Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mad Men: Doublemint Don

Spoilers for the 10th episode of "Mad Men" coming up just as soon as I sit through a Billy Wilder movie marathon...

Boy, I wish AMC had scheduled this show so that its run would have wrapped up before the network season began. It's not that I'd be torn between watching it and the rotting corpse of "ER," as "Mad Men" would beat almost every network drama head to head for me right now (and I see most episodes in advance, besides), but because each episode is so dense and layered that it deserves a deeper analysis than I'm capable of giving it now that I'm blogging 17,000 other shows. So I'm going to hit this episode bullet-point style, and trust you very smart people to cover everything I miss. Based on the comments for the recent episodes, I think the show's in good hands.

So, breaking it down story by story:

Roger's twin trouble: Boy, John Slattery has no problem playing appalling creeps, does he? I thought his golden shower-loving comptroller from "Sex and the City" couldn't be topped, but the entire sequence with the twins made me feel very dirty. Comparing Mirabelle to his daughter and sugggesting he wanted to suck her blood like Dracula was bad, but the squirmiest moment for me was when he asked them to kiss, and Mirabelle sadly noted that everyone asks them to do that. You want the perfect way to destroy a girl's self-esteem so she'll sleep with your ancient WWII veteran behind? Convince her that she's worthless except as part of a matched set.

Now, do we think the writers will actually bump off Roger? I know there's been a lot of speculation that Slattery isn't long for the show based on his "Very Special Guest Star" designation, but that's not unheard of treatment for the biggest name in a cast of unknowns (see Heather Locklear on "Melrose Place," to name one precedent). Roger dying would open some interesting story possibilities -- Cooper looking for a new partner, Don perhaps being considered, the jockeying by the chipmunks to move up the ladder, Joan trying to land a new semi-steady man -- but I would hate to lose the oily, entitled charm that Slattery brings to the role. And his loss would in turn deprive Jon Hamm of the opportunity for great moments like Don's half-angry, half-kind, "Mona! Your wife's name is Mona!" while the paramedics were (slowly) wheeling Roger out of the office. (My favorite Don moment since his Jesus/kabuki sales pitch to the Belle Jolie people.)

Joan's roommate trouble: Speaking of annihilating a woman's self-esteem, how about Joan's poor roommate Carol? On the one hand, Carol has no one to blame but herself for trailing after the obviously hetero Joan like a lovesick puppy for so many years, hoping against hope that Joan might one day decide to switch teams and notice the knock-out blonde in the adjacent bedroom. On the other, it was still heartbreaking to watch Joan completely dismiss her declaration of love like it never happened, and then to see Carol give in and tell her lame middle-aged suitor to do whatever he wanted to her.

That Joan somehow didn't recognize Carol's deep and obvious love for her suggests either a willful blindness, a sign of the social mores at the time (it never would occur to Joan in the same way that the chipmunks have no gaydar about Salvatore), or that she's not as good at reading people as she suggests. Whatever the reason, it's a shame she probably doesn't recognize that Salvatore's queer as a three-dollar bill (though he was trying awfully hard to seem not while hitting on the various twins), because if ever there were two characters on this show who could really offer something to each other as friends/sympathetic ears, it's Carol and Salvatore.

And yet Joan gets her own tragic moment as she has to hold her head up and act professional in front of Mr. Cooper -- not realizing that he's sharp enough to know who's doing who in that office -- after hearing of Roger's heart attack. For a man who sold himself to Don as inherently self-interested a few episodes back, Cooper had himself a selfless moment when he advised Joan she could do better than Roger. (Or was it selfless? I suppose you could argue that he thinks Joan will be a better secretary to him if she were in a happier relationship, but I doubt that.)

Pete and Peggy's sexual harassment seminar: Only one real scene 'twixt these two, but a good one (and you know I'm generally ambivalent about them), as Pete -- Pete! -- accuses Peggy of acting unprofessionally when in fact she's going out of her way to be professional to him in the face of his constant advances and retreats. I usually have an issue with Vincent Kartheiser's delivery seeming too mannered, but there was genuine cruelty in Pete's retort to Peggy referencing their wild romp on the couch: "That's some imagination you've got. Good thing you're a writer now. What do you need me for?"

