Our fathers

If my last post seemed uninspired, it’s because it was! Fortunately, I liked this episode, “The Flood,” as much as I’ve felt ambivalent about the rest of this season.

Peggy, at a launching point in her personal life and career, stares out the window; she wants to be on the Upper East Side, despite her supposed indifference when Abe suggests other neighborhoods. Again, she’s mimicking Don, whether consciously or not, as we realize when she tells Megan at the awards dinner, “We might be neighbors.”

Peggy looks over the city on a bright, light-filled day; Don contemplates darkness from his balcony as sirens wail and a nation grieves for another man killed in the same setting, a thousand miles away.

I was talking to a friend recently about the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The Garden of Exile outside the building is a concrete cage of sorts with tall concrete pillars that appear straight but are actually off-kilter; the ground is crooked in a subtle way, creating a disoriented and unsettled feeling to anyone stumbling around its paths. That’s sort of how this episode felt after the announcement of King’s death interrupted the early, mundane moments. When “Mad Men” gets tone right, it really gets it right. The tone here was unfamiliar, unsettled, awkward. It’s a crude and violent new world that Don doesn’t like, as we saw by his reaction to Roger’s trippy client*.

Awkward in the way none of these white people, no matter how sympathetic they are to the civil rights cause, know how to react to the few black people who inhabit their insular world. Joan’s rigid hug to Dawn was the most perfect example of this, but we also saw it in the more subtle way the black characters did not act exactly as expected. Peggy’s secretary behaved about as her employers thought she would; Dawn didn’t.

Peggy baffled me a little in this episode. (I think she was supposed to.) She communicated so much nonverbally; the look with Ted after he is booted from his chair by Abe (whaaaat does that mean?!); the sort of moony face behind Abe’s back while she’s sitting on the couch, contemplating having children with him. I don’t really see that relationship lasting (and maybe she’s already got something going on with Ted), but it seems like they have reached that level of familiarity and comfort that makes it difficult to move on. I can’t decide what Peggy wants and wonder if she even knows.

They may be on the same level, but the styling of the show has not so subtly suggested they’re drifting apart this season. Abe didn’t fit into the fancy corporate dinner this season; last season, he could’ve made it work:

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I will never get tired of this GIF

The ongoing theme of parenthood and particularly fatherhood really interested me. Don finally notices Bobby** as a person in the movie theater (and how Don-like was his breathless little, “Jesus!” comment?) But Don maintains that Megan is “better with them.” Hey, Draper, guess what? It doesn’t matter if you didn’t immediately “love” your children — you had them, you have to figure out how to raise them. That’s the social contract. His teary and surprising confession to Megan really moved me, but it also speaks to his immaturity; he’s spent so much time taking care of his needs — his women, his alcohol, his career — that it’s just now occurring to him that he maybe ought to think about parenting. (And even then, it’s less recognizing his own failings than blaming them on his father.) It wasn’t unusual for a man of his class and generation to be a detached parent, but he has completely checked out, and he’s just seeming to realize it as one child is basically grown and another is well on his way. He has such a great parenting style when he actually tries; I loved the way he gently but humorously shot down Bobby’s concern about Henry, and that must have been heartbreaking for Don to hear.

A commentary I read suggested Don’s introspection was prompted by his sudden and consuming worry about Sylvia in D.C. I disagree with this; I felt like he was worried about Sylvia, and continued to be worried, until suddenly he realized maybe he should be focused on his actual life. As he stumbled through the dark halls, I thought at first he was in the back halls of the apartment building, checking on Sylvia; I was surprised he was checking on the children. (But then, I’ve been wrong before.)

Megan again showed remarkable poise, encouraging Peggy in her home-buying endeavor, taking care of Don’s kids, trying desperately as always to understand him. On fatherhood: I couldn’t figure out at the beginning of the episode how she could’ve been so quick to forgive Don for his hard words on the set of her show. Then we heard her conversation with her Canadien père, and there it is.

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So much in this episode to unpack. I’ll save the Virgin Ginsberg and his father for another day. The other “father” reference that really struck me was Pete, angrily shouting at Awful Harry (TM) that Martin Luther King was a father. That’s our Pete, absolutely rotten, until suddenly he isn’t.

*Giggly, stoned Stan makes my day.

**That misaligned wallpaper would’ve annoyed the CRAP out of me. I feel ya, Bobby.

Soda fountains and swingers

Aside

A confession:

I’m a little bored by Season 6. Hence the delay. Not enough to quit watching; it’s still the best thing on TV. Just enough to hope something exciting will happen soon, and that we might see some indication that Don Draper is evolving. I can dream.

I liked the developments that have Dawn chucking her attempts to gain respect from the other secretaries, and taking it straight to the top, adopting Joan as her mentor. Those scenes were showing. We didn’t really need to hear her tell her friend about the culture of SCDP — “Mad Men” is much more powerful when it’s demonstrating the culture.

