Posts Tagged ‘Mad Men


And who are you supposed to be?

don-betty-photosLet me be the millionth person to comment on the magnitude of last night’s episode of Mad Men. Betty’s long-awaited confrontation with Don regarding his past was handled even better than I’d imagined and I have immense regard for the show’s writers. Don’s reaction — a painfully realistic emotional/physical crumpling — was pitch perfect. The subsequent scenes between Jon Hamm and January Jones were exceptionally nuanced. (I don’t remember seeing such powerful TV couple interaction since Edie Falco confronted James Gandolfini on The Sopranos. But MM, of course, is way more subtle.)

To push the suspense/unease even further, we were kept wondering about Miss Farrell (Suzanne, actually. Was one of the writers a New York City Ballet fan?), who is waiting in Don’s car during the Big Confrontation.  We finally see her walk dejectedly home with her suitcase.

There were other noteworthy aspects of the episode including a surprisingly scruple-filled Roger Sterling, who turns down the advances of an old flame/possible client because he is happily married (!), and some great scenes between Joan and her loser husband (whose dad, we and Joan find out, had a nervous breakdown. Um hmm.) When a defeated Greg whines, “You don’t know what it’s like to want something your whole life, plan on it and not get it,” she throws a vase at his head in exasperation. Yes! He then joins the Army as a surgeon which makes both of them happy. Not bad for us, either, since Vietnam is looming and Joan would make a lovely widow.

And the ending, with chastened Don accompanying Bets and the kids on their trick-or-treating rounds, was equally strong. Sally and Bobby are dressed as a gypsy and a hobo, respectively. “And who are you supposed to be?,” a neighbor asks Don. Cut to end credits accompanied by the plaintive “Where is Love” from Oliver!, the ultimate orphan story.  Two more episodes left!

(photo: AMC)


Poor Sal

In case anyone’s forgotten how difficult life was for homosexuals before gay rights became an issue, last night’s Mad Men served as yet another reminder. Sure, the show generally exaggerates the whole early ’60s repressed/hedonistic milieu, but Sal’s plight is one plot thread that completely rings true. (And how great is Bryan Blatt as the tormented yet dignified Sal? His character’s panicky attempts to fit into the boys club at work have been some of the show’s most painful scenes.)

Lee and SalAnyway, after major client Lee Garner (Lucky Strike) makes a pass at Sal and is  rebuffed (Sal: “I’m married.” Lee: “So am I.”), Garner pretty much causes the art director to be fired from Sterling Cooper. I was hoping that Don, who knows Sal’s secret, would get all righteous and somehow save the day, but he has his own client troubles (Conrad Hilton) and is in no mood to put himself on the line. “You people,” he sneers, before shaking Sal’s hand and offering faint encouragement for future employment. Cold. But very 1963.

Was Conrad Hilton as awful as he’s portrayed in Mad Men?! Though it doesn’t Don and Connieexactly address the question, this Houston Chronicle piece details the show’s accuracy regarding the legendary hotelier. For Don, he is fast becoming a nightmare client: needy, demanding and power mad. On the one hand he tells Don, “You’re my angel; you’re more than a son to me because you didn’t have what they had and you understand.” But then he withholds praise for a well thought-out campaign because it didn’t deliver on one of his earlier requests (“I want a Hilton on the moon!”). There’s also his scary imperialistic talk about America dominating the rest of the world. So far, Don’s been kowtowing to the big man, but how long can that go on?

Also in this episode: Betty indulges in her crush on Henry Francis, but then backs out when it comes down to actually consummating the affair. Very school-girlish of her, but then she’s hardly a grown-up. Meanwhile, landmark civil rights moments are occurring, including Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech on the radio, which Don tries to turn off, undoubtedly a common reaction among a lot of white people back then. But still disheartening.

Later, Draper housekeeper Carla is listening to radio coverage of the funeral for the four girls killed in Birmingham. ”I hate to say this,” says Betty, ”but this has really made me wonder about civil rights. Maybe it’s not supposed to happen right now.”

As fascinating as this show is (and I remain enthralled), it is becoming more and more depressing.

