The kids’ table

I’ve been reading a big ol’ book about WWII, and it’s basically 350 pages of vignettes; one brief anecdote after another, occasionally connected, but usually not. It’s interesting, but exhausting.

That’s how I felt about the first 45 minutes of this episode, and last week’s, too. Too many plots, too many glimpses, when really, I just wanted a meaty story. Finally, though, everything came into focus — and doesn’t Sally Draper wish it hadn’t!

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I’ll save that for last. Let’s start with my girl Peggy.

“It will shock you how much this never happened,” Don told Peggy after she gave birth to Pete’s baby in secret*. Over the years, I’ve felt a little shocked myself at how much it never happened. Both Peggy and Pete seemed to have developed a remarkable ability to bury that piece of their pasts.

I thought the tipsy moment they shared over was the perfect way to acknowledge that, yes, occasionally it does cross their minds. (I’m assuming it crosses Peggy’s more often.) Please note: This is not me condoning, in any way, shape, or form, the possibility of a rekindling of what could barely be called a “relationship” between these two. Peggy. Please. You can do better.

Ted seemed happy to be there, but when he returned to the table after making a call and intruded on Pete and Peggy’s private moment, he looked uncomfortable. In the full context of the episode, that moment seemed to be one of several that drove Ted away from the office and pushed him toward his neglected home life. His home life, from the glimpses we get, is not something to escape. Then again, neither was Don’s, or Pete’s, or any of the many other homes we’ve seen break up over the course of the show. Unlike those examples, though, Ted seems to realize it, and possibly not too late.

Was he ever in love with Peggy? It’s hard to say, based on the little screen time these two get. To me, it smacked of infatuation, by a guy with a history of getting swept up in new adventures and risks. He’s coming down to Earth. It amused me that he still had to make a  grand gesture to secure Don’s promise for the office battle to end. (Don, rightfully, has no idea what he’s on about, because of course, Don’s main battle is with his own demons, not Ted.  Can you imagine early Don Draper jeopardizing an account with GENERAL-FREAKING-MOTORS over a personal issue with his former mistress?)

Peggy doesn’t seem to be too hurt by Ted’s waning affection in the long run. I died at her late-night phone call with Stan. I hope she names her cat after him.

One thing I really liked about this episode was the theme of the innocence of children. Sally and her friend are obsessed with Junior Rosen; they completely miss the undertones of tension during the meeting in the lobby, when Sylvia arrives and sweeps him out of the building. Ted’s children, climbing over his back and eating cereal on their parents’ bed, seemingly serve as a reminder to him that here is where he belongs. They don’t pick up on any of the tension between their parents.

The best example is the final scene in the Draper apartment, when sloppy drunk Don stumbles in after his bender. Obviously, he hasn’t come to any conclusions about how to deal with Sally’s discovery. Julie and Megan continue with their dinner, assuming the war is about something else, ignorant to the major drama of the day. Sally has become an adult, yet Megan is lumped in with the innocent children.I really didn’t see the subplot of Arnold and Sylvia’s son being so important, in so many ways, until the pivotal moment when Sally looked up and saw… oh, poor Sally! I’m still not sure why Sylvia deserves so much of Don’s devotion, and maybe she doesn’t, and that’s just, finally, the fickle nature of love working on him. She alluded to this when she told him on the phone that he was better to her than she was to him.

Leftovers:

  • Bob Benson, I’ll tell you what I told Peggy: Please. You can do better than Pete Campbell.
  • At least someone loves Pete!
  • I sort of want to watch the earlier episodes of this season again, to look for glimpses of this Benson-Campbell infatuation. What exactly has Pete done to be so desirable?
  • Tom & Lorenzo make the weird connection that the two main gay characters on the show, Sal and Bob, have the same names as Sally and Bobby. Whaaa?
  • Did the doorman ever get his keys back after Sally dropped them in Sylvia’s apartment? (Practical detail that nagged at me!)

*I forgot all about another of Don’s lines in Peggy’s postpartum scene: “Move forward,” the same words Peggy used on him earlier this season.

Talk amongst yourselves!

