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.

image courtesy of Tumblr

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?'”

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Mad Men s4e12: Blowing Smoke

“I bet I could get a date with your mother right now.”

Ah fuck, this is the episode with THE LETTER. Iconic Don Draper shit, kiddos.

image courtesy of YouTube

Turns out desperation truly reeks, as Don takes meeting after meeting and is met with continual rejection, a feeling he ain’t used to in the slightest. SCDP is teetering on the edge without Lucky Strike, and everyone in Manhattan seems to know it.

Hey, remember Midge? One of Don’s OG boho mistresses, she happily runs into him in the lobby of the Time Life building, but all is not as it seems. Don’s genuinely happy to see her at first, this familiar link to who he was just a few years back.

When he told her that he had been expecting to run into her in The Village, maybe he was hoping they would reconnect or have a catch-up sesh about all the seismic changes in his life this past year; he seemed crestfallen to learn how far she had tumbled, and that her reasons for seeking him out were motivated by cash. Ugh.

Turns out Midge is married to some idiot and lives in a real shithole now, with no use for a check. Said dolt lets it slip that she sought Don out and didn’t just happen to be in the Time Life building that day.. thanks, heroin.

Don gives her some cash for a painting, staring at it once he gets home, lost in the void. Maybe he’s not that dissimilar from the trapped junkie who sold it to him; someone willing to whore himself out for cash from Lucky Strike. Seeing Midge could be a partial wakeup call for him, maybe an extreme glimpse at what could’ve been had he not cut back on his boozin’ earlier this season.

image courtesy of Uproxx

Snapping out of the void, Don starts writing. After all, part of Don’s entire life mantra includes “if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”. Midge’s knob of a husband informed Don that the painting is an after-image– what she sees when she closes her eyes. Time to change the after-image of SCDP post-Lucky Strike.

Tearing the pages out of his sobriety journal, he’s set on moving forward and can’t seem to shed that dark period of his life quickly enough. In the process of creating this defiant statement, Don ditched an honest part of himself with his journal’s pages to make way for this very public (and fundamentally faux) declaration of independence.. looks like he’s done dabbling with authenticity for the time being. Nothing like splashing out for a page in the Times, huh?

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

I mean, GODDAMN. Natch, the other partners do not react well. Don didn’t sign their names, nor did he tell anyone about his plan. Then again, it seems to have done its job; the phones are ringing off the hook at SCDP, and it’s not all bad news.

Both Don and Betty act out of self interest in this episode, damaging others in their wake. Sally is growing up and becoming more of her own person, to Betty’s chagrin and vague confusion. Sally is absolutely a different person than Betty is at this point, and she has limited context for how to relate to her daughter outside of Dr. Edna’s sessions.

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Sally and Glen have stayed in touch, and sneak off to hang out in secret as kids sometimes do; Betty finds out and has a fucking meltdown. In a fit of bizarre jealousy over Sally and Glen, she announces to Henry that it’s finally the right time to move. Poor Sally.

Paired with Lucky Strike leaving, Don’s tobacco tantrum on a full page of The New York Times gets a lot of people laid off.. Faye Miller included. Time for all the partners to pay up, let people go, and keep the lights on. The junior partners have to put in 50 grand apiece to keep the company afloat, and Pete doesn’t have that kind of cash. Turns out it’s not that big a deal, as Don pays Pete’s share; a very generous nod to his discretion with that whole Dick Whitman mess.

“I heard from all my clients this morning, mostly out of morbid curiosity. But one thing’s for sure, they’re not talking about Lucky Strike anymore..”

Everything is uneasy, but in the midst of it all, Megan lets Don know that she ‘gets’ the letter and what it symbolises; one of the few times that day that Don breaks his Draper façade. And, Megan is the other person in the office aside from Peggy who comes to Don with something resembling a positive reaction, some form of understanding what exactly it is that he’s trying to pull. It feels different that day at SCDP.

And she’s right, Don does stand for something.. even if it’s through the guise of an ad rooted in a self-serving motive.

“I thought you didn’t go in for those kinds of shenanigans.

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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image courtesy of Tumblr

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

Mad Men s4e3: The Good News

“I could tell the minute she saw who I really was, she never wanted to look at me again. Which is why I never told her.”

Woof, lots to chew on in this episode. Anna Draper is dying (unbeknownst to her), Don’s last living positive link to Dick Whitman. In his vulnerable state, Don lets Lane see a glimpse of who he really is, even though it’s Sad Sack Drunk Don.

