Monday, October 19, 2009

Episode 10: The Writing's On the Wall.

The faintest ink is better than the best memory.

Paul's Chinese proverb proved to be not just the key to the problem of a new Western Union campaign, but to this episode and essentially, this entire season. Don's observation that "
The truth is people may see things differently but they don't really want to" applies especially well to memory, itself already a rather tenuous record of what was. And this episode was full of people seeing the truth - or the color blue, as it were - differently, whether it be Mother Sterling's observation of the young woman sitting next to her, Paul's perception of why Peggy was successful at her job, Don and Mrs. Farrell's differing visions of their affair, and at long last, Betty's image of her husband's past.

It's hard to deny the truth of the written word, even if it is the faintest ink - the book of John famously opens by telling us that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God" - but the entire premise of Mad Men is that what we see in print is often a lie devised to make us want the life presented to us.
But unlike a memory the written word is solid, concrete and tangible, a disadvantage when it manifests a memory you are trying to hide, as in the case of "Don Draper's" divorce certificate. A memory is mutable and fleeting as the loss of Paul's "big idea" illustrates, something not to be trusted. "I wish I had written it down!" we wail, because we know that if there is any truth in the written word its that the moment something leaves the murky recesses of our brain and shows itself on paper it exists in the real, permanently [Or, at least until the eraser and White-Out show up].

Of course, once an idea flies from our head to the page it becomes something else entirely, a new object with new connotations, and yes, memories attached to it. The writing itself can become sentimental, as Don acknowledged when he proposed that the tag line for Western Union be something like "You can't frame a phone call." [Also: Dudes, The Sound of Music premiered in 1959 so its really a shame that Rolf turned out to be a Nazi because he is the best salesman for telegrams I have ever seen. If I could be assured that a handsome man on a bicycle who was willing to sing and dance would always deliver telegrams to me, Western Union would have my business all the time.] A phone call ceases to exist once we hang up the receiver and resides only in the memory, opening it up to numerous different interpretations and reconstructions.

That isn't to say that text doesn't offer up multiple interpretations - it does, otherwise my English major wouldn't exist - but it does require proof of these interpretations. If I am reading the sentence "Jane pets her dog" I can't possibly insinuate that Jane is actually going for a swim, because that is nowhere in the text. Similarly, once Betty presents Don with actual proof of his stolen identity - "Dick" written on the back of a photo, a deed for a house in California, dog tags with the names Don Draper and Dick Whitman, divorce papers - how can Don explain them away as anything else besides what they actually are? [Though, this is Don Draper, so he'll probably think of something] On the other hand, the mysterious phone call to the Draper House was immediately assumed by Betty to be from Henry, and by Don from Ms. Farrell, because once Sally hung up there was no way to verify who it truly was. At that moment both interpretations of the incident were correct because there was nothing to contradict the assumptions, and the proof, both Henry and Ms. Farell denying their involvement, is dubious particularly on Ms. Farell's part. But unlike the objects in Don's locked shoe box of treasures it was probably for the best that the Drapers couldn't frame this phone call, because I am sure both Betty and Don were happy it allowed for some ambiguity. Because nothing says "love!" like a framed divorce certificate!

This season is rapidly unraveling to its conclusion, and it does indeed all seem to be riding on the burden of proof. Can Peggy prove she deserves her place at the firm, aside from lipstick and Aqua Net accounts? Can Betty prove Don is someone other than who he says he is? Can Don prove he is who says he is? Can Sterling-Cooper prove itself as something other than just that place where someone got their foot run over by a tractor? Can Sal prove it was Lucky Strike Man who wronged him, and not the other way around? Can Ms. Farrell prove that making date-nut bread doesn't make you insane? Can Carla prove she is the most sane and awesome person on this show? Can Pete prove he's not a douchebag?

