Friday, May 30, 2014

In Which I Review Crossbones (1x1)

When I first learned that NBC would be producing a swash buckle take on the historic Blackbeard, I rolled my eyes and said, "of course they are." Because nothing screams summer like an adventure on the high seas. The trailer for "Crossbones" coupled with NBC's previous attempts at new drama (ie: Dracula) left me doubtful that this would be anything more than an exercise in foolishness. Despite having the accomplished John Malcovich as the lead, the show just seemed too ridiculous to take seriously. So image my surprise when the first episode, "The Devil's Domain," was actually...good. Now, I don't mean it's life altering Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Orphan Black kind of good. But it was good nonetheless. It blended humor and intrigue and good old fashioned pirating (pay attention, ONCE, this is how you do pirates) effortlessly. There was enough to keep me coming back for more and little in the way of filler or fluff.  Maybe NBC got something right for a change?

At present, there are only four characters that truly matter, and two of them are far more important than the others. Instead of introducing a veritable slew of new figures, the show did well in introducing necessary players but only providing tidbits as to who they really are and what they want. I have no doubt that there will be others that come into play as these 10 episodes play out. The cast is, as you might expect, an assorted motley crew of pirates and thieves--each one brandishing a different weapon. There are islanders and Englishmen and miscellaneous riff-raff. What really sells the show, so far at least, are the two leads of Blackbeard and Thomas Lowe.

I believe I made mention of this in my ONCE 3x17 post, but Blackbeard was a real historical figure. Despite what Hollywood would have you believe--as most pirates these days are based on the mythic representation of Blackbeard as opposed to any historical truth--he was not a crazed killing machine. He was a pirate, and a very good one, to be sure, but he did not go around killing people for the sake of killing. He also lit his beard on fire, but I suppose we can dispense with that for the sake of safety? NBC's take on the pirate, who does not have a flaming beard sadly, is not what I expected. I thought we'd get a caricature--not a character. He'd do all the things a pirate is supposed to do--say "arg" a lot, have a parrot, and with any luck be more comical than scary. Turns out, John Malcovich as a pirate, is terrifying. We're talking boot quaking, on the edge of your seat, really messed up terrifying. He's the best kind of terrifying--he'll smile as he threatens you. This Blackbeard is polite and educated and unlike his pirate brothers, he is above the more brutish desires and natures. He is clean and has the air of an English gentleman about him. Of course, he'll threaten you, hang you in the town square, draw and quarter you, flay you, and let all manner of terrible things befall you, but he'd drink his high tea and crumpets while doing it. In a word--this Blackbeard is cold. Ice to the touch. What his ultimate end game is, I don't know. But given that we first see him surrounded by a host of ticking clocks, I suspect he's literally running out of time. Time for what though--his life? Or until the British Empire gobbles up the rest of the world that he used to run and he is forced back into the murky depths, lost to civilization? Blackbeard is also cunning and has somehow managed to ensconce himself as king of this tiny isle, though life on a rock must be a dreadful one for a pirate. There is also, clearly, something in his past that haunts him. I was not expecting a dead woman covered in blood to show up, floating eerily at his door, but there she was! And so traumatizing was the specter, that Blackbeard had a physical reaction to her in the form of a nosebleed. Dead wife? Dead mistress? Not sure but I found this Blackbeard fascinating and enjoyable to watch.

Standing opposed to Blackbeard, but with a touch of pirate in him, is Thomas Lowe who is a doctor--spy--doctor--spy---I really don't know. He obviously has some medical training, though that could be as part of his spy training. And it's also obvious that Lowe has a gift for espionage. But apart from his standing orders to kill Blackbeard, we don't know a whole lot about him. His conversations with Blackbeard, though, were interesting. They are essentially trying to play a game of chess, and both know (or at least thinks they know) what the other wants. Lowe wants Blackbeard dead and Blackbeard wants Lowe's help before he hangs him up for the crows to peck at. Lowe strikes me as a loyal only when it suits him. While he has no problem following orders, I suspect he might be tempted by island living. Blackbeard has too little freedom, Lowe has too much. And of course, his temptress to the world of attachment is the naked swimmer Lady Katherine. Temptation, thy name is woman. What I'm more interested in is why Lowe became a spy in the first place. Spies on TV becomes spies because they are unattached, they are not bound by hearth and home and thus free to take up a life of danger, peaking into other people's hearth and homes. But it's also pretty common that spies are running from something--a bad family, a broken heart, and so on and so forth. What's Lowe's story? And what would it take--apart from Lady Katherine--to break Lowe's ties to the crown?

Quick nitty gritty of plot. The British Empire is quickly claiming many parts of the globe. However, the oceans are vast and many ships get lost without proper navigational equipment. Enter a curious looking device that will allow a ship to chart their location at sea. Once the British Navy has this at their disposal, the seas are theirs for the taking, and all pirates be damned. This device, its inventor, and the inventor's encoded diary are bound for London, Thomas Lowe in tow as a form of protection. Lowe's other objective is to find Blackbeard and kill him. Pretty simple, right? Except that the ship is taken over by Blackbeard's men and ransacked; Lowe makes a last ditch effort to destroy the machine and the diary but only succeeds in completely destroying the former. He is taken, with the diary, to a small island on which Blackbeard has set up shop. Blackbeard gives Lowe an ultimatum: translate the diary and you can live awhile longer or die now. It's only episode one, so I think we know what option Lowe takes.

Lowe does make one half hearted attempted at escape and murdering Blackbeard but changes his mind due to a plot involving the Spanish--this, as of right now, is unclear but will become clearer as the show progresses.

The other two important characters are the Lady Katherine, who is on the island hiding out from charges of high treason and her husband (?) who doesn't have a name yet, but is working with Blackbeard. Lady Kate (as I shall now call her) thinks her husband an invalid and in a wheelchair but he's faking that apparently. Didn't expect that either. There is also Selima, and if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say she and Blackbeard have a thing going. Selima like puzzles, that's all we know so far, but since that's her first character trait, it's an important one.

Over all, I'd say to check it out. The pilot held my interest and was good fun but also left me wanting more.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Devil's Domain

--Really nice set and costume design. Felt very tropical and pirate-y.

--Malcovich's accent took a bit of getting used to.

--A wee bit violent but nowhere near the blood and gore of Dracula

--Despite having a potential thing with Selima, Blackbeard also has a harem.

--Any good spy must have an assistant but I do hope Fletch doesn't become too comic relief-y.

Monday, May 26, 2014

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x7)

If you've ever taken a single European history course, then chances are you've heard of Napoleon and the infamous Battle of Waterloo. It was a rather decisive battle in European history; it not only ended Napoleon's reign as the Emperor of France, but it also ended a series of wars that raged over Europe and ushered in a 50 year era of peace between the countries. In other words, with Napoleon out and isolated, the best things in life were yet to come. Don's had a bit of a Napoleon theme running through him this season, though it took this episode, "Waterloo," for me to really see it. Big and brash commander who won more victories than he had defeats, but towards the end began making mistakes. Tiny little slip ups that resulted in loss of life and power, until finally, he was defeated and exiled to a tiny island. Don is much the same; he could do no wrong in that company, and even when he was drinking and sleeping around, he was still Don Draper. Then he began to make a few too many mistakes: pitching suicide for instance, and then finally the biggest mistake of them all, telling a room full of clients who he really is. And, then, with hat in hand, Don was shipped off on leave, exiled to his dingy apartment to wait judgement. Like Napoleon, Don staged a comeback and was granted a second chance. But this was Don's Waterloo--can a man really come back from leave? What places does Don Draper have in this agency now? Weiner and company would never be so literal or so repetitive to, once again, ship Don off in exile like Napoleon was after Waterloo, but while the war may have been won, it wasn't Don's victory. Don was just along for the ride. 

