I Just Think It’s Odd That the Bear is Talking

Note: Spoilers up to present episodes.

Re-watching Mad Men, S01E05: “5G ”

Just when you thought it was safe to appear in Advertising Age, Adam Whitman shows up to open the floodgates of resentment Don Draper/Dick Whitman has been holding in towards Abigail and Uncle Mac.  The uncomfortable scene at the coffee shop and later at the hotel smartly shows the differences between the two men, both physically and in attitude.

What was that about more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich?  Cosgrove at least hasn’t failed, to the chagrin of Pete Campbell, who uses Trudy to forward his strange mixture of entitlement and ambition.  At some point, I’m going to have a countdown of the Worst of Pete Campbell to see just which of his actions are the most odious.

Speaking of expectations gone awry, Midge is unhappy with Don, Betty is unhappy with Don’s office, Peggy is unhappy with Don’s office, Pete is unhappy with Boy’s Life.  Most of the emphasis is placed on Don’s storyline with Adam.  If Pete trying to pimp out Trudy to beat Cosgrove is terrible, how bad is Don chasing his own brother out of town with money?  (I guess the fourth season reminds us that this is how Don smoothes things over.)  There are many more examples of Don ignoring or trying to ignore his past throughout the series, but I forgot how really shocking and callous this one seems.  It’s interesting, too, to think about Don Draper in light of his relationship with Anna Draper—when they’re together in California he’s free to be Dick Whitman.  With both his parents dead and Adam just a well-meaning janitor, I can’t help but wonder what the harm would have been in keeping Adam around.  Not that Don Draper always considers people’s feelings, but he’s almost goofy with Anna, giddy to leave the scowling and the presentations behind, or giddy with new love for Betty.  Maybe Adam just isn’t far enough away from the farm, from the origins of Dick Whitman the scared little boy, and Anna knows just the Dick Whitman of the moment instead of the Dick Whitman of the hateful past.

Observations

I’d love to see how anything written by Kinsey would be received in literary circles.

This hour’s Tao of Draper

“I have a life and it only goes in one direction: forward.”

Wining and Whoring

Re-watching Mad Men, S01E04: “New Amsterdam ”

“Even old New York was once New Amsterdam/Why they changed it I can’t say/People just liked it better that way”—“Istanbul,” The Four Lads.

Naturally, it’s impossible to talk about Mad Men (or probably any TV show) without discussing the way the audience’s expectations are constantly overturned.  Mad Men hates to pin down its characters.  For example, in the first episode, we’re lead to believe Don is swingin’ single only to discover—gasp!—he’s married.  Most of the show’s statements about the plasticity of identity are about Don or maybe Peggy, but today it’s all about those Campbells.

In New Amsterdam, we find out there’s more to Pete Campbell than meets the eye.  He’s still an old money, sniveling worm, but he’s not just that anymore. And it’s tragic, too, that he must just be in advertising because he loves it.  But there’s a lot of pressure to live up to the Dykeman name, but also has to branch off on his own—and it sounds like his financial survival depends on it thanks to his grand-pappy.  Sometimes he needs to be Peter Dykeman Campbell to feed regular old Pete Campbell’s ambition, and even though that name does afford him a lot (like not getting hit by the Sterling-Coo door on the way out), he doesn’t seem to like it.  That scene at the end when Trudy tells the story of ancestral Dykemans fighting Hessians is almost surreal to listen to, and also to see the old ladies excited to learn where someone who knew Isaac Roosevelt is buried.  “Backbone of America” indeed.

And best of all, Pete’s frustration leads him to dare to talk back to Don.  Of course, Don doesn’t give a shit about Campbell, Dykeman or not, and we get a great cry face out of it when he opens his can of self-made whoop-ass.  But like Bert Cooper’s Swiss watch of New York, Don and Sterling-Cooper need Peter Dykeman Campbell the way that Pete needs both Dykeman and Campbell.  Status quo for now, even though no one likes it.

Remember Pete Campbell's last day? It's today.

 

I love the differences between the Pete and Trudy’s respective families—can you imagine what it must have been like for Pete as a kid with all that covered furniture in those big empty rooms, waiting for the same summer every year on Fisher’s Island?  No wonder no one told him he’s good with people.  Of course, around Trudy’s parents no one could tell either; Trudy practically Draper-izes her parents while Pete is left to polite refusals.  I wonder if Trudy’s family is new money; she certainly plays the game well—and knows her society players—but no one’s excited to have a Trudy in the building (I’m not sure we ever know her maiden name, which is a pretty big statement to me).  She could be old money and just not as old as the Dykemans—but it seems as though few are.

