Sunday, October 07, 2007

Mad Men: Good vibrations

Easiest post title ever (though I was briefly tempted to go with "It's my ID in a box!"). Spoilers for the latest "Mad Men" coming up just as soon as I enjoy some Yankee BBQ...

One of the running -- and oft-disputed -- themes of my "Mad Men" reviews is how little seems to happen in each episode in terms of actual storylines. That's never been a complaint -- I view this show as an atmospheric first, a character piece second and an ongoing narrative a distant third -- but it's definitely not a comment I could make about episode 11, "Indian Summer."

Let's see, what happened? Well, Don's half-brother Adam, hung himself (no doubt feeling low from his brother's rejection and cold pay-off), and before that sent a mysterious package (labeled "personal") to Don's office. Roger returned to work far too soon to put on a show for the Lucky Strikes people, but instead suffered another heart episode that probably signals the end of his active role at Sterling Cooper. Bert Cooper promoted Don to partner and put Don in charge of finding Roger's replacement as the head of accounts -- a job that Pete has his eye on, and may now have the blackmail ammunition to get, as he intercepted the mysterious Adam Whitman package.

As Andrew Johnston noted in his episode review over at The House Next Door, Matt Weiner studied at the foot of David Chase, and "Sopranos" seasons tended to have all the big events take place in the penultimate episode (as well as the one before). If Weiner holds true to that form, expect even more chaos next week -- much of it, I'm sure, revolving around that package -- followed by a more contemplative final hour more in the vein of Don's night out with Midge and her beatnik pals.

I hope this isn't, in fact, the last we'll see of Roger, because John Slattery continues to play the hell out of this oily charmer. I don't know how much of Roger's ashen appearance was the makeup team and how much was Slattery, but I almost felt for the bastard in his time of weakness -- until, of course, he confessed to Joan that his great near-death revelation was that she was "the finest piece of ass I've ever had, and I don't care who knows it." You stay classy, Roger Sterling. (LIke Andrew Johnston -- and, at this late date, I'm half-tempted to just tell you to go read his fine review, because we're in such synch on this episode -- I did wonder why Cooper felt compelled to trot out Roger for this dog and pony show, given that the Lucky Strikes guys didn't seem all that concerned about his absence, so long as Don could be kept in the fold.)

Meanwhile, in the character-over-plot portion of the episode (sort of), Peggy and Betty both discovered the pleasure of things that vibrate, albeit for different reasons: Peggy while testing out a "weight-loss" belt that's really a precursor to modern feminine sex aids, a sexually frustrated (and literally overheated) Betty while leaning against her dryer while in the midst of another stultifying day as a domestic goddess.

I'm assuming, at this point, that the speculation about Peggy being pregnant with Pete's demon-spawn was incorrect, that her weight gain (and here I absolutely have to credit the makeup department, because the facial prosthetics looked seamless) is simply a reaction to the stress of her job and the mind games Pete's been playing with her. Regardless, it's interesting how Weiner and the writers are showing Peggy make genuine progress in her copy writing career -- to see even self-interested Ayn Randian Don treat her as a colleague in need of support and encouragement -- while also showing her becoming just as awful in her own way as Paul and Kenny and the rest of the guys. Her behavior on the date with the outer borough guy couldn't have been more condescending, and while some of that can be ascribed to the period -- there's no roadmap for how a woman like Peggy should respond to succeeding in a man's profession -- she was still quite awful. Maybe she and Pete do deserve each other, after all.

Betty's acknowledgement of her sexual needs -- to a point, anyway, as she seemed to get off the dryer before, um, getting off -- was interesting, and served as a fine illustration of all the things that Don isn't thinking about when he's with Rachel. My wife was of the opinion that she told Don about the A/C salesman because she wanted to gauge his reaction, to see if he still cared about her, but if that was her intention, I don't think she understands her husband well enough at all. Don didn't get mad because of the notion of his wife being around another man; he got mad because another man was around his "property," both his house and the wife he considers as housekeeper and nanny and not much more.

What did everybody else think? How much trouble is Pete going to cause in the final two weeks of the season?


Shawn Anderson said...

I imagine Pete will use what's in the box to blackmail Don, and parlay it into that Acct Spvr position he so covets.

Anonymous said...

