Archive | April, 2014

Mad Men “Field Trip”: Review & Speculation

28 Apr

Spoilers Ahead.

Oh man, even though there is as of now only ten episodes of Mad Men left; it’s still hard to believe how slow and quick the show can move at almost simultaneous intervals.  Since Mad Men runs so deep on symbolism, you run the risk of almost always over-thinking every single camera shot and Don Draper eyeroll, but last night’s episode set the tempo pretty well for the remainder of the show’s run.

At least, so we think.

Anyway, let’s do a brief recap.  Don Draper starts the episode off in roughly the same position we have seen him in the early-going of Season 7, well-dressed when speaking to individuals but for all intents and purposes; seemingly alone.  He does appear to be getting some of his mojo back though as he sternly demands Dawn to continue doing his bidding when it comes to ordering more letterhead until receiving a phone call from Megan’s casting friend that we were introduced to in episode one.

Apparently Megan is having a near-breakdown in California and Don immediately rushes to California.  At first we are expecting Don to play the role of good husband, until of course after he has reunion sex with Megan; he treats her like some bizarre daughter-wife.  I’m not a big fan of the Megan character, but there are times when I find her sympathetic.  She moved out to L.A. not to necessarily bolster her acting career but to support Don and have a new start.  Then she sees her husband only when he feels like lecturing her or trying to exert some control when she’s by herself out there and not really setting the world on fire.

After being pressed by Megan, Don comes clean and admits he was placed on leave by SC&P.  After a tense conversation, Megan all-but-separates with Don and orders him to go back to NYC and leave her alone.  Don looks crushed, and there is a big part of you that feels for him as Jon Hamm somehow makes this bastard sympathetic, but nonetheless retreats and entertains a new job offer from a rival ad firm.

It seems that Don is finding his professional groove again as he immediately gets hit on by a blonde woman (who I swore looked familiar) and we are led to initially believe that he’s knocking on her door when Roger Sterling answers instead.  Don asserts himself and demands to know if he can be rehired and while Roger has no problem admitting why Don was placed on immediate leave (he was a trainwreck); he tells him the words he wants to hear.  “Come back Monday” followed by an “I miss you” as the crowd goes AWWWWWW.

It’s early, but I nominate Don’s return to the office to be the best scene of Season 7.  You can feel how awkward the situation is as Don notices that while the office has only mildly changed (aka the names on some of the doors), it has forgotten about him.  The specter of Don Draper might always be around but considering all the hustle and bustle in the office; he’s not going to get the “WELCOME BACK” that he wants.

Don continues to slo-mo walk and part of you almost thinks its him fantasizing about what the day will be like (the scene was mixed with shots of a nervous Don looking at his watch in his apartment) until he runs into Lou Avery and the two of them have about as cringeworthy of a conversation as they could have.  They both know why Don is here, to get his job back.

But one thing, Don’s expecting a partner’s meeting and Roger isn’t in yet.  So Don gets stopped by Ginsberg when he seems to be on the cusp of leaving to check out their newest campaign and offer his two cents.  Don sees some of the old CC&G team who don’t seem that upset to see him and even Stan seems to have slightly forgiven Don after being undercut by him.  Of course the only person who genuinely seems thrilled to see Don is Ken Cosgrove (retaining his title as most sincere person in the office) who gamely reminds us of Don’s brilliant carousel pitch of Season 1.

Joan, who was with Ken, immediately goes to Cooper’s office and tells him of their new visitor and after Rogerdrunkenly (but level-headed) walks in, there is an emergency meeting of the partners (with Cutler speaking for Ted and Sterling for Pete).  Roger has the best solution to this mess, and he seems to be prepared for this moment as he explains that while Don is expensive; it’s cheaper to retain him than to buy him out.  The partners seem to begrudgingly agree after some terse moments but Roger wins as Don is called into the office.

Don tries to play it cool but the partners immediately tell him that he can return (with the risk of immediate termination) but there are some stipulations.  Don can’t be left alone with a client, he must stay on a script (to be approved before any meeting), he cannot drink alcohol unless its for client hospitality and most importantly, he has to report to Lou.

Yes, that’s right, a senior partner who was instrumental in the creation of the agency (and its merger) has to be a glorified junior copywriter.  Don looks at the contract, smirks and goes “Ok” as Jimi Hendrix takes us home.

Unfortunately, there was a subplot one of which I think is perhaps one of the most useless side plots of Mad Men’s history.  Bobby Draper wants to go on a field trip and Betty, looking to play the role of eager mother, accepts which makes her middle child beam.  Apparently this field trip is to a barn (“where they grow eggs!”, Bobby is a fucking idiot) and uptown Betty seems to be enjoying some mother-son time on the bus trip over.  Of course, she meets Bobby’s teacher who wears a blouse that is not quite buttoned all the way up and as the bus lurches forward; she almost spills out.  This leads to a sarcastic comment by Betty who begins to gossip about the teacher to another mother.

