About fucking time, right? Bring on the cure for the common television show.
All I know about tomorrow’s episode is that it’s two hours long and supposedly called “A Little Kiss.” Other than that, I’ve maintained a blissful sense of being unaware… What will year will the show be in when it returns? Will Don have finally married his secretary, or even still be married to her? What will be up with Peggy, and Pete, and the rest of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? Will Joan’s husband have been killed in Vietnam yet? And, sigh, what will be the state of Betty Draper?
I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, not yet anyway. And I guess you could say that I’m ready to be hit over the head here.
Until then though, this is talking about some previous Mad Men episodes and other Mad Men Mania:
The timeless wisdom of Marshall McLuhan.
The Dream Of The Fisherman’s Wife and the art fetish of Burt Cooper.
…and many, many more.
Since there’s been a few posts on TV this past few week, I thought I’d throw out a few quick thoughts on a handful of TV shows. Nothing too in depth, nothing too glamorous, and possibly nothing too well thought out. But, around here, what else is new?
Those shows being…
The Office. The last episode with Timothy Olyphant was not bad, but not particularly great. The previous episode, the much talked about one featuring the return of all of Michael’s exes… not so great. And the few before that, about the same. As even Benjamin Light has mentioned to me the past few times we’ve talked about it, you can really feel the show going through the motions this year. Also, during the summer there was a lot chatter and speculation online about who would replace Steve Carrell when he leaves the show at the end of this season but, honestly, sadly, horribly, heinously, overly dramatically, doesn’t it seem like they’re trying to set up Andy as the new boss-type character?
I can’t think of anything I’d dislike more than that. Andy really feels like a character who should’ve been around a season or two and then maybe have gone bye bye. Also, let’s get serious here: Andy and Ellie Kemper and the dude from Sabre have to make the least attractive love triangle on television.
I hate to say it, but I’ve really checked on out on this show after Pam and Jim’s wedding. Maybe that would’ve been the fine conclusion this show will potentially have to work hard for (and would mirror the end of the original British version interestingly). Also, for a “documentary” about the life of people in an office, when does this “documentary” actually air?
30 Rock. This show is still going strong. Not every episode is a home run, but it is consecutively strong. As long as you have Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon, Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy, and Tracy Morgan’s Tracy Jordan, nothing can harm you. What this show does with it’s guest stars is frequently brilliant (Jon Hamm, Matt Damon, even Kelsey Grammar in the most recent episode) and there’s a joy to the dialogue and it’s one liners and non sequiturs that is intoxicating. I thought that the live episode was a good deal smarter than it was funny, but I applaud this show for taking it there. And I found it fascinating that the last episode dealt with Liz Lemon’s long simmering “fear” or general uncomfortableness with sex.
Community. I wasn’t so much a fan of the last episode of this show, and I kind of feel like it maybe tackled people’s biggest two gripes with the show itself: Abed (all things “meta”) and Chevy Chase. And the episode prior to that certainly paled in comparison to what many would consider the show’s strongest outing: the paintball episode from season 1.
All that said, I honestly feel that this show and Modern Family were the best new comedies of last season and I don’t see anything that feels like long term signs of that changing anytime soon.
Things I would change about this show though: 1) Get rid of Chevy Chase, who’s character is not funny and is lazily portrayed. You just get the sense that Chase is bored or perhaps unhappy, and maybe that unhappiness has something to do with watching Joel McHale doing a variation of the Chevy Chase persona from the 80s, just better? I’d watch a Joel McHale iteration of Fletch, sure.
2) Keep characters like Ken Jeong’s Senor Chang to a minimum, and the same with some of Abed’s “We all live in a TV show” stuff. I think some of the references catch with the smart folks in the audience, and some literally watch fire with the simple minded, but as Shirley said recently, I think far too much of it doesn’t play in Poughkeepsie, and bores the rest of us. The only thing worse than being not funny is trying too hard. Keep Abed’s character simple and utilize more gags like the Abed in the background/pregnancy bit in the background a few weeks ago:
3) More characters. For the background or whatever. Along with 30 Rock, I feel like this is the show that has the best chance of inheriting what there is of the Arrested Development mantle, and yet, the vision of Community almost feels too limited in some regards. Maybe give someone like Star Burns a little break, okay? Also, the character of the dean? We get it. It was funnier when it was called Tobias Fünke.
Running Wilde. Sorry, Mitch Hurwitz and Will Arnett, somehow even you shall not be inheriting the throne that once was Arrested Development, I fear. Kudos to you fine chaps though for bringing Felicity along for the ride.
