Mad Men - Episode 12 - Commissions and Fees
‘Mad Men’ operates within several worlds. It takes the unique perspective of the 1960s for its background, its setting is in the glory days of advertising, and makes it all the more glamourous by placing its protagonists in the epicenter of that: the Time Life building in New York City.
But the most important world that permeates the entirety of the show and bleeds so strongly through this episode is America. This time, this place, that job and these people are American. Americans that are informed by a cultural identity where they are (up until the end of Vietnam) constantly victorious, always hungry for more, and in constant devotion to capitalism. I’m sure this aspect is somewhat more obvious to international viewers of the show, but its a distinctly American trait to live it. And its a life philosophy that Lane Pryce will never be a part of.
Throughout this season people have speculated that the Reaper was coming for either Pete or Roger, but the bleak outlook for Lane was staring us in the face the whole time. Don was pissed, as he rightfully should have been at what Lane had done. “Don Draper” is a name Dick Whitman has spent half of his life preserving and protecting and Lane stole it to cover up his own dark secrets. That twisted irony aside, Lane had a point to reject Don’s ‘scorched earth’ resignation ultimatum.
“Do you know how the rest of us live?” Don has lived and breathed the self made man since Papa Whitman got a kick in the face and it has brought him enormous wealth, privilege, and influence. Lane is the other side of that coin. Born into old, British money, he desperately wants to jump ship and do things the ‘new’ way. But the American Dream won’t have him, Old Money rejects him for his dissent and he’s stuck floundering in an abyss. Don tells him to tell his wife “the next thing will be better”, but really, how could it be? By the constraints of television drama, Lane takes his only option, his last option. And should Don blame himself? Lane’s certainly stuck him with it with that suicide note/resignation letter, which I think was a particularly callous move, but Don is the epitome of the Dream. The Dream keeps rolling on and it leaves some people in its dust.
For those that roll on with the Dream, things can be pretty good. There was a careful piece of closure inserted into Joan’s scene where she discusses taking a vacation. Sunshine, making future plans, hope. Joan has made peace with the events of last week and although the transition is rocky (Scarlett’s poor handling of the partner’s meeting), she’s moving on to greener pastures; be it Bermuda or Hawaii. On a side note, I’d like to bring up Scarlett’s recurring appearance. It’s very similar to the way they placed Megan in the show last season. Little appearances here and there, more and more often in scenes of significance. It might be a red herring, but then again, the girl who’s effectively taking over for Joan has got to be important.
There were quite a few important girls (and women) this week. If you need me to explain the symbolism of Sally’s storyline, please go away and take a high school English class. What I will note is how she operates this episode as a child and an adult, largely to serve her own purposes. With Megan and Red-Head Friend (really need to find out her name…) she wants coffee, knows about pubes and has a boyfriend and all of a sudden the two women are interested in what she has to say. Betty, on the other hand, was having none of her “I can stay home by myself” business but melted when Sally fell into her arms, tears streaming down her face and all a bloom in new womanhood. Sally’s no dummy, maybe all that TV did teach her something…
“Commissions and Fees” saw a revitalization in Don. He told Ed Baxter he doesn’t want 50%, he wants all 100. But what happens when you rev up the engines all the way? Things get loud and hot, things could get a little messy if you’re not careful, if you stuck the hosepipe in the window and the ignition did start this time. Don assuredly sets the wheel straight for Glenn as they drive into the night, but its still a boy behind the wheel of a machine he doesn’t fully understand. Anyone could get hurt.
Mad Men - Episode 11 - The Other Woman
You can’t blame ‘Mad Men’ for its lack of beautiful women. As I said earlier in the season, often the show plays into an Oedipal version of desiring our generational mothers and grandmothers. Look at all the women Don has been with; wives and girlfriends. Look at all the models they get to see in casting calls or wannabe actresses that jump up onto desks and asked to be painted in spots. Look at the secretaries mincing around the office, look at Joan. Look at Joan. Because it seems that’s all anybody can really do when it comes to Joan Harris (nee Holloway). Look and want what they’re looking at. This week’s episode is wrapped up in the differences in the way we look at the women we love and the ones we treat like whores.
Until this season, I don’t think the ‘Mad Men’ audience has fully realized the extent of the trials and tribulations that Joan is forced to undergo. And the crushing fact that nothing she has done (have the affection and financial security of a senior partner, get married, have a baby) in the last 13 years has changed the way she has been treated. Joan still manages to weather the storm and come out on her own intact on the other side, although this particular situation seems to be the most trying we’ve ever seen. She’s a feminist and a survivor in pumps and shape wear.