The last few episodes should be pretty intense, considering the show has all these questions and probably a few more [legitimate] ones to answer. The most pressing is obviously the question of Don Draper's identity now that his Pandora's Box has been opened, and whether his sham will be revealed. Of course two people -Pete and Cooper - already know Don's secret, but they don't really know the extent of the lies. Betty on the other hand, has all the proof - now we just have to wait and see what she does with it. Being Betty, she'll probably sink into indulgent misery for awhile, and then lash out childishly. Or drown herself in the bathtub, because there were a lot of shots of her and the bath this episode and they were starting to remind me of that Grey's Anatomy episode where Meredith Grey's almost drowning in Puget Sound was foreshadowed by her almost drowning in the bathtub.

But the point is, as this season ends, everyone has something to prove. It was appropriate that this episode ended with Don toasting to 40 years of Sterling-Cooper memories, because as Cooper pointed out, dwelling on these past memories is often akin to a funeral. And Don now needs to prove that the memories of his past are indeed just memories, or else we may essentially be watching "Don Draper's" funeral in these upcoming episodes.

Don's written signature on his contract seemed to make us think we were watching the solidification of the Don Draper persona, but now that seems to have been uprooted by the name "Don Draper" appearing on other incriminating items from his past. So the faintest ink may be better than the best memory, except for when that ink preserves a memory you would rather have forgotten.

Sidenote: This is a tangent from the above musings, but we need to discuss Ms. Farrell, because girlfriend is crazy. She reminded me in this episode of Georgina Sparks from Gossip Girl, who is a psycho crazy stalker bitch who makes the wallpaper of her laptop a picture of her and some guy when they have been mildly seeing each other for like, a day. She also sends the object of her affection e-cards circa 1998. And when scorned, she reveals deep dark family secrets about missing love children. Insanity! The 1963 equivalent of this is obviously showing up on the morning train unannounced because your married lover didn't call you back like he had promised. Mad Men has been dropping hints all season that Ms. Farrell might be slightly unhinged, like her barefoot dancing, flower garland, eclipse observing party, long curly hair and even a wardrobe full of earth tones - all of which suggest that her last name is meant to be literal. She is feral; natural, wild and untamed. This is bad news for Don because when she caught up with him on the train there was a glint in her eyes that suggested - to paraphrase the great Beyonce - if a time should come when he was not her everything, he might become her nothing. In other words, check those pots on your stove Drapers, there might be some rabbit stewing there.
These observations on Ms. Farrell made me want to introduce Don to something called the "Hot/Crazy Scale" originated by who else, Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. Barney warns his friend Ted that the new girl he is seeing might be off the Hot/Crazy Scale, because her level of hotness doesn't outweigh her level of crazy, and the two should have a direct relationship. But then I watched the clip on YouTube and made the greatest IMDB discovery in the history of ever - the crazy girl in question is played by Abigail Spencer...who also plays Ms. Farell! I think this effectively rests my case, and how did the world exist before IMDB!?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

RIP Kater Gordon.

Well not necessarily RIP because she's not you know dead, but Matt Weiner did fire her. The Mad Men camp released a statement about why he fired her, and of course its the typical useless platitudes:

"We think [Kater's] done a great job, particularly for someone whose career has progressed so quickly. Now, however, Matt has reluctantly decided that their relationship has reached its full potential. She'll be missed, but the series has consistently benefited from the influx of new writer talent, and there's absolutely no doubt that Kater will continue to have unprecedented success in her career as she spreads her wings. She leaves Mad Men with our love and respect and a well-deserved Emmy."