The Event. I watched four episodes of this show and came to the same realization I had before the show even started and was just a much hyped but vaguely explained situation coming soon on NBC: I could not give two halves of a shit about whatever the fuck “the event” ends up being.
We complain about the meta-ness of Community and it amazes how we don’t talk about how not an event the actual release of The Event is. “Lost meets 24,” huh? Go fuck yourself, NBC. This show could do with a little more Lost and a hell of a lot less 24. Talk about a textbook example of not getting what made both of those shows goddamn brilliant at their heights. This is the briefest I shall ever be on this blog: Character.
Also… casting. Jason Ritter? Give me a fucking break. Jason Ritter is the guy who should be getting coffee for the stand in for your lead actor.
Lost. This goes without saying: You are missed.
Also: this. Interesting.
Hawaii 5-0. Go fuck yourself if you like this show. I watched two episodes that would’ve had the exact same effect on me if I had seen them either in or out of a coma. Also, Hollywood: Stop trying to make Alex O’Loughlin happen.
Modern Family. As I said before, this is a strong comedy here. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it does. I don’t think that, once you get what’s going on with it, that it’ll ever blow you away, but it stays consistently funny and watchable and every single character is endearing. And it will hopefully stay that.
Smallville. This show is still on. Did you know that? People are still watching this! It scares me, that thought. (Almost as much as the notion that people were ever watching it.)(I mean, obviously I’m a comic book nerd here, but this show? Come on. Shit is shit, right?) Who are you people? Who are you? It terrifies me that there’s an audience for this show still and they’re providing market research to people in suits who can’t buy a clue from the general public. (Though I still like Erica Durance.)
True Blood. This past season had a lot of ups and a lot of downs, as usual, but the finale was incredibly boring. I guess it was a bit of a serious dramatic let down and also not compelling at all. But, though it may be an uneven supernatural soap opera, it’s amazing how much more it appeals to me than some fucking police procedural on CBS.
Party Down. I miss you. Come back? Please? Was it something I said? Was it the fact that I don’t subscribe to Starz and watched you solely via megavideo and just that once via itunes? Is it Starz? If it is, you don’t have to say anything. Just nod your head and blink. Do that and I will stab a stake through Starz like the life sucking vampire monster that it is.
Parks & Recreation. Is this show still on? Coming back at midseason? That’s a shame, but not shocking, I guess. This show is not bad, not bad at all, but it lacks… something. Sadly, you still have to kind of compare it to The Office in some way. This is a show where you like all the characters/actors involved, but I don’t feel anything for them. They seem like they’re swimming twice as hard for maybe half the results. Except for Ron Swanson. Brilliant televisionary character and I’m so thankful that they keep him to the minimum. I guess I’m glad that this is where Adam Scott landed after Party Down, with a paying gig, but I’d stick this show’s head in a full bath tub until it stopped kicking and squirming if that’d bring back Party Down. No joke.
The Walking Dead. This show hasn’t even aired yet, but I don’t care. I’ve read the comic book so that gives me the right to voice an internet opinion! Ugh.
That said, within the comic is all the things that would make for a good, solid cable TV drama, especially on par with a level of quality and intrigue that AMC seems to be trying to covet (the snoozefest that is Rubicon aside), but I hope that the producers of the show don’t stick too strictly to the comic. It’s not… great. There, I said it. It’s not that great. It’s good, but it’s true to it’s story and incredibly bleak. It picks up where your average zombie movie ends, with characters having to survive in this world that’s swarming with the undead and it’s something for fans of suffering, for sure. The TV show hasn’t wowed me with the actors they’ve cast, and that sizzle reel didn’t get me hard, and it doesn’t help that Frank Darabont hasn’t brought his A game to anything in a long, long while (though he’s thankfully finally gotten out from behind Stephen King’s skirt). But, despite all of that, I’d like to be pleasantly surprised.
Glee. I saw the pilot not this last summer but the summer before when they showed it months and months before the show’s actual premiere and I thought, “Eh.” Never saw a single episode throughout the rest of the first season because it was just not the show for me and somehow it become this popular media juggernaut. Then I saw two episodes just a few weeks ago from this current season. Not bad. Not all that interesting, but intriguing from a distance. But I do believe there’s credence to the “Three Glee” theory.
