By: Daniel Reynolds
Welcome to the final stretch of 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).
Try as you might to keep the blinders on, everywhere you look the future is creeping into the frame. For a show like Mad Men, which is pitched on the idea of change and some people’s resistance to it, the future always seems to be gaining momentum. With only four episodes left now, the end of Mad Men begins to resolve itself even as we, like the show’s characters, don’t quite now what its future holds. In fact, we’ll probably end up just as surprised by the unrecognizable shapes it takes. (Except for Bobby, who apparently doesn’t age; he’ll remain 8-years-old forever.)
Roger introduces the thematic frame for “The Forecast” when he, in his delightful way, passes off some garbage work he doesn’t want to do. He needs a speech that sums up the company and what the future holds. Roger sets Don to work on it without realizing that this is mainly what Don spends his time thinking about anyway (without much success). Don heads off to ask others for help.
Don tries Ted first but is easily deflected. Ted admits he’d like bigger accounts but also that he doesn’t do a lot of thinking these days anyway; Ted figures he’s too hands-on. This explains that ridiculous moustache and his attempts to fit in with a generation that has passed him by. Don then uses Peggy’s demand for an actual performance review to get her to open up about her aspirations. Peggy may appear outwardly cynical but she’s got big dreams to be the first woman creative director at the agency. Don chuckles a bit too loudly as she speaks, which only serves to remind Peggy of where her cynicism comes from. In any case, the mission begins to look desperate, so much so that Don even entertains ideas from his secretary.
Meanwhile, away from the office, we see the real future emerge. Glen Bishop, everyone’s favourite creepy neighbour, returns and we’re shocked along with Betty to see how he’s changed. (Hint: side burns!) He’s still got his friendship with Sally, but it’s Betty, as always, who remains the apple of his eye. Glen drops the bomb that he’s going to Vietnam and while the two women react differently, their surprise comes from the same place. Sally can’t believe Glen would change his mind about the war, and Betty is impressed with the courage it takes to make such a decision. (So much so that she doesn’t wig completely out when he makes a weird move on her.) Neither could see it coming, at least not from Glen, based on his past.
All around the episode there’s that retrospective look back, a thought given to what life will have in store now that the past has been written. Joan wonders if her child will keep her from finding the man of her dreams. Peggy carries around what she’s sacrificed in her aspiration for the ultimate career achievement. Ted obviously just wants to still be cool. Glen wants to run away from who he is even if it destroys him. And Sally, her faux-cool and zingers falling away, realizes she may lose a good friend. Later, with Don, she maintains no illusions about who her father is. What could turn into an ugly moment between the two becomes something almost moving. Don knows a thing or two about how the past affects the future, but as he insists to Sally, she has to understand where she comes from – the product of a broken union between two unhappy people – to become something better.
Naturally, the difficulty in thinking about the future is the worry that it won’t be a happy place. At the beginning of last night’s episode, Don is looking to sell his empty apartment. There’s nothing but the past there, a past which the real estate agent, Melanie, says “reeks of failure.” Don claims a lot of “wonderful things happened there,” which is either a fatally optimistic thing to believe, or a wilful desire to pretend things are not as they are. Melanie manages to sell Don’s place and even ties a nice bow on all of the episode’s anxiety. “Now we just need to find a place for you,” she says. The camera pulls back on Don standing alone in his former hallway, and we wonder if that’s ever really possible for anyone.
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) Empty Apartment
2) Toy Gun
4) The Gettysburg Address
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 historical element popped up this week.
For an episode steeped in the anxieties of the future, it’s no surprise that Vietnam plays some sort of part in the discussion. At the time, it was hard to see how or when the war in that country would ever end as it spread and continued to grow into the next decade.
For last night’s episode, the Vietnam presence plays out in a couple of different ways. First, we learn that Glen has enlisted in the Army and is preparing to go away to the war. The fear that he’ll never return runs very high. Second, we hear mention of Kent State, one of the key flashpoints between soldiers in the States and “hippie” protesters. Third, there’s an aside from new character Richard about those same hippie protesters who show up and ruin a business deal for a golf course. I swear, those hippies get into everything.
