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).
Those scenes at the old whore house have always felt a little on the nose, haven’t they? Yes, we get it, growing up in a cat house with a mother that does not care about you probably does not do wonders for your sense of self. So when that preacher turned back to young Dick Whitman and told him that “the only unpardonable sin is to think you are unforgivable”, my nose definitely smarted a little bit.
Be that as it may, our heroes at SC&P all seemed to be paying the prices for their alleged sins (well, except Bob Benson, he appears to be cruising into the high life right now, short shorts and all). In Roger’s case, that feels somehow literal, as he continues to get hectored by his daughter to pay for her new life with her husband. Roger is adrift (or, as his secretary puts it, forlorn), apart from his family which was the thing he cast off with ease in previous seasons. Roger may have gained a son though, so that’s a start.
Poor Pete (his new name) can’t catch a break. He now has a father that died in a plane crash, a mother who fell off a ship. He can’t drive stick so gets stuck going to the “Siberia” of Los Angeles. He is finally free, after a hilarious conversation with his brother where they decide to just leave her to the sea, but he sits stroking his daughters hair. I like to think Pete was probably wondering what the hell he had been getting so worked up about. Pete loses to Bob Benson, ultimately, which feels like it was destined to happen. But at least he didn’t have to lose an eye!
Peggy and Ted make moves on screen, but with Ted it never feels real. Back when Peggy was having fantasies of Ted, she should have noticed how unsustainable even those dalliances were. Ted fancies himself a martyr. He will vanquish himself to LA, save his family and rescue Peggy from being a homewrecker. What a guy. He decides this after he has sex with her though, of course. For someone as strong as Peggy, to have the decisions of her life still, still, being made without her will never not be frustrating. Hey, you’ve still got Stan on hand, Peggy.
We end where we began, of course, with Don alone once again. He loses Megan, he has alienated Sally, he even finally does enough to draw the ire of Bert Cooper (looking like a pharaoh) and the rest of the partners. It’s Megan who says he just wants to be alone with his booze and his ex-wife and his screwed up kids. And, so, yeah this season has felt recursive. Don is back to being alone.
Actually, scratch that, that’s how last season ended, with the open-ended (but long decided) question “are you alone?” being posed to Don. Instead, he ends up at the house where it essentially all began for him; the broken home that sculpted the hollow vessel that would become Don Draper. So I guess the point of this season was that it had to be recursive; it was a definite return, a trip back to the beginning. Everyone spent the last thirteen episodes doing the same things they had done before. But this ending was new: Don opens up, a baby step really, to Sally. Can he get off the carousel and create a new future from the past?
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) Hershey Chocolate Bar
2) Derelict House
3) Elevator Going Down
4) Model Toy Car
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.
Through all those elements of history, all those references to Vietnam and the draft, to Nixon’s presidency and the assassination of King and Kennedy, we’ve essentially ignored the most anachronistic element of all: that house.
For awhile now Mad Men has insisted on miring us in that home of ill repute as young Dick Whitman learns a thing or two about the seedy underside of life. Now, for what I believe is the first time, we see it from the outside, we learn a bit of its geography. And most importantly: we see it with the fresh eyes of the present. For all the flaws of the season, the Drapers standing outside of that house represented a total breakdown of the time out of joint plotting of the entire show.
I may have to blow up this whole section next season! Thanks, Don.
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.
Look how excited Ken(!) looked this week. It brings a tear to my, um, eye to see Cosgrove back in the Madison Avenue offices of SC&P instead of being forced at gun point to do all sorts of terrible things for the sake of a bunch of yahoos in Detroit. We’ve been on a real wild ride with our favourite nice guy accounts man. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
– Tells Bob Benson to chill with his forwardness at the funeral for Roger’s mother.
– Gets really excited about ketchup, going so far as to tell people he had signed Heinz. He does not sign Heinz.
– Has to stay friends with Harry Crane, just because.
– Races off, after comforting Joan, to presumably save people in NYC upon hearing the news that MLK had been killed.
– Has to stay friends with Pete Campbell, just because.
– Goes on a wild ride through Detroit with Chevy guys, gets injected with some serious drugs, tap dances.
– Gets peppered with buckshot in the face by those same Chevy execs. Breaks down and cries, demands to return home to wife and unborn child.
