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).
So not to get too off topic here, but where was I? We’re a day late with this one, but I’ve been working so hard. Oh yeah, I’ve got an idea that will blow this whole column up. Let me just race my car across the city and I’ll dance right up and tell you all about it. Hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself, I just remembered something, what’s this? Man, I am tired. Let me just try to understand…
Welcome to the latest installment of Mad Men on Drugs. For a show that is known for exuding quiet control, confidence and clarity, when Mad Men gets rocking it can really careen into some unforeseen directions. But seriously, who knew working for Chevy could be so hazardous to your health? Also, go figure, who knew Chevy execs were so insane? One of them had a gun! And these guys represent the salvation of the SCDP/CGC brand? God speed and good luck, guys.
A drug like speed (and I’m not speaking from experience here) suggests the ability to create a laser like focus on a task. The SCDP/CGC guys want it because they are preparing to buckle down for the weekend to crank out ideas. Roger wants it because, well shit, why not? And Don takes the shot because he has some serious fixating to do. Times are tough in the office, Ken Cosgrove is being run raggedly, the creative team is overworked, and Frank Gleason (the G of CGC) is dead. His friend Teddy, who also acts as the office dad (when not getting drunk, or hitting on Peggy), leaves the office in the hands of a bunch of cranked up wildmen. I wish I could have been on hand to explain to Teddy what was about to happen. Though at least we learned that Jim Cutler was just as creepy as we expected him to be.
At the forefront of the drug brigade is Stan and he is getting pretty focused. He gets to run around the office, compete in arm wrestling matches, hook up with hippies and, oh yeah, attempt to address his feelings for Peggy while grappling with his grief about his cousin’s death. It’s a nice moment, as Peggy deftly deflects Stan’s inebriated advances while doling out some choice bits of wisdom about dealing with loss. That such a touching scene can come after an incident involving a sharp projectile tossed into Stan’s arm is, quite frankly, astounding.
Also astounding? Don’s continued slide into quiet desperation. I’m not going to rehash Don’s misfortunes again, I swear. Don decides to use this chemically found focus to do what he does best: Obsess about himself and his problems. He has just been *gasp* rejected for maybe the first time. And as we bounce back and forth between his awkward young memories and his desperate attempts to regain the attention of Sylvia (under the guise of actually doing work for Chevy), all we see is the same sadness only this time cranked up to 11.
Despite all of the druggy hijinks, the exchange I keep coming back to is actually between Don and Wendy, the spaced out daughter of Gleason. She goes to listen to Don’s heart with a stethoscope but remarks that it’s broken. And Don, with clearly defined earnestness asks, “You can hear that?”. He assumes she means his heart. Sometimes, if we allow ourselves to take a long view, we can remember all that binding history. We can remember the image of a gawky Dick Whitman, living at a brothel, being deflowered by a prostitute and asking silently again and again: does someone love me?
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) Energy Serum
2) Beauty mark
3) Stamped out cigarettes
5) I Ching
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.
HEY, REMEMBER WHEN EVERYONE IN YOUR OFFICE GOT A NEEDLE IN THE ASS FROM A STRANGE DOCTOR LIKE THAT WAS A NORMAL THING TO DO?
Ahem. You have to understand, I am trying hard not to write this entire section in all-caps. I lack the ability to emphasize this strongly enough so bear with me here.
When Mad Men started it was all about drinking and smoking. The two were interconnected, they were simple to grasp, they worked. As the show has gone on, however, and broken from the orbit of its 1950s legacy, new ways to facilitate the magical world of advertising and human interaction have emerged. There were the episodes that involved smoking weed, and there was Roger’s famous LSD trip. Some bizarre Hare Krishna’s got involved and we’ll never really know what they were on (poor Paul Kinsey). Oh, the drinking never stopped either. Guys like Freddy Rumsen pissed their pants and then got sober. But still, people were drunk all the time! Now we are getting to the end of the decade. The lives of old school alcoholics and those sweet hippie summers of love are perhaps curdling into something else. When Teddy gets back to the office, after attending his best friend’s funeral, he sees only the next day’s comedown. He definitely does not see the running, the arm-wrestling, the William Tell games, or Don’s search for soup copy. Oh yeah, and he doesn’t see his pal Jim Cutler spying on Stan as he has sex with a freshly dead guy’s daughter.
I think I should have realized we were in for a new kind of trouble when Roger calmly strolls into the doctor’s makeshift office and mentions his heart condition. “Don’t worry about it”, says the doctor. I worry, doc. I worry.
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.
Ken(!) we need to talk. You see, Chevy is great for your career. We know this. We’re proud of you. But, well, we’re all a little concerned. Speaking for myself here, I don’t like what it’s doing to you. I mean, we see you three different times in this episode and each time you just not in a good way.
