Tuesday, May 5, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x12)

Do you get the chance to start over? That's the question on everyone's mind as the doors of SC&P close, as the building is decimated, and as the Mad Men take the slow and long elevator ride up to their so-called heaven at McCann/Erikson. The question is easily answered if you've been paying attention to how the TV show Mad Men views change and whether or not people can truly begin again: no of course they can't. They are always stuck at the beginning. In this weeks episode, "Lost Horizon," the audience (and the characters) very quickly come to the conclusion we suspected at the end of last week--going to McCann/Erikson is the equivalent of dying and going to hell where everyone looks, talks, and acts the same; creativity is squashed and squandered and all women are secretaries and sexual objects that men can use and dispose of as they see it. The episode teased that this move to the so called big leagues might actually work but quickly put the kebash on that within the first few minutes. This isn't advertising heaven. It's hell. You are now a cog in the machine; the shiny veneer through which McCann/Erikson wants you to see them is dirty and tarnished, closed up and closed in. It was another great (if weird) episode so grab a pair of roller skates and let's go!

There are really three main McCann/Erikson journeys this weeks--people coming and going, deciding whether or not this new adventure is going to work for them. Let's begin with Peggy Olson who is my personal hero. Damn. She makes killing your lungs and body slowly look good. First off, this unbelievable moment of her walking down a hallway, box in hand, toward her new office is a total callback to season one, the very first episode in which Peggy is the new steno girl. She's not much to look at and she doesn't fit in. The best piece of advice offered to her is to find a way to make her darling little ankles sing. It's 1960 and Peggy entered a man's world only for her to shake up that world by demonstrating that she was just as good (if not better) than the male ad writers. So here we are, at the end of her time at SC&P, entering her new life at McCann and what is she doing? Strutting. Like a proverbial peacock. She is loud colors and she is smoke in everyone's eye and she is carrying a painting of an octopus pleasuring a woman (that was owned by Bert and given to her by Roger because Peggy Olson is the real heir of the SC&P world). This is how you show character growth. During that parallel scene back in season one, Peggy was invisible except for the male sexual eye. She was a new treat, even if one that none of the men particularly were hungry for. In this final saunter, Peggy demands everyone's attention but not by virtue of being a female and pretty and sexual--nope, she demands your attention by taking on those classic male traits, living her life like a man as she explained to Stan last week. She's got a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, she's obviously hung over with the black glasses, she's deliberately showing off a highly provocative and highly sexual picture and Peggy Olson doesn't care. Peggy is not here to make the men of the world comfortable. You're not going to put a label on her; you're not going to reduce her down to secretary status; you will not make her less than what she is. Peggy could easily take over McCann if she played her cards right--in other words, acted like a man. My bigger question is, will she? It's interesting that the show kept her from going over to McCann until the very end. Every time she was ready to go, something got in the way--her office wasn't ready; the leadership treated her badly and rudely; she had to help Roger cope with loss. Fate kept interfering, as if telling Peggy not to go gently into that good night. Will Peggy stay or will Peggy go? Either way, I think she knows how to exist in this world now. But as her fan, I want more for Peggy than an office that looks like every other office; I want more than tired old board meetings with nothing but stuffy withered white men who will always look at her and see something that scares them, a reminder that the times, they are-a changing. I want Peggy to go be her own boss and be a creative director in her own right, not a cog in the machine (however impressive a cog she might be.)

First off, this can't be the end of Joan's story right? It's not like she's exited the stage forevermore? Please tell me I get more Joan before the show takes its finale bow. Joan's storyline this week broke my heart and made me see Feminist Red. Joan is nothing to this company but a good time fun girl with big boobs. She is there only for two reasons, she was part of the package deal as partner at SC&P and because the men of McCann think they can toy with her like they toy with all the secretaries. Joan has been absolutely reduced to nothing but a sexual object, her worst fear. In the eyes of the higher ups, she's a girl and she doesn't matter. It's a very sad state of affairs that, in so many ways, this is exactly the mindset that Mad Men opened with back in 1960--but again, people do not fundamentally change and especially not a towering monolith like McCann/Erikson that churns out business like a well oiled (slimy oil at that) machine. Joan upsets the balance; she was expected to come in and play nice with the boys and be subservient to them in every way. She has come so far since her days as head of the gaggle back at Sterling and Cooper. Did you ever imagine that the woman who's perfect piece of life advice was "men love scarves" would be name dropping Betty Friedan or the ACLU? Of course, lurking behind all this is the fact that Joan mostly got as far as she has because she prostituted herself; she can never escape that knowledge. It's no surprise that when confronted with the most vile form of misogyny at the hands of Jim Hobart she is wearing a gem green dress, calling back to the emerald she got for her one night of pleasure with the Jaguar executive. Ultimately Joan's story is a tragic one; she's right on the cusp of the first real waves of feminism and the feminist movement, but for her it's probably too late. The men of the world who only ever saw her body have won. Peggy walked into McCann like a man, Joan leaves like McCann like a defeated and deflated woman. I know it's a lot to hope for, but here's hoping that we get one more shot of Joan being happy and finding love and acceptance.

Speaking of love and acceptance, Don Draper what is your major malfunction? No, don't answer that. I know what your major malfunction is. But at least you're keeping true your (hobo) nature in this episode. The beginning looked so positive, did it not? Maybe Don could make McCann work. Hobart is obviously thrilled to have finally landed Don ("you're my white whale!") and everything seems designed to make Don be the best he can be, including killer business that Don would have been chomping at the bit for a few years ago. However, what Hobart fails to realize is that this isn't the Don Draper he's longed for. That Don Draper pretty much died and now Dick Whitman is walking around in a Don Draper meat suit trying to keep his rotting insides from falling out. Jon Hamm, incredible actor that he is, gets that look of intense fear when Hobart asks him if Don's introduced himself yet. "I'm Don Draper for McCann/Erikson." Totally lifeless, devoid of all Don's charms, an attempt that barely earns him a passing grade. More than that though, Hobart's attempt to make Don feel special is anything but; he's simply one of many, a truly horrifying life for Donald Draper. And in the end, the weight of all this is too much for Don. He can't live in this new "paradise" world where the creative department flips absently through research and clinically listens to pitches about cliche men as consumers (with set behaviors) drinking beer while Don and his fellow cogs eat white cardboard lunches. There is no soul there and for all his faults, Don wants advertising to have soul. He needs to believe that creativity can flourish but creativity died in the factory that is McCann. The great beyond is calling to Don instead. Side note, but I did love the image of the Time and Life building fading into the background as Don turned to look out the window. His horizon is lost. So what does Don do? He leaves. It's not like Don hasn't done this before; in fact, I'd say it's what Don does best.

When faced with something challenging that ruffles his internal feathers, he runs. Going back home and facing a life of being Dick Whitman? He runs. Having a bit of a breakdown in season two? He runs. And, like Don normally does, he ran west. Also, did you notice? Don ran but took on another man's name and life to get where he was going, all hobo style. People do not fundamentally change! So where did Don go? To Diana--yeah, that was a bit odd but again, keeping in line with Don's character. He has become myopically obsessed with Lady Di (death metaphor alert!) and is now following her to parts unknown. Will Don Draper catch his white whale (or in this case, sad brown waitress)? Probably not. And even if he did, would the having be as great as the pursuing and catching? Nope. What happens to Don now? Well, I don't think he's going to return to New York yet. I think he'll go West some more, probably all the way out to California to see if he can find his happiness there. Back to Ana's house one final time. The question is, will it work? If Don't horizon right now is a lifetime in the sausage factor of McCann where he becomes just another creative director in a sea of creative directors, can Don escape that and find his real horizon, the one he lost? The one where he is Dick Whitman and free from the lies and the image of Don Draper. People cannot fundamentally change, but that doesn't mean that they can't accept that they can't change. So...maybe. Maybe Don, out on his hobo trail, will find some sort of freedom in living the Dick Whitman life of running and running and running. Go Don. Find what you're looking for.