(photos: AMC)


When in Rome

Last night’s episode of Mad Men mostly took place outside the Sterling Cooper offices with emphasis on Betty and Pete (separately), which probably annoyed some people, but was fine with me.

Betty’s Junior League save-the-local-reservoir campaign gets a big assist when her admirer Henry, who works in the governor’s office, testifies on behalf of the ladies at a hearing. After he manfully takes the floor, forcing the committee to take the plea seriously, you could practically see the cartoon hearts popping out of Betty’s eyes.

betty-don-italyLater in the parking lot, he kisses her through her car window, finally breaking the sexual tension.  Aside from one very uncharacteristic one-night stand, Betty’s been faithful to her husband, so we can’t really condemn her for this transgression. Especially since Don himself has gotten it on with at least 67 women on the past three seasons. Anyway, Betty, whose sexual confidence has gotten a boost, then accompanies Don on a short business trip to Rome. Not only does she speak the language, but she gets her hair done up in a fabulous towering ‘do and even seems to be wearing eyeliner! It’s a tremendous look and she draws the attention of two local lotharios while waiting for Don in a restaurant. She feels so good she doesn’t even discourage them in that prim, tight-lipped way we’ve come to expect. Don arrives and the couple indulges in some flirtatious role-playing before Conrad Hilton joins them. He, of course, is bowled over by Betts; it no doubt just adds to his admiration for Don. Later Don and Betty have amazing vacation sex in their hotel room, as she continues to channel Monica Vitti.

Meanwhile, Pete’s wife is away and he’s home alone napping on the couch and generally at loose ends. Even though we know what a remorseless creep he is, we’re teased by a scene in which he comes to the aid of his neighbor’s cute German au pair who has ruined a dress belonging to her vacationing boss. Pete replaces the dress at Bonwit Teller, where the new manager of the department happens to be ex-SC employee Joan, who’s clearly embarrassed to be found working in retail. Come back to the agency, Joan!  Anyway, when Pete brings the new dress to au pair Gudrun she, citing a boyfriend, doesn’t let him in the apartment. After a few drinks, Pete returns next door, waking Gudrun and insisting that he see the dress on her since he’s taken such pains to help. He basically forces himself on her, which is exactly what we’ve come to expect from him. Eeew.

Later, Pete almost breaks down upon his wife’s return; she suspects that’s he’s been up to something bad. He doesn’t confess, but pleads, “I don’t want you to go away anymore without me.” “Good,” she says.  “I won’t.”

Back in Ossining, Betty has a talk with daughter Sally, who is continuing to show violent tendencies and who also kissed a neighbor boy in her parents’ absence. ‘You don’t kiss boys, boys kiss you,” instructs Betty, which is exactly what I grew up believing. She then talks wistfully about first kisses and you know she’s thinking of Henry and the car window. Though she’s happy to see baby Gene, she’s soon back to her snappish self in the kitchen: “I hate this place. I hate our friends. I hate this town.” Suburban Westchester ain’t Rome, baby.

(photo: AMC)


Bloodbath at Sterling Cooper

I know the blogosphere is atwitter about Mad Men today, what with last night’s Emmy wins and the latest episode being a real doozy. My two cents:

In his acceptance speech for best dramatic series, MM creator Matthew Weiner, who must be feeling pretty fearless right now, had this to say: “It is an amazing time to work in TV. And, I know that everything is changing, but I’m not afraid of it because I feel like all these different media is just more choice and more entertainment. It’s better for the viewers in the end and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Good attitude, Matthew, though I think your current show probably works best in its old-fashioned, non-interactive, weekly-installment TV format. Having said that,  I wouldn’t mind if Mad Men were beamed, hologram-like, into the center of my living room. Seriously, how cool would that be?

don-ep6Anyway, the show this season is blessed — thanks to its Emmy-winning writers — with a multitude of decent plot lines and several were  fused together seamlessly last night:  the British bosses invade Sterling Cooper (on July 4th, no less) for a little company reorganization; Joan resigns from the agency just as her jerk of a husband is passed over for promotion; Don and Betsy’s daughter is deathly afraid of her new brother because he has the same name and face as her dead grandfather; that folksy, down-to-earth guy Don bonded with at Roger’s party turns out to be Conrad Hilton, who wants (as does everyone) a piece of Don.