Whiskey in your water

What in the holy name of Anna Draper was that? No guarantees, but I’ll try to be a little more sophisticated than I was in my text message to dear friend and loyal reader Michele:

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My husband wasn’t paying enough attention during “The Crash,” to my tastes, so I turned to the loving arms and equally hysterical arms of Twitter. I don’t know about you, but about the time Minny Jackson showed up in Don’s apartment, I was

Let’s look at this sequence of events in the cold, sober light of day.

  • Don is exhausted, in mind and heart.
  • Don, a 40-year-old man, chooses to take the injection from Harry Hamlin’s quack doctor, despite not knowing what’s in it.
  • Don trips the trippiest trip that ever was tripped.*
  • Don flakes on the Chevy account.
  • Don’s obsession with Sylvia leads him to leave his home unattended (and his door unlocked, in hopes she’ll return?) and the safety of his children is compromised.

All these actions begin win Don. But when Don returns to earth, presumably feeling even more exhausted in mind and heart, he lays the blame at the feet of everyone else:

“Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse.” 

Conclusion: Don still doesn’t understand that actions have consequences. The Tin Man discovered his heart, though, so that’s something?

Part of me felt that a lot of this goes back to Peggy. I’m not saying that Peggy is a stand-in for Sylvia or anything like that. We saw that Sylvia is a twisted mother figure to Don, down to the headscarf she wears at home that matches the headscarf in the soup ad that became Don’s obsession. 

But as the shot took effect, Peggy, touching Ted’s arm in comfort, was Don’s last sober sight. Don hasn’t been the same since Ted and Peggy came on board and Don saw the way she had slipped into the role of caretaker to Ted — presumably without the adversarial undertones that came with her similar relationship with Don. Her dynamic with Don has changed, and he can’t seem to handle it. “Change isn’t good or bad. It just is.” Season 3 Don laughs in Season 6 Don’s bewildered face. The world is changing, and Don’s bad trip show he’s not up for that ride, either. Peggy sees this, and I feel like there’s a sense of longing on both their parts for the old days. She seems regretful that the relationship has changed, but resolute.

I’m curious to know what others thought of this episode! As disorienting as it was, the more I think about this episode, the more I think it was great. It had an undertone of sadness that couldn’t be eclipsed, at least permanently, by any pharmaceuticals.

Uncategorized observations:

  • Peggy Olson is always the classiest person in the room. This time, it’s when she refused to bad-mouth her departed boss. “I liked him.”
  • Peggy and Stan!?** I wanted it to happen, but I didn’t, and was so relieved it didn’t happen, and

  • Betty is back to blond and skinny. “Henry is running for office!” Yes, sweetie, we assumed.
  • Clearly Megan as Maria von Trapp is long gone, but she didn’t deserve Betty’s “casting couch” dig.

*What kept running through my mind was Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” (written, as so many good songs are, by Randy Newman). “Don’t know what it is, but I don’t wanna see no more!”

**Groupthink:

Mutually assured destruction

I spent Sunday night at a wedding. While I didn’t end up getting sick into an umbrella stand, I did spend Monday feeling the effects of staying up dancing until 3 a.m. for the first time since the last Bush administration. Then I drove three very long hours home.

It figures I’d miss the most eventful and fast-paced episode of the season.

When I finally collapsed on my coach late Monday afternoon, I expected another moody, gloomy episode, again focused on the urban decay of the late 1960s as reflected in our characters. We got 007 instead.

As a (former) reporter, I should’ve suspected one of the major plot twists from the episode title, “For immediate release” — words I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands, of times on press releases. Roger telling Don, “Close the door,” should’ve been the next clue. But like I said, my brain was mush. For what it’s worth: My husband, who pays about as much attention to “Mad Men” as to my other obsession, “Downtown Abbey” (his words), claims he saw the SCDP/CGC merger coming “from a mile away.” I really am losing my touch. (Why are you still reading?)

In any case: Everyone’s dissatisfied, no one is being honest about why they’re dissatisfied, and almost everyone is being impulsive.

