prostitute. That information came from his stepmother who didn’t like him very much in the first place. Ginsberg chooses to believe he’s an actual Martian, and Dick Whitman ran with Don Draper as soon as he got the chance.)

On a somewhat lighter note, looks like Roger’s marriage to Jane is imploding, shocking absolutely nobody. As a last ditch effort at reconnecting with her husband, she wants to take LSD with him, to share an experience and maybe gain some clarity; and hey, it does exactly that. The next AM, their marriage ends on a surprisingly sad note– Jane knows that Roger simply doesn’t like her anymore. Bummer, but for the best. Roger’s obviously been unhappy for awhile, and it’s better to let go of a lie and get on with it.. even if he hemorrhages cash in the process.

just in case shit goes south.. || image courtesy of TheBigLead

Rewinding a second to that disaster Heinz pitch.. Peggy transports paternalistic Raymond back to the past for a beat; yet he dismisses the idea under his erroneous assumption that this generation of young people gives no fucks about nostalgia. Natch, she argues that they do (which is true), and perhaps with Don’s help she could’ve helped Raymond see that; instead, it implodes spectacularly and she gets the boot from the Heinz account.

When Don attempts to take Megan out of the office and back in time to the Howard Johnson’s with that goddamned orange sherbet, it’s his own wistfulness and sentimentality he’s fixated upon– and not any real childhood memory of hers.

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That HoJo’s is a good site for illuminating a touch of the generation gap between Don and Megan; Don, ever axiomatic that Megan would adore the damn place, is let down by her honesty. It makes sense he’d dig a camp, shiny place like that, too– for all of Don’s slathered on sophistication, he also intrinsically connects with the mainstream kitsch absurdity of midcentury America.

Step outside the box and think about where that all came from for a second; so much of it is, weirdly, about a clean slate. All of that hopeful, sparkling Formica light at the end of the war tunnel. His generation wanted to move forward from the war (well, wars..), and start over in a gorgeously maintained modern home with all the bells and whistles. The American Dream(TM) that continues to attract Don, in spite of his present allergy to the suburbs.

To someone like Megan who grew up with this sort of thing as the norm, she might view the HoJo’s as gauche or trying too hard to be a Fun(TM) place when really, it’s a place you stop on the way to somewhere more exciting. Expressing her real opinion on the (obvi vile) orange sherbet, Don is upset, probably more than he should be.. because who literally cares? Sherbet blows.

But of course, that Howard Johnson’s represents the idealised version of Tomorrowland for Don. Maybe he hoped Megan would see it that way with him as a sort of ‘second honeymoon’, a chance to reconnect. Too bad it got fucked up.

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Looking at it from this end, it seems as if Don and Megan aren’t supposed to ‘work’ after all. Similar to Roger and Jane’s tenuous union, Don truly wants (and I think needs) Megan on some level; he just doesn’t Get her. She’s miles away from Betty, she stands up for herself and is her own person; she’s a thoroughly modern gal. Megan giving her real input is ten kinds of jarring to Don. And is she “allowed” to like to work? Apparently not.

It’s deffo certain that Don isn’t done evolving just yet. After all, we’re always changing and growing. Megan may covet the illusion of their marriage and the man Don presents himself as, but she is also true to herself. Shit’s in competition with one another. She loves Don, yet she does not understand him entirely. They have that bitter argument, and Don roars off in the Cadillac, since a hobo told him once how great it is to run.

In Mystery Date earlier this season, Don capitulates to temptation in his dream, yet also sees Megan as his salvation upon waking, complete with the majestic halo of warm light. He’s probably putting too much on her shoulders to keep him in line, without truly knowing her. A big ol’Band-Aid for his swinging dick.

However, as Megan said, every fight diminishes what they have together. If you take a peek at what they’re fighting about, there’s absolutely a basic misunderstanding between them. She blurts a pretty hurtful insult his way about his dead mother, knowing how awful it was as it flew out of her mouth, and maybe also not knowing to pull back on the throttle a bit with that shit. He storms off but eventually turns back around to find she’s gone, and as the hours pass into the morning he becomes sick with worry that he truly fucked it up or unspeakably worse.

What in the hell does he want exactly? What their marriage represents, or does he really want her as a person? For Christ’s sake, is anything ever going to be enough?

That chase around their gorgeous apartment shows how out of control Don really feels, it’s totally unsettling to watch him unravel like that. None of this shit is good, kiddos. It was like watching a terrible, uncomfortable version of their kinky cleanup sex play from the season premiere.

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Cooper, apparently seeing more than he is seen these days, astutely puts Don in his place with a few choice words. Love leave, indeed; he ain’t wrong. Get your shit together, Don.

“Howard Johnson’s, huh? I love the colours, the atmosphere.. the clams..”

Mad Men s3e3: My Old Kentucky Home

Ah yes, the episode where Roger Sterling (very uncomfortably) slaps on blackface for his Derby Day garden party to serenade Jane with a racist song. Awkward and shocking as fuck.

I like that Don and Pete are the two horrified people bearing witness to this mess, while everyone else seems bemused. Don pops off, as he does, to seek out more booze and a moment of silence away from all the tryhard noise surrounding him. He meets an older gentleman in a white tux jacket behind the bar, mistaking him for the barman.

