Monday, November 9, 2009

Episode 13: I'll Be There For You.

So no one told you life was gonna be this way, right? Your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's DOA? Oh, and its probably like you're always stuck in second gear, when it hasn't been your day, your week, your month, or even your year? But don't worry - I'll be there for you! When the rain starts to fall! I'll be there for you! Like I've been there before! I'll be there for you! When your wife flies away to Reno with her new prospective husband to get a quickie divorce! When your company gets sold off and you have to start a new one! When you start up your new company in a hotel room! When you move stuff from your old office to your new one in a Velveeta box!

The third season of Man Men is over, meaning from now until next August my Sunday nights have suddenly freed up [who wants to hang out?]. And it ended with an episode that was simultaneously heart wrenching and heart warming - the ever perceptive Sally Draper made me shed a tear, and the ever witty Roger Sterling made me laugh out loud more than once. As we watched one family crumble, we saw another one take shape; the Drapers may be over after Betty and Henry land in Reno, but the Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce crew is just beginning. As the SCDP office tore into Trudy's offer of sandwiches, I couldn't help but smile along with Don - it seriously reminded me of an episode of Friends, the motley crew devouring a pizza while they jabbed away about whatever. [Though the thought of any of these folks dancing in a fountain with multi-colored umbrellas while The Rembrandts play merrily in the background is pretty ludicrous. Well except for Bert Cooper. He'd do it.]

But these people have done a lot of shitty stuff this season, so I think a reminder was necessary that we do love these characters - despite or because of their flaws. Like Don realized, we need them. Because for real, what the fuck am I supposed to do on Sundays now!?

One of the seemingly overarching complaints about this season has been that it focused too much on the domestic lives of the characters, often at the expense of their work lives. But this episode melded the two worlds together perfectly in that they didn't meld at all - instead they worked as mirrors, each shedding light on the other. Duality has long been a function of Mad Men, right down to it being one of the defining characteristics of its leading man. But in this episode it was front and center, and in its midst Don Draper might have finally proven he's a whole man.

Last week I worried for our dear Don, it seemed he might be swallowed up in the wake of the demise of both the president and his marriage. The Don Draper who lurked alone in his office on a national day of mourning was not the same one who told Peggy at the beginning of Season 2 that the best thing she could do was "Move forward." But it took another catastrophe to snap Don to his senses - Sterling-Cooper was being sold [again! As everyone in this episode was so kind to remind us], and he finally saw his opportunity to build something real of his own. Don has been haunted all season by his father's ghost, both for realz during drug trips with hippies in shady hotel rooms and in the form of Conrad Hilton who was so kind to call him "son" before he took away his business. Yet both Connie and Archie The Hallucination taunted Don with the same question: what would he be able to show for his life? Where was the tangible proof he had accomplished something?

For almost three seasons we dreaded that someone would find out about Dick Whitman, because surely that would mean the demise of Don Draper. But finally coming clean to Betty - even if it was forced - seemed to have the opposite effect. It was fitting that we saw Archie Whitman's death this episode because I think we also finally saw the death of that part of Don's past his ghost represented. By putting everything in the open Don himself was at last able to take his own advice and move forward, as his secrets were out and he was miraculously still standing. He was worse for the wear of course seeing as his wife was on a plane to Reno, but "Don Draper" as we know him was still in tact. The name "Don Draper" itself has played such a integral role this season, from the signature on the contract to Betty finding it emblazoned on incriminating documents, so it was notable that it will be part of the new company. Pete Campbell has his name being added to the SCDP roster as a "goal," but the Draper name is already there, it has survived. Archie tried to build a name for himself by striking out against his cooperative, and Connie by creating a hotel empire; but unacknowledged perhaps by even himself Don Draper has already built something of value, he has literally built a name for himself. And now he has the company to prove it.

So in yet another mirrored incident, this time of their meeting in a hospital almost 2 years ago, when Don told Peggy that "With or without you I'm moving on" I believed him. Mainly because it was clear that Don wasn't merely speaking about Peggy, he was moving on with or without Betty, with or without Roger and Bert, with or without the ghost of his father. Move forward, or as Roy Orbinson sang at the episode's end, "the future is better than the past."