It's July 1969 and everyone in America (and the world, really) is waiting for Apollo 11 to either land on the moon and make history, or to crash and burn and kill everyone inside. Metaphorically, in SC &P everyone is waiting for the Burger Chef pitch, in which they will either sell their advertisement idea and make lots of money, or they'll crash and burn and kill the company. There is a lot riding on this pitch, which is why last week, Pete suggested (read: all but insisted) that Don be the one to deliver the pitch; Don's the one who can bring it home. It should be a sign of things to come when Pete cuts off Don's windup pitch; we won't be seeing Don pitch anything, maybe ever again. If you really think about it, Don hasn't pitched at all this season. At least not directly. Peggy doesn't know that Don was feeding Freddy Rumsen work, and brilliant work at that. But once he came back to SC&P, Don has kept his head down and done the entry level work of a junior ad-man. Until the last few moments of this episode, we haven't seen Don himself pitch; even then, the "pitch" at the end isn't a Don Draper ad pitch; it's a desperate Hail Mary pass to save his own career and isn't even directed at a client. Yes, the audience understands that Don has been practice pitching to his team for a few weeks now, but by denying the audience's chance to see that in action, you are also making a statement about Don's power: he has none. He's not even allowed to practice pitch fully.

His lack of power coupled with the issues of the past, coupled with Jim Culter's somewhat bizarre desire to move away from creative and into computer-based advertising sets us up for the metaphorical battle of Waterloo. Like in all good battles, first an issue of war is declared. The day the team is due to fly out to Indiana and pitch to Burger Chef, a letter comes across Don's desk informing him that he is in breech of contract and that he is going to be fired. A few episodes back, Don walked into a big tobacco meeting and proceeded to undermine Jim and Lou by pitching himself, not an ad. The move was a way to save his career, as the meeting was a set up to in force Don out in the first place. But, Jim now feels it is adequate grounds to dismiss Don. So long as Don is around, SC&P will always be a Don Draper company. The clients, for now (we'll get to to why only now), flock to Don to hear Don's ideas and Don's pitches. So long as Don Draper can still burst into meetings, Jim will never have the kind of company he wants. I must say, I'm a little shocked at how little regard Jim has for creative. His closest ally and partner is Ted, who is exactly like Don: creative first, business second. Does Jim think there is really a place for Ted in this new sterile, technology driven agency? What's more shocking are the way the votes go down when Don summons the partners together to vote on if he should stay or go. This scene was laced with tension. The scoring of Mad Men is always important, but unless it's an actual lyrical song, the music is never in your face and is often muted or very low. The music as Don calls the partners, his comrades in arms as it were, together was much louder and intense than anything we've heard in awhile. It created a sense of drama, but it also created a sense of fear. Don's on edge and almost takes a swing at Jim (which Jim deserves for throwing Don's "impoverished childhood" in Don's face), everyone is angry at one another and angry at Jim. Like civilized men (and woman) they first attempt a vote. Not surprisingly Jim (and apparently Ted who is absent in more ways than one this season) wants Don out of the company.

What really hits Don hard is that Joan sides with Jim. I have a lot of issues with this. Joan claims it is because Don costs her money and she's tired of it. I must say, this is a character development of Joan that I don't like.While the two have never been close, say in the vein of Peggy and Don's relationship, Joan and Don have always been allies and had a mutual respect for one another. When Joan got served divorce papers, it was Don who made her feel better. When the company wanted to whore Joan out to get the Jaguar car, it was Don who went to her apartment at night and asked her not to do it. Joan has always seen to Don's needs and never publicly judged or faulted him. As far as the money issue goes, Joanie has got a bit of revisionist history going on in her head. Joan is referring to how she, Bert, and Pete wanted to take the company public, before Don and Ted single-handedly managed to merge their two companies together without thought to the other partners in their respective firms. So while Joan can be upset that she lost money on that deal, she cannot actually fault Don because Don didn't know about this secret plan to take his company public. Both sides were guilty of back door dealing, but Don got the victory. I find Joan's lack of loyalty not only illogical but just unbelievable. Are the writers trying to get me to dislike Joan? Her obsession with money lately is a bit hard to swallow. Joan is doing alright, financially. She got a promotion and is making more money as a partner. The fact that she would hold this one (revisionist) incident over Don's head to the point where she wants him out, is ludicrous. Does Joan not realize that if Don Draper goes, the money goes with him? Don's name is still worth something, even if he is currently lacking power and is no longer the creative genius of seasons past. Until Peggy firmly establishes herself as the new go-to for creative, Don is the prized piece of horseflesh (best line ever?). If I have one criticism of this season, it's the way they are writing Joan about 75% of the time.

This particular skirmish might have come down in Don's favor, but that doesn't mean the battle is won yet.  Poor Don. All his marriages end by phone. One of my favorite episodes of Mad Men has to be the season 3 finale, "Shut the Door. Have a Seat." That episode was ALL over this one; lots of parallels or reversals of fortune. Quick reminder: in Season Two, Sterling Cooper was bought by a British firm who allowed SC a form of autonomy until the end of season three when the British firm was acquired by McCann Erikson. This meant that McCann Erikson (who has always lurked in the shadows of the show, ready to gobble up wherever Don Draper was working) would finally acquire SC and turn it into "a sausage factory." Don's talent would be lost and everyone else would be reduced to mediocrity. Don, unable to stand such a thought, convinced Lane Pryce, Bert Cooper, and eventually, Roger Sterling to stage a coup and form their own company, what was Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce until the end of season 5. Put a pin in all that for a moment, because what is really important for present day Don is what was happening between Betty and Don in the past: the ending of their marriage. Like Megan and Don, the dissolution of Betty and Don's marriage occurs in the shows of a national event, in their case in the wake of JFK's assassination. Don's first marriage ends in the face of a national tragedy, his second in the wake of a national triumph.  There were a lot of similarities between the way these two marriages ended: over the phone, the events surrounding them, and even some of the dialogue. In season three, Don tells Betty, "I'm not going to fight" and in season seven, Megan asks (in a round about way, since they are discussing, originally, the company trying to force him out): "aren't you tired of fighting. Maybe you should move on." When Don presents the idea of moving out to LA full time, Megan doesn't answer and Don knows: it's over. Their marriage was never going to last; it was too quick and it only served to a fill a hole in Don's heart when Anna died. Megan with her carefree attitude in California gave Don what he needed in that moment, but Megan never wanted to be the kind of wife and mother Don pictures himself with. Will we see Megan ever again? Probably. I can't see Weiner keeping her totally out of the show; look at how often we see Betty, even though Betty admits in this episode that she only ever sees Don when it's absolutely necessary and she's begun to think of him as more like an ex-boyfriend that a young girl would date, not a woman. However, maybe not since Megan has no other ties to Don, never having given him a baby. So while Don is loosing his second wife, there is another relationship that is also breaking up.

