Monday, March 31, 2008

Mad Men redux: Good vibrations

(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.)

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?


Anonymous said...

Several squirmy moments (no pun intended) in this episode for me:

Sign of the times, I know, but I was appalled at the discussion of the wives at Peggy's pitch meeting. I was seething. Even if you take sexual harassment out of the mix because it didn't exist back then, it was just RUDE of those guys to talk that way in front of Peggy. I admired her restraint. But I suppose she followed the guys' lead in her behaviour during her date with the truck driver. So she ends up being no better than them. Disappointing.

And Pete sunk to new lows with his transparent sucking-up to Don. Plus, that package isn't yours; leave it on Don's desk, you little shit! Yeech.

Anonymous said...

Alan, he "hanged" himself; he did not "hung" himself -- that would be if his shirt somehow got caught on a hook and he were suspended midair.

Actually, this reminds me of the "evacuated" bit from this past season of the Wire.

Anonymous said...

"I hope this isn't...the last we'll see of Roger"

Agreed! John Slattery's performance is every bit as good as Jon Hamm's, and Roger gets the creepiest lines. This week's "I'm so glad I got to roam those hillsides" is almost as disturbing as episode 7's: "Tell her I ate the M in 'Mom.'"

JJB said...

it was just RUDE of those guys to talk that way in front of Peggy

I think the guys saw it as a way to include her in the conversation, explain why the joke was funny. They are beginning to see her as one of them, so the idea that she could be offended would never occur to them.

There is an interesting analysis of Peggy's weight gain in the comments from the original post: gaining weight to stop the harassment. And it's working. While the overall atmosphere still sucks, she is being seen for her abilities, not just her body.