The truth about Dick Whitman, part one: When you have a fundamentally mysterious central character like Don/Dick, you have to walk a very fine line between revealing enough of the mystery to help the audience understand him (and keep them from getting annoyed at your evasiveness) and giving so much away that the mystery disappears. Nearly two weeks after I first watched this episode, I still can't decide whether Don's confession to Rachel falls too far on the latter side of that line.

Sure, we still don't know the reasons and mechanism for his transformation from Dick to Don, but that scene spelled out everything else we needed to know, including some things that were so strongly implied in "The Hobo Code" episode that further elaboration was unnecessary. Now we know the exact translation of "I'm a whore child," why his stepmom clearly hated him so, the identity of "Uncle Mack," etc. We even had more clarification than was needed of Don's attraction to Rachel. We already knew he was drawn to her as a fellow outsider and independent thinker; did they have to share the mom dying in childbirth thing as well?

And yet, damn is Jon Hamm good. He'll never get within sniffing distance of an Emmy nomination, but there are very few dramatic actors on television at the moment whose work I enjoy as much or more. (Hugh Laurie, Kyle Chandler, Michael C. Hall, and...? I think that's it.) Even as Don is spilling his guts and eliminating some of his mystique, I'm fascinated by the guy.

And I see I somehow didn't even manage to discuss the series' first references to "The Apartment," which has a lot of relevance for both Joan and Peggy. What did everybody else think?

22 comments:

BigTed said...

I can't believe how good this show is, either. If it were on HBO, people would be going wild over it.

I'm not sure why they suddenly had Don spill his entire childhood story like that, especially since the episode then ended so abruptly. There has to be more to it, and to him. (I still think we'll eventually find out that his transformation included an act of violence somewhere along the way.) But I liked the scene with Rachel, when he told her that he wouldn't do anything with her unless she said she wanted it -- and that, of course, was when she gave in. Mystery the Pick-Up Artist could learn a lot from Don Draper.

Watching John Slattery act the hell out of his heart attack, I was thinking that he really isn't really that old, despite his prematurely gray hair. So it's the hard living that brought his character down -- the smoking and drinking and partying. And then, of course, there was another one of the show's great period jokes: He's been consuming vast quantities of cream and butter to combat his ulcer, on his doctor's orders.

The other period joke: The ad guys are discussing whether or not Nixon should go negative on Kennedy, and then they see the Kennedy ad trashing Nixon. And thus was modern political advertising born.

Anonymous said...

Wow on tonight's episode. In under an hour, the writers give us so many different stories.

I love that we are seeing more of what made Don into the man he has become.) He loves his wife, but doesn't connect emotionally with her. In Rachel, he has found a truly passionate woman who can see into his soul. By telling her something will only happen if she says ok, he is giving up the much coveted control that propels him.

This episode gave us more insight into Betty also. She was spoiled in early life and can't stop being selfish long enough to let her father be happy. She finds fault with anything/one that threatens her la-la existence. I want to like Betty, but the writers keep us at a distance and that is great too.

Poor Joan. She is trapped in the sixties, yet knows things aren't as they should be pertaining to the men/women thing. She sees the unfairness of those times, but can't change them except to be powerful in the bedroom. The way she waved off her roomate's advance was humiliating to watch. I have a feeling that she already had suspicions, but put it in the back of her mind. She is so used to being hot/cold with men, did she bring this to her roomate too? More "sexual control" by going into the bedroom with the guy, knowing her roommate was in agony? I am anxious to see if the writers will drop this or have it make for a sticky situation for the two women.

Hooray for Peggy! Pete is an egotistical wimp. He was hit between the eyes with Peggy's "couch" remark and could only retaliate by trying to humiliate her, but by her expression, he failed. Dont you think?

There isn't enough room to talk about John Slattery's performance tonite. He makes us laugh and hate him at the same time. He talks about his daughter to a 20 year old lover, wants twins to have sex in front of him (and Don), is open to any perversion that comes his way and STILL makes me want him to survive the heart attack. I hope he stays with this show, he's such an integral part of the big picture.

His talking of eating butter and cream for his ulcer and not blaming smoking and drinking really showcases the time period of this show.

When Mona comes to him and he cries how much he loves her, it makes us realize just how much power and money can influence someone's personality and behavior. In his own words, he has lived 20 years like he is on "shore leave" and now he regrets it and is wondering "where will I go?". Too late?

I'm thrilled that MAD Men has been renewed. I hope it has a long run, its the best new show in ages.

dez said...

More "sexual control" by going into the bedroom with the guy, knowing her roommate was in agony?

