Mad Men S7BE1: “Severance”

“Is that all there is?”

Peggy Lee, you said it. This premiere episode was a tough nut to crack – a lot of unsteady philosophical meandering leading to a casual ending. It was a visually dazzling hour (What color! What mustaches!) but…inscrutable. What just happened? What does it all mean? How is this episode going to set up the finale? Is that all there is?

I have oodles of faith that the rest of Season 7B will be vastly more enjoyable. The Mad Men premieres have always been weird and uncomfortable and slightly creaky under the weight of theme introduction (remember “The Doorway”?). So let’s talk about this strange episode – its fast-paced structure, strained dialogue, time-jumping, and sense of cheerless nostalgia.

“Severance” followed four major storylines: those of Don, Joan, Peggy, and Ken. Let’s start with the big D.

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The opening scenes give us a full blast of voyeuristic discomfort, without the usual pleasure that used to come with watching Don go all Draper on some girl. It’s an audition for a fur campaign, a very intimate roleplay – and, the camera reveals, it’s happening in front of a roomful of other men. At this, I admit my heart sank. After the tenderness of the 7A finale, I wanted to believe we’d advanced past Don’s super gross side. He’s always needed to dominate and decorate women in order to define himself; this first scene is meant to prepare us for a disappointing Don rewind. It’s an interesting way to begin the half-season; a faithful callback to what we first loved about our protagonist. But now, in 1970, in this clinical brown office, it’s not so sexy anymore. It’s a regression. It’s pathetic and it’s sad.

Don goes through a lot of back-cycling during “Severance.” It’s an episode that interrogates the way he’s built an identity through sex and intimacy, a cobbled-together Perfect Man built from the dreams and projections of so many women, so many loves, so many first kisses.

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Two women from his past confront Don in a compressed period of time. One of them is Rachel Menken – we all remember her from Season 1 (and I screamed out loud when we first saw her because I’d missed her so much) Rachel was the first woman in the series whose emotional magnetism truly prompted Don to consider abandoning his facade and starting anew. She’s a powerful symbol of nostalgia in Mad Men, as it was Rachel’s presence that brought out the Don we first came to love – his iconic poeticism (“Love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons”) and his wild romanticism.

But Rachel’s already dead by the time she reappears (in a dream sequence which, no matter how beautifully it’s done, always makes me feel betrayed). Her avatar in Don’s mind is pretty on-the-nose – she smiles mysteriously, glimmers in her fur, and tells him, “I’m supposed to tell you you missed your flight.” She wasn’t his only chance to live passionately and authentically, but she might have been his first. When Don attempts to reconnect, inspired by his vision, we find out that she’s only just succumbed to leukemia a week before. The cosmic devastation throws Don off for the rest of the episode. He attends shiva at her apartment, struggling to make sense of the loss, staring at her young children knowing that in another life, they could have been his. He’s frightened and needing answers about the coincidence of her reappearance in his subconscious. She was gone as quickly as she returned. Is that all there is?

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Don’s assisted in his existential crisis by a sad-eyed waitress named Di (I mean, talk about on-the-nose). He’s convinced he knows her from somewhere, and they share a soulless quickie behind a diner. Di does look like a lot of girls Don’s pulled over the course of the series – she’s got the hawkish beauty of Midge, the mysticality of Rachel, and the uniform of the dozens of waitresses he’s winked at for decades. For God’s sake, Don’s already shtupped a random flight attendant during the course of this episode! He’s deep in the throes of dark neediness, repeating his romantic cycle. Don doesn’t know Di, but he knows how this starts and how it ends. He’s fucking a memory.

It’s an extremely depressing setup for the rest of 7B.

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Another character who’s grasping for a do-over is Ken Cosgrove, who makes a really welcome return in this episode. The title alludes to Ken’s unceremonious firing by Roger and the head honcho at McCann. Said honcho is an Irish brute named Ferg, who’s long had a professional vendetta against the company-hopping Ken.

Kenny has always been a unique character on which to map the war between creativity and pragmatism. He’s a rare kind soul amongst his colleagues, who hid his idealism and writerly spark in order to advance in the accounts department. Although he’s Head of Accounts, his wife thinks he ought to go back to penning beautiful science fiction novels and leave the ad game altogether. And just as he’s made the decision to bow out gracefully and follow his dream, he’s canned by McCann. Ferg is cruel about it and Roger is cool about it, and both approaches fill the normally level-headed Ken with bewilderment and rage.

