Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mad Men: Jews cruise

Slightly early spoilers for the sixth episode of "Mad Men" coming up just as soon as I watch a dog play the piano...

After the last few episodes focused on Don and Pete, episode six is another look at the women of "Mad Men": the compromises made, the four very narrow and yet very different routes that Joan, Peggy, Rachel and Midge have chosen to navigate this world they never made.

Joan had been our mystery woman until now, the queen bee vamp who buzzed around the typing pool, handing out advice on matters both personal and professional without revealing anything about herself -- like, for instance, why a woman of her relatively advanced age (Christina Hendricks is 29, which would have made her an old maid in an office like that) still hasn't landed her own husband and got a house up in Westchester. Now we know the answer: Joan doesn't have the house because she doesn't want it. Like Midge, she enjoys being an independent woman, having her pick of multiple men -- notably Sterling/Cooper co-founder Roger Sterling, who, like Don, is both turned on troubled by his mistress's free spirit -- and not being tied down to any one of them. (She can brazenly wiggle her fanny in front of the two-way mirror because any or all of the men on the other side could be hers if she wanted them.) She has her roommate Carol, she has adventures and she doesn't want to be kept in a gilded cage like that stupid canary Roger buys her at episode's end. And yet where Midge lives her entire life outside the system, by day Joan is a keeper of that system, herding the secretaries around like cattle and trying to jump in between Peggy and Fred (the "creative" guy played by Joel Murray) as if she were a Secret Service agent trying to take a bullet for the president. As liberated as Joan is in some areas, she can't wrap her head around the notion of a fellow secretary having something useful to offer the ad guys; I'm sure she had the same dog/piano reaction that Fred had.

And speaking of Peggy, this is an interesting, if not totally unexpected route they're taking the character. The second episode, where Paul gave her a tour of the offices, established that female copywriters do exist, in very small numbers and only for accounts related to lady products, but this has some real potential. (If nothing else, I look forward to the first time she has to work for Don in this capacity instead of as his gal Friday.) And unlike David Duchovny's stupid, cliche-riddled blogging on "Californication," the phrases Peggy came up with ("basket of kisses," "I don't think anyone wants to be one of a hundred colors in a box") actually sounded good. If I was an ad guy in 1960 and I heard someone use those in casual conversation, I'd be intrigued, too.

Rachel Menken comes back into the picture as Don's token Jewish acquaintance, called in to help Don understand how to market a line of cruise ships bound for Israel. And after dismissing him out of hand in episode three because she had no interest in being someone's mistress, it now seems not a horrible idea to her. Being a female chief executive has to be rough on the love life today; in 1960, I imagine what suitors Rachel actually had tended to be guys after her money. The phone call with her sister suggests she's not the first member of her family on a path to old maidhood, and that has to be a scary proposition. The question is, is she prepared to compromise her values in the hopes that Don will leave his wife and marry her, or is she just that starved for companionship that she'll be The Other Woman? And how mad is she going to get when she realizes that she would, in fact, be The Other Other Woman?

Finally, Don visits Midge and gets another reminder of how poorly he fits into her world. Taking him to that coffee house might as well have been a trip to Mars for poor, conservative Don, and try as he did to mock Midge's other "friend" Roy, he's never going to be comfortable in bohemia. So will he attempt to swap Rachel in for Midge, or will he try to have all three women? And how will Midge respond to either scenario?

A few other thoughts:
  • Any scene where John Hamm's hair isn't drowning in pomade is a bad idea. The opening scene where his hair was flopping around made him look far too much a modern man.
  • Anyone care to analyze Don's dream of Adam's birth for clues about Dick Whitman's deep, dark secret?
  • Anvil time: "Some men like eyebrows, and all men like Joan Crawford. Salvatore couldn't stop talking about her." Also, Salvatore's bitchy put-downs of the women on the other side of the mirror. I just can't believe nobody doesn't get it. The prime of Paul Lynde's career wasn't that far away, was it?
  • Could have been anvillicious but wasn't: Rachel offering the alternative definition of "Utopia" as "the place that cannot be." Sounds not unlike the romantic space she wishes she could occupy with Don.
What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I think it was great. Didn't really cotton to the dream sequence that opened things, but the rest of the episode was gravy. DeWitt was at the top of her game, as were Siff and Hendricks, who's still a bit of a cartoon but at least we know what Joan does when she's not being a queen bee.

I liked the discussion of Israel and tourism, and how people reacted to the idea of that country. Made me think quite a bit.

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

For a team of troglogdyte anti-semites, they restrained themselves from making Holocaust jokes, which I thought was a bit untrue to the vibe Weiner set up. Was he afraid of showing just how low and shallow the boys could be, was he afraid of getting flack himself, or did he displace that reflexive hatred onto the chickens and their lipstick hen party?

Either, having ad men thumb through concentration camp photos and EXODUS was a loaded pistol, and Weiner should have had the courage to take the shot.

Anonymous said...

And I see no qualitative difference between the research hag in the lipstick room (who is the first mature woman I've ever seen in MAD MEN, other than a viperish Dyckman-Campbell mom or the random waitress) and Joan, other than time. Their sclerotic smugness is the same.

Does Joan love anyone? Who in her life told her she was ugly -- because with that overcare of appearance, and her bitter mouth, someone had to, all the time.

Anonymous said...

I was telling my wife last night that I'm still on the fence abourt the story here, but I loooove the offhand (you name it - smoking, misogyny, racism). When I told her about the dog-piano thing, she laughed out loud. 2 or 3 moments like that per week will keep me tuning in.
I think the lack of holocaust jokes is consistent. Most of what we find "offensive" on the show are things that were normal back then and not considered mean. I think that one of the ironies of offhanded bigotry is that they really don't see the connection between their own attitudes and the people in those holocaust photographs.