What happened to Joan this week was horrifying. The true definition of “dirty business”, far more visceral and physical than Lane’s embezzling last week. In fact, all of the senior partners have been handling their fair share of dirty business. From the opening to the close of the episode, we see the repeating image of Don leaving his work; for a break, for his wife, to make a plea to a friend. The cryptic promotional image for this season is becoming clear. The men sit comfortably in their laziness and indecision while the women are made to use their bodies and sex to do the work for them. The scene with the Jaguar rep is terrifying in its ordinariness. He greets her at the door with an awkward introduction, tries to charm her with a somewhat thoughtful gift and some lame small talk but eventually Helen of Troy must give herself to the Sultan, and give up her power to bring men to their knees for the sake of greed and the “priceless” significance of “having a car”.
Peggy, on the other hand, has chosen to whore herself out, much like Megan on her auditions. Both wear “that dress” for the interview. One is asked to do a twirl for the boys on the casting couch, the other deals in hard, cold numbers at a seedy diner where no one eats but everyone is hungry. Was Peggy’s departure inevitable? Once again, with this show, who knows? There was an expectation at the beginning of the season of a partnership with Ginsburg, but his factual ‘maleness’ made the partners step over Peggy for him every time. There seem to be two opposing forces in Peggy’s decision to leave: Don treating her like a whore but also like someone he loves. From that silent, perfectly staged kiss, it seems Don loves her. He is helpless as she wields her mind and whatever else she likes wherever she likes. But he’s been treating her like a whore; making her move back and forth across various accounts, Roger making her work late nights for a large hunk of cash, Don asking her to playing his wife for the Cool Whip pitch, right up to and including throwing money in her face. Don loves her, in a way where it defines him. His protegee is leaving, it must mean he has nothing left to teach her.
“Something beautiful you can truly own” is probably the most misogynistic tags SCDP has come up with in their entire history and for 1965 it reeks of sleaze, not European sophistication. The car is the archetypal representation of the American Dream. But by the time the E-type Joan and Don test drive has come out, the American Dream is putrid. It’s Megan’s reaction to a mistress, it’s Pete calculating how much it will cost to get Joan to bend to the master’s wishes, its the irony of Don arriving too late at Joan’s apartment to do anything about the situation. By the end of this episode, everyone gets exactly what they paid for.
Mad Men - Episode 9 “Dark Shadows”
There’s a mix of feelings that come to you when you look through an old year book or some undergraduate essays you wrote when you first came to university. At first its a profound yearning for what that was - wow, I was so skinny or energetic or happy - and then your brain (and your ego) kick in with assurances - you’re better than that now, more mature, happier, wealthier, I’m in a better place. “Dark Shadows” plays on that tension this week as the episode explores looking over the history of what’s been and what’s to come.
For Don Draper, life boils down to two things: his work and his women. He’s got quite the past with both and he’s on the verge of finding out what the future may hold in regards to both. And to help him get some perspective on what’s ahead, enter Michael Ginsburg and not-as-fat Fat Betty. Both, it would seem, have no problem flagging up Mr. Draper’s career and marital flaws. The former is coming hard and strong at the agency; at the heels of Don who’s sitting comfortably on a thick, cushy portfolio. Ginsburg’s suit is getting nicer and his words are far sharper. In this week’s hour he manages to reduce Don to a petty copy writer, extort Roger and step right over Peggy to get what he wants. We may have seen Ginsburg as a vulnerable orphan, unable to comprehend the horrors of his life as a survivor of the Holacaust but he isn’t letting that stop him any longer. Instead Hitler and Don are getting an icy cold snowball to the face.
It’s interesting to note Ginsburg’s entrance to the agency as the first Jewish employee. Roger’s storyline this week had him taking out his Jewish ex-wife to woo the Manishevitz account, the Jewish wine looking to go mainstream. It’s about this time in New York, that Jews go from being the immigrants to the titans of industry. Over in Hollywood, since the 1930s Jewish families had been running movie studios, but keeping quiet about their immigrant identity and faith. Similarly, Judaism has always played a peripheral role in the series until now. Roger’s involvement in WWII and of course, Rachel Menken. But the Jewish people finally become vocal, on the heels of Civil Rights about their entitlement to a voice and a recognition of the history of their people.