But, I have to say that this GQ controversy is ludicrous. Who are you people who are upset about this nonsense? Apparently you’ve never see this show or it’s content or just ignored the Rolling Stone cover from a few months ago altogether. Way to go, Dianna Agron, you are mystifying both onscreen and off. Some people should find bigger things to get super excited and bothered about. Like Taylor Momsen. Speaking of which…
Gossip Girl. Is this still on TV?
House. House is a show that, like Glee, is quality but that I wouldn’t normally watch because, well, I’m just not going to watch a weekly medical procedural show. Or, that’s why it was that I used to not watch House. But then I started watching it semi-weekly (Thank God Hulu is still free), because it’s well written and I saw a bunch of episodes last season by accident and because House and Cuddy are dating now and, well, just because. Also, I like Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Speaking of which…
Steven Moffat’s (and Mark Gatiss’) Sherlock. The show debuted in England in the past year and is fucking brilliant. This is what I would like all TV to aspire to as far as intellectual quality. Eventually this will come to BBC America and you’re a goddamn fool to miss it. The man with the unfortunate name of Benedict Cumberbatch is shocking and mesmerizing as a modern day take on the classic detective and Martin Freeman (“Tim,” the original Jim in the original British version of The Office) is in fine form as his sidekick, John Watson. The little nods to the classic stories are enjoyable and where the show deviates is even better. My only real quibble with the 21st century updates is that rather than just chronicling their exploits in a conventional manner, Watson now blogs about the cases he and Sherlock engage in. Sigh.
The first season was three episodes long and the pilot is amazing (written by Moffat), the second episode is fine, but the third episode (written by Gattis) is immaculate. And what a fucking a cliffhanger.
Freeman was recently cast as The Hobbit after months of everyone knowing he pretty much had the role locked down, but you may have noticed the internet screaming out that the two movies better not stop production on a second series of Sherlock and quite right so.
Doctor Who. This Christmas special and new season (next Easter, sadly) can’t come quickly enough. I don’t know how I feel about this “split” season. I guess it’s fine, though I’m not crazy about them calling it two different seasons, rather than just one split with a hiatus. It sounds like a fancy way of getting out of contracts quicker, frankly. They recently cast Mark Shephard in a big role, sigh, presumably the two part season opener set in America and featuring Richard Nixon? Cool. I guess. Except for the Mark Shephard bit. That gravely voiced motherfucker hasn’t been in enough big name sci fi shows? Sigh. But, like last season, paparazzi photos have informed us that River Song will be in that episode(s). Great.
Now the theorizing can really begin as to who or what River Song actually is. A future version of the Doctor? Lame. The Doctor’s mother? Lamer. Amy Pond in the future in some form? Lame and tired as far as guesswork goes. Just the Doctor’s amazing wife/partner from a future point as we’ve already been lead to believe? Perfect. But let’s get crazy here: A future version of the Master or the Rani? Hmmm?
Mad Men. Nothing to add here.
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. For what it is, this show is perfect. Especially once Danny Devito joined the cast a few years ago. I’m so glad that we have a mindset like this available to us. And, if you think about it, since we mentioned the inheritance of legacies earlier in this post, this is today’s version of Seinfeld.
Fringe. Man… Whatever. Benjamin Light and I add a long conversation about this show about a week ago because we’re fucking dorks, I guess. Maybe, if you’re nice to him, he’ll do a write up about his thoughts on that show and we’ll have a nice discussion on what we dislike about that show and what we would change (almost everything). And, if anything comes to us, maybe we’ll talk about what we like about the show?
The Venture Bros. As always, a strong, smart, funny show, but I’m trying not to use the words “treading water” here. I keep wanting this show to move forward into telling a larger story, and just when I think it’s going to reveal itself to be doing that… it pulls back altogether. At first it was like, “Ha ha, we are playing with your expectations,” but now it’s just like they’re treading water. Damn. I said it. It’s funny that the last episode was all about Doctor Venture’s brain being hacked and the Monarch trying to force him to commit suicide since I feel like that’s the only logical conclusion to the show.
South Park. I haven’t seen an actual episode of this show in fucking forever. I miss it. Conrad Noir tells me that I really need to see not this past week’s, but the one before, the one pertaining to Jersey Shore. “The Jersey problem,” is how he referred to it. I haven’t seen this last one, the Inception one, either. But now I see that Matt and Trey are in some shit for plagarizing a College Humor video. Jesus. I’m sorry, no, it’s “borrowing.” I get the gist of Matt and Trey’s “take” on Inception, which is a good example of how I can like this show and still pretty much never agree with their take on anything. I don’t think anyone is claiming that Inception is cool because it’s complex, are they? Also, how complex was Inception? Was it really that hard for anyone to follow? I mean… Really?
