Monday, August 24, 2009

Let's continue our deconstruction of Mad Men, a/k/a the best show on television. Where episode one provided an emotional bridge back to season two, episode two sets up the coming conflicts in season three. So let's take a look at how the plates are spinning and what might make them crash. IOW, today's lesson is in how to set up the premises for conflicts and how to foreshadow coming events.

Ken Cosgrove v. Pete Campbell

The battle between Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove is already shaping up to be epic. Last week, we might have all thought Ken was a shoo-in. This week, we get mixed messages. First, we see Ken dominate the Patio cola meeting, surrounded by creative staff and taking command in every way. Then we see Pete, joined only by Paul and his Commie Pinko Facial Hair, flub the Madison Square Garden account meeting. Score one for Ken, right?

Not so fast. The head honchos didn't want the Madison Square Garden account, as it turned out, so Pete didn't actually lose anything. And Ken -- boyish, charming, easygoing Ken -- ran roughshod over Peggy during the meeting. Yes, they do tend to treat her badly, but Ken takes on an almost cruel edge when he attacks her objections to their creative choices. I liked Ken a lot less after that scene. He was far too condescending.

Then we have the obvious pairing of Ken and Don. Don echoes Ken's cutting remarks when Peggy presents her objections to him. I think we can read this two ways. Either we can assume that Don and Ken go together, therefore Ken will win the job in the end. (I suspect this is what the writers want us to conclude.) Or we can realize that Don's ego is too big to tolerate a clone, meaning that Ken is being set up for some conflict with Don later in the season.

I am leaning toward the second choice, both for the reasons already mentioned and because I think Pete Campbell is too vicious and ambitious to tolerate Ken getting ahead of him. I predict Pete will crush Ken, but it's going to take him some time to figure out how to do it, and he may have a few stumbles along the way. Don's going to get in on the game at some point when Ken rubs him the wrong way. Ken probably doesn't have the stamina for this kind of war. Should be interesting.

Peggy Gets It On

Okay, let me start by saying that the Anne-Margaret screeching scene was horrible to sit through. And then we had to endure a piece of it a second time, later in the episode when Don watched it. I kept wondering why the director let it drag on so long the first time, and why they repeated our exposure to it later. It seemed like overkill. Really, we get it -- the ad execs for the diet cola want something stupid in their commercials. Peggy sees how stupid it is, but the men are dazzled by what they perceive as sexy. We get it. Move on, already. Please.

But I think there's a larger point. The Anne-Margaret song is not just a prototype for an ad campaign, but a glaring example of how cultural perceptions have shifted since the Mad Men era. This particular type of infantilized female is no longer glorified as it was then. And thank god for that.

I read an article this morning about how the Anne-Margaret bit was used to propel Peggy toward discovering and accepting her own sexuality. There's certainly some truth to that. But what I find interesting is that Peggy, the most modern female in the show, reacts to Anne-Margaret's stupid flutterings just as this modern woman did. Anne-Margaret trivialized herself in that song. Peggy and I both are made somewhat squeamishly offended while watching it.

My response to the Anne-Margaret thing was to grunt and roll my eyes a lot. Peggy's was to get laid. Go, Peggy. Her way is more fun! We saw her experiment with her own sexuality in this episode -- singing in her mirror a la Anne-Margaret, stealing Joan's flirtatious line about the subway, hiding her own success to make the boy in the bar feel stronger. But in the end, she took what she wanted and then walked away. She's still the most modern woman on this show, and her flirtations are play-acting used to achieve her goal.

I expect we'll see a lot more of this type of behavior from Peggy as the season progresses. At the end of the second season, she confessed her pregnancy to Pete. Without that hanging over her head, without guilt dogging her every step, she's free to find a new path. (Anyone else notice the lack of Colin Hanks this season? He acted as Peggy's guilty conscience in season two. She doesn't need him anymore.) Peggy's arc for this season, then, promises to be one of character development, but I'm willing to bet that the stronger she gets, the more she'll take on the guys over things like that Patio cola creative. I can't wait for her to start winning a few.

Roger Is a Naughty Boy

Dude thought he could dump his middle-aged wife and marry a teenager, and everyone would just fall right into line with it. How shocked he must be to discover that women hate this kind of behavior. We haven't seen Jane the Child-Bride yet this season, but how much do you want to bet that when we do, she's no longer the wide-eyed poet version of the Anne-Margaret sexy-infant-woman? I predict she'll be trying to remake herself into a grownup. I predict demure necklines, society lunches, and a character who begins more and more to resemble Roger's first wife. And the more she resembles the first Mrs. Sterling, the less Roger will want her.

The most telling line in the Roger subplot was when his wife and daughter confronted him in his office early one weekday morning. Roger went to pour himself a second cocktail, and his ex-wife scolded him. His reply? "You're not my wife anymore." Watch that line begin to resonate over the course of the season. Without the formidable first wife to check his less noble impulses and nag him into compliance, there's no way the ineffectual second wife can hold the reins. Roger will lose interest in Jane, and then his season-one shenanigans will look like child's play.

We'll see a lot of conflict between Roger's new wife and the other women on the show -- I wonder, in particular, whether last season's battle between Joan and Jane will get a rematch. Even without that, we'll have Jane versus the daughter (great foils for each other, by the way), Jane versus the first wife, Jane versus the wives of business associates. Oh, and can you imagine how awesome a cage match between Jane and Betty would be? This is going to be good.