The Sno-Ball pitches were a really telling moment for how we’ve come to view Don this season. His apparent happiness and suppression of all things that go bump from under the bed at night have led to a stagnation. The devil pitch was hacky. It reminded me of the Freddie Rumsen “girls want to attract husbands” lipstick pitch earlier last season. It’s not that Don is off his game, he can still pitch: it’s just that it’s getting boring and obvious.
Another piece of not so subtle imagery came in the form of an injured whale, drawn by Bobby, who goes by the name of Elizabeth Hofstadt Francis. I predicted that the two Mrs. Draper’s meeting would be salacious and it was, in the show’s unique way of injecting drama into the every day. Betty is confronted with this modern apartment, comparing it with her Victoriana mansion in Rye and the svelte, beautiful, European (actually, French Canadian) Megan undressing in front of her. Wounded, Betty uses the sheer weight of her deep running relationship with Don to thrown stones at the light-bulb illuminated new Draper marriage.
Bringing Anna up was cruel, to Sally and to Don who made a point of destroying himself last season as she was dying. Another act of truth though, set him free from Betty’s sabotage. I wish and hope he could really recognize how his honesty transformed Sally from chewing out Megan to behaving like the adult, now surpassing her own mother in maturity.
The future is probably baffling Don Draper right now. Barely able to wrap his head around the new Beatles album and a bit part in ‘Dark Shadows’, the present is doing a solid job of keeping Don on his toes. But as the air grows toxic, Ginsburg vows to outdo his boss with one million ideas and Sally really becomes a grown up, Don may need to readjust his focus.
Mad Men - At the Codfish Ball
Everyone knows that distinct feeling of pressure when trying to please your parents. You’ve got to exceed their expectations, try and keep the peace and attempt to reconcile your own ideas about success compared to what they had in mind for you. “At the Codfish Ball” sees a lot important changes for several characters, but along with those leaps and bounds forwards, come a few uncomfortable setbacks from ‘mommy and daddy dearest’ who think they know best.
For SCDP, the positive change for them this week was finally signing Heinz Baked Beans. We knew this was coming all along, but who knew it would be Megan who saves the day? Megan is still presented as Don’s shining ray of hope and optimism, dressed in yellows and pinks and shining down on Don as he lies on his couch brushing up on his beginner’s French, but we’re really starting to see her fleshed out as an individual. Her complaint last week was that she’s too much Mrs. Draper and so here’s a look at Miss Calver. The presence of her parents and the coup she pulled with Heinz show her as a character and more than just an extension of Don. However, Professor Calver is not convinced. He questions his daughter’s means to an end of material wealth and comfort and makes the audience consider for the first time - How much is Megan using Don?
Madame Calver, on the other hand, believes “We should have everything we want”, which for her means having a tryst in the empty ballroom with the newly LSD-enlightened Roger Sterling, but for Peggy it means adjusting her tunnel vision on the future. Peggy’s outfit to dinner with Abe really said it all. The big pink puff ball love dress completely wiped away and and all progress Peggy had made in the last 4 seasons and reduced her back to “20-something desperately seeking a ring on” with her empty smiles and coos. Then Abe, Free Love, 1965 and the Hippie culture smacks her in an unexpected way, the prospect of ‘shacking up’ with her boyfriend. Peggy rises to the challenge though. In her most feminist move to date, Peggy supports and praises Megan on the Heinz account. Instead of wallowing in the nepotism or being stepped over again, she supports the achievements of her fellow woman. Peggy in turn, gets that praise from Joan, who’s quiet, “Good for you” speaks volumes about the changing mindset at the time. These three women shift back and forth in their roles and sister and mother to one another (since none of them have particular supportive mothers or sisters), all looking at the collective progress they’ve made together.
The American Cancer Society Ball was full of mislaid expectations. Don and Roger expected to shovel in new business only to find out they’ve been blacklisted by the group who cannot “trust them”. Sally expects to make a spectacular debut as a young lady, and more so a young Betty (an image which Don marvels in and is terrified of) only to stumble upon a dimension of sexuality that she can’t quite comprehend and means that her date dumped her for the night. As the family gathers around the table at the end of the night, we’re asked to wonder how successful any of these people ended up? ‘Mad Men’ often asks us to look through the Oedipal prism - desiring our beautiful Betty/Joan/Megan mothers and watch the mistakes of our Madison Avenue fathers, but this week the mirror is turned for the characters to peer into, as they quietly watch themselves trip into the same holes their parents fell prey to.
