Monday, June 10, 2013

In Which I Review Mad Men (6x11)

Confession: There is an image in my head that, after seeing this weeks installment of Mad Men, I cannot shake. The image goes a little something like this: Matthew Weiner, creator and head writer, is sitting in the AMC offices and says, "I've got an idea for a Mad Men sequel. It takes place in the late 70s/early 80s and follows the adventures of Sally Draper, who is trying to lead a normal healthy life but can't because her parents royally screwed her up and she needs intensive therapy." If you take anything away from this weeks "Favors," it's that Sally Draper is the most pitiable character on the show. 

There is an axiom that states, "no good deed does unpunished" and this weeks episode, Favors, was all about people doing favors for others and having it come back to hurt them. As always with Mad Men, there are several plots running concurrently that all somehow mirror each other. The main thread follows Don as he attempts to find a way for his ex-lover's son, Mitchell, to escape his dreaded placement as A-1, meaning that in the next draft he'll be shipped out to Vietnam. Sylvia, we remember, broke up with Don after he humiliated her and turned her into a whore, red dress and all. Don, of course, was very upset at the ending of their relationship because all relationships must end on Don's terms, so this was the perfect opportunity to sneak back into Sylvia's good graces. If you have any allusions that Don is doing this to be magnanimous, leave them at the door. When told of Mitchell's A-1 status and his desire to become a draft dodger, Don simply tells Megan to leave it alone because, "he can't spend the rest of his life on the run." Don is an expert on this philosophy. It's only after Don and Arnold have drinks and Arnold confesses that he has caught Sylvia in little acts of lying lately that Don decides to assist the Rosen family. The conversation between Arnold and Don is an interesting one: both served in the previous war, both knew it was the honorable thing to do, but this war is different. This war does not make sense in the minds of Americans who are feeling the effects of the cultural revolution--whether they are fighting those changes or moving with the times. Don's agenda may be to help out a friend--his only friend as Ted points out later--but he also knows that Sylvia will be indebted to him for saving her son. After a series of awkward interactions with Pete (who can't help) and the Chevy executives (which is bad for business) Don finds a helping hand in Ted who strikes a bargain: Ted will assist Mitchell in getting out of being a soldier but Don must "be better" at this business; he can't fight Ted anymore, they must work together.

SIDENOTE: Anyone else think it's significant the merger of SCDP and CGC happened this season, when Vietnam has become inescapable? The war has escalated this season, its become a presence in almost every episode--whether it's the news being on in the background of the Draper home, a brief conversation of it at dinner between the Draper's and the Rosen's, the riots at the DNC, or even someone losing a family member to it. The war is slowly taking over 1968 and our new company. The war is a historical reality, of course, but that's not to say that Weiner isn't playing up the metaphor. Two sides who you would think could get along because they are so similar and should be able to work together--in statehood, in advertising, in being able to govern, in being able to pitch to a client--can't. Don and Ted can't see eye to eye on anything except that they needed to merge in order to win the big Chevy account. They have different takes on butter and margarine and they can't agree on which juice company they should represent. Last week Jim Cutler wanted to start thinning the herd with SCDP because it's an "us vs. them" mentality. Ted has been working overtime (to the dismay of his wife) trying to make a unified company, and this week he finally gave in and realizes it may not happen. His (excellent): "I don't want his juice, I want MY juice" line perfectly demonstrates the gulf between the two companies. It may be "all your juice" according to Cutler but the lines between the two companies are as clear as a border between North and South Vietnam.

Don, having saved the day, calls Sylvia to tell her that her son is safe. Sylvia is overcome with gratitude and forgets Don's past terrible behavior. She tells him, "You were good to me, better than I was to you." Really? Did Sylvia make Don wait in a hotel room all day just for her pleasure? Did she make him crawl across the room to fetch her shoes? Did she purposefully dress him in colors and clothing that remind her of a whorehouse, turning Don into a object instead of a person? And of course, this is all Don needs. He can reenter the Rosen residence and sleep with Sylvia, secure in the knowledge that she has learned her lesson: one does not break up with Don Draper. And this is where poor, young, innocent, sweet, hasn't-been-to-any-bases-yet, Sally comes in. In an effort to save herself embarrassment from Mitchell (because Sally has a horrible friend), Sally sneaks into the Rosen house and discovers Don and Sylvia, undressed and having sex in Sylvia's bedroom. Goodbye innocence. Last season, poor Sally discovered Roger and Marie in a compromising position in At The Codfish Ball; that season 5 episode found Sally trying to be a grown up, with her gown and makeup and little go-go boots, but the realization that she is not ready to be an adult came crashing down around her when she caught Roger and Maire. The final lines of the Codfish episode are Sally telling Glen Bishop that the city is dirty, as smog and smoke billow in the background. Sally is still a child; she's growing up and becoming interested in boys, but she is still young. And catching her father in the act of sex with another woman has thrust her into adulthood before she was ready. This is going to have serious repercussions on Sally. There will also be repercussions on Don as well; after almost 6 seasons of being the philanderer, Don has finally been caught in the act, and not by one of his wives. It has often been said that Don is a good father, if not a good man. This is a sentiment with which I used to agree; Don's an absent father, but he does deeply love his children. Now I wonder if I only see him as a good father because he was contrasted with Betty, who is a horrible mother. Sally and Don have always had a special relationship, in many ways she is the most important woman in Don's life besides his mother who's life and death hang over everything Don does and says. And now, Don has probably lost Sally.

