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).
Go figure that Lou Avery of all people has some real, honest to God, aspirations! We’d been so conditioned to assume that Lou lounges around on the weekends and then strolls into work ready to bust chops. Turns out we were wrong. Lou has designs on being the next Bob Dylan, or wait, like one of the Underdog guys. Numerous fascinating, scintillating and painful things happened in this week’s episode of Mad Men, but none more shocking than finding out Lou… has dreams. Please try to contain your smugness.
Years away, Betty Francis also has visions that percolate to the surface every so often. She and Henry are visiting neighbours on some sort of pre-campaign campaign. Henry plans to seek re-election, and Betty decides now is the time for her to seek independence. She speaks up at an event about the Vietnam war, about sacrifice and duty. Henry is upset. He supports President Nixon’s desire to pull out of the country (an adorable notion, given the actual timeline of events). Betty wants to be recognized as a thinking person. She exclaims, “I’m not stupid. I speak Italian,” and we remember a time when Betty did seem to contain multitudes. Or, at the very least, we remember that she decided at some point to bury her multitudes to achieve her dream of the outwardly perfect life.
Don’s young aspirations are what got him to this point. He yearned for a different life and voila, he made it happen (with some good fortune). His weekend feels like one long fevered odyssey of a different kind. After being put in his place again by Lou, Don is trapped in Manhattan. Lou plans on tucking him in. Real honourable, Lou. Don wants to head west to see Stephanie Horton, the niece of Anna Draper, the mother Don never quite had. The Draper illusion is now so complete it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Don eventually gets out to LA, but Megan has designs of her own.
Surprisingly, Megan still surges for Don. She welcomes Stephanie into her home but does not welcome Don’s attention to be redirected elsewhere. Her fantasy involves a party, and music, and drugs. Don stands there in his checkered jacket but resolutely will not drift Megan’s way. The human reality check, Harry Crane, makes an appearance, like a pinch to make sure you’re not dreaming. Don is hauled back to official business, not that he needed much urging. There is a play being made for Commander Cigarettes and Philip Morris. Harry has no dreams, he is not a visionary, but he still presumes to throw in a, “Guys like us…” when talking to Don. You can tell Harry lives to spill secrets because it’ll earn him some kind words and hollow respect. He doesn’t understand how mystery works. Don does not like you, Harry, but he does like what you’ll tell him.
Sensing she cannot hold his attention, Megan goes for broke and haphazardly arranges for a wild night with her and friend Amy and a different type of tucking in. But watch how flat Don is in the kitchen the next morning, and how Megan bangs around while he is on the phone. He visibly brightens when Stephanie calls. Megan must know she can’t win; she only knows what Don likes, not who he is. Their shared reality has already dissolved.
Meanwhile, Sally and Bobby convene in secret. Bobby, that adorably dopey kid, is worried; about his parents fighting, about divorce. Sally is cool eyed. She’s engaged in open warfare with Betty now, and calls the bluffs of adulthood one after the other. Still, Sally knows the illusion is important to maintain, that its power can quickly dissipate. Betty fights with her so fiercely because Sally preternaturally knows too much. How can Betty assert her icy superiority, like she does with Bobby, if Sally won’t play along? And how does Henry deal with living in a house full of children?
Michael Ginsberg’s dream is ultimately a nightmare, a digital hum heard stretching on forever. He sees a secret meeting between Lou and Jim and imagines all sorts of paranoid (and strangely gay-centric) scenarios. It’s just about cigarettes and Don Draper, as per usual, Michael. Calm down. It feels like with all the elements in this episode – Vietnam, secret plans, drugs, past lives, family drama, sexy trysts – it should be no surprise that someone would burn out. For Ginsberg the metaphor was always real; he knows it is time to admit the dream is dead.
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) Scout’s Honor comic strip
2) Severed nipple
3) Uneaten steak
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.
Could identity theft be as easily and totally achieved as it is portrayed in Mad Men? I have some qualms. I admit it has been awhile since we’ve talked about the ghost of ol’Dick Whitman, but every time one of the original Drapers or Whitmans show up (as a ghost or otherwise), we are reminded of the initial hook of a very different show. Back then, the mysterious question at the centre of Mad Men was, “Who is Don Draper?” Now we laugh at that as seeming sort of redundant. We’re not even sure Don/Dick himself knows.
So yes, Stephanie Horton, niece of the deceased Anna Draper, traipsed through the episode this week. She is pregnant, and seems like a bit of a drifter. Don never gets a chance to be in the same room with her, but it is clear he still feels a strong connection to Anna and the entire idea of being one of the Drapers (because being a Whitman was, uh, not exactly a good time). Clearly Don lucked into a situation that worked perfectly. We don’t even have to talk about how difficult his long con would be today – what with the impossibility of staying anonymous these days. If Don tried today what he successfully pulled off in the 1950s, we’d be on him in an instant. Probably right after the first invites to LinkedIn were sent out. Busted, Dick.