Mad Men - Episode 6 - Far Away Places
‘Mad Men’ revels in the individual. The show is often an exercise in portraiture; taking singular people and examining their souls. However, this week’s episode takes its turn in looking at the double act: couples. Three sets of lovers that are familiar to us in terms of the show’s landscape: Abe and Peggy, Roger and Jane, and Don and Megan and shows the unfamiliar stages of their relationships. Through some very ambitious use of non-linear storytelling we see in the course of a day and the next morning where these couples thought they were and where they actually ended up.
Our familiar spouses (Don, Peggy, and Roger) all ask, “What time is it?”, which in their situations is tantamount to asking, “Where did the time go?” For Abe and Peggy, who are sexually passionate about one another (although it appears Abe feels differently), they’re now finding it hard to deal with the real world, with being distracted by work and the pain in the ass train to get to each other’s apartments. In Don’s absence, Peggy adopts the classic Draper attitude to a bad day by downing a scotch, blowing off work mid-afternoon, having a random sexual encounter, and then seeking absolution and acceptance from an abused lover. Peggy’s going through her growing pains (we often forget she’s only 25) and this means occasionally, she hits the self destruct button.
What seemed to ground Peggy from utter bad behaviour was Ginsburg’s revelation about his past. Network television dealing with something like the Holocaust can often come across as insincere. However, in true Weiner fashion, it’s treated with a subtly and detachment that quietly says, we can’t digest the horrors of what this character went through. Ginsburg’s only communication to “stay where you are” is possibly because reaching out would require confronting the depths of human cruelty and evil.
The dark aura of the world’s horrors also hung over the hours that Mrs. Draper was missing. In light of the Speck murders, the riots and the Whitmore shootings, we are really meant to feel Don’s fear about the possible fate of his young, beautiful wife. I believe that this is the first time in American history that this sort of fear and paranoia became widespread in the American physche. Which is why it makes it all the more chilling when Don chases Megan around their apartment, culminating in a violent tackle to the ground. So desperate to cling on to sunny optimistic Megan, of the Acapulco bathing suit, he resorts to what will in fact “diminish this”. The honeymoon period has just ended for the second Draper marriage.
No wonder the people of 1965 needed to turn to drugs so badly. Jane and Roger’s trip on LSD was played to perfection. This wasn’t going to be some trippy giggle-fest for hard-hitting booze hound Roger Sterling. Instead, punctuated by time speeding up and slowing down, Roger’s experience becomes transformative and profound, revealing the end of his marriage. The LSD-world of Roger and Jane gave them a chance to realize how exhausted they were of the real world, where they kept the charade of their marriage.
So at the end of this week’s hour, we have 3 different couples at completely different destinations to the one’s they expected at the start of their journey. It begs the question, as Don observes the office in the final frame, as Peggy heads one way, Megan another, and Roger coming in through another door, where are these people headed next?
‘Mad Men’ Review - Episode 5 - ‘Signal 30’
The Men of Madison Avenue are forced to swallow a tough pill this week - their own emasculation. So then what better to lead this episode than the rise and fall of Pete Campbell? Or Lane Pryce? Or Ken Cosgrove? Maybe the latter two don’t get it as badly as Pete, but ‘Mad Men’ is a show that doesn’t let its characters stay happy and successful for too long. Which is a big reason we’re all still waiting for the other shoe to drop for the Draper marriage, but enough about Superman for now.
“It feels like time is speeding up,” Pete’s driving school crush tells a smitten Mr. Campbell outside class. This episode is essentially time sped up. We spent all of Season 4 with a similarly miserable character who felt he lost everything, had a broken marriage, sadomasochistic flings with prostitutes, and worked in an ever closing-in workplace - but that was Don who’s good looks, charm and professional ingenuity pulled him out of his spiral. What, on the other hand, does Pete have? Pete’s imagery at the start of the episode is almost identical to Don’s (nice touch having him hold his coat over his shoulder while flirting) but it then collapses into all the worst demons of Don’s personality, with an added level of narcissism to top it all off. When Don sees Pete, bruised and battered in the elevator, his expression tells it all: he’s look at the face of the monster he’s created and wants nothing to do with it.
The interesting thing about the emasculation in this episode is that it isn’t the wrath of women bearing down upon men. It’s still too early in the 60s for concepts such as _vagina dentata_ to actively be in the American lexicon. The ‘SCUM Manifesto’ isn’t written until 1967. It’s men tripping themselves up in an effort to conform to what ‘manliness’ is in 1965. While Roger can espouse how to win a client over, Lane can do little more than admit during a business dinner that he thinks his wife is “mentally unbalanced” and then stage what can only be described as the lamest and most satisfying fight scene on television. What really takes the cake is his final attempt at reclaiming his masculinity by kissing Joan. This has been building as a desire of both of theirs for some time, but Joan knows better than to be used in order to stroke a man’s bruised ego. In the end, we have a man who is desperately trying to live up to the American Dream (because he *truly* loves it) and is still being rebuffed as an outsider.