First (and most harrowing), you are racing around with a bunch of drunk
kidnappers auto execs as you chaperone them on their reign of terror across the Great Lakes region. I know you want to forge a strong connection with these guys but Ken, these people are not your friends. I don’t care what they tell you.
Second, you have to stand (that’s right, stand! With a bum foot!) in front of the partners as they tell you you’re not doing a good enough job. Don, naturally, thinks if he can just get in a room with the Chevy people he can convince them, persuade them. Hey Don, Ken is putting his life on the line here! Your mind tricks only work on the sane, the lonely and the bored. These Chevy guys, these monsters, are none of these things. They care not for the timbre of your voice. You alone, Ken, must shoulder this burden.
Third, you tap dance. Actually, I’ve reconsidered. This is the most harrowing scene. Ken, last week I asked for you to come back but not like this. Not like this.
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.
Was I the only one that was either convinced that Sally had taken some drugs too or that the Draper kids did in fact have a Grandma Ida? Given the frenetic tone of the entire episode, I didn’t even bat an eye when some strange woman showed up in the Draper’s apartment to steal their stuff. I mean, I had my concerns, but I kept expecting her to disappear in a puff of smoke, or for Sally to wake up from whatever bizarre dream she was having. I didn’t expect a room full of police and parents.
Look, I don’t blame Sally for being taken in by it. Let’s stand in her boots (the ones Megan promised) for a second: Sally has a father who even she realizes she knows nothing about. The degree to which Don is removed now from his children is extreme, even for his standards. Meanwhile, there is Betty. Full stop. Now I can’t decide if it is better to have a parent that totally misunderstands you or one that makes no real attempt (and then shows up to do a header into the carpet). Ultimately, I have to remain impressed with Sally. She coolly looks Grandma Ida in the eye, even though she knows something is wrong. She calms her forever clueless brother Bobby. Hell, she even gets some scrambled eggs out of the deal. Don may admit to leaving the door open, but neither he nor Betty will admit embarrassment like that. You can practically see the resolve being formed, another lesson learned for Sally.
Winner: Sally (though I did like how Henry handled the whole thing.)
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.
As it turns out, there is a reason why Chevy Motors wanted to go with a bigger agency for their advertising needs. Companies like SCDP and CGC are supposed to spend their days fighting over raincoats, floor polish and ketchup. They can help out with a foreign car company or even one of the smaller airlines but, be reasonable, there are lines to be drawn here. Merging companies like these together may give them more manpower, but it doesn’t give them anymore direction; they’re like a car with a bigger engine and no driver.
With half of the staff on a speed-induced drug high, the SCDP/CGC offices (that doc was right, that is a mouthful to say) are literally running around trying to come up with idea after idea for their new corporate overlords at Chevy. It ain’t a pretty picture: Stan comes up with a convenient 666 concepts, Peggy drinks and tries her best to remain in control, Ginsberg really wants someone to listen to him and those other two schlubs just try to fit in. Initially, I was thinking we’d reached our creative nadir around the moment when Ginsberg is chucking an xacto knife at Stan.
Leave it to Don, however, to really drive the point home. While purposefully marching around the office in his quest for the perfect idea, Don lays bare both his life’s mission and the futility found therein. Advertising is all about creating desire, presenting a solution to a presumed need. Poor Don feverishly talks up a strategy that is bigger than a car, maybe even bigger than his Sylvia problem. “It’s everything”, he says. By the end of the episode the SCDP/CGC gang don’t really gain any ground, and Don collapses in a heap.
- 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.
What is it about Pete Campbell offering to do a favour for someone? I don’t know, maybe this explains his kinship with Bob Benson. Both guys can load statements like “Can I walk you out?” with all kinds of icky intent. Now, for all his smiley creepiness, Bob is no Pete. Campbell wrote the book on sucking up, being a weasel and demanding restitution for unwanted assistance. I know Joan (who mercifully, I should add, dodged this entire drug trip of an episode) is wise enough to see through Pete Campbell. But if the intent of the Next Episode montage was to make me feel uneasy, well, kudos AMC because I’ll be on edge all week. I don’t know what else I can do, indeed, Pete. Indeed.
The druggy episodes tend to be “love ’em or hate ’em” with folks. I wasn’t keen on “The Jet Set” but loved “Far Away Places.” This was a wild ride, and I enjoyed it but I’m so sick of all the whore metaphors this season. We get it. At this point I feel it’s taking precious time away from the other million plotlines that were started this season and then abandoned. I would rather spend time with anyone on this show (Except Pete. I’m OD’ing on Pete too) than another run-around of Don and Sylvia and the Whorehouse Memories.
That said, the blurb for next week’s episode is: “Roger is plagued by a recurring dream. Joan goes to the beach.” I’m sold!