I think Betty is just somewhat childish in that she likes to test her boundaries with Don. Their relationship is somewhat like father/daughter. She pushed the envelope when Roger came for dinner in a similar way. (So I guess I am saying I agree with your wife in that this is her way of seeing if Don still cares). She is obviously insecure (with good reason). I doubt that Pete will use the box as blackmail. Just seems to obvious and this show just doesn't spoon feed plot arcs like that (which is one of the reasons why I watch). And finally I am not surprised that Bert Cooper trotted out the stricken Roger. This is typical of execs who place a lot of value on partners that aren't really doing much anymore. But Mr Lucky Strike quickly pointed out why their account is still with Sterling Cooper (Don) and Cooper reacted to his client's suggestion.

Anonymous said...

Pete's going to cause as much trouble as possible.

I agree with both you and your wife regarding Don and Betty's dynamic. She does act like an impetuous child, and Don treats her as a possession.

I actually kind of enjoyed Peggy's awkward demeanor on her date. She was totally condescending, but she was so out of her element that her date saw right through her.

In the meantime, I love that Don is advocating for Peggy's career advancement. My favorite scene of the episode was the one between Roger and Joan.

Karen said...

Betty's tryst with her home appliance left me giggling more than it was supposed to--it just reminded me too much of the "Robot Chicken" sketch with the big metal robot making love to the washing machine.

And I, too, have finally relinquished my certainty that Peggy is pregnant with Pete's child. THe face prosthetic is what sold me--her weight gain no longer looks like pregnancy weight, and if she were far enough along to be showing that much, she'd know she was pregnant and not just be concerned about losing weight. I imagine the origin of the pounds can be found in her post-Hunt Fantasy behavior, when she ran for the food cart and got the cherry danish along with the ham sandwich. Apparently, she's been using quite a bit of food to sublimate her sexual yearnings for Pete.

Damned if I can understand why, though. He's such a little prick.

Anonymous said...

If I'm not mistaken, Alan said that the next season will take place two years in the future of Mad Men, i.e., 1962. Is this correct?

Nicole said...

I think the makeup department gets a lot of help from wardrobe in terms of making women look fatter because Christina Hendricks was on Life and looked much thinner there than she does in Mad Men (not that she looks that big, but the cone bras don't help).

I am surprised that Don is so helpful with Peggy's career ambitions because he really does treat Betty and Rachel like objects to either demonstrate his status or soothe his emotional needs. Maybe there is some hope for him yet.

I wish that this show aired on a network because it really does deserve a larger audience and is an adult drama, unlike the high school shenanigans of Grey's Anatomy.

Anonymous said...

Betty gets off on the washing machine while it's off center. The dryer just doesn't "do" that. Not that I'd know first hand or anything, not at all. I'm just sayin'

Spot on review, otherwise.

Anonymous said...

reposted from newcritics:

I think MAD MEN’s doing something I haven’t seen before on TV: Showing the tactic of gaining weight, by a woman being sexually harassed.

Think about it: We got so used to the idea of secretaries being hit on as part of their job description — and ignored the constantly sobbing woman in “Ladies’ Room” — that we kinda forgot that those women were being hit on, every single goddamn day.

Peggy got her affair over with relatively quickly, and saw the downside immediately. Her danish and sammich eating was probably part of her coping-with-stress mechanism; she could do it in response to tons of work, as well as tons of (or no) Pete. In the meantime, she was learning how not to be part of the game — be too silent, too thoughtful, get into the sister category instead of whore, then keep the weight on, to cement her status change with the fellas.

Note how she responded earnestly to the weight loss belt opportunity — any one of us could have been sarcastic or insulted, at any stage of her pitch, but she kept her head on a swivel, and made one more successful account grab while the men were too busy snickering. What broad among us could sell a vibrator with her boss, his gang of drunken cronies, and her repugnant ex, in the same room? Not many, I tell you what.

Just because she went for the plain, and the chubby, we didn’t see it was as much of a plan as a model-svelte woman going plain with makeup and hair, and wearing glasses with no Rx lenses. We dissed her, not seeing that she’d rather suffer dissing than the complete lack of respect connected with being anybody’s girl. If she can get out of Sterling Cooper with a career, and alive, yay, Peggy!

Jon88 said...

Great episode. I was so engrossed, I wasn't paying attention to the captioning. At least, not until it started screaming at me with Peggy's date's "Wrangle" (Rheingold) beer. This was followed in short order by Boluva, Utts, copyrighter and Ine Rande (Bulova, Utz, copywriter, Ayn Rand).

Anonymous said...

God, I love this show. I was reading an interview with Jerry Seinfeld this weekend and he said it's one of his favorites too (not sure why I mentioned that, I just thought it was interesting).

I think this show deserves a wider audience too, but I don't think it would get one on network TV. It would probably be canceled the first season (if it made it that far). In a way it's good that it's on a niche cable network, where the expectations aren't as high.