Julio and Peggy are an odd little duo. He serves as a stand in for the little boy Peggy gave up between season one and season two and likewise, Peggy is a stand-in for Julio's real mother, who probably loves her son but doesn't do a great job of seeing to his needs. Julio has been flitting in and out of Peggy's apartment all season; in lieu of any sort of romantic attachment, Peggy--the woman who says she doesn't know how to be the voice of moms--has become a mom. And now she is loosing another baby, but this one she didn't want to give up. This one she wanted to keep. It's a bit of cruel irony that just when Peggy figures out how to be a mother, it's ripped from her. But I suppose Julio served his purpose; he opened Peggy's eyes to the fact that she is a good mom, or could be someday. There was a lot of meaning in the lines, "yes she does. that's why she is moving." Peggy knows all about loving a baby so much that you move to suit their needs. Julio's mom is moving to Newark, but Peggy moved up in the corporal world, and let her son have a life he deserved, but she couldn't provide. Quick costuming note: when the SC&P team sit down to pitch to Burger Chef, Peggy will mimic Julio's outfit, green and blue stripes. Subconsciously, at this moment when Peggy must be the voice of moms, she's channeling her "adopted" son and, maybe unknowingly, wearing the outfit she last saw him in. It's actually pretty sweet.

I wasn't born in 1969 so I have no idea what it was like watching the moon landing, but from what I can surmise, Mad Men pretty much nailed what it was like to gather around the TV with your family and friends and wait with baited breath until Armstrong's foot touched down. About 125 million Americans tuned in to watch. That's a lot, in case you were wondering. This was a rather touching moment, as you have lot of families gathered around their TV's watching the moon landing--Don and his team in a small hotel; Betty and her clan in their mansion; Roger, his ex, their son-in-law, and grandson; Bert and his live-in maid, all piled together on a couch. A few things of interest: firstly, look at all the different types of families. You have the work family of SC&P, you have the modern version of a family with the Sterling's since Margaret has run off and now Roger and Mona are playing a larger role in raising their grandson. And you have the upper class conservative family of the Francis residence, which consists of a husband and wife both on their second marriages and kids who have a different world view. It's a reflection of what Peggy pitched to Don last week: the nuclear family of mom, dad, dog, two kids, gathered around a kitchen table enjoying a special treat of Burger Chef doesn't exist anymore. It's not the 1950s; it's almost 1970 and this is what family looks like. Secondly, every single one of these families has some sort of food product around them: cans of beer, a full meal, snacks, a glass of milk. Again, this is what Peggy is going to be highlighting in her pitch to Burger Chef: the idea of family gathering around a dining room table and having a family meal doesn't really exist anymore. Instead, you're piled in front of the TV with various bits of eating stuffs, watching the news. The kitchen table is your battle field.

I wasn't expecting this plot point; I really wasn't. I expected someone to die, but I thought it would be Ted, who has been hovering near suicide all season. What I did not expect was Bert Cooper dying in the middle of the moon landing. Bert has always been a relatively minor figure in the show. When the show opens in 1960, Bert's already been shuffled to the side as men like Don and Pete are working their way up the ladder. He may have started the company and he has a vested interest in it, but he also made his fortune and his name and he was fine to sit in his office with his crossword puzzle and and just be a figure head. But every so often, Bert would pop up out of his hole and remind us all that once upon a time, he had been a cut throat businessman who started a firm and raised it up to the point where men like Don and Pete could take over. When Bert tells Don he has no choice but to sign a non-compete contract with SC in season two by blackmailing Don with the Dick Whitman secret, is a good example of Bert's ruthlessness. But Bert was also incredibly loyal. Loyalty was a running theme of this episode and after the skirmish in the hallway where they vote if Don is in or out, Bert gives Roger a lesson in loyalty. Bert may think Don is annoying asshole, but Don is still a member of the team, and Bert is loyal to his team. It brings to mind the incredible moment from season one where Pete tells Bert all about who Don Draper really is, hoping to get him fired, and Bert coldly waltzes up to Pete, looks him dead in the eye, and says, "Mr. Campbell. Who cares?" It's one of my favorite moments. Bert's final lesson: be loyal and be a leader. Roger is a spoiled privileged child who has no control and he who has control has the power. I also think Bert delivers the message of this episode but also what is going to play out in the rest of the season and series: "no one can come back from leave--not even Napoleon. He staged a coup but he ended up back on that island." Don came back from leave and by the end, Roger has control after a successful coup (we'll get there) but will Don end up back on his island of being unable to change? I guess we'll have to wait.

Bert's death also, as Jim so coldly points out moments after arriving at the office, means that he now has the votes to get rid of Don and he plans on doing that come Monday morning. If Don is about to be kicked out of his company, then he can't present to Burger Chef. Enter Peggy. And it was gorgeous. THAT was her Carousel moment. Season one ends with one of the greatest moments in TV history--Don pitching the absolute HELL out of Kodak using the concept of nostalgia. And Peggy is going to close season 7 by pitching the hell out of Burger Chef, by using a new idea: the family supper that gets you away from the TV. The moon landing demonstrated one thing, says Peggy, we are all starved for a connection. The nightly dinners of these modern families that you are no longer able to reach, aren't sitting around a dinning room table, discussing their day. They are in front of the TV, watching Vietnam and the News. You can't bring the family supper to them, they have to go to the family supper and that's what Peggy's pitch is: "family supper at Burger Chef." Brava to Elisabeth Olsen. It was magnificent. It felt like the Carousel ad of season one; you couldn't help but be solely focused on Peggy and what she was saying. She had the men of the room--and apart from one secretary, she is the only girl in the room--eating out of her hand. Her voice and cadence and rhythm were perfect. And there sat Don, not angry or bitter that this wasn't him, but proud. Peggy brought the ad home. Peggy brought them the connection they were craving. Is Don's time over? Is this now the Peggy show? Maybe. But Don's name, for now, carries more weight than Peggy's. And this is how Roger saves the company and Don's career.

Bert's final words to Roger--that Roger isn't a leader--really struck poor Roger Sterling. Roger has a habit of throwing his weight around, proclaiming himself king and president, but never doing anything to back up those claims. Roger takes the easy way out and would rather drink and drug himself into a stupor than to actually run a business. And now with Bert gone for good, Roger knows it's only a matter of time before he looses his best friend and brother, Don. And so, with a major Hail Mary, Roger goes behind everyone's back and strikes a deal with the people they formed the company to get away from: McCann Erikson. The deal is pretty straightforward: McCann buys the SC&P, giving the partners a HUGE amount of money, but SC&P gets to remain autonomous, keep their staff, their name, and their clients. And the best part: Donald Draper has to be part of the equation. McCann isn't interested if Don (and Ted) don't come along. Roger knows it might be a hard sell, but luckily he's talking to hardened businessmen who really like money. Joan and Pete jump on it right away, when learning how much they stand to gain. Jim is, of course, adamently against it, and threatens to leave, to which Roger smugly says, "that's okay. You're not essential to this." Burn! The problem is Ted.

 Ted has been heading down Lane Pryce Avenue for sometime now. He's miserable and suicidal. The opening scene showed him, in his plane, with two clients. Mid flight, he cuts the engine, and tells them that he's going to let the plane crash so that all their problems will be over. And here's Don and Roger asking him to stay in advertising for five more years, and to work for a major meat factory like McCann, a place that cares more about business and acquisitions than creative. But it's Don who manages to give the hard sell to Ted. "You don't have to work for us; but you do have to work. Trust me, you don't want to see what it's like when it's really gone." Ted and Don, despite their differences, have always been a reflection of the other: they are both hard working and incredibly good at what they do. There's a reason why there is so much animosity between them: they know they are each others real competition. Don knows what happens when creative men are denied their genius; they sit in bathrobes all day long eating Cheez-Its and will do anything to get back into the game. They'll write tags, coupons. Anything. Ted knows Don is right of course; what's killing his soul isn't the advertising game (he's far to good at it for it to kill him) but rather, it's being a businessman. So Don makes him a promise: go back to being the creative guy and leave the business to others. And 'lo, McCan Erikson did acquire SC&P.