Miscellaneous Notes on Lost Horizon     

--"Advertising is not a comfortable place for everyone." Shirley is on POINT with that line. Love that a black female finally got to tell a white older man how it feels to be "other."

--"From now on, no one comes between me and your business." I hope Ferg gets pushed out of a window.

--"Maybe you're getting old." That was an incredibly sweet scene between Betty and Don. They were happy once, before Don Draper's inevitable pile of crap surfaced.

--BERT!! Sing for us!! But of course Bert appears, like Marely's ghost, to drop some Kerouac on Don: Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night? Like Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, Don Draper is heading west to trying to find his lost bliss.

--Peggy on roller skates is my life now.

Monday, May 4, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x20)

Coooooooraaaaaaaa. Sorry. But every time I say Cora's name it has to sound like Snow White back in season two, when she held the Death Candle over Cora's heart. Don't worry. I won't say Coooooooraaaaa like that all through the review. It's just a nice way to dive head first into this weeks episode, 'Mother.' Unsurprisingly, this episode was all about mommies and their babies--Cora and Regina, Zelena and Baby Plot Device, Mal and Lily, Snow and Emma. You would think that Baby Snowflake and Snowing would be in there as well as Emma/Regina and Henry but nope. We're sticking with the mommies who hurt us and how we all need to let it go (FROZEN ALL THE THINGS makes a surprising return to the blog!) and forgive. On the whole, it wasn't a terrible episode; I enjoy the Author plot far more than I was anticipating because it does feel more grown up and less shiny Disney Fanfic come to life. It's a plot that is organic to the show, mostly because the book has been around for so long. The writers are finally playing with light and dark in a meaningful, if somewhat confused, way and it gives us something to sink our teeth into; a feast I enjoy instead of one I feel forced to endure. Outside of the Author plot line, the real question becomes can you forgive a parent who has so wronged you? Can you find your chance at grace? It's an interesting quandary to be sure and one that the daughters of the OUAT-world need to deal with. Oh, and let's not forget, the Author has got a hankering to write himself some fan fiction (preferably not of the smutty variety). Grab your daughter or pregnant sister (ick) and let's go! 

Please Keep Your Hands To Yourself

Wow, there was a lot of inappropriate man-handling in the past, amiright? Like, a lot of touching and feeling but the sort that makes you want to scrub your brain with some heavy duty, industrial strength bleach. I really did not need the Sheriff of Nottingham groping Regina nor did I need him flirting with Cora. The entire flashback--which I admit I thought had some of the weaker moments of the episode--was about Cora and Regina's first reunion since Regina pushed Cora through a mirror into Wonderland. This isn't to say I didn't like the flashbacks, more like they didn't hold my interest as much since they felt inserted and thought up for this episode only; they were never planned out from the last time we saw Cora and Regina, let's say. However, there are some really good in-character moments for these two ladies, Cora and Regina, and that is always worth noting and celebrating. Too often, lately, the characters on OUAT feel completely outside their basic paradigm, as if they are playing versions of themselves that even they don't recognize. Rumple not trying to get his son back? Snow and Charming being secret baby snatchers? All feel totally outside the basic mold of how we were told to view these characters. And while there is something to be said about character growth and change, it has to feel organic and not like it's only for the plot of the current arc. Snow and Charming are the greatest victims of this. Cora and Regina, on the other hand, have always had a very twisted relationship. It was one built on abuse and Cora's own supposed superiority. Mommy knows best, after all. Cora wanted Regina to get a happy ending so that Cora could live vicariously through her; it's something that, I think, is more grounded in the reality of our world than in the fantastical of the Enchanted Forest. Parents live for their children all the time. but not all of them have magic and the ability to remove hearts and take away your first love with a mere squeeze of their hand. Should Regina have trusted Cora as far as she did? No, but it's keeping in line with Regina's character: the daughter who only ever wanted her mother's love and approval but found it difficult to get since--lo and behold--Cora didn't have her heart inside her body for a long time. So Cora's insertion into Regina's life in a weird and twisted way (trying to get Regina to bang a man) and Regina's almost enthusiastic response to affection and attention are very much in line with how these two ladies were set up in season one, back in 'The Stable Boy.' Wow, did I just praise OUAT? Yes. Yes I did.

Let me back up a bit and explain what I mean by this. Why is Cora in the Enchanted Forest? To get Regina pregnant. Yes, I really just wrote that. And yes, that's really why Cora is back from Wonderland (via bunny! in his hat! so jaunty! I miss you bunny). Cora is, as always, very concerned with her legacy and making sure that her family stays on top. Regina hasn't exactly lived up to that idea yet. She might be Queen, but thus far, no babies have been sliding out. And I'm sure it is, in fact, for lack of trying. There have always been theories that Regina and Leopold rarely shared the same bed, something that does seem to be confirmed by their cold marriage. While consummation undoubtedly took place on their wedding night, it seems unlikely that Leo went to her again with any sort of frequency, if he ever did. Thus, Regina was able to keep herself from carrying a child. The issue comes in the years after Leo when she was sleeping with (raping) Graham. Why were there no babies then? Lack of babies does not a happy Queen of Hearts make. And so Cora finds a man in a bar and makes him pretend to be Robin Hood, whom Regina has only seen from the back. Because...of course Cora did. It's all pretty squicky. The plan fails spectacularly, of course, but there is a major consequence: Regina decides to make herself barren so that Cora never gets what she wants. I must say, that is very keeping with Regina's character. She is rash, she is heated and headstrong. She acts before she thinks, like marching into a wedding and declaring that she would destroy Snowing's happy ending if it's the last thing she does--even though she had no plan in mind. Regina is a hot head who simply *does* and then thinks later. Taking a potion to turn herself barren out of spite for her mother's machinations? Perfectly in line with Regina that we all know. I do want to point that the truth bombs Cora dropped at the end, however, like her mantra "love is weakness" being wrong are not in line with the character. The writers were doing so well until the end! Cora shouldn't have her heart right now, meaning she shouldn't be feeling genuine love or motherly feelings toward Regina. So breaking character and explaining to Regina that the only thing standing in the way of Regina's happiness is Regina herself, something Cora has finally figured out, feels a little bit like the writers forgot that Cora does not keep her heart inside her body and thus shouldn't be capable of these feelings.

All About Those Mothers 

Meanwhile back in Storybrooke, we get more mother and daughter reunions. First up, those dragon ladies. Lily is, more of less, full of rage and anger and resentment and has little to no interest in the bonding exercises Mal has planned. No trust falls for these girls in the woods. I am going to be rather critical of OUAT and how they treat motherhood in a second, but before I do, I want to stress two things. First, I love my mom and I think mothers in general are great. Second, I really did enjoy the Mal/Lily scenes and how they came back together; how Mal accepts Lily's darkness and isn't scared by it or won't run from it. I think that's really want Lily wanted all along: acceptance. She never had a real shot in this or any world after what Snowing did to her--she was forced into darkness instead of choosing it and thus believes that no one could never chose her. But Mal does. Mal thinks she is beautiful and worthy of love and praise. It's beautiful. But now, let me put on my critical thinking cap to explain why I find some parts of this storyline bothersome. It's the idea that motherhood is salvation. While I love mothers in general, they are not saints. I'm sorry, but they aren't and I think putting that label on them is unfair. It creates impossible standards since saints are perfect vessels of heaven and incapable of erring. Mothers, no matter how great mine and yours may be, are not perfect. They err. They are human. Ok, in this case Mal is a dragon, but let's put that aside. Mal's redemption and change of heart come solely because of her daughter and finally getting to be a mom, not through any acknowledgment of past wrongdoing. Before, even as close as last episode, she was still the tough Mal we know. Pinned and put together and all together tough-mafia woman. Look at her hair in this episode versus last week. The makeup people have reverted her to a softer more "motherly" look because her daughter came home; it's the same look they gave her right after she had laid her dragon egg. No more snarling and lip curling. No more pinned up and mobster gang woman. Now, she's a mom, which means being weepy, emotional, and more demure. It's a problem. Maybe Mal can still be a "tough dragon bitch" but that's not how the writers conceive of her anymore now that she's Mom! Mal and not Villain! Mal. The issue? It's just the tiniest bit (okay, more than a tiny bit) misogynistic but not the sort of misogyny we typically think of. This isn't hatred of woman (the normal definition of misogyny) but rather thinking that woman's path to redemption is through motherhood because it elevates the mother to a level they cannot achieve on their own. If it were just Mal then I'd have a little less of a problem, but it's not. Zelena is most likely headed down that path, and Cora did trod that path already, especially in her final centric "The Miller's Daughter" and in some ways Ingrid went down that path as well with Emma and Elsa. It's troubling but maybe that's all I need to point out.