MM‘s  tone had, of late, settled into a nice groove: Queasily unsettling and darkly Joan_pensivehumorous with occasional pathos, but little action. So it was a bit of a surprise when, in the midst of last night’s office party celebrating Joan’s “retirement,” unsteady secretary Lois drives a lawnmower — courtesy of new client John Deere — into young, on-the-rise British ad exec Guy MacKendrick, virtually severing his foot. (What is this, Breaking Bad?) So much for impressing Sterling Cooper’s owners with smooth American professionalism! Though the resourceful, take-charge Joan saves poor Guy’s life, if not his foot, with her quick thinking (tourniquet!), the accident was most certainly not good form. Also, MacKendrick will never work in advertising again, according to his superiors, because he can no longer play golf. Nice chaps.

roger-barberAfterward, as blood is wiped off walls and shaken employees huddle, speaking in hushed tones, a typically unruffled Roger Sterling strolls into Paul Kinsey’s office, exclaiming, “Jesus! It’s like Iwo Jima out there!”

“He might lose his foot,” Kinsey intones solemnly, to which Roger deadpans, “Right when he got it in the door.”  I just love him sometimes.

There was also an rare collegial moment between Don and Joan as they sit in the hospital waiting room. Both characters, in their own very different ways, have become voices of conscience and reason amidst the greed, weakness and chaos. Interesting to imagine them as a couple…

I don’t know how long Weiner and team can keep up the amazing work, but I couldn’t be happier with the show.


The good stuff

My weekend recuperation from a root canal afforded me plenty of time to catch up on movies via both Netflix and TV. It was a nice respite from reality shows. When it comes to film, I’m much more of a snob, so my viewing pleasures were totally guilt-free.

Winters_LolitaI’d never seen Kubrick’s Lolita in its entirety so that was a nice surprise. I knew it had an element of humor but it was way funnier than I expected. Such a solid cast: Shelley Winters was predictably amazing (I kind of love her) and Sue Lyon was much more than just a random nymphet. Peter Sellers as the ridiculous, scheming Quilty was almost a cartoon, but totally enjoyable; and James Mason’s Humbert was fantastically hammy. It all seemed very modern for 1962, but that’s Kubrick for you.

I wound up crying during some of the dancing portions of Bringing Balanchine Back a documentary about New York City Ballet’s return to Russia in 2003 (last visit: 1972). City Ballet is my favorite ballet company in the world and Balanchine my favorite choreographer hands-down. The company didn’t know how they would be received in St. Petersburg — though I doubt they thought it would be worse than their Cold War visit  — so the Russian audiences’ wildly enthusiastic response was gratifying. That didn’t make me cry as much as the choreography itself. Those dances (“Serenade,” “Symphony in C,” “Agon”) are what made me fall in love with ballet in the first place.

Another movie that made me cry: Offside, Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s feature about a bunch of girls who dress as boys in order to get into a soccer stadium for a World Cup-qualifying match. Funny, sad, maddening and deeply human. The girls especially were fantastic: scrappy, determined and irreverent. All in all, a tremendously satisfying movie. And talk about naturalistic: Panahi  apparently shot the film inside Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on the day of the actual match between Iran and Bahrain to determine which country would qualify for the 2006 World Cup! Had the match gone the other way, the movie would have had an entirely different ending. Unreal.

OK, back to TV, but good TV: What a splendid episode of Mad Men this week: joan-accordionPeggy gets high on marijuana and it puts her “in a really good place”! (Pot was invented for people like Peggy!); Joan sings a kittenish “C’est Magnifique,” accompanying herself on accordion (the instrument never looked sexier), at a dinner party for her husband’s boss! There were also interesting plot threads involving Don and Betty’s kid stealing $5 from her addled-but-still-commanding grandad, and a country club party thrown by Roger and his new (ex-Sterling Cooper secretary) wife, who gets drunk. One of the series’ best episodes, I think.

[Later, still thinking about the episode]…And!  I almost forgot Roger Sterling’s hugely offensive blackface performance at the party! And Pete Campbell and his wife executing a mean Charleston, totally showing off. Lots of strange performances  this week.

May 2018
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