Well this was unexpected. Seriously, if you had told me that the first half of season seven would end with a dead Bert Cooper dancing with secretaries and singing, I'd have asked how much acid you dropped. After the successful arm twisting of Ted, Don "goes back to work." Freddy's advice many episodes ago have really been working for Don--just do the work, Don. Now this isn't the first Don has seen a phantom after he looses someone close. When Lane died, he saw his brother because Don was largely responsible for both their deaths (Lane's ghost and memory was all over this episode, by the way. Lane's rolling his grave, cursing with British slang). Bert and Don have a father-son relationship: it's cantankerous but it's loving' it's also the only good father-son dynamic Don has ever had, his own father being a drunk and cruel. Don respects the heck out of Bert and Bert has been waiting for Don to grow up a bit and realize what really matters. And this was a very loving send off for Bert and Don. And how about a round of applause for Robert Morse, an old hat when it comes to song and dance, being as nimble and spry at his age!! And of course he's in his socks--Bert Cooper would never be in shoes! The lyrics to the song are very telling: the best things in life are free/ love can come to everyone. For Don Draper--rather to Dick Whitman--the idea that love can be his is something of a revelation. No one loves Dick Whitman. Dick Whitman sits out in the cold and and watches that love is exchanged for money instead of being freely given. Bert (Don's subconscious, really) wants Don to be free. It's also deeply ironic coming from a tycoon of advertising that the best things in life are FREE. But that's Bert: a contradiction in terms. When he died, he was sitting next to a black maid (and we know Bert exhibits a casual 1920s-esque racism) with a Jackson Pollack painting behind him. Bert wanted to leave the company to raise his cattle because he loved them so, but there he was, year after year, office-less with his colleagues. What does all this mean for Don?

Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo, and a few years later would die an ignoble death on the island of St Helena. Is Don free now? Is he healed? Not even remotely. This episode might seem like a triumph for Don, but only because he rode the coat tails of those around him. Roger saved the company and Don's job. Peggy landed Burger Chef. Don's time as creative genius is coming to a close; he literally passed the torch to Peggy this episode and she nailed it, and landed the account. Don's not really needed anymore. Ted is younger and with less baggage, now that he's excused from the business parts of life. This wasn't exactly a victory for Don--if anything, it's a hiatus. The last seven episodes aren't due out for another year but when we come back, I think we'll see the powershifts really play out. Ted is more in charge, Roger and Jim run the company, Peggy pitches, and Don watches everything move forward without him, everyone waiting for him to move on. Anyone know how Napoleon died? Stomach cancer. Wouldn't it be telling if Donald Draper died at the end of the series from smoking too much? The final image of Don, sitting on his desk, head bent, signals, to me at least, that Don's battle with himself and how he manages to live in this bold new world, aren't over.

Until next year...the moon and the stars belong to everyone. The best things in life are free.

Miscellaneous Notes on Waterloo

--I know I skipped over everything with Sally but in short: despite her being a bit of a Betty clone this episode, she's still Sally and she still went for the nerdy boy in glasses instead of a the hot stud. Props to the actress who managed to embody bot her parents: forging her own path like her father, but dressed exactly like Betty. And check out how body language when she takes a drag on her cigarette: January Jones to a T.

--Meredith is officially my favorite secretary in the history of ever. That incredibly awkward attempt to hit on Don was deliciously silly.

--Can we have Nick come back and woo Peggy?

--"That is a very sensitive piece of horseflesh. He shouldn't be rattled" 

--"I don't want to go to Newark!" "No one does..."

--"We have no liquor!"

--Harry Crane once again misses his chance to become a partner because he waited too long to sign the papers. He's now out several million dollars. 

--I really need this show to not go off the air.

Monday, May 19, 2014

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x6)

"Does this family even exist anymore?"

Often times on Mad Men, the pitch presented in the episode is working to demonstrate the overall themes found within the hour itself. Sometimes the pitch strengthens whatever is happening to the characters, and sometimes it's a ironic nod to how different the "real" world works. In this weeks episode, "The Strategy," the pitch is the latter. This pitch, which will be presented to Burger Chef, is way too complex for a TV ad and has an almost overly romantic (read: old fashioned) quality to it. Burger Chef (which my mom tells me was a real place) wants to get more moms to visit the franchise for their dinner, but the housewife of 1969 feels guilty for not cooking dinner that night. As Peggy says later on, "mom's job is to make dinner and Burger Chef's job is to stop her." The pitch, then, revolves around the idea that moms can get permission from their husbands to pick up Burger Chef for dinner instead of having a home cooked meal and it will be a special treat served with love. As Lou says in the middle of the presentation, "it's nice to see families happy again!" Because that's the great irony of this episode--there are no families like this anymore. Don doesn't go home every night to a roast and a waiting wife and dutiful children. Peggy isn't simply passing time until she gets married and has babies. Joan is a single mother who's ex-husband is not her son's father, and Peter is getting a divorce and his own daughter barely recognizes him. The episode walks us through just how unhappy these supposed families are until Peggy (drunkly) stumbles onto the right idea: family is what you make it. 

Let's start with Pete. For the first time this season, we find Pete Campbell back in New York City. And despite his sunny demeanor back in California, Pete hasn't changed all that much and it shows once he lands in the Big Apple. He's still ruthless and cold and somewhat oblivious. He can't even see how telling Peggy that she's "just as good as any other woman in this business!" is a slap in the face.  Pete expects that, when he gets back to NYC, his little family will be waiting with open arms, even if he doesn't want to be part of it anymore. He expects that Trudy will be in their former home, waiting to at least say hello and make conversation, and that his daughter Tammy will be excited to see her father and rush at him with open arms. But it doesn't work that way. Pete's been gone too long and in a way, he never fit into that life in the first place. He never wanted to be in the country and he resented being forced to live outside of the city. Walking back into a life he never really wanted, expecting that everything would be peachy, is an unrealistic expectation. But because the theme of this episode is that family is what you make it and that the cliche family of yesteryear no longer exists, Pete's family's reaction to him shouldn't be a surprise. The Campbell family could have been the family in Peggy's ad: the housewife mother, the little girl, and daddy who expects a dinner on the table after he spent all day providing for them. But these characters don't live in that world anymore. Instead, Trudy makes sure that she is out whenever Peter comes over and Peter resents Trudy's absence. The interaction between Pete and Trudy at the end was delicious; she's trying to be polite and Pete is being, well, Pete. It was even shot like a typical family scene, except for the angry dialogue. She's dressed up and looking gorgeous, he's just come home and is having a drink, there is even a cake on the table. It looks like this might be that perfect little family, but it's not.

And what's worse is that this little reminder that Pete does not have a happy family, blows up his relationship with Bonnie. How odd is it that Pete has actually found someone with whom he is well suited? Trudy was never really his type because she was aggressive when need-be but she was also too independent, with her own money. Bonnie is assertive and aggressive and like Peter, she is a shark. She resents sitting at home and being told to "wait" for Pete. Which brings us full circle with Peter and his women--Trudy no longer sits in her house waiting for Peter to come home and Bonnie refuses to sit around and wait for a sullen and grumpy Peter. Is this the end for Bonnie and Pete? Part of me says yes; Bonnie is far too independent and self assured to let Peter play with her like this. But the other part of me saw how sad she looked on the plane back to LA, staring at the seat in which he should have been sitting. So much for the happy Campbell family.

