Mad Men s3e4: The Arrangements

“When we put that money aside for him, he was a little boy. We didn’t know what kind of person we were making.”

Hey, Sally’s driving! Grandpa Gene thankfully has the pedals covered, but he’s letting her steer the car in the ‘hood. Not too shabby.

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image courtesy of Jezebel

The relationships of characters and their parents are under the microscope in this episode, an important theme that is revisited over the course of the series.

Peggy is making the leap out of Brooklyn and into the city, and her mother does not take the news well; her sister Anita is happy for her (at least she gets Peggy’s reasoning), and maybe even a little envious of the excitement ahead for her sister. Thankfully, she’s managed to let go of her resentment and turn a kinder eye towards her sister.

On the other hand, her mother appears to have taken up some of that resentment shit whereas last season she seemed more understanding and sympathetic towards Peggy, concerned for her mental health. Her mother is hurt, in spite of Peggy giving her a new TV to soften the blow. As I’ve said before, Peggy is certainly cut from a different cloth than her family. She’s striking out on her own, and her mother clearly cannot relate to it or understand her daughter’s motivations, desires, and needs in her modern life, and really doesn’t care to either. Back to being upset about the Holy Father.

Seeking a roomate, Peggy pens an adult/super boring ad, subject to a bunch of ridicule in the office as ya do. Joan gives her some sage lady advice on her unfortunate ad, while trying to tweak Peggy’s perspective a touch. “This is about two young girls in Manhattan, this is an adventure!” Peggy is looking at it all so analytically, whereas Joan sees the opportunity and the fun that could be. Maybe Joan misses her freewheeling former life as an adventurous girl in the city.

Ahh, Pete’s college buddy Horace Cook Jr. (Ho-Ho..) is in the conference room of Sterling Cooper yapping about some preposterous sport, Jai alai. He’s a silver spoon smooth talking 20-something with an ascot and an expensive haircut. Don is not impressed; however, Lane and Pete see nothing but dollar signs as Ho-Ho is super eager to get his trash sport on American TV and in magazines posthaste. Kid’s got a $3mil inheritance in his pocket, ready to burn.

Grandpa Gene is encouraging to Sally, giving her the attention and affection she really needs at home. He lets her know that she’s smart, and sheds some light on why Betty is so picky about her appearance; turns out she was a chubby girl, much to the chagrin of her mother who made her walk home from the center of town post-errands. Yikes. It’s nice to see someone speaking to Sally as the tiny adult she is.

On the other end of the spectrum, when Gene sits his own daughter down to pass along his wishes, the arrangements in the case of his death, Betty is having none of it. He knows he’s staring down the barrel at this point, it’s sadly a matter of when. As Betty instinctively goes to light up a cigarette, Gene snaps back at her, “I don’t like watching you commit suicide, and neither do your kids.” Timidly, she obliges her father for the moment.

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image courtesy of AMC

Betty is resistant and reluctant to be an adult, choosing to have a vague tantrum over how morbid it is that her father is so openly talking about his own passing with his ‘little girl’. It’s the grownup equivalent of covering her ears and hiding. Her father admits that he shielded her from the world, was too overprotective, that she could have had so much more.. “if you’d even known what was possible.” Gene thinks that’s maybe why she married a man like Don instead of finding herself a better match, being more. Here’s Don, another man who shields her from the real world and treats her like a child.. words and implications she won’t soon forget.

Making the connection that Horace Cook Jr.’s father is connected to Bert Cooper in a million ways, Don calls for a meeting. Horace Sr. is more than a little exhausted by the whole Jai alai mess, and has given up on the idea of his kid doing anything sensible with the cash.

“Well, should you be lucky enough to strike gold, remember that your children weren’t there when you were swinging the pick. I’ve seen his plan… it’s gibberish. But if you refuse him, he’ll only find someone else. My son lives in a cloud of success, but it’s my success. Perhaps when that evaporates and his face is pressed against the reality of the sidewalk, he’ll be of value to someone.”

