Sunday, April 27, 2014


Mad Men, Season Seven, Episode Three, "Field Trip"

Poor Bobby Draper. During last week's episode, his sister took a "field trip" with their father, learned a lot (as kids on field trips are supposed to do), and got back to school with a much improved image of, and relationship with, Don. This week, Bobby is so excited--and surprised--that Betty agrees to go on his class' field trip to the farm (after the housekeeper/babysitter nudges her toward it); while on the bus, he is actually getting his mother to listen to him talk about the different kinds of monsters he's aware of and tells his teacher, "We're having a conversation!" Yes, Mrs. "Maybe I'm old fashioned" dons her best farm-visiting peach suit, nylons, and mom heels so she what? Is she feeling inadequate after her lunch with Francine, now the successful travel agent? Does she need to prove that her kids really are the "reward" she needs, as she tells Francine, who had told Betty that she "needed the challenge" of work? Does Betty need the accolades of the teacher and to prove something to her about her parenting? Her "Bobby asked and I couldn't say no" seemed a bit too forced and cheerful. Yet once there at the farm, she proves that she's still just the child she's always been: standing outside the barn sharing a smoke and snarky comments about the teacher with another mom, understandably being annoyed with Bobby for trading away her sandwich for some candy, but then not being able to let it go. The number of times the boy repeated "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" to her is indicative that he habitually sees himself as inadequate in her eyes. The fact that she still holds a grudge about the damn sandwich that evening, ridiculously refusing to eat dinner to punish him ("I was hungry, but now I'm not." Really, Betty?!) reveals that she's not learned anything about how to be a grown-up or a parent. "It was a perfect day and he ruined it," she whines to Henry. I find the lack of development of her character over the years to be disappointing. It's okay if she doesn't end up having the "Feminine Mystique" type awakening of her "problem with no name," but it would be nice if she would evolve a bit as a wife and mother if that's what she's committed to being. Instead she's predictably infuriating in the ways that she is quite the crappy mother. I wish Henry would pick up some of Don's new-found honesty medicine and the next time she throws herself a pity party and whimpers, "Do you think I'm a good mother?" he'd let her have some truth.

Don takes a couple of "field trips" of his own this week: one to California, where he learns that his telling the story of why he lied about his job doesn't go over as well with Megan as it did with Sally, and one back to SC&P. Where his and Megan's marriage will end up after his revelations is unclear, but he was--it seems--attempting to be honest. And, even though I'm not crazy about Megan, I admire how she can stand up to him and express herself. When he tells her he hasn't been sleeping around and hasn't been drinking much, she spits out, "So with a clear head, you got up every day and decided you didn't want to be with me." Later, when he calls her from New York, he asks that she just listen to him (as he wanted Sally to do last week). She tells him to "stop pushing me away with both hands." She knows what he does with his emotional damage, but since he also seems willing to learn about himself now, who knows? Maybe things will change with them.

Peggy, on the other hand, seems genuinely stuck. She's in the office the whole episode (no field trips of any kind for her). She can't get past her resentment at Don for what he did with Johnson and Johnson and to Ted; she claims not to care about awards, but is clearly upset--and justifiably so--that Lou did not submit her and Ted's Rosemary's Baby ad for consideration for the award, while Ginsberg has been nominated; and she clearly is still stuck on Ted. It all just leads her to be mean again.

Then there's Don's last field trip of the episode, back to the office. While at the end of last season, the partners were in a tableaux of Roger, Bert, and Jim with Joan a little off to the side as they put Don on leave, this time Bert, Joan, and Jim are all arrayed on one side of the table, while Roger is with Don on the other. Each of the three opposed to Don direct a stipulation at him, the kinds of stipulations that the brilliant Don Draper should say 'no' to. But instead, he gives them a calculating stare, then pulls a face and shrugs "okay." He's called their bluff. It will be interesting to watch what he does as time goes on to try to "fix" things.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Happy Valentine's Day"

Mad Men, Season Seven, Episode Two, "A Day's Work"