Bob! Who knew we'd cheer when seeing Bob Benson again? Bob has been in Detroit handling the car account but has come home to see his "family," which mainly consists of Joan, her mother, and Joan's son Kevin. I love the irony here that Peter shows up at his former house to see his biological daughter and treated coldly, but Uncle Bob comes in to a warm welcome and hugs from Kevin. Note that they are both wearing plaid jackets and a tie, but that Pete's is decidedly more "cold" in color, while Bob's jacket and tie is sunny and warm. He's the one being greeted with joy. Perhaps it's because Bob is no threat to this family; he doesn't seek to upset the balance. At least, Joan doesn't suspect it of him. He's just Bob--her gay friend who keeps his life to himself for fear of persecution. There is little doubt in my mind that Joan knows plenty of gay men. She lives in the Village, right around the corner from where the Stonewall Riots will occur (and it's no coincidence that they brought Bob back at this moment; the Stonewall Riots are, if our calender is right, about a week or so away from happening literally right outside her door). If there is one thing to remember about Bob, it's that he's much more comfortable than our previous gay character, Sal, of the earliest seasons. Sal was totally closeted, deep in an unhappy and arranged marriage, fighting who he truly was. Bob knows he's gay, is fine with it, but also knows that he has to keep it to himself for fear of bodily harm and professional harm. In 1969, you could be fired for being gay, and as Bob is about to be reminded, the cops weren't going to take pity on you if they caught you trying to have a gay liaison.

 One of the GM executives is gay. In a city like Detroit, he maintains his image of being a "normal" guy with an arrangement with his wife and just being careful overall. But in NYC, with the amount of temptation right in front of him, he forgets how to stay safe, and winds up trying to solicit a NYC cop. I cannot emphasize enough how much danger a gay man was in, if he were caught. The cop's suggestion that the GM exec should see a counselor is on point and very typical. Homosexuality was viewed as a disease of the mind and something that could be cured. Beyond that, the cop clearly has no qualms about the fact that a member of his force brutally assaulted the GM exec and the exec himself knows he can't complain or go to the hospital because--point blank--very few people are going to care that a man trying to have a same sex relationship was beaten to a pulp. This is a wake up call for Bob, especially when he hears that GM is going to promote him to an executive himself. What should an executive have? A family. A good, clean, honest family. Enter poor Joanie.

For Bob, Joan is the perfect solution to his problem. With Joan, he can have the happy life that will be expected of him as a career man, but because she already knows that he's gay, he can live the life he wants without fear of repercussions. It's a nice tidy arrangement. But it's also not what Joan wants. I have to wonder what Joan's answer would have been had Bob asked her a few years ago. Our Joanie has grown quite a bit since season one when she was just waiting for a man to propose so she could leave her job and be a mother and wife. That was the ideal; working for S & C was just to pay the bills and let her live a single life while waiting. But now, Joan has moved up quite a bit. She's not just the head secretary; she's a partner and an account woman. She's become a modern woman that, 7 season ago, she would have scoffed at. Joan settled for a man who raped and abused her once; she won't settle again. Her magnificent speech to Bob hit the nail on the head: "I want love. And I would rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement." The fictional family is just that: fictional. Also, notice that in this situation, Joan is much more concerned that SC&P are loosing the car company, not this marriage proposal out of left field.

Joan has a more personal reason than most in not wanting to loose the car company. Remember, this is the account that was only won after Joan prostituted herself to the head of the dealership back in season 5. For one night with Joan, the car company would belong to SC&P. Unlike the other partners, Joan didn't earn her partnership through hard work; she used sex to get where she is and it has bothered her ever since. Loosing the car, and making Harry Crane a partner to boot, further de-emphasizes Joan's importance to the company as a whole. With every new partner or brilliant worker, Joan finds herself in danger of becoming just the secretary again. And of course they finally make Harry Crane a partner. He's been vying for it for some time now. This company is very fractured family. The patriarch, Bert, spends his days reading the paper and not much else. Jim and Roger are conducting a silent war of wills, trying to outdo the other (Jim is clearly winning as Roger spends his days drunk and waiting for permission to go home. Jim brought in the giant computer, at least). Pete has run away to California with a depressed shell of a man known as Ted. Don has been sidelined due to bad behavior. And now Joan feels more threatened with the addition of yet another partner. Not so long ago, this company, though flawed, at least knew how to speak to each other and work together. Now, this little company family, is just as torn as the biological families that make it up.

Megan has finally found her way back to NYC. And wow, she is miserable. I think every single part of Megan hates being back in this city. She's much more suited to LA living. The visit stars off poorly when Peggy's secretary makes the big mistake of saying she didn't know Don was married. That's twice in two weeks that a stranger to Megan has been shocked to learn that Don has a wife. To Megan, it means that she is a non-entity; so unimportant in Don's life that no one even knows she exists. And so this little reminder that Megan doesn't exist in Don's world is what kicks off their incredibly depressing weekend together. Now, I have to give them credit where credit is due. Unlike Betty and Don, who at this point in their marriage were fighting and arguing and making threats, Megan and Don put on a nice little show of still being in love and wanting their marriage to work. She's up early, making breakfast. They kiss. Megan says she misses him and even makes the suggestion that they get away together, someplace that isn't NYC and isn't LA. But underneath it all is an awkwardness and a resentment that neither can avoid.

The romantic breakfast Megan makes? Overshadowed by Megan's refusal to admit that she missed "all of this" (meaning NYC). The kisses? Brief and perfunctory. The suggestion that they get away together? Only comes after Megan is literally caught trying to pack up her things and take them to LA. There was a lot of hidden depth in the hallway scene. It starts with Don reading an old newspaper, published the day after Kennedy was shot. And what was going on in the Draper life at that time? Betty was packing up and leaving. It was the Kennedy assassination that finally gave Betty the strength to demand a divorce and leave Don once and for all. So the fact that Don, several years later, is looking at a paper reminding him of that is not good.  This is followed by Megan becoming alarmed at the idea of Don flying out to LA at the end of July, before remembering that Don always comes out at the end of the month. Yet another broken family; the first year of their marriage was a good, if sometimes fraught with drama. They were in love and happy; but now, I think they both know it's over but can't bring themselves to say it. Megan is accustomed to her life, even if she wishes she could be more free spirited. Don doesn't want to loose yet another woman to his never ending pile of issues. But there is just nothing keeping them together anymore. Megan wants her things out in LA, Don wants Megan in NYC, and there is no middle ground. They can't go someplace where it's just them because a change of scenery isn't going to help the Draper household. Like the miles that separate LA and NYC, so to does it separate Don and Megan.

So what is family now? Well it's not married couples. And it's not a well structured businesses. It's what you make it. Family is who's sitting at the table with you. At this point, does Peggy even have a family? She has no boyfriend or husband. We never see her mother and sister. She gave up her only child. All that Peggy had was her work, and it turns out, she's good at it (brilliant even) but she's not a man. Pete recommends letting Don handle the pitch to Burger Chef and letting Peggy be "the voice of moms." First off, Peter, this is just cruel as you know very well that Peggy gave up your child and has no idea what being a mom means. But that's how men saw the world: all woman have that maternal instinct and can just be motherly when called upon. Peggy agrees to let Don handle the pitch, but you can tell how uncomfortable it makes her--to the point where she wants to change the entire strategy. Peggy knows there is a better idea out there, but isn't there always? That's the job, "living in the not knowing." And so, on a Sunday afternoon, Peggy and Don find themselves alone in the office, Don trying to show Peggy how he thinks so that she can come up with a new idea all on her own. I really appreciated the way Don actually sits down and tries to show Peggy how he comes up with his brilliant ideas. Don, of several season ago, would never have done that. He would have told Peggy to just take her paycheck like a good little girl and do whatever he said in terms of work. But now, they are more equal. And that's when magic happens.