In other mother/daughter news, Emma finally came to her senses all on her own and forgave Snow White! No, I'm just kidding, Hook had to prompt her and tell her how to feel. While forgiving her mother, Emma even looked at Hook so she could get the "yes, you're doing great. Keep saying exactly what I told you to say" head nod. Ugh. Anyway. I'm glad Emma finally saw reason, however it came about. Emma hasn't exactly been a perfect mother either, nor a perfect human being but she is still considered having hero status, going dark notwithstanding. The fact that she expected an almost impossible level of perfection from Snow and Charming (though, really just Snow) is a bit hypocritical of her to be honest. She can be mad because to realize your parents make mistakes is human, but her temper-tantrum went on for far too long and it was never logically advanced. It just stayed in the "I'm really angry" mode with Emma freezing out her mom and never trying to make any sort of headway. Of course she was too busy catching Ebola Eyes to really sit and discuss her feelings, so maybe I should give her a pass. Or not. At any rate, I'm glad to see Emma and Snow back on the same foot. I must say, I really miss the Emma and Mary Margaret friendship of season one. It was something special and sweet that Emma found a friend with the woman who, unbeknownst to Emma, was her mother. It was a great piece of dramatic irony, but I miss that easy friendship they had. Here's hoping that just because Emma and Snow are daughter and mother again, by way of admiration and forgiveness, also means that they can be friends again as well.

Ok, home stretch. Time to deal with Mr. Isaac and his magical pen. What does Isaac want? He seems to want more than just a good story; he's hella shifty, right? Everyone is getting that impression? His coy and unassuming love-fest for Regina really sold the fact that he's slick. He knows just what to say to keep himself in the villains good graces, no matter which villain he's working for at the moment. Saying "trust me" is a big key that you shouldn't trust him. Isaac also seems to be a bit of a fanfic writer. He enjoys "experimental writing." But what sort of writing? Is he just trying to jot down ideas? Was there some thread of a plot he really enjoyed but never got to develop fully? See, Isaac is really Adam and Eddy and how they want to explain their own creative genius. They too are authors who have a lot of ideas about how to make characters and their plots more relevant, more meaty, and more worthy of your time. I think that, if they could, they'd be surrounded by books they could just fill up with ideas and always have them at their beck and call, in case they realized that their current idea wasn't working. Actually, doesn't that sound exactly like how Adam and Eddy write? Start with an idea but go someplace else when a new shinier idea comes along. Yeah, that's OUAT. How many drafts does Isaac have? What do they consist of? And if he can write ideas down but not have them come to fruition what does that mean about free will? And what does that mean about the power of his pen? Shouldn't all his ideas come to life? Is something--like Fate/The Sorcerer--stopping him? See. Compelling if likewise philosophically complex, challenging and frustrating. So now what? Isaac has his magic ink and his magic quill and a new (very cool looking) black book entitled "Heroes and Villains." Where to start? The same place every story starts:  Once Upon A Time....

Miscellaneous Notes on Mother

--I don't care about Zelena or her baby, but if Regina had actually written Zelena and that baby out of existence, I would have flipped a lot of tables.

--I may hate the former Green Witch, but "another woman defining her happiness relative to the love of a man..." was the most perfect quote for this show ever. For one hot second, I forgot that I hated Zelena.

-- Emma holding on to the dream-catcher having all the emotions caused me to also have all the emotions. "He was a lot of things to me..."

--Rumple the Big Bad of this season and one of the most wanted men in Storybrooke just chills in Granny's and eats a bagel...?

--No, let's not give Roland a memory potion! Let's talk to him and try to explain the situation.

--Dr. Whale is an OB? Since when?

--Rumple. I need to talk about him, don't I? It sounds like Rumplestiltskin is going to die, but the Dark One will take over and use Rumple as a meat suit in order to bring forth chaos and mayhem. Goody. Another season in which we see Not! Rumple but some unholy entity who bears little to no resemblance to the character I loved. At least in that case, there will be no Rumple left over at all.

--"We can be happy in the future or we can angry in the past." OR: the motto of season 4B.

--Two hours to go. See you all for the finale next week!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x11)

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the end of Donald Draper. Alright, that might be a bit of a bold statement to make out of the gates since Don is still very much alive at the end of this week's episode, "Time and Life." Or rather, his body is still breathing, moving, talking, and showing all the normal signs of life. The essence of Donald Draper is dead, however. It got swallowed up by the hellish machine known as McCann/Erikson and there was nothing Don, advertising god, could do about it. Once upon a time, Don could start over and build something with his own two hands; now, Don can't even get a room full of secretaries to listen to him. Very steadily over this last half of the season, we've been watching Don lose those carefully constructed cards that made him the man of mystery and allure we loved (hated?) for so long. The rotting and dead core that is Don Draper is finally surfacing and everyone around him can see that he's a sad and morose guy who ultimately has no character because he's devoid of any meaning--just like the ads he writes. Is there anything left for Don Draper? Sex appeal, mystery, job, wife, and even to some degree Sally, have left him. Don jokingly tells Roger this week, "What's in a name?" as if he now understands that even his name is getting him nowhere, and of course the irony in that is clear: his name isn't even his own. Grab something depressing because while this was a stellar episode, it was very sad. 

For all its complex subtly and carefully layered meanings, sometimes Mad Men gives you episode as clear cut and in your face obvious as any other TV show. This was such an episode. Not that there weren't layers and symbols and carefully constructed narratives (most of which harkened back to previous episodes, the season two finale with Pete and Peggy and more readily seen, the incredible, TV defining season three finale, 'Shut the Door. Have a Seat') but, rather, that the surface reading isn't carefully belying anything deeper. It really is crystal clear: what happens to SC&P in this episode has happened before, but this time around, there is no saving themselves or the company. They can't start over. Again. There is no time, there is no drive, there is no desire or fierce hunger to match the time, drive, and desire and hunger of season three when Donald Draper, still an advertising god, waltzed into Bert Cooper's office and demanded his chance to build something of value with his own two hands. This time, it's the same scenario but you can't get past the beginning. This entire season began with one question: do you have time to change your life? The answer seemed to be, at the end of the first half, yes you can if only you remember that the best things in life are free and love can come to anyone. But the second half takes Mad Men's ultimate thesis--people do not fundamentally change--and has our main characters go through plot lines that they've gone through before to show that they cannot change, and by virtue of not changing, the outcome is different. This time, Don is going to lose. This bit of the story needs some plot so a basic rundown is in order: McCann/Erikson, the giant machine that turns out advertising like it's a science and not an art, has officially swallowed up SC&P. McCann/Erikson played dirty, waited long enough to make SC&P think they were in the clear and then struck the company we love and never afforded them the chance to try and get out of it. Don, Roger, Pete, Joan (sound familiar? It's very season three finale) and Ted tried their hardest to pitch a new idea--going out west and being left alone out there with a few select clients but Jim Hobart at McCann didn't even let Don finish his pitch (symbolic!).

