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).
The thing that always gets overlooked when tragic history is being made is the confusion. During truly momentous events, emotions are running high, but it is the overwhelming confusion, the “what do I do now?” feeling that ends up spinning everyone of course, at least for a little while. Last night’s Mad Men was a study of confused cause and effect, as the cast found themselves in a variety of situations that radically changed once it was announced that Martin Luther King had been killed.
First we have the lightest of touches: Ginsberg out on a blind date with a woman corralled by his father. Please let every episode now feature a scene of Ginsberg on a date. Actually, scratch that, can we get a spin-off series? Ginsberg goes into full-on Woody Allen mode, opening up wantonly about his anxiety, his virginity and his soup. He ordered soup. While his date scene and the scenes with the two-man father and son Ginsberg comedy team do sometimes stray a little too close to convenient Jewish stereotype shorthand, Ginsberg’s character (and Ben Feldman‘s performance) is charming and light enough to make it essential. His date is cut short; no one is in the mood to split dessert.
Showing a much more graceful hand is Peggy in her relationship with Abe. In a show where almost every relationship seems corrosive in some way, I continue to be delighted by their pairing. I worry about the eventual moves that Teddy is going to try to make on Peggy. I want her to get that apartment she’s always wanted and have Abe on hand to help fix it up. Let’s get to the next paragraph before I start to get emotional.
Then there is Henry; forever strident. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Henry. Sure, he came on a little strong when he was first introduced (come on, Betty had that pregnant glow about her then!), but it has been compelling to watch the arc of his career. His character as a device to chart the political climate of the era is a smart technique. Is it weird that he is still so taken with Betty? Should we warn him that letting the people “really meet” her may not be the best idea? Am I being too cynical?
Don feels like nothing more than a spectator this episode. I suppose that is how anyone feels when swept up in a sadly momentous wave of history. We haven’t seen much of the vocally introspective Don lately. He’s been far too lost in his latest affair, not really listening, drinking too much, fairly adrift again. It feels monumental to see him as he bursts with pride for his son; it feels more alien to him than Randall’s bizarre insurance speech (more discussion on that is coming because, of course). There is Bobby, restricted from watching TV, seeing beneath the obvious layers, and scratching at true empathy. Surrounded by a bunch of adults that are scrabbling through their bewildered lives largely for themselves, it is Bobby grasping at a simple understanding and cutting deeply through the confusion. No wonder it affects Don so deeply. He’s been living like there is no tomorrow; it overwhelms him to think that now maybe there is one again.
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) Planet of the Apes film
2) Torn wallpaper
3) Statue of Liberty
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.
Before we get to our 60s element here I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge something. After what felt like an endless stream of Bobby actors (this one is number, what, three?), Matthew Weiner was finally comfortable enough shooting a dramatic scene around the kid. We can think back on the entire episodes that have been built around Sally (Kiernan Shipka), Glen, and the long gone Sandy, while Bobby’s job extended to just running through a scene, politely eating and not looking directly at the camera.
So, in a real like father/like son moment, Don and Bobby get out of going to an MLK memorial to loaf around on the couch, drink (well, Don drinks) and get their socks blown off by Planet of the Apes. You know that movie? It’s the one about a new world order where the formerly oppressed take power and crush there oppressors. There are Don and Bobby watching Charlton Heston wail at the ruin of the Statue of Liberty while sirens pour over the city and fires burn into the night. It is a clever conceit, linking as it does the shocking feeling of a world robbed of Martin Luther King, and a cultural landscape unaware of the film’s famous dystopic twist ending.
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.
We knew it would happen eventually, right? In one single solitary shot, we see Ken(!) hold out a comforting arm out to Joan. What a hero. When others would lose their heads, there is Ken, staying strong.
I have to assume that while Don was out and about drinking (favourite random bit: “I have to go pick up the kids!” *throws back tumbler of alcohol*), Pete and Harry were fighting (and feeling frustrated, naturally), Peggy was apartment hunting and Ginsberg was locked in a comedic biblical struggle with his father, Ken was comforting as many people in the City of New York as possible. Sure, maybe there just was no way to work him into the dramatic arc of the episode. We can choose to believe that. I guess. Maybe.
Instead, I’ll believe that after that comforting arm squeeze, Ken(!) leaned to Joan and said, “You can finish my drink. I must go, the city needs me. My name is Ken! Cosgrove. Accounts.”
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.
All I could think of as Pete and Harry’s mutual tantrums shifted into a full-scale shouting match, was the episode of Seinfeld about the Contest. Heaven help me I can’t find the clip online right now, but watching Pete and Harry escalate their ridiculous argument felt like watching George stomp around Jerry’s apartment in obvious agitation. You see, Pete is stranded in his apartment downtown realizing that the single life is damn tough (and it’s tougher when there are race riots going on). And Harry, well, Harry remains Harry. It is not really a surprise that the two most childishly selfish characters on the show would find some way to get unbelievably indignant with each other. Do you think Bert Cooper, after his attempt at brokering a peace, pads back to his office and wonders how he ended up surrounding himself with those two?
I realize I used a Seinfeld reference last week, but it just fit too perfectly. Fortunately, since Pete is on the side of history this time, we have to give him the win in the argument. For the second week in a row (OK, OK, for the sixth season in a row) Harry was being a dick. Now if only Pete could aim some of his new found anti-racism rage at other, more fitting, targets around the office.
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 the events of the episode circling around the King assassination and subsequent riots, there just was not a lot of time for work around the SCDP offices. Granted, apparently some SCDP people (in this case, former SCDP people in Peggy and Megan) were up for some awards but the characters shrugged their shoulders at those honours almost as much as the show did. No, there wasn’t much advertising to talk about, until of course, we reflect on one William Mapother.
I’ll admit I’m having trouble writing this section because I have no idea what I just saw. Let’s just ride out this theme of confusion a little longer.
Some background: William Mapother is actually a cousin of the one, the only, the Tom Cruise. Like Cruise, he is an actor. Unlike Cruise, he is vaguely weird looking. I mean, the components of his face make sense, he has some of those Cruisian genes floating around in there somewhere. But somehow, like a piece of unfinished sculpture, we got William Mapother and not another Tom Cruise (a bad thing?).
Jokes aside, what was the point of the Randall scenes? Are we supposed to notice that Roger is definitely, post-acid trip, starting to hang out with some, ah, interesting people? Does the molotov cocktail insurance ad make an eventual appearance? Do Randall and Stan quit their respective jobs and run off together to live in a tinfoil covered trailer in the desert? Far out, man.
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.
Roger Sterling. Shirtless in bed. Hair tousled.
He purses his lips.
That is all.