Speaking of other people’s families, this is that fateful episode where Glenn Bishop establishes himself as the ultimate pre-pubescent creepster.  Why does Betty give into his weird demand?  It’s interesting to see her interact with the rest of the Bishop family before this, because these moments show Betty as almost unfit for the world of adults.  She can gossip with Francine and make nice with Peggy, but she seems shy and uncomfortable around Helen and afraid of Helen’s ex-husband.  She seems at ease with Glenn, and even kind of smiles as she cuts off her hair to give to him.  And her psychiatry session reinforces this point, that she oversimplifies Helen’s marital situation and makes it about her.  “The person taking care of [Glenn] isn’t giving him what he needs,” she says.  Who do we really think she’s talking about, hmmm?

Observations

Betty’s sympathetic line after hearing the whole story about Helen Bishop’s ugly divorce: “I’ve always loved that house.”  Good one, Birdie.

It cracks me up that the Campbell family names include “Skip” and “Bud.”

This hour’s Tao of Draper

“Sterling-Cooper has more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich.”

[Robert] Morse’s Code

“You’re going to need a stronger stomach if you’re going to be back in the kitchen seeing how the sausage is made.”

Rib-Eye in the Pan With Butter

Re-watching Mad Men, S01E03: “Marriage of Figaro ”

I have to admit it.  I love Pete Campbell.  He’s old money, he’s slimy, he’s a sniveling little bitch, and I adore him and his complete incapability to be sensitive, respectful or even likeable.  Some of the best one-liners on the show are either to or about Pete.  Now he’s Mr. Married and making sure Peggy knows it—and that Don knows it in the most awkward private moment since Betty vs. Mona “Would you mind touching me up?”

Sterling-Coo is abuzz with marriage talk.  It’s integral to the break-room dish about Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which is, quoth Joan, “another testament to how most people think marriage is a joke.”  And then Harry Crane makes a joke about marriage just before Rachel Menken’s entrance.  Harry and Pete talk about the challenges of being able to only flirt with women.

Marriage is a either a roadblock or a stepping-stool to the characters of Mad Men.  When Rachel finds out that there’s already a Mrs. Draper, she backs up off it after a very enjoyable afternoon filled with free cufflinks (my, what a chivalrous emblem) and German shepherds. Campbell can’t show up for any more booty calls, but he can string Peggy along on one hand with comments like “you look nice”, and on the other he can try to score an invite with the higher-ups, or at least commiserate with the Lollipop Kid and get whatever he wants for dinner.

And then, of course, is the grimmest birthday party in all of Christendom, full of unresolved conflict from episode two about men and women co-existing in the same space. In the married world of the birthday party, the men and the women have their prescribed routines; the women talk about their husbands and families, the men disparage their wives.   But for all the unhappiness that married life seems bring the characters on Mad Men, Helen Bishop is Public Enemy #1 because she threatens to upset the status quo.

With the freewheelin’ side of Don Draper cock-blocked, it’s beers in the garage and drip-drying in the powder room as he constructs a playhouse (and who can judge him for drinking so much in the presence of such a heavy metaphor?).  Don Draper belongs to a suburban neighborhood, to a wife and children, but it’s as though he’s only just realizing the limitations of that choice either because of incident on the train or on the roof.  It’s interesting that Don cracks down on Kinsey’s lack of laxative copy with the phrase: “Part of this job is doing things you don’t want to do.”  But when it comes to life out of Manhattan, it’s better to get tanked and take a nap by the railroad tracks than follow Betty’s demands.  It’s Don Draper’s first disappearing act (on camera), and Betty’s quiet stalk back to the kitchen without a word is interesting to think about compared to the disastrous Around-the-World dinner party in Season 2.

One of my favorite gags in this episode is the children “playing house” and saying things like “I don’t like your tone.”  Of course, it just drives Joan’s point home in a rather depressing way.  These kids are already gearing up for the life their parents are leading, where they supposedly have the ever-present “all this” but feel empty, being bored by plays or shushing dead-wife jokes or gossiping about divorcées.  Perhaps Betty says nothing about the addition of Polly to the family because she doesn’t have the stones yet, or maybe it’s that she, like Rachel Menken, understands that sometimes a little girl can only rely on a dog.

Observations

Pete, “Chinamen” is not the preferred nomenclature.  “Asian-American, please.”

One line that has always confused me is Francine’s, “Want company [in the shower]?” innuendo.  It’s so straightforward and tacky, even coming from Francine.

