Monday, August 16, 2010

Not reality based

The virtues of mad men
The rejected
Note: I know people will be Googling around to find out what the song playing at the party Peggy goes to from last night's show. It's "Signed DC" by Arthur Lee and Love. I don't know what version it is because it isn't the album version. That is entirely appropriate as the album version would not have been released when this episode is supposed to have taken place. Presumably the rebel film-maker is so plugged in he has a tape of a live version.

Okay, I'll blow my own horn. In my comments of the very first episode of this season I identified the following theme of "reality based" version "creative" visions:
What the wonk who used the notorious expression meant was that he believed that reality could be changed. That all the underlying facts could be changed so it didn't matter if reality didn't back up his view. It's an ambitious, even arrogant view.

Leaving aside the political aspects of the argument, what we see here is that Don Draper is not a member of the reality-based community. He wants to change reality.
And here it is this episode. Don Draper responds to Faye Miller's assertion that the research backs the old view that women are really interested in marriage rather than the proposed new theme of self-inulgence with an argument that creative can change the underlying reality.

Which brings us what I think is the big question not only for the show but for our understanding of the 1960s; Who really changed the world?

Reading around the 'net, I can't help but notice that most seem to have taken their parents word for it that it was the counterculture that did it. They further assume that advertising represents the stuffy old past. This is nonsense and I think Matt Weiner knows it.

Don and Peggy
It is a common place observation to say that one of the things the show does best is to show the masked and hidden emotions that underlie our surface presentation of self so I won't repeat what has been said a thousand times already.

What I will say is that the most interesting hidden emotion in the show is the deep love that Don and Peggy have for one another. It's not sexual love but paternal and the paternal instinct runs both ways. We see it this episode when Alison tears up and Peggy runs to comfort her. And she does comfort her right up until the moment when she realizes this is about a relationship of some sort between Don and Alison. And then her loyalty to Don trumps everything.

I know, we might alternatively say (as someone at Slate has) that Peggy is really angered by the assumption that she too had an affair with Don. I don't think so, however, for two reasons: 1) we've already seen evidence that Peggy knows all about the gossip abut she and Don and that she can laugh it off and 2) we immediately get a  very telling scene wherein Peggy peers through the clerestory window between her office and Don's to see if he is okay.

By the way, if I was going to take bets on the answer the show will give to my own question above, I'd say the world wil be changed by Don and Peggy working together.

And we see just how that could work out in this episode. In the opening sequence Don asks Peggy about the proposed approach for Pond's facial cream. We know that one approach is husband hunting but what's that alternative? What is telling is that Don clearly doesn't have a clue until Peggy tells him. But it is Don who makes it happen. Everything that comes back at him should dissuade him from Peggy's idea but he decides to change the reality.

Peggy, meanwhile, isn't so sure. The telling moment in the focus group happens not in the group but behind the glass where Don sees Peggy trying on Faye Miler's wedding ring. He doesn't see all her doubts on learning that Pete and Trudy are going to have a baby* but he doesn't need to because he knows her so well.

By the way, notice how well Peggy has learned Don's lessons. When she meets the woman from Life in the elevator, Peggy knows darn well she is being hit on but she doesn't mind in the least letting the woman thinks she has a chance with her if it will get her an invitation to adventure. She jumps in for the experience just the way we have watched Don do it for three seasons now. The parallels between these two characters are heavy and obvious.

Roger Sterling is the heart and soul of the show
This show just sparkled, easily the best episode of the new season. And the reason is right in the opening credits "Directed by John Slattery". No one gets Mad Men quite the way he does.

People talk about the brilliance of Jon Hamm but he needs John Slattery to make that happen. Right from the beginning it was when these two appeared together that the show was really born.

And that brings me to another thing I think most of the critics writing about the show are missing. They see the 1960s as a new thing. They are looking for a turning point between our world and this world of the past. I think Matt Weiner is more sophisticated than that (actually I know he is a lot more sophisticated than most of his audience and, yes, I am arrogantly excluded myself). The thing about what happened in the 1960s, whatever we make that out to be, it had long roots. And Roger Sterling exemplifies that.

Anyway, Slattery's direction is brilliant.

A couple of sneers
I started blowing my horn and I'll wrap up by snidely sneering at some other commentators.

I'm puzzled that many people discussing the are so hard on Greg. They call him Dr. Rape. Okay, but why does Pete Campbell who raped his neighbours' au pair last season get a pass?

Finally, more sneering at those who thought the future hinged on the Beatles. One of the things the use of the Arthur Lee song last night highlights is that the Beatles were followers as much as anyone else. The whole psychedelic thing was brewing stateside long before Sergeant pepper. The Beatles entire career consisted of rebranding American culture and selling it back to Americans. They were not the revolution. They rode a wave was already there.

Season 4 blogging begins here.
The post on the next episode will be here.

For anyone crazy enough to go even further :

Season three blogging begins here.

Season two, if you are interested, begins here.

Season one begins here.

Please note, I have made some mistakes with the links so you may hit a dead end or two in previous seasons. I'm planning on going back and fixing it if that is any comfort .


  1. I agree with you, last night's episode was the best of Season 4 so far, no doubt due to Slattery's direction. You're right about Don and Peggy, they have the kind of relationship that Pete Campbell wishes he had with Don, and what he keeps striving for. I could see Allison's meltdown coming from the day after her tryst with Don, it was just a matter of time. Her comment to Peggy that "He's a drunk and pretends things didn't happen" and then later to Don "I don't say this easily but you're not a good person" were both very telling. Its interesting that Peggy's encounter with Pete and her reaction to Trudy's pregnancy, and then looking at Pete through the glass doors while she's waiting for the elevator all happen after Allison says that to her. She is not pretending that she didn't have Pete's baby, and that was clearly on both their minds when she wished him well and when they looked at each other through the glass doors. I think hearing Allison's words gave Don pause and reminded me of the flashbacks he had in "The Hobo Code" and the symbols the hobos wrote outside of the houses they had been to. When he gets home that night he tries to write a letter apologizing to Allison indicating that he had some sense of responsibility for what happened, which I don't think we've ever seen before.

    I also agree with your sneers. The women of today just see Greg as Dr. Rape, once a rapist always a rapist. I know why they think that, but the reasons are too complex to go into here and might be the topic for another discussion. I also think that many in the audience believe she "deserves" somebody like Roger Sterling or another successful Mad Man, yet I think Joan is more multi-dimensional than what we see when she's at the office.

    I also agree about the prominence--or lack thereof--of the Beatles back in 1965. I think that the Beatles "sanitized" the so-called oounterculture for middle America and, as I recall, were really popular only with high school girls. I wasn't impressed with them, at that time I--and many others--were into the folk revival, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio, the Weavers, and many others. I also listened a lot to Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Burt Bachrach, and the really good Broadway music of Jerry Herman, Richard Rodgers, and others who were all very popular at the time. The media--and I guess a good PR firm--made the Beatles emblematic of the counterculture, which they really weren't.

  2. I found this blog by accident googling Signed DC and Mad Men. That's my favorite song and when I heard it on the show I couldn't believe it, because it was released in 1966. Love was formed in 64--if this is a life tape from 64 it would indeed be very, very cool.

  3. Hi Anonymous, I found this site by accident too several weeks ago. We have some interesting discussions here.