Betty too is moving forward, but I'm not quite sure her future will be better than her past. She is after all going to live for six weeks in Reno so she can get a divorce from Don to get married to some dude who introduced himself by creepily putting a hand on her pregnant belly at a Kentucky Derby party. Also, she left two of her kids behind with Carla [Real talk: at this point just let Sally and Bobby live with Carla permanently because she's a better parent than either Don or Betty. She gives them chocolate milk and watches TV with them! <3] Oh, and have Betty and Henry actually seen each other for more than a total of like, 20 minutes?!

I'm all about the fact that Betty seems to have a grown a backbone in the later part of this season - kind of spontaneously, but whatevs - because her overgrown whiny child act was beyond grating. But this move is just stupid. It's so stupid in fact that when Don called her a whore, at first I was like "Word!" and it took me a second to remember that Don is actually a huge man whore himself. Yet there is something about what Betty has done that makes her weirdly unsympathetic; her "affair" with Henry [and I mean "affair" because as Liz Lemon would say, they aren't intercoursing each other] seems to have more to do with spite than anything else. In contrast, Peggy's affair with Duck seems to have brought her some of the empowerment that Betty is striving for, as it awakened Peggy to the fact that "now is her time."

Betty too seems to think its her time, but its ridiculous for her to assume that Henry is so different from Don - after a few clandestine meetings in a Cadillac can she be so sure he's the man to offer her everything Don can't? Betty and Don are both pretty selfish parents, but to see Betty on that plane with Henry and only baby Gene - who lucky him, won't have any memories of the day his daddy left! - it seemed to signal the start of her whole new imaginary perfect family. Alas for Sally and Bobby, it was at their expense - their mommy would be in Reno for Christmas just so she could eventually marry that guy from the governor's office!

Speaking of being from the governor's office, Henry's marked aversion to political scandal in the lawyer's office leads me to believe that there probably will be a political scandal when this all gets out. Henry is clearly only marrying Betty because he knows that's the way to get into her plaid capri pants, and once the scandal hits he'll probably drop her like a pound of bricks and she'll be left with nothing. Oh sweet justice! I can't wait!

Grandpa Gene once told Betty that he didn't trust Don because "he doesn't have any people." But if Henry drops Betty, she'll be the one left without any people - the dispute over their father's will has left her on the outs with her brother, she's well on her way to alienating her children, and she did a pretty swell job of scorning Don. So surprisingly, this episode we found that Don really does have people who he can turn to when things go awry, even if they're not exactly the kind Grandpa Gene was talking about. Roger and Don are saddling up to the bar together again, and its glorious, like all is right in the world again. Peggy and Don are also unlikely BFFs, and their scene together in Peggy's apartment showed their mutual respect [But plz let's never have a Don-Peggy love affair mmmmkay?]. It even warmed my heart to hear Don simply remark "Joan. What a good idea" when our favorite officer manager came back to straighten the lost boys out.

The new Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce fam seemed all warm and gooey this episode, but of course there is still plenty of drama that can get stirred up next season. Don and Roger need to continue to rebuild their friendship, Roger and Joanie are totally going to do it again, Lane is going to have to find a way to convince his wife New York is awesome, the whole Peggy/Pete/Trudy situation is always awkward and seriously, Bert Cooper could kick the bucket at like any second.

As for everyone else? Well, I'm not sure. I hope the writers find a way to keep them around, though honestly if they didn't I'm not sure I would miss Kenny and his haircut or Paul much. I do miss Sal, so I hope he finds a way to reappear, even though American Tobacco is such a large part of SCDP. But Paul seemed pretty miffed that he wasn't asked to join the new company, so I could definitely see him trying to weasel his way into it somehow. Or maybe we'll get to see some of McCan-Ericsson, or however its spelled. Who knows? That's kind of the beauty of this season finale, it opened up a lot of new avenues without doing anything jump the shark crazy, which when your show is headed into its 4th season is just the shot in the arm it needs.

But that's all for, sigh, next August. For now I'll just bask in the glow of the newly formed SCDP before all hell breaks loose. And it will, because no one put the check on that crazy lady Ms. Farrell. It didn't seem like her story was completely wrapped up, so am I the only one hoping she comes back and wrecks some havoc?

But regardless, I raise my old-fashioned to you Mad Men. It's been swell while it lasted, and I can't wait to see you in 1964. And in the meantime, can someone please give my homegirl Sally Draper an Emmy?!

Friday, November 6, 2009

You're welcome ladiez.