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The Closer

We open with Roger, back to form (I LOVE IT) and using his mother’s death as a come-on. (In case I haven’t made it clear before — he is my favorite thing ever.) Herb, the Jaguar slimeball, refers to Roger in this episode as “Silver Bells.” I’m going to start using that. “I close, Pete. I close things.” Oh, Silver Bells. I’d say, “Never change,” but I know you couldn’t, even if you wanted to.

Of course, Roger isn’t just after sex (this time), just like no one else is really being honest. “I’m tired of rockets,” Gleason tells his partners, but it’s the cancer and the money worries that have him upset. “I’m tired of this crap,” Don tells Ted in the bar. That should’ve been the biggest clue of all. Last season, he declared, “I’m tired of all this piddly shit”* — just before Lane committed suicide.

Strange to see Joan, Pete, and Cooper conspiring at the beginning of the episode without their partners. What an odd group — I wanted to know how that collaboration came to be. But there was no time in this fast-paced episode for backstory. Joan, who became flushed at the idea of earning a million dollars in a public offering, seems angrier about Don dropping Jaguar than about the public offering being threatened. Was Joan upset Don dropped the account — or that his impulsiveness had robbed her of the chance to do the honors herself?

Don, true to form, hasn’t learned anything, as we see later when he boldly conspires with Ted to merge firms. He takes Joan’s “we” and twists it to fit his desires. I loved that this isn’t necessarily a black-and-white, good or bad decision. It may well be that the merger is exactly what the firms need to propel them into the next decade, but the way Don made the gamble makes it hard for anyone to accept. (As Cutler said: “I’m against this idea, unless it works.”) Or maybe Ken’s reference to mutually assured destruction** is actually a hint at what’s to come for the firms.

The development seems positive for everyone except Peggy, who is blindsided by the two men who have been most influential in her professional life (and possibly her personal as well). Don and Ted present the merger as if they’re hunters, bringing home the big game and dropping it at her feet, expecting Woman to be grateful of Man’s manliness. Here you go! Look what we got you! (My dog occasionally does this with dead animals or frozen bits of his own poo.) Peggy… doesn’t know what to think. Don tells her, “Make it sound like the agency you want to work for.” “For immediate release: The agency I want to work for doesn’t include you.”

Photo May 08, 9 52 47 AMObviously, her reaction is tied up in whatever it is that’s going on between her and Ted, whose line of thinking and action toes too close to Don’s for Peggy’s comfort. Peggy and Abe have turned the corner from young romance to domestic drudgery, and Ted has stepped in as Peggy’s fantasy. Whether this is by virtue of his seemingly impulsive kiss, or whether he’d already begun to occupy that space, we don’t know. Abe, God bless him, is trying, crawling around in coveralls and electrocuting himself for the sake of homemaking.

In this light, it’s strange to think back to Peggy and Pete’s fling and see how far both have come. Pete still thinks he’s God’s gift, boasting to Trudy that she’ll be sorry she rebuffed him, because “I have big things coming.” Pride literally came before a fall in this episode. (And glorious it was, but poor Pete had several, and seems to have more coming.)

Leftovers:

  • Of course Roger’s notes are on a cocktail napkin. Ginsberg kills me — “You had to write that down?”
  • Megan would’ve merited more of a mention in a less busy episode. She’s turning herself inside-out, trying to make her marriage and her relationship with her mother work.
  • Marie’s subtitled snark at dinner was topped only by her casually hanging up, twice, on Silver Bells. I got the impression by her long looks at Don (and Dr. Rosen) during this episode that she suspects Draper’s been Drapering around on her daughter.
  • Ted and his turtlenecks!
  • And obviously — “I love puppies”

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Still one of my top-10 quotable “Mad Men” lines, now to be joined by “I love puppies.” Maybe sometime I’ll compile my list. Obviously, “That’s what the money is for!” is on there, too.

**Ken Cosgrove: “It’s mutually assured destruction. … It’s why I don’t worry about the bomb.” You just go on a-sailin’ through your charmed life, Cosgrove.

Thanks to friend Shelly for the GIFs!

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.