This is the first substantial appearance of Sally Draper, easily the saddest character on the show.  And Glenn Bishop—the creepiest.

The wives’ fixation on Helen’s taking walks makes me wonder if it’s that they’re incredibly petty or badly written.

This hour’s Tao of Draper

Rachel Menken: “Something about the way you talk always restores my confidence.”  Don Draper: “I have a deep voice.”

“Let me remind you ‘safe’ and ‘reliable’ would make me doze off if I wasn’t so blighted by the scourge of constipation.”  What can I say?  It’s a largely silent episode.

The Boy Re-Defines Lack of Imagination

Re-watching Mad Men, S01E02: “Ladies Room”

Joan Holloway is to advertising what Tom Hanks is to baseball: There is no crying at Sterling-Cooper—or it’s all relegated to the bathroom.  As you should know from its very duh title, this episode is all about Mad Men’s ladies and what they do in their most private of spaces, from the ladies’ room attendants to those single steno pool-ers to desperate housewives like Betty, Mona and Francine.  Even nouveau-BoHo Midge, assertive as she is, has to answer for her sudden change of heart about the television (and her wigs) and she gets treated like some sort of guinea pig for Right Guard.  Not that Don really mistreats or maligns Midge; I think they’re pretty like-minded, and she even gets to push him around a bit.  But Midge follows Don’s rules the way that Don follows Midge’s rules.  Unlike Betty, she can perform her role without any pesky hysteria.

But of course, there’s also how the men think of and treat the women in their lives.  Beyond the shameless passes thrown by the Proto-Bros, the less-odious Kinsey flirtation (does the “Ukranian food” line ever get him laid?), and the lasting stench of Pete Campbell form a Great Triumverate of sexual harassment that has Peggy in fits.  This episode isn’t very subtle about the cultural attitudes regarding women’s place in society even when there aren’t any women in the room—specifically the moment where the other guys wrestle down Cosgrove with the line, “just pretend it’s prom night; you can be the girl” or even “brassiere account—turns out we can’t sell them to men.”  The men selling products to women think of them as a joke—a trope so common on this show there’s not much to do but point it out.

But Betty’s nerve problem suddenly makes female frivolities Don’s concern.  I don’t mean to sound callous; it’s just strange to see Betty’s vulnerability without a façade of ice.  This is before her children fear her or even defy her.  She’s just lonely, and kind of pathetic.  She blurts out that her mother has died to Mona just to tell someone, and it’s pretty obvious that Mona is unsympathetic to her plight.  Betty has always struck me as a pretty weak character among a lot of stronger characters.  She eventually learns use her pettiness to more manipulative ends, but so far she’s pretty dull.

This episode is just so much better than the first episode.  It’s still a little on the nose, especially with Don quizzing his clueless crew about what’s eating him on the home front and in the office.  Not a lot happens plot-wise (hence the paltriness of this review), but I still enjoy the setup, especially the way that it sets up the divergent paths of Peggy and Betty.  For all her frustrations, Peggy’s life seems open to a bunch of possibilities—and not just the possibility of Kinsey or Cosgrove or even whether she’ll become the office whore, but rather “You mean women can be copy writers?”  Meanwhile, Betty’s life where she has “all of this” is more and more closed off, to the point where her neuroses and fixations have translated into disturbing physical manifestations, and that monologue about Sally’s scars.  Jon Hamm’s disturbed face is priceless and very believable.

Bitches be crazy.

Observations

“An ad man who doesn’t like to talk about himself? I think I might cry.”  As someone who has seen your future, Roger, I can tell you that you won’t cry but will throw a tantrum about this same issue in Season 4.

“Just think of me as a baby in a basket.”  We learn in the Season 3 premiere that this is precisely how Don thinks of himself.  Huzzah for consistency.

I love the sight gag of the aerosol blowtorch.  It’s a lighter, more carefree Mad Men that I miss sometimes.

 

“I’ve still got my novel.”  Kinsey, you douche.

This hour’s Tao of Draper

“Jesus, Bets, it’s like politics, religion or sex.  Why talk about it?”

“Some people think of the future and it upsets them.  They see a rocket; they start building a bomb shelter.  I don’t think it’s ridiculous to assume we’re looking for other planets because this one will end.  Who is this moron flying around space? I mean, he pees in his pants.”

A Way to Sell Nylons

Re-watching Mad Men, S01E01: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”

Note: I’ve been very negligent to my poor blog.  I don’t want to say that the Twilight idea is totally dead, but for now, I’m jerking it back to life with the defibrillator that is Don Draper.