Louis. I like Louis C.K. I like him a lot. I haven’t loved this show, not like I’ve wanted to, though the Ricky Gervais cameo was a lot of fun. But I’m just glad that Louis C.K. has a show on TV that I don’t think has been canceled yet. I can’t wait to watch it progress. And I think that is the underlining factor that too many showrunners on television don’t take into account: Shows should progress. There’s a long game at work. Consider your package as a whole.
Eastbound & Down. I’ve only seen the first episode of this current season so far, so I can’t say much, but this show defies your average reviewing format. You’re either in or out. Anything else and maybe you should just fuck off. Me: thumbs up.
Bored To Death. Talk about your meta end to a blog post… I’ve only seen about five episodes from the first season of this show. They were meh, honestly. I see the promise of the show picking up and getting interesting, but I’ll get there at some point. But, during some of those first few episodes, I just felt like maybe I wanted to go read an old detective novel and drink some wine instead.
John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe (and hopefully teaming up with young Abe Lincoln to hunt vampires).
Bill Compton as Doctor Doom and either Jack Bauer or John McClane as the Thing.
Jon Hamm: “If Rob Lowe had been cast in the part, it would have been different. There was no backstory with me.”
An interesting write up on Phonogram: The Singles Club.
Behind the “Frazenfreude.”
Stephen Hawking changes his views on God.
Just imagine this: An 80 hour Lost marathon.
5 mind blowing ways that your memory plays tricks on you.
5 UFO sightings that even non-crazy people find creepy.
5 stupidest ways that movies deal with foreign languages.
6 famous unsolved mysteries (that have totally been solved).
January Jones: “I need not to think about my character. Betty is so blissfully ignorant in certain ways, so I feel like I should be too.”
A cannibal restaurant in Berlin. Figures.
Laura Marling’s award-nominated love triangle.
Self-described CIA assassin dies in ([accidental] self-imposed) gun accident.
And, I tell ya, August and I have really missed doing our Mad Men write ups the past few episodes, especially since, as far as I’m concerned, this has been the show’s strongest season yet, but on the plus side, it’s probably spared you an incredible amount of Nora Zehetner photos that I would’ve just bombarded you with…
Creepy artificial arm from the 1800s.
Peter Travers talks with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Is Barnes & Noble really going bye bye?
Blah blah blah bedbugs.
The Bloom Box: A power plant the size of a coffee mug.
The perilous profession of underground mining.
Wormholes in NYC.
I honestly can’t believe that they renewed Human Target.
Booty calls are their own special type of relationship.
Right off the bat, let’s lift a shadow off this evening: The only people for us are the mad ones and there’s nothing nearly eloquent enough to explain our excitement about the return of Mad Men tonight (and the return of us gabbing about each new episode afterward) with the fourth season premiere, “Public Relations,” but August is going to start us off with…
Is it me or shouldn’t this episode have been titled “Don Fucking Draper,” right?
Marco Sparks: Seriously. That would have been a great title for the season premiere of the show for rich people and rich minds alike.
August: Seriously. This episodes taps into the psyche of Don and who he is now. Maybe who he always was.
Marco: I feel like every single season we’re told that there’s a larger question hanging over that particular year or story arc, and there is no resolution, not clearly. There’s milestones. There’s totems on that timeline. There’s road blocks and rest stops, but that probing question only gets more complicated, more faceted…
But it’s nice that no matter how despicable some of Don’s actions can be, he’s still one of our better role models for men on television. Right? Well… no, probably not. There’s obviously a very masculine energy to him, a complicated creature of intrigue and overflowing with a talent that can’t be denied and a certain enviable confidence. But it’s a weird time for men now, not unlike the 60s in some regards, and it’s hard to find good male role models in this day and age…
…I mean, right?
Though it’s interesting to watch the new era of Don Draper. The single Don, a man living a sadder life perhaps? It’s like watching an actor without a real role. Don’s always a little more in his zone when he’s lying to a woman effectively and it’s got to be hard for him when the possible new girl in his life sees through a little of the old tricks of his. But, Don being Don, and knowing the ways of the world like he does, and being in advertising after all, he relies on kindly women from the oldest profession who can give him what he wants, a literal expression of what has happened to him thus far: A good slapping around.
August: No need for the hooker to take off her brassiere, she already knows what Don wants.