The real meat of the episode, I think, comes during the meeting at McCann. Welcome to advertising Hell, though the devil in the red tie (Jim Hobart himself) will tell you that you're going to advertising paradise. I love how this was constructed. The SC&P heroes walk into an ad agency (yes, that's a pun on a season three episode title) and they think can take on Goliath. They might be smaller but they are not without friends. And, they've got Don, advertising god. The man who can lay down some seriously profound advertising on you that will make you weep. The man who came up with the Carousel. That's Don Draper. He'll put these giants in their place. Except, it doesn't work. Don isn't even allowed to get through his pitch, to do the very thing that defines Don Draper, before Hobart, our Satan figure, interrupts and tells Don to take a seat. That should be your clue. It isn't going to work. What follows next reads like the literal devil laying out a banquet of treats for you, hopeful that you'll give into temptation.  The men (and woman, though Joan doesn't matter in Hobart's male centric eyes) of SC&P, aren't exactly resolute. With a glint in his eye, Satan slowly turns to each of the people that he thinks "matter" and offers them their greatest temptation. For Ted, it's a pharmaceutical (something Ted hinted at last week). For Pete, it's Buick. And for Don, in a hushed and awed voice spake Satan, it's Coca-Cola. This is, by the way, another nice call back to one of the earliest episodes in season one in which Hobart tried to lure Don to his company by seducing Betty into being a Coke model. Nice, eh? The fact is, though, that none of those people--Ted, Pete, and Don--are going to be as respected and valued at McCann as they are right now. Ted, doesn't care. He's a sheep and will gladly bleat along so long as he doesn't have to make decisions. Pete is morose about it and self pitying, but ultimately probably won't do anything about it because, in spite of being a grimy little pimp, Pete can often be quite profound and knows this is the future of business (and, historically, he's right). He hit the nail on the head two weeks ago: we can never get past the beginning. And Don...well Don's basically dead on the inside and has surrendered to the end. He's our very twisted Jesus insert in this episode and unless he decides to balk, he just threw up his arms and gave into temptation. There is no fight in him anymore. When the news breaks to SC&P that they are being absorbed (which means that 90% of those people are going to lose their jobs), Don tries to give a rousing speech about how this is the beginning of something new and exciting, but he is literally drowned out by the buzzing of those around him. No one is listening to Donald Draper anymore, and Don has neither the fortitude nor drive nor energy to make them. He has surrendered.

The other plot of this week was Peggy and like the SC&P team above, so below. The past is circling the partners with narrative call backs to previous stories and episode that they seem to be only passing aware of; they know they've done it before but they it doesn't become as omnipresent to them. Peggy, on the other hand, is smack dab in the middle of her own haunted past as she and Stan try to cast little children for an ad. What does Peggy know about being a mom? She thinks very little because of course she gave up her own child, something that apparently has haunted her ever since. Don's advice to her, "this never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened" (god, one of the best moments in TV history) didn't quite reach Peggy's ears. She's lived by it certainly, but giving up her son in adoption has always loomed large over her, and never more so when Peggy is expected to "play mom." Her heartbreaking conversation with Stan was, first off, supremely acted by Elisabeth Moss but, secondly, just full of pain and regret but also triumph. Peggy wouldn't change her decision, but it doesn't mean that she isn't troubled by it. I also had a major squeal of delight when Peggy gave what might be her own personal thesis; if I had to sum up Peggy it would be exactly as she put it to Stan, "She should be able to live the rest of her life, just like a man does." That's Peggy. That's just Peggy to a T. Now, with that said, I must admit that I will be really disappointed if Peggy's big Mad Men end is her actually going to McCann/Erikson. Peggy wants to create something of lasting value but I'll tell you right now, she can't do it there. Peggy won't be respected or loved or even thought about. She'll go back to being one of many instead of the one and only. If her tale ends that way, I'll be extremely upset. Maybe Peggy could shuffle through life like that (after all, as Ted said last season, "You're going to die someday, you might as well keep cashing the checks.") but for Peggy fans, it would be heartbreaking.

Miscellaneous Notes on Time and Life

--Another highlight moment, the couch scene between Pete and Peggy, recalling the last time they sat thusly on a couch: the day Peggy told Pete that he got her pregnant and she gave away the baby.

--"Enjoy the rest of your miserable life!" Okay then Lou!

--Even the West is now closed to Don Draper unless he runs from McCann/Erikson. The West has always been Don's safe haven, his paradise. But now it's a dream denied.

--Trudy Campbell has a fabulous wardrobe and I would like that white dress please.

--Joan isn't even acknowledged by Jim Hobart. She'll become nothing but a secretary to McCann/Erikson.

--"I don't know because you're not supposed to know or you can't go on with your life."

--"You are OK." I need more Drunk Roger and Drunk Don having contemplative moments. 

--"I'm fine. I have work to do." OR: how to survive life if you're a character on Mad Men.

Monday, April 27, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x19)

It's my birthday. Maybe that has nothing to do with this weeks episode, "Lily," but I thought I'd put it out there. Well, maybe it does have something to do with this weeks episode. What is a birthday? It's a time to reflect back on your life, the choices you've made, the wrongs you committed and the wrongs you've righted. It's a time to remember friends, family, and think about the future. And isn't that ultimately what Emma (and her dark hearted fated friend, our titular Lily) are doing in this episode? Remembering their friendship and all good times and the bad times and looking toward the future. Albeit, they have very different versions of the future given that Lily wants to suck the marrow from Snow and Charming's bones and make their corpses dance as she sits on the beast that rises from the sea and cackles. But hey, no one is perfect. Did I like the episode? That's always the question isn't it? For me, it's middle of the road--not great, but not horrible. This weeks episode was really about questioning if you can change fate, if you can beat destiny. Is Lily really fated to be "wrong" because of Snow and Charming's choices? Is Emma really fated to be the True Love Savior also because of Snow and Charming? And if Emma and Lily are really intertwined and have been since birth, then what does that mean for their collective and individual savior/anti-savior journeys? Grab your evil former best friend and let's go! 

The Chore Wheel Is To Blame

Can you defeat fate? And more importantly, should you try? According to the Sorcerer (who is apparently a giant blue smoke monster; a hybrid of the Man in Black and Robin Williams's Genie from 'Aladdin' in my mind) Lily and Emma's fate remain entwined as they have been and always shall be, even in spite of Lily's banishment. So when Emma was a little fetus type thing and Lily was a dragon fetus type thing, they were tied together? Who put them that way? Is "FATE" just some sort of universal force that no one can control or wield and we are merely puppets on strings; or does the Sorcerer have a larger role to play in this? Let's face it: the entire way the Sorcerer was presented, pillar of smoke, talking in a disembodied voice to his supplicant who fears to appear before this entity? It's not subtle; it's Moses and God, or really any kind of prophet/servant of the Lord and Yahweh Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts if you don't know your ancient Hebrew). The Sorcerer seems to be the show's own God-insert which makes me wonder if the Sorcerer is some sort of omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent figure then doesn't He control fate? Doesn't he make up these rules about who is tied to whom? Doesn't matter who it is--Lily and Emma; Emma and Neal; Snow and Charming; Regina and Robin. The Sorcerer is the clockmaker. Everyone is a cog and together we turn and create life around us but only once the clockmaker has put all the pieces in and wound it up. If The Sorcerer is God and Controller of Fate, then we have to wonder why he set up Lily and Emma to be so fated together. Is Lily some sort of Anti-Savior--a force to drive Emma to her final monomyth-laden fate? All Saviors need someone or something to battle against--Cora, Pan, Zelena, and Ingrid might be good seasonal villains (well, less so with Zelena) but a True Savior, in all their archetypical glory, needs someone equally mythic and cosmic to prevail against. Moreover, does the Sorcerer have an outlet in our world? If he's controlling the wheel of fate (not to be confused with the chore wheel though Lily seems to have a particular disdain for that as well) then he has to be controlling the fates of Emma and Lily in our world: putting them in Minnesota, putting them in Boston. Even their stories seem eerily similar with the same symbols, like necklaces and boy/girl crime sprees. If the Sorcerer can dictate fate in our world, then what does that mean for us humans here on planet Earth? My point is this; how much of this is fated (and perhaps controlled by the Sorcerer) and how much of this is simply based on choices? And which matters more in this universe? Regina says that our actions are our own but fate pushes us, yet it seems like fate is doing more than just pushing our characters. It seems to be dictating them. You know, like throwing a wolf out into the road so that your car gets a flat tire and you end up meeting your very own Anti Savior at a coffee shop. And for a show that has harped on "evil isn't born, it's made" we have two episodes in a row now where two characters are evil more so because of their nature and how they were born and not because of their choices. Is there an actual mission statement? Maybe. And I'll get to that in a bit.

