"What are you afraid of?" -DonWhen I interviewed Matthew Weiner before the season began, I asked whether there would be any big mysteries this year like Don's identity or Peggy's baby. "Things get chaotic so quickly," he replied, "and there are so many more immediate problems. There is a high level of tension pretty soon."
"Afraid of what's going to happen when you turn off the lights." -Sally
"He might lose his foot." -Paul
"Right when he got it in the door." -Roger
Watching the season's early episodes, I kept wondering when the chaos and immediate problems would begin. Now, having watched "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency" - the highlight of season three to date, and one of the best "Mad Men" episodes ever - I know. If we're going to consider, as I suggested last week, the first four episodes to be an extended prologue, and "The Fog" as the unofficial start of season three's storylines, then "Guy" is when all those storylines go insane, quickly.
I loved "The Fog," which was very Don-and-Betty-centric, but seeing all the Sterling Cooper shenanigans in this one made me realize how much stronger the series is when Don's work life has at least as much emphasis as his home life, if not moreso. Don's wife and kids are a key part of the fabric of "Mad Men," but Sterling Cooper offers so many additional characters and conflicts that episodes set largely in the office always feel richer. Don's struggle to play this role he doesn't really want as a husband and father is always interesting, but given the choice, I'd much rather see him argue with Roger, you know?
I'm struggling to think of an episode of the series that has made me laugh as much as this one did with all the twisted jokes about poor Guy losing his foot (including not only Roger's line quoted above but the janitor squeegeeing blood in the background of the scene where the chipmunks yell at Smitty and the episode's title itself), or the shock value of the lawnmower accident itself(*). Yet "Guy" was also a dramatic marvel, somehow providing even greater depth to characters like Joan, Roger, Bert Cooper and Lane Pryce, and upending nearly every relationship at the agency even as the status quo was (mostly) restored by the episode's end.
(*) A week after I made a joke about Chekhov's Gun in relation to Miss Farrell, the show gave us a much more immediate example with the lawn tractor. You drive a thing like that into an office in the first act, you know it's going to cause something bad by the last. And of course it was Lois at the wheel. Is there anything she doesn't manage to massively screw up?
The driving forces here are fear and anticipation. Characters are afraid of, and/or excited about, what they can't see, and what they don't know will happen next. Most of all, they fret about being replaced, or thrill to the idea that they might be replacing someone.
Sally is afraid of the dark, but really she's afraid that her baby brother is the haunted reincarnation of her dead grandfather. (And with a mom still trying to tell her fairies are real, can you blame her?) Lane fears being judged harshly by St. John, and is horrified to learn he's being "rewarded" with a transfer to the Bombay office. Joan is prepared to leave Sterling Cooper forever, to let the hateful Mr. Hooker succeed her, and to be a stay-at-home wife (and maybe mother?) for chief resident-to-be Dr. Greg, who has considered his promotion in the bag forever. Don lets Cooper talk him into the idea that St. John Powell is coming to New York to hand him the keys to the PPL kingdom, while Guy knows that he's the true crown prince.
"I bet he felt great when he woke up this morning," Joan will later say of Guy, and at various points in the episode, we see characters lying in bed, eyes fixed on a lamp (on or off) as they consider the possibilities and pitfalls of what will happen when they wake up.
In the end, everyone's hopes and fears turn out to be mostly wrong. Baby Gene is just a baby. PPL has no interest in Don beyond keeping him at his current station - though unexpectedly, Conrad Hilton(**) shows up to make Don's day end better than he had thought. Greg doesn't get his promotion, and in fact learns his surgical career is at a dead end in New York, and still needs to rely on his wife as the bread-winner. But Joan has too much pride to ask for her job back, even when given a golden opportunity after her quick thinking saves Guy's life. Guy's brilliant career is over before it really gets a chance to start, and Lane in turn is allowed to remain in charge. And Roger, who had no opinion one way or the other about what the British wanted, gets slapped across the face with how irrelevant he's become - and Guy's maiming perhaps gives him, like Lane, a second chance to show his relevance to the company.
(**) Hearing the words "Conrad Hilton" made me irrationally happy, because it meant all the commenters who guessed that "Connie" from "My Old Kentucky Home" was actually Hilton (based primarily on the birthplace of San Antonio, New Mexico) were correct. It's nice to get such a blatant reminder of how smart this show's viewers are.
I'm writing this review in advance of the Emmys, so I have no idea if Jon Hamm got the trophy this year (or Elisabeth Moss, for that matter). But while he was winning or losing an award on CBS, he was giving one of his best performances so far on AMC. When a show is at the age "Mad Men" has reached, and has a cast this good, the relationships are so well-established that the writers can lay off the exposition and let the actors tell us how their characters relate to each other. Hamm shows us a Don Draper who's actually a pretty good dad to Sally when he's around; a Don who can be magnanimous in presumed victory and make peace with Roger; a Don who for once seems totally happy and at ease with Betty (and vice versa) as she serves him leftovers; and a Don who understands and appreciates Joan more than anyone else at that shop. And because we know Don so well, and Hamm is so great at economically showing what's going through Don's head, we can quickly see him establishing the rules of his new relationship with Connie Hilton.
