Tuesday, July 20, 2010

He's only a baby. We don't know who he is yet. And we don't know what he is going to be. And that is a wonderful thing.

Any time you get the notion to commit to a longer-term project, you need to remember that the day will inevitably come when all the joy goes out of it and you just want to quit.

The next five episodes did it for me. They are easily the worst Mad Men episodes ever. Each of the there is a stupid, pointless waste of time.

A man walks into an advertising agency
Well, we can't say they didn't warn us—when the title is a set up for a joke we should be surprised when that is all we get.

The episode makes two important points:
  1. Dramatic new starts amount to nothing which is not terribly important in the long run because just about every other episode tis season makes this point.
  2. Don needs Roger Sterling. He has been trying to dump him since, well since season one but especially since Roger married Jane. but he needs Roger.
This is played out not only in the interactions between the two men but also in the plot of the show. The new org chart proposed for Sterling Cooper by the proposed new manager has no place for Roger. Again, I think this supports a possible fight club interpretation in which Roger is a projection of Don's imagination.

By the way, the $500k Roger makes for Don, that is $3.5 million in today's money.

One of the dramatic new starts that comes to naught this episode is Joan's. They spend almost five minutes on the scene with her and Greg. That is a lifetime in television and they shouldn't have bothered. Joan is the female equivalent of Don and Roger, she belongs in the male world of the office and scenes of her outside just die.

Conrad Hilton is a false start for Don.

The new baby is a false start for Betty and Betty's attempts to make up with Sally are just further occasion for Betty to prove what a lousy mother she is.

And the new management from Britain is a false start for Sterling Cooper.

The only real developments are Lane Pryce and Joan Harris. He came here and he learned to love it. Why does he love it, because he is a stronger better person for the experience? Joan Harris meanwhile is becoming a stronger person more aware of her real strengths. She learns this through adversity.

Did we need a stupid, tasteless scene of a man getting his foot cut off to learn this? No we didn't.

Seven twenty three
Ah yes, the backwards narrative that starts out with a bunch of odd images and then explains them. Well, it certainly makes it self-contained and easier to skip.

"Betty gets involved in local politics," says the teaser. Well, if you consider turning to the nearest available father figure and asking him to solve your problems to be getting involved for you she does. Otherwise, she remains the spoiled petulant little brat she always is. I see one of the video clips for Season 4 features a shot of Betty and Henry having a fight. Could anyone be surprised?

Is it an accident that the dress Betty wears this episode matches the bedspread in Sally's room? It's like a billboard announcing this woman never grew up. Okay, we got that way back in season one can we just think of an excuse to get her the hell out of the show now. Maybe someone could run her over with a lawn mower?

The one thing that I think works rather well this episode is the weird little sequence with the draft dodger. I haven't found anyone else who likes it. It's easy to guess why. We see the entry of an iconic sixties hero, the draft dodger, and he turns out to be a lousy little creep on the run because he is selfish.

Of course, that is the point for Don too. Anytime things get too scary he has a tendency to to lapse back into Dick Whitman and run away. However, and this is really important, notice what actually happens. He sees what running away amounts to in the draft dodger and decides to stay and be Don Draper. Yes, his instinct is to run away but he gets better and better at not actually doing it.

There is also some stuff with Suzanne but I'll leave that til later when it gets really interesting.

BTW: Important factual mistake, fainting couches were never actually for fainting.

We do get a great nostalgia song on the way out in Sixteen tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Might I point out that that one song is better than the entire bob Dylan œuvre put together?

The souvenir
Betty and Don have a Roman holiday and she comes to life  just as any princess would. Does that make a feminist point that intelligent women cooped up in the home with child-raising responsibilities are stunted. Or does it make the already familiar point that the only thing Betty is good for is escapist fantasies? Well, you know what I think.

And Betty tells her daughter that kissing is, "Where you go from being a stranger to really knowing someone." Don't think about that one too long or you'll get really offended.

Pete Campbell is still a rapist but he seems to learn that he can avoid being a rapist by having his wife around. Don't think about that one too long or you'll get really offended.