Marco: I’m sure the events of his life sure haven’t helped. The confusion at work as they build a new company. The constant struggle to move out of the darkened corners of invisible anonymity in the creative department to becoming the poster boy, the handsome cipher, the face of the company.
It’s 1964 at this point, it’s Thanksgiving, and Don isn’t finding himself a whole lot to be thankful for. This new found freedom isn’t necessarily good for him, it sure as hell isn’t glamorous in any way, and divorced guys are seemingly considered basically damaged goods. And I think a lot of people came up with a lot of reasons for why Don like or wants or needs a bit of the rough stuff in his sex life, specifically being slapped, but the very first thing I got out of it was a reminder of Betty slapping him back in the season finale last year.
August: Life is just slapping him around at this point. I think it’s about what he said earlier. Every day he works is an investment for the company. He has no time to pick up women and seduce them into copious amounts of sex, to play that particular game that he plays so well. He has work to do.
Marco: Cause in every single way, Don is the star of this show.
I love the use of “John And Marsha” by Stan Freeberg, one of the kings of early satire, and the song is both a lovely inside joke when it comes to the world of advertising and a nice joke on soap operas. And it only becomes so much more meta when you consider that that’s really what Mad Men is.
August: In the metamorphosis from Sterling Cooper to Sterling Cooper Draper Price I’m glad they’ve updated from their shanty of an office in a hotel room to an actual floor, which unfortunately enough for Harry Crane doesn’t have more than one story, with their name on the door. Sorry Pete, guess they did end up having a lobby. But still no table…
Marco: I think we’re all holding our breath in anticipation of more Joan. And the possibility of Joan and Don… you know. That’s the difference, in just some regards, between a show like Mad Men and True Blood… True Blood is all soft core fan service (at some point everyone on that show will have fucked everyone else on that show for our amusement) and Mad Men is cerebral teasing all the way. It’s about dangling and snatching away at the last moment.
I especially think that’s true in light of this episode of Mad Men, which is all about not being able to close certain deals and not wanting to close others. You gotta love Don’s orchestrated “fuck off” to the prudes manufacturing sex in swim wear and thinking they’re better than they are.
August: I enjoyed the ruse Peggy and Pete conjured in order to garner press for the ham company. Didn’t go as planned, but that’s life I guess.
August: It’s hard out there for the boys and girls in America. Especially in the 60’s. 1964, if I’m not mistaken?
Marco: It certainly is.
Marco: Like your beloved Ken Cosgrove.
August: Ken had cool hair. Terrific few parts of the episode? Don and Roger bickering back and forth about the one-legged reporter and his inability to write a real story. Maybe they should talk to a whole reporter next time? Ha-ha. Roger sure as shit was the comedy relief in this episode as a lot of things/people were so morose.
Now back to Don, who has always been the main character of the show, I guess the protagonist, if you will, who really made this episode what it was. I think he feels this is temporary, this won’t last with Betty…
Marco: Henry Francis just feels like he’s about to get hit by a car or walk off the top of a skyscraper any moment now, doesn’t he? His patheticness almost makes Betty look even more cruel and horrid. It leaves where she ends up because of her frustrations from the past few years even more unchecked. Just as the kids are scared of their mother, I can’t imagine Francis not growing bored of her and then where will Matthew Weiner deliver her( and us)?
August: Will Don get back with her? Will he want to? The man with no key to his own house. I love his ability to take the jabs by his attorney and Roger in this episode. Usually so defensive, I think he’s just too shot down. Or just doesn’t give a shit anymore.
Marco: I’d be hurt if Benjie Light doesn’t have a few words to share with us about Betty, but I like where they’re taking the kids here, story-wise and post-divorce, the way they’re building on what we’ve seen so far concerning Sally and Bobby Draper. Sally, of course, is going to rebel and be repulsed by the way her little life is going so far and Bobby is going to grow up to be fucking creepy. If they ever do an episode flashing forward to where all the characters ended up, I want to see Bobby Draper, with his new striving to be liked by everyone now, as a politician.
And since they cast Matt Long as Peggy’s little partner, I’m wondering just out of curiosity since I never actually watched Jack And Bobby (and I don’t believe that anyone else did either)(though I think John Slattery was on there too), but didn’t Bobby end up being the one who grew up to become President?
Marco: Fucking jai alai.
August: …in his news story. Maybe that interview with the Wall Street Journal will make it all better?
Marco: I hope that Betty becomes the new Don in that house.