We might have an easier time recognizing the oppression of women in the time and place where ‘Mad Men’ is set. However, men are just as judged for their masculinity, virility, how perfect their homelife is. Just look at how the women at the dinner party responded to Don tearing off his shirt and fixing the leaky faucet (now there’s some potent sexual imagery for you!) For some men though, the faucet keeps leaking.
This was quite a disjointed episode, so here are a few asides on the rest of the episode which didn’t really fit in anywhere else:
- Of course it’s a total Don look alike called Handsome that swoops Pete’s crush away.
- I think this might be the first time that Roger has been shown as anything but completely useless. All the advice he gave Lane was spot on, really.
- Megan came to New York City to be an actress, Betty came to be a model and both failed in these pursuits. We keep being told that the two women and marriages are infinitely different, but there are subtle similarities coming to the surface.
- I didn’t get to talking about Ken a whole lot, but since when did he have a “pact” with Peggy? Is there some off-screen plot brewing that’s going to shock us soon?
Season 5, Episode 3, Tea Leaves
“When is everything going to get back to normal?” Roger Sterling asks a question that will most likely echo in the upcoming episodes of this season. What is ‘normal’ for men like Roger and Don, men who have seen combat and grew up in the wake of the Great Depression? Certainly it’s a different kind of normal than the one they market and advertise to the Baby Boomers – now teenagers that can protest war and see the Rolling Stones on their first American tour in 1965. ‘Tea Leaves’ is a stare-off episode.
The Old are staring at the New, puzzled by their own creation, and the New are staring back boldly. The are staring back defiantly in the form of teenage girls with a twinkle of the sexual revolution in their eyes and in the form of an endlessly smug Pete Campbell finally getting to make quips at Roger’s expense as he brings in the big business. Old and New together are desperately seeking what the future holds, and its far more than a fortune teller in cheap costume jewellery can tell us.
While Megan got her chance to shine (and shake it) in last week’s episode, Betty’s cancer scare story line took precedence this week, reducing the new Mrs. Draper to a few brief scenes. We haven’t been shown these two in a room together yet, but there’s an apparent power shift the writers are playing with here by having each woman dominate their own separate episodes. All it serves to do is scream that the former and current Mrs. Draper’s first encounter will be salacious, as if the catty visual comparison of the two women zipping up their dresses wasn’t signal enough.
‘Fat Betty’, as the Internet have begun to refer to her, isn’t the most seamless (there’s a terrible pun in there somewhere) of Matthew Weiner’s storylines. Understandably, they needed an excuse to mask January Jones’ real pregnancy. Having built up the ice queen persona for four seasons, it’s a reasonable question that’s asked: Would she be missed? “You are a great soul. You mean so much to the people around you,” the fortune teller tells Betty, but is that necessarily a good thing? Once she finds out she’s in the clear, this ‘great soul’ is still left with the mess she’s created for the people around her: a failing marriage to a good man who’s turning bitter, the thousands upon thousands of complexes she’s given Sally about womanhood and beauty, and the dark way she wraps herself around Don, still looking for an excuse to call him. Although the future looked bleak for Betty as a sick woman, things don’t seem to brighten any now that she’s “just fat”.
The future in the creative department at SCDP is looking decidedly brighter with the addition of Michael Ginsburg. Ginsburg is the male version of Peggy. Being the male version of Peggy, however, means that Michael has the ingenuity and the advantage of being male. Peggy finds Michael insufferable during their first meeting, but he easily charms Don with his boldness, and even pulls it off wearing jeans to an interview. Michael is able to embrace the Beat Generation (“Allan Ginsburg?” “I must be related to him somehow!”) while Peggy could only awkwardly smoke a joint last season and lie to her superiors that boyfriend, Abe is a “journalist”. Michael is the same sort of underdog as Peggy, but just born with the right set of genitalia to help beat the odds.
Everyone is uncertain of the future. Old and young are tied together in that uncertainty. However, what makes the difference for the characters of Mad Men is if they can look the uncertainty in the eye and accept they’re never getting back to ‘normal’.“
My thoughts and feelings on the season opener of ‘Mad Men’. Also known as scotch, smokes, and hate-fucking.