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YES, CALIFORNIA DON || image courtesy of Tumblr

Visiting with Anna is the only time we see Don truly relaxed. He actually enjoys human connection with her in a way we don’t really see otherwise. And hearing the awful news from her niece Stephanie (and then seeing him revert to Don Draper mode by taking charge with Anna’s sister), it’s just fucking devastating.

It’s enormously hard to see him struggling over whether to tell Anna the truth, given that he knows just how much a truth bomb can blow it all to hell. Maybe Don was afraid it would snuff out the most dear relationship he has  at this point, as his truth-telling ended his life with Betty.. or that maybe he believed that not knowing the truth would be a gift to her somehow, letting her enjoy her short time left in blissful ignorance. Anna is the only person in his life to love him unconditionally.

“Well, I saw something once, and I’m telling you.. it knocked me sideways. I started thinking of everything I was sure was true, and how flimsy it all might be.”

“You don’t need to see a UFO to know that.. that’s not a great way to think about things.”

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image courtesy of Tumblr

On the other side of the coin, I don’t know if Anna would have loved the ‘real’ New York Don Draper. She also didn’t have to deal with the consequences of Dick Whitman’s lies for a decade, the way Betty had to. Anna has never seen that side of him.

Looks like Don is still trying to convince himself that the reason Betty cast him aside was his destitute upbringing, which ain’t the real root of the issue. Instead, he chooses to block out the reality that his lies had an emotional impact upon Betty for such a long time that at the end of it, she was legit yelling about how she had tried so hard to understand him and couldn’t, due to the way he entirely shut himself off from her. Oof. Don can’t take responsibility because he’s looking at things all wrong.

At the office, things are thankfully a little more normal. Allison appears a touch woeful about her New Years plans (going out with big group of girls) in contrast to Joan asking Peggy’s plans, seeming envious of the potential freedom of going out with ladies and having a blast.

And hey, how much longer before Joan dumps that absolute dickbag of a husband? It’s such shit to see the incredibly capable Joan in a relationship with a self-involved manbaby who treats her like an infant. She wouldn’t put up with that at work– look how she put Lane in his place re:flower fuckup. Watching her weep as Greg stitches her up, knowing it’s all a disaster and this dude doesn’t know a damn thing about her.. rough.

Coming into the office on New Year’s Day, Don is surprised to see Lane; they were both supposed to be on vacation, after all. These guys bond in the best way possible; getting loaded and heading to the movies to see some explosions with Gamera. That scene is a real treat with Lane shouting at some uptight lady in pidgin Japanese, surrounded by handjobs galore.. aces.

Lane and Don’s friendship is born in rather dire sad sack circumstances. They’re pretty different guys. Don is this confident suave guy who’s (supposedly) got it all figured out, and Lane is trying to find his place in the world, trying to stand out and not just be complacent and do what’s expected of him all the damn time.

“You remind me of a chap I knew in school. We followed him around in a pack, and he didn’t notice we were there.. He died in a motorcycle crash.”

Lane admires Don and wants to be liked by him, or even to be more like him. And Don is so lonely at this point in his life that he wants to be liked by literally anyone in that same dark headspace to understand him.

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image courtesy of MadMenWiki

At drunk man steakhouse dinner, Lane opens up that his marriage is on the rocks; shit sounds dire, and that bouquet of roses cockup didn’t help. Having learned from the nuclear disaster of giving Roger advice, Don holds back — Lane feels he should make some grand sweeping gesture, seeking Don’s approval. Instead, he paraphrases something Faye said to him during the SCDP Christmas party that clearly resonated.

“Is that what you want? Or is that what people expect of you?”

Pausing and staring at Don levelly, this is a thought that has never occurred to Lane. And this ain’t the first time we’ve seen Don internalise advice or an observation and pass it off as his own; in Season 1’s Nixon vs. Kennedy, Don responds to Pete’s hilarious blackmail attempt with “You haven’t thought this through”.. which is exactly what Rachel Menken countered with when he suggested that they run off and start a new life together. Like all of us, certain shit sticks with him and rattles around in his brain.

Aaaand, enter the high class hookers.

I think a crucial point in Don’s success as a married hot guy and his failure as a divorced guy is pretty plain; a married man offers nothing but a dick-go-round because he’s attached, while a single (even divorced) man could be a potential future husband and — as Freddie Rumsen reminded us — it’s not always wise to bang it out with a man if you intend to marry him. Women treat the no-future man a lot differently than they treat the maybe-future man. So, it’s not wholly shocking that Don keeps striking out; his status implies a different set of possibilities than it used to. He’s got an asterisk. When Stephanie asks him if he’s married or divorced, he wonders why he can’t just say he’s single and be done with it.