I think Hemingway said, “Show the readers everything, tell them nothing.” The wooden scenes between Dawn and her gal pal felt so unnatural to me. I applaud the show for finally adding to the diversity of its characters. So many of the subplots since the beginning of the show have had to do with the civil rights movement; it’s nice to finally see the human side of some of those characters. Their voices, though, just didn’t seem authentic to me.

For example: Harry. Remember when we liked him, just a little? I can completely understand his feeling undervalued by the company, but what a way to express it.

I’ve heard some commenters say Roger’s refusal to stop Harry’s tirade was a reflection of his general awfulness to Joan. I read it as, “Let’s let this guy continue to humiliate himself,” but I’m not sure if that’s right, either — Harry’s temper tantrum and cruelty toward Joan was rewarded by a big fat check. Harry is awful in the way he points it out, but he’s telling the truth about how Joan got her partnership — how does Joan rise above that truth and create a new one? This episode had her blatantly disrespected in front of the other partners, in a way that showed just how different she is viewed.

Maybe this is the motivation Joan needs? She’s such a mystery to me. From her mean streak in the earlier seasons, to the way she uses her sexuality to get ahead (long before the Jaguar deal), I just can’t seem to figure her out. In any case, she takes these squabbles, some petty and some heavy, home with her, and her friend points out, in contrast to Joan’s awful day, that Joan is living the life.

I hope the scene in the club is an indication of how Joan will change; she begins looking uncomfortable, out of her decade, very alone. Then she’s reminded that she’s still beautiful and very much in charge of where her life goes. She can adapt to this crazy new era and to her role at SCDP. Right? In any case, I’m glad Joan finally got a storyline, and it was, to me, the most interesting one in this episode.

Peggy has adapted to being Don 2.0. Whose pitch was better? They both were modern and creative. I actually liked Don’s better, but Peggy’s anticipated the client’s needs, and she sold that thing — using Don’s stock line, “Change the conversation.” Don got the gut-punch he deserved for eavesdropping.

Of course, Don deserved to be gut-punched early and often. I just can’t with this guy. Don swings, just not in the open, because that would be wrong. Don and Megan fought; Don had more hypocritical, Madonna/Whore scenes with Sylvia, ad infinitum.

See? Bored. A better and earlier recap next week, I hope.

Just a Gigolo

What’s your favorite “Mad Men” episode? Most fans, I imagine, have a favorite episode, or at least, a favorite moment. I know I have many. I can’t imagine any part of “The Collaborators” falls into either category, but maybe someone will disagree with me. I watched this episode Monday morning and felt like it cast a pall over the day — and we all know how Monday turned out, unfortunately.

We’re treated to more of the same heavy-handed symbolism of Season 5. Don gives a woman money after sex. What does it mean?! Perhaps it has something to do with this flashback, in which we learn Don lived in a bordello and watched, through a keyhole, as his pregnant stepmother prostituted herself? Well, then. I think I get it.

Speaking of pregnancy, Megan reveals (to Sylvia — of all people!) that she has recently had a miscarriage. Don begins the scene by actually saying the right things. Then he just makes me mad. Megan expresses that she wants children someday, but she’s not sure of the timing. Don says, several times, variations on “Whatever you want.” We learn nothing about what he wants — but even if he told us what he wanted, would we believe him? I get the impression Megan would, and that’s sad, considering his mistress’s bed isn’t even cold as his wife is telling him about her miscarriage.

I’m interested in the parallels between Don and Pete in this episode. At the beginning of the series, Don tended to keep his affairs in the city and his wife in the suburb. Now they’re only a floor apart. The weight of it is showing on his face, especially as he collapses into a heap at his front door. Even the bedroom scenes look more like drudgery than romance. I’m waiting for his Roger Sterling-style heart attack during coitus.

Pete. Just when I start to think he’s not such a cad, he hisses at the battered woman bleeding on his floral-print couch, “What did you say to him?” Again, the romance of the Mad Man’s affairs has given way to seedy rendezvous and Pete Campbell offering “peanuts and cheese crackers.” Blech. More drudgery.

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Season 1 flashback — Don & Midge

Remember Season 1, Don and Midge bantering as they rolled around the white sheets in her light-filled, Bohemian apartment? Her little Holly Golightly men’s tuxedo shirt? She would’ve stabbed Don with a paintbrush if he’d lured her to a dive and offered nuts and stale crackers. Pete may think he’s of the same school, but he’s not…

…as evidenced by it all blowing up in his face (yet again) and Trudy’s memorable ultimatum. Go, girl? I have a hard time cheering her on, when essentially she’s committing both of them to a love-less marriage as long as her husband keeps his affairs in the city. But the similarities between Don and Pete in this episode make me think Don could soon face a similar blow-up. I have a feeling Megan will handle it differently than Trudy, although I’m not sure what to expect.

Peggy, looking especially sophisticated in some bold jewel tones and kicky prints, shrugs off a sexist prank (not the first, certainly not the last) and again spars with Stan over the phone. Why does Stan give away the Heinz tip? It was unethical of Peggy to share it, sure, but we’ve see how ethics work in this business. Ted Chaough (who I just spotted the other day in an episode of “Friends,” as Monica’s sous-chef!) pops in, and we still can’t decide if he’s into Peggy for her work or more personal reasons. I’m struggling to care. He’s a slimeball, and that’s saying something, because the competition is fierce in Peggy’s world.