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“The life not lived” is Ken’s succinct restatement of Don’s problem (and Peggy’s as well, but we’ll get to that in a moment). Ken could just walk away from this sour turn of events and begin to build the existence he always wanted – a farm, a family, a writing career. But it turns out that for Ken, the best revenge isn’t living well, or living differently. It’s just revenge. His corporate maneuvering provides the absolutely high point of the episode, a fun bit of comeuppance that’s quick and lively and a phenomenal hint of a very amusing storyline to come.

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Let’s move on to Peggy and Joan.

First of all, Peggy’s on a bit of a backslide as well. She’s back in a mental place of ennui and self-pity – single but too busy to mingle. She’s set up on a date with her coworker Mathis’ brother-in-law. WHO IS BRIAN KRAKOW. PEGGY’S ON A DATE WITH BRIAN KRAKOW. I know the rest of the internet shares my delight.

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It’s a cute storyline, but frankly not one I feel like spending much time on. Their chemistry is easy and fun, and Stevie (that’s his actual name) seems to like Peggy for all her stubbornness and brilliance. It’s nice to see Peggy’s flirty side, because both she and we have forgotten that workplace satisfaction isn’t quite the same as happiness. Her “life not lived” is the life of a girlfriend, a mother, a second fiddle – and although that’s never going to be her style, Peg seems to enjoy roleplaying once in awhile.

Peggy’s trouble in “Severance” stems from the fact that she’s unable to be spontaneous and fly off to Paris with Stevie at a moment’s notice (because her passport is in an office drawer, surprise surprise). She finds every excuse in the book not to trust this stranger or the genuine connection she’s made with him.

It’s hard to be sympathetic towards Peggy, though, because of The Elevator Scene. A watershed moment for the episode.

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Some background: Peggy and Joan are tasked with pitching Topaz pantyhose to their superiors at McCann, who are a bunch of sexist assholes. Their crude jokes are nothing new to these two, but this is the first time they’ve been working together as a team in a professional setting.

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Unsurprisingly, Peggy handles the toxic atmosphere much better than Joan does. She’s been in conference rooms for years enduring similar blows to her dignity, and has learned to emphasize her “masculine” side to cope – more conservative dress, a harder exterior, swift judo chops to halt any small talk.

But that’s simply not the way Joan is built, so to speak; Joan thrives off her own sexuality and finds power in deploying her femininity and emotional instincts in business dealings. We, as fans, love to see Peggy and Joan find common ground and use each other as lifeboats in their male-dominated war ground of an office – but this is 1970. This is not a time when women lived their personal truths in the workplace and lifted one another up. And Peggy and Joan’s heated conversation in the elevator as they leave that meeting is a short, terrible microcosm of that. Peggy basically calls Joan a slut, and Joan tells Peggy she’s too ugly to even be a slut. It’s a saddening interaction that recalls their Season 1 relationship in all the worst ways.

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As a coping mechanism, Joan engages in a little retail therapy – playing up her assets rather than taking Peggy’s harsh advice to hide her curves and bury her sensuality. In this scene, Joan also shows us the narrow gulf between her life and the life she could have lived – as the salesgirl points out, Joan’s spending thousands of dollars in the same dress department she once managed (forced, by her rapey ex-fiance, to quit Sterling Cooper in disgrace). “You must have me confused with someone else,” says Joan coolly. No one’s going to write her story, ever again. Is that all there is? If so, she’s damn well going to be dressed to the nines for it.

Loose ends…

  • I mustache you a question, Roger…WHY?tumblr_nmdab07a401qhmg1fo1_1280
  • Ooh, Pete’s former secretary Clara is now pregnant out of wedlock! Juicy.
  • Speaking of Pete, he’s living a new/old life too. He’s back in New York, and says of his long and lovely LA vacation: “At the time it felt so real…”
  • Ken’s father-in-law Ed (who memorably once told Don that he’d never get hired again after he screwed Philip Morris) has an amazing advertising voice. He could sell me Pop Tarts any day.
  • Stan. Looks. So. ’70s. Hot. That beard is BITCHIN’.

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So, what did you all think of “Severance”? Did you feel confused and kinda bitter (like I did, and apparently the rest of Tumblr)? Did you love the episode? What DOES it all mean?

The End of an Era: A Guide to Mad Men’s Final Season

Whether or not you’re ready for Mad Men to end (you’re not), tonight is the premiere of Season 7B: the second half of episodes comprising the show’s last season. They have the potential to be some of the best aired on television, period – and you know me, I’m not usually prone to histrionics. Here to debrief you on this once-in-a-lifetime cultural phenomenon is myself: public Mad Men debater, obsessive, and recent rewatcher of Season 7A. Let’s ride this zeitgeist together. Do you want some ice in that?