Lies! Well, maybe not complete lies but whenever you use phrases like "their relationship has reached its full potential" you know that's some bullshit and I want to know the true scandalous reason for firing a writer who just won your show an Emmy three weeks ago.
Rumors are floating around the internet and they range from Weiner pulling a Letterman as it were [when is someone going to blackmail Don Draper like that?! That's a good storyline! And I don't mean when Pete tried to do it, because whenever Pete does anything its half-assed and lame] to Weiner not being able to handle sharing an Emmy with someone else. Of course Weiner is an egotistical perfectionist, otherwise Mad Men wouldn't be nearly as meticulous and methodical as it is, so maybe that last one is true. But considering Gordon took the Peggy Olsen career path, starting out as a writer's assistant and quickly moving to staff writer, maybe Weiner just realized that "there's not one thing you've done here I couldn't live without." Via IMDB it looks like the only episode she wrote entirely by herself was "The Fog," and in context of the rest of Mad Men's episodes, I thought that one kind of sucked. So maybe the reason she was fired wasn't so scandalous after all.
People are also worried this will affect the quality of the show, but I honestly don't think it will matter. Mad Men seems to have a big enough stable of writers that she won't be missed, and let's be real, we all know Matt Weiner is the who has the final say at the end of the day.
But ahahahahha also according to IMDB, Gordon was a co-writer on the episode that's about the air in an hour. That's pretty funny.
So is the fact that her name is "Kater."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Episode 8: Ciao Bella.

This was, above all else, an episode of duality and contrasts. Of the life that could have been and the one that is. Of life inside the Sterling-Cooper offices and life outside its confines. Of innocent first kisses and calculated extra-marital affairs. Of life in the city and life vacationing at the shore. And most importantly, of shirtless Pete Campbell and shirtless Don Draper.

Asking if you prefer shirtless Don or shirtless Pete is like asking if you would rather have chocolate ice cream or uncooked spaghetti for dessert - there might be some freaks who prefer the latter, but then, that's why they're freaks. With Trudy on vacation with her folks [and by "on vacation" I mean taking time off to also film scenes for Community on NBC], Pete was left to his own devices, which included eating cereal while watching cartoons, passing out in a drunken stupor on the couch in the middle of the day, and struggling to yes, take off his shirt. For all his braggadocio Pete really can't take care of himself; he says he feels pity for his single secretary but he would probably be screwed in the office without her, and without Trudy he's more bored than anything else and reverts to acting like a 12 year old boy. A few weeks ago Doctor McNoBrainsInFingers came home drunk and Joan was kind enough to say she would help him get undressed, so clearly men in 1963 don't know how to unbutton their own shirts. I almost felt sorry for Pete, it was so sad to see him struggle with something so elementary like taking off a shirt, not necessarily because he was drunk and uncoordinated but because at heart he's actually a pathetic little child. But then I remembered he's also a smarmy little jerkface I want to sucker punch through my TV screen, and well, we'll get to that.

Shirtless Don on the other hand was glorious, but its not like we haven't been privy to that action before [I do vote for an increase in Don Draper in white form fitting t-shirts however. Thanks in advance Matt Weiner!]. But we haven't seen Don shirtless in a foreign country so clearly that makes it more exciting, or getting shirtless so much in one episode with - gasp! - his wife. While the Great Pete In Shirt Incident of 1963 only revealed his childlike tendencies, a half naked Don manned up, as it were, to task of keeping up with his hot and bothered wife. Ironically of course, Don might feel slightly emasculated if he knew Betty's friskiness could have something to do with the fact that she was getting kissed in parking lots by dashing political assistants.

Which leads us to those calculated extra-marital affairs! Henry swooped in like the chivalrous guy he is and saved the ladies of the Junior League during their meeting with the city council, and proceeded to celebrate by kissing Betty in the parking lot in her dead father's car...which probably leads to a ton of Daddy Issues that I really don't want to think about. Betty came home afterward and did a little dance in her kitchen not unlike this one, and then woke up Don in the middle of the night to tell him she was going to accompany him on his visit to Rome with Connie Hilton. Betty had a taste of the life she missed out on that night - she was desired, both romantically and professionally in some sense, and she wanted to regain that by visiting her glory days in Italy. Also, when you make out with another dude getting your husband out of the country ASAP to distract him with your sultry new black eyeliner and beehive probably isn't a bad move.