As Betty gamely drinks milk straight from the udder, she finds a picnic blanket set out for her and Bobby.  Bobby, being the genius that he is, traded two sandwiches to a girl who had none in exchange for gumdrops.  Dammit Bobby.  Betty then passively aggressively makes Bobby feel like shit and the arc ends with Betty snuggling Gene (who is permanently two) and asking Henry, if she’s a good mother.

In other character news, Harry is back and demands a computer, while having a mini standoff with Cutler.  Peggy blasts Don and continues her descent into personal, professional and emotional frustration.  She’s basically Don.  Dawn seems overwhelmed by her new job but is still the ultimate team player for even somewhat helping Don.  Wonder if that will payoff down the line.

Speculation:

Well, how long do Don and Lou work in harmony if they ever do?  Lou is going to be immediately threatened and be sure to stifle any creative input from Don just like he does Peggy.  The only difference is Don actually could fire Lou if he wanted (he would risk immediate termination though) and Lou is an asshat who is permanently complaining.

Don being in this position is very interesting.  He immediately accepted it, probably to tell the partners that they will have to remove him before he voluntarily leaves, and all he has to do is be a team player.  But he’s Don Draper, there’s no way this show ends with him being Dick Whitman to Lou Avery and happily reporting to him.  Maybe Don kills Lou and takes his identity.

The symbolism is crazy though as this sounds like a suicide mission and lo and behold, Don gets Lane’s old office.  I also wonder how Ted and Pete will react to the news of Don’s return, I’m sure part of them wishes he were in California with them as Pete is underrepresented and Ted is on autopilot still.  Will Peggy team up with Don or will she continue to cast him aside?  Or better yet, will Peggy be treated better or worse by Lou (in an effort to get her on his side as opposed to Don’s)?  Where do Ginsberg and Stan play into this?

I still like my idea that Lou cripples the company enough with uninventive creative that they are forced to promote Don back.  But the current arrangement will not last past an episode or two as the show begins to wind down.  We are almost halfway done this abbreviated season already.

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Mad Men “A Day’s Work”: Reviews & Speculation

22 Apr

I was a bit late to Mad Men.  While I saw a small handful of episodes throughout the series run, I never fully watched the show until I got into Netflix this past February.  Now I am of course addicted and it’s easily my favorite show on television right now.  With Part 1 of Season 7 now currently underway, I thought it would be a fun little project to recap episodes and prognosticate on the future.  Spoilers are ahead if you are still catching up so this is your warning to turn back now.  

I’m not someone that is great with recapping episodes, especially on a show such as Mad Men, because frankly; I miss the little things to easily.  When it comes to symbolism; I’m usually the guy that reads the recaps online and then figures out what I missed.  I’m good with subtle hints (aka Season 5’s fascination with suicide) but when it comes to the REALLY subtle (Megan Draper’s Sharon Tate shirt for example); I’m practically useless.

So these recaps will be very basic.  I will structure what you needed to know but I will offer my opinions on what I believe what will happen in the future.  Mad Men is a slow burn but it seems that whenever you get settled; Matthew Weiner throws a Clayton Kershaw curveball at you and you are left with your mouth agape.

Season 7’s second episode sees some pretty big things.  The working title could very well have been Don Falling, Dawn Rising or “mad men” as society continues to change at a breakneck pace with the ascension of minorities and women while the old guard begins to lose its grip on SC&P.

Let’s of course begin with Don.  Last we saw Don, he was shivering cold and lone on his patio staring at a door that wouldn’t close.  It was chilling and while Don Draper is the 3x winner of “Dirtbag of the Year” (5x winner is Duck Phillips and the douche that had Alexis Bledel sent to electroshock therapy), it was awful to see him in that position.  Nothing is worse than seeing someone seemingly beyond the point of repair.

Don starts the episode off pretty similarly to where we left him in the season debut.  He’s rationing his alcohol (so far, so good?), eating Ritz crackers and watching reruns of sitcoms.  I like to imagine that Weiner is telling us that alcoholism/depression are diseases as all of Don’s actions are that of an ill person.  He’s in his robe, watching TV and isolating himself fairly well.  He doesn’t appear to have any contact with anyone other than Freddy Rumson and the occasional Megan call.

In what I think his Don’s saddest moment of the season, we see him getting dressed up in his familiar power suit.  In the previews, this seemed to mean a return to SC&P.  Not quite.  We see that Dawn frequents him and keeps him updated on the work situation.  Don tries to keep up his illusion of being put together but he’s cracking and while Dawn remains loyal; she might not stay that way (more on that later).

Thankfully we have a Sally Draper sighting!  Sally continues to showcase herself as one of the few adults on this show (even only being what, 14 or 15?) and Kiernan Shipka deserves some Emmy recognition for her growth on the show.  It’s amazing how well she can pull off traits of her mother and how she seems to be the only person who can disarm Don so easily.