It's not often that an episode of "Mad Men" ends and someone with whom I live walks into the TV room to discover me on the couch actually smiling happily, but tonight that is what happened because our boy Don achieved an incredibly good "day's work." And was paid beautifully for it. Last week, I posited the work that Don kept telling people he had to get back to was the work of Purgatory--working off his sins--after he was able to crawl out of the Inferno at the end of last season, thanks to his truth-telling with his colleagues, Hershey clients, and his children. Tonight he told Sally that he "said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time." But at least he knows enough to keep telling her the truth when she demands it. ("What's the note supposed to say?" Don asks her. "Just tell the truth," she suggests, knowing that he lied about being at his office that day.) After some of his old defensiveness in the car, with Howard Kaylan crooning "Elenore, can I take the time to ask you to speak your mind?" in the background, he hears some of Sally's truth: "Do you know how hard it is for me to go to your apartment?" she asks him. She's afraid she might run into "that woman" and get stuck in the elevator with Sylvia, having to smell her hairspray. She forces Don, again, to recognize that his shitty actions in the past continue to cause his daughter pain. But, instead of running away from it, he stops at a restaurant and, though he can't make her eat at first, does make her listen to his confession. He acknowledges several things that a Don of the past wouldn't have: he didn't want anyone to know he wasn't working, he was ashamed, and he doesn't know what he's going to do to try to "fix" things with his firm. I know this is only the second episode of the new season, so Don has plenty of time to screw things up again, but this is hopeful. After she comes back from calling her classmate and accepts a patty melt, they have a pretty genuine talk about her room mate's mother's funeral: "It was awful," she confesses. "Sarah's mom was yellow." While Don didn't like her going to a funeral, when she tells him she only went so she could go shopping, he says, "I doubt that." He knows her and when she's lying too. "Life goes on," he advises.

Meanwhile, back at the office, Don's soul mate, Peggy, is having a really lousy day's work. After being reminded in the elevator by Stan and Ginsberg that Valentine's Day is coming up and she's got nobody, she spends the day obsessing about Ted--whom she, sadly, has not been able to get over--and misinterprets her secretary's gift of roses from her fiancé as a Valentine from Ted. Like Don, she clearly has some work to do on her personal life, but isn't yet ready to do it. Instead, she is mean and spiteful to Shirley, whose engagement ring evokes Peggy's jealousy. I feel for her that her talents are unappreciated at the office and that she has the misfortune to be in love with a married man--perhaps the only "moral" (as Pete accusingly terms him) married man we've met on this show. Part of her might feel right now that an engaged secretary is really what she'd like to be since a married professional woman (what she really wants to be) still might seem impossible in 1969, but taking it out on those below her in the hierarchy is something I hope she figures out how to stop doing soon. Other working women are not the enemy. She's behaving like the worst of the men.

While Peggy's trying to figure out how to be a woman in love in a "man's job," Don is being feminized--but he oddly seems almost okay with it. Cutler refers to him as "our collective ex-wife who still receives alimony," Dave Wooster kids him about having time for lunch and tells him what he'd like to do on their "second date;" he spends the day watching TV and eating junk food, performs the job of primary parent to Sally, and focuses his energy on his personal relationships. Yet, it's working for him. While Pete Campbell is angry because he doesn't know how he can move up in his job--always wanting more--when Don finally drops Sally off at her school, he receives a much better 'paycheck' than any he ever received from the ad agency for dealing with all their squabbling over accounts: "Happy Valentines Day. I love you." And, as a stunned Don watches her climb the steps, the Zombies sing "The warmth of your love is like the warmth of the sun, and this will be our year, took a long time to come. . . And I won't forget the way you held me up when I was down . . . you gave me faith to go on." Maybe this will be Don's year. And maybe Sally really is his Beatrice. Or maybe he'll get back to messing things up again. But, he's making it part way up Dante's mountain.

A few other observations:

--Glad to see that Joan had a good day's work--and a new office up where she belongs.

--Yeay for Pete's new girlfriend! How's he going to deal with a working woman who won't just drop her work to go to a hotel with him because he's tired of his job at the moment? Her thrill at working a job, the success of which is not in her hands is in such stark contrast to his need to control every aspect of what goes on in his work. Either she'll be good for him or he won't be able to take her for too much longer.

