Mad Men’s Love Theme

August 2, 2010

Disclaimer: I have to wait a day before I see the latest episode so I’ve avoided reading any commentary about the show, even Ned’s which, I’m sure, is excellent. The following is my immediate raw reaction from seeing the episode about three minutes ago.

I must admit I didn’t like the season premiere, this one was much better. Now that the viewer is a bit more oriented it’s easier to pay attention to the parts of the show that are most interesting. For me that’s the theme of love this season. Unlike past seasons love and romance play a much bigger role in the show. To be clear, I’m not talking about sex. There was plenty more of that in the previous seasons. Rather, I’m talking about actual physical-emotional connections.

We know things are extremely bleak for Don these days because he’s sleeping with hookers, breaking his no-sex-with-coworkers rule, and failing to capitalize on romantic opportunities that cross his path. What I like most about this theme for Don is that he’s also experiencing a highly consistent truism that when you look for love you can’t find it, and when you don’t, you can. I don’t think I’ve seen anything more timeless than that in the entirety of the show. That implies another truth about love: even the best looking among us aren’t free from the agonies and loneliness of love.

The love theme affects other characters too. We didn’t see too much of Betty and Francis’s relationship —clearly imperfect à la last episode— but we did see a fair amount with Peggy, who is often the show’s greatest enigma (at least I think so). I can understand why she didn’t tell her boyfriend that she’s had sex before, she’s in denial that her affair with Pete and their child ever happened. Completely pretending it’s a fiction means leaving no air for that truth to breathe. But what’s really interesting to me is the fear she showed in this episode about being alone on New Year’s eve. “I don’t want to be alone on New Year’s” she said. That’s a common fear for just about everyone, especially the most lovesick amongst us. And the expected result is she does something she’s not ready for: sleep with her boyfriend.

Over all I found this episode to be a refreshing, if a bit high and mighty, exploration of a few major themes about love. The moral, as Freddy Rumsen eloquently put it, is that “it’s not a joke.”

—Daniel

Even though both season three and the season four premiere ended on surprisingly upbeat notes, this is already starting to look like the darkest season of Mad Men yet. Some fans might be disappointed at the dour turn after the first beaming moments of SCDP’s existence, but I’m not; it feels true to life, and true to the tone of the show. This has always been a show that puts considerable emphasis on internal struggles–as herr doctor puts it in this episode, the conflict between what you want and what’s expected of you–and this year, Don, Peggy, Roger, Joan, Betty and the rest are learning the hard way that those are the struggles you can never run away from. Start a shiny new business and a shiny new marriage, but it won’t make a bit of difference; you’ll still have to live with who you are and what you’re like.

As it turns out, none of the people I mentioned above seem to be particularly happy with what they’re like, and so they try as hard as they can to avoid being alone with that person. Roger finds companionship at the bottom of a bottle, and Peggy finds it in a squeaky little shitbird who thinks sex is owed to him because he gave her cookies, and because of, y’know, Sweden.*

As for Don, well, he splits the difference by getting hammered at every available opportunity and then making flailing passes at every attractive woman in sight. It’s no longer irresistible or charming;  just sad and desperate. As we saw tonight, the specific woman barely matters to him. He just can’t stand the thought of spending yet another night alone.

But there’s not a whole lot you can do to put off the inevitably confrontation with yourself that won’t make things worse. Roger is clearly headed for a crash later in the season, but in the meantime we got to witness the presumably less dramatic consequences of Peggy and Don’s efforts: Peggy finds herself in a profoundly unsatisfying relationship based, at least in part, in lies, and Don ends up treating his secretary’s feelings like a hit-and-run case. Not only does he show his worst side in his treatment of her, but, if the preview for next week’s episode is any indication, there are sure to be repercussions down the road.

Incidentally, the hilariously awkward Christmas party in last night’s episode provided a nice echo to the theme I’ve been discussing. As individual SCDP members struggle to hold their lives together by anesthetizing themselves in dubious ways, SCDP as a whole puts together a big, stagey Sweet Sixteen for the head of their one big client, the thoroughly reprehensible Lee Garner Jr. Eventually the company is going to need to deal with the fact that they can’t survive on Lucky Strike’s patronage alone, but for now they’re throwing away any semblance of dignity just to stay afloat. Normally Roger has the best line of the night, but I have to give it up Lane Pryce, who sums up the situation brilliantly after Lee receives his Christmas gift from SCDP.

