A Little Song & Dance: MAD MEN Mid-Season Finale

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I apologize to my readers who haven’t had any posts to read over the past few months, but I’m back with a take on last night’s Mad Men mid-season finale.

The episode, entitled “Waterloo” brings us full circle with Peggy’s decision to give up her child in the first season, as she shows remorse when her neighbor/quasi-son Julio hugs her goodbye and she gives a rousing presentation to Burger Chef about families from a mother’s point of view.

Then, Bert’s death makes Don realize two things. First, that he is to Peggy as Bert was to Roger: a mentor. Second, that “the best things in life are free.” Sure the moon landing cost $35 billion (according to the Francis-Draper houseguest that Sally didn’t get with), but the feeling of togetherness that the historic moment brought to the country and its families was priceless. Everyone was watching the moon landing with their families (even Roger and Mona), but Don was alone in his hotel room calling his family from half-way across the country.

Bert’s post-mortem song and dance at the end of the episode reemphasizes how Don is spiraling into insanity and falling further from the facade he has held up all these years as Don Draper. Maybe it’s time for Dick Whitman to come back?

Now, let’s look further at what’s to come from the final episodes next Spring. Don ended things with Megan last night (or the other way around), which I believe will set us up for a tragedy next season. With his new wisdom from the ghost of Bert Cooper, I think that Don will fly to Los Angeles to surprise Megan, only to find her victim to the violently brutal Charles Manson killing spree (the signs have been adding up for multiple seasons at this point). And with Betty fighting with her new husband, maybe Don will go crawling back to his family – it’ll be like Bobby’s summer camp all over again.

Let’s not rule out big changes to the show’s other leading protagonist, Peggy. She’s sacrificed everything a woman should have for the times – a husband, children, a home. The show can go two directions. Either praise her for her independence, or lay on the societal pressures to make her leap from the windows of Sterling Cooper & Partners – a homage to the “Falling Man” from the show’s title sequence.

The first half of the season started slow, but ended with some nice, original Mad Men vibes. Let’s hope Weiner and Co. keep up the good work for the last seven episodes, slated to air Spring 2015.

 

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A New Dawn: MAD MEN Season 6 Finale

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Like so many of our favorite heroes (Superman, Batman, James Bond, etc.), Don Draper has to return to his origins before he can move on. Unfortunately for the slick ad man, his stomping grounds aren’t as breathtaking as Krypton or Skyfall; he’s stuck with the disheveled whorehouse.

This is where we leave Don Draper at the end of the sixth season of AMC’s Mad Men. Although not as fun and exciting as their previous family trip to Disney Land, the Draper clan seem to finally understand their father. As the rebellious Sally muttered phrases like, “I know nothing about you,” and “My father’s never given me anything,” throughout this season, her little moment with Don at the end of this episode washed those sorrows away.

While the season finale didn’t put any closure on my “Don Draper is already dead” theory, we did reach an ultimatum, much like the SC&P partners did, on Don’s downward spiral. The final straw on the camel’s back is the Hershey pitch – in which he relays his childhood attachment to the beloved candy bar. By revealing his dark past, Don becomes a wide-open book. We’ve caught glimpses of Don’s humanity throughout the series – noting the Carousel pitch and his emotional breakdown after the death of his closest friend and confidant, Anna. Heck, he even had a little moment with his secretary, Dawn. Is this the dawn of a new Don?!

I’d be remiss if I ranted about Mr. Draper for the entirety of this post, especially since so much happened around the newly named SC&P office.

A very sexually-confused/frustrated Ted brings his family into the office, which sparks Peggy to become equally as sexually-confused/frustrated.

Luckily for her, she has a skimpy dress with a big, red bow just chilling in her office, along with some “Chanel Number 5,” which Cutler pins right as she walks into his office.

Meanwhile, Pete receives a telegram that his mother has married Dr. Manolo on a cruise, and subsequently jumped ship and is now presumed dead. In one of the best Peter Campbell scenes to date, Pete and Bob stand in an elevator and Bob asks how he’s holding up, to which Pete snaps, “NOT GOOD, BOB!” When the two of them arrive at the Chevy meeting in Detroit, Bob coaxes Pete to test out one of the sports’ cars, followed by jeering from the Chevy executives. Now, I was thinking this was gunna be another “lawn mower” scene, but all Pete did was back it up into a GM display, which embarrassed him enough to drop the account, giving Bob exactly what he wanted all along.