Mad Men is a show that I go back to re-watch from the beginning a lot.  I actually bought the first two seasons on iTunes almost two years ago, and before I put them on my external I’d watched some of the episodes nine or ten times, and all of them at least five or six.  And every single time, the show seems more and more divorced from the content of the first episode.  The actors are wooden as though the show’s original concept was simply an edgier version of an old movie, Peggy’s bangs are horrendous, and most of the dialogue screams too harshly about either what the characters are like or how much the culture has changed since 1960.  Examples: Pete Campbell is douche and a brown-noser!  Kinsey and Cosgrove are horn-dogs!  Sal is gay! The stripper is a fatty!  Things used to be cheaper—isn’t that funny?  Sexism and racism abound! HA HA HA WEREN’T THINGS DIFFERENT THEN.

Pilots are hard to deal with on TV shows because they’re part of a continuum that is never seen in its entirety.  Maybe it’s just easier to deal with when the title of the episode is the simple, pity-inducing “Pilot.”  Keep in mind that a failure on Mad Men is still practically Emmy-grade.  But when I watch this episode, I cease to wonder why people I’ve known have given up on the series after this first episode.  It has that “Pilot” quality that all other pilots have.  There are weird characters that sink without a trace (auf Wiedersehen, Dr. von Germanlady).  A lot of the characters’ behavior seems very, well…out of character.  For example, Don Draper is not only insecure, but he’s fishing for market research from the public, from a black man in the service industry for that matter.  He normally doesn’t do that—and I’m thinking specifically of episodes in Season 3 when Pete wants to snag the “Negro market.” It’s possible that these little wrinkles in the fabric just have to do with the particular day in which they take place.  Maybe it’s just that Draper is having an incredibly “off” day, but this sort of anxiety about something as simple as a pitch never resurfaces to my recollection.  And after this one hiccup, he recovers, is revered as the hero of advertising that Midge makes him out to be in the beginning, and never falters like this again.  He’s never out of ideas when he’s on stage.  And Joan’s line about the typewriter being “easy enough for a woman” isn’t totally out of character, but it’s weird to see Joan pandering to Peggy’s girlish insecurities when normally she does not put up with that.   Although, to be fair, we never see Joan show anyone like Peggy the ropes of Sterling-Coo the same way.

What’s odd about this episode to me is that the pilot episode of a TV show normally takes place when a major change takes place in the protagonists’ life.  Buffy moves to Sunnydale, Agent Scully gets assigned to the X-files, Angela Chase ditches Sharon Cherski for Rayanne Graff and Ricki, or Lindsey Weir ditches Millie and the Mathletes for Desario and the burnouts.  This isn’t always true of TV shows such as Big Love, in which the pilot serves to acclimate the audience to a certain way of life.  Some shows have some of both: I think Dexter and Firefly are like this.  These pilots demonstrate how Dexter goes through life as a serial killer and how Serenity’s crew leads its outlaw life, and though the Ice Truck Killer and Simon and River are catalysts to new plot points, they don’t mark such profound transitions as the dissolution of Angela and Sharon’s friendship.  When all is said and done, I think Smoke Gets in Your Eyes seems more like this latter category—we see the status quo of 1960 Manhattan through Draper, but we also experience it anew through Peggy—but it isn’t as graceful an execution as I would come to expect from Don Draper & Co.

Observations:

“If a girl’s going to shake it in my face, I want to be alone so I can do something about it.”  Oh god, Sal.  If your lines had continued in this vein, you would have been lynched in the middle of the office far before Season 3.

“Ready to go sweet-talk some retail Jews?” Mad Men reminds me that there wasn’t always a time when Bob Dylan could have gone by “Robert Zimmerman” if he wanted to, and that doesn’t make him a phony, Joni Mitchell.

“Advertising is a very small world, and when you do something like malign the reputation of a girl from the steno pool on her first day, you make it even smaller.  Keep it up, and even if you do get my job, you’ll never run this place.  You’ll die in that corner office a mid-level executive with a little bit of hair who women go home with out of pity.  Wanna know why?  Because no one will like you.”  This always makes me laugh.  The over-expository dialogue really serves the Pete-Don animosity.  See also: “Let’s take it a little slower; I don’t want to wake up pregnant,” followed by Pete’s muttering “Fuck you”—a phrase that has never appeared since.

Remember when it was a “big reveal” that Don was actually married?  Those were the salad days.

This hour’s Tao of Draper:

“You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts but I never forget.  I’m living like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one.”