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).
If change is supposed to be so inevitable, then why is it so hard? Look at our friends at SC&P, being catapulted into a new life at the advertising megalith known as McCann-Erickson. Their new leader, Jim Hobart, has been telling them it will be easy, that they’ll love it there, that it’s advertising heaven. But from the looks of last night’s episode, it feels more like hell.
The SC&P offices are being emptied and of course the only one who looks happy about it is Harry Crane. His unctuous life improbably just keeps getting better. That’s how you know things are bad. Roger gets to see them wheeling the computer out and while he can still get his shots in on Harry, he must see himself in that old pile of wires and plastic. He’ll be put out to pasture soon too, even if his name is on the door.
Peggy, meanwhile, doesn’t expect her name on the door, but at least on a door. She’s hanging on in the old offices as well in one last bid to assert her stature before it’s tossed into the grand melting pot at McCann. She encounters Roger in the office, playing an organ of all things, and decides to humour him as his audience. Roger can definitely teach her a thing or two about loosening up – or, alternatively, about not giving a shit. The truth is, the two of them don’t really have much in common, and it’s hard to remember a time they’ve interacted in isolation. Roger will never really understand Peggy, or her struggle to be taken seriously. When his former secretary Shirley says advertising is not friendly to everyone, it only slightly dawns on him that being rich, white and male makes things pretty damn easy. Roger may be clueless, but he still has his cool wisdom to impart. And the sight of Peggy rolling into her new office with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and ancient Japanese pornography under her arm has to give her a leg-up on somebody.
If only a drunk afternoon with Roger would solve Joan’s problems. Like Peggy, she’s stuck in a similar dilemma, one even more acutely felt due to her endlessly bodacious appearance: come on too strong and be seen as a bitch, be too carefree and you can forget about being taken seriously. Her new co-worker Dennis huffs “I thought you were going to be fun,” and you can hear the sense of entitlement. Weren’t these women just supposed to entertain? Get a clue, Dennis. Everything Joan has struggled for is casually being dismissed. To hear Hobart question her stake in the company (she must have been gifted it or whatever), is to hear her dream of respect being crushed.
Now, respect is something for which Don will never lack. Hobart seems a little too eager to hear him say, “I’m Don Draper from McCann Erickson.” He’s fluffed him up so thoroughly, it comes as a shock when we realize that maybe Teddy is getting the same treatment. (Both he and Don are there to bring things up a notch, apparently.) Don has lost touch with Peggy, and Roger is still on his own planet, but he does get to briefly interact with Joan in the elevator. The two of them are going to different floors and the change feels tragic. Joan knows she’s adrift now and homesick; Don still hasn’t quite accepted it. He daydreams at a meeting and then wanders away. (The less said about his sad con scene in Wisconsin, the better; what a sad show.)
For all of advertising’s designs on wants and needs, nothing will fill the hole in Don’s screwed up inner life. His ex-wife has changed, his daughter is different, the office he helped build is gone. He gets a new office and resources and even gets put back up on a pedestal despite his reckless past. (When Don goes missing, Hobart wonders if he’s gone on a bender.) But it’s the same old, same old. Don’s going out of his way to find himself and still coming up empty.
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) Airplane in the sky
2) Japanese painting
3) Engagement ring
4) Old computer
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.
The living embodiment of this section is Bert Cooper so it feels fitting to discuss his peculiar role in last night’s episode. Frankly, I’m in love with the idea that he’s the standard for Don’s inner voice. You notice how unsurprised Don is to see him? “I’m really tired, aren’t I?” he says, like they’re old pals.
After beaming into Don’s car via the radio, there is just a brief scene between the two men (well, man and spectral figure) but it carries much portent. While Bert is a pretty carefree figure these days, Don is in the midst of a sojourn to Wisconsin to look for Diana, the sad-eyed waitress (good lord). Bert clucks in disapproval. He compares Don’s life to Albert Camus’ “The Stranger”, the tale of an indifferent man whose mother’s death sends him further into an existential crisis. (Sound familiar?) Unlike Meursault, the protagonist of the novel, Don has never killed a guy, though you could make the case the Don/Dick identity switch at least suggests the ending of a life.