By 1969, after the Tet Offensive, and the revelations of the My Lai massacre, Vietnam was still not the place to be. That’s the situation Glen is getting himself into. For all the jokes we sling Glen’s way, he does explain his new stance on engagement in the war. There’s a principle in play here, involving the largely poor (and black) men asked to fight in a war while, as he says, “we sit around getting high.” The hippies don’t have everything figured out! Glen undoes this stance a tad by also admitting to Betty that he flunked out of school. But a principle, even out of necessity, is still a principle, right?
Come to think of it, that sounds like the kind of principle the Vietnam War knows quite well.
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.
You have to figure that for all intents and purposes the life of Ken is still largely the same, even if he is out of the advertising game. He gets up, puts on his eye patch, and tends to the wife and kid. Then, Ken heads off to work where he fends off the latest bits of “advice” from his father-in-law in the nicest way possible. He sticks to his nice guy guns, even at Dow Chemical, the company responsible for some truly heinous bits of chemical warfare. With a full work day clocked in, Ken goes home and has dinner with his family and presumably dreams his science fiction dreams. All in all, it’s a nice life that–
Wait, what’s that? Oh. I see. Maybe we should just skip ahead to the “Next Episode of Mad Men” section.
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.
We’re going with a curveball this week; y’all thought I was going to bring the heat with the Don vs. Mathis showdown, a.k.a. The Last Will and Testament of Mathis. I will, but we’ll take it to the next section. Instead, here we’re going to discuss the charming, then sad, then hopeful love affair of Joan “Don’t call her Harris” Holloway.
First off, let me just say, if you’re going to have someone sweep Joan off her feet (and it’s not Roger), it’s got to be a silver fox like Bruce Greenwood. As Richard, a wealthy retired developer, he’s all calm charm and warm confidence – basically the opposite of the opaque and distant Don. He wines and dines Joan and they both have fun. He literally can’t believe that this beautiful woman – an executive, no less! – is single. But then, there’s that big motzah ball hanging out there: Joan does have a man in her life, her 4-year-old son Kevin. The good times turn bad and frustration sets in. Richard ends up yelling about having a plan that is to not have a plan, which is totally something an older guy with super wide lapels would say. Joan ends up accusing the babysitter of ruining her life. But the babysitter is holding Kevin at the time and it’s not hard to see where the blame is actually going.
It feels like we’re heading towards a lose-lose draw until we remember: this is Joan we’re talking about! Of course Richard stays in New York. Of course he volunteers to move across the country and get into the bloodthirsty New York City real estate market. Of course he opts to get involved with a twice-divorced woman with a four year old kid. Of course, of course, of course. Now, can you guess the winner?
Between bouts of 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.
Now we’ll get to the immortal Mathis, a dude who just showed up one day and went out in a blaze of words we’ve all been thinking since, like, Season 5. No one survives a head-on confrontation with Don like that, least of all some invisible shmoe on the payroll. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
This is one of those classic Mad Men fights that brews for an entire episode with the key moments playing out off screen. Apparently things got testy with the Peter Pan cookie account between Mathis and Ed (another new guy who just wandered in). Pete and Peggy believe they have some creative to show the client and the meeting is set. Now, to my eye, the idea of selling cookies with the line “Just one Tink and you’ll be hooked” feels a bit, I don’t know, strange? Oddly suggestive? Is the weakness of the line enough to justify an F-word from Mathis in a meeting? Well no, probably not – and definitely not if you’re talking to Pete. (An aside: apoplectic Pete is my favourite Pete; he just can’t understand why all these people can’t get their shit together professionally.)
Anyway, you saw the rest: Don gives Mathis some Draper tips that really only apply to him. Mathis goes down in flames. (Pete’s reaction shot goes in the Mad Men Hall of Fame, right ahead of his “We have a peanut butter cookie problem!” line.) The account gets taken away from him and we learn that advertising isn’t just about producing good work, which I mean, “Just one Tink?” I don’t know, guys. It’s also about keeping your ahead and understanding the room.
Oh yeah, and also, it’s about not telling your boss that he only gets his way because he’s handsome. Pro tip Mathis: don’t do that.
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.
When you approach Ken Cosgrove now, you must do the things that please him. You must come bearing gifts, or offering songs, or at least pay the tab. You must delight him and entertain him. You must not expect a powerful response from Ken Cosgrove. He no longer needs your approval; you have come to him seeking his. Ken Cosgrove knows this, he watches you and decides what he will accept.
And when he is ready, Ken Cosgrove sits back in his seat, he pauses, and then he says what you’ve always longed to hear:
All this… next week.