Monday, March 24, 2008

Mad Men redux: Doublemint Don

(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 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?


Anonymous said...

When does Mad Men return? I'm enjoying re-watching and re-reading in anticipation.

Anonymous said...

When does Mad Men return? I'm enjoying re-watching and re-reading in anticipation.

Anonymous said...

The AMC website says it returns the summer of 2008.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan,
If I wanted to post some thoughts/stories for evryone from the PaleyFest "Mad Men" night, should I come do it here? It's not until Thursday...

Shawn Anderson said...

Jon Hamm was on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday night and said they start shooting the second season in two weeks, so they appear to be on schedule for a similar time frame for airing as last year.

Anonymous said...

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.

Now that he's won the Globe and was nominated for a SAG, don't you think he may get an Emmy nod this summer? I sure do!

I also thought Slattery's performance in this episode - especially in the hospital - was praise-worthy.

Dan Jameson said...

I really wish I would have watched this show the first time around so the comments would be more interactive. However, what a FANTASTIC episode. By far my favorite of the season.

No point getting much more into it than that....Alan covers all the bases nicely.

Although, I can't help feeling a bit sorry for Betty. As we get to know her more and more, I think she's become very likable which makes it hard to watch when Don does his thing...or things....

Alan Sepinwall said...

Dan, not that you'll get interactive out of it, but if you want to see more comments, do a search for the "Doublemint Don" phrase in the search box at the top of the blog, and you'll be able to read the original version and the comments it got at the time.

bobviegas said...

I'm glad AMC is rerunning the episodes, as I was not aware of this show when it first aired. I thought it was another very solid episode. As far as the references to The Apartment, I liked the last scene with Joan in this episode, where Cooper asks her to push the button in the elevator. It was a little heavy-handed effort to parallel her character with Shirley MacLaine's Fran, but it clearly conveyed Joan's realization that she's not in control of things as she thought she may have been. I'm interested in what developments her character will have in future episodes.

Dan Jameson said...

Thanks, Alan. What better to do during my Federal Income Tax law school class than read comments on your blog?

For what it's worth, I was also exhausted after reading your blogs and comments on "The Wire" and am semi-enjoying the "break". It wipes us reader/commenters out too. I still shed a tear when I think about the show ending. My brother is catching up now (yes, way too late, but better late than never) and I find myself at his place for long stretches of time, glued to the TV.

Anonymous said...

I was at the Paley fest panel, moderated by Matt Roush. I also attended the TV Academy panel a few weeks back, and I have to say I found this one more interesting. A few faces were missing (most notably January Jones), but seeing Robert Morse in person more than made up for it.

A few recollections:
- Matt Weiner regrets naming two characters with names that sound similar, "Betty" and "Peggy." The writers often refer to them as "Petty" and "Beggy."
- Morse's famous "Who cares?" line read was actually inspired by a time that Morse uttered the same line to a friend who was freaking out to everyone the week before his wedding. Weiner pointed to that line as another example of an actor bring much more to a line than he ever imagined. He knew Burt Cooper was going to say "who cares?" but he didn't realize Burt was going to enjoy saying it so much.
- Weiner is using Rand's philosophy, but wouldn't want people to think he's advocating it. Vincent Kartheiser read Atlas Shrugged coincidentally a few months before starting Mad Men. Christina Hendricks (who didn't speak often but looked absolutely ravishing) admitted to trying and failing to read it three times.
- Re: Kartheiser's character Pete, Hamm noted that Don told Pete what he needed to do to succeed, and warned him that if he didn't do it no one would like him...which is exactly how things played out. Weiner noted that, more often than not, Pete is right (about the VW ad, for example) but it doesn't matter. Sterling Cooper is deliberately not the best ad agency, and usually comes down on the wrong side of whatever big changes are headed their way (i.e. Nixon-Kennedy)
- Peggy's pregnancy is medically believable, if highly dramatic. Yes, Peggy is a smart in a lot of ways, but Elizabeth Moss (who also looked stunning, as did pretty much the whole cast) pointed out that her character was completely in denial because the reality of the situation would destroy her world and everything she was trying to accomplish. Plus, the weight gain deflected unwanted male attention and facilitated her rise as a copywriter.

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Anonymous said...

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.

Aren't you happy that you're wrong?