Anyway, the punchline of the scene (apart from Bert’s cheerful poetic rhapsodising) is that Don counters Bert by mentioning Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”. It tells you all you need to know about how Don would like to see himself versus who he actually is. Don is not on some romantic journey of America, despite what he tells himself. Much like Meursault, he’s just trying to outrun his existential dread. Heed the wisdom of Bert, 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.
We’re in the Ken Cosgrove afterlife here as it seems extremely doubtful he’ll pop up in the final two episodes after this one. Still, Ken has truly become something of a boogie man for his former friends. In last night’s episode, Peggy – trapped in a netherworld of her own – is apparently looking for one last bit of work for Dow Chemical. After Ed shows her something risque, He is summoned. “You could work for Dow again, or DUN DUN DUN… Ken Cosgrove!” (I like to pretend there was a little, faint echo of “Accounts!”)
Boy, this section feels pretty dead now. I don’t care. I’m going down with the ship.
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.
Joan didn’t ask for these problems with men, she just wants solutions. After getting stuck with some “help” in the form of the meat-head Dennis, Joan is stuck doing damage control on her biggest account, Avon. It’s obvious that she takes a great deal of pride in the work she’s done with the company. It’s also become something of her calling card. Joan handles Avon, everyone else can back off.
But men, amirite?
After Dennis puts his foot in his mouth (how was he to know a golf invitation to a guy in a wheelchair would be poorly received?), Joan decides to test the limits of the new McCann power structure. To rid herself of Dennis, she appeals to Ferg, who comes on like a friendly bear only to gently turn on her later. Now she owes Ferg, and of course, Joan has enough experience to know what that means. So, OK, there’s still Jim Hobart to go to. He’s a high-minded guy, right? He’s not going to come on to Joan in such a clumsy fashion. Well, no, but he also doesn’t have a ton of time for her sob stories, her threats and her lawyers, journalists and friends from the ACLU.
Not even Joan’s allies can really help. Don looks on helplessly in the elevator as the two of them grow apart; Richard (the tanned Bruce Greenwood) offers to bring in some sort of strong man to threaten her bosses; and poor Roger can only get the 50 cents on the dollar deal back on the table for her. Take the money, Joan. In this life, it sadly feels like that’s all the credit you’ll ever be given.
Winner: Men. (But oh boy some comeuppance is due here, I hope.)
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.
Is it me or have the advertising scenes in Mad Men become increasingly opaque? There was a time when we’d have an idea of the product for sale as an actual, tangible thing. We’d see art, hear copy and get an idea of what kind of campaign the client was hoping to run. There’d be disagreements, sure, but there also be those euphoric times felt after a job well done. It was something to fall back on. Maybe it was the general tenor of the SC&P offices, or the overly emotional connection that Don or Peggy sometimes brought to their work, but it definitely feels like we’ve lost something.
Case in point at McCann, when it’s time to sit down with a client – in this case, the Miller beer people – it’s not an intimate discussion or a sit down with a few interested parties. It’s a room packed full of white guys, boxed lunches are served, everyone rifles through piles of research and numbers. There are no dreamers in this room. In fact, as the jughead Miller beer guy talks, you hear only the voice of someone, of an industry, attempting to distil dreams down to a quantifiable product, a good to be sold. There’s a remarkable purity to the Miller guy discussing the typical “beer man” and his attachment to a brand. It doesn’t matter what the product is, that’s interchangeable. This guy, and by extension, this room, are trying to figure you out. They want to get inside your head so as to better cater to your basic wants.
Maybe it’s not so opaque after all. With Don and the SC&P gang, it still felt like there was some mystery to advertising. With McCann-Erickson, it’s transparent; figure them out to the molecule, then sell them on some missing atoms.
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.
There was a lot of Pete in last night’s “On the Next Episode of Mad Men” but we’re going to turn our attention to poor old Henry Francis. You remember him, right? He’s the dude who weirdly came on strong to Betty, eventually married her, took to raising Don’s kids, and then slowly watched his political career fall apart as it became clear he’d been backing the wrong horses the whole time.
Now his wife’s going to school, his stepdaughter comes and goes as she pleases, one of his sons refuses to age, and the creepy neighbour boy is making moves in his house. So dammit, he’d appreciate it if you’d stop combing your hair and pay attention for just one minute, Betty.
We’ll see you next week. Two episodes to go!