The other person this week who's good deeds do not pay off is Bob Benson. The mystery man of season 6 is finally revealed as...GAY. And in love with Pete Campbell? While I am very confused as to why anyone would love Pete, it's nice to have the mystery solved, though I remain hesitant that the full mystery has been put to rest. Bob being gay is fantastic (though it makes me miss Sal from season one through three a lot) and it's about time they had a more out of the closet gay man on Mad Men, but I think there is more to this story. Bob has done Pete the favor off setting up Pete's mother, Dorothy, with Monolo, a Spanish (and obviously gay) nurse. Dorothy finds herself smitten with him and is confused about their relationship; and because it's 1968 and the understanding of dementia is really that poor, Pete believe that Monolo is a pervert who is taking advantge of Dorothy's confused mind. When Pete confronts Bob about it, Bob reassures him that Monolo is not after Dorothy but then transitions to talks of love. Bob asks Pete, "when there's true love, does it matter who it is?" followed by the obvious knee touching. Instant rejection and "it's disgusting" are what Bob is rewarded with from Pete. His good deed of being the bright, chipper, helpful guy has just outed him as a "degenerate" with romantic ambitions toward one of the junior partners. I wouldn't put Bob Benson in the "solved" category yet. We've got two episodes to go and we all know how Weiner likes to play with us. For example, I may be reading way too much into this, but did you notice that the two times we heard--significantly heard and saw--the TV (Peggy's apartment and Don's apartment) the show had something to do with spying? I still think Bob is a spy.

The next two episodes were probably set up by this one: will Sally tell? Is Bob really just a gay man? Will Meghan and Don be able to repair their marriage? Is Meghan going to die? Will Peggy and Ted start something? My only prediction right now is that Ted, Peggy, Pete and Joan will leave SC&P and start their own company. Ted's line, "this is the company I always wanted" over dinner with Pete and Peggy seemed to scream that people are going to jump the SC&P ship.

Miscellaneous notes on "Favors"
--No Joan. I don't like it when Joan's not around.

--Peggy vs. the rat. Hello my life. I can't handle mice in my house, but she got herself a cat. Very nice. I really hope she gets out of that apartment soon.

--Peggy and Pete. There was a lot in this episode I wish I could unpack, but the conversation between Peggy and a confused Dorothy followed by the conversation at the restaurant between Peggy and Pete was well written and acted and a definite highlight. I don't know if Peggy and Pete are ever going to rekindle their brief and very tumultuous office romance of season one, but this nice little scene showed what might have been if Pete was not married (and a terrible human being); because Pete is right: Peggy knows him. She really does. I also really enjoyed the line "at least one of us turned out to be useful." How true! Peggy was the little secretary who rose in the ranks to become a very integral part of SCDP, CGC, AND SC&P. Pete may have been on his way up at one point, but like Don his life is falling apart at the seams and he too is becoming that iconic falling man.

--Ted is jealous of the obvious history and connection between Pete and Peggy. I hated being reminded that Ted is married with two kids, because I really like the idea of Peggy and Ted. Despite shutting the door in her face two episodes ago, Ted is in love with her, but is it only because, as Ted's wife says, he "loves a challenge?"

--Major props to Kiernan Shipka who played a devestated Sally perfectly, even mirroring Jon Hamm's acting while he was in the elevator, later when she was in her bedroom.

--The ending song is always a way to tie up the episode as a whole and it is very significant that the ending song was, at first, several seconds of silence (signaling the death of Sally and Don's special bond) and then very maudlin.

--Who finds out about Don and Sylvia next? Megan, the wife, or Betty, the mother? And which reaction will be worse? I really hope there is a showdown between the Draper women and Don.

--I'm not very good at deconstructing the clothes of this show, but I have been following Tom and Lorenzo's "Mad Style Blog." The color palette this season has been blues and greens and yellows. The other important color is red, which is always a call back to Don's childhood in the whorehouse. Now that I know to look for it, it's everywhere. Everyone was in some green or blue or yellow this episode. Sally's dress, upon discovering Don, was both red and blue: symbolizing the depraved sex she witnessed and the power (royal blue) she now has, whether she knows it or not. Peggy is in green while talking to Dorothy and then Pete, who has on blue in his tie, two colors that together symbolize adultery, which is appropriate as they talk about their past in oblique terms.

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