So I was supposed to go to the movies tonight, but because my friends and I are terrible planners and time frames mean nothing to us, suffice it to say we are going tomorrow instead. Thus I am just chillaxin' at home on a Friday night surfing the interwebs, and lo and behold I came across this glory, and it had to be shared. Who knew Jon Hamm played in some celebrity softball game during the All-Star Game weekend? I did not, because I know nothing about sports. Like, literally nothing. [During the week my friend asked me if I could match up the correct city with its NFL team, and to everyone's surprise - including my own - I could. My knowledge ends there though, because its not like that powderpuff football I played in high school taught me anything legit.]

And now for your viewing pleasure, a photo essay:

Do you think Don Draper would approve of this white pants/black socks/white shoes situation?

What's this? A smile?! Now I know Don Draper
really wouldn't approve.

Who exactly are these other people?! The chick is clearly from Milwaukee and the dude who looks like T.I.'s evil twin is from St. Louis as well, but that does not help me in deciphering their identities. But it's really creeping me out how much that dude looks like T.I. [Was he in jail yet in July? Otherwise there is like an 60% chance it might actually be him.]

Problem solved - it's Chingy! And when else are you ever going to see Jon Hamm sitting next to Chingy?! Ah, baseball. The great American pastime.

I love ya Jon, but not gonna lie that neck vein is kinda creeping me out.

Ahahahaha, yes, let's waste time trying to imagine what was really going on when this photo was snapped.

STFU Jenna Fischer. It's bad enough that you get to hang with John Krasinski all the time, but now you're moving in on Jon Hamm too? Unacceptable.

"I thought you were just a high school football hero who hated his dad." Bwuhahahaha. It's funny. Because it's true.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Your random MM video of the day.

While looking for an only mildly related video for another purpose, I came across this video of Jack McBrayer on Jimmy Fallon telling the story of taking his sister to meet Jon Hamm. Apparently, when Jon appeared on 30 Rock Jack promised his sister he would find a way for her to meet him, which he eventually set up with a tour of the set of Mad Men. 1] Totally jealous. 2] I wish Jack McBrayer was my brother anyway even if I didn't meet Jon Hamm, because he seems like the purest and sweetest person on this planet and 3] If Jack's sister really did react this way, we could be friends. Because I am 100% sure I would act exactly the same.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Episode 12: O Captain! My Captain!

There is something heart-wrenching about watching someone be the last to find out about a horrific tragedy - not simply because they are behind in the loop, but because they managed to hold on to a shred of innocence everyone else has lost for a few moments longer, so it makes it all the more heartbreaking to witness them lose it. So as the rest of Sterling-Cooper huddled around Harry Crane's TV set, or a radio, or dealt with the phones literally ringing off the hook, Don emerged clueless from Lane Pryce's office only to be forced to ask the question on everyone else's minds: "What the hell is going on?!"

As soon as Don uttered those words my throat tightened and my stomach dropped, because I knew exactly how he felt - we all do really. Even if I wasn't alive in 1963 I was alive during 9/11 - another moment that changed our national consciousness dramatically and irrevocably. The mix of confusion and panic on Don's face instantly reminded me of what it felt like to be a junior in high school in a plaid skirt and knee socks who found out during 2nd period chemistry class that planes had flown into the World Trade Center, and who wanted nothing more than to run home and get a hug from her mom, just to know that some things in the world were still right.

But of course the paradigm had shifted, and they only way to deal with such an event, whether it be 9/11 or Kennedy's assassination, is to deal with the change. September 12, 2001 was different from September 10, just as November 23, 1963 was different from November 21. Betty told Henry the Derby Day party felt like it was a hundred years ago, and in some ways she was correct. The 1960s as we know them - I mean the '60s - were born out of cataclysm, and it will be those who accept that the times are a-changin' who manage to keep their heads above the water. You had better start swimming, or you'll sink like a stone, my favorite gravelly voiced bard once sang, and it's time for the characters of Mad Men to take his advice.

Let us start with Don - whose question was never answered, because no one had an answer - who, like me, in the immediate aftermath of tragedy wanted nothing more than to be certain that the world was still right. But the more he told Betty, the kids, and Betty again that "everything would be all right" it felt less like a comfort and more like a denial. This was the lynch pin moment of his decade and I am afraid that if he doesn't sort out his act it might also be the moment Don Draper gets left behind.