Bob’s good fortune begins to rub off on Peggy. Although she appears heartbroken when Ted decides to leave her to start life anew in California with his family, she ends the episode sitting (quite literally) in Don Draper’s seat – her dream has become a reality.

These two characters reveal powerful underlying social commentary on the times. Bob, a gay man, is now in charge of the biggest accounts in the office, and Peggy, a woman, is the firms sole Creative Director.

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The greatest scene from last night’s episode, however, comes from the Campbell home, shown above. A messy couch divides the living room – to the left is Trudy, to the right is Pete. Trudy’s side is well put together and bright, whereas Pete’s side looks like it had been ransacked and the light from the window doesn’t creep far enough to illuminate his face. Clearly, Trudy has the upper hand – another bit of commentary on the rise of women at the turn of the decade.

Like many recent episodes, the finale ended with Judy Collins’ “Both Sides Now,” a quite literal depiction of how Sally and SC&P are able to see the two sides of the tortured Don Draper.

While season six does not live up to the Mad Men we used to love (seasons 1-4), this season finale will surely bring the show back into Emmy contention – especially Jon Hamm as Don Draper and James Wolk as Bob Benson.

MAD MEN Do Favors for Each Other

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I think it’s fair to say that last night’s Mad Men was a sort of filler/catch-up episode to delve into the personal lives of the characters, since the majority of this season has been spent focusing on the structural changes to the newly named Sterling Cooper & Partners.

Peter’s mom comes into the office with Dr. Manolo, the caretaker that Bob Benson had recommended for Peter. She rambles to Peggy, thinking she is actually speaking to her daughter-in-law, Trudy, which makes Peggy vulnerable when she brings up their child – something both Peter and Peggy have sworn to never speak of again.

Later, Peter and Peggy drunkenly converse over dinner in preparation for their flight, with Ted as their pilot. Something’s kindling there…again.

Meanwhile, Don arrives home to find Megan consoling a teenaged boy, who we discover is Arnold and Sylvia’s son, Mitchell. When Sally and her friend arrive at the apartment later for their Model U.N. trip, they both are keen on the boy, who has sent back his draft card in protest, making him a 1A Lister.

Don does what he can to try and help Mitchell. He eventually makes an agreement with Ted, who has a connection in the Air Force. But it comes with a price. Ted asks Don to “end the war” between them, meaning dropping the Sunkist account to focus on Ocean Spray.

All the while, a newly single Peggy has a mouse in her house. Good plot point, Weiner. She calls to her go-to-man, Stan, but he’s over her, like, three episodes ago. Way to burn your bridges, Peg.

My favorite Mad Men mystery, Bob Benson, added another segment this week when he spoke to Peter about true love. While delivering a moving monologue, he rubs his leg up against Peter’s, which draws back Ginsberg’s question from last episode, in which he asked Bob if he was a “homo.” But he’s with Joan, right? Like, with Joan. Or maybe it’s a cover up. Or maybe, like I’ve written previously, the writers are just screwing with us and there’s no real mystery at all.

At the end of the episode, Sally’s nameless friend tells her that she had slipped a note under Mitchell’s door, causing her to panic. She tricks the doorman into giving her the keys to all the apartments in the building and heads straight for Arnold and Sylvia’s room. Once inside, she looks around and is relieved at the sight of the note. It’s the sight of another thing that will probably force her into therapy, like her mother. Sylvia is screwing Don as a way of saying, “Thank you,” for helping her son. Quite the favor.

With only two more episodes left this season, I am left with so many questions. Is my “Don Draper is already dead” theory right? Who is Bob Benson? Will Cutler and Ted stay onboard with the firm or will they split? And Peter – isn’t he still questioning his role at the firm? And can Peggy be cool again? Please?

MAD MEN Take LA

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Long before the Kardashians began their rightfully earned coups of America’s finest cities, the men of Sterling Cooper Draper Price Cutler Gleason and Chaough (name discussion later) departed from the realm of New York City for the carefree Los Angeles. And while Don, Roger, and Harry (the core SCDP group) head off to the West Coast, the former CGC executives, headed by Cutler, start to make some changes to the newly merged firm. Much like the Kardashians, Roger states, “Our biggest challenge is not getting syphilis!”