And then it all ends with Don giving Betty a souvenir. fans of Henry James will recognize the significance of the souvenir:
"Would it be," Charlotte asked, "your idea to offer me something?"
"Well, why not--as a small ricordo."
"But a ricordo of what?"
"Why, of 'this'--as you yourself say. Of this little hunt."
"Oh, I say it--but hasn't my whole point been that I don't ask you to. Therefore," she demanded--but smiling at him now-- "where's the logic?"
"Oh, the logic--!" he laughed.
"But logic's everything. That, at least, is how I feel it. A ricordo from you--from you to me--is a ricordo of nothing. It has no reference."
Wee Small Hours
Lots of fun trivia in this. Don picks up Suzanne jogging in the middle of the night and they listen to part of MLK's I have a dream speech. Then he drives back past her place and slows down briefly while the news announcer says "It's Wednesday September 4," that, of course being the day that the school desegregation crisis in Birmingham exploded leading to all the church bombings.

Okay, so we know there is all sorts of significant things happening in the background but what about the foreground. Anything worth worrying about there?


Sal's secret life—so secret he hasn't quite let himself in on it yet—catches up with him and he gets fired. Think about this one too long and you'll get really offended. I mean it. Not one heterosexual male in four seasons gets as offensive as Lee Garner gets here. Does Matt Weiner think this is what gay men are like?

And then Don moves in on Suzanne. And they have this conversation:
Suzanne: What can I do for you.
Don: I don't know, I wanted to talk.
Suzanne: Right, says the man as he unbuckles his pants.
Don: What do you want me to say. You've been flirting with me for months.
Suzanne: So what?
Don: So I can't stop thinking about you.
Suzanne: Because I'm new and different. Or maybe I'm exactly the same.
Don: Tell me you've run by that stretch of highway in the past two weeks and not thought of me, not looked for me.
Suzanne: But then I have the luxury of the last half mile home where I go through every step of the future until it ends. I know exactly how it ends.
Don: So what
Suzanne: You live two miles from here. Your daughter was my student. I've seen your wife in the market. I don't think you've done this before this way.
She does know exactly how this ends. Only she doesn't because this is the scriptwriters putting their problems in the mouth of a  character. The whole series is in a trap and they need out. Oddly enough, after spending a whole season establishing that fresh new starts aren't, the writers will try and save their own bacon with a fresh new start.The way they get rid of her is so hasty and poorly thought out.

Oh yeah, naming an episode "Wee Small Hours" and then not using the great Sinatra recording as the outro is unforgivable. Let me fix that right now.

The colour blue
Don is taking bigger chances than ever this time. He even has his service forwarding messages to her place. He seems to be really in love with her. So where does it go?

Nowhere at all.

There is a scene in this episode that tells you everything (which is very little) you need to know about it. Don is taking Suzanne's brother to Bedford where she has found a job for him.  The brother convinces Don to let him go because he doesn't want the job. Don let's him out in the middle of the woods twenty miles from the nearest town.

Why there? Why not somewhere the poor guy can get a  room for the night?

Because it was cheaper to film this way. It would be very expensive to set up a town for him to drop the guy off. But a country road in the middle of the night is dirt cheap. Somewhere in the middle of writing this episode, the creative staff at Mad Men stopped caring. They decided to just get this over as fast as they could and take off on a new track.

They didn't even think it through. Look, what would the people in Bedford do when the guy didn't show up? They'd call Suzanne who would cross examine Don leading to a huge fight between them. None of that happens because the writers were trapped and they'd realized it. They needed out and they got out.

So they went back to the most obvious move possible, they have Betty find the key to the drawer and away we go. Except they haven't really thought that one through as we will see next episode. They pull something pretty damn good out in the end but this show is just lazy and hasty.

There are a  couple of nice bits around—Lane Pryce's character and we get to see that Peggy really is a fixer not a creative person, just as Don said she was. She fixes things up after others (mostly Paul Kinsey) mess them up.

Anyway, on to three good episodes starting tomorrow.

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