Monday, May 13, 2013

Mad Men: Man with a plan

First thought

I kept thinking of the stupidest rock lyric in the history:
I shouted out, "Who Killed the Kennedys?"
When after all it was you and me.
Actually, JFK was killed by a communist and Bobby Kennedy's death was an act of terrorism commited by, who else, a pro-Palestinian sympathizer named Sirhan Sirhan.

But the liberal mythology is that the Kennedys somehow died for America's sins. I mention this so you can see how the show plays into that. You have people living their sinful lives and then, suddenly, Kennedy is dead. You didn't hear a word about Israel and the 1967 war, or the growing terrorism problem. You just see these people in America behaving in dark, dark ways and suddenly the guy's dead and you connect the two things even though they had nothing whatsoever to do with one another.

Second thought

What was Don's plan vis a vis Sylvia? Do you think it was to set her up in that hotel as his sex slave?

The show starts with him overhearing a big fight between Sylvia and Arnie. Dr. Arnie is going to Minnesota, presumably to make a pitch to the Mayo Clinic (which, if successful, will make him a colleague of my uncle who was a senior guy there at the time). Sylvia doesn't want Arnie to go. Why not? She doesn't have a job. Maybe she just loves New York. Not in 1968 she doesn't. On the other hand, she calls Don and tells him she needs him.

You can hate me for this if you want but I know what I'd feel in his place. Dread is what I'd feel. Here he has this perfectly good deal with a wife and a lover who is safely married to someone else and now she is going to be single and wanting who knows what. His first emotion is a need for containment. He he doesn't want her hoping for more from him. He can't dump her because who knows what she will do. She might run to Megan with the whole story. So he puts her in the role of sex slave.

As I say, you can hate me for this if you want, but he has nothing to lose. She'll either say "no" right away, in which case the problem is diffused. Or she'll say "yes" first, in which case he has a sex slave for a while. Special bonus: no matter whether she says "no" immediately or if she takes a while to come to her senses, it will feel like her decision to end the thing and that will sharply reduce the risk of bitter recriminations later.

It's pretty manipulative to be sure but it isn't stupid.

Third thought

The jousting between Don and Ted is different. Each is capable of standing up for himself. Ultimately, someone has to lose and someone else has to win.

From Don's perspective, the big problem is that Peggy is on Ted's side. (and we see this mirrored by Bob Benson who cleverly uses Joan to protect his job.) In that regard, I thought the most significant shot in the show was Don lying on his back in bed with all that chest hair visible. He's an old-fashioned man. Ted and Bob look like the sort of guys who sing effeminate tenor instead of manly baritone and who would consider having their hair waxed off. It's an increasingly feminized world and guys like Don are less at home in it.

In any case, notice how it is Don who tells Ted that he has won these second skirmish when he tells him that he has pulled a coup by being the guy who flew up to see Mohawk in his own plane. Again, he looks weak from the outside but it feels like he has managed to get exactly what he wants.

Final thought

I don't see much future for the Draper marriage. In this show assassinations serve to separate grown ups from children and Megan is definitely one of the children. Again, I know how I'd feel if I'd heard all those brave plans the night before only to walk in and see Megan weeping in front of the TV like that. I wouldn't be seeing a woman who can share my life but a child who needs taking care of.

Okay, I hear you say, can't she be upset at the shock of it? Sure, but the problem is that she already cast herself in the role of spoiled princess last season. Her reaction to Bobby Kennedy's death reinforces that.

I can see Don serving her the divorce papers on the set of her show the way Sinatra did to Mia Farrow.

Other than that, I didn't like the episode much. Doing these commentaries used to be a pleasure but it has felt more and more like a task I dread as this season has gone on. I don't know how much longer I'll keep it up.


  1. This is good. I felt the same thing about the Kennedys, that the writers were trying to draw a parallel between the dark lives these people were leading and their assassinations. Of course one had nothing to do with the other, yet 1968 was a dark and crazy time. Some of us managed to keep our footing amidst all of the rapid social change, but we were constantly forced to deal with a society that seemed lost with nothing to hold on to.
    I also agree with your assessment of Don's reaction to overhearing Arnold and Sylvia's fight--sheer dread, and I think it shows on his face. I think his attempt to make her his sex slave was to try to maintain some control over a situation that had the potential to spiral out of control. If she accepted he would be able to stem the tide for a while, if she rejected it was the answer to his prayers. While he appeared to feel rejected when she said "this is over" his "Please" was half-hearted and its really what he wanted all along.

  2. The Don-Sylvia plot struck me as extremely unpleasant and only vaguely plausible. I mean I guess if Don hears this big argument, then he might be thinking, "oh no, she's gonna want to run away with me or something, I'd better make it extremely clear that I'm the dominant one and I set the course of where this liaison is going..." but more than that, it just seemed, (as you sometimes say), that this was attributable more to the scriptwriters than to the character. They just wanted Don to do something extreme, kind of like that one episode where Don was a masochist for like 5 seconds and then it never was mentioned again.

    1. I suspect you are right. I think (and hope) that whatever the scriptwriters thought they were doing, there is an inescapable logic to Don's narrative that will lead them elsewhere ultimately.

      I think they are in a difficult place because if they listen to the critics, who all want Don to fail, they will lose their audience as the show will be boring if he stops being a hero of sorts.

      Good point about the masochism. I think the reason they did that at the time was that they felt they had to show Don suffering at the loss of his marriage even though it was painfully obvious that he could only be happier without Betty.

      Of course, the logic of the narrative won out in the end and they forgot all about it as it was inevitable that Don's life was full of possibilities and Betty's isn't. A fact that remains true today: Megan is boring and uninteresting and Don is fascinating. The only story anyone wants to watch is one that allows Don to be Don.

  3. Yeah, but he married these women, nobody held a gun to his head. Each in their own way had something he wanted or thought he wanted. Or he just wanted the respectability of marriage, so he used them as props in which case of course the marriages were doomed to failure. The problem with Don--and he seemed to be getting there in his monologue last week or the week before but never really made it--is that Don is all about Don. Its interesting that Anna Draper--his one friend--died alone, or at least not with him. Ted Chough is at his friend's hospital bed. Draper doesn't know how to be about somebody else, and how could he given how he was brought up, neither of his parents were ever about him. He's the anti-hero.

    1. "Yeah, but he married these women, nobody held a gun to his head."

      And they had no moral responsibility at all? If I marry a woman who has something that I want and she reverts to child mode AFTER the weddding, that's my fault? I don't buy that.