Lee Garner Jr: Aw, you guys didn’t have to do that!

Lane Pryce: Yes we did.

*Seriously, how aggravating was that guy? He almost makes Pete look like a grown-up.

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Salon.com’s Heather Havrilesky is my favorite television columnist. Hands down. Here she is picking up on some bits I missed from the season finale. Spoilers ahead! I liked this part of Havrilesky’s piece in particular:

In particular, the difference between Peggy and Joan and what they each want was beautifully expressed in seconds: Roger, Joan and Peggy are hunched over the books at the old offices, exhausted from their scrambling attempts to bring as much with them to the new firm as they can before they’re locked out, when Sterling asks, “Peggy, can you get me some coffee?” Without wavering, Peggy snaps back, “No.”

Read the rest.

—Daniel

Season Finale

November 9, 2009

In consideration of the people who haven’t yet seen this very awesome episode of Mad Men, I’ll warn you that the post below has a bunch of spoilers. Don’t click further if you haven’t seen the episode yet and don’t want to know what happens…

Read the rest of this entry »

That may very well have been my favorite episode of the season. I saw Greg not getting the promotion and saw that somehow, I saw in some way Joan would keep her job, I saw that Lois wouldn’t be able to drive a lawnmower (just not as badly as she did), and saw that things wouldn’t go well with the overlords visiting. What I didn’t see was that Conrad Hilton would actually show up (and kudos to Judy for pointing out that could very well be the Hotel king himself) nor that Lois would mow over Guy’s foot. I also didn’t see that whole exchange between Joan and Peggy coming (Peggy thought that Joan had helped her? And that Joan thought she was somewhat responsible for Peggy’s ascension?) These were all big surprises.

Ok seriously though. An overarching theme of this episode had to do with greed, I think. Things have been disastrous for PPL and Sterling Cooper since they decided to get bigger. We know with SC, at least, that business was much better when the partners were the absolute head honchos. But look what happens when they do get greedy, someone’s foot gets chopped off. Don also knows better than to get greedy and take all of the Hilton Hotel advertising business (or perhaps a job) and instead go piece by piece. Joan and Greg didn’t know better than to assume their professional life was on the rise before it happened and instead became gravely disappointed. Better to remember what you’re good at and stick with it, that was the moral of the episode.

I was also surprised with who was disappointed by what. Joan seemed less than enthused with the prospect of having to continue to work for a living (although maybe she was processing the whole thing) and Don seemed excited (and later on disappointed) by the prospect of being promoted and moving to London. Didn’t see that coming.

The one thing in an otherwise excellent episode that didn’t do it for me is the Sally-Grandpa McCain storyline. I just never really cared, never had an interest, never sympathized.

Back to the Joan and Peggy goodbye. I think they were probably right, they were both responsible somewhat for the course of each others’ lives since they met by showing a possible path in life that either of them didn’t want to take. That’s my take on that. Maybe there were others. I think it’s fascinating whatever the correct interpretation is.

P.S. Ned totally called the outcome on the Pete vs. Kenny competition.

—Daniel

Bad Advice From Joan To Peggy

September 12, 2009

cm-capture-1I haven’t commented on last week’s episode and its successor is almost upon us. I may still get to what I was going to say but given the amount of procrastinating I’ve been doing I have my doubts. So, instead, I’ll just make a small comment on Joan and Peggy.

Nobody should be surprised that Joan gave Peggy advice. We’ve seen before (from the very beginning of the show) that Joan is happy to give Peggy advice. Alas, the advice doesn’t always align with Peggy’s desires, it works with what Joan would want if she were still in or just in Peggy’s situation. This last time with Joan advising Peggy on the roommate situation I suspect will result in something Peggy doesn’t like again (it’s starting to look like it already). Peggy will realize Joan’s advice isn’t  the course she wants to take, it’ll just take a bit longer than usual for Peggy to notice.

—Daniel