I have so much love for this scene. Drunk and depressed, Peggy and Don hash out their own individual problems that the pitch is forcing them to confront. For Peggy, it's that she's 30 now and has nothing outside of her job. "What did I do wrong?" she asks. Nothing, Peggy Olsen. You've done nothing wrong. For Don, it's that "I've never done anything and that I don't have anyone." Peggy, meet Dick. For just the smallest of moments, Dick Whitman rears his head. John Hamm is such an amazing talent, that he snuck just the tiniest bit of an accent change to drive home that this was Dick Whitman speaking, not Don Draper. Neither one of these two has that traiditonal family anymore (or perhaps ever). The difference is that for Don, this strategy of the happy family seems more real than the reality he's living in. When Peggy says, off the cuff, that instead of the mom returning home from errands, she's coming home from work, Don scoffs and asks, "what's her profession?" And that's when it hits Peggy: woman work. This pitch shouldn't be about taking dinner home where the TV is and trying to recreate some sort of nostalgic yesteryear. The traditional family is gone for most of the customers. So instead, "what if there was a place with no TV. Where you could break bread and whoever you were sitting with, was your family." This is revolutionary in advertising; this is the idea that you don't have to pitch to the "traditional" family because you recognize that there is no such thing. Both Don and Peggy know they've just stumbled onto something that's perfect and then they have this wonderful little moment where they dance to "My Way" by Frank Sinatra. Now, please don't misunderstand. This isn't romantic. Don hasn't found himself a new mistress. This is season 2 when Peggy woke up to find Don sitting by her bedside in the psych ward and he told her, "this never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened." This is season 4 when Don learned that Anna died and Peggy was the only person around and they comforted each other. This is Peggy and her mentor/father figure getting past some of their grief and heartache and regret by being a family. I have so much love for this scene.

From one perfect scene to another one. Sitting down and breaking bread. It's what families do. Pete is hesitant to agree to this new strategy of shooting in the resturant and emphasizing "family" over "mom" because family is more vague. But that's rather the point of the episode, and in the end, the pitch. There is no "mom and dad and two kids" anymore. Family is defined by who you sit down with. And here's Don Draper and the family he's chosen. And in a way, it makes a lot of sense. If Sally is the most important person in Don's life, Peggy is the second, and Pete, though they often been at loggerheads, is quite close to the top as well. For example, when Don wanted to start Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price at the end of season 3, he wanted Peggy and Pete on his team. Despite all the hardships these three have been through, they would still choose each other. This is lovely and touching scene reminding us that Don and Peggy and Pete are family.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Strategy

--I can't believe we only have one more episode this half. Then we have to wait almost a full year for the conclusion.

--"Say what you want you will, but he's very loyal." The entire boardroom was just BURNED by Don Draper.

--"When we grow up, we're going to kill you and marry your wife."

--I'm not quite sure what is going on with the car companies. The actual business aspect of Mad Men, outside of the pitches and their relation to the themes of the show, never held my interest for long. 

--I love how happy Don gets at the idea of being able to pitch.

--One quick costume note: very interesting that Joan is wearing a purple dress in the her opening scene. Purple is her heartbreak color (she was wearing an abundance of purple when Greg raped her). Not only is she decked in a color that signals doom and gloom by episode end, but she's also decked out in gold jewelry, emphasizing her new wealth and status as partner. But by the end of the episode when she learns that her company has lost the car and now Harry Crane is going to be partner? Only one small piece of jewelry to be found. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

In Which I Review Penny Dreadful (1x1)

In late 19th Century London, a new type of lurid and sensational literature appeared: it was cheap (a penny) but somehow rich in quality. It was called the penny dreadful. Over the course of several weeks, readers would be treated to an evolving story that could be horrifying and (later) comedic. The Showtime writers have taken this idea (though they forgo the comedic for the horror) and adapted to the small screen, introducing classic Victorian literature characters into the real 1891 Victorian London and adding a dash of supernatural, superstition, magic, myth, and monsters. The first episode, which has been available online for awhile before the show actually premiered, is somewhere between Gothic horror and meta supernatural angst. If I'm going to jump ahead a bit and give my rating overall, I think it's a strong showing for what could be a very impressive take on monster phenomenon. The fact is, having the Dracula mythos meets the Frankenstein mythos isn't exactly new. These are stories that have been woven together before in different forms, so for the show to truly succeed it needs to take a new spin on it. I suppose this is where the introduction of the new shiny characters come in into it--original characters not found in the original literature that can act independently of the source material. Overall, I'm giving the show a check it out but with the caveat that it has the potential to go campy if they don't keep the suspense and drama high enough. 

Vanessa Ives 

We're introduced to Vanessa Ives fairly early on; she's a sort of female Sherlock Holmes, able to deduce characteristics of those with whom she interacts simply by noticing tiny little minutia. Vanessa has a deep connection to the spiritual and supernatural world; she seems to be a sort of occultist, though I think she would scoff at the notion. She obviously has a thing for cards and games and mystery, though the writers have created an interesting dichotomy with her as she is also fervently religious. Twice we see her in an almost trance-like state of prayer, praying in Latin rapidly as if the hounds of Hell are hard on her heels. There is an air of mystery to Vanessa, as both times she is seen praying, bugs literally explode from the walls and crawl on her. The second time, the cross of Jesus is turned upside down, normally a sign of evil or the Devil. We're given very little in way of character history for Vanessa; for example, why are she and Malcolm Murray so close? Does she work for him? Are they partners who reside in the same house? How did Vanessa get involved in all this? These are questions that keep me coming back, so well done writers.

Ethan Chandler 

We meet Ethan Chandler as he is performing a gun show in London. He's a trained actor who is good at telling lies and shooting straight. But Vanessa sees through all this and it's fairly obvious that his acting is just that--an act. He is sentimental, carrying a watch his father gave him and if there isn't a big story there, then I give up watching TV altogether (Chekov's Gun never lies). When he's introduced into the world of the supernatural, he doesn't blink so much as react and then blink. He's a good shot and has a good chemistry with Vanessa. Chances are we're looking at a pair of lovers before long, and Vanessa's cards tend to agree. Like Vanessa, Ethan's history is wide open and we know very little except that he's obviously drawn to the world to which he was introduced very quickly. The air of mystery isn't as heavy around Ethan as it was with Vanessa; at a stab, I'd say Ethan comes from a loving family but he lost them, went on the run, became a gun-for-hire, before giving it up and becoming part of a travel show. His main story will be in the acceptance of the supernatural and what he can offer that world that he cannot offer the "real" world.

Sir Malcolm Murray

Remember back when I blogged Dracula? Well here we go again. I seem to remember constantly questioning where Mina's father was--he would appear at random moments to prove that there was, in fact, a father, but then vanish in order for Mina to have her sexy dance time with Dracula. In Penny Dreadful, however, the father takes center stage. Malcolm is a former African explorer who has lost his daughter Mina to the vampires (I guess we can call them that, no one on the show has yet to utter the world "vampire"). I can't help but wonder what sort of things Malcolm saw in Africa and, perhaps more importantly, what he brought back. It would make for an interesting story line if Malcolm's hubris is the reason for Mina's disappearance and, I suppose, vampire-ism.

  Victor Frankenstein 

This was my one annoyance with the show so far. They tried to dance around the question of "who was the mysterious scientist with all the dead bodies?" The writers kept him from saying his name until the very last possible second, even though they wrote this poetic speech about how the only truth is the veil between life and death. I mean, it was a giant flashing neon sign that said "hello. I am Victor Frankenstein and I like resurrection."  You don't need to hide that he's Frankenstein; it's painfully obvious.