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, but we have a different lovable sort to talk about instead. Yes, it is with a heavy heart that we acknowledge the passing of Michael Ginsberg. Sure, he’s not really dead, but when you get wheeled out of your office strapped to a stretcher, after pulling a Van Gogh with your nipple, they usually don’t leap at the chance to have you back in-house. Much like the hum of his technical archenemy, Ginsberg seemed to be humming along constantly in the background of the past few seasons. He could be obnoxious, or funny, or brilliant; he was never taken particularly serious.
I have to add that I’ve always had a soft spot for Ginsberg. He appeared on the scene as a manic eccentric, one who was too talented and too troubled to ever really fit in. At times it felt like he fought with everyone, usually over petty stuff that was quickly forgotten. But dammit if he didn’t deliver the work. Like many of you, I grimaced when he appeared to force himself on Peggy, convinced that the computer was “turning him homo.” The computer, of course, didn’t do anything, it always kept its cool. It was Ginsberg who had finally overheated.
Shows like Game of Thrones can be so cavalier with its characters, brutally killing off mainstays in an out of nowhere instant. But we forget how harsh the plain old real life portrayed in Mad Men can be sometimes.
So, goodbye Ginsberg. You are gone and we’re probably all a touch poorer for it.
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.
It was really only a matter of time before Betty and Henry started getting more vocal with their arguments. How many times do you think Henry silently rolled his eyes in Betty’s direction? How many times do you think Betty bit her tongue at another bit of Henry’s grandstanding? These two have both been working so hard on maintaining the appearance of their perfect life. Of course it is Sally who sees right through it and prepares for more conflict. Divorce is out of the question, the dynamic duo has to stay together.
But Betty will not be ignored. She asserts her thoughts and feelings about patriotism and sacrifice and the Vietnam war. Henry wishes she would just smile and shut up. It’s the most openly antagonistic we’ve ever seen him. We know Betty can be a load to deal with, but I think we all suspected that Henry had a strong, ugly will of his own.
It is very telling when Henry tries to calm down the latest mother/daughter spat that he exclaims, “Girls! Girls!” Betty is right that she should be able to think, to formulate opinions on her own, to weigh in. But then Bobby admits to feeling like he has a stomach ache all the time. Even when philosophically right, Betty is somehow in the wrong. She survived Don, she’ll survive Henry, but her kids wonder what they’ll have to do to survive her. Bobby overhears his parents fighting about a stance on Vietnam; sadly, he’s the one that sounds like a prisoner of war.
Winner: Betty (philosophically), Sally (because, always)
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.
You ever hear of Underdog? According to Lou, his creator was nothing special. Using Lou math, this means it must be easy to get a cartoon strip off the ground, even if you are as maddeningly bland as he is. You can trace over the lines, Lou, but that doesn’t mean you’ll capture the essence they contain. Frankly, that sums up the entire Lou Avery advertising experience. Just make it look like something familiar and call it a day. Jesus, this guy. What an asshole.
In any case, that’s enough on ragging about Lou (has there ever been a new character to incite such invective?) The real advertising turn of this past week was the reveal that SC&P has a line on new business with Commander Cigarettes and Philip Morris. It also turns out that we are not done with the Lou/Jim office manoeuvrings (or with 2001: A Space Odyssey references).
Don is persona non grata in the big tobacco world after he tore down the American Tobacco company and Lucky Strike with a strongly worded letter. So, naturally, he slides into the meeting, much to Jim and Lou’s chagrin, to try and revive some of the old Don magic. Lou can’t believe it. Jim knows it won’t save Don. What did Don say? He’ll step aside if it gets SC&P the account. Scout’s honour.
Don has been something of a mess now for some time, but can we all agree we want to see him best the relentless mediocrity of Lou Avery and the snide manipulations of Jim Cutler?
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.
Is this where we’ve gotten to? Has Roger just straight up started conducting business meetings in the sauna? Roger, please, some decorum. You can’t ask someone, whilst shirtless, if they are looking for a job. The connotations, the subtext!
We all know you’ve become a sexually and socially liberated being, Roger. You go in on all the latest drugs, you wake up next to a bunch of young people you didn’t know the day before. You’re out there, baby, and you’re loving every minute of it (well, unless it involves your daughter, because then your old school morals flare up). And here I was thinking you weren’t going to survive Season 5. What a fool I was.
That being said, I think I’ve made my point. Asking people about jobs in the office: good. Asking people about jobs in the steam room: bad. As Don later asks, “Whose idea was this?”
Whose idea indeed, Don. Whose idea indeed.