Sunday, October 17, 2010

"I Got You, Babe"

Mad Men, Season Four, Episode Thirteen, "Tomorrowland"

WELLLLL, wasn't that a surprise? (Except the part about Joan still being pregnant; I figured that was the case. And while I'm sidetracked here, I know that there's no old-fashioned Victorian novel-type justice in war--or in postmodern drama and television--but Dr. Greg is going to get blown up in Vietnam, right? The only thing "important" to him is whether her boobs are getting bigger--what an idiot. Well, guess what? It's not even your baby, jackass!) Okay, back to Don. What was that man thinking? I don't know, but rather than sign off after just one paragraph, I'll give it my best shot:

I thought that the conversation with the American Cancer Society people was quite interesting. Don's observation that there's no point in trying to persuade smokers to quit, but a campaign targeting a new teen audience is where they should put their efforts was insightful. Of these younger people, he said they're "mourning for their childhood more than looking to their future." Is he doing something similar in asking Megan to marry him? He's clearly missing Anna; he wants someone with whom he can be himself again ("I feel like myself when I'm with you")--but not TOO much of himself. Faye's reminder at the beginning of the episode that his stomach pains might have as much to do with repression of his past life as with his work troubles, just served to highlight that she knows more about him than perhaps he's comfortable with. He wants the feeling of comfort that being himself with someone brings, but doesn't want the full disclosure to the world that Faye urges upon him. I was impressed that he answered Sally's question--"Who's Dick?--honestly, even if he did add "That's my nickname sometimes." As we've seen a lot this season, he wants to be Dick "sometimes." He might have felt that Faye would push to be Dick all of the time. So, he tells Megan that she doesn't really know him and that "I've done things..." She naively asserts that she does know him now. This veiled insinuation of a past is all she's going to get from him. And, unlike the probing psychologist, Megan will accept his assessment of himself without question--and get what she wants (maybe?) So, missing Anna, he gives Megan Anna's engagement ring that she got "from Don."

Does he really believe his assertions that he's fallen in love with her? She says it happened so fast. Well, yeah! Too fast for me to buy it. But he has been Mr. Impetuous lately--most recently with the letter to the Times. And, he's recently come out of a pretty bad depression and bout of excessive drinking. That's really not the time to make such a major decision, but maybe he just feels too good and that's novel right now. And, he's in California--the land of sunshine, hope, and fresh starts. Stephanie tells him, "I've got the rest of my life ahead of me. So do you." And, she is good with his kids. The look of surprise that Don, Sally, and Bobby all displayed when Megan took the spilled milkshake in stride was so telling. She's not Betty in this regard. But, she is glamorous--save the teeth--and she speaks French. But, she's also told Don that she'd like to have a job like his or Peggy's someday. Will he promote her career and make her a copywriter as Joan thinks? Or will she be the next pretty Mrs. Draper? I still don't like her much, but I hope it's the former. Or, as my sister pointed out, it's just an engagement; maybe they won't actually get married. But, Faye--hurt Faye--did tell him early in their acquaintanceship that she knew his type and he'd be married again in a year. Perhaps she does know him too well.

And then, in contrast to Don's rapid life changes, there's Betty, lamenting that things are different, that there's too much change. Those were a couple of poignant moments when she and Don stood in the empty kitchen, sharing a drink out of an old plastic cup. She confides in him, in a way, that her new marriage isn't all she'd hoped for with her childish perspective on things: "Things aren't perfect." He tries to comfort her, "It's okay, Betty." She's just glad to know that the debutante Bethany isn't the one who snagged her ex and tries to be gracious, offering him congratulations. But, it's Henry who asserts to Betty that "there is no fresh start." Will this end up being a commentary on Don's life as well as on Betty's?

I lack time to explore Betty's firing of Carla in depth, but what all was going on there? Does Betty somehow see, through Carla's response to Glen coming by, that she's over-reacting to all of this and not being the best mother? Carla has always done more parenting of those kids than Betty. Is Betty feeling that when she asks, "Since when did you decide you're her mother?" I was glad to see Carla assert herself with Betty: "It was a mistake. There's no need for that kind of talk" and "You best stop talking now." Good for you! But for Betty to then refuse the woman a letter of recommendation! Again, Henry has to point out her unreasonableness to her. The honeymoon there seems to be over pretty quickly.

I love that Peggy and Joan finally found a way to be allies over Don's announcement of his engagement. The scene in Joan's office was great as was Joan's carry-over of the time with Peggy into her conversation with Greg: "And he's smiling like a fool, like he's the first man who ever married his secretary." Ouch! As she's carrying Roger's baby after he dumped his first wife to marry his super-young secretary. These working women are finally starting to see what "bullshit" it all is, as Peggy asserts to Joan.