So is Lily really evil? How do you even answer a question like that? No, really. Try. I'll wait. You can't can you? Neither can I. I don't know how to define objective evil and most people in this world don't know how to either. We have very little concept of objective evil because our world is so utterly subjective. Most of us would agree that slavery and rape are objective evil. Even something like murder gets murky because figures like soldiers and police officers, those who normally get the hero label, have to kill all the time. It's not pretty but we don't call it objective evil. We call it justice or war or doing the job. So if the two objective evils in this world are rape and slavery at the least, then is Lily really evil? Adult Lily tells Emma that because of her (and Emma's parents) she is hard wired to make bad choices, but that is a wholly confusing sentiment. We're all hard wired to make bad choices because, at the end of the day, humans are lazy, sloppy, greedy, lustful, and selfish. We all want what we want and we want it now. It's okay. It's what makes us human. It's not a bad thing; but it's our ability to walk away from being lazy, sloppy, greedy, lustful, and selfish that makes us better than our baser selves. Lily chalking all of this up to being hard wired is saying that she's no different from anyone else. And that may actually be the point in this philosophical exercise. How so? Well, put a pin in that because I'm going to come back to in a moment. But first: Lily knows everything that Emma wants to tell her because the Apprentice appeared to her on the bus and told her she was special. Note, for the children in the audience, if you are approached by a strange man who claims that you are special and he can show you how and why, run as fast as you can, scream for help and get to a well lighted area. Oof. Really, OUAT? Anyway, here are the questions involving that super special bus moment (beside why Lily didn't scream and run away): is the Apprentice indirectly responsible for Lily and her behaviors? First, he didn't appear to Lily until she was 15 or so, letting her bad decision making go unchecked for over a decade. Second, when he did finally step in, it was to tell her all about the Two Idiots who wronged her, putting her on the path she is currently on which is to burn Snow and Charming over a large BBQ. Once again, is Lily responsible for her actions or was she fated to be this way?

Savior And Anti Savior 

It's the oldest story there is--black and white, light and dark, good and evil. Except, even here on OUAT where things have reached soap opera levels of stupid (oh, we'll get there my friends. We'll get there) it's much more complicated. So I told you to put a pin in the Lily being just like everyone else idea and here's why. Emma has a choice: kill Lily or don't kill Lily. Lily has a choice: accept what happened to her and forgive or don't accept what happened to her and don't forgive. It's the same kind of choice we face every single day here on planet Earth (though, perhaps, without the theatrics). Lily isn't pure evil anymore than Emma is pure goodness and light. Even before learning about what her parents did and going down this darker path, Emma was given to fits of rage, jealousy, greed, selfishness, and has lied, stolen, and been violent. She is not some ray of light in a dark and abysmal world. Lily, by the same token, is not some dark and abysmal figure. She might have made wrong choices but she's also kind, sweet, caring, nurturing, forgiving, and helpful. She doesn't exist as a raincloud to Emma's sunshine. There are no heroes and villains; just real people with real problems (though, again, perhaps without all the drama). The entire point of this season wants to show (whether or not it's being executed well, I'll decide at the end of the season) that the line between heroes and villains is nonsensical and nonexistent. The Savior can go dark and the Anti Savior can be good. There is darkness in Emma and there is light in Lily just as there is in every single character on this show. What is going to matter more than what destiny says they are is who they say they are. Does Emma accept that while she is the Savior and responsible for the happy endings of everyone in Storybrooke, she might also have to be a little dark in order to understand the light? My answer is yes. The Savior (in all their mythic glory) cannot truly walk in the light until they understand the darkness. They must be tempted and tested and pushed to the point of no return before they reach their apotheosis and become the godhead or the ultimate Savior of the Universe or the Eternal Champion or the Prince that was Promised or the Dragon Reborn or any other fantasy/religious title you want to throw at me. That's Emma's journey right now.

One final topic and one that isn't moral or philosophical or archetypical but rather something so insultingly stupid that I laughed for 5 minutes solid. Of course Zelena is pregnant. Of course. Because while OUAT likes to dance with those deep questions that I've been putting forth in this review, it also likes its big shiny reveal and Tweetable moments. Zelena carrying her sister's soul mate's child? Daytime soap opera at it's finest (worst?) It is so unbelievably cringe worthy that I really hope everyone sees how simply ludercrious this is so I don't have to explain it. In an episode that had some pretty heavy quandaries, the fact that it ends with the most cliche and squicky reveal in this show's history pretty much sums up the show as a whole. It tries to be something deep and meaningful and offer commentary on life and the universe...and then your sister reveals that she's carrying your boyfriend's love child. Just when you think there is substance, the flash returns. I will say this; I think it's very likely that Zelena is lying about being pregnant because it's how she plans to keep Robin with her and cause Regina pain. Though, what's her end game? In nine months even stupid, straw-headed Robin is bound to notice that there is no baby being born to Zelena. And honestly, how far does your code really take you, Robin? The woman raped you and is carrying your child in order to torture another person and still you think you should stay. Your code is often frustrating but nevermore so than now. If Zelena is not lying and she really is carrying Green Hood Baby then, obviously, we're not getting rid of Zelena this year. Doesn't that just beat all? Here's hoping no one tries to cast the darkness from little Green Hood into another living soul! God, ain't fate a bitch?

Miscellaneous Notes on Lily

--Some of the dialogue between Young Emma and Young Lily was tortuously bad and cheesy. "It's like my whole life is darkness and when you're around, things are brighter." Not only is that full of the worst kind of cheese, it also feels pretty Queer Bait-y.

--Rumple's speech to Belle was quite nice but I'm not so sure this was the end of Rumbelle. I think at the very least, it's the end of Scarlett Beauty. Which is such a shame because it's totally been developed in the show to be believable and poignant (I'm holding up a Sheldon Cooper-esque Sarcasm sign). Do I ship Rumbelle again? Nope. But, I have to admit, I had some pretty Rumbelle positive feelings during that final shop scene.

-- Seriously, little children...do not follow strangers just because they offer you food! Stranger! Danger!

--I'm not touching the hot button ethnicity issues of Adult Lily with a ten foot pole.

--Emma is inside Neal's apartment for the first time since his death and she has no emotional reaction whatsoever. I would rage about this but Emma, while undergoing a cosmologically significant journey, is still Pod! Emma. 

--Could someone please tone down Maleficent's lipstick? It blinds me. Though, in other makeup news, at least Emma has gotten over her case of Ebola Eyes.

--Zelena is pregnant. I really need to end on this hilarity.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x10)

What is a forecast? It's a prediction of the future based on current patterns, a theme that ran throughout this weeks episode aptly titled "The Forecast." Everyone is worried about the future--the company's future, their own individual future, the future of those around them. But more to the point, no one (well, almost no one) knows their future nor could even halfheartedly accurately predict their future. Most of the characters this week couldn't articulate their future if their future stood before them stark naked and dancing. When they think about the future, they get tongue tied, they seem to focus on one singular thing instead of thinking broadly (well, again, almost everyone) or they end up realizing that the future is bleak and scary and they have no place in it. This weeks episode was easily the best of the arc so far (the return of Sally at long last does a lot to solidify that, honestly) but it also hammers home themes I've been dissecting all along--Don Draper is almost over and done. His story--the advertising and sexual god who had everything and deserved to have even more--is almost over and Don knows it. He simply can't go on because there is no future for a man like Don anymore. The future belongs to Peggy and to Sally, and all Don does is crap on their dreams and make them uncomfortable. Don is literally charged with writing the future and he's stumped. He has no future and he can't see one for the life of him. Grab a horny teenager (that will make sense if you watch the episode) and let's go!

