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.

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