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.

image courtesy of Tumblr

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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image courtesy of Tumblr

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.”

Mad Men s3e13: Shut the Door. Have a Seat.

“You come and go as you please.”

Here we are at the Season 3 finale, and it’s a fucking good one. Right out of the gate, Conrad Hilton lets the A-bomb drop that PPL and Sterling Cooper are being sold off to McCann Erickson effective January 1st, and Don ain’t pleased. Who the hell wants to be a cog in the massive McCann machine? Looks like Jim Hobart is back to haunt Don.

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image courtesy of Bustle

This episode is peppered with flashbacks to his childhood, where the farm isn’t doing well. Archie is attempting to make a deal, and outright refuses to settle for less than he’s worth; he splits from the co-op he’s involved with, telling everyone to get the fuck out. Looks like Archie and Don have something in common after all.

Urging Archie to sell his crop for fuckall, he angrily complies with Abigail’s wishes. As he’s getting set to give it all away, he’s killed by that horse as Dick watches on in the night; should’ve stuck with your guns, Arch.

As shit falls apart, Don scrambles for an idea to make it all come back together again. He’s not gonna end up like his father. Ironically (or probably not), Don seems to be at his professional best when his personal life is a complete mess. He’s equal parts intensely focused, enthusiastic, and pissed off, abuzz with anxiety; he wants to build something of his own and pleads his case to Bert and Roger.

“You’re not good at relationships because you don’t value them.”

Shots fired from Roger, and he ain’t wrong; Don is shook. He admits defeat with Hilton, he’s certainly no account man; Don needs Roger and his talents along for the ride. It’s revealed that he does, however, value his relationship with Roger. Bert (taking a page out of Lane’s book) seals the deal for Roger to join up with them via a vanity jab.

At home, Betty bluntly lets Don know she’s made an appointment with a divorce lawyer. Trying to minimise her feelings again, he treats her like a child by saying she’s had a rough couple of weeks. Super slimy shit, Denial Don.

Don: “Forget it. I’m not gonna let you break up this family.”

Betty: “I didn’t break up this family..”

Get this motherfucker to the Burn Unit.

Betty and Henry meet with his attorney, who reveals a magical divorce loophole.. looks like they’re headed to Reno to establish residency and get on with it. Henry, in order to not drag things out, insists that he’ll provide all she could ever need in life; he doesn’t want her owing Don anything. An incredibly kind gesture, one that Betty is not accustomed to.

A clean break.. and then drunk Roger lets the fucking bomb slip re:Betty’s new sidepiece and Don ain’t pleased. He’s drunk, pissed off, and truly nasty to her; they both know he crossed the line. Ugly shit. Marriage over.

Lane is let into the conversation, and doesn’t yet know that PPL is being sold along with Sterling Cooper. Incredulous, he rings London to find out what’s up. Saint John confirms that PPL is indeed being sold as well, and realising that he would be left to flap in the wind, Lane is ticked that he hasn’t been considered beyond a cog in a gigantic machine who will statically “prove himself irreplaceable”. Man, fuck PPL.

In a moment of great storytelling, Lane’s indubitable authority to fire anyone at the firm was set up way back in the season premiere. And this is the lightbulb moment, the one Don was trying to crack.. in one fell swoop, Lane can sever Don, Roger and Bert’s contracts by giving them the sack. There’s a partnership on the table for Lane, and the negotiations begin.

“Well, it’s official: Friday, December 13th, 1963.. four guys shot their own legs off.”

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image courtesy of IGN

And thus Don pulls off another hobo move, a truly great escape.. by managing to trash the contract that’s vexed him.

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image courtesy of Tumblr

Time to snag some accounts, which means it’s time to see faux sick Pete Campbell at home. Admitting that Pete has been ahead of the curve on loads of things, and that he’s a valuable person to have on board for the new firm moving forward, Don and Roger implore him to come along for the ride; Pete agrees, finally receiving the recognition he’s wanted since the pilot. Like everyone else on earth, Pete wants to feel valued.

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image courtesy of Vulture

Before getting everything firmly in motion for the new agency that weekend, Don and Betty have to tell Sally and Bobby about their divorce. It does not go well, with Don attempting one last time to shape the narrative to his own reality, saying it’s only temporary. “Nobody wants to do this.” No shit, Don.

Completely failing at getting Peggy to jump ship and go with him on Friday, Don follows up at her apartment. The first time around he essentially ordered her to come with; he’s been such an aloof haughty dick to her this whole goddamned season, it’s not shocking that she turned him down. Having that horrendous conversation with his kids humbles him just a touch, and it dawns on him that he doesn’t want to see important people in his life slowly slip away because of his own shit actions.

“Do you know why I don’t want to go to McCann?”

“Because you can’t work for anyone else.”

“No.. because there are people out there who buy things, people like you and me, and then something happened. Something terrible.. and the way that they saw themselves is gone. And no one understands that.. but you do. And that’s very valuable.”

“Is it?”

“With you, or without you, I am moving on. And I don’t know if I can do it alone.. will you help me?”

“What if I say no? You’ll never speak to me again..”

“No. I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.”

That’s how you get Peggy on board, Don. Gotta be genuine. He knows they are alike; they’ve both had experiences that set them apart from the crowd, that make them see the world a little differently as a result. He understands and appreciates Peggy, and he manages to salvage their relationship in that moment.

Watching all of this come together is nothing short of magic. Getting the old team back together (with Joan!), albeit pared down, is done in a series of jazzy sequences like those of a good heist flick. This entire season has shown some very strained relationships at Sterling Cooper, making this reunion and these character reconciliations have real weight.

As everyone sits down to sandwiches via Trudy, Don rings Betty; the tone is entirely different from the last time they talked. He’s apologetic and an actual human person, emphasising that he won’t fight her in the divorce. He hopes she gets what she’s always wanted, the fulfillment and emotional support he completely failed to provide. Looks like that jab about valuing relationships really sank in.

“Good morning! Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, how may I help you?”

Will the future be better than the past like Roy Orbison croons in the closing scenes? Here’s hoping. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will assuredly be a different agency with a forward-thinking point of view; after all, it’s a pivotal moment of the 1960s.. it’s time to get on with it.

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image courtesy of Tumblr

That’s all for 2016 here! I’ll resume with Season 4 posts in the New Year.. and here’s hoping 2017 is less of a fucking dumpster fire. Check out what I’ve written here Mad Men-wise thus far.. and thank you all so much for reading! Happy Christmas, Festivus, Hanukkah, and all that junk.

“Very good! Happy Christmas!”