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).
Not to get too lyrical on you here, but love is disappointment. Now, to say this in the context of Mad Men isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but last night’s episode definitely piled on the emotional horse trading.
There were some painful moments this week on Mad Men, which is bound to happen whenever people are trying to leverage their hold over people in uncomfortably personal ways. Sometimes that manipulation was present in a plain (and plainly funny) fashion, as when Peggy desperately tries to coerce Stan to her apartment to deal with a bloody rat. Earlier in the episode, Peggy is reminded of her relationship with Pete, and the naivety she once expressed in a different life. She’s learned a lot since then and is able to share a surprisingly warm moment with Pete as they bond over old inside jokes (much to Ted’s chagrin). Her emotional gambit with Stan doesn’t work, but Peggy is nothing if not pragmatic these days. She gets a cat instead.
That is lightweight, fun-and-games stuff compared to the trip that our friend Pete Campbell is going on, though. Where do we begin? We meet the immaculately named Manolo Colon (I swear, my mind hears Bartolo Colon every time) and then get to learn of his maybe, not sure, don’t want to know more, relationship with Pete’s mom. Is she delusional? Imagining the whole thing? Mrs. Campbell is convinced that she is in the throes of a new, beautiful love. Pete looks like he wants to jump out a window. And, just to make him feel even more uncomfortable, here is Bob Benson to take the time to express some of his own yearnings for Pete. So, if you’re scoring at home, Benson does favours for Pete to eventually seduce him while one of his favours is apparently seducing his mother. The Campbell bachelor pad is getting very interesting.
With all of this in the air, you could practically see the neon sign blazing above Sylvia and Arnold’s son, Mitchell, when he appears in need. With the Vietnam War growing in reach and effect, the sign presumably said “Save Him and Win Back Sylvia!!”, as Don considered his options and leapt into action. As the lead manipulator (at work, at home, with friends, family and lovers), Don knows an opportunity to build some emotional capital when he sees one. He can somehow still look Arnold in the eye and accept his praise, even with the truth stowed away.
Obviously, all of these shallow manipulations aren’t really any sort of love. It feels vaguely funny to hear Sylvia say again and again “I didn’t want you to fall in love”, as if that was remotely possible for Don. It is people praying on the known feelings, the unrequited emotions that are out there. Benson thinks if he helps Pete, he can be with Pete. Peggy tries to lure Stan. Don knows that if he saves Mitchell, Sylvia will re-open to him in gratitude. But Sally, still very much a kid, has not understood the deal and hasn’t asked for any favours. She hasn’t learned yet that putting your emotions out there in black and white can hurt and expose you. It’s a hard thing to realize that your dad is out there turning emotional tricks, and not the juggling kind.
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?
3) Sunkist Oranges
4) House cat
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 have to talk more about Vietnam don’t I? Alright, let’s get this over with.
So Mitchell Rosen, gangly teen, is 1A, which means he is immediately eligible for the draft to get sent to Vietnam. As a North American, this is still a hard concept to bend my mind around. In the last 50 years there was a time when you could get forced into bloody conflict (usually in a jungle), half a world away, under dubious pretenses. Forced into it! It drove people to flee the country, or jump wholeheartedly into college, or maybe even cut off a finger or two. I mean, the Western world still gets mired in wars under dubious pretenses, but at least they don’t tacitly force people to go.
Nowadays, the only draft we talk about are the ones for professional sports. Oh, and probably your fantasy team draft. That’s kind of a big deal. Look no further if you want to judge the difference between the 1960s and the 2010s. Back then, the government would send a letter in the mail to 18-20 year olds to send them to war. Today, we sit down and watch corporate sports leagues pick 18-20 year olds out of relative obscurity to become multimillionaires. A change is going to come, indeed.
Whew, I spent longer talking about the Vietnam War and draft than I thought. We good? With my due diligence out of the way we can now take a moment to reflect on Ted’s perfect analogy regarding working with Don (and I’m paraphrasing here, roughly): It would be like if every time Fred Astaire tossed Ginger Rogers in a dance, he punched her in the face.