And season four ends with a sappy, rather goofy pop song that might capture the sentiment of Don's situation with Megan ("I've got you, babe"), but only made me think about the singers: an older man who married a younger woman whose career he started promoting. Are Don and Megan Sonny and Cher? What a depressing thought. And, we've got to wait nine months to find out what happens next! Thirteen episode seasons are way too short.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"A Certain Kind of Girl"

Mad Men, Season Four, Episode Twelve, "Blowing Smoke"

A much better episode than last week's. After his almost season-long descent into depression, alcohol abuse, and worse than usual behavior, Don is bouncing back into the take-charge, creative risk-taker who reinvented himself, slid his way into the ad business, and started Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce. Tonight's title alludes to the very first episode of the show, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," which was about the old firm's relationship to the tobacco industry. But, in that episode, Don and his cohorts were blowing smoke at the public to obscure cigarettes' harmful properties. They wanted to show tobacco to be a stronger product than it is. This time, Don uses the unhealthy properties of cigarettes to blow smoke in the public's eyes again--but this time to create the impression that his firm is stronger than it is. When their consultant suggests they go after the account for the new cigarette for women, he tells the partners, "You're a certain kind of girl and tobacco is your...boyfriend." With Don's letter published in the New York Times, he asserts himself in a typically masculine way to grab back the advantage and break up with his girlfriend, the newly feminized tobacco. Before writing the letter, he rips out all the earlier pages of his journal--those pages that he'd said made him feel like a little girl writing in her diary--symbolically ridding himself of the negative events about which he had written. He aims to be back on a stronger path again. Tonight's show also hearkens back to the first of this season in which he kicks out the bathing suit clients, telling them that they need to decide what kind of company they want to be: "comfortable and dead or risky and possibly rich." Like in that segment, Don shows himself with the New York Times ad to opt for 'risky and possibly rich.' We'll see if it pays off for him or if his partners are right.

The show also offers Betty as a smoke blower--literally blowing cigarette smoke in Dr. Edna's office, while she tries to persuade the psychiatrist that Sally still needs her, but she--Betty--is not in need of a shrink. "Why can't I talk to you?" Betty asks, when Dr. Edna tries to refer her to a colleague. The response that "I'm a child psychiatrist" is sadly--and humorously--ironic.

But, Betty's not the only one of Don's exes blowing smoke. I felt so bad seeing Midge as a heroin addict. She was so strong in Season One as Don's bohemian lover. I always liked her a lot. How could she allow herself to get to this place--the dark pit of an apartment, the fellow addict, pimp of a 'husband?' Yet even in her weakened state, she inspires Don. Her painting of the 'after-image,' that asks, according to Mr. Playwright, "What do we see after closing our eyes? What's more real?" is what Don spends time reflecting on before deciding to write the Times letter. He's seemed to ask himself, 'what does the corporate world see of us after they've closed their eyes to SCDP?' The Times ad is an attempt to shift that perception--what a good ad man/woman always does. Though it also feels like there needs to be more to bringing Midge back than just what we got this evening.

Finally, Sally is showing herself to follow well in her parents' footsteps. She's learned to craft a deceptive image of herself to present to her mother, telling Dr. Edna, "She [Betty] doesn't care what the truth is as long as I do what she says. . . . She just doesn't know that I'm mad." At least the psychiatrist reminds Sally of the importance of her anger: "Just as long as you know it." Sally's shown herself to be cynical about popular ideas like heaven, telling a rather surprised Glenn that she doesn't believe in it. She equates it with 'forever,' a concept that she--like her father--finds upsetting. It's interesting that she's chosen the advertising image for Land of Lakes butter as her emblem for what 'forever' means--something never-endingly self-referential. What a bright kid! She's sadly so upset at the end at the prospect of losing her friend, but Betty's instincts about Glenn are not wrong. She just doesn't let Sally know her complicity in a bit of Glenn's 'badness.'

A few closing observations:

--I'm back to disliking Faye again. Her dismissal of Peggy's frank admiration and offer to be friends was rude. She's right, of course, that Peggy doesn't understand ways that Faye, too, has had to play games. But, tonight she seemed to be back closer to the nasty manipulator of the Ponds focus group session earlier in the season. And, "have your girl make reservations?" I don't like Megan, either, after last week, but please. Successful women so condescending to other working women are too much.

--I wonder what happened in London that Lane now has his family with him again. Did he and his wife have a genuine reconciliation? Did his father somehow coerce the situation? What about the young woman whom he had claimed to fall in love with?

--Bert Cooper is finally making his non-participation in the work of the firm official. After the staff have been speculating about who will get fired and Bert comes in to make his farewell, Stan saying "I didn't think they'd start with him" was quite funny.