Especially since Henry’s idea of recapturing the magic between involves them fucking in the car, seemingly echoing back to when they had to sneak around? Only one episode in and I already feel like these characters feel like they can’t handle the a-changin’ times around them and they’re flirting with the soft seduction of the past and all of it’s elements, the moments when they felt happier or more dangerous.
August: I couldn’t tell you where this episode may take us, as far as the new season is concerned. I’m just hoping I get to see more of Pryce.
August: Who is Don Draper?
“From one john’s bed to the next,” and here we are, sitting in our hotel suite office ordering room service and naughty adult movies, ready to ruminate on this past Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, the season 3 finale entitled “Shut The Door. Have A Seat.” And what an episode it was…
Again, normally August Bravo would join me here, but that guy just can’t learn his lesson. Remember when he didn’t heed Peggy’s mom’s advice and moved to Manhattan and then was thoroughly raped? Well, now he’s moved to Portland and while there’s a bar on every corner and someone you can buy a hanjob or coke or both from every ten feet, apparently there’s not enough of a signal to watch Mad Men on youtube via your iphone.
A brief recap (if possible): We discover that Don has been sleeping in Grandpa Gene’s room because of the strife between Betty and himself. Conrad Hilton gives him the cold brush off and informs him that PPL is being sold, and with it goes Sterling Cooper. Don tells his would be father figure where he can stick it. Then he goes and wakes up Cooper and brings Roger Sterling back to life and gets them excited about taking back their lives and their company and starting over. Together, they begin picking out their dream team from Sterling Cooper and assembling what will be their new company as Don goes around with both his dick and his tail between his legs and learning to value relationships. And sometimes valuing relationships means knowing which ones to say goodbye to, and so off goes Betty and her new boyfriend to Reno for a “quickie” (six weeks) divorce and Don discovers that he has a whole other family. But this, you see, is just a brief recap, so, as we’re told in almost every scene in this episode, “Have a seat.”
Well, Kennedy is still dead. John John’s had to make his goodbyes, and America has not quite realized it, but everything is different now. The changes are no longer coming, they’re here.
And Don starts the episode by waking in a tomb, the former bedroom of a dead man and the newborn baby who shares his name. He then goes to meet Connie, the odd kitten who’s treated Don like a ball of yarn half the season, and really wakes up when Connie cuts him loose and then gives Don a self righteous spiel about how he’s impervious to whiners who can’t earn things for themselves. But Don couldn’t give a shit. His company’s about to get sold and he doesn’t want to go work for some sausage factory.
From there on, the episode becomes just a powerhouse of awesome, giving us some truly satisfying and exciting moments dealing with Don Draper and the exiles of Sterling Cooper as they play the phoenix from the ashes of their company, but before we go there, let’s get to what we all knew was coming, especially after last week…
“The state of New York doesn’t want anyone to get divorced. That’s why people go to Reno.”
The thing is, after last week’s episode, this season finale was all set up in our minds to be the ultimate downer as the Draper castle was torn apart and washed away, and yet, back in the office, we saw excitement and joy, and more of a sense of family than we’ve seen in a long time in the cold walls of Don and Betty’s metaphorical bedroom. Just another way this show wonderfully plays with our expectations.
So, Benjamin Light hates Betty, and I can understand why, but I can still see where she’s coming from. And I’m glad she’s going. Don remains characteristically clueless about a lot of what she wants and needs, and really, she’s the same way about him. And now that she sees him, now that he’s no longer the “football hero who hates his father,” but the son of poor co-op farmers, he’s nothing to her. Everything that his double life has brought them is completely illegitimate to her, and she longs for the silver haired loser from the Rockefeller campaign instead.
In fact, I think Betty quite accurately throws it in Don’s face when he suggests that she may have to be sick to want out of their “perfect little world.” Well, actually, he just suggests that she’s had a bad year, which she has, and that she should probably find someone to talk, which she should. But her inference is also correct, I think, when it comes to Don’s real intentions there. I can defend Betty to a point, am curious to see who she’ll become as she now enters the real world that Don and her father have essentially protected her from up until this point, but she has been, and in this episode especially, a bit of a stone cold bitch.
“Why are we in the living room?” Bobby Draper asks, and he’s right. It’s the scene of Betty’s ultimate fantasy world and in it, the cathedral to which she can have those fantasies now ends as the family breaks up. This was easily one of the most heartbreaking scenes on TV, and so harsh, so cruel, so real. Don suggests this new status quo is only temporarily and Betty emphatically shakes her head no. And then there’s the kids, the real victims of the way people treat each other, and as Light suggested to me the other day, though it’s not said, you almost feel that for all the coldness they sometimes get from their father, they’d still prefer it to freezing to death with their mother.