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Different TV shows call for different modes of analysis and enjoyment. You have to set your mind at a certain frequency in order to really GET a show (this is why I had such a hard time on Sunday nights in 2013 – very difficult to shotgun Breaking Bad followed by The Real Housewives of New Jersey). The thing that I find most groundbreaking and mesmerizing about Mad Men is that it operates on many more levels than the average TV narrative – even The Sopranos, to which it’s historically been compared most often. Like SopranosMad Men is a series of complex interweaving character studies. They’re both period pieces. They’re about male anti-heroes. And they’re epic poems – full of rich allegories and cultural callbacks.

But there’s something very special about Mad Men that really differentiates it and makes it so of-the-moment: it’s art about making art. It’s more meta than any television drama that’s come before it, with perhaps the exception of Six Feet Under. But while SFU only occasionally touched on the creative process, Mad Men‘s an ode to it (and if it’s taught us anything, it’s that advertising is the most romantic and important creative outlet there is). It’s an excavation of the creative mind and the human impulse to weave and consume fiction.

I think it’s an extraordinarily special piece of work – and I really mean piece of work. It takes a metric fuckton of brainpower to absorb Mad Men in all its glory. So let’s reset our minds to Season 7A. Here’s a review of where the last half-season’s going to pick up:

Themes to keep in mind…

The first half of Season 7 took us in a (blessedly) new direction from a strange, frightening, and often aimless 6th season. 7 had a few core themes that sewed it together and began to steer the show into its final harbor.

  • Sentimentality. From Bert Cooper’s touching musical farewell to Peggy’s Burger Chef epiphany about family, the show played up what has always been one of its greatest strengths. The ad work, and the characters, were at their best when they spoke from the heart, and Don and Peggy’s strained relationship was seemingly resolved with one tender slow dance. 7 started off sad and ended up kind of triumphantly sappy. Mad Men believes in love.
  • Cycles of change. Back in Season 4, a man from Heinz told Don that “food is cyclical: there’s a time for beans and there’s a time for ketchup.” In Mad Men, there’s a time for dreams and a time for fuck-ups. Season 7 has deeply explored the way we helplessly repeat ourselves (i.e. Don blowing up his marriage to Megan in the same spectacularly slow, coolly cruel way he did Betty) and also how the mistakes of the old echo in the lives of the young (Sally is now, psychologically, a frightening composite of Betty and Don). Talk about a carousel.
  • Time. Probably the most crucial theme of the entire show. Mad Men is a hyperreal depiction of aging, learning, growing, and dying – for everyone, not just Don. From the commonplace time jumps to the more recent aesthetic markers of Season 7 (Pete Campbell’s bitterly receding hairline) it’s clear that this last season will deal with the inevitable march. Death is this show’s sexiest and most interesting recurring bedfellow.

Where are they now?

In case you haven’t caught up (even though Season 7A is now on Netflix, FYI), here’s where we left the primary players and various bit characters.