Horace Sr., not unlike Gene, figures he sheltered his son too much; “we didn’t know what kind of person we were making”. He’s a touch cynical and weary of it at this point, and until Ho-Ho figures out how the world really works (and stops valiantly trying to get the whole damn world to bend at his whim), Horace Sr. is okay with him failing repeatedly until he gets a reality check. Harsh, but understandable.

With Don receiving the green light, it’s time for fancypants dinner with Pete and Ho-Ho to sign him on as a client. Talking about their fathers, Don is reticent. Pete and Horace Jr. are guys living under the shadow of their fathers’ success, whereas Don is someone who left his apocalypse of a childhood far behind, in an attempt to get ahead of it. Seems like Ho-Ho wants to please his dad at the end of the day, to make him proud, however misguided and idiotic his ideas are and how he chooses to go about it. Don tries one last time to talk him down from the dumb investment, and fails.

Latenight, Don is looking at his secret shoebox of photos in his locked desk drawer at home. He studies a photo of his stern father, bathed in the pale moonlight. Was that man ever proud of him? Not bloody likely.

When Gene takes out his box of tricks and war memorabilia to show Bobby, Don is visibly bothered. Gene speaks to Bobby about war as a positive, character-building experience; how it made a man out of him. Don doesn’t see things that way; as we saw in Season 1, he bounced from Korea as soon as he could, did whatever he had to do to head home and get the fuck out of there, scared out of his gourd.

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image courtesy of Tumblr

So when Gene nonchalantly tells Bobby about how he killed a Prussian and took his pointy hat home (complete with bullet hole) as a souvenir, and now wants to pass it down to Bobby. Don isn’t pleased; after all, there was a person in that hat. Life is not so black and white, to deduce someone’s life as that of An Enemy to Don. “It’s a dead man’s hat, take it off.”

Over at Sterling Cooper, Don appoints Sal to direct the Patio ad, a shot for shot remake of Bye Bye Birdie. As he’s working on it later that night at home, Kitty tries to coerce him into having a bang and he ain’t into it, yapping about work.. he shows her the idea for the ad, the dancing and the whole nine. It slowly dawns on her that something has always been very off. Let’s be real; she probably knows on some level that her husband is so far away, and she looks happy that he’s doing some great work, yet devastated that she’s been living something of a lie. Poor Kitty.

Unfortunately for Sal, that Patio ad flops hard, turns out Peggy may have been right.. though this is apparently due to the fact that the shrill lookalike lady in the ad just isn’t Ann-Margaret, with none of her girlish charm and bright-eyed hope. It just ain’t right. Don is encouraging of Sal’s obvious talent for commercial direction, so it’s not a total loss.

Turns out Gene collapsed in the A&P, and a cop comes by the house to let Betty know that he has passed away. Betty nearly collapses on the porch, and when the cop asks what she would like to do with his body, she is momentarily relieved, realising that her father gave her all the instructions she would need.. literally shutting the door on poor Sally.

She grabs the door handle, but can’t quite bring herself to go inside. Grandpa Gene was a man who really connected with her, and now she’s back in a house with parents who vacillate between being indifferent and wrapped up in their own lives, or yelling at her about some complete nonsense.

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image courtesy of Fanpop

William and Judy have arrived at the house; the adults sit at the kitchen table reminiscing about things with Don and Betty. Overhearing the adults laughing about something and misunderstanding that they are grieving and sorting through feelings, Sally has an outburst about her grandfather’s death. Instead of being listened to and comforted, she’s shut out again and told to go watch TV.

Later, Don checks on her after bedtime; she’s asleep clutching the copy of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that they were reading together each night. Just because she’s a kid doesn’t mean she’s not grieving too.

As he folds up Gene’s former bed, Don stands in the room for a beat between the bed of a man who just died, and the crib of his yet to be born child.

“.. You can really do something. Don’t let your mother tell you otherwise.”