--The secretaries crying so loudly after getting fired was done in such a caricatured way. It gets Don's notice as the ending song urges, "Trust in me," perhaps highlighting how he feels the weight of everyone who's losing a job, but still comes off as a sexist depiction of them, especially after Danny has just maturely shaken Don's hand, thanking him for the opportunity to have worked there.

--Don paying Pete's share of the fee to the bank was decent, considering what Pete had done when they gave up the defense contract. I liked the subtle bows of the head they gave to each other after Pete found out.

Just one more week--will the final episode of the season take us into a further descent in the lives of characters or will Don's gamble lead them in a different direction?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Insider Information

Mad Men, Season Four, Episode Eleven, "Chinese Wall"

I had never heard the phrase "Chinese Wall" until I went to AMC's website for the title of this week's episode right before it started. I didn't have time to hunt for a definition then, so was just puzzled trying to figure out what it meant in the context of the show. So, I learned something new tonight: accordng to Internet sources, a "Chinese Wall" is a symbolic barrier erected between different parts of a business to avoid conflicts of interest and to protect insider information. After reading that, the episode--which struck me as a bit dull and uninspired, if it did perform the necessary work of dealing with the fallout of Lucky Strike's defection--did seem to be more coherent. In the first instance, there's a Chinese Wall where there shouldn't be one (Roger keeping the "inside info" of Garner's bombshell from his partners); beyond that, there are too many cases of "insider info" bleeding across borders that should have a wall around them.

Roger, sad to say, is not only appearing momentarily pathetic here and there, but we--and he and his colleagues--are starting to realize just how ineffectual and superfluous he's been for years. In last week's lunch scene between Roger and Lee, Jr., we learn that Roger inherited the Lucky Strikes account from his father. He did nothing creative to win it. Tonight Don berates Roger for neglecting the account for ages. "He wouldn't have done that!" Don asserts, pointing at Pete. Everything Roger does in this episode is basically an act--from the charade of a conversation with Lee while his finger is pressed down on the phone so the line is dead to his retreat to a hotel outside Midtown while he's supposed to be in North Carolina to the Hollywood/Broadway exaggerated placement of his hat on his head while leaving Joan's apartment. When we last see him, he's sitting on the couch with the young trophy wife he cares little for, holding his memoirs--a very thin volume--looking miserable as he, I presume, is reflecting on how thin his life truly is. This Lucky Strikes episode is the one time the firm didn't need a Chinese Wall. They shoud have had the time to make a plan so when the news did leak, there might not have been as many phone calls from clients jumping ship. Don thinks he can shore it all up with his words to all the employees: "Nothing should change. Nothing will change." But, can they pull that off?

Don might be jeopardizing the possibilities with his participation in leaks of "insider info" and his growing inability to keep his personal and professional lives separate. He tells Megan, "I can't make any mistakes," and then proceeds to do so. He's already crossed that boundary of having sex with one secretary on his couch at home. Why not here? This after Faye has refused to grant him a leak of insider info from other clients of hers who might be dissatisfied with their ad agencies. She's insisting on boundaries between their work lives and their love life, asserting that the "standard of ethics in this business is low enough." (Ain't that the truth?) When Don says he'd do it for her, she hotly responds, "I'd never ask!" Good for you, I thought. She's going to maintain her focus on being a professional woman first. But, she relents and gives him Heinz as a potential client, putting Don first. Don thanks her, but this is after he's already had the liason with Megan. While Megan assured Don she wouldn't go crying about this the next day--"I just want you now"--there will be complications arising from this. She told Don she wanted to work with him so she could one day have a job like his or Peggy's. She calls herself an "artist" and makes a snarky comment about knowing so much more about him than he knows about her. She wants him to have this "insider info" about herself even though she says she understands that he judges people on their work. "Everything else is sentimental." But, he's certainly laid the groundwork for some big emotional explosion somewhere down the line.

The scene of David Montgomery's funeral was intriguing and seemed important, but I'm not sure in what way. The SCDP men go to the funeral hoping to pounce on some of Montgomery's clients who are morose about having lost their ad man. What they hear are a couple of speakers addressing the dead man's wife and daughter about things he did while working that showed his love for them--more boundaries crossed. Don has a thoughtful look on his face while listening. I wonder why. What's he thinking?

A couple of other observations:

--Is there a stronger symbol of how the mid-1960s gender roles were still being strictly enforced than a man at work getting the news that his wife had just given birth to their daughter, accepting quick congratulations from his colleagues, and then looking at his watch to observe that they'd better get going to their next appointment? Dealing with babies is only for women. Working is for men. Pete tries to put a toe over that line by putting in an appearance at the hospital during Trudy's labor, but his father-in-law tells him to go back to work: "I was at a ballgame when Trudy was born."

--What about Peggy and Abe? That whole scene at the beginning as they're returning from the beach and end up in her bed seemed to come completely out of the blue. Why her sudden infatuation with him?