Sally, however, continues to see how much of a facade her father truly is as she wanders into the office only to see the horrific Lou Avery sitting in her father’s office.  Lou is, understandably (unfortunately), taken aback and really has no idea what he is to do as Dawn isn’t in the office (presumably at Don’s apartment).  Sally looks for Joan for some clarity but it does appear that she has the sneaking suspicion that her father is full of lies (SURPRISE) and this is only another embarrassing moment for her.

Sally continues to show a bit of teenage rebellion by talking about “Betty” and smoking cigarettes.  In fact, I think she’s beginning to really sound like her mother at a younger age.  I can only harken back to when Betty and her brother were discussing what to do with Gene and her brother subtlety mention how Betty wasn’t always so fond of her father and it’s clear that Betty and her mother weren’t on their best terms.  Sally seems to be going down a similar path in that she might not have the best relationship with her father but she seems to identify with him as opposed to Betty.

What drives this point home soon is Sally bringing up Don’s affair (that she horrifically walked in on) and her reaction to how Don dismissively said that Sally reminded him of Betty.  However, the awkward quality time turned heartwarming as our first real emotional moment of the season comes when Sally tells her father “I love you”.

Meanwhile back in the office, Lou continues to piss everyone off and seems to be very content with doing a marginal job in order to keep his job.  Ted is on autopilot (get it?  cause pilot.) and seemingly on the verge of some type of breakdown and Cutler appears to be the only partner running the show as Roger continues to check out, Pete is back to being the butt of everyone’s jokes and Bert is increasingly out-of-touch.

But while the men are suffering, the women are rising with the exception of Peggy.  Peggy sees that flowers were sent to her and assumes it was Ted trying to get back into her good graces while not-so-smoothly telling him off through his secretary.  It is revealed that the flowers were actually for her secretary, Shirley, and Peggy berates her in a way that is uncomfortable.

But it’s obvious isn’t it?  Peggy is not the rising star.  Her two mentors are no longer in NYC, Ginsburg seems to be her match creatively, Stan and her aren’t doing too hot, she’s stuck in a shitty apartment because Abe is the reason why people hate liberals (which makes sense, since I did like him originally) and Joan gets a promotion to her own office upstairs as she is no longer in charge of managing the secretaries; a task that is given to Dawn.

After getting complaints from Peggy and Lou about their secretaries, it seems Joan finally found something that works.  Then Bert Cooper reminds us he was born in 1900 (or earlier) as he calmly suggests that Joan move the “colored girl” out of reception as it could deter clients.  Ouch.  After Joan somehow rectifies it (Shirley goes to Lou), she is promoted by Cutler and Dawn moves right in.

The rise of Dawn (or dawn of Dawn) is important.  Dawn does seem to be deserving.  She’s a loyal team player, she is very competent at her job and even though Joan saw it as a punishment; she was in charge of the supply closet and timecards.  She is easily the most likely secretary to get a promotion and we are starting to see the new guard ebb away at the old guard.

Peggy originally looked like a pioneer but it seems that she might’ve just been a bit too ahead of her time.  Peggy was on the up right before society was changing and she’s in a position where she simply has nowhere else to go as of now.  Joan is a partner who seems to be on the verge of handling accounts more and more often, Dawn is now getting managerial experience and who knows what happens next.

There was a time that Peggy was hanging with TIME Magazine types and seemed close to eventually being a partner.  Now?  She’s under a creative director that openly despises her and it’s not like her and Joan are tight.  Her confidants were Stan and Ken, who both seem to be either apathetic to her or too stressed for their own good.  Pete is in California with Ted and Don is…wherever.  Hell even Megan is out of the picture.

Speculation:

Now it’s time to speculate.  Don needs an in and Peggy needs someone out.  I think they will obviously team up together.

I also think that Weiner is setting us up for the fact that the old guard will be replaced by a new guard; headlined by women, African-Americans, Jews and maybe Don.  I feel like this whole series is predicated on Don trying to evolve with the times while trying to come to grips with himself.  Maybe he becomes the one to lead the charge after being rejected by the establishment after becoming one?

Cutler is the man to watch because he’s got everything.  He’s got the power, he’s seemingly trying to seduce Joan (or at the minimum, get someone who had Roger’s back onto his side) and he’s savvy.  With Ted down in the dumps, Cutler might solidify himself and try to force out one (or all) of Don, Roger and/or Bert.

Pete will always be Pete.  Love him getting hung up on, no matter what the time zone and how he acts; he will always be Pete.

Harry is back according to next week’s promos.  Dammit.

I should mention my long-range idea.  That Lou Avery bankrupts SC&P.  There’s a reason he’s there and he doesn’t seem to care too much about anything while lacking the genius that Don always had.  He doesn’t listen to creative, he doesn’t seem to know anything, and he got his job primarily off of Duck’s hatred of Don.