Stranger Things; the exact nostalgia we need

Everyone at SDCC last weekend wouldn’t stop yapping about this new Netflix show, so I gave it a whirl and it sure as shit did not disappoint.  From the sublime John Carpenter-esque music to the opening title sequence that feels straight out of 1980, I was hooked from the start.

So like everyone else on the internet, I watched all 8 episodes of Stranger Things over the course of this past week. What I found was an exceedingly well-crafted love letter to Spielberg, Carpenter, King, a dash of Cronenberg, and the early 1980s. That sense of wonder I remember from devouring their films growing up is abundantly intact.

Spoilers within, ya jerks.

image courtesy of Empire Online

People seem to be shocked that showrunners the Duffer Brothers were born in 1984. Maybe they were expecting someone.. older? Who the hell knows. Seems just right to me. As someone born that very same year, I completely identify with their brand of time capsule nostalgia. I grew up on Spielberg movies, adored the messy houses with the wood paneling and earthtone aesthetic, the ever-present shaggy dog and over-stuffed fridge. The wonder with a whiff of darkness, something bigger than us. There’s rich character work in lieu of spectacle, and Stranger Things takes their characters to heart.

These characters, their actions and environments are familiar to me, as I’m sure they are to the showrunners. They have succeeded in not only purveying a certain time period, but did it with depth and feeling rather than surface level on the nose jokes and bullshit like “I CAN’T BELIEVE DARTH VADER IS LUKE’S FATHER, HOLY FUCK”.

There are so many familiar feelings and places in this show that I lost count, so much of it is nearly tactile. Plot brass tacks; small Indiana town, strange disappearance of a young boy named Will, tinges of the supernatural. Drunk weathered police chief Hopper going through some shit, frazzled single mother Joyce supporting Will and his older misfit artist punk brother Jonathan, and her idiot ex-husband. Strange mystery girl shows up out of the ether, nothing is as it seems. She befriends a ragtag band of 3 boys, who are determined to find their friend. There’s high school romance, government conspiracy coverups, a little Cronenbergian terror, an E.T. wig, Stephen King vibes, and a rattled community.

Joyce, feeling guilt-stricken and adrift, discovers that Will is still somehow around. He’s communicating with her via electricity, through the lights specifically. There’s a chilling sequence where she paints the alphabet on the wall tuned to lights, and he spells out his fear.

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image courtesy of The Telegraph

Naturally, this looks completely batshit insane to everyone else. She hacks a hole in her wall during a macabre Cronenberg moment, where Will is trapped in some sort of phosphorescent bodily goo within the walls. Nightmares.

Exploring the way each of these groups chooses to seek out Will is a really cool approach, and the plot and action move along at a good clip. Joyce works with Police Chief Hopper. There are a few hints at their previous relationship, and as he tragically lost his own daughter, he is determined to see what in the hell is going on and bring Will home.

Oh, AND there’s a fake dead Will body supplied by the Bad People in Power Suits. Hopper discovers this and is on Joyce’s side 100% after that mess.

Will’s friends are fantastic, they remind me so much of my own friends growing up, hanging out in basements doing nerd shit. Their conversations aren’t contrived or tryhard as they tend to be other movies and media of this vein, it was all believable and at points very funny.

Mike, Dustin and Lucas are the Indoor Kids playing D&D in the basement the night of Will’s disappearance. They approach finding Will with both science and science fiction alike, how to break into other dimensions, completely hellbent on finding their friend. The way they go about forming a plan and setting it in motion reminds me of a treasure hunt, an adventure. Running through the woods and taking off on bikes, seeing more to the world and the environment they occupy as only imaginative kids can.

The mysterious girl, Eleven, befriends Mike and lives in a pillow fort built in his basement. Mike and Nancy’s increasingly clueless parents are a good backdrop of the perfect 1980s couple, where nothing is really as it seems on the surface.

We get some sense of intrigue right off the bat as Eleven is clothed in a filthy hospital gown, eating the hell out of a burger in some rundown joint that is soon descended upon by the typical Bad People In Power Suits. What’s her story?