Early on, Joan is introduced to and has lunch with a mysterious executive, whom we discover later is high up in the ranks at Avon Cosmetics. Knowing that he is only in town for the next day, Joan, with the help of Peggy, takes it upon herself to secure this account – but Pete Campbell will not allow Joan, an apparent figurehead at the firm, to take on an account. Joan being Joan, however, disobeys orders and “forgets” to invite Peter to her lunch with Avon. After a scuffle and a catfight back in the office, Peggy saves face, both for herself and for Joan, by lying about a phone call from Avon directed to Joan. This shuts up Peter.

Meanwhile in LA, Harry introduces Don and Roger to the West Coast way of life. After a few rounds of drinks and a try at the hookah, Don hallucinates a pregnant Megan, followed by the ghost of a fallen soldier. The soldier tells Don, “Dying doesn’t make you whole – you should see what you look like,” which adds another tally to my “Don Draper is Dead” theory. Soon the partygoers’ attentions turn towards the pool where someone had fallen in, motionless. Flash to Roger resuscitating Don.  Please, somebody, tell me I’m not crazy for saying Don is already dead. Please.

Back in New York, Cutler assigns the mysterious Bob Benson to take the Manischewitz account with the aid of Ginsberg in creative. In a weird turn of events, Ginsberg falls ill, but Benson coaches him through his nerves to deliver the pitch – Manischewitz doesn’t go for.

The company does receive some good news, though. Ted announces that Chevy has released models of their new car and has put their firm into the final pool of applicants for their business. Just to piss us off, Cutler assigns Benson to the case. I wonder if the writers even meant to make Bob a mysterious character, or if all us viewers are simply blowing his lack of backstory out of proportion.

When Don, Roger, and Harry return, the Cutler and Ted make a pitch to call the company Sterling, Cooper, and Partners – thus sacrificing their own names, as well as Don’s. The partners all agree that it’s in the best interest of securing the solidarity and future of the company.

The episode ends with Pete taking a joint out of Stan’s mouth in the creative office and smoking it himself. As the smoke floats around him in slow motion, Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” echoes through the walls of Sterling, Cooper, and Partners. Peter has nothing else to lose, so a little puff in the office couldn’t hurt.

MAD MEN Go Camping

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From a new and improved Betty to a violently deranged Peggy, last night’s Mad Men pushed all of the characters to their breaking points.

Pete’s the first to break, when he realizes that his contributions at SCDPCGC are going unrecognized by the partners. Harry advises him to see a headhunter, so he enlists the help of Duck Phillips to find a new start.

Peggy is torn between her newfound loyalty in Ted and her timeless bond with Don, causing her cower in the face of making a decision for the firm. Meanwhile at home, her relationship with Abe is on the rocks after he is stabbed and a rock is hurled through their bedroom window.

While Megan mopes about her deteriorating work environment, Don once again shuts her out of his life – signified by the drowning sirens over Megan’s complaints. He has something else on his mind – Bobby’s camping trip. On his trek to the wilderness, he bumps into a now-slender and refreshing Betty at a remote gas station, and the two hit it off like they were young again.

After the most uncomfortable singing of Bobby’s new camp song, “Father Abraham,” the adults retire to their lodges, but Betty leaves her door ajar – and the rest kind of explains itself.

While Don and Betty are going at it, Megan’s sex-crazed co-star Arlene goes in for a kiss to ease Megan’s tensions – but she’s not a lesbian, so it ends rather quickly and awkwardly.

Back in the woods, Don and Betty rehash their old feelings about their marriage. All the while, Don gives the best analogy for sex to every be spoken by anyone: “Just because you climb a mountain, doesn’t mean you love it.” Spoken like a true jackass.

Back in the city, a gloomy Roger tries to buy his way into his and Joan’s son’s life, but when he arrives at her apartment, he is greeted by the mysterious Bob Benson.

I’ve read a lot of interesting theories on who Bob is – some saying that he is Don’s lost-long son from his first time with Aimeé in the whorehouse, others stipulating that he is a Russian spy. My personal favorite theory is that he is Mad Men’s “Nicki and Paulo” from Lost, in that he will have an entire episode dedicated to him in the coming season and that he will die an untimely death that will be intended to teach some sort of thematic lesson.

On the other side of town, a fearful Peggy grabs a musket head when she thinks she hears a burglar and lunges at the shadowy figure – but it’s Abe! I was hoping she’d have killed him, but she just impales him to the point where he calls off their relationship.