Don Draper, Family Man (Yeah, Right)

I can't explain why, but I find Don's position the least interesting of all those set up for us last night. So, he arranged to have Betty's senile father move in with them. So, he prevented Betty's nasty brother from glomming onto Daddy's house and all its contents. So what?

There was that beautifully poetic moment when Don was watching the maypole dance, and he played his fingers against the grass. He was watching the barefoot dance teacher, and it was clear that if his wife hadn't been there, he would have been after that teacher like a dog goes after steak. But Betty was beside him, and his only recourse was to stroke the lawn and fantasize.

How should we interpret this? Is Don going to let Betty continue to act as a check on his behavior as he tries to be a family man? He didn't do such a great job of this last week when he fooled around with that stewardess. So maybe not. I don't know, what do you all think?



Leona said...

How do you find time to watch TV and where on the HD dial is this show playing and when?

Sounds complicated and you are definitely interested in it. Makes me want to watch it to get a glimpse of your inner workings.

Dave Shaw said...

It's on AMC. See

Sunday at 10 PM is a very bad time for me, so I don't watch it. I don't watch much prime time TV at all, actually.

Gail Hart said...

This show must be an acquired taste. I watched it for the first time on Sunday, and found the experience a bit like watching paint dry, though perhaps not as exciting.

Edittorrent said...

Gail, this is one show you really need to follow from the beginning. You probably missed all the splendid nuance in that episode because you were viewing it out of context of the rest of the series.

I only watch two shows, Mad Men and The Office. I think I can manage an hour and a half for tv each week, even if my slave-driving overlords protest.


Edittorrent said...

I was interested when Roger's daughter said that she didn't want Jane at her wedding. All of us daughters (and first wives) understood totally, but poor Roger couldn't fathom it (and daughter might have been selfish, but understandably so-- only Roger didn't understand).

He kept dwelling on it the whole episode, and in the elevator asked Peggy-- who is so clueless anyway about emotion because she's repressed so much -- what it would take for her to deny her father a place at her wedding. And she, utterly confused, said her father had died years before, and Roger nodded sagely. Yes, that should be the only thing-- death-- that should bar a father from his little girl's wedding.

I noticed though that he is the one making that choice; rather than leaving Jane at home, he's apparently planning on skipping the wedding.

This seems to me to embody his adolescent attitude-- no one can tell HIM what to do! But also actions should have no consequences. It's really MEAN of his ex-wife to get mad at him for dumping her. Why doesn't she understand, he found the love of his life? She should be happy for him? And his daughter! What is her problem? Jane's her age, and that means they can be like sisters! Both young married women! They have so much in common!

He doesn't deserve them all to be mad at him!


em said...

I tried to watch this once but I think I missed something because I really didn't like it. Maybe I'll have to give it another go.:)

Anonymous said...

Theresa, I think you've done a good job of foretelling this season's plot points. Another one I would like to see is Joan getting some satisfaction ... like she did with the male non-secretary, but I fear she will continue as a tragic figure.

I felt Don's grass stroking thing was creepy, though.

Alicia, isn't Roger maddening? An adolescent, yes indeed!

Edittorrent said...

Alicia, did you notice the date on the wedding invitation? November 1963, just after the JFK assassination. Roger can plan to stay home. The wedding most likely will be canceled -- but that sort of irritates me, because it's just one more example of this spoiled brat man getting away with something. He can take his stand against the wedding and not actually suffer the consequences, because she won't get married then anyway. And by the time she reschedules, he'll be bored with the new wife.

Joan as a tragic figure. You're so right about that, Linda. She's getting what she wants now, and it will be far from a good thing. (But hey, at least she'll get a decent divorce settlement out of the doctor in around 1972. We have that to anticipate.)


Riley Murphy said...

Okay, this is a Holy Crapatoli - notice I capitalized the HC. This series is my all time (well, my only fav) but I'm going to refrain from comments on this because if I got started I'd be at this blogspot all day, every day - which isn't what I'm supposed to be doing. As it is? I spent a great weekend here (last weekend) and learned a whole bunch, but now I'm making up for it. Bad Alicia! :D

About MM can I just say that this new season - and delving into Don's conjured or creatively reworked? past (love it) - I had to laugh. The writers must be getting a freaking kick out of being able to use the old 20/20 hindsight thing - you notice? JFK, indeed...
This was a great episode!
I'm only highlighting a couple of points here - Linda, you saying that Don stroking the grass was a creepy thing?
Didn't you start thinking about when he told Betty in a previous episode - he was laying beside her at the time and trying to get her to relax -he told her to imagine putting her hand under the her seat and feeling the cool sand? That it would help her relax much more deeply? I think this is more of a key to Don's past than his imagination is -- but you never know, right?
What about Don's old, tired and predictable waitress hook-up paired with the new - lively and unexpected (to him) Sal thing? Anyone notice the brilliant metaphor of the fire alarm going off when the physical heat in the room started to escalate? My kind of great. But that’s all you guys are getting from me - nuff said.
Anyone who hasn’t given this show a try - should. Don’t expect to get it right away - but when you do it’s sublime. (I finish with a sigh)
I can’t believe there are so few comments on this –(now I’m shaking my head)

Anonymous said...

Murphy, I had forgotten that "cool sand" thing. Thank you for the reminder. I have to say Don is one of the most frustratingly intriguing characters ever. (Excuse the adjective.)

I think Mad Men is the best written show on television at the moment. All writers should be watching it.

Riley Murphy said...

I agree on all accounts! Still wondering about what happened to a couple of the storylines or characters. Duck? Freddy?
Big shrug there.
Signed: Murphy, who isn't going to get drawn into this discussion.;D