By: Daniel Reynolds
Heading into its sixth season, the Same Page welcomes you each week to the Mad Men Monday Recap. A show as deep as this one needs a little diverse commentary so jump in and enjoy the irreverent breakdown of each episode.
What’s Happening on Madison Avenue?
It is worth taking a minute to discuss what happened in each episode, right? If you’re looking for some straight talk on what we just saw on Mad Men, read this section (and then read the other sections because, why not).
First of all, let me just say welcome to the maiden voyage of this feature. The goal is to try to breakdown each episode of Mad Men into a mix of serious critical discussion (symbolism! metaphor! structure!) and, you know, make jokes (haircuts! fat suits! Pete Campbell!). Now, where do we begin? We’re talking about a two hour mega episode here so the plot comes on pretty thick. After the Season 5 break, we’ve got the Drapers lounging in Hawaii, Peggy solving a work related crisis, Betty wandering around the Village, and Roger grappling with death and mortality. A real emotional gamut here, people.
We’ll get to Betty later (they call that foreshadowing), and Peggy’s story line was fairly by the book (though her one-sided phone call with the Father, errr, I mean, Pastor, was hilarious), so, as expected, the most compelling narratives of the episode belonged to Roger and Don, the dueling stories of death.
On the one hand, we see Roger, in all his masterful charming and glib glory, dealing with the death of his mother. He goes to a psychiatrist these days, and clearly is still grappling with the uselessness and ease of his life (his impassioned speech about doors, from which the episode gets its title is another perfect bit of writing). Yes, sometimes it is hard to sympathize with the very rich, but Roger (as brilliantly played by John Slattery) is such a compelling character that we do feel for him when he finally breaks down in his office (ostensibly for his shoe shiner, but still).
We flip it over to Don now, who also has now started (after thinking about elevator shafts, Lane Pryce, and his hanged brother) ruminating on death. Of course, in classic Draper fashion, after spending two hours starring thoughtfully out to the ocean, out of his window, and out into the snow, the final two minutes of the episode show Don in bed with the wife (Lindsay Weir! I mean, Linda Cardilleni) of his new friend, Dr. Rosen. He is still frustrated, still trying to find answers to unanswerable questions, but after spending Season 5 playing the loyal husband, Don is back to his wayward ways. For a change, however, even he admits he “wants to stop doing this”.
The Symbolism Rankings
Enjoy, with minimal comment, the weekly rankings for whatever symbolism Matthew Weiner has heavily stacked into each Mad Men episode. A show set in the world of advertising is only as good as its symbolism, right?
1) Pfc Dinkins’ lighter
2) A violin
4) A jar of water from the River Jordan
5) Dark hair dye
Back in the Day
Remember the 1960s? Mad Men really values its sense of place. To that end, here’s where we make mention of whatever anachronistic or historical element popped up this week.
I suppose the more prescient item to discuss here is the continued influence of the Vietnam War on America. We forget sometimes how significant it was in shaping the political and cultural discourse in the country. Throughout the Mad Men premiere characters are touched by it (Don meets a vacationing, drunk, soldier) or affected by it (Peggy has to re-work a whole ad campaign), even though they are all geographically very far away from it. As an indicator of the changing cultural landscape and the onset of the 1970s, the chatter about Vietnam should be considered the key historical element of the episode.
But, I disagree. I think the key indicator is the one, the only: the fondue pot. Changing cultural landscape? More like cultural earthquake. Next stop, key parties, the introduction of cocaine, and, fingers crossed, David Bowie.
This Week in Ken! (Cosgrove. Accounts.)
As the most likeable guy in the entire series, Ken Cosgrove deserves his chance to shine. Here’s where we discuss what everyone’s favourite earnest moonlighting sci-fi writer was doing or not doing on the last episode.
I’ll be honest, about 45 minutes in I was concerned that our pal Ken (!) wasn’t going to show up and I’d have to rebuild this whole section around Burt Cooper. Fortunately, Ken didn’t disappoint with his two brief appearances.
First, Ken gets philosophical at Roger’s mother’s funeral by asking the others (Pete, Harry and eventually Don) if their own mothers had died. Real tactful stuff. So tactful that Don leaves and then… vomits. To save face, Ken later gives new character, and big time suck up, Bob Benson some flak for sending over a bunch of food to the funeral. Ken thinks it too presumptuous. Ken does not like the forwardness of it. Hey, Benson, Ken thinks you should check yoself.
Know Your Role
Since so much of Mad Men is predicated on minute character interactions, here’s where we discuss the top conflicts that happen in each week’s episode and decide on a winner.
The scariest conflict here had to be Betty Draper vs. the dirty hippies. Or, the free people vs. the Establishment, man. We haven’t really touched on this yet, but, there was a lot of Betty this episode, right? Remember when we thought she’d quietly get written out of the show? Instead we get even more Betty! (and I’m not just talking about the fat suit. Booyah! That was too easy). Anyway, Betty wanders around in… New York City, I guess? Jesus, is that how NYC looked in the 60s? Yikes. She is looking for a young girl named Sandy, a talented violinist and clearly someone that needs a little guidance. Does Betty want to instill in her a little of her own beliefs on maturity? Come on, when has Betty ever forced anything on anybody?
In any case, it’s all pretty quaint (Betty helps with goulash preparation), until the lead hippie shows up to give Betty what for. Hey, we don’t need your money, lady, we’ve got… freedom! Betty stands strong, keeps Sandy’s violin (who the hell is Sandy, by the way?) but then leaves it in the hallway. Sandy will have to go her own way. Betty returns to her warm bed where it is safe and, umm, warm. Freedom doesn’t keep your cozy, dirty hippie.
Between the drinking, the social commentary and the drinking, sometimes the people of SCDP and Madison Avenue actually do some work on advertisements. Here is where we sit in the seat of the client, trying to figure out what the hell these ad guys are talking about.
With Peggy now working for a different agency, Mad Men can double down on the amount of ad-speak during an episode. So over at CGC (the office of Ted Chaough), Peggy works overtime (for a change) to grind out a solution for Koss headphones. The problem? Apparently the phrase “lend me your ears” cuts a little too close to home. If home were filled with soldiers wearing necklaces of ears. Vietnam, man, it was a different time. Fortunately, after berating some underlings and looking through some cut commercial footage, Peggy develops a new tagline, saves the day and gets some reassurances from Ted (a seriously hirsute Stan, our resident relationship expert, overhears the conversation and assumes that Ted, quote, “liiiiiikes you”. What a guy.)
Meanwhile, Don is in the midst of his own existential crisis (yes, I know, again). Look, I get it. Don is thinking about wandering off into a different world for a new experience. He wants to sell the Hawaiian hotel guys on his idea of ambling into the ocean and perhaps disappearing into heaven. It’s a romantic notion to him because, well, he’s done it for most of his life. However, he sort of side steps the whole, you know, dying bit. As you can imagine, the clients are a tad perturbed (Come disappear at the death hotel on death island!). Back to the drawing board, guys.
Next Episode Predictions
This is where we watch the totally opaque preview for next week’s episode and make wild guesses as to what will happen next.
Well, we know for sure that Pete is going to be in it. And he’ll probably be a focal point. And, Ken will do anything to keep the client happy, so that means our TWIK bits will stay fresh (thank God). What I’m most concerned about is Harry. He says he’ll double check something. But, what could it be? Why is anyone trusting Harry to double check anything? Has the world gone mad? Stay tuned for next week’s episode. Dammit Weiner!