  • Don is back as SC&P’s de facto head of creative, after a demeaning season of writing coupons for his replacement Lou Avery (and a hurt, vengeful Peggy, who memorably served as his direct superior for most of 7A). He briefly struggled with a relapse of his ever-latent alcoholism, connected with the collapse of his bicoastal sham of a marriage – and a long struggle to rebuild his professional relationships after the infamous Hershey Pitch of Season 6. Don found his groove by the end of 7A, his creative zest sparked by the emotionally overwhelming moon landing of 1969, shown in the finale. This half-season humbled him greatly, and his Wild West iconoclasm of earlier seasons has given way to a practicality and a Dick-Whitman-like commitment to hard work. He now seems to fully support Peggy as the heir apparent to his crown, and in a show of maturity, agrees readily to a deal that will make SC&P a subsidiary of their long-hovering rival agency McCann.
  • Peggy spent a lot of 7A fighting Lou Avery’s poor leadership of the SC&P creative team. She’s now Copy Chief and thisclose to pushing out one of the Creative Directors – my money’s on Ted, considering that the half-season ended with Don convincing a very reluctant Ted to keep his job. Peggy also struggled with a lot of working-woman insecurities, exemplified by her attachment to her young neighbor Julio and her tearful admission to Don that her single, childless status makes her wonder “what she did wrong.” I’m not a huge fan of this trope with Peggy, but whatever. This is a recap. Peggy is otherwise starting Season 7B with sizeable power and confidence: she absolutely murdered the Burger Chef pitch, with a performance that evoked Don’s classic conference room magnetism. The show is beginning to figure out that Peggy’s journey towards finding her voice has less to do with the novelty of her female perspective in a male-dominated workplace, than with the fact that she’s simply a genius.
  • Roger took a bit of a backseat this season, offering his usual workplace wit without much growth or character development. He experimented with free love (it was 1969, after all) and spent a confusing, sad 24 hours with his lost daughter at a commune upstate. His most notable role was as office peacemaker, arranging for Don’s return to SC&P and eventually brokering the deal to join McCann and eliminate his rival partner Jim Cutler. Bert’s death hit him hard. It’s my belief that he and Joan will be endgame in 7B.
  • Joan continued to soar to new heights in her relatively new position as partner. She’s a little older and wiser and has largely outgrown the corporate missteps that plagued her after she sexed her way into the job (as evidenced by a quick scene in which she mistakes a financial expert’s proposition for a, well, proposition). She spares no love for Don, angered by his disregard for the consequences of his actions, which constantly “cost [her] money.” Thrillingly, Joan completely transitions out of her role as office manager towards the end of 7A, handing off the job and the awkwardly placed cubicle to Don’s secretary Dawn. She’s essentially the new Lane now. Personally, however, Joan’s starting to exhibit a hard edge and a panic in her romantic life – she turns down a desperate marriage proposal from her Gay BFF Bob Benson. In one of her most beautiful and vulnerable moments on the show, Joan declares: “I want love…and I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some kind of arrangement.” Seriously. Joan and Roger are endgame.
  • Pete spent most of 7A finding inappropriate places to sex up his smokin’ real-estate-agent girlfriend, a perk of his lucrative work as SC&P’s dedicated LA account man. He’s evolving into an ever-savvier, ever-seedier character: he now sports a deep tan, a growing bald spot, and a lascivious twinkle in his eye. In my opinion, Pete has experienced very few narrative missteps throughout the entire show – his evolution into a rich sad sack has been steady, sure, and blackly humorous.
  • Megan is (hopefully) beginning to be phased out of the main narrative, as of the conclusion of 7A. We left her at an uncertain moment in her acting career – not starving but not even close to famous – and she’s visibly hardened as a result of the slow but inevitable decline of her marriage to Don. A mechanical threesome involving her actress friend, and a jealous rebuff of Don’s niece Stephanie, were not nearly enough to salvage the wreck of romantic idealism that the two of them created. Megan is not a mystery anymore, nor is she a fantasy or a blank creative canvas. She’s a girl who’s had a very rude awakening, and has been left to muck through it alone in the Hollywood Hills.
  • Betty and Henry are useless. I’m sorry, but they are. It’s not really Mad Men‘s fault, when there are so many more interesting characters and places to be than Senator’s Manor. Betty is still a terrible mother, keeping the Season 5 weight off but plagued by food issues. Although she occasionally chafes at her role as Henry’s gorgeous Stepford political wife, she’s still as well-adjusted as we’ve ever seen her.
  • Sally has grown into a beautiful cipher, the mutant superhuman you’d expect when you combine two slightly sociopathic and very attractive parents. Her jaw-dropping teenage debut in 7A – all short skirts and cynical, morbid digs at her mother – was coupled with a welcome character evolution, separate from her relationship with Don. We spent a lot of time with Sally at boarding school and at home, getting some fascinating insights into the cultural and sociopolitical uncertainty that molded baby boomers (what Sally is destined to be). More and more, she has been presented as the embodiment of the passage of time, indicating that her role in 7B will be crucial and probably disturbing. She’s very much in the throes of darkness and budding sexuality.
  • SC&P players like Harry, Jim Cutler, and Ginsberg had a lot of great spotlights in 7A. The season saw the introduction of an office computer, a huge and humming behemoth that many employees interpreted as a harbinger of doom and the automated destruction of creativity. The computer drove all three men to distraction: Harry used it as leverage to change the face of SC&P’s media division; Cutler drove it as a wedge between himself and the rest of the partners; Ginsberg tipped over the edge with his latent mental illness and made the computer his enemy. Ginsberg’s descent into madness was frightening and poignant, concluding with him handcuffed to a hospital cot, being wheeled out of the workplace that fostered his talent and broke his spirit. At least he managed to coin “Free The Nipple” before his departure.

Moving forward…

So yeah, I’m pretty goddamn excited for 7B. There was so much going on in 7A, and yet it retained the tightness and emotional immediacy that had really made Mad Men great in the first place. The show has returned to its groove with a vengeance, and Matthew Weiner’s writing and direction has been reassuringly confident so far.