While Betty and Don were frolicking across the Atlantic, Pete was back home getting his exotic kicks another way, befriending a hapless German nanny who also lives in his building. Befriends is of course the wrong word, because it was really a Hey-Let-Me-Use-My-Pull-To-Get-You-A-New-Dress-And-Then-You'll-Owe-Me-Sex type of situation [and god, don't you just hate those situations?!], but German Nanny pulled a fast one and told Pete she had a boyfriend. Rejected! But Pete wasn't going to let that stop him, and after a few drinks he showed up at her door asking to be let in - a moment too disconcertingly familiar to a certain moment in the pilot. German Nanny, there is someone out there named Peggy Olsen. You two could be friends, you'd have a lot to talk about.

But while Pete and Betty were using sex as leverage, little Sally Draper was just learning that sometimes you kiss a boy in the bathtub and then later you get teased about it. Just wait for college Sally! Carla returned thank god, to actually raise these fucking Draper kids since no one else does it, and caught Sally wailing on her brother because he spied her planting a wet one on neighbor Ernie's cheek. When Betty returned home she schooled Sally, not necessarily on the fact that she beat up her brother, but told her she needed to learn that "You don't kiss boys, boys kiss you." Oh indeed they do, especially after they hook you up with a new dress or help you stop new water tanks from being built and then expect something in return. And considering Sally decided to ask Ernie if he thought she was pretty after watching her mother get dolled up for her City Hall rendezvous, its safe to say Sally is catching on that making yourself into an object of lust might just get you what you want. Sigh, and you thought she was going to be a "little lesbian" Betty and Don! Haterz.

Sally play-acting the married life her parents lead with Ernie was especially sad because we learned this episode that her parents are still play-acting, and even sadder that seems to be the only time they're actually happy. A trip to Italy reminded Betty of the life she abandoned, a life where she was in control, self-actualized, and comfortable even in a foreign tongue. It was cute at first seeing Don try to "pick up" his newly reinvigorated wife, until it became clear that this was the game he always runs - if it wasn't Betty, there would be a good looking stewardess he'd be using the same lines on. Betty was playing dress up and Don was playing the charming cad, but the supreme irony of it all was that for once they were actually playing themselves. Betty was playing the girl she always [and to some extent, I think still] imagines herself to be, and Don was playing the man who fancies himself reinvented through his choice of one night stand, but this time he became what he truly is - Betty's husband. In last week's episode Don feared a formal acknowledgment of "Don Draper" would mean he wouldn't be able to shake the persona, and this week the man of the shifting identities shifted into the one he held all along.

It is indeed a strange shift because Betty and Don seem to be flipping roles - Karen Valby of wondered if this episode would seem to suggest that this time it might be Betty who leaves Don, instead of the other way around. I think that might have some weight, as Betty clearly hates everything about her simple provincial suburban existence, and the taste of what might have been did nothing to quell her feelings. Strangely Don this episode seemed content that a golden charm would be a good enough token of the Life That Could Have Been, a brief reminder and not the thing itself. But Betty wants the real thing, and I'm starting to think she'll go to lengths this season to get it we haven't seen before.

All in all, this episode was unsettling because it showed that behind their cigarettes, drinks and swagger our favorite Man [Wo]Men are just sad, and a little pathetic. And I didn't even talk about our dear Joanie who is now waiting on Pete in dress shops! Get it together girl! But while Don Draper is good at selling you the life you want to lead, there was never any guarantee he'd get to lead that life himself.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Two Emmys for Best Drama? Who cares!

You know you've really made when you're on Sesame Street. Sesame Street used Mad Men to illustrate emotions [because hey, its right there in the title!], not to teach kids how to drink and smoke, sadly. Don Draper would not approve obviously, since it's a necessity for Sally to bring him an old-fashioned when he is too tired to make one for himself.

John Hamm's Muppet is a pretty good rendering, so its a shame his Dr. Drew wasn't in that 30 Rock segment where it was revealed that Kenneth sees the world like its Sesame Street. Especially because we all know Kenneth the Page's real name is Dick Whitman too!