Anonymous said...

OK, here's what confuses me about Peggy's weight gain. On her date, she's surprised at how her drink tastes, saying "Joan usually orders them for me, they're a lot sweeter." I took this to mean that Joan is sabotaging Peggy by shoveling extra calories into her. Am I off base here?
Also, I agree, it was def. the washing machine.

Eric said...

I think Pete is going to try to blackmail Don with the package, and fail spectacularly, underestimating Don's ruthlessness.
The more I think about it, the more similarity I see between Don and Tony Soprano. I have a very similar reaction to them, wanting to see them succeed despite their amorality and borderline sociopathic behavior. Partly it's because they're smarter than just about everyone around them, and partly it's just because they're the point-of-view character. (And I think that was one of the main things Chase was trying to show in the Sopranos - how automatically we turn the point-of-view character in a drama (and especially in a TV show) into the protagonist. It's something that seems to be hard-wired into us.

Anonymous said...

I'm not as surprised by the Don-Peggy relationship. If you think about it, there was presumably a time when Don was some kid new to the city who didn't get a lot of respect (Roger still rides him about it--see the bit in 'Red In The Face' where he prods Don about dropping his g's sometimes), who had to prove himself. I think Don sees something of himself in her, in much the same way that Bertie sees himself in Don.

TimmyD said...

Another reason this show wouldn't do well on network TV is that the seasons would be way too long. A 13 episode season is just right. I think a show like Lost would be much better with only 13 episodes a season as well.

Mark Netter said...

I'm surprised that Betty is getting such a raw deal from comments. Sure, you can call her childish, but not a lot of 28 year-olds I've known are all that together. What's really going on is that Don doesn't love her, or certainly isn't giving her the type of love most wives would want, i.e. undivided. Don's siphoning off his with this or that mistress, thinking that his compartmentalized life is just fine, but it's making Betty "Diary of a Mad Housewife" or "A Woman Under the Influence". At some level, it's all Don's fault.

Anonymous said...

Mark Netter:

Quite right. Don is quick to defuse any discussion on her part about her mother's death ("Grief is just extended self-pity"), usually isn't interested in her sexually, doesn't usually confide her, and frequently leaves her along for days at a time. Of _course_ she's frustrated and looking for attention elsewhere.

In particular, I think people (here and on the TwoP forums) misinterpret the phone conversation btw Betty and Don from "The Long Weekend". Betty is trying to commiserate, to link the ways that their worlds have been shaken, and Don doesn't know what to do with it, saying, lamely, "Just... stop thinking like that."

Tom said...

Pete will be tempted to blackmail Don, but his wife's discovery of his "secrets" (per the preview) and his fear of utterly losing her respect will stay his twitchy, sweaty little hand. For a while, anyway.

Another perceptive review, Alan. This was definitely primarily a set-up episode, and as such was second-tier. This show thrives on character and mood, not plot.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog and comments. I'm a big fan of the show, but one thing really bothers me: is it just me, or does it seem like Peggy gains about five pounds per scene? I realize that they're trying to show us that she's getting fat, but this borders on science fiction. It's kinda silly, really.


Anonymous said...

"This show thrives on character and mood, not plot."

Also, I agree with the above comment, which is why Pete's stealing Don's mail at the end kind of has me worried. It strikes me as Soap Opera-ish.

Anonymous said...

I was really hoping Pete would resist the temptation to take the package, but I knew from the way the package remained in view that Pete would be rifling through it soon. He's that kind of guy (and way too ambitious for his own good). And as someone else said, Pete's a prick.

Sometimes, I can't tell if Betty loves Don or if she thinks she's supposed to. And Don's not helping her "condition" by dictating to her psych what he should be doing. I realize it's the times, but damn, that's infuriating.

Mark Netter said...

I adored home they played Pete picking up the package at the end. Fondling it from the chair, getting up and leaving it like a mystery to be unwrapped by Don next week...and then sliding back into frame to take it away like the scumbag he is!

And does anyone else think of Peter Lorre when they see Pete?

Pirate Alice said...

I never once got the idea that Peggy was pregnant. It wasn't until this episode that I realized they were making her look fat on purpose, and not just something in my head. It was her face that made me realize it was "fake fat" I didn't think her face pieces were all that seamless, they looked out of place and bothered me.

cgeye's comment mentioning the weight gain to avoid the sexual harassment makes total sense to me and now I understand why she's gaining weight. Through the whole episode I wondered if I had missed something.