I could easily write an entire review just about that Don/Joan scene at the hospital, where these two say so little and yet say everything about their feelings for each other. Christina Hendricks kills it throughout the episode, but it was stunning to see the exhaustion on her whole body as she stood there in a blood-soaked dress, and to hear what I have to assume is her real speaking voice(***), without a trace of the breathy sexpot tone we know so well. Joan isn't just a character Christina Hendricks plays; she's a character Joan plays. And when we see her at the end of this very long, bad day - the culmination of a pretty terrible period in her life as the wife of a rapist, who isn't even going to offer her the upward mobility she thought she was signing on for - we see what an effort it is for her to make everything look so easy. And we see Don, at the end of his own long, strange day (albeit one that was vastly more successful, career-wise than Joan's) appreciating this woman who, if circumstances were different, and if he wasn't so pathological about keeping his life compartmentalized, might have been his perfect match. I have to believe that the plot will conspire to bring Joan back into this world - either usurping the bumbling Hooker at Sterling Cooper, or perhaps joining Don if/when he decides he's had enough of British rule. But as far as Joan knows in this episode, this is the end of her story at Sterling Cooper, so she can drop her guard a little - call Mr. Draper "Don," give him a friendly kiss on the cheek, etc. - before she heads home to pick up the mess she made of her life by choosing to be with, and stay with, Dr. Greg.
(***) I've actually interviewed Hendricks several times, and she sounds like Joan, which suggests she's acting with the press a bit, too. Not that we're complaining.
And it's a credit to Matt Weiner and Robin Veith's script, and to the performance that director Lesli Linka Glatter got out of Sam Page as Greg, that for a split-second or so, I actually felt sorry for the SOB. (Then I thought of this image, and went back to my hate.) He's a rapist and a bullying control freak, but he's also been struggling to stay afloat in the deep end when he only looks like he can swim. He's no doubt glided through life to this point on those looks, that smile, and everyone's assumption that he'll be a brilliant doctor. We saw in "My Old Kentucky Home" that he was capable of worrying about his career, but still, he expected to succeed in the same way that he always had. Losing out on chief resident - and, worse, having his alleged mentor dismiss his surgical aspirations altogether - utterly destroyed him, in the same way that Lois's wreckless lawnmower driving destroyed Guy. Greg may still have all his fingers and toes, but his life has been derailed nearly as much as Guy's.
Roger, despite his heart attacks, is also a man who has spent most of his life getting what he wants, when he wants, which is why he remains so baffled at his current social and professional standing. He resents Don and everyone else who won't automatically congratulate him on his mid-life crisis marriage, and he expects to be an important man at the firm just because his name is on the door, even though he sold out to PPL months ago. He still won't acknowledge that some people have a right to be mad about the marriage (in their barbershop summit, it's Don who has to make the concessions), but seeing his name left off the new flowchart - and, worse, seeing Harold Ford scrawl it on the page as a patronizing afterthought - finally opens his eyes to what's happened to him at work. And the accident which leaves Guy hobbled puts an added spring in Roger's step. When he tells the chipmunks, "Somewhere in this business, this has happened before," it could sound like he's giving Ken and Smitty a pass because he no longer feels invested in the company, but instead comes across as Roger being thankful their massive snafu has given him an opportunity to re-establish himself.
Then there's Lane Pryce, who has once again turned out to be PPL's second choice to oversee their grand American experiment. (Remember: Duck was supposed to run the company until he got out-maneuvered by Don and lost his cool.) His trepidation about St. John's visit, and then the way St. John and Harold talk to him - "One of your greatest qualities is you always do what you're told" - suggests that he's used to being a cog in a machine. He's the guy they send into a hopeless situation to fix it, but he's not held in high enough esteem that they allow him to reap the rewards after. A week ago, he was railing at Don about expense reports and wasted man-hours; how, if at all, will the experience of attending his own metaphorical funeral, Tom Sawyer-style, change him?
And after all the sick comedy (I love how easily St. John and Harold dismiss Guy's career prospects) and tragedy at Sterling Cooper, we return to the Draper house for some more wonderful Don and Sally bonding. Don messes up by putting the discarded Barbie back on the dresser, not realizing how much this will frighten Sally when she sees it, but he finally stands up for her with Betty, and he gets Sally to look past her fear about baby Gene sharing so much (a name, a room, a face) with Grandpa Gene. In a way, the baby is there as a replacement, but only in the way all babies are here to replace us one day. And Don, at the peak of his word power in this episode, finds a way to remind Sally, and us, that fear of the unknown, and the knowledge that a replacement is coming, isn't so terrible, by telling her, "This is your little brother. He's only a baby. We don't know who he is yet, nor who he's going to be. And that is a wonderful thing."