But Don's denial of a change in the national climate mirrored his denial of the change on the home front - Betty told him she didn't love him anymore, and Don didn't know what to do except clench his jaw. "You can't even hear me right now," Betty spat at him, and Don could only agree as he tried to soothe her with more platitudes. Don thought Betty was upset and confused over the death of the president, but she was really upset over the [figurative] death of the husband she thought she had pegged as a "football hero who hated his dad." The episode's final shot of Don alone in his office on a national day of mourning yearning for everything to be like it always is spoke disturbing volumes about the path he might be headed down.

Betty on the other hand, saw that the rift in the national fabric was the perfect opportunity to expose the rift in her own marriage. Just as the facade was blown off the American Camelot, Betty finally saw through her fairy-tale life - she had everything she wanted, but none of it made her happy. Earlier in the season she warned Sally that the first kiss is the best and should be savored, a bit of forewarning perhaps that we might be later witnessing the last kiss between her and Don [let's be real though, probably not]. "You don't kiss boys, boys kiss you" Betty told Sally, and when Don tried to reassuringly kiss her at Margaret's wedding it was clear to Betty that she felt no spark. The romance momentarily rekindled on their trip to Italy turned out to be as fake as Betty's weave [because that beehive was obviously weave], and the brief flash of togetherness after Don finally revealed his darkest secrets evaporated in the front seat of Grandpa Gene's old Cadillac. Unlike Don, Betty understood that the world was shifting and instead of resisting, she rode the tide.

I think we've been waiting all season for Betty to blow up royally at Don, but it played the other way around- instead of me feeling pleased with Betty in a moment of "aha! gotcha!" victory, I am left feeling sorry for Don. For all his dalliances Don has never said he doesn't love Betty, even if it is only in his weird twisted way, and watching him sink into that chair in their bedroom with his head in his hands just made him seem like the sad, pathetic and lonely man he is. The big reveal of his past identity played as a man finally exposing his deepest self, a painful act that seemed to leave Don vulnerable and naked, not as an impetus for Betty to vengefully storm out or start a screaming match, which would have been a temptingly satisfying option. But as the weight of Betty's declaration seemed to sink in the next day as Don watched his family eat breakfast, it was like watching Don be last in the loop for the second time this episode. And it was painful.

As for the rest of Mad Men's characters, they all dealt with the national tragedy in ways that showcased their more personal and particular traits. Always harried and worried about his job, Henry Crane obsessed about the commercials that wouldn't air due to the never ending news coverage. Pete acted like the whiny little bitch he is, turning the assassination of the president into a reason to not attend the wedding of his boss' daughter, instead of the self-centered real reason, that he didn't want to be around people who wouldn't promote him. Trudy wore an awesome blue dress, and was the one who stayed level headed throughout the whole ordeal, as per usual. Jane got shit faced and complained that she couldn't vote for the handsome man for president, because really she's just a girl who needs to learn to control herself and not lock herself in the bathroom when she doesn't get her way [She may also need rehab, you know if they had that in 1963]. Margaret sobbed in her wedding dress that her wedding day was ruined, because what else would a spoiled little girl do? Peggy turned to her work because its what she does best, she's not frivolous like her roommate or emotional like her mother. Joan was calm and wise, and reminded us -and maybe Roger too? - why we love her. Roger tried to joke, but found this was one time a killer zinger wasn't going to make the problem go away. Bobby slayed with his one line about being able to attend Kennedy's funeral, his naivete heartbreaking in the face his father's trite "everything will be all right" sentiments. And Sally made a vast array of amazing facial expressions, culminating in that expectant look she gave her parents at the breakfast table, all of which only prove that girl knows what's up.

Oh, and Carla sat on the couch and lit a cigarette. Which basically made my life.

It was wise that Mad Men used Kennedy's assassination not for shock value, or as a plot device in a Grey's Anatomy "disaster of the week" sort of way, as watching the characters' reactions revealed more about their traits and motivations in a single instant that an entire episode sometimes can. This episode worked so well because it used a national calamity as an over-arching metaphor for the more particular problems of the Sterling-Cooper crew, and even the series itself. The assassination proved to be a turning point for America, just as these last few episodes have proven to be a turning point for the series; in an oversimplified kind of way it was the last remaining vestige of the shiny suburban veneer of the '50s that was ripped away that November day in 1963, and this whole season we have been watching the similar myth of the perfect Draper household crumble around us.

This episode also worked so well because damn, doesn't Jon Hamm look good in a sweater and khakis!?