--Bert Cooper's an asshole. 'Nuff said. Okay, just a bit more--such an asshole that he probably doesn't even realize what a bad day's work he's put in. The image at the end of the three women (Joan, Dawn, and Shirley) wandering around with their boxes of stuff, with only the Caucasian Joan "advancing," (Cooper's word) was quite telling.

--That Peggy caused part of that tableaux makes me sad. And Pete said that Ted just mopes around. Is he still pining for Peggy? There's unfinished business there but I wish Peggy would figure out that there's a sisterhood out there.

Oh, well. Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Set Me Free"

Mad Men, Season Seven, Episode One: "Time Zones"

"It's not a time piece; it's a conversation piece," the all-of-a-sudden brilliant--as in Don Draper brilliant--Freddy Rumsfeld pushes on Peggy at the beginning of this episode, which travels through the four time zones of the title and occurrences that are all over the place too; many seem pointless at this juncture, but might be laying groundwork that will make sense later on as the season progresses. What the episode didn't do for me is offer a lot in the way of "conversation pieces," save a few intriguing bits that struck me as more mythic and symbolic. At the end of last season, it seemed that Don Draper might have emerged from the depths of the "Inferno," ready for his journey through Purgatory--a holding pen for waiting, and for working off one's sins. An in-between place, neither there--the final punishment of Hell--nor the there of Heaven. In Dante's poem, Purgatorio is a mountain to be climbed. Less than two months since we last saw him--standing with his children outside the hell of the whorehouse where he spent his youth--Don is in this state of limbo: being paid by SC&P, but not REALLY working for them, yet working off his sins of failed ad campaigns of the year before by plying the "free lancing" Freddy Rumsfeld with his ideas to sell to Peggy Olsen and people at other ad firms.

He is tempted, as others attempt to lure him back to the Inferno: there is the mysterious woman on the plane, who--like Lethe, one of the goddesses of the Underworld, the representation of the River Lethe, river of forgetfulness--offers him a sleeping pill. In myth, Lethe lures souls to drink of her water to forget their earthly lives and selves and hence be forever residents of the Underworld. Don declines her offer of the pill. She tells him of her dead husband, whose remains she has been spreading at Disney Land, and offers to "make [him] feel better." Though tempted; though acknowledging to her that he is a "terrible husband," he declines her offer, saying that he has to get back to work.

There is also L.A., the land of sunshine, of slow motion wives in mini-skirts and sports cars, of new chances, of renewed youth (Pete Campbell with a rakish lock of hair hanging over his forehead has shed his stuffy suits and ties!) It is like the fabled Shangri-La of Frank Capra's "Lost Horizon," the 1937 movie that Don was starting to watch on the new TV that Megan didn't want: "In these days of wars, of rumors of wars, haven't you dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight?" Yet, Shangri-La proved too good to be true, a place that kept people artificially and superficially young, but once they left, death came to claim them. Even though Don doesn't really have a job to get back to in New York, he declines to stay in California with Megan and her ridiculous, superficial agent, but goes back east to 'work.'

A further punishment for Don is his separation from his only soul-mate on the show, fellow sufferer Peggy. She is--or at least feels herself to be--the only defender of, and striver after, quality left at SC&P. Lou--Don's replacement--doesn't appreciate her; after she tells him, "I want to give you my best," he merely sneers, "I don't know, Peggy. I guess I'm just immune to your charms." Stan doesn't think it's worth the trouble to make Lou appreciate good campaign ideas; Peggy yells at him that "you're all a bunch of hacks," willing to go with 'shit.' Meanwhile on the home front, she repeatedly must contend with the literal shit clogging her tenant's toilet. She then must hear her brother-in-law say that he'll make the long trip back to Brooklyn late at night even though he must be back at Peggy's the next morning because "I don't like Anita there alone at the house," when she has no man to care if she is alone in her house (hear that Ted, who dares return from California without a tan!). All this drives her to sink to the floor of her apartment in anguished tears, while a few miles or so away, Don decides not to open a late night bottle of liquor; instead he goes to the broken sliding glass door of his apartment (things don't work in the apartments of purgatory apparently--toilet for Peggy, door for Don), and sits out in the cold January air of the patio in his underwear, shivering, looking like hell, but managing--for this episode at least--to avoid going back there. While some man sings Diana Ross' "set me free, why dontcha babe..."