Can we expect lots of twists and turns in 7B? Methinks…yes and no. Based on old flame Midge’s very satisfying episode arc in Season 4, and Paul Kinsey’s surprising return (as a Hare Krishna monk!) in Season 5, I’d put my money on one or two more familiar faces showing up for Mad Men‘s swan song. Like I said, Mad Men is both a narrative and a meta-narrative, and the theme of sentimentality includes you and me as viewers. I almost don’t want to jinx the return of Sal Romano, but it’s a callback that I’m really hoping for and that would delight all of us, a small nod to the more buttoned-up and quietly poignant days of the show.

But Mad Men (to quote Paul Kinsey/T.S. Eliot) will end not with a bang, but a whimper. It’s a show that, for all its abrupt and disorienting time jumps, and philosophical flourishes, and weirdness – moves at the speed of life. The best things in life are free, and simple. Laughter. Sorrow. Love. Hate. And so on. Mad Men‘s legacy was transforming the soulless – the advertising industry – into the very vessel and medium of the soul.  It began as a stylish drama, but has evolved into a genre-less manifesto, a kind of microcosmic portrait on the modern condition. Season 7B will have things to say about capitalism, but it will also tell us about the feeling of watching ourselves decay. Mad Men is a snowglobe, and when we look into it, we see confused normal people who don’t know they’re beautiful, and crucial, and indelible. Whatever happens in Season 7B…we are going to feel it, and so much of it.

Starting tonight, let’s start living like there’s no tomorrow. Because there isn’t one.

Mad Men Season 7: Sneak Peek

Here they are: the first images of Mad Men’s seventh and final season. Debonair flailing!

Although I think I can speak for the entire Internet when I say Season 6 was a pile of expensive doodie, I’m so genuinely excited for 7. My instinct says the season will be depressing and murky, but if Weiner veers back onto the main highway of workplace intrigue, fast-clip philosophy, and period-piece candy for the eyes and ears, we’ll be cooking with gas before the finale. Jesus. I don’t want it to go. Even with the betrayal of shitty-shit-shit Season 6, I’m rooting for a WOW. How will Mad Men end? How will this utterly ambitious series leave its mark? Things are so…UP IN THE AIR! I made an airplane joke because Don is probably D.B. Cooper. Have you read this theory yet? It’s so crazy. So crazy it just…might…work.

Let’s do what Mad Men fans do best and tear these screenshots a new analytical asshole.

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*steeples fingers*
*adjusts microscope*

Don’s wearing a brown suit and a hat. There’s a curb and a building involved. Probably a leitmotif of death, life, time…thinking…also transportation. Looking for a cab. A cab to the afterworld. Or rebirth? Did the Buddha ever reference a Big Yellow Taxi?

It’s a real red-herring pair of images, because in one he’s looking right, and in the other he’s looking left. Kind of like the Season 6 poster. Is that deliberate? Probably. Even when Mad Men is arbitrary, it’s deliberate, you know what I mean? And like, the fact that his hands are in the same position both times really indicates the growing generational gulf Don’s struggling to straddle, as well as a preoccupation with FINGERS, with POINTING, with, you know, FINDING ONE’S DIRECTION.

He’s adjusting his cufflinks but there’s no one there. Isolation. The search for God? The search for companionship? Sexual addiction. Definitely. The Madonna versus the whore. Cufflinks are signifiers, you know.

Of course, there are the earth tones of Don’s suit juxtaposed with the austere New York architecture. Is this a nature and nurture question? I mean, WHO IS MAN, really, situated amongst the byproducts of his artifice? These beautiful columns could support dreams or nightmares. And the temperature is unclear. Because that’s a jacket but not a coat. Cloudy? Sunny? Are we in the winter? Maybe the world is the winter and advertising is the sun. Perhaps the final season aims to settle questions of whence humanity’s creativity springs forth, or maybe it’s about weather and stuff like that.

Also he’s wearing black shoes and you’re not supposed to pair brown and black. Unless you’re a maverick. I suppose this could be a reference to Ayn Rand. I might be reaching, but I MIGHT NOT BE.

The diagonal tie is throwing me off, though, because that’s a clear allusion to…Kafka. A parody of straight lines, signifying a thematic shift to moral relativism. Diagonals are very crucial to masculinist ideology, clearly. I don’t have to tell YOU that. When you pair these gendered geometrics with the concept of a necktie-as-noose, you get into some very shaky nihilist quicksand.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the shrubs. Those things are SO loaded. Who even knows, with shrubs and Don Draper.

But, you know. Phallus.

Mad Men Season 6 Finale: “In Care Of” Reviewed via Instant Message

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I’ve been too swamped to write a proper review of the Mad Men  finale, so I present to you this lively AOL Instant Messenger exchange. Doesn’t cover any plot points really, just…general Mad Men griping.

