Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mad Men: Tale of Two Cities Metacommentary

I have to dash off to the doctor's this morning so I'll just give you a bit to nibble on. This is from Tom and Lorenzo:
We wondered a couple episodes back, when the two characters were reunited, if Peggy was going to have a problem with Joan’s ascent to partner and how she got it. Turns out, she kinda does – and that’s perfectly in character for Peggy and perfectly understandable given her own story. We know Joan and understand her the way the viewers outside a story can understand a character, but to Peggy – and to everyone else in the story  – Joan is someone who slept her way into a partnership, and that’s not something most people – then or now – could call an admirable act. Peggy would naturally have an especially tough time handling it, given her own history with Joan – and all of that came beautifully roaring to the surface in their argument.
These guys are among the better analysts of the show but I think they really miss it here. Peggy's remark that she never slept with Don comes in response to Joan's claim that Peggy let Don carry her to "the deep end of the pool". It's not driven by resentment of how Joan got to be partner but by resentment at all the aspersions others have made about how Peggy got to be a writer. (Added: Joan, of course, understands it as a dig at her because she is just as wrapped up in her defensiveness as Peggy is in hers.)

That's the brilliance of it. Neither woman is taken seriously for her talents. And thus they dig at one another. As I've said before, one of the things the show gets no credit for is how realistic it is about how women really do behave.

Speaking of which, this sentence from T&J is a little bit mealy-mouthed:
Joan is someone who slept her way into a partnership, and that’s not something most people – then or now – could call an admirable act
It's true enough that most people would not call it an admirable act  but that is because it isn't an admirable act. Joan sinned against herself mostly but also against all women in the office when she did what she did and she should be called on it. This is a recurring theme here but one of the things our culture does vis a vis women over and over again is to not hold them responsible in sexual matters. It's high time we did.

Okay, have criticized them for a few paragraphs, T&J also blunder into the truth:
But here, have a theme anyway:
“They don’t know our name because we don’t know our name.”
Jim Cutler’s admonition about the tenuousness of the newly merged agency is as good a choice for a theme as any other in this largely themeless episode.
Actually, it's better than that. Think of the Dickens novel that gives the episode its title here (as I get to below, the writing in this episode and the use of the novel is right out of the Dawson's Creek playbook). Sydney Carton is the not very good man who is a doppelganger for Charles Darnay.  It is precisely because no one knows Carton's name that he can make the great sacrifice at the end of the novel. Not having a clear name gives you a certain freedom. A point that is underlined by Don deciding that "Don" is not his real name at the party in LA.

Ultimately, the solution for the name of the firm is for a whole lot of people to remove their name from the masthead! You surrender your identity for a greater cause. It is a far, far better thing that I do et ecetera.

Now we can go back to Joan and Peggy and understand what really happens. These are both strong women but strong, pre-feminist women. What happens in the hallway is driven not by Peggy's resentment at how Joan rose to partner (no one knows that Joan has real skills better than Peggy) but by Peggy's realization of how much she shares in common with Joan. So she helps her out.

Final thought, the theme and the way it was handled had a very Dawson's Creek feeling about it. In fact, this entire season has been very reminiscent of Dawson's Creek both in the way it is written and in the slightly too cute way it handles serious issues sometimes. I'll probably have more to say about that as we go ahead.

PS: Well, that's a bit more than a bit to nibble on but I don't have the time to edit it down. While I'm at it, if you read the bit about Don above and thought, "but it's not his real name, I say, "Who cares?!!!!"

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