Mad Men s3e5: The Fog

“What time is it? What time isn’t it??”

Don and a very pregnant Betty are at a parent teacher conference at Sally’s school, turns out Sally’s been acting up in the fortnight since Grandpa Gene has passed. She hasn’t properly grieved, maybe because Don doesn’t believe children belong in graveyards. Not an uncommon line of thinking from that time, but as a result, Sally didn’t get any sort of the closure she would feel from attending the funeral.

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Sally and Don have something crucial in common here — he lost his own father when he was a child, just as Sally has lost her surrogate parental figure. Later that night, Sally’s thirst trap teacher Suzanne drunk dials the house, telling Don that her own father died when she was just 8 years old and apologises for over-relating to Sally. Don is probably popping a boner at the fact that he and this practical stranger have something ~so deep~ in common, but now it’s time to have a baby! He can consider shitting where he eats later on.

At Sterling Cooper, Pete tries to crack the code behind Admiral Television’s flatlining sales; they’re total shite except for one market which is showing expansion. He lands on the growing African-American market and finds the idea worth pursuing.

And hey, Duck is back! He’s at Grey now, trying to coerce Pete (and Pegs) to lunch. Upon seeing Peggy there, Pete ain’t pleased. Maybe he thought he was special, but Duck is pulling some bizarre headhunter shit trying to capitalise on their “secret relationship” to get them both to come work with him. Pete storms out, then feebly tries to strike up a conversation with Hollis in the elevator about his TV. Hollis is resistant. Gotta be more normal and less business, Pete; when he’s himself and jokes about baseball with Hollis, it’s a much more positive interaction. Relax.

In the Admiral meeting, Pete tries to show the clients that targeting the African-American market would be extremely profitable as ad space is exponentially cheaper than the white market; shifting a portion of the media budget to focus on the black community would really blow up their sales.

Sadly, the clients don’t see any of the appeal that Pete does; after all, he’s quite advanced in his thinking being that it’s 1963. Duck’s hypothesis that Sterling Cooper won’t ever reward Pete’s forward thinking and new ideas proves true in that Admiral meeting, and how superbly poorly it was received in the aftermath. There’s a bunch of yelling, and Roger lets him know that 90% of that job boils down to “I don’t like that guy”, a sore point for a guy like Pete Campbell; he’s been dealing with that sort of shit his whole life, no doubt. Lane offers a little bit of sanity, acknowledging that Pete at least had a thoughtful approach.

About to get pumped full of drugs and give birth, Betty feels nervous and alone. She is wheeled down the hallway as Don is shooed off to the waiting room; she fretfully looks back for him as he evaporates into the ether. Betty thinks she sees her father mopping the floor, and shouts out for him. Her nurse, who’s about 110% done with everyone’s shit for that day, lets her know she needs to keep quiet once they roll close to the nursery.

In the waiting room, Don meets an overly anxious prison guard, Dennis Hobart. They proceed to get loaded together. He’s waiting to see his wife and newborn, very on edge, raw. Spanning the course of several scenes, Don and Dennis have a peculiar, heady interaction.

And Don’s watch, the one Betty had fixed and monogrammed for him, suddenly stops ticking while he’s in the waiting room. Ah, shit.

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Betty experiences some strange dreams in the fog. She’s wandering down a street in her plush neighbourhood, flawfree as a painting, crushing a caterpillar in her hand; then she’s at home, seeing her dead parents. Her mother is standing over a bleeding Medgar Evers, a notable Civil Rights Activist who had been assassinated in the days following Gene’s death. A news story about his funeral can be overheard in the hospital waiting room.

You see what happens to people who speak up? Be happy with what you have.”

Betty may be in her house in Ossining, but it’s a trippy backwards house. Gene mops up blood in the kitchen.

“You’ll be OK. You’re a house-cat.. you’ve very important, and you have little to do.”

That’s the kicker, Betty isn’t happy with what she has. And despite his best efforts to the contrary, Don isn’t either; he’s mostly restless and indifferent to it all. As Dennis yaps about all that he’ll do with his future child, how wonderful all things will be and what a good dad and better man he looks forward to becoming, visibly unsettled Don withdraws further, reminded of his own failures. He doesn’t even know if this is the life he truly desires, in spite of how much he continues to dedicate himself to it. Is that all there is?

“This is a fresh start. I don’t know who’s up there, but I’m going to be better. I’m going to be a better man.”

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If only Dennis knew how many times Don said those words to himself, tried it on for size, and ultimately fucked it up due to his eventual and effervescent apathy. Those are some lofty goals to achieve. As a prison guard, Dennis has seen some shit; he can spot a liar from miles away, yet is keen to insist that Don is an honest, good guy. Once again, Don flinches. What this guy doesn’t know could fill a warehouse.

Armed with the knowledge of what’s out there via Duck, Peggy tests the water with Don regarding a raise.. at the worst possible time as Lane is losing his shit and cutting expenses left and right. As Don holds firm, she’s surrounded by a bounty of baby gifts, gorgeous teal Tiffany & Co. box included.

“I look at you, and I think.. ‘I want what he has..'”

“Really?”

“You have everything. And so much of it.”

“I suppose that’s probably true.”

Miles away, Don can’t hear that this life he finds so eternally vacuous looks so remarkable and so lavish to someone on the outside looking in. As much as he wants to cultivate The Image(TM), his existential loneliness persists and gnaws at the edges of his vision. And Don feels he knows Peggy better than that, and she him; he does not even humour her about that raise. He lets her down.

As Peggy leaves Don’s office, she runs into Pete; he’s convinced she’s told Don about their offers to work at Grey. Cagey and slighted, she doesn’t respond to his particular brand of panicked nonsense. Pete retorts, “your decisions affect me”, and it speaks fucking volumes.