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They have an exchange about feeling out of place at fancy events, an ingrained understanding; way more than we’ve ever seen Don share in the series thus far with just about anyone, perhaps save for Rachel Menken. Fitting that it’s shared with a complete stranger.

Connie: Who are you hiding from?

Don: I am at work .. disguised as a party.

Connie: I’m at work disguised as a wedding. I hate other people’s weddings.

Don: Why’s that?

Connie: Make me nervous, All those expectations. And these poor kids in here– whew! That is a match made in the boardroom. When I was a boy, There was a mansion on the river I used to paddle by in my johnboat. The twinkling lights, violins, girls giggling about something... it’s different inside.

Don: Where are you from?

Connie: San Antonio, New Mexico, before it was a state. Don’t ask me that– old.

Don: You look fit.

Connie: You ever see “A Midsummer Dream” with Mickey Rooney?

Don: “A Midsummer Night’s dream”?

Connie: By golly, you’re prickly! I’m republican, like everyone else in there, but somehow, no matter how expensive my cufflinks, I feel like I’ve got the head of a jackass.

Don: Where I grew up, there was a roadhouse. It boasted live music– that meant a drum, a bass, and a player piano with nobody at it. I parked cars. Fancy people would go there. They’d get loud, they’d get drunk, But they wouldn’t let me use the toilet. So when nature called, I’d open up a trunk and relieve myself.

Connie: You didn’t.

Don: I was 15. There’s probably some kid out there doing it to us right now.

Don and Connie have this experience in common. And like Don, Connie is a climber of the social ladder rather than being born with a silver spoon. But that exclusionary feeling pervades; this feeling of being out of place despite the fact that they wear the proper costume, say all the right things, swing in the swanky circles, but it still just ain’t right. Rachel Menken nailed it in Season 1, and Connie is nailing it here and it resonates. Out of place.

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Meanwhile, Peggy is at the office working on Bacardi. She smokes marijuana (for the first time!) with Paul Kinsey, Smitty, and Kinsey’s cartoonishly handsome Patrick Bateman-esque Princeton drug hookup. Kinsey is unwillingly revealed to be a vaguely uneducated Jersey boy by nature, headed to Princeton on scholarship and putting on airs ever since. He’s insecure about who he really is and is consistently sort of a dick as a reflex.

Enjoying her experience and realising it’s helping her work, Peggy stands up to her judgemental secretary Olive, and gets on with it. She’s being open to new experiences, and doesn’t want to end up like the aforementioned secretary; wringing her hands over her college-aged son, and coming to the office on a Saturday because her husband is taking a trip to the dump.

There are some great scenes with Sally and Grandpa Gene peppered into this episode. Their relationship is sweet, it’s nice that she has an adult figure in her life who treats her (relatively) as an equal; it’s probably the most individual and encouraging attention she’s ever gotten in that house. Sally’s bonding with her grandfather, reading passages aloud from Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire before bed each night. Metaphorically speaking, Gene is pretty prophetic when he tells Sally “just wait.. all hell’s gonna break loose”. The Sixties are about to get pretty real.

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Sally swipes a $5 bill from his billfold, as kids tend to do when they want to push boundaries. There is panic and a search of the whole house, turning up nada; eventually Sally can’t take it anymore and “Finds It” in the dining room. She’s expecting the worst from Grandpa Gene, but he goes easy on her. I think he’s secretly relieved that it was actually taken and he’s not losing his entire damned mind just yet. As Don and Betty were on their way out to the aforementioned soirée, they were dismissive of his dismay at having his cash pilfered; they, along with Carla, treated his concern as if it wasn’t real. So having some validation must feel good for him at the very least.

Joan and Greg have a dinner party, hosting some of his hospital bros to earn brownie points. Turns out being married to a dignified and worldly woman like Joan is the best thing going for him, as it turns out (shocking nobody) he’s a pretty shit surgeon. This vile idiot wants to keep her in a very specific Wife(TM) box where he’s the alpha, the boss. Greg hates being reminded of the fact that she’s smarter than he is, that she has this whole other life aside from him and great experiences; he admonishes her to entertaining their guests by playing the accordion and singing a French song, which she nails completely.

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Back at the Derby Day garden party, Pete and Trudy show off their admittedly awesome dance moves. Everyone’s yapping about their kids or soon to be kids, and Trudy definitely feels a little left out; so they make up for it in dance form. It’s nice to see Pete enjoying himself too!

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Towards the end of the party, Roger walks over at precisely the wrong time as Jane drunkenly grabs at Don wondering if he doesn’t like her. She also blabs that she’s so happy he and Betty got back together, and Betty is naturally mortified. This little scene is a nice role swap of when Don walked in on Roger coming onto Betty in their kitchen in Season 1; here, Roger is pissed. He believes it’s due to the fact that he’s conspicuously happy, Don retorts that everyone just thinks he’s a fool. Later, he sees Roger and Jane slow dancing, as if they’re the only two people in the room, totally content. Maybe Roger’s not a fool.

The episode ends with Ben Webster’s “Memories of You” wafting through the air as Don and Betty share a private moment out in the garden, probably one of the more intimate moments we’ve seen on the series between them as of yet. But hey, that guy Henry might be on her mind..

And oh fuck, is ‘Connie’ actually hotel magnifico Conrad Hilton????? Insert faux-perplexed face here.