FRIEND 1:

basically the whore house changing his opinion of things regarding sex and power doesnt really jive with the theme of the measures he goes through to reject his childhood. the writers have created a contradictory character. early in the show they showed him rejecting the ways of his past, but now they show him embracing the ways of his past, and there isn’t any explanation for why or how it could work. draper’s character actually made a whole lot of sense when his childhood was on that farm with a douche dad and meager means because he rejected all that wants to be the opposite of it. draper is pretty much the opposite of that. but when the show added in the whore house, they muddied that idea because they imply that draper learned his views of women from that, but that doesnt make sense because he his character was always about rejecting what he had learned. so if the real character of draper lived in that whore house, he would most likely now be super uptight, so much so that he would probably go the opposite route of being whorey and instead would be all about monogamy

FRIEND 2:

im just gonna make leah respond to that, idk either way lol, i honestly dont

FRIEND 1:

i dont believe the writers have draper as fleshed out as the fans of the show do
i think that when they use bad plot its becuase they use bad plot, not becuase of some super plan
so far this is two season finale’s ive seen where the plotting all depends on draper being very unlike he normally is
its like the writers dig themselves into a hole they cant get out of, so they just make draper suddenly fall in love with megan
they did the same kind of thing with this finale

ME:

i mostly agree that don is not a consistent character. i also agree that the last two season finales were very good episodes with NO underpinning throughout the season which they both capped off. don and the other characters doing inexplicable things, or having inexplicable things happen to them, is kind of matthew weiner’s fallback for the finales now because he wants to imply that ~the late 60s were chaos~ and ~nothing makes sense anymore~. he’s getting lazy with the characters, making their actual actions sloppy and sudden, and the show no longer has that strained tightness that made it so stylish and exciting in the first couple seasons.

but i did kind of get the feeling that what weiner is doing with don is deliberate (if poorly planned/executed). when the show started, we thought of don as poor, unloved, taught to be stoic in the face of hardship and starvation. but it’s not like his adult self actively REJECTED that ideology and strived for riches and family. we saw dick whitman get really affected by small acts of kindness, particularly those that touched his sense of spirituality (like the hobo). he obviously craved comfort and beautiful things, even if his childhood was emotionless and shitty — he was the OPPOSITE of his parents even then. he naturally grew into a man who’s forever pursuing love, validation, wealth, but never wants to admit it and feels a little guilty even as he’s enjoying it.

but as the show has gone on, don has obviously started to age and disintegrate, and experience the bitterness that middle age and cutthroat business practice invariably brings. he clutched desperately to megan and made that impulsive decision because he wanted to stave off age and emptiness (which was building up on him all through season 4) and now that he’s seen his second marriage fail, he knows time will never be on his side again. the whorehouse is essential to that realization, because that was when he started to discover the unique validations of sex. the power dynamics of sex, of men and women, has always been essential to the draper character, but now that he’s past 40 and getting all decrepit, it’s become a bit of an obsession.

i mean, look at the linda cardellini storyline. that was don’s pathetic way of reigniting all the forbiddenness of prostitution and the thrill he got as a teenager, being around young servile women. getting his way with a woman, alternately controlling and comforting her, has gotten don off like nothing else — from betty to megan to all of his longterm affairs. he needs to feel like a man. not the way his poor impotent father taught him, but how the prostitutes taught him. the farm is where he learned about duty, love, business, loyalty (everything that made him complex and great in seasons 1-3). the whorehouse is where he learned about desire (which made him sexy and intuitive about advertising in season 1-3, and progressively more desperate in seasons 4-on). it makes sense that the whorehouse would now be the most significant cornerstone of his life, as he starts to realize that most of his mistakes have not been related to love or business, but desire. he’s doomed to WANT, he’s doomed to ENVY, he’s doomed to RUN AWAY from reality and into small brief comforts. that’s all whorehouse.

and that’s me being generous – i think weiner made a lot of that up as he went along, and like i said, the more loose and cobbled-together feeling of the show has more to do with weiner’s laziness than actual intention. but i think he’s stumbling upon a lot of significant truths about the character, and refocusing on this other stage of draper’s past doesn’t necessarily negate the character we know from the first few seasons. in many ways, don is only a shell of his former self now, so it makes sense that he’s feeling ideologically connected to a totally different part of his past.

Mad Men S6E10 AND Game of Thrones S3E9!

I got no time this week, so I’ll keep the Sunday night recap short and sweet.