As much of a fan of little Sally Draper as I am, the lasting image from that scene for me isn’t just Betty shaking her head no, but it’s Bobby’s ceaseless clinging to his father, clinging to his world that he barely understands as it all falls away. Oh, the fathers and sons this season. Don and Bobby, whom Don rarely shares moments with, honestly. Don getting kicked out by his pseudo-paternal figure, Hilton, which starts flashbacks of the loss of his real father (or real step father, whatever), Archie Whitman.
Which brings us to the night before the Draper family ended in their living room, when a drunken Don invades the master bedroom in the house, that his wife and their newborn baby now occupy alone, and he pulls Betty out of sleep and onto her feet, confronting her with what he’s only just learned about: Henry Francis. Don has the greatest line of the season when it comes to Betty: “Because you’re good… and everyone else is in the world is bad.” Don’s cruelty is usually cool, measured, but when he delivers these lines, it’s like he’s finally releasing some pent up venom. But it almost goes to far and we’re taken back to his imagined origins in the late night reverie from the season premiere, as he becomes his father, Betty becomes the whore, and then there’s the baby crying. It’s arguable in that scene that Don is confronted with a subtle choice as you half expect him to hit his wife: Does he want to be Don Draper or does he want to just another dick?
Which takes us back to the offices of Sterling Cooper, the kind of place that Don never expected to work at, but where he thrived, or, where he’s thrived for the last three years. With PPL being sold off and the SC along with it by their new British masters, Don is awake, and on his way to wake up Bert Cooper…
The dialogue in their scene is perfect, and I love that Cooper, who’s always kind to Don and his talents and his mysteries, and who purrs like a fat old wise and eccentric housecat with a bit of a Japanese fetish, lets Don know flat out that he doesn’t think he has the stomach for the reality of the future Don wants so brutally to regain control of…
Cooper: “Young men love risks because they can’t imagine consequences.”
Don: “And you old men love building golden tombs and sealing the rest of us in with you.”
But something begins in this scene, the start of building something, a bridge out of their indentured servitude and Cooper hits Don with one of those harsh realities he’s going to have to face: He can’t do this on his own. He’s going to need Roger Sterling.
And let me just say: Fuck Yeah, Roger Sterling.
When the highpoints of this episode was literally everything that came out of his mouth. Don and Cooper both make their pitches to Sterling about taking the tough road and starting something new and Sterling breaks it to Don: You don’t care about people. And maybe that’s why you’re so bad at being real with them. And Cooper hits Sterling with some real talk too: You need the excitement and danger of this business to survive and feel alive like you’re used to. Retire now and you might as well move into a plot in the ground with your child bride. It’s funny how enduring Jane has somehow purified Roger in our eyes, made him possibly realize that Joan is the woman for him, not the girl for him like Jane is, and put him on a better path.
From there, they go to Pryce and put forth a plan: He’ll fire them, thereby releasing them from their contracts, in exchange for shared power in their new company, and over the weekend, they’ll assemble a dream team to take with them along with any clients and supplies they can swipe from the office. And the show literally explodes into life. It became the gathering of the dream team from something like Ocean’s 11 or the start of a mission from one of those crack team of guys going on a mission World War II or something. It was perfect and it was exhilarating.
And it was a great moment for the characters to confront their own failures and move past them, to be happy beyond them. Don especially, as he does the walk of shame, first treating Peggy like dirty in assuming that she’ll just follow him blindly so he can beat her about as he pleases and then getting told off by her as she finally stands up for herself to him.
And then Pete, whom Don actually has to compliment for his eye towards the future. He’s not just wanted, he’s needed in the new company, Don tells him. And thankfully, along with Pete, will come his perfect partner, Trudy.
Sorry, August, but I guess Ken Cosgrove doesn’t make the cut.
Sadly, they took Harry Crane along too, but maybe since they’re literally sifting through the ashes of Sterling Cooper, maybe they’ll blow a little of those embers into him and ignite some potential. Or maybe he came along just so Cooper could deliver my actual favorite line of the episode, telling Harry that if he turns him down, he’ll spend the rest of the weekend tied up in the closet.
And, of course Joan is back. They’re all brilliant actors and they’re staging what could be a fascinating play, but they need a director, they need someone to coordinate them and make their needs accessible. And of course Roger knows that Joan is the person to do that.