There are really three main stories this week--Joan, Betty/Sally, and Don. Let's start with Joan. Our favorite sashaying red-head's future should look bright; she's moved up in the world as a partner and an account manager. Joan gets to fly to LA and conduct interviews and have people fall at her feet, something our Joanie has always loved. But, take a look at Joan's life as she is living it. Does it seem like the life of someone who is thinking about the future? At this point, Joan is loaded, making more money than she's ever imagined, and she's still living in that tiny little apartment in the village with her mother and hiring a teenage flower child to watch her four year old. Joan also hasn't been out in the social world much lately, from what we've seen. Joan was the fun loving girl who enjoyed going out and meeting men and being admired. And now, she comes home to a mother, a son, and nothing else. But more to the point, Joan isn't trying to change her situation. She hasn't bought a new house; she goes to work and comes home. That's her present and her future. And then Joan meets Richard, a smooth talking handsome guy who wants to admire Joan and all her best assets. For a little while, Joan gets to be in her glorious past--the hot to trot woman who doesn't live at home with her mother and son, who isn't divorced, but looking for Mr. Right to sweep her up off her feet and take her to a whole new world. It's exactly what Joan of season one and two would have wanted--the man, the money, the adventure. Joan is so stuck in the past with Richard that she more or less neglects to tell him about her son and mother. That all comes crashing down when Richard learns about Kevin and almost instantly doesn't want a future at all with Joan. He's done all that stuff; he wants the grand and glorious adventure. For Joan, it's a reminder that her own future is now tied to Kevin, her son. She can never have a future that isn't linked to Kevin; she doesn't get to run off or be whisked away by the handsome stranger. Not anymore. Joan's story was one of the more positive of the three this week since Richard came to his senses and decided that he wants Joan--baby, mother, and all. Will it work for her? Possibly. Joan just needs to remember that Kevin is not ruining her life (ouch. Harsh, Joan) and hopefully Richard will live up to his promise to accept her.

Easy there, Mrs. Robinson. So this was easily the most disturbing story of the night. What does the future look like for Betty and Sally? It looks like dead children in Vietnam. Specifically, it looks looks like their old friend Glenn Bishop dead in Vietnam. It's interesting how the two Draper/Draper-Francis women react to the news that Glenn is shipping out. For Sally, it's one of her oldest friends going off to probably die for a cause that neither she (as our resident Jane Fonda) nor Glenn really believe in. For Betty, it's the potential death of someone who she once mothered and "wifed" and is obviously having a very sexual attraction to, even years after their first encounter because Betty will always see herself as a princess-child and never more so than when Glenn comes a-knocking. For Sally, the future is bleak because it means growing up and learning some hard truths (your friends might die; you could turn into your parents). For Betty the future is bleak because it means there is one less person in the world who will find you attractive and want you. And doesn't that just sum up Sally and Betty to a T? The relationship between Betty and Glenn has always been super squicky because he idolized her as the perfect mother and she adored the attention Glenn gave her as both the so-called perfect mother (um, no, think again Betty, dear) but also the perfect mate, a fairy tale princess who would give him a lock of her hair and she would be his forever. Did you notice how often Betty touched her hair in this final scene between the two? She's remembering when all Glenn wanted were her gold tresses. This was a pretty awkward moment but Betty, like Betty does, doesn't stop it because it's wrong morally; she stops it because she's married and therefore they can't do it. Her vision of the future isn't about what is right and wrong, but the here and now of potentially getting caught (something that probably titillates Betty secretly). And then there is Sally who is watching her mother, and then later her father, be enamored of teens and basically be sick and sad people and decides that she has had enough of both of them. She wants to be someone different. Good for you, Sally.

Which brings us to Don, the man who's creative genius was so defined for the entire run of the series that it's a truly sad note that here, at the end of the series, he can't even write a 2500 essay on the future. A high school project in the most remedial sense and Don has nothing to say. Isn't that the ultimate theme of this last arc: Don has nothing left to say. He's not creative anymore; he's neither captivating nor charismatic nor charming nor any other adjective you can come up with to describe the late great Donald Draper. He is an empty vessel whose employees can see right through him whereas before no one could suss him out. Don used to be a genius at selling himself and what he sold was mystery and allure. Remember that great line from season one? "He could be Batman for all we know." Nobody knew how to crack the enigma that was Donald Draper; but now everyone can see through his facade and well coiffed hair. Like Mathis tells him before he gets fired, "You have no character. You're just handsome." That's exactly it. Don isn't a real person; he's a facade, an ad for the American dream but ultimately empty and devoid of meaning. But Don is handsome, could speak well and he was a creative genius and that fooled a lot of people; but not anymore. Don's future is dark, dank, and and totally imaginary. Everything around him is rotting to the core--his genius, his family, his facade and even his house. A real estate agent who barely knows him managed to get a read on Don's personality in a shorter time than it took both of Don's wives! The agent tells Don that his entire house reeks of failure and that it looks like a sad person lives there. And, of course, she's right on both accounts. Don cannot hide who he is anymore and the inside bits of him that he once kept tucked away and hidden are oozing out like so much sludge. And the worst part? I think Don recognizes it too: "We know where we've been, we know where we are...it's supposed to get better." But it doesn't get better does it, Dick? You can't start over and you can't hide your flaws; in the end you have no character.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Forecast

--I didn't mention it in the proper post, but of course, who is the one person who can see the future and is excited by it? Peggy Olson. She wants more than advertising. She wants to create something of lasting value. Oh Pegs. You are the anti-Don Draper. It's lovely to watch. I know I say it every week, but you're gonna make it Peggy.

--Every single line Sally uttered was my line of the night, but to pick a few: "This conversation is a little late. And so am I." "All I want to do is eat dinner..." "Anyone pays attention to either of you – and they always do – you just … ooze everywhere.”

--Betty is positive that Glenn will make it and live through Vietnam, so naturally he'll die.

--Don flirting with the teenagers was a whole new level of creepy.

--Nobody has time for Meredith's nonsense. It's hilarious.

--No ex-girlfriend this week, but there were still "three women" in Don's life--Sally, Peggy and the real estate lady. And none of the three liked him nor had time for his nihilistic mountain-of-crap. 

--3 episodes to go. Will Don live through the end?

Monday, April 20, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x18)

If she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will. Here's something rather shocking: I actually enjoyed parts of this weeks episode, "Sympathy for the De Vil." There were twists and turns that felt like season one of OUAT, back when there was a magic to the show unlike any other. Cruella, not being scorned by love and a man, but instead being a literal sociopath who, in turn, spurned and scorned a man (and fed her mother to her dogs)...that's good. That's more than good, that's delightful. That's the sort of meal I can sink my teeth into and enjoy. Now, don't misunderstand, there were plenty of things about this episode that I found utterly ridiculous (story worlds don't exist in time...? The Author poofs to other lands...? Cruella ended up in the Enchanted Forest how...?) but often times a good twist can overshadow the criticisms in plot devices used, dialogue uttered, and squicky special effects. I'm not sure if this was the my favorite of the season (still think it's 'Darkness on the Edge of Town') but this was one hell of a step up from last weeks utter travesty in storytelling. Everyone grab a puppy coat and some gin and let's go to 1920s! Fictional! London (because that's a thing now). 