Some other thoughts on "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency":
• The closing credits are accompanied by Bob Dylan's "Song to Woody," which was his tribute to Woody Guthrie. Given how the folkies considered Dylan to be Woody's successor (until he plugged in, anyway), it's an ideal song to fit with the episode's themes.
• Cooper's "Everyone wants Martin & Lewis" line is a reference to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, who were a beloved comedy team in the '50s before professional jealousies split them up. Each did just fine without the other, but they spent the next few decades fielding reunion questions.
• Here's a link to the Time cover Connie shows off to Don. I'm glad we're going to have Chelcie Ross around a while yet (and to see that he's unemployable outside the world of underdog sports movies), and to see Don try to play at a much higher level than he has before.
• Again, that Don and Betty kitchen scene was remarkable. Though the end of "The Fog" suggested Betty was still in the prison of marriage to a man who doesn't love her, we see in this scene that there are times when the Drapers are capable of being relaxed and even flirtatious around each other without anything bad happening. It helps that Don's mind is dancing with visions of a promotion, but still - I can't think of a time on the series when they seemed like more of a functional couple than they do as Betty cracks open Don's beer and Don asks her about London.
• Before season two began, I did this feature on how the "Mad Men" production team makes the show look so authentic. Sometimes, it can be dangerous to know how the sausage gets made, but when I saw that Barbie doll - and, specifically, the box it came in - I was only briefly distracted by the thought that the prop master must have been very excited to find that box.
• Kurt makes his first appearance of the season, in the middle of a conversation with Smitty and that guy with the glasses whose name I always forget. It's notable for being the series' first mention of Vietnam, though the US involvement there is still so slight that even Smitty, with his finger allegedly on the pulse of the youth movement, thinks going into the Army is a fine idea.
• One name I couldn't help noticing on Guy's new organizational flowchart: Adam Rowe, copy chief, serving directly under Don and parallel to Sal. Have we met him before? The name comes from someone who in real life works in the "Mad Men" art department.
• And another organizational question: if Harry is getting promoted to run both TV and media, what happens to the oft-mentioned but never-seen Mitch, who was Harry's boss in media and resented (we were told) his ascension in TV? Of course, in typical Harry Crane fashion, he's the only one in the meeting to have no clue that he's also the only one in the meeting who got a promotion. Perhaps the only man with less self-awareness at that office is Hooker, who is going to absolutely flop trying to fill Joan's shoes.
• It was nice to see Peggy and Joan have a moment, for Peggy to refer back to their conversation in the pilot, and for the two women - who have very different views on the world but admire things about each other - to make an accord on what I'm hoping isn't their last day ever as co-workers. And we saw in Peggy's fumbling attempt to get in on the cake, the gift, etc., that she's still caught in that weird limbo between the chipmunks and the secretaries, not really included in either world.
• Meanwhile, when Peggy walked away from Don when he complained about the champagne at the party, it was a rare scene where Peggy found somebody else to be too much of a buzzkill.
• Because the screeners I get sometimes have incomplete credits, this is the first I've noticed that both Jared Harris and Kiernan Shipka are being listed as guests in the opening credits, just as John Slattery and Robert Morse were in season one.
• I imagine this is the last we'll see of poor Guy - and what kind of prosthetics would be available to him in 1963? - but I couldn't help wondering how successful he would have been in the long haul at this place. Yes, he was young and vibrant and charismatic, but there was also something very rehearsed about him, like the way he tended to repeat the same phrase (calling both Pete and Peggy very impressive, telling different groups of people about the thousand questions he expects they have for him), and I suspect they would have sussed him out as an empty suit sooner or later.
• When Joan cuts down Hooker with a comment about British politicians and prostitutes, she's referring to the Profumo scandal of 1963, the basis for the movie "Scandal," which I'm troubled to see came out 20 years ago.
• In addition to the lights being turned on and off, there was also a bit of a snake motif, with Lane getting a stuffed snake as a present for the Bombay gig, and then Don invoking snakes in his speech to Connie. Anyone have any thoughts on how snakes apply to the themes of the episode?
• Good lord do I want to get my hair cut at a place like Angelo's. The stinging aftershave might not be fun, but those electric massagers look great. (Something tells me the look on Hamm's face in that sequence was not acting.) In fact, my shoulders are feeling pretty tense from all this typing, so I'll wrap this review up.
Keeping in mind the usual commenting rules (no talking about the previews, make an effort to at least skim the previous comments so you're not asking something that was already asked-and-answered, etc.), what did everybody else think?