By: Daniel Reynolds
Heading into the first half of the final season, the Same Page welcomes you each week to the Mad Men Monday Recap. A show as deep as this one needs some diverse commentary so jump in and enjoy our irreverent breakdown of each episode.
What’s Happening on Madison Avenue?
It is worth taking a minute to discuss what happened in each episode. 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 episode begins with a montage of Don Draper and all the new ways he spends his days in Manhattan. Don sleeps in late (past noon), he watches TV (The Little Rascals), he monitors his drinking. He has complete control over this realm of his life, such as it is. As Don reveals at a lunch later, he is still under contract – a contract which includes a non-compete clause – and he is still getting paid. That side of his life, the professional, has been taken out of his hands. All Don can do now is decide when to get dressed. He’ll put on a full suit just to answer the door. But the TV beckons. For a man who has done so much to seize control of his destiny, Don seems acutely powerless.
Don’s actions – and rough history – led him to the place he now finds himself. But so much of “A Day’s Work” relies on the use of power and the turns of fortune. Don can still attempt to control his appearance; he’ll dress to greet Dawn at the door (who is keeping him up-to-date on SC&P news), have lunch with potential new employers, and then bring out his stern voice to talk with his daughter. But a cockroach roams through his apartment and Sally will later wander into his former office to ask questions. Don’s fate is still out of his hands.
The office is a tizzy this week. Lou doesn’t like having to deal with Don’s daughter (“I don’t care what her name is!”) Jim cattily refers to Draper as their collective ex-wife. But things get more complicated than that. Old rivalries, between Jim and Roger, Roger and Pete, and the rift between Peggy and Ted loom. The old power plays jockey for position. Peggy mistakes roses addressed to her secretary Shirley, as flowers from dear Teddy. She turns over these feelings in her mind; anger, petulance, tears. She can hide behind her office door, but even Ginsberg is letting loose with zingers at her expense (and he probably knows a thing or two about “masturbating gloomily.”) But it is Valentine’s Day and Peggy won’t be embarrassed, so the secretary must be moved. An early conversation between Shirley and Dawn reminded me of something from a Greek play, the foreground characters laughing at the actions of the Gods. The humour is a relief until the Gods point their fingers in your direction. Lou can’t work with Dawn, Peggy jettisons Shirley, Bert tiptoes the race line and decides it best if the front desk had a little less colour. Oh, Bert. The Gods are fickle indeed.
Things aren’t any easier on the west coast as Pete strives to land his next whale of an account. There are times I think that Pete will always only ever be a relentless jerk, but damn if he doesn’t at least attempt to handle business. Still, fortune does not always smile on young Campbell. Sometimes he makes his own bed, and ends up on the outs with his family, socked on his ass in the office. Other times he ends up with a dream life, a woman telling him he is “such a big deal”. Pete doesn’t get to land his whale, though. The petty office politics rear up, Jim Cutler turns Burt against Roger, Bob Benson’s name is invoked like Beetlejuice (though he doesn’t actually appear) and the spectre of General Motors, the real whale, is mentioned. Pete’s real estate babe reminds him that sometimes acts of God happen. Teddy, newly minted realist, advises him to just cash the checks. They are all going to die one day. Pete probably wishes he had the power to stop that from happening, too.
Peggy’s lashing out at her secretary creates a random chance for Joan to become an actual accounts lady, the job she’s coveted for awhile now. Joan deserves the position, but isn’t it funny how these things work sometimes? Joan has struggled to be acknowledged as a powerful person within the SC&P offices – despite knowing where most of the bodies are buried – and her next step in the climb to the top is awarded almost by Jim’s whimsy. Jim worries about having Roger as an adversary, but brings Roger’s biggest ally further into the inner circle. The tides of office influence continue to ebb and flow; Roger’s resigned sigh in Joan’s direction almost blows the S off the wall.
Sally, of course, is now a teenager. She is seizing all the power that she can. Her friends plot a shopping trip through Greenwich Village in lieu of attending a funeral. But as seems like is always the case, Sally ends up drawn back into Don’s orbit and apartment, the two evenly matched adversaries both attempting to keep secrets from each other. It’s a series of happenstance moments that reunite father and daughter for the day; a lost purse, a confusing run to the office, a needed excuse letter. Sally tells Don to “just tell the truth.” It’s a powerful idea, but Sally doesn’t yet understand that being honest is how Don ended up alone in his apartment in the first place. Undeterred, she tries a different tact: “I love you.” Take that, Don. The Gods may laugh at Sally’s plans, but I think she’d stare back and warn them to back off.
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?
2) Red Roses
3) Moving Boxes
4) Excuse Letter
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.
Right up front I’ll say it: conference calls are the worst. You are stuck sitting with coworkers staring at a phone in the middle of the table. Sometimes the connection isn’t strong, or the person (or persons) on the other end is rambling on and on. You have to constantly raise your voice to make sure the transmission is still clear. And that’s now, today, with current technology and connectivity across nations that truly is marvelous. Seriously, I dread conference calls.