Like A Spider Waiting For The Kill

So Cruella wasn't scorned by a man and then went evil over how unfair her life was without a man. I mean, let's all take a moment and appreciate that ONCE actually didn't go this incredibly misogynistic route like they have many times before in which women feel worthless or can no longer be good because "my man done left and hurt me!" The aspect of this narration that I truly appreciated was that for most of the episode you thought that's exactly where this backstory was going. The Author up and did something nasty to the poor woman and she went evil because her heart was broken. But nope! Cruella is actually a sociopath who enjoys killing and couldn't care less about the Author...and probably gives even less thought to the rest of humanity. Her backstory isn't in keeping with the idea that evil isn't born, it's made, but it is something utterly different from that now trite and repetitive theme that has been hammered home to us about a million times now. I appreciate the difference. I think there is probably a line somewhere with mental illness and it's very possible that the writers crossed it (I'm honestly not sure since I'm not a mental health expert) but sociopathy is a condition that causes this kind of behavior--not caring about others, being able to fake emotions to gain trust and sympathy, using everyone around you in a manipulative way. Does it make you evil? No. Does it mean that the ill person should die? No. But I do recognize that in this fairy tale world story, Cruella's danger was to everyone around her and in order to advance some parts of the story and move it forward, she was going to go down, even if it might make me question (once again) the mortality of the show. But I'm sort of talking in circles and getting ahead of myself. Let's really look at Cruella here in all her sociopathic and crazed glory. Let's dive in and splash around in that darkness, eh?

The way the narrative of Cruella was set up was rather...genius. Yeah, I just called something OUAT related genius. Don't worry. I haven't changed my tune about the show in general. Do you know why we have little kids in TV shows? To garner sympathy. TV audiences have a hard time hating little kids, especially when said little kids are running from an authoritative figure like an oppressive mother dressed in all black who uses dogs as a scare tactic. It brings to mind Henry in Season One, constantly running from the Evil Queen. You rooted for Henry and rooted against Regina because we are hard wired as a species to want to protect children. The fact that it's a little girl, with our current Cruella story, only sells the point more; think The Walking Dead--the little girl who turned out to be...well, a crazy sociopath who thought she could hear the Walkers talking to her and wanted to be their friend. We watched horrified as Carol killed her because you don't hurt children but at the same time, you knew it's what had to be done. This episode and Cruella's backstory had a similar vibe. The audience is now tuned to think of Cruella as a poor soul, locked in her attic by her mother, tortured and lonely. Showing us a character like that touches something human inside us; we might never have been locked in an attic (well, I should hope not) but we understand and empathize with the loneliness and the fear and her wanting, simply, to live. That feeling of wanting to live is a theme the Author and Cruella apparently share. The Author (who's name is Isaac so I can finally stop writing "The Author") lives his life by writing stories but never living a story himself. He records, he changes, he manipulates, but he never gets to experience what it's like to live a story--in which he's a dashing and handsome man and a beautiful woman is enraptured by him. Cruella appeals to that, having lived a life of solitude as well, not being able to live her own story. They seem to be kindred spirits, but that's the beauty of the sociopathy. Cruella knows how to play on people's weakness and use it to her advantage: in this case getting out of the house to start, and then--once she learns Isaac's secret about being the Author--stealing his quill and wanting to use it after she kills her mother (and skins the dogs for a coat). You see, Cruella, is a killer. An utter killer. She murdered her mother's husbands and then she murders her mother. For a lark. Cruella just wants to watch the world burn, folks. That's her villainy. It's interesting because it's fresh and new. It's what I used to expect from OUAT long before they sold out for cheap tricks and cliche storylines.

The one part of this flashback I did not enjoy was the incredible amount of plot holes and wonky hand waving. How about I just spit out these questions at random. I don't even have answers or solutions; I just have a lot of questions and some eye rolling. Realms of stories don't have time? They exist outside of time? Then how would it always be 1920s Flapper era, even before America had their 1920s flapper era? How did the Author get to 1920s! Fictional! London? How did he get back? How did Cruella get to the Enchanted Forest? How did her car get to our world? Why do you need both the ink and the quill? Why did the ink change Cruella's eyebrows and hair? Can the Author write himself into different places? Do any realms have time and progress? The Enchanted Forest obviously progressed. Did the original "real world" authors (like Barrie or Baum) write those worlds into existence? Do you see what I'm getting at? They are interesting questions but they are also being left incredibly vague with the understanding that they will never be explained. It's supposed to be handwaved away with "magic." But it's sloppy and frankly confusing. When writers don't respect the rules of their world, it's obvious and it pulls audience members out of the narrative moments because suddenly we're focused on trying to rationalize the fantasy world breaking. And it becomes increasingly hard to make excuses for the poor and sloppy handling of said world and universe, which is why I've stopped and now just point out all the flaws and rail again them.

OMG! They Kidnapped Henry! Those Bastards! 

There wasn't a whole lot going on in present day Storybrooke which is why this is going to be much shorter (yes, yes, yes. I'll talk about Rumbelle later.) Really the entire present day story was leading up to Emma killing Cruella to save Henry, not knowing that the Author had written that Cruella could never harm another soul as long as she lived. It was a good twist, but this is the question I really want to ask: Is this really enough to make Emma go dark, like Gold hopes and planned? Because, this was, in Emma's mind, justifiable homicide. She doesn't know that Cruella has been "banned" from hurting people and is unable to actually hurt Henry. All Emma knows is that the lunatic has a gun pointed at her son and has every intention of using it--or so Emma thinks. What wouldn't a mother do in this situation? See. There we go. We're back to that that question that ONCE has always wondered about; namely, what lengths would a parent go to in order to protect their child? From Rumple ripping apart worlds, to Snowing taking Emma's supposed darkness and putting it in Lily to Emma killing another person to save Herny, the theme of parents and their offspring is one that keeps coming back up. Even in the flashback, Cruella's mother believed that there was no way to fix Cruella (and to be fair, there isn't) so for other people's safety and for Cruella's, she locked her in an attic. Should this act of preserving her child really cause Emma to go evil? And if it does, what does that say about all the other acts parents have committed in the name of their children but has not caused them to go all red-eyed (no, seriously. What is up with JMo's look lately?) and demonic. Did Snowing go evil after the Lily incident? No. They tried to be better heroes. And we constantly see how Regina's love for Henry is really her saving grace. So for Emma to go full on Dark Side after this leaves me with a lot of questions about continuity and fairness. The writers have been playing up Evil! Emma this season but the way of getting her there leaves a lot to be desired. In other news, how the heck does Henry have no survival skills yet? This kid has been kidnapped how many times now? Many. The answer is many. And he still can't manage to get away from the crazy people? Seriously, kid. Start carrying some pepper spray. I think I am going to paraphrase Buffy here, "Henry's in trouble. Must be Sunday."

Miscellaneous Notes on Sympathy For The De Vil

--Alright. Let's do Rumbelle. Kill me now. Or just give me lots to drink. First off, I have a lot of issues with the idea that Belle would willingly give up her heart to the Evil Queen, a woman who held her captive for 30 years. But moreover, that moment in the woods (while well acted) was just full of NO. The way "Belle" spoke to Rumple was hard to watch. And why didn't Rumple realize he wasn't kissing is True Love? Shouldn't you know that? Also, ex husband? When did that happen? How did that happen? Did she fax him divorce papers while he was in NYC living on Ramen?

--"I'm a really terrible person." Well, she did warn us. Also, dragon eggshell to keep your youth. The hell is that?

--Emma is behaving like a petulant child right now. I get that she's angry; she has every right to be. But to say that she doesn't trust Snowing and Charming with Henry's life?? Are you kidding me? They'd never hurt Henry. It's actually the opposite of their Lily story--they protected their family first and foremost. If the writers want me to buy that Emma has grown as a character then she needs to develop a new coping mechanism.

--Speaking of Emma, I also have a really big problem with the idea that because the villains--Hook and Regina in this case--never touted themselves as paragons of virtue, their deeds aren't as bad or reprehensible. That's...not how this works Emma. That's not how any of this works.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x9)

Women are whores. And the men of the world can treat them as such: wooing, sexing, paying for, bribing, hustling, and manipulating women as they see fit. Or at least, that's the stance Mad Men takes in this weeks episode, "New Business," a title, by the way, that feels very tongue in cheek since the women-are-whores thesis is nothing new for this show, especially for Don Draper who has some serious whore issues. Much like last weeks episode, this was a strange one and I'm wondering if we're going to be seeing strange episodes every week now. There were really two main threads--Don treating women like whores, and Megan being treated like a whore. Subject and object. Man and woman. Hustler and his hustlee. There is one very hilarious exception that I'll get to at the very end, but outside of the "whore thesis" (yes, I think I will keep calling it that) this weeks episode was also an exercise in French lunacy. Half the episode felt like a very old French comedy with the wacky, drunk mother and her two daughters who cat-fight for a few hours all while being sexy, stylish, and speaking in French. And honestly, I could watch Marie yell, "bring cash!" for hours and never stop laughing. It was another odd-ball one, but aren't all the best episodes? Grab some furniture that doesn't belong to you and let's go. 