But generally, Don is struggling. It’s borderline uncomfortable seeing him make moves on women that appear uninterested. While he may have been on top of his banging around game the past 3 seasons, his perf family helped establish that part of him. He seems uncomfortable with being divorced, almost as if he’d rather be married and fucking around than single and searching.

“But nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves.. and everyone else can see it right away.”

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Gentlemen, shall we begin 1965? || image courtesy of MadMenWikia

Mad Men s4e1: Public Relations

“I can use my expense account if I say they’re whores!”

Welcome back, and welcome to 1964! It’s nearly a calendar year from where the Season 3 finale left us, and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has an actual office that isn’t a hotel suite; they’ve got some cool new digs in the cushy Time Life building. Maaaaagic.

“Who is Don Draper?”

Bombing out in an interview with Advertising Age, Don supplies glib bullshit answers to the reporter’s pointed questions about his work and who he is, pretty much saying fuckall. Shocker. The problem with this approach is that he’s no longer just that stupid talented mysterious guy in the corner office, he has to be the fucking face of SCDP; a creative figurehead, the man behind the curtain. And we all know how much Don loves talking about himself.

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image courtesy of Imgur

But hey, Don is in a great place professionally; he’s legit blowing up. He’s calling the shots and running things his way, making a lot of money, and he’s got acclaim for the Glo-Coat commercial.. all the while his personal life is a raging tire fire, burning into the eternal night. Seems like Don is at his best in the office when shit at home is a mess.

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no time for your shit. || image courtesy of Tumblr

His attitude in meetings is more aloof than ever, while being incredibly sharp; the way he shuts down those Jantzen prudes is outta control, he’s got precisely no time for garbage at this new agency. This guy is forward thinking and takes risks, and he’s lost everything he ever (thought) he wanted in his personal life.

Our characters are exploring new terrain all over this episode, slowly adjusting to the new normal. Betty now has a mother-in-law (a hard-ass woman at that) and an extended family; she’s also got a more attentive husband and is learning how to be a person sans Don. She’s overly harsh on Sally during Thanksgiving dinner, still not quite sure how to navigate that relationship.

Understandable growing pains and lots of negative shit are to be expected, but Hank Frank takes it all in logical stride; he really loves that difficult woman. They even have a bang in the car, harkening back to their first kiss in Betty’s car. YEAHHHHHH

Going on a date with the poor man’s Betty, Don is vaguely bemused with Bethany. Brass tacks, homegirl is an idiot, but she’s young so I guess she gets a pass? Maybe? Ah well. Roger and (mostly) Jane seem determined to set him up with someone, just because.

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Dating doesn’t seem to suit Don at all. Skipping out on Thanksgiving at Roger and Jane’s and no plans with the family, Don’s plans include being mounted and slapped in the face by a hooker. Looks like he bones this lady on the reg, indulging his own self-loathing with a healthy dash of mommy issues.

His personal life really seems a lonely mess, and he’s boozin’ a lot, even for him. When Peggy needs bail cash for the ladies she and Pete paid off to fight over a ham, Don takes it all out on her unsuspecting bland boyfriend Mark, whom she brought to lessen the inevitable blow.

Joan has her own office, and is still the consistent go-to for everything. Glad she’s getting some recognition as the person who steers the ship, though she shouldn’t be getting sunburned tit Harry Crane a coffee. And it’s nice to see Peggy argue right back with Don when the Sugarberry Hams stunt goes south, her confidence is awesome to see. Roger is back in the saddle and full of beans, Pete is more secure in his footing.. everyone seems to be moving forward at a pretty brisk clip working together, conference table or no. Even Allison is back!

However, Don’s shite interview in Advertising Age has real consequences for the firm; being in such a small space equals his actions have actual meaning, something that is clearly not a thing to Don. Ya fucked it up. He takes it out on the straightlaced Jantzen guys by blowing up their meeting, and immediately rings Cooper’s guy at the Wall Street Journal to have a redo of that interview. Taking that feeling by the balls, he is cocksure and rewrites history ever so slightly to sound fucking awesome to this guy. Way better.

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image courtesy of Mad Men Wikia

So, what’s it going to be? Comfortable and dead, or risky and possibly rich? Sounds like a mantra to me, looking at how Don has evolved. SCDP sure seems intensely personal to him, especially for a man who won’t reveal a damn thing about himself. Let’s see what happens!

“You know something? We are all here because of you. All we want to do is please you.”