Posts Tagged 'tv'

Mad Men 3.5, “The Fog”

In this episode: Betty gives birth to a baby, but there are nightmarish complications; Don discusses failure and fatherhood with a prison guard; Sally acts up in school; Sally’s teacher calls Don; Duck hatches a scheme to bring Pete and Peggy over to Grey, an S-C rival; Pete’s idea for “integrated” advertising receives mostly negative reviews; Peggy asks for a raise.

Now that’s more like it.  “The Fog” is the most compelling episode we’ve seen this season.  Every once in a while, Mad Men achieves a liquid state of being that transforms the show’s building blocks into something ineffable and fascinating.  Would we tire of the show’s unceasing ambiguity and its on-the-nose dialogue without that dreamlike wonder?  I know I would.  Most of this episode exists in that liquid state, particularly the middle sequence in which we cut between Betty, doped up and hallucinating, and Don, waiting and ruminating.

You don’t need a dream dictionary to decipher Betty’s garden-variety imagination.  In one dream, she takes a caterpillar in her hand and crushes it; in the other, she finds her dad, mopping blood in her kitchen, as her mother tells her to keep her mouth shut, and dabs a bloody handkerchief on Medgar Evers’ head.

Now the crushed caterpillar is probably a premonition that Betty’s going to have trouble loving baby Eugene, but it also reminds me that Betty’s been in a state of chrysalis for two-and-a-half seasons now.  We keep expecting her to blossom into Friedanesque independence, but Betty has instead engaged in abortive strikes at freedom, such as her one-night stand at the end of last season.

The other dream connects women’s lib to the civil rights movement.  Before his death, Gene commented on Sally’s intelligence, indicating she could do “something else” with her life.  Now, after Gene’s death, Sally has been absorbed with the news coverage of the Evers murder.  Betty’s mother and father remind her to keep quiet and know her place, connecting Betty’s desire for something more with the death of Evers.

It’s not the symbolism that impresses–it’s the way these dreams begin to infect the surrounding bits and pieces of the show.  Conspiracy theorists have already launched the idea that Dennis Hobart, the man sitting with Don in the waiting room, is a figment of Don’s imagination.  I don’t think there’s much evidence of this, but I understand why people might feel that way. If it were an ordinary scene, Don’s interactions with Dennis Hobart, prison guard, would grate.  Every line is a cryptic references to Dick Whitman, Don’s promises to be a better husband, and his guilt over mistakes. But when they’re couched in this moment of surreality, where “time has stopped” according to Don’s watch, those ordinary observations suggest something else, that has yet to be said. It’s wonderful to watch Don slip in and out of personas when he speaks with complete strangers–the acting gift that keeps on giving.

Elsewhere, the logic of dreams is pervasive, crashing right up against reality. Duck magically reappears, drinking . . . coffee and wearing a turtleneck, offering jobs to Pete and Peggy at his new company, the more successful Grey’s.* Duck tells them both exactly what they want to hear about themselves–whoever said this guy was bad at advertising. Pete’s too offended, but Peggy gives the thought some serious consideration. Meanwhile, Pete, for the first time in a while, really loses himself in an idea. He pitches “integrated” advertising to Admiral TV, which responds negatively, leading to an S-C management beatdown. But Lane picks up on the worth of Pete’s ideas, and proposes pushing them elsewhere.

* again, the mood of those scenes with Betty has colored these interactions to such a degree that some wonder if Duck really does have a job there.

Some other observations

  • Loved the awkward conversation between Pete and Hollis, the black elevator operator. It echoes back to Don’s conversation with the black waiter in the very first episode of the series, and manages to illustrate the huge gap between Pete and Don, as well as the changing relationships between blacks and whites. Of course, Pete does display his ignorance of what’s going on in the country, but not his ignorance of Hollis, who he does correctly ID as a baseball fan.
  • Lane Pryce is proving to be a pretty enjoyable character. At times he can threaten to be a one-dimensional budget-hawk, but he appreciates Don’s suggestion to get free office supplies from S-C clients, and recognize’s the quality of Pete’s push for profits. He’s also aware that “there’s something going on,” RE: race, which you can’t say about Roger or Bert.
  • Don’s sequence with the prison guard flushes out all the Draper hobbyhorses: new beginnings, parental guilt, imprisonment. “Everybody in pinstripes” indeed. Don is attempting to be more responsible, but that also feels like a trap. In one dream, Betty heads for the hospital exit, only to end up in her own kitchen. And Peggy continues her slow-motion escape to Manhattan, but can’t get a raise or leave the company without hurting Pete. And let’s not forget about Sal, whose escapade with the bellhop in Baltimore keeps threatening to be exposed (this time through Pryce’s examination of hotel room tips).
  • I don’t really care too much whether Don decides to sleep with Sally’s teacher–after all these affairs, I’m a little jaded, I guess. But it does seem like the graceful Suzanne Farrell is a proponent of more sympathetic teaching methods than her predecessors–consider the contrast between her response to Sally’s bullying, and the way that Betty disciplines her own children.