Hey look. Death came to visit. Well, Di was more or less forced to come visit after a not-so-well-played proposition from Don. A lot of this episode centered on Don trying to get to know Di and Di's ultimate rejection of Donald Draper (hm, potential foreshadowing since technically the real Don Draper is dead?) Don is really laying it on thick with Di, isn't he? He somehow shows up at her new place of business where she is once again a waitress--a service worker who will give you what you want but in the end you must pay her for it (women are whores). After Don gives Di his phone number and tells her to call him, she proceeds to get drunk and...actually calls him. This is a late night booty call but not one that is initiated by Di; never lose sight of the fact that Don is in control here. Even when Di tries to tell Don that she isn't sure she wants this (sex), Don rebukes her by saying "it's three in the morning. You know why you're here. Do you want a drink or not?" In other words, Don is treating Di like a whore and Di understands that this is her role to play. For a few hours she gets to forget her tragic life (because of course the woman is also a mother with a lost child. I'll get to that in a second) but ultimately Di is treated like a woman of the night--she eventually has to leave the apartment, like so much dirty laundry, when the real woman of the household comes calling. Her status as whore is even more enforced in the end when Don shows up, gift in hand, and expects his just rewards. Now credit where credit is due, Di actually rejects him here only because she's been made aware that she's just another whore in a long line of whores. Once you get her out of her uniform of either a service worker (waitress) or her sex worker uniform (the nightgown), it turns out that she's a person with (really depressing) feelings! Who knew! Di was once a mother to two little girls, one of whom died. Golly. This sounds familiar, or at least bears some startling resemblances to Don's life, something I think he understands and I think will continue to draw him to Di. Don is also the son of a whore (Di's current status in this episode as both whore and mother) and his mother left him just like Di left her other daughter. There was another child left behind who must be missing both sibling and parent (Adam or even Dick Whitman himself) while Di embarks on a new life to forget the pain from whence she came. Di is also Don, but since Don's a whore himself this really all fits neatly together. I know there is a lot to unpack in this paragraph and in the interactions between Don and Di themselves but it really comes down to this: Di is, at the end, an amalgam of Don's issues wrapped into one sad package. She is a whore (as was Don' mother and part of his great shame growing up in a whore house); she's a mother who left her children (like Don's own mother and like he's accused Betty of doing in the past) and she's Death Incarnate (a figure that has loomed large over Donald Draper since the beginning of the show). As Don is wont to do, he tried to make Di into some sort of savior figure for his mountain-of-crap but fails because he turns her into those very problems: death, sex, and mothers. Have we seen the last of Di? Probably not. I expect we'll see her again, maybe at the end of the seasons/series.

And then there is Megan, who was treated like a whore by pretty much everyone in this episode. To some degree, I think Weiner and company are trying to get us to think about actresses as whores in general, a metaphor that certainly isn't unique to Mad Men. In order to move her career forward, Megan has to do what so many actresses do in her position: butter up, seduce, and play to those in power (and because we're in the 1970s--that means a man). In this case, Harry Crane, someone Megan cannot stand even in the slightest but for whom she'll put on her best mini-dress, poof up her hair, and put on tons of eyeshadow (holy blue eyeshadow, Batman!). She'll play up the fact that she's a gorgeous woman while flattering the heck out of her lunch companion if it means Harry will help her get an agent. Now, make no mistake, I am not making excuses for Harry Crane who takes the women-as-whores thesis to a literal translation and propositions Megan at the lunch table. He's a pig and he deserved a good slap in the face or even just a glass of wine thrown in his face. But he's demonstrating the concept of this episode: men have the power to turn women in whores and, more than that, it's expected. All art is selling something, and if Megan wants to be an artist, then she has to sell something--namely herself. Harry's entire bit of advice to Megan after she rejects his sexual advances is that if Megan didn't act this way, she'd be further in her career. Whore it out, baby! That's how you'll get far in this world. After the nasty run in with Harry Crane, Megan is then treated to yet another display of women-are-whores and this time from her former husband, Mr. Draper himself. After hearing about how Don has ruined Megan's life, Don decides that the only way to make up for this is to treat Megan like...you guessed it. A whore. He literally pulls out his check book and gives her a million dollars. In Don's head, he's hoping that this makes Megan happy and that's righted the wrongs he committed because surely women want things like money and presents (never respect or admiration or an apology), but coming off of Megan's lunch with Harry in which she was asked for sex in return for help in her career...this was just another way of reminding her that she's a whore. Way to go Don!

And thus we come to the one woman in this episode who was not treated like a whore, but rather treated everyone around her like one--man, woman, model, vegetable, mineral. She's even trying to make art her bitch, isn't she? Pima. A well known photographer who has been hired to work for SC&P, Pima moves through the episode hustling Stan and Peggy and the company. She can get everyone to do as she wants, from showing her the dark room to, presumably, getting Peggy to change her mind on which photo to use. But here's why I think this little subplot is hilarious. Do you see what Pima is wearing--what she wore the entire time she was in this episode? A man's suit. We never saw Pima not in a three piece male-esque suit. It's all sort of fabulous, of course, but it helps drive home the thesis of this episode: men have the power. In order for Pima to be as well respected and powerful as she apparently is, she adopts a male lifestyle, either unconsciously or consciously. Pima dresses in female-version of a man's clothes; she hustles everyone around her, she understands that all art is selling something and you can either be the seller or what is being sold. Pima manages to get Stan to seriously worry about his art and his own creative genius (not something we've ever seen from Stan before) just by her mere presence. Pima manages to gobsmack Peggy with just one little touch on skin. The actual business side here doesn't matter. Pima is a walking thesis for this weeks episode. But to leave this review on a slightly more upbeat kind of note, the one person who figured Pima out by the end? Peggy Olson. Peggy might have been treated like an object by Pima but she saw what was going on and seems to be the only one who did. Oh Pegs. You're gonna make it after all. One final nail on the head moment, this time coming from Pete Campbell. He gave, what I think is not only a sum of the series as a whole, but answer the questions I posed last week about if Don (or Dick) can enter 1971: "What if you never get past the beginning?" There are no second chances and no chances period. These characters--apart from Peggy--keep making the exact same mistakes over and over again (hence the irony of this weeks title). People do not fundamentally change; they are always stuck in the beginning.

Miscellaneous Notes on New Business 

--Another women-are-whores moment, though a much subtler one. Marie calls Roger and begs him to come over with money ("bring cash!") to help her out of a jam. She tells him to bring $200 in order to get all of Don's things off the sidewalk. When Roger gets there, he only has to pay $180, the furniture is in the truck, and Marie is having a cigarette. It might be incredibly subtle, but I'm pretty sure there was some hanky panky between Marie and the furniture mover in order to reduce the price and get the stuff off the street before Roger arrived.

--Betty is going back to school to get her master's degree in psychology. Because "people love to talk to me." I think I laughed for five minutes solid.

--"How do you sleep at night knowing the Manson Brothers are running around?"

--So, does Don ever get his furniture back? That was hilarious but also a nice symbolic note that his life is now literally empty. Also a nice juxtaposition to the opening scene where Don also looks around the Francis house but instead of finding it empty. finds it full of life and color. Everything that empty NYC penthouse is now not.

--Are we going to be seeing an old girlfriend every episode now? Hi Sylvia, it's really appropriate that you showed up this episode since you were really Don's whore-mother in season six. Also, mega awkward elevator meeting, no?

--I miss Sally. Where is Sally?

--"You're nothing but an aging, sloppy, selfish liar." Pretty much, Megan, pretty much.