It felt like we ended this episode right where we started. I imagine there will be some shaking up soon. So much more to say, for instance, about Sylvia and her interesting moralism and “Catholic guilt.” (I’m familiar with the concept!) I’ll save it for another day, because I’m sure we’re not done treading that road into the dark wood.

My favorite recappers: TLo on style and substance.

Some kind of astronaut

Oh, hey, Internet. I was too busy Sunday night drinking gin and tonics and trying to figure out what the hell was going on to write a blog post. I was too busy Monday recovering from gin and tonics (and doing work I actually get paid for) to analyze my reactions to that dreary little double episode.

“Dreary” doesn’t usually come to mind when Hawaii is the setting. As someone who spent a beach vacation last year reading about the Battle of the Somme and the advent of modern warfare*, I appreciated Don’s heavy beach reading. My reading, though, was “for fun,” or at least, for personal enrichment, motivated by my own curiosity. Does Don read without outside motivation? We’ve seen him read for pleasure, I guess — John Le Carré, Frank O’Hara. But the last time we saw him read something this deep, it was Exodus, for Rachel. (Remember Rachel?) It shouldn’t have surprised me to discover, in the end, that the pretty doctor’s wife was behind Dante. I was surprised anyway.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I started this blog last year when all my water-cooler talkers had moved away, and I had quit my job, so I didn’t have a water cooler to hang around anyway. There were several instances in the last season when I felt a sense of urgency about writing a reflection. I didn’t feel that after the Season 6 premiere, probably because we’ve been down most of these roads before.

“The Doorway” was like a sad-off. Think it can’t get sadder? Here’s middle-aged Don Draper, tossing his cookies into an umbrella stand. Think it can’t get sadder? Here’s Roger Sterling, trying to recover from his temper tantrum (“It’s my funeral!”) to make an authentic gesture — handing his daughter a jar of water from the River Jordan — but she just wants to talk about Roger’s money, and leaves the jar on the couch when she rushes away. (Roger turns down Jane’s offer to return his mother’s ring so that he can give it to Margaret, and instead, gives her something that actually has sentimental value. After hearing her investment-opportunity pitch, I think Margaret would’ve just pawned it anyway. But is that any wonder, for a daughter whose father has been so emotionally detached all her life?) But wait! Here’s Roger, finally sobbing into a shoe-shine box. He does feel!

It gets sadder! Here’s Betty, picking her way through a fallen-in hovel to look for… oh, wait. I don’t care about this subplot. Seriously, who is this girl with the dead mother? I hate it when TV shows drop in characters whose only purpose is to be a catalyst for another character’s actions, so this diversion irritated me. On the bright side: No Glenn!

Where can Betty’s character go, realistically? I’ve read some commentary that the creepy teen-rape comments she made to Henry seemed to indicate she’s clinically unhinged. I think she’s just desperate for attention and gets her rocks off being shocking — and how many ways can a suburban housewife be shocking? Has early mid-life crisis, dyes her hair? Oh, my stars! Maybe Betty will zzzzzzzzzz.

Oh, sorry, I nodded off there.

What else? Peggy is Don 2.0; improvements include bug fixes (fewer crashes!) and less chemical dependence. I loved her phone conversation with Stan.

The men are hairier than usual. Abe’s mustache made me legitimately laugh out loud.

I didn’t talk much about Don, did I? We know what’s in his future. Or do we? He, for his part, is obsessed with his future — at least, his future beyond this world. He’s awfully young to have given up on this life already, but then, so were Lane Pryce and Adam Whitman. So many times, I’ve thought Don was reckoning with his past: When Betty found his box, when he came clean to Faye. Megan knows, too. But their knowing isn’t enough, obviously; the stink of his past follows him around like that damn Zippo lighter. Remember this Don Draper? He’s so far removed from that image as to be nearly a different person.

In any case, 1968 was one of the most fascinating years in American history. Gruesome, exhilarating, hopeful, heartbreaking. I can’t wait to see where the show takes it. Tell me what you think!

Leftover thoughts:

  • The first episode of last season saw this. Compare it to the New Year’s party at Don and Megan’s in this episode, a season later; glamorous Megan, sitting around on New Year’s with a bunch of people years older than her who are complaining about how much college costs. And her husband is sleeping with one of them! She’s not long for this lifestyle.
  • We didn’t get any Increasingly Bad Decisions of Pete Campbell in this episode. Looking forward to more of those.
  • And more Joan, please.
  • Have I mentioned I love Peggy?
  • In case I missed anything.
  • ETA: Thought that occurred to me after I wrote this post: What if all the death foreshadowing is not about Don, but about Betty? “My mother’s dead”… the cop telling her he didn’t want to have to scrape her off the highway in a shovel. I’m not sure suicide is her bag, but she certainly makes enough reckless decisions that an accident wouldn’t be unlikely, as we saw again in this episode. (You read it here first.)

*To End All Wars. It’s a great book! I like to party.