So, I can’t imagine what these coast to coast calls were like in 1969. And judging from this week’s conference call disaster, I can tell I don’t want to know. Where do we begin? Let’s see:
– shaky connection that drops in and out at inopportune times? CHECK.
– technically unskilled secretaries who seem mystified by the conference call’s operation? CHECK.
– old men present who wish things would go back to the way they used to be? CHECK.
– surreptitious communication happening on one end that it is not relayed to the other end? CHECK.
– an eventual and abrupt disconnection that leaves all parties dissatisfied? CHECK.
As the volume of voices continued to increase and the fidelity of the connection went into decline, I just wanted it all to end. I say once more, conference calls, then and now, are the worst.
Still, it was reassuring to see that Roger, at the very least, will always have the technology on hand to hang up on Pete Campbell the proper way.
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.
No Ken this week, and you know what, I feel fine with that. Last week’s Ken was not a good look. He’s got one eye, he’s short tempered, he has no help. When I originally envisioned this section as a cheery look at the happiest member of the Mad Men cast, I never thought we’d end up here, hoping that Ken will maybe be able to take the week off and find some peace.
Fortunately, there is a solution. This week saw the return of the one, the only, the real Pete Campbell.
Yes sir, Pete is back to complaining about his lack of credit, his dearth of respect, his inability to wear the big pants. He looks around, at the sunshine and orange groves, and wonders what will be the next thing to work for. As he points out, there are only two offices in the whole LA satellite agency and Ted’s is only slightly bigger than his own. So, really, what’s the point? What should Pete strive for? I think if we’re all being honest, we’ve all been there with Pete, shaking our fists madly at the universe, bemoaning the hands of fate that turn against us. You may even be able to talk yourself into believing that Pete has a point. Dammit, why shouldn’t he get some credit? Why does he always have to get the short end of the stick?
Then you remember that no one really likes Pete. They want Ken.
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.
Since the end of last season’s finale, I had been waiting for the return to the ongoing dance that is the Sally and Don Mutual Revelation Society. With Sally’s return this season, we jump right back into her ongoing maturation as a teenager and get to marvel at how lucky it was to find Kiernan Shipka for the role.
At first, Don is gradually piecing together the lies Sally is telling him about what she is doing in the city. Sure, he’ll write her a note, but he demands to know the truth. Of course, Sally has other plans. You can’t help but be impressed at how Sally leverages her new found understanding of her father into power over him. When Sally fights with Betty, it is two petty teenage girls squabbling; with Don, Sally is pulled into the adult world, an equal.
Don, as his is way, attempts to lie and deflect or at least shield Sally from the truth. He doesn’t like that she had to go to a funeral, to see death that up close (looking yellow and bewigged). Don still wants to protect his daughter from the realities of a grown up life. In his own misguided way, it is sweet. Don tries to bribe her with dinner, ice cream, the illicit temptation of a dine-and-dash. Sally sees through it (almost; she still asks for a Coke).
It’s funny. Sally learned to deceive by studying her father. Don tries to yell at her in the car, he tries to use that voice that has bent so many to his will in the past. Sally does not yield. She knows now about all of it: the house that Don grew up in, the apartment where “that woman” lives, the lies told to Betty and Megan, and now too, the truth about the once invincible job situation. And as I mentioned up top, it is Sally alone who can still knock Don back with words. Her quick “I love you” as she gets out of the car may as well have been the knockout blow. Don is speechless.
Winner: Sally. Sally always wins.
Between the drinking, the social commentary and the drinking, sometimes the people of 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.
I’ll be honest, the machinations of the Chevy, GM and west coast car dealerships intrigue is actually, well, not particularly intriguing. I don’t know how those account guys do it. I think we can all agree that outside of the boozy lunches (where have those gone anyway?), the account side of the advertising agency doesn’t hold up against creative. Accounts men are grappling with office politics, conflicts of interest, and the whims and demands of the broader marketplace. Sure, the creative side has to deal with whims too. Clients never seem to like any new idea at first until they’ve had their input, gotten in their say. But the account men are dealing with the hard facts, the business. And that’s just at the bottom of the totem pole. At the top, there are the tedious partners meetings. Things do not improve.
Here’s what I could discern: Pete lands a big west coast car dealership account which is part of the Chevy/GM operation, but one that appears to run autonomously. Jim thinks they should run the new account through their main connect in Detroit, which means Bob Benson gets involved. Jim believes that is how things have always been done in the advertising world. Roger, surprisingly, defends Pete’s right (or demand?) to claim the account as his own. He may still just not like Bob. Not many people do. Ultimately, the account gets re-routed through to Detroit, Pete loses his big haul, Roger feels powerless, Jim gets adversarial and Bert nods calmly. I’m glad we worked all that out.
I miss the episodes with the creative ad pitches.
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.
I will not dog pile on Harry Crane. I will not dog pile on Harry Crane. I will not dog pile on Harry Crane. I will not dog pile on Harry Crane. I will not dog pile on Harry Crane. I will not dog pile on Harry Crane. I will not dog pile on Harry Crane. I will not dog pile on Harry Crane.
“This is a very enviable bit of PR.”
Oh shut up, Harry. You will never be cool.