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Mad Men: A Tale of Two Cities
I am so fucking intrigued by Bob Benson. I’ve been devouring all the Internet theories on who exactly he might be, or what Bob represents in the Mad Men universe of signifiers, but for now I’m content to watch him say “funny cigarettes.” Last night, it hit me, how BRILLIANTLY James Wolk is playing this character. He has this slick reptilian vibe but also some giant, beguilingly innocent eyes. He’s, for lack of better words, a very sexy baby. A total cipher. Is he being taken advantage of by the cynical Jim Cutler? Is he playing Ginsberg and the other creatives? Downloading the Sterling Cooper blueprints into his handsome alien microchip brain? Well played, writers. Bob Benson is the most complicated and obscure puzzle that this show has seen in a long time.

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Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere
It’s a nice day for a…Red Wedding. It’s a nice day to start again. Without the most boring characters.
Peace out, King Robb The Dull! That’s what ya get for marrying Chaplin spawn and screwing over Argus Filch. He’s going to go all Mrs. Norris on your ass. All that bloodshed was shocking and sad, but I am secretly glad to be rid of ALL those storylines. Make some room for the witty hotties, yo! I’m looking at you, Tyrion. I’ll give you the Hand of the King, if ya know what I mean. I digress. Mourning period for all the dead Starks. Right. Sorry.

Mad Men S6E8: “The Crash”

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I feel comfortable writing down some thoughts about this week’s Mad Men. This stands in sharp contrast to the last few episodes, which so bowled me over with their surrealism and mystery that I’d started to worry the show was over my head.

Yeah, “The Crash” was more accessible. It was a bad episode. A bad idea. Everyone’s on speed, the Draper kids are held hostage, and Rizzo gets impaled by a dart? What kind of fuckery was this?

Yet still, it satisfied. Like biting into a cupcake that’s all moldy on the outside until you reach the still-delicious dark chocolate ganache.

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Mad Men S6E1: “The Doorway”

Every Mad Men premiere puts a weird taste in my mouth. Every single one. Matthew Weiner likes to tempt us with little hints dropped about what year it is, who’s going to get some character development, etc, but it’s always bullshit. He loves to go over the audience’s head, writing insane things and calling it theme setup. Remember Season 5, Episode 1? Zoobie zoobie fucking zoo.

But the thing is, the premieres are never bad. The confusion is always dark and frustrating and ornate and delicious. I love the fact that the last couple, including Season 6, have been two hours long. The act of watching feels like dreaming after you’ve fallen asleep on your laptop after a MM binge. There are all our familiar faces and voices, but something’s off. How much time has passed? What have they been doing since the screen went black a year ago, in real time? The two hours never enough to explain everything. Or anything.

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Honestly, when I first watched “The Doorway,” I didn’t like it. The changes were very jarring, and as I feared, the show is really settling into the scattered, nihilistic tone ushered in by Season 4. The passage of time has taken center stage now. Back then, it felt like a chill, a dullness around the corners. Now, everyone is old and angry and very afraid of death. It’s hard to get used to, for a loyal viewer who first fell in love with a warmly-photographed Don Draper whispering of sweet nostalgia. Now he’s getting used to the cold truth:

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First, let’s deal with the good things. There is, of course, Peggy.

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Darling Peggy, hard as nails, railing on her new team at Cutler, Gleason, and Chough. Her hair has continued on its upward swing towards acceptable, and she is not only sustaining a modern relationship with Groucho Marx…

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…she is also work-flirting with Ted Chough because she’s just that talented. Peggy is now unquestionably the Draper of her new outfit. I love Elisabeth Moss’ flawless timing and eyes like ice chips; she has managed to make Peggy multi-faceted and troubled while retaining the straight-laced girlishness that made her such an appealing presence in the first place. She has naturally risen to the status of co-protagonist in the whole Mad Men universe.

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I also might be alone in this, but I liked parts of Betty’s storyline in this episode. Most of it was kind of bleh – she tries to mother Sally’s sullen, violin-plucking best friend and ends up teaching some bums how to make goulash in the big city. It was a very convoluted side plot that was just an all-around bad idea. But I REALLY enjoyed her scenes with Henry and the family, especially the moment when she returns to him and the kids after dyeing her hair dark brown. Still a little chubs around the cheeks, she looks chipmunky and hopeful, craving only Henry’s approval (which is good, because Bobby flatly and hilarious declares “You’re ugly”). Their relationship mirrors that of Betty and Don’s circa Season 1 – but things are different and much more adorable because Henry is actually a good guy. He’s realistic but upstanding, and he doesn’t give a shit if he’s got Fat Betty.