We salute you Ken Cosgrove. Who knows how you’ll figure into next season, or if you’ll even figure in. But by God, we’ll have this section here. It’ll take more than a limp and an eye patch to shut down This Week in Ken!
Well, OK, unless you decide to quit or your sci-fi writing career takes off. Dave Algonquin could be the next Robert Heinlein!
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.
So much for a win streak. I think Mad Men this week decided to reset the karmic balance after I gave Don a soft TKO victory last week. I should have realized that the point of this whole season would be to put Don through the ringer one more time.
Now, Megan is no shrinking violet. She has shown a flinty strength when the occasion calls for it. There was the infamous sherbet incident of last season. And her ability to not linger on embarrassment after Harry mocks her sexy singing. But it felt as if this season was all leading up to Megan finally getting for real fed up with Don.
What else can be said, really? Is there anyone out there who didn’t see this coming? From the very moment that Don proposed to Megan, in the back of our collective minds we knew it was doomed to fail. Oh, sure, Don would have his brief grazes with reform, he would say the right things. Hey, for all of season five it looked like he was going to keep himself from tumbling into bed with other women. But like Ted says, you can’t stop cold like that. Don is Don. He is an emotional lead weight; a black hole (ah, poor choice of words). Their relationship was not made to last.
When Megan finally dropped that F-bomb (Thanks AMC!) it acted as a period, a punch and emotional catharsis all at once. Megan has had enough. She’s made connections with Don’s children, she’s tolerated Betty (a yeoman’s job there), she’s chased a new dream and succeeded. She’s even had to grapple with some pretty shitty parents of her own. The point is: she’s due. An F-bomb will not win you every emotional showdown, but if you time it with some good psychological body shots, it is a reeeeeal wrecker.
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.
A real trend emerged this season, can you guess what it is?
If you guessed ‘uncomfortable situations brought about by former advertising golden boy Don Draper’, you win the prize. That doesn’t have much of a ring to it, I admit. But holy moly, last night’s episode was a real humdinger to add to the awkward moments collection.
After spacing on the Sheraton Hotels people (remember them? Walk off the beach into death, infinity and beyond?), Don is back at it with the guys from Hershey’s chocolate. Apparently the Hershey’s people have never really had to advertise. Makes sense, the bar itself, with its block silvery white letters on a brown background basically sells the product. Hershey’s is synonymous with chocolate now and forever. If you notice, SC&P doesn’t even show any new artwork or visual angle detailing what the SC&P campaign will entail. No, no, the partners fall back on that old standby: the Don Draper pitch.
It feels funny invoking “The Carousel” now (for the second time this column, no less), since the whole point of Draper’s speech then was about nostalgia and its translation from ‘the pain from an old wound’ into something present and powerful. That about sums up the Don Draper Pitch now. Painful. We are watching, waiting for the fan belt to slip off and the carousel to speed up and fly apart.
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.
We made it to the end. Thirteen episodes that, well, let’s be honest, kind of went all over the place.
The pilot was long. There were episodes that dragged. It felt like a lot of plots were developed and then dropped. Or they were developed to a conclusion that was, frankly, unsatisfying. We never did figure out why Mapother’s Randall stopped by, or what happened with Joan’s poaching of Avon. I could have done with maybe a bit more Ginsberg, or was the date and his dad just too much? Betty had her moments, but I’m not sure why exactly she had to go tromping around in snowy Greenwich Village. What was up with Gleason’s daughter? Or Roger’s battles with his daughter? That whole California trip? Why did Pfc. Dinkins appear again? And finally, was that really the whole point of the Bob Benson character?
Mad Men is a very dense show. For all the things that appear to not be happening, there is so so so much that is. As the season progressed, my appreciation grew for the writers who could spin something out of nothing. Remember, this is a show that is not built around violence or criminals. There are no crusading lawyers, or troubled doctors, or buddy cops. Mad Men, even in what feels like a particularly digressive season like this one, still seems to reach creative peaks that are far beyond what most television shows attempt to achieve. And it can do this all with a simple look from a young girl to her father as they stand outside a rundown house.
Could I predict what was going to happen in any episode this year? Not one bit. Am I intrigued, albeit perhaps not explosively so (we’ll save that for Breaking Bad. August 11th! Ahhh!), for what will happen next?
You better believe it.