Tuesday, May 5, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x12)

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Notes on Lost Horizon     

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

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

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

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

--Peggy on roller skates is my life now.

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