Monday, April 30, 2012

Mad Men: At The Codfish Ball

Finally, a good episode. They even managed to make Roger's LSD trip made a certain sense.

Here's the weird thing: This was episode 7 and last year "The Suitcase" was episode 7. Just in case you don't remember, that was the episode from last year that gave us sudden insight into what was going on in everyone's heads and set up the rest of the season to blow us away.

Mind you, last year had been pretty good up until now and this year has been crappy, so I don't want to get my hopes up too high. At the very least though, we can start hoping that the show will stop sucking as badly as it has been this year. Maybe.

First, a little Canadian corner. There was a beautiful moment when Peggy said to Megan, "I don't know what the Canadian equivalent of baseball is," and Megan said, "We have baseball." Canadians love that.

Some might object that Megan's parents are really Parisians disguised as Montrealers but that is what most Montreal intellectuals were like in 1966.

By the way, that scene with Peggy and Megan? Did you catch it? I mean, did you catch the way the show played with our sexual stereotypes? Up until then it had been feeding us feminist propaganda where the men are all competitive and undercutting one another and the women are all supportive of one another. And then, they let the slip show and we saw Peggy's reaction after Megan walked out and we saw that Peggy may have said the supportive stuff but she didn't really feel it.

That kinda makes you wonder how Joan reacted after Peggy was out of sight. She said all these supportive things but you wonder if maybe Joan doesn't get tired of being a mother all the time.

Both sides. This show as really great because it kept showing you both sides.

And it used history brilliantly. For example, when Peggy and Abe break it to Peggy's mother that they are living together. You can feel how Peggy feels about her mother's reaction and how old-fashioned it must all feel to Peggy; you can feel how morally vindicated Peggy must feel. And yet, we know this modern stuff didn't work out so well. We know that all this brave new world stuff didn't turn out quite right.

There were also lots of brilliant little touches. Those brand new pajamas that Don wears because Megan's parents are over. And I loved Peggy's weird but all too typical clothing choice when she goes to see Abe at the dinner where he suggests they move in together. Empire waists look great on straight up and down girls. Peggy looked pregnant in hers. She tried that dress on at the store and she would have seen that. She might not have reasoned it through—but she would have felt it. Meanwhile Abe shows up in the leather jacket signalling bachelorhood only now with steady and easy access to Peggy for sex. We can see the very different expectations that they are bringing to this in those clothing choices.

Whose interest did the sexual revolution serve again? Oh yeah, women threw off the shackles of marriage. Right. Cause that is what women really wanted.

I saw one flaw? Or is it a flaw? Maybe it is inevitable that a show like this would unconsciously project too many modern sensitivities into the past.

Here is the thing. I was on the bus yesterday shamelessly eavesdropping on the young woman behind me talking to her friend. She and her guy are moving in together. And she was telling her friend about it and about telling her mother.But she had this doubt. You see her guy has hooked up with two other girls while in a relationship with the woman I was eavesdropping on. One of them was named Patricia and the young woman clearly very intimidated by Patricia's sexual power. What she wasn't was angry.

Things didn't used to be that way. Yes, most of the stuff that young people think they invented has gone on forever. Did you catch the lovely harmonic dissonance between the Heinz world where everything is the same and, to pick only one, the moment when Peggy's mother asks to Peggy and Abe if they really are so stupid to think they are the first ones to do this.

Well, I don't think the moment when Megan's mother gives Roger the blowjob was credible. It's not that they wouldn't have had sex nor is it that it wouldn't have ended up one sided. No, it was the speed that it went from flirting at the bar to tawdry. That is the sort of thing some young woman today would do. In the past, we paid more attention to convention. Roger would have had to pay much more lip service to convention before she paid lip service to ....

Two final thoughts for now.

Thought one: written by Jonathan Igla and directed by Michael Uppendahl. Igla wrote the brilliant "Tomorrowland" episode. Uppendahl has a mixed record with the show, directing the brilliant "The Beautiful Girls" but also the awful "The Color Blue". The director, however, is at the mercy of the writing so we shouldn't be too hard on him. What he is really good at is creating that eerie unsettling noir feeling without resorting to film noir clichés to achieve it. And last night he excelled. But the thing is, Matt Weiner wasn't a writer on this one and I have to wonder if that didn't help.

Last week, The Last Psychiatrist was picking on Don Draper, as he often does, but he let something slip and that was that he doesn't see any difference between Don Draper and Tony Soprano. Of course, part of that problem is Matt Weiner's doing. He isn't very good at both sides and, at his worst, everyone gets reduced to a variation on a small set of basic human types when Weiner has too much influence on the show.

Yeah, I know, it is his show. But Weiner is a mile wide and a quarter inch deep and he needs to let others have more input so the show can have some depth. 

Thought two: here is Shirley Temple singing At the Codfish Ball.

Wow what innocence. And it's Shirley Temple dancing with Buddy Ebsen. Both those names carry a lot of freight. But watch what happens at 2:38. Really. Just watch. Freeze the frame and look at what you see. Then watch the reactions afterwards.

You'll be disgusted but don't get angry with me. I didn't put that moment into a movie for children. Hollywood did. So here is the question. The most wonderful bit in this wonderful episode was the wind up where everyone who has been feeling so good gets this big reversal and they realize that The Copfish Ball isn't such a good thing all culminating in a nice touch when Sally calls calls the creep at the end and he asks how the city is and she says, "Dirty." Wonderful use of dramatic irony. But is it really the city that is dirty or is it the entertainment industry? Is the dirt here really in the advertising industry or is it in the minds of the people who produce entertainment and projected onto our world?

I mean, how did that moment of pedophilia get into a Shirley temple movie? It wasn't her idea; she couldn't have understood what was happening. But someone understood and put it in there. Why do we let them get away with making us think it's our fault?

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