Monday, May 7, 2012

Mad Men: The Lady Lazarus

That was an immensely unsatisfying show. It wasn't crap. There were some great moments in this show but it just added up to a huge mess signifying nothing. In that sense winding up with one the Beatles bits of audio gimmickry passing itself off as a song was appropriate.

I think the worst of Mad Men comes when it starts feeling too much like the lives of people in the entertainment industry. This, of course, is one of the prime traits of modernism, where the writing becomes about the artist grasping their moment in history rather than an artist being someone who writes about others. This episode we quite literally had Don trying to find his place in history. (I take it as a promising sign that he cut "Tomorrow Never Knows" off to go to bed.

Someone needs to tell the writers that this is supposed to be about other people's lives and not thinly disguised versions of their own aspirations. And note that Weiner wrote this episode. It's getting to be sadly predictable that when he gets the writing credit the episode will be unsatisfying.

Everywhere I saw false notes. The fact that Peter ends up in bed with Beth so quickly for example. All the plot needed was the recognition that they both wanted one another. It would, in fact, have been more convincing if they'd bonded emotionally and then come this close into exploding into sex. And then she'd pull back.

This has always been a problem with the show. Not that so many people have so much sex but that they have it too easily. Although it's worse when they try and drag it out as they did with Suzanne Farrell. The irony here is that the shows producers don't have the art to pull it off.

By the way, do you think Pete can pull off the same impregnate in one go trick with Beth that he managed with Peggy?

Beth's telling Peter to "Fantasize about it," also rang false. Not that people didn't fantasize about tings but they didn't talk about it that way yet. My Secret Garden wouldn't be published for another six years.

At first it seemed promising that Megan had a secret life especially the way they let us go through half the show without anymore of a hint about what it was than the name "Jack Shapiro". Then it turned out that her dream was to be an actress, gag, and then some dialogue between Don and Megan about her dream that was already a cliché when 42 Street was made. Don't believe me? Then go watch the movie—it parodies this sort of crap.

Aside from that we learned that Peter reads Pynchon in hardcover. I'm thinking this is a hint that Peter has more depth than Ken, who writes mere fantasy fiction. Or maybe that is wishful thinking on my part. The one good thing we've seen so far this year has been Pete acquiring depth and character and doing so convincingly.

The show is at it's best on miniatures, there was too much trying to connect with the big picture of history this episode. The writers all need to get themselves a copy of Joan Didion's The White Album and read it.

Final thought, too much cleverness. Like the way they played what I assume was the Cilla Black version of "September in the Rain" when looking for a song that sounded sort of Beatlesy. If you don't get that reference, look her up.

I know I'm not alone on this: For a lot of us fans the show's glory was it's style and that style was attractive because we were bloody tired of having the same stupid tales of the style-less 1960s shoved down our throats all our lives. That the show had to cover this era was inevitable but it didn't have to give us just  another wow sixties aren't drugs cool, story.


  1. I actually didn't notice that Pete was reading Pynchon. I agree that it's interesting that he does this, but I'm not sure I can agree that this gives him more depth than Ken. I mean, I have very little interest in fantasy or science fiction writing myself, but Ken is actually doing something creative, for himself (he didn't want to tell people about it), and is successful with it, alongside of being successful in his job and apparently in his personal relationships. Even if his hobby is kinda eccentric, I thought the revelation of it added a lot to his character.
    Pete, even if he reads Pynchon, is being his usual creepy self. I was amazed at the part where he invites himself over to Beth's house, and even more at the part where she drew a heart on the car window. For me that was the most unbelievable thing in the whole episode.
    Finally, even if Megan's dreams are cliché, don't people have cliché dreams all the time? I mean, I'm kind of disappointed in this plot turn also; it would be much more interesting to see her succeed at the office, and I can't imagine them incorporating her acting career very well into the plot of the show. But as long as we're imagining that these characters are real people, can you really condemn her for it?

    PS. The Peggy-pregnancy plotline is probably the ultimate vindication of your MacDuffin thesis. The whole plotline seems even more ridiculous, pointless, and frankly unrealistic now than it did then. If you look back from where the plot is now it seems almost unbelievable that that was part of the story.

    1. I mean to come back to Pete and the heart on the window at some point, perhaps this Thursday.

      I wouldn't have noticed the Pynchon except that I get the episodes on iTunes and was able to pause it to figure it out.

      I agree with you about the Peggy plotline. The same is true of the Dick Whitman story and now the Ginsberg line about being born in a concentration camp. Perhaps this is intentional.

      I tend to agree with you about Ken but I keep hoping Pete will acquire depth. Sometimes I will remember something I did in my twenties and will involuntarily shudder, so like to think people can grow up.