Betty signs the birth certificate for the new baby, Eugene Scott Draper. She looks genuinely pleased with her decision, at peace.

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image courtesy of AMC

Walking down the hall with a perf bouquet in hand, a picture-perfect Husband(TM), Don spots Dennis walking toward him with his wife in a wheelchair. Don looks at him with a touch of warmth, and as their eyes meet, Dennis immediately averts his attention once he realises who Don is. It’s jarring. Perhaps he’s ashamed of oversharing his emotions with Don in the waiting room that night, an actual stranger.. who knows. Maybe he thought better of calling Don an honest guy, his vision unclouded in the AM.

There’s a new Eugene in town, and not a moment too soon after the death of the former Gene. Since this season began, Don and Betty appear to both be making an effort at intimacy and closeness in their marriage. Don’s doing it because he figured out (during his California jaunt) that he wanted to quit being a spectator in his own life.

Betty, on the other end of the spectrum, has been keeping it all up for this baby. Natch, she doesn’t want to be a single mother to an infant on top of two young kids, and it’s become crystal clear over the past few episodes that Betty has convinced herself (as many soon-to-be parents in dumpster fire marriages do) that the kid is some sort of magical salve, a cure-all for deep-seated issues.. But when she’s lost in the depth of The Fog, she’s able to vocalise her true fears about Don;

“He’s never where you expect him to be. Have you seen him? Have you been with him? Someone call him.. I don’t wanna be here. I’m just a housewife.. why are you doing this to me?”

Y I K E S on bikes. The episode ends on a shot of her paused in the hallway of the Draper home, shrouded in inky darkness as baby Gene shrieks into the night; the ethereal music seeps in as Betty’s posture changes slightly.

“Our worst fears lie in anticipation.”

Mad Men s1e12: Nixon Vs. Kennedy

Ah shit, it’s Election Day 1960! There’s a party in the office where Harry bangs Hildy, Kenny peeps Allison’s undies, and Kinsey’s blowhard yet charming play gets a very dramatic reading. Wonderful.

Don is a man forged from being on the run from his own past, and he’s honestly never stopped. We almost see two distinct people with Don Draper versus Dick Whitman, but the reality is that they are one in the same. He’s an isolated, terrified guy ready to blast out of his escape hatch at the drop of a hat.

“You haven’t thought this through.”

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Watching Don put up this tough guy front only to be sincerely threatened by Pete’s “I KNOW U” speech is nuts. As soon as Pete leaves his office, Don’s entire demeanour crumbles and changes.

When you think a glimpse of who this ~mysterious Don~ really is will come through, some sweaty maniac emerges at Rachel’s apartment pleading with her to bounce from Manhattan posthaste. That’s unfortunate. Thankfully Rachel is pragmatic and sees through his rambling nonsense and shuts it down immediately; she calls it like it is, and compares him to a knobhead teenager for jumping at the gun to Run Away Together(TM). She ain’t wrong.

Truth be told, Don’s literally never given a second thought to his actions; the man is compartmentalised to a fault. As soon as she brings up his children it’s plain the idea has simply never dawned on him.

“You haven’t thought this through.”

During the Election Night festivities, someone vommed Creme de Menthe in Peggy’s trash can, and she is not pleased (I wouldn’t be either, Pegs- it’s gauche). To top it off, someone jacked her cash out of her locker during the election day party the night before– rude. Don is already on edge from Pete being in his office uninvited, so after he comes back from Rachel’s rejection to see a weepy Peggy in his personal space the guy is immediately pissed off.

Her complaint to the building sadly ended with a janitor being fired, and she’s upset about disrupting an innocent person’s life. This is a notion that’s literally never fucking occurred to Don Draper. Suddenly, he gets an idea.

Steeled from being shot down by Rachel, Don goes and puffs his chest at Pete, standing over him in the dark.

“I thought about what you said. And then I thought about you, and what a deep lack of character you have.”

I mean, DAMN. He then lets Pete know he’s going to hire Duck Phillips as Head of Account Services, who will be one of the more ludicrous characters in the seasons to come.

So, he calls Pete’s bluff and they go to Bert Cooper’s office together, Pete thinking dropping the bomb about Don’s Dick identity will somehow result in a promotion. Bert Cooper has the most realistic response imaginable, and Pete’s smear campaign is squarely halted.

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DING DING DING

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Cooper’s been around the block, and he knows that at the end of the day, this isn’t a massive deal. But don’t think that means he won’t keep this little factoid knocking around in the back of his mind for future gain. After all, one never knows how loyalty is born. How and Why did Don end up at Sterling Cooper, anyway?

Turns out Dick Whitman is a goddamned klutz and literally (accidentally) blows up the real Don Draper in Korea. I love that this story is the most ridiculous thing imaginable, and not some hard boiled noir story of identity change.. after some firing from the enemy and battering down in a ditch, Dick was just scared out of his fucking mind and drops his lighter, which starts a chain explosion. Incredible.

He swaps dogtags with the smouldering hulk of Don corpse out of pure fear-based instinct. As he’s taking the body playing the role of Dick Whitman to his family in PA, he sees his stepmother with Uncle Mac and Adam on the platform. He stiffens for a moment of unadulterated panic as Adam recognises him on the train, but since he’s just a kid, Mac dismisses him pronto.

Some 50’s broad hits on him at that moment, being real insensitive about “that boy in the box” might I add, and he realises that being in some new persona could be of great benefit. He can be anyone he wants to be in that instant, and thus, Don is born.

Next up is the Season 1 finale.

Anomalisa: Bloated White Guy Ennui for Beginners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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