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.

Photo May 08, 9 59 37 AM

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.)


  • 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:


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.

Photo Apr 29, 8 08 52 AM

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


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.

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.

Ghosts of Easter

Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t feel the urgency to write about Sunday’s “Mad Men” finale right away — it means I won’t go crazy with waiting for the next season to begin, right? (Probably not; my must-see TV has just become “The Daily Show” and… that’s it.)

I can say with certainty that episode was not what I expected. I know many were disappointed by the pace, and I think I was one of them. I’m still not sure. I don’t think every single episode should have characters who commit suicide or prostitute themselves for new accounts, but the whole thing, on first viewing, felt like a dud to me. This show has episodes that sneak up on me on second or third viewings, so maybe this will be one. I heard it described as an epilogue, and that seems accurate.

I’ll get my gripes out of the way first. If I had a wish list:

  • MORE PEGGY. (Caps-lock intentional.) The theater scene was sweet, but the Peggy subplot feels to me, still, like the abrupt abandonment of a main character. I’m always concerned — at work, in my personal life, in society — with equitable allocations of resources. The last episode had way too much Glen time; this one had too much everything else time. Probably Megan. Not that those story lines aren’t important, but I feel there’s a tendency to linger on them, when lingering isn’t really necessary.

That’s not to say I’m not on board with Peggy’s decision to leave and grow in a new place; I am. In that sense, abruptness was a benefit to the storyline. As much as we saw the hints this season, we felt as blindsided as Don did by her decision. Beyond that, though, Peggy’s growth has been absolutely fascinating to watch, and I’m fairly certain her growth didn’t stop as soon as she stepped on the elevator at SCDP that last time. We had a glimpse, one small glimpse, of a new grown-up Peggy in a red power suit, and it’d better not be the last we see of Peggy in her new office.

  • Less obviousness. I thought the scene at the hospital where Pete visits his mistress was nicely acted, but too much exposition. This show has always been good about showing, not telling, but I think this season that’s changed a bit. What saved the scene for me was how nicely it was written and how well Vincent Kartheiser and… that Gilmore Girl performed it. (I’m too lazy to look up her name, but I think she is one of the most beautiful people in the history of people. No wonder he’s smitten.) Pete Campbell — what a year! On that note, electroshock therapy. Really? I know it was being done, but anytime a show, a book, or a movie resorts to amnesia subplots, I jump ship. Lazy writer’s way out.
  • Fewer Adam sightings, or at least more subtlety with them. The first few were affecting; the last, at the dentist’s office, just seemed too weird. Or maybe it just didn’t move me because the show already has gone down this road of Don’s visions before. No new ground.

All in all, though, I disagree with the “nothing happened this episode” comments I’ve heard thrown around on Twitter. A lot of setup happened, maybe too much. “Change isn’t good or bad; it just is,” Don said once, but how much change can one man handle? How much guilt? “You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition,” Lane’s widow tells him. We don’t get any indication beyond the unintelligible Adam Whitman sightings that her words are having any effect.

As with most things on this show, I suppose the lack of exploration is intentional, and we’ll be paid off for our patience next season. Maybe it’s meant to show that Don has shoved the recent events into the deep recesses of his mind where he shoves all bad things — toothache, anyone — but how long will that tactic work for him? We have Joan’s stiff upper lip quivering until she finally breaks down for a minute in Don’s office, but really, I hoped for more this episode about how Lane’s associates are dealing with this.

One thing did clarify for me during this episode: Roger Sterling is too much a hedonist to leave this earthly life behind willingly. (I was among those worried last season that Lucky Strike, midlife crisis, etc. would prove too much for ol’ Rog, and he’d take a dive off SCDP’s tall tower.) When he lures Megan’s mom to his hotel room, he comments about suicide: “You’d have to be so sure you were going someplace better. I think that place is here.”

I don’t have any speculation about what the (beautifully shot) closing scene of Don leaving Megan’s shoot and winding up in a bar filled with beautiful women means, but I’m looking forward to Season 6. Overall, I thought this season was fantastic, but I’ll admit I’d love if the next season was a little lighter. I’d love to be able to sleep again on Sunday nights!

Disagree with me in the comments, and if you want recaps that are always better than mine, I highly recommend NY Magazine’s Vulture blog.

Edited to add: I would be remiss if I did not mention how much I enjoyed the closing song — and Roger’s trip. 🙂