However I do like the character. Too often Frankenstein is emotional and crying over his bodies and his failures as a scientist. This is a new twist. This Frankenstein is cold, speaks rapidly, and is a bit of an asshole. I like it. And at least I was spared a, "he's alive!!" when the monster came to.

Basic plot: Malcolm and Vanessa recruit Ethan to help them suss out a vampire layer because Ethan is really good with his gun. They manage to kill some sort of uber vampire, which they take to Frankenstein who, upon examination, realizes that the corpse is covered in Egyptian hieroglyphs. There is a mystery beyond missing Mina Murray, such as the shadow world and where these monsters came from and the interpersonal connections of everyone and that's what I'll be returning for. Perhaps one of the strengths of the show is the realism of the world; Vanessa isn't wearing a mini skirt or leather pans. She's properly dressed; the world is nitty and gritty, with layers of dirt. The city looks like London int he 19th century. The realism of the real world only strengthens the supernatural horror going on below; it creates a sense of "this could happen anywhere."  According to the cast list, several more characters (including Dorian Grey) will be making an appearance so I hope they don't detract from the ones we've met so far.

Miscellaneous Notes on Night Work

--Not sure if I'll be blogging each and every single episode (it's a Sunday show and I already have on of those..)

--Gorgeous costumes and really good make up.

--Very bloody, so beware if you have an aversion to violence.

--Overall, check it out if you have time. I think it will only get stronger, or at least I hope. There is a danger of it going super campy because it is essentially a monster show, but with the mystery surrounding everything, I think it might escape the campy nature of other supernatural shows.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x5)

Sometimes, I watch an episode of Mad Men and can't quite figure out what is happening. Granted, it's a rare occurrence but this week's episode "The Runaways" is such an event. Typically, after I finish an episode, I have a page of notes with basic plot details, but also themes that are extending across the entire program, mixed in with character observations and the occasional costume note. This isn't to say that I have nothing to add to the discourse of this episode, but rather I found "The Runaways" to be a fractured and disjointed hour of television. There were too many story lines, some of which seem to have no place in the episode (like Betty's party) except to serve as a contrast to other, more important events. Contrast is important, of course, but I didn't need to see the conservative goings-on of the country elite vs the liberal festivities of the Californians to understand that we're looking at culture vs counterculture. That theme has been replete in Mad Men for a few seasons now. I suppose if we were to lock down a theme for this episode it would be that when people find themselves disjointed and out of place, they naturally become who we always knew they would be. None of the reactions from out characters this week, when they find themselves on the outside and looking in, were all that surprising. They acted to the best of their ability, each according to their own gifts and talents and psyche. But if Mad Men is essentially the story that people never change, then this episode was really about emphasizing that thesis and driving it home. 

Alright, let's start with Don Draper. So far, Don appears to be playing by the rules; last week he got some very sound advice about doing the work and since then, he's keeping his head down, pitching ideas instead of hearing them, and trying to "be one of the team" instead of the leader. When Lou tells Don that Don has to stay late and work, instead of flying out to California, Don manages to suppress his inner Draper and just do the work. Of course, I wouldn't exactly be adverse to seeing Lou get punched in the face--he has got to go! There is a very specific reason why Don wants to fly out to California that has nothing to do with his bi-monthly meetings with Megan in an effort to "fix" their marriage. Remember that California has always been a type of paradise for Don; it's a land where he can shed his skin as Don Draper and be Dick Whitman; it's a land associated with sunshine as opposed to night, fresh air, as opposed to city smog. And, most importantly, it's a land associated with Anna. Anna Draper's ghost hovered (metaphorically) all over this episode. She was there lurking in corners, her presence both a good thing and a bad thing, depending on who you are.

A few seasons ago, we met Stephanie, Anna's young (and much more sexualized) doppelganger. Stephanie, like Anna, knew all about Don and, like Anna, loved Dick over Don. In fact, when they speak on the phone, Stephanie calls him Dick to both her and his great relief and comfort. There is no pretense of Don Draper standing between them; he's Dick Whitman and like Anna, she loves him for that. Stephanie is calling because she has found herself pregnant and alone and hungry. Time for Savior Don to swoop in! This is something Don loves to do; he loves to play hero, to pretend that he can fix the troubles of the world (specifically with women) with enough love and affection and (sometimes) money. We saw this last year with Sylvia when he got her son out of serving in Vietnam and we've seen this with Joan and Peggy in previous seasons. Dick, the unloved and unwanted little boy who never received any sort of saving, puts on his cape and declares himself protector of womankind. It's a flaw, but because it comes from a noble, and indeed a wounded nobility at that, place, I accept it and even to an extent love it about Don. Don's solution is to send Stephanie to Megan's house and he'll fly out later that day to see her and take care of her.

Megan never knew Anna Draper but she has been in the background of their marriage for awhile now; Don and Megan fell in love in California, a place directly associated with Anna, Megan wears Anna's ring on her finger, and like Anna, Megan knew about Don's secrets. Unlike Betty, Megan didn't much care about the Don/Dick dichotomy, but unlike Anna, Megan loves Don Draper more than Dick Whitman. Though, perhaps that's an unfair assessment as she's never really seen Dick. Don has kept that part of himself locked up behind a steel plated wall, even though he's been open to her about who he is. And that's why Anna (and now Stephanie) is so unique; she's only ever seen Dick, Don's true self. So when Stephanie shows up at Megan's, their interactions are strained and strange; they are trying to relate to each other via a man, but it's a different man for both of them. Megan's trying to play mother to Stephanie but Megan isn't exactly mother material (much to Don's ongoing quiet chagrin). Don's kids are enough for Megan, and besides she's much more concerned with her career as an actress. By the way, strike number one for Megan and Don--Don care so little for his wife's chosen profession that he doesn't even tell Stephanie what Megan does, something Megan leans when she greets Stephanie at the door. The tension between the two continues to mount (though they are both unwaveringly polite) until the conversation turns to the father of Stephanie's baby.

Megan casually jokes that she won't tell Don about the father-to-be and Stephanie says, "oh I know all of his secrets." It's a giant (unintentional) slap in the face to Megan. After all, the last time we saw Megan, she learned that Don has been keeping quite a large secret from her. This is to say nothing of the fact that Stephanie is serving as a reminder to both Don and Meghan of what they would like from each other and themselves. On the one hand, Stephanie is pregnant, just like Don subconsciously wishes Megan would be; but on the other hand, Stephanie is the embodiment of counterculture, down to the hippie band around her head and baby sired by a wandering troubadour; she has a type of freedom and liberalism that Megan wishes she had. The ring around Megan's finger, a focal point of conversation throughout this scene, traps Megan into being a good-girl, even if she's pretending that she can be as wild and liberal as others her age. Megan's solution to the now even more awkward intruder in her kitchen is, funny enough, exactly what Don would do: throw some money at it. Don has a habit of using money to get what he wants (the man has prostitution issues, what do you expect). We see him constantly giving women money in an effort to either get something from them (gives Dawn money for information from the office, gives Sally a quarter to call her friends but it's really a plea to talk to him) or to make them shut up (throwing money directly in Peggy's face a few seasons back). Megan can't kick Stephanie out of her house, but what she can do is whip out her checkbook and write a check for one thousand dollars. Easy peasy. Oh, Megan. You want so hard to be counterculture and yet you flash your well-to-do culture around. To make matters worse, when Don does arrive in California and finds Stephanie gone, Megan shrugs it off with "I really tried to get her to stay." The Drapers put on a good show--as the Drapers always have, even if the wife is a new one--but their marriage is so shaky and rocky that not even a drug induced three-way can help them.