Now single, Peggy tries to cozy up to Ted, who wants nothing to do with his now somewhat sleazy employee. In one of the greatest Mad Men endings to date, Peggy is shut out of both Ted’s and Don’s doors – trapped in the middle of the office as Lou Johnson’s “Always Something There to Remind Me” mocks her into the credits. Peggy now has nothing and no one – but the scenes from next week’s episode show her becoming friends with Joan – she needs that.

So what will become of Don and Betty’s one-night-stand? What will Bob Benson’s role be in the coming episodes? Will Pete leave the office? Will Bobby completely overshadow Sally in the writers’ eyes? So many questions, four episodes left. Next week’s episode is titled “A Tale of Two Cities.” Lost, anybody?!

MAD MEN On Drugs

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In the latest installment of everyone’s favorite period drama, the crew at SCDP(CGC) calls in a doctor for some much needed psychiatric treatment. Instead of the twenty-first century approach that psychiatrists use today, the doctor simply had the ad men drop their pants and he injected them with a mystery substance. Adrenaline? Liquefied crack? I don’t know what it was, but it promised 72 hours of creative focus, but really just made a crippled Ken Cosgrove tap dance.

Much like Don says he is “feeling a lot of emotions,” the episode is one long emotional roller coaster.

Fred Gleason, the artistic genius of CGC (and Phil of the Future’s dad…), dies after suffering from incurable cancer. Awkwardly, half of the staff mourns and the other staff pretends to have sympathy for a man they never knew. That being said, the former CGC staff head off to his funereal, while the SCDP crew works through the weekend on the Chevy account – with the help of the doctor’s mystery drug.

The staff is full of energy, having races around the office and playing human darts, which leaves Rizzo with a pen pierced into his forearm. Luckily, Peggy is drug-free and cleans out the wound, leading to yet another kiss scene for Elisabeth Moss’s character. After Rizzo opens up about his cousin being killed in action, Peggy realizes he is just using her to cope with his sorrows. However, she gives some keen advice to her co-worker, saying that he needs to express his emotions. “You can’t dampen them with drugs and sex,” she adds – a message Don and Roger have yet to receive.

All the while, a random psychic, who we later discover is Fred Gleason’s daughter, comes back with the CGC staff from the funeral and tells Don that she can’t feel a heart beat on him. Yet another point for my “Don Draper is dead” theory.

Over at the Draper apartment, Megan is in a jam. Don’s kids have arrived and she needs to go to a casting meeting – but Don is all drugged up to realize he needs to come home. Dilemma!

Megan leaves Sally in charge and goes to change the world or something. However, in the middle of the night, a mysterious black woman comes into the apartment, waking Sally. She claims that she is her grandma, Ida, and that she raised Don when he was kid. Soon, Bobby is up too, and the two of them are convinced of her sincerity. Sally even gives her an awkward Voldemort hug! A confused Bobby goes on to ask his sister, “Are we Negros?” which has to be the funniest thing ever said in the history of Mad Men. You go, Bobby. You go.

Over at the office, Don is coughing up a lung as he has flashbacks to his adolescent years at the whorehouse – specifically when he lost his virginity to the prostitute Aimeé – “with two e’s and an accent.”

When Don returns home, he finds police officers, accompanied by Henry and Betty, who tell him that a black woman has robbed his and many other apartments in his complex. He passes out after Betty goes off on him. Smooth move, Don.

In a shocking turn of events slash proof of character development, Don greets Sylvia into the elevator on his way to work the next morning and the two don’t have sex! Progress.

When Ted comes back to the office after the weekend, he finds that half of the work is gibberish and that the drugged up creatives managed to spell Chevy wrong in their slapdash work. Furious, he confronts Don, but all Don has to say is, “Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse,” alluding to Joan’s stint as a prostitute to get the Jaguar account. With Chevy, the whorehouse is more symbolic, thus the flashbacks.

One of the last scenes of the episode struck me as the most tragic. Don calls his daughter Sally to apologize for not being home when the woman robbed his apartment. Sally is embarrassed because the woman was able to answer every question about Don that she could think of. “Then I realized I don’t know anything about you…” she closes. Maybe this will inspire Don to be a better father and a better person? Most likely not, but maybe…just maybe.