And let’s be real, her telekinesis kicks ass. Turns out it’s a side effect from the MKUltra experimentation done on her mother. Conspiracy theorists everywhere shit themselves a touch once that tidbit was dropped. Not unlike E.T., she’s into junk food and jacks a whole bunch of Eggos from a grocery store at one point.

We discover that Eleven’s abilities have torn a hole in spacetime and now this trash dimension is leaking into ours, which is pretty much the worst. The boys’ AV club teacher and fellow nerd teaches them about how alternate dimensions theoretically work, and they absorb it all intently, convinced that this is what has happened to Will.

Mike’s older sister Nancy is your pretty typical pretty high school girl, with down to earth Barbara as her best friend and the boyfriend Hunk(TM) Steve. OH yeah, and Barbara also disappears from a party at Steve’s house. Same deal, same monster taking her to the same trash dimension.. guess she didn’t hide as well as Will cause she went and got dead.

Jonathan is your American Beauty-esque artiste taking creeper photos of Nancy at said party before her and Steve have a ~romantical bang~. Naturally, Steve’s douchepocalypse friends find the photos, taunt Jonathan and break his camera like a group of total dicks. However, Steve is the handsome jock with a heart of gold who in actuality doesn’t end up being an asshole, so that’s pretty cool. Hey John Hughes! Didn’t fancy seeing you here.

Nancy sees more to Jonathan after that confrontation, and even more as she pieces one of the photos of Barbara together; she sees a faint glimpse of the monster. From there on out they form a bond, eventually entering the other dimension to find Will, and thoroughly booby-trapping Joyce’s house to lure the monster out to our dimension to light it on fucking fire. Pretty crazy shit.

It’s Saturday night and the AV teacher is about to get it in, when suddenly Dustin calls his house imploring that he teach them all how to build an isolation tank RIGHT NOW. They get it done, and let Eleven do her mind thing. She lures the monster and destroys it, sacrificing herself in the process. Really powerful stuff, I was sad to see her go off to wherever she ends up. Probably relegated to the ‘upside down’.

Joyce and Hopper actually enter that trash dimension, due to Hopper cutting a deal with the Bad Guy in the Power Suit. They both wear full body spacesuit-esque gear á la E.T., and manage to get Will the hell out of there just in a nick of time after some super violent CPR.

And, RIP Barbara. Too bad we didn’t see her parents freaking out about their daughter who literally fucking disappeared, save for one scene and a poorly executed runaway coverup.. what? Justice4Barb.

As an aside, I’ve been reading some criticisms of the monster design online, and as a non-horror type I’m pretty indifferent to that whole mess. I thought the monster was tangible and creepy, and even more, I love that this show wasn’t directly about the monster but more about the tension, the eeriness, that mist shrouding everything. The feeling of distinct unease.

And the ending is SUPER fucking disconcerting. It’s Christmas Eve, everything seems nicely tied up. The boys are back to enthusiastically playing D&D in Mike’s basement, Steve and Nancy give Jonathan a new camera, Hopper is hanging out at the precinct and enjoying some potluck food, yadda yadda yadda.

Will is sitting down to dinner with his mom and Jonathan when he feels strange and excuses himself. He coughs up some sort of nightmare slug in the bathroom sink, and suddenly we’re fully immersed in the trash dimension again, for a split second. W H A T. Is everyone now in this trash dimension? Is anything what it seems? What in the fresh hell is really going on??  Really frightening.

The last episode closes with Hopper leaving potluck food and some Eggos in a little snow-covered box in the woods, for whom we can only infer to be Eleven. It’s a quiet moment, and a nice one at that. Maybe Hopper found some peace in all that mess and can move forward with his life, knowing that he was able to save Will and help Eleven do her thing.

I can’t wait to see if they do another season of Stranger Things, these episodes were completely enjoyable and I’m excited to watch them again.

Thanks for reading!