It seemed a particularly cruel way to reinforce to Carol she wasn't at all interested.

I didn't think Don's admission was too much information too soon. In fact, I was moved that he opened up like that. Maybe it's just Hamm's fantastic acting, but I do think there is more to learn about what makes Don/Dick tick.

I think Cooper was being paternalistic towards Joan. As cruel as she was to Carol, she really can do better than Roger (who better not die, dammit).

Tom said...

What a melancholy episode. Don Draper is falling lin love. I must watch it again before I fully grasp what's going on.

One quick thought on the Carol/Joan storyline: Joan was cruel, yes, but not intentionally so. In a situation like that, any response short of reciprocation must be cruel. Joan responded the best way she could, given who she is and how she was raised: when your friend makes a pass, just keep on as if nothing has happened, in hopes of saving the friendship. The subsequent scene with the icky older guys was Joan's pathetic attempt to get Carol out there playing for the right team. I don't think Joan is either naive or cruel, just profoundly limited. I expect that her growth will be a major storyline, assuming that the series goes on past its second season.

Like I said, I'll have to watch the episode again.

Andrew said...

I thought Don's revelation about who he really is was completely believable. Seeing Sterling on the floor like that brought him in touch with his own mortality. Man is mortal, and, apparently, so is a Mad Man. So like any dissafected soul, he sought out the only person we have seen him have any real connection with and then tried to connect further. Don and Rachel sleeping together this time wasn't about sex. It was about the one thing Don has intentionally avoided in his life: Intimacy. The whole scene, including his speech, was about connecting.

Anonymous said...

Don likes "the chase". When the twin offered herself to him he turned her down flat as "selling too hard." Rachel on the other hand who is not giving in so easily he is obsessed with. For some reason (not yet clear) he feels very safe with Rachel. A rich, educated, Jewish woman, to Don at least, the ultimate outsider, the anti-step mother who was the ultimate Christian. I didn't find it believable though that Don would reveal so much, so soon to her. This is probably more than he ever revealed to Betty. I see Rachel as the vehicle through which we learn the entire story about Don, but it will not be a good thing for Rachel. We also see a suddenly vulnerable Don that we only saw when his brother showed up. I wonder what Pete is up to. I bet he becomes the snoop who tries to get the dirt on Don. He better keep in mind that Don does not take to blackmail easily.

R.A. Porter said...

A great, great episode all around, as usual. I loved Betty's scene with Don and the suitcase; she's such a petulant little child and January Jones really nailed it last night. Really not much to say about John Slattery's amazing, reeling, tone-shifting performance. He's found the role of his career and I hope he stays with us for a long while.

Apropos of nothing, I was thinking about the interview in which Matthew Weiner said each season would leap forward two years so he could get to 1970 at the end of season 5. Which means a lot of change in fashions and *hairstyles* for the characters. Somehow, I figure Don Draper is going to end up in a Nehru jacket and tinted glasses with some monster sideburns.

Camille said...

Well I guess I am also "a petulant little child" because I totally sympathized with Betty's feelings in those scenes. My mother died 6 months ago and my dad had a steady girlfriend within 2 months. So my husband has heard me say virtually everything Betty said despite the fact that I adore my father and want him to be happy.

Anyway, Roger is really a sleazeball yet oddly endearing. The actresses playing the twins seemed very weird to me. I kept thinking, "this was the best you could do?"

I also loved when Rachel said to Don "I don't think I've ever heard you talk this much." Her heart is going to get smashed. Joan's storyline also broke my heart.

drake leLane said...

I was struck by the use of 'translucent.' Roger talking about the Mirabelle's skin, Don talking about Roger on this hospital bed ("his skin was like paper") and then Don telling Rachel "I feel like you're looking right through me." Still not sure what to make of it, but it gave me goosebumps every time it came up.

And while I'm not up on my Russian history enough to know much of anything about a 'czarist ministry,' in context Mr Mencken's observation sure felt like a great line.

drake leLane said...

It's frustrating that the Chicago Sun Times has their marketing journalist writing about Mad Men, because he just doesn't have a clue. These terrible weekly reviews are thankfully printed in the business section, where they belong.

R.A. Porter said...

Drake, thanks for the link. Wow. I know criticism is an underrated form of writing; the good ones like Alan just *make* it look easy. Still, I didn't realize anyone could be *that* bad at it. Lew's review had the depth of a sixth-grader's book report.