Anonymous said...

For a team of troglogdyte anti-semites, they restrained themselves from making Holocaust jokes, which I thought was a bit untrue to the vibe Weiner set up.

Am I being naive in thinking that by 1960, and possibly earlier, pretty much anyone would be horrified by the Holocaust? I'll accept that anti-semitism was rampant, but callous jokes about the Holocaust might have been a bit much for that time.

Does Joan love anyone?
Probably not even herself. However, I think her bitterness comes from being a smart, talented woman with few options. Unlike Rachel, she doesn't have a family business to go into. She's on her own, and she's pissed.
I love Joan, but I want to tell her "Don't make that face. It will freeze that way."

Another great episode. Every one is better than the last.

Mark Netter said...

The show is just brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. The biggest flaw was the actual political poetry -- Hollywood rarely if ever gets the beatnik scene right. However, the underlying greatness of the episode was Weiner & Co.'s exploration of their own Jewish heritage, including the relationship to Israel (and Israelis), to assimilation, to interfaith dating/marriage (schikster?) to acceptance of Anti-Semitism as a fact of life, filtered all Brechtian through the 1960 lens -- the world of the writers' parents. To top it off, Betty's story about her first kiss with the surprisingly good-looking Jewish boy, showed the limits of tolerance and points to an interesting future -- I predict she'd gain some sort of consciousness over the 1960's, if not a second husband (after marriage to Don falls apart), maybe a caring Jewish guy from Westchester.

Anonymous said...

A shicker is a drunkard.
This was another great episode.
Roger's complaints about his daughter--won't go to college, doesn't want to work, unsuitable boyfriends--are straight out of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and Don was even reading The Best of Everything, the film of which, no matter what Weiner says, is clearly the inspiration for the Sterling Cooper office set design.
Joan may not love anyone, but Salvatore sure loves Joan Crawford...

Kate LaFrance said...

OMG! The dog playing the piano comment made me laugh for 5 minutes! It was just TOO accurate. Thanks for pointing it out.

Dani In NC said...

Several commenters on another blog have suggested that the dream sequence in the beginning was saying that Don is hiding the fact that he is Jewish. They felt that was why the whole episode focused on Israel. I disagree, however. My current theory (which changes with every episode!) is that Don's father was a polygamist, and that Don was possibly mistreated by one of the wives. That would explain his inner conflict. He hates himself because he turned into his father by chasing after all these women.

Anonymous said...

I was a little perplexed by that dream sequence. It is pretty unusual for half-siblings who live together to share a dad but not a mom. Adam also has a decidedly non-semitic look, and in the Jewish faith, you're only really Jewish if your mother was Jewish. Perhaps Don's mother was a holocaust victim, although I can't really wrap my head around the timeline.
I don''t think polygamy really fits the rest of the story, but an absent mother certainly does.

Shawn Anderson said...

Seems like there's an underlying metaphor of Israel as "the other woman." "American has a love affair with Israel" says one of the tourism reps, and nearly all of the non-agency plot deals with infidelity.

Interesting to find out that Rachel isn't even born of a Jewish mother. "I could've been Marilyn instead of Rachel if my mother hadn't died in childbirth." (Love Don's response: "what's the difference?) So Rachel is possibly even more exiled then just being a Jew in 1960. And having a mother who died in childbirth must make her even more attractive to Don's little Dick (Whitman.)

Dani in NC (re: polygamy) - Maybe that's why HBO didn't pick up the series (Big Love conflict ;) Agree that Don isn't Jewish (too convenient and over the top at the same time) but I'm not sure about the polygamy. It's been mentioned before that he considered himself an orphan (Hamm let this slip out in behind the scenes clips,) and I think his mother died early and his father remarried then died before Adam was born (to Abigail.)

Anonymous said...

"I could've been Marilyn instead of Rachel if my mother hadn't died in childbirth."

There is a Jewish tradition of naming children for (or with same initial of) the recently deceased.

So I took this to mean that Rachel thought she might have had a more gentile-sounding name if she had not been named for the most recently deceased relative, her Mother.

Dani In NC said...

The reason I thought of polygamy was the presence of so many women in the room right after childbirth. It seemed strange.

Anonymous said...

Best episode so far.

Not so sure about polygamy theory. According to the AMC site, the flashback took place in a "farmhouse in Pennsylvania" and Adam referenced that various aunts helped raise him and Dick/Don during last week's episode, right?

Or maybe those "aunts" are sister-wives!

Anonymous said...

Don's father may have been a non-observant, which would explain why he knows next to nothing about being Jewish, as well as why he's hiding his past. It doesn't matter that he's not religiously Jewish - being ethnically Jewish is just as bad in WASP world.

Also, is it just me, or did anyone else get the vibe that Adam's mother is a very, very religious Christian? I got that feeling, but it also could just be that I'm not familiar enough with how people talked in that time period.

Anonymous said...

My take on it was that Dick/Don's mother was Jewish and died, his gentile father remarried Adam's extremely religious Christian mother.

Rick said...

I don't always catch everything on this show. I had to do a little research after the episode, just like I did when I watched The West Wing.

I now know that Zioists compared the creation of Israel with their return from Babylon captivity ("By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion." Psalms 137:1).

I also learned that there was a popular joke that goes, although the dog plays the piano badly, the amazing thing is that he can play the piano at all.