Mad Men 3.1, “Out of Town”

In this episode: Sterling Cooper layoffs continue; Don and Sal fly to Baltimore to comfort London Fog; Don learns Sal’s secret; Dick Whitman gets a birthday present; Ken and Pete earn promotions; Joan schools Moneypenny.

Critical opinion on this show has calcified: it’s an important show about Serious Things. People who try to disagree with this premise wind up looking silly. But Mad Men wouldn’t have just earned its best-ever ratings unless it was a show about characters you like and support. Out of Town was a brisk and lively start to the season, packed with laugh-out-loud moments (although there were some intimations of trouble to come).

Don begins the episode warming milk, not for a child as it turns out, but for the still-pregnant Betty. Right off the bat, we’re reminded that Betty, despite her attempts at personal growth, is still infantilized. Don has a fantasy about the circumstances of his birth which is, stylistically, unlike anything the show has ever done. We witness his birth mother sleeping with a man, giving birth, uttering curses at the man. We see a midwife bringing the baby to the Whitman household. The whole thing is done up as a 50s-style modern play. I love the suggestion that Don’s fantasies play out in the narratives of his time.

Back at the office, Lane Pryce takes charge by completing the latest in a series of firings. An angry Bert Peterson wreaks damage in the secretarial pool, claims “We’re the future,” (but who is that we?), calls his former coworkers “Comrades in mediocrity,” and says he’ll see them in the breadline. He has two replacements as head of accounts: Ken and Pete. Pete’s reactions to this news are the highlight of the episode–he fumbles through his promotional meeting, does an impish dance in the privacy of his office. There’s a great scene in the elevator in which Ken and Pete, each believing himself to be in sole possession of the new title, complement each other.

Meanwhile, Don and Sal fly down to Baltimore to assure London Fog that their account is still in good hands. Don seizes the chance to pounce on a stewardess, while Sal has what may be the first gay sexual encounter of his life. It’s interrupted by a fire alarm, and as Don climbs down the fire escape, he spies Sal with the bellhop. He knows, and Sal knows he knows. In a brilliant double stroke, Don tells Sal to “Limit Your Exposure” as he pitches a new London Fog ad.


  • Bert Cooper has new weird art: Hokusai’s Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife. It’s a nasty little bit of hentai. To take it further, it depicts a woman getting it on with her husband’s, um, rival? Given the amount of infidelity on this show, the painting’s foreshadowing is overdetermined.
  • Peggy appears to be doing quite well. Pete complains that she’s the creative member assigned to nearly all of his accounts, and she’s got a secretary of her own now. She’s even got the Lever Brothers account.
  • Pryce’s anecdote about London Fog captures the insidious duplicity of advertising, just in case anyone hasn’t gotten the point from the first two seasons. Don also calms Betty down by placing her, mentally, in a coconut oil commercial.
  • Pete can’t trust anyone, but I would argue that his paranoia makes him a better employee.
  • John Hooker, Pryce’s “right arm” has been nicknamed Moneypenny. Bond books have been around since ’53; US premiere of Dr. No comes later in ’63.
  • Attitudes toward drinking and smoking appear to be making glacial shifts. The flight attendents aren’t allowed to smoke in uniform. When Don and Sal poke fun at a liquor ad, I get the feeling that they’re not just making fun of its conception, but its attitude toward drink as well.
  • Don is told he looks like Tyrone Power, swashbuckling star of stage and screen (and someone who seemingly had affairs with everyone in Hollywood).
  • Meanwhile, very quietly, Sterling Cooper is making the transition to TV. Harry is practically running the accounts meeting, complains about higher tax brackets, and claims that 40-odd% of the S-C money is spent on television.
  • It can’t be stressed enough: Don gives the London Fog people terrible advice when he tells them to stick to raincoats. On the other hand, his new ad is more risque than the company was willing to go a year ago with Maidenform.
  • ant farms are, of course, gynocracies too.

uSa! uSa! Thursdays, June 11

Really enjoying USA’s thursday lineup, despite its flaws. Burn Notice and Royal Pains both seem to be featherweight shows, but they accumulate goodwill through the likeability of their characters. Every once in a while, that goodwill pays off when more genuine threats emerge.

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TV Tuesdays

In which I discuss “Unleashed”, a fine showcase for Kirk Acevedo’s grimaces but formulaic episode of Fringe

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Parks and Recreation, “Make My Pit a Park”

Maybe the initial reviews lowered my expectations to the point where they could be easily met, but I really enjoyed this pilot episode.

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