One of the subplots of this episode is the party Megan is throwing for her friends--at least that's what it was until Don came out and his pregnant "niece" came-a-callin'. Now, Megan is doing everything she can to get Don's attention, to be his focus. Let's talk costume for a minute. Meghan's dress is a bold geometric loud print. The rest of the party-goers are in neutral colors--you're awash in a sea of blues, creams, browns, ect (which is odd given that costume designer Janie Bryant's thesis for how Californian's dress is bright oranges and yellows) but that's to serve as a contrast to Megan's purple print. You're supposed to be watching Megan, and indeed the audience is. But who isn't watching Megan? Don. He stands outside, away from the party and barely notices when Megan begins her sexy dance with another man. The last time Megan did a sexy dance was Don's birthday--and she had his attention then. He was solely and totally focused on her in that moment, but in this one, he's a world away. One more note on costuming. With couples, Janie Bryant like to dress people who "go together" alike--so husband and wife will either sport the same color palate or the same sort of design. Don and Megan couldn't be further apart if they tried: she's in purple and white geometric; he's in black and conservative plaid. Miles apart while in the same room. Megan's solution is a three way with her new housemate Amy and Don. Was this weird? Well, yes, of course, but it's also not. She tried to throw money at their problem and it didn't work; she tried to offer him drugs and music at a party and it didn't work; might as well use sex because she knows that will work with Don. I stated at the outset that this episode focuses on everyone becoming who we always knew they would be. Megan, our current Mrs. Draper, is becoming exactly who we though: petty and petulant Mrs Draper of yesteryear (Betty). The big difference, though, is that Megan is the grown up counterculture version of Betty. Betty is a spoiled and petted child but Megan is the rebellious teenager who thinks sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll can save her. If she doesn't get out of this marriage to Don before long, she's going to wind up jus as shrewish and whiny as Betty, which is what we suspected. When Megan gets upset, she lashes out: she throws a plate of spaghetti, she flees to California (which is the rough equivalent of running to your room and slamming the door). I find none of her actions overly shocking, but then again, you're not supposed to.

And all of this leads to Don acting exactly as we expected. The man who interrupts a business brunch, sits down, and proceeds to pitch the hell out of himself and his company...that was Don Draper. Hell, that was almost Season One Don Draper (note how they brought up saving Lucky Strike, which was the very first major pitch we ever saw from Don). Don walks into a place he knows he is not supposed to be, with people who frankly don't want him there, and becomes the central focus on the entire meeting. By the time that meeting is done, Jim and Lou are cut down to tiny shreds of themselves and the cigarette men are so impressed they are almost salivating. That was Don Draper, folks. He acted exactly as we would expect him to. So can we say Don is back? Well, yes, but only in so far as I don't think he ever really left. He was cut down a bit, beaten up and bruised, but Don Draper never really "left." And now, he's just who he has always been. Which makes me think that we're straight back onto "death before 1970" road. Last week had me a little worried that my theory is all wrong, but this week I think it's still perfectly legitimate. Don is Don. And nothing will change him. It'll be interesting to see where we go from here; will Don be back in his office and Lou out the door? It doesn't matter what Don did in the past, he is the superior ad man. Lou is a doddering fool who would rather draw comics of a dog named Scout and wear grandfather-esque cardigans than be a take-charge Creative Director. I suspect that the first half of this season will end with Lou breaking his contract and Don back in his office, ready to be who always has been.

Let's move back to New York and check in with Peggy and Michael Ginzeberg. The new computer, last week's monolith, has been installed and is up and running, much to everyone's delight/sheer hatred. Michael, who has always been a little close to the edge, can't stand it. Let's talk about Michael a little. There's no nice way to put it, but Ginzberg was presented as having some sort of psychosis, be it schizophrenia or other. With each passing season, the writers and costume designers make him increasingly more paranoid and bizarre. His clothes never match, he gets louder and more off kilter, and this week was the culmination of all that. You see, the computer is the enemy. It hums, it's watching everyone. Now, to us in the 21st century, we recognize that the computer is just a machine and we love them. But to schizophrenic Ginzberg, the computer is an invader that only heightens his mania: "it came for us." This isn't the first time Ginzberg has talked about alien invasion. The first time, he gives Peggy his life story as being from another world and left with Jewish parents in a concentration camp; this example seemed more metaphorical at the time but as we got to know him, I had to wonder if that wasn't really his believed reality, constructed out of trauma to the point where he accepts it as true. Then, in the very recent past, Ginzberg was found on this office floor, rocking back and forth, muttering about transmission waves being beamed into his head. Invasion equals psychosis, in other words. So when the computer literally takes over the office, it feels like an invasion and begins to put pressure on Ginzberg who already subconsciously reacts to any sort of invasion of triggering his psychosis. Add to this that he finds Lou and Cutler engaged in a secret clandestine meeting inside the computer room and the invasions/enemy metaphor drives Ginzberg over the edge.

When the humming and the conspiracies and the invasion get to be too much, Ginzberg packs up and heads to Peggy's, where he becomes the invader. This scene was supposed to set you on edge, especially when Peggy wakes up and finds Ginzberg starting at her. Turns out, he thinks the computers are turning everyone into homosexuals and he must mate with Peggy in order to cure him. The invading force is turning him into someone else, another sign of his eventual psychotic break. If he can find some sort of relief from the pressure to conform and become another person, then he'll be back to being okay. And this leads us to one of Mad Men's more bizarre and shocking moments. When Michael enters Peggy's office he says, "can't you tell? I am myself again." The fear of change coupled with the pervasive invasion lead to this moment: nipple in a box. I'll say this for Mad Men, I never saw this one coming. By removing a piece of himself, Ginzberg managed to be himself again, only this time his self-mutilation was out there for the world to see. It makes me wonder if he has ever self harmed before, trying to get back to being a calmer version of himself. And poor Peggy. She knows that his life is now over; he'll be carried off to the ward where he'll be mistreated and mishandled and potentially misdiagnosed. We're still a ways away from understanding and sympathy for the mentally ill in the 1960s, and this is probably the last we'll see of Ginzberg. However, this whole situation does cause Peggy to see the computer in a newer light: it's the enemy.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Runaways

--I didn't touch on Betty's role this week because frankly, I've talked about Betty once this season and once is plenty. But I suppose a few observations can be noted here. Betty's failed party is a contrast to Megan's party. Both don't exactly go according to plan, but they are contrasting each other in what sort of party they are. Betty's is so conservative I half expected her to be serving apple pie. And even Betty's costume for this party reflects that: demur, pink, floral, trendy but somehow still stuck in the 1950s. As the world gets more liberal around her, Betty will plant heels and become part of the neoconservative movement that springs up in response. Not only is Megan contrasting Betty, but so is Sally who arrives home, broken nose and all. As Betty gets more conservative, Sally will get more liberal. Sally might miss some of the counterculture experiences (like sex and drugs) because of her still young age, but she's not going to miss the effects of counterculture, namely liberalism and feminism. Sally will be the girl who burns her bras in protest, while Betty will be the woman who scoffs at the young generation as a bunch of uniformed and ignorant hippies. Betty wants her daughter to be exactly like her ("It was a perfect nose, and I gave it to you!") but that's never going to happen.

--Some really great acting from Elisabeth Moss and Jon Hamm this week.

--Please fire Lou

--Not enough Joan in this episode.