Bravo, Ted, for comparing Don Draper to the smooth Astaire. And for linking yourself to Ginger Rogers.
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.
Drastic times call for drastic measures. Sorry Ken, we have more pressing matters to deal with here and since you refuse, REFUSE!, to come back from Detroit or at least do us the courtesy of calling, I have no recourse but to talk about your man in action replacement: Bob Benson.
So was that it after all? Was Ginsberg’s out-of-left-field (or closet) suggestion last week the key to the whole Benson mystery? What does it say about us that we assumed that Benson must have a nefarious plan to overthrow the higher-ups at SC&P? The guy was just fishing around the office for a different type of partner! After weeks of squirming around the margins of Mad Men, Benson makes his play for Pete. It is all starting to make sense. Well, actually, this still doesn’t explain all the attention he lavished on Joan. Dammit, Benson, what are you doing?
Look, Ken, we’ll always have the tap dancing. But, Bob Benson just hit on Pete and I’m still not sure if he is just angling for something in SC&P. This needs further investigation, it needs more space. Stay strong Ken. And remember, I never stopped believing in you.
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.
When the first talks of the SCDP and CGC merger popped up this season, we all got a little jazzed. It was Ted and Don, two small fish in the advertising industry’s big pond, talking about joining forces to wow the world. Yeah, you know what, we got excited. So while some things have worked out (Burt Peterson getting fired again, landing the Chevy account), other things have gone south. The reason? Well, sometimes we forget that Ted and Don haven’t liked each other for some time now. It’s a rivalry narrative as old as time: two men in the same field, both dueling to see who is the best. Before Mad Men it was Mad Cavemen, you know?
Look, I get it, Don is used to going into everything guns blazing. He drinks, he whores around, and then he glides into a conference room and, by just using the tenor of his voice, can sway men’s minds. He’s like the Shadow or something. He went out to LA with his bro Roger to hook some new business and he landed Sunkist. Does he care that the guy in the boat with him has a hook stuck in the same fish?
Ted, meanwhile, writes memos. Nobody likes the guy in the office that writes memos. But still, like Don, Ted wants it all too. He wants to be the office dynamo, the guy working too hard (just ask his wife). He wants the admiration of the young copywriter, and he wants to be in on the jokes of his underlings. He wants to beat Don and get the same level of respect and admiration (and fear). So, when Don comes to him looking for a favour, Ted is ready to pounce. The two men shake hands; Ted will save Mitchell, if Don will attempt to fall in line a little bit and drop the psychological warfare (good luck with that Ted!).
In a nice montage near the end of the episode (before the Sally supernova), we see Ted tiptoe into the bedroom where his kids are watching TV and his wife is asleep. To be clear, Ted is not perfect, but his life isn’t all bad right? As Cutler reminds him: it’s all your juice.
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.
So this week we weren’t given much to work with again regarding advertising work. I think I saw Peggy carrying some copy briefly, but good lord, we didn’t even make it into the conference room for the partners meeting. So, instead, I’m going to just run through some of the lessons I wished the SC&P people would learn for use in the office:
– Pete, don’t be bringing your delusional mom around.
– Don, did we learn nothing from last week? Leave politics out of your meetings.
– Ted, no one wants to read your tedious memos.
– Also, Pete, the more you ask to be put on Chevy, the less likely it is to happen.
– Listen to Jim Cutler, Ted.
– Roger, keep doing what you’re doing.
– As a personal aside, could somebody rouse Bert Cooper. We need more Burt Cooper.
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.
Guys, I’m spent. For all the talk about nothing actually happening on Mad Men, these episodes lately have really tuckered me out. The thought of watching the Next Episode Promo and having to sift through my emotional responses is just, well, it is just making me feel exhausted. How are we supposed to predict the direction of this out of control roller coaster. I don’t know if you’ve… huh? What was that Pete? Ooooh, you’re getting ready to do a little hunting.
And you’re polishing your rifle. In your office. With a smile on your face.
You win again Mad Men. You always do.
Also, for God sakes Harry, put on a proper shirt.
Don’s wearing a TURTLENECK in the promo for next week! The world’s gone topsy turvy!