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This moment, like most of Roger’s moments, merited a GIF. Genius writing for The Silver Fox. He lost his mother in this episode, and attempts to sift through the waves of numbness with a therapist. Roger knows this is futile. No one, not even Don, has ever come close to self-diagnosing like this guy does. I felt it RIGHT HERE when, at the end of it, when he thinks he’s out of the woods and has endured a loss without losing face, he bursts into agonized sobs at the news of his shoe-shine’s death. Roger doesn’t feel familial ties, he doesn’t feel loss, he barely feels sex. But he is a creature of habit. He feels time. And when the familiar little touches start to slip away, that’s when he starts to lose it.

He could use a good redhead to brighten things up. Still pulling hard for a Joan ‘n Rog reunion.

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Ah, these two. Don and Megan are as attractive and colorful as ever on the surface, but now he’s cheating on her with Linda Cardellini. Linda Cardellini! Do you EVER get tired of homewrecking, my nineties princess?

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And I honestly like Megan and the role she plays in Don’s narrative, but it’s clear that Weiner doesn’t care about her beyond her function. She struts around smoking weed during their Hawaiian getaway, flashes teeth, is oblivious. She better not be in the dark for long; since we learned that she knows Dick Whitman, I am over rooting for Don to get away with keeping a secret life.

They’re currently hanging with fellow upper-echelon couple Linda and Brian Markinson, who never ceases to pop up in network shows and make me mentally fish for his name. He’s a doctor, and his power to save a human life has touched Don in some strange way. The give and take between the two men is really interesting. I think it’s probably the most profound thing about the premiere and, in time, will say the most about the direction this season is going to take.

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You see, Don used to believe that what he did was important. He used to think that advertising wasn’t about superficiality at all – it was raw and real and ESSENTIAL, and said more about the human mind and society than anything. A great ad got further inside than any surgeon’s scalpel.

But now, there is doubt and anguish. Don’s ageing and starting to look back on his choices. The pain is becoming great. Maybe being an ad man was the worst thing he could have done – maybe it was natural for a shapeshifter and a liar. Rosen represents a paragon of selfless goodness and awesome power to him – all the more because he’s being cuckolded by Don. Watching Rosen snowshoe his way into the night at the end of the episode, plowing into a snowstorm to save a life while Don prepared to meet his wife in the broom closet…it must have felt awful and thrillingly evil.

This is a new Don this season, no doubt. I can see why Weiner said it was a D-centric season. I mean, they always are, but he’s coming to a precipice now. Hard to believe this isn’t going to be the last season. It has death and destruction written all over it. Which is kind of cool, because the cinematography has never been brighter, more modern, or more sumptuously beautiful. The more dazzling the lights and colors, the blacker the souls of the players. You gotta love that about this show. It reaches. It SAYS something. Its beating heart throbs, sometimes erratically, but always louder.

Mad Men: Season 6 is Nigh

Today marks a very special occasion in a young woman’s life. I am that young woman. One month till the penultimate season of Mad Men begins and I couldn’t be happier! I am happy because:
A) Mad Men is just my goddamn fucking life.
B) Matthew Weiner finally realized that all great things must come to an end.
Except he realized it too late, so now it’s more like all pretty good things must come to an end.

I’m not saying Season 5 didn’t have its moments (can I get a holla for that weepy Peggy/Don farewell?) but after the absolute zenith of creative achievement that was Season 4, it would have been nice to make 5 a bit of an elegant cooldown session. As the years advance in Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Prycedom, our heroes and heroines get older and sadder and it’s not giving me the feels so much anymore. Now we’re pretty much just watching Pete Campbell cringe away from the encroaching hellfire that is the boogie-oogie 1970s:

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Only my groovy ‘burns can save me now.

That said, it is always my sincere hope that Weiner will captivate and surprise me. He did that last season, but in the meanest way possible – by killing off my darling Laney-pants. No more suicides please. However, I will take a murder. Wouldn’t put that past Don or Un-Fat-Betty.

Of course, The Master took the time to disseminate 10 “facts” about Season 6, but as usual they don’t really portend much. I don’t mind; I hate when showrunners spoil shit hither and thither. And Man Men isn’t really the kind of show you can spoil anyway (see Weiner’s revelation that every season has “different tones and flavors,” like a Pinkberry of class and gender struggle). I like my quality programs slow, and thorough, and thoughtful. Like the lovemaking of a great samurai. Take notes, Weiner!

Anyway, so, so excited for the premiere, which is going to be two delicious hours. Let me note that I am pulling for an upwardly mobile Peggy storyline and some good Sally Draper bitchery. If you wish to puzzle things out a little bit and prepare for the TV event of the spring, check out the preview. See you in a month, fellas.