But alas, no Sal. But in a small way, that could be a good thing. Sal may not be able to come back to the new company and the show in his old capacity, but more on that soon. Cause there’s always this:
Fuck doors. Fuck yeah.
And then there’s Don’s return and appeal to Peggy. He stops treating her like his former secretary. He stops treating her like just an employee. He actually sees her as a person. Possibly through a mirror, but still, he’s awake now and really looking at her. He’s really to lay down his sword and shield in front of her and stop holding the fact that he’s a man over her as something superior. I think one of the most realistic and truthful things Don has ever said is when he told her that she’s just like him, she’s his anima, and together they both can conjure the words, the “asa nisi masa,” if you will.
“Because there are people out there who buy things, people like you and me, and something happened. Something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that, but you do. And that’s very valuable.”
When he says that, it’s not just to her that he’s confessing things, it’s to himself as well. Peggy ventures a guess that if she turns him down, he’ll cut her off forever and, baring his soul to her, he says it’s the opposite: “No. I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.” It’s telling that the most touching scene of the episode isn’t between Don and his departing wife, Betty. It’s between Don and himself/Peggy.
But of course Peggy is her own creature as well, and I think everyone, not just Don and Pete, are going to see it. So classic was Roger asking her for a cup of coffee and her flat out saying, “No.”
But then the long night of the weekend comes to an end and the sun comes up on Monday morning and the all stars of Sterling Cooper are gone, spirited away to their new home, an office in a hotel suite. In fact, really, all of Sterling Cooper is gone, shredded to pieces in the night…
“Good morning! Hello Sterling/Cooper/Draper/Pryce. How may I help you?” It’s nice to meet you.
“Very good. Happy Christmas!”
“He didn’t even leave a note!”
Still miss you, Sal, but you’ll have to change or die, as is often the case with history. As the always explosively brilliant Karina Longworth suggests when talking about the end of the episode as the camera captures the joy on the faces of the new SCDP employees/refugees:
The glow in the room that’s reflected on Don’s face in that shot—that is only there because they are all there, because he needs all of them to do his job, and vice versa. It’s arguable (probable, for all the lines like “we don’t have art”) that Sal could be back in Season Four and SCDP (and the show) would be better for it. But his sham marriage may need to fully deteriorate before he belongs in that hotel room.
One can only hope that Sal embraces his sexuality and himself and comes back into the fold as a contracted big time commercial director. Wouldn’t that be wonderful. Also, Fuck Lee Garner, Jr.
This episode was everything I could ever want from Mad Men. Much like us here at Counter-force, sitting her in our hotel suite/bloggitorium, at least when I’m doing my song and dance, we’re obsessed with the future. But we see it through the multi-colored lenses of the past. The past was bombs, the present is rubble, and the future is fireworks and we’re looking up at the stars, to dangle as many silly pyrotechnic metaphors in your face as I can.
The Beatles are coming. Vietnam is coming. The world isn’t done being changed and the light from the future can’t be fully seen yet, but for now, in the world of Mad Men, the characters are happy. Excited. Don Draper has perhaps finally said goodbye to Dick Whitman and is ready to move on. Trudy is showing up with sandwiches. Joan’s husband can hopefully only be guaranteed a nasty ending. There’s Peggy/Pete stuff on the horizon. There’s Joan/Roger stuff on the horizon. And there’s always fucking Jai Alai. We may never seen Suzanne Farrell again (though she’ll live on in Twix commercials). Or Paul Kinsey or Duck Phillips or Ken Cosgrove, for all we know. But what happens in this world and in Don Draper’s life could be anything.
Especially when Don places that call to Betty. He won’t fight her. She can have whatever she wants. And he hopes that she finds out what that is. “Well, you’ll always be her father,” she pathetically replies with, but I think it was meant to be a kind statement, something Betty’s always been foreign too. She’s going to leave two older children with a vastly better mom, Carla (so classy, Betty), and take baby Eugene, her youngest child and ball and chain from the past, to Reno with her new boyfriend.
And Don’s going to crawl off into the city, heartbroken maybe, but feeling lighter and hopefully optimistic. We have a general idea of the future he’s going to see, but he doesn’t, and he’s excited for it. And we’re going to go with him.
And, wonderfully, Roy Orbison is going to sing a song about the whole thing. August and I had a great time talking about Mad Men and hopefully you enjoyed it too. And hopefully it’ll only get better since, after all, “the future is much better than the past.”