Tom B said...

I'm very happy to hear Mad Men has been renewed. I was kind of in a bad mood when I watched this week's ep and oddly it cheered me up (I'm in a bad mood about something silly, and this show put things in perspective). I didn't feel like Don told us too much that we already knew (or guessed)because I don't think the point was to educate the audience. The point was to show how much he cared about Rachel. This was juxtaposed with the 20 year old who he won't sleep with because, though Don is an adulter, he is not seeking just sex. He is searching for meaning/intimacy. Rachel has the depth and independence that draws him in. Conversely his wife is so self absorbed that she immediately refocuses on her own issues when Don calls to tell her about his boss/friend's heart attack. This ep definitely warrants a 2nd viewing. Alan I kind of feel sorry for you that you have to waste so much time reviewing mostly crap on Network TV when you could be considering much more worthy TV like Mad Men. This my favorite show since the Wire.

cms said...

I, too, didn't think D/D revealed too much -- in fact, the only thing we didn't already know (or I didn't, anyway) was that his father died when he was 10. I guess I thought the guy from the Hobo episode was his mean-and-nasty father.

The point of the scene was that he revealed anything at ALL -- and to Rachel. It was the first time we saw him express true intimacy with someone. It made me realize, in an even starker way, how much intimacy he lacks in his life, and how starved even the cool (cold) Don Draper is for it. It was a great scene. And I love-love-love Jon Hamm -- he's made for this role.

cms said...

Vertigo -- has anyone noticed how similar the opening credits music and images are to "Vertigo?" The silhouette of the falling man is the most obvious, but the whole thing really has that feel. Then when you consider how the main characters in each are impersonating someone else... reinforced by the "doubles" all over this episode. It can't be a coincidence. The look and feel of much of the show is very Hitchcockian, as well. Vertigo came out in 1958, so it's right there in the timeline mix.

hmmm... Does that movie offer any clues about what happened to the original Don Draper??

Chicken Pizza? said...

CMS-

don't forget about the joan and carol's kiim novak conversation...

Liz said...

I love this show! I know it's been compared to The Sopranos a lot, yet after a while I was annoyed by that show's many loose ends and false leads that would trail off into nowhere. I think Mad Men has struck a nice balance here with the suggested motives/storylines that invite speculation before revealing themselves in time. A good blend of predictable human behaviour and information that takes the viewer in a completely unexpected direction. -Also, was the plaid fabric on Betty's father's blazer in this episode an exact math to the wallpaper in her kitchen?

Mo Ryan said...

i know i'm late to this party, but how about Slattery's line about The Apartment -- something about how a white, female elevator operator was not believable.

Then, in just one of the little grace notes that this show is so good at, we had a brief glimpse of Joan in the elevator with Cooper -- pressing the button. A female elevator operator.

I'm just at that falling-in-love stage with this show. Wow. What everybody said. I thought Hamm and Slattery did some incredible work.

And for me, Betty's stuff about her father hooks right into her own fears -- of being thrown overboard, forgotten, useless. She's, at base, terrified that she'll just be a forgotten footnote like her mother one day.

Nice crack about the monster sideburns. I definitely see Betty at one point with no bra at a women's lib retreat. Possibly getting friendly with Joan's roomie.

The Alden said...

Just watched the episode for the first time, and something that struck me for Joan is that, even with her roommate, she can't have a relationship that isn't motivated in some way by sex. Considering how Joan's entire life depends on her sexuality, I was sad to find even her friendship with her roommate boiled down to sexual attraction. How can Joan think of herself beyond sex when that's all everyone else thinks of her as?

Anonymous said...

Joan's sexuality is waning, she knows it'll be a temporary habit. It's her "shore leave" except she has no reemption. She can't choose anything better. Roger's heart attack reminded her of that.

daveshac said...

I interpreted Cooper's "you could do better" line as in reference to the date she walked in with, not necessarily about Sterling. But you could interpret it either way, I guess. Just seems more plausible that Cooper would be commenting about the guy he just saw, than a secret affair.

Brien said...

"He'll never get within sniffing distance of an Emmy nomination"

I'm very glad you were so wrong about this :)

mommacharbear said...

Can we talk about how Don resting his head on Rachel's chest post-coitus is the same position he was in in Episode 01 with Midge? And usually that's when he's trying to be open with someone. With Betty, they seem to awake on their own sides of the bed. Very un-intimate.