Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mad Men redux: Jews cruise

(Note: Because AMC is rerunning the first season of "Mad Men" every Sunday at midnight, and because a lot of people missed the show the first time around, I'm reposting my blog reviews for each episode the morning after. These are written as they were back in the summer/early fall; if I feel differently about anything in retrospect, I'll mention it in the comments. Also, while comments from both newbies and people who watched the first time are welcome, if you've seen these episodes before, please be vague about events in later episodes so as not to spoil things for the newcomers.)

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?


Alan Sepinwall said...

Sorry for the lateness of this one. In the usual chaos that comes with returning from vacation, I forgot to post this yesterday.

To make up for it, since somebody asked if they could look at the original post to see what the commenters had to say back in the summer, here's the link.

Loweeel said...

I had chills during the playing of "By the Waters of Babylon". Also a nice tie-in to Rachel's Judaism and the feelings of Rachel, the head secretary, and Don that they're somehow in exile or not quite fitting in.

Anonymous said...

This was my favorite episode of Mad Men (with the possible exception of Nixon v Kennedy), in part because I loved the way the episode played out with the song over those final scenes. I heard an interview with Weiner talking about the theme of exile. I really like the way they explored each of the main women while simultaneously advancing the plot.

Did anyone else notice that Rachel's explanation of "Utopos" (sp) w/the two different pronunciations echoed Roger's mispronunciation of Israeli client, Yurin's name? I thought it was a nice aural touch and another example of the sterling (pun intended) minds at work on this show.

Anonymous said...

p.s. Word on that scene behind the glass where Sal was critiquing the women's style. So hilarious. Today, anyone would catch on to his orientation. Back then, not so much.

Anonymous said...

I just can't believe nobody doesn't get it.
I can't believe it either, but I don't know if that's because of my modern sensibilities and because the character just comes across as so stereotypically gay. I keep thinking of that film Far From Heaven, in which Dennis Quaid played a gay man during those times, but he did not have those "obvious" gay characteristics, and I am not sure whether we are supposed to find Sal amusing, sympathetic, strange, or what. Color me confused.

Anonymous said...

Given how invisible gay men were back in these pre-Stonewall days, I can imagine that Sal's flamboyant side could be overlooked. I mean, nobody picked up on George Michael and his shortpants, and that was in the much more recent past.

Oh, and personally, I laughed out load at the Joan Crawford line. I guess I'm a sucker for a well dropped anvil.

And Alan, thanks for the link to the old post.

Anonymous said...

Paul Lynde... many, many people didn't get that he was gay back then. It just wasn't universally absorbed. Sure, gays got it, and some non-gays as well, but not everyone.

When I was little, and I mean, even into my teens, I didn't understand that Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly and some of the other really flaming queens of the day (I was born in '65) were homosexuals. I did not understand the concept. Unfathomable now!

(But my mom did. 'fagalas', she'd say.)

Anonymous said...

I'm a few shows behind, so late in commenting, but I want to sincerely thank you for re-posting these, since I"m enjoying Mad Men a lot.

In answer to your question about Adam, I think it's probably a biblical reference to good/bad brothers in the bible like Adam's sons Cain and Abel (both those names would have been TOO anvil-ish) and Jacob and Esau. Don/Dick is the older brother of the earlier (dead? divorced?) lesser-regarded wife, and will probably be marginalized as such.

Anonymous said...

I'm in New Zealand where the Season 1 Episode 6 just screened... I was very intrigued by Draper's remark that all men like Joan Crawford... That seemed wrong to me... she's too scary/dragon lady-ish for straight men I think (whereas I could imagine Don saying truly and also innformatively to his wife that all men love Barbara Sttanwyck say.). They just tolerated her, whereas women did like her a lot, i.e., as a great women scorned/wronged etc.. Anyhow, your post listed the line as an 'anvil'. Are you saying that you also found the line to be one of the show's rare bum notes? Or do you think that the line's fine and exists purely for the setup about Salvatore's response next?

Anonymous said...

ANVICILLUS??? Now that is a 75 cent word.

Love your analysis of joan jumping in between Freddy and Peggy. She reminds me very much of a book from the 60s, the Girls in the Office, a book that was themetically similar to the movie mentioned in this episode, The Best of Everything. Joan is a perfect Best of Everything girl, a Helen Gurley Brown girl, and her heyday is about to come to a screeching halt.