Thoughts on Mad Men: Season 7, The Runaways (SPOILERS)

Scott Hoxby (Les), Jon Hamm (Don Draper), Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin) and Lou Avery (Allan Havey) in Episode 5 Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC

IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC

SPOILERS BELOW!

We’re done with the Sharon Tate craziness now, right? Right?

I hope you had fun with your Sharon Tate shenanigans in this episode, Weiner. Right down to having Megan dancing with the Charles Manson lookalike. When Stephanie picked up the steak knife, I thought, “Here it comes.” I was so whipped into a frenzy that I was completely blindsided by the real horror laying in wait for us. Discovering just how deep poor Ginsberg’s mental illness ran was terribly sad, and those scenes were very effective. It was a horrifically successful way to humanize Peggy again, as well. When Peggy says, “It’s just a computer!” she’s saying it to calm Ginsberg down. But it’s an incantation. She knows that Ginsberg’s fear has crossed into irrationality, and, of course, will later discover what’s really going on with him. But she’s afraid of what the computer means for her career. It must have been difficult to keep a healthy perspective when those early computers arrived on the scene. And the size would have made them even more intimidating.

I found it surprising that Harry spilled to Don. Was it all because he didn’t want Don to tell his wife about his date? It just seems like Harry is riding a nice wave of power with Cutler, and the last thing he should want to do is confide anything to Don that could jeopardize that. Of course, Harry is an insufferable braggart, so being in the know must have been impossible for him to resist revealing to Don. So, I probably just answered my own question. It’s not surprising that Harry has overestimated his influence with Cutler as he assures Don that he will do everything he can to save him, but it IS interesting to hear how much he’s been involved in some key conversations. Additionally, I was instantly curious about who was onboard the “Chaough is useless” bandwagon. The entire conversation between Harry and Don was interesting not only because the information was pivotal for Don, but because Don had to do very little (other than keep his poker face) to acquire it.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of.” – Cutler to Lou about Don. Not so fast Cutler. Never underestimate Don’s ability to navigate out of a tight spot and turn a roadblock into an opportunity. Lou is completely outmatched, and you might be, too, if Don can stay out of the bottle, and Megan can stop with the sex games that just might pull Don back into his past. Seeing Don get a couple of opportunities to best Lou this episode were certainly welcome. First, watching Don laugh at Lou’s attempts to compare himself to Bob Dylan, and second at the end by showing up at the Philip Morris meeting and outmaneuvering Cutler and Lou by offering to resign but giving solid reasons for why everyone might want him to stay and work on the campaign.

Thoughts:

  • When Don walks into the Phillip Morris meeting, all I can think is has he ever been up against a more hostile crowd? I thought his reasoning was sound, but I was far more focused on the body language of Cutler and Lou. They looked incredibly weak and defenseless as Don made his play. I wasn’t surprised to see that from Lou, but I was very much surprised to see Cutler look so cowed. I think if we’re keeping score, it’s only fair to say this one went to Don. And I didn’t begrudge him enjoying his moment in the sun when Cutler and Lou came out. He got in his digs and slammed the door in Cutler’s face when Cutler snitted, “You think this is going to save you, don’t you?” And Waylon Jennings plays us out with a little “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” and all is well. Watching the previews for next week which shows Don looking like he’s waking up in someone else’s bed appears to mean that we’ve got another backslide coming.
  • I was worried about what Megan’s threesome might do for Don’s mojo. I was certain that it would throw him right back into flashback mode, and we would see a quick backslide. I suspect that Megan thinks that this is how you make Don happy. He won’t stray if you bring an extra woman into the bedroom with you. But we know more about what makes him tick, and sex is not about closeness for Don. That last look on her face as Don leaves was difficult for me to decipher. I don’t know if it was that she was regretting last night’s activities, or if she is disappointed that he still won’t tell her the details about what is going on at work.
  • I’m bored with Betty and Henry. I think Betty definitely represents a certain woman struggling with the rapid changes of those times. I watch her and the character resonates, but I think everything that needs to be said has been said already with that character. I’d much rather watch the other storylines. I’m so interested to see what’s going to happen with Sally both as she relates to her father and as she navigates her teen years. I’d really like to see much more of the office dynamics. I’m just finding myself more and more irritated whenever Betty and Henry’s storyline eats into the meager minutes of the show that we have remaining.
  • Here’s yet another reason I don’t really understand the animosity we’ve seen thrown Don’s way. Exasperation and annoyance, sure. I understand the anger when he blew Hershey’s, of course. I just don’t understand why, after all this time, it still burns so bright and hot. I would understand a calm, reasoned attack to get him out, not one fraught with all of this emotion. When he’s not drunk, he’s been reliably decent to people. Important caveat: as long as you’re not married to/sleeping with him. When he tells his secretary to change his plans and book him on the later flight as he’ll be working late, she says she’ll cancel her plans. He makes it clear that she’s not to do so.

Thoughts on Mad Men: Season 7, Field Trip (SPOILERS)

Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin), Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse) Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC

IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC

My favorite quote of the episode

“You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man I have ever worked with.” – Cutler. With surprise and, I’m certain, a great deal of respect.

Don’s Return

Aside from the creative team members and, of course, Don, nobody else is overjoyed about the return of Don to SC&P (except maybe Ken) because there’s been no drama since he left. It’s been calm and quiet. None of the creative team members respects his authority. You can hear in the way they say his name that they feel disdain for him. (Ed note. Every time a variation of the “say [pronoun] name” phrase comes up, I think of Walt in Breaking Bad. I miss that show!) But you can see their eyes light up with more enthusiasm than we’ve seen since Don left. And, you notice that most of the creative team, with the obvious exception of Peggy, wants Don’s perspective on current campaigns. They have no time for the niceties. They immediately drag him along behind them as they start rushing around looking for the current work-in-progress. They need him back. Because this is advertising. Calm and quiet is not the way to create winning ad campaigns. Just look at what they have to show for the year at the CLIOs as your guide. It’s the most alive that creative area has felt in a long time. Those few meetings we’ve seen have been deader than Elvis, and I think most of us can agree that “the King” is definitely not alive and well.

But seriously, Lane's old office? Like I haven't seen the credit sequence?
But seriously, Lane’s old office? Like I haven’t seen the credit sequence?
  • The Partners

We know Roger’s motives are purely self-serving. He’s not out to help his buddy. And he’s still not happy with him for screwing everything up. It’s bound to be the largest reason that he allowed Don to sit in the office exposed to scrutiny and ire before coming in. I’d like to believe that he had a dual purpose in letting Don marinate in embarrassment and humiliation all day. Maybe soften him up for the inevitable rules Don would have to consent to if the other partners agreed to let him come back? Does Roger have that type of strategy left in him? I believe he might. This was a critical move for Roger. He desperately needs Don back because he has lost all power at the firm. He’s closer than ever to becoming nothing more than a name on the letterhead at this point. It seems to me that Bert has gained some of Roger’s lost power. I have found it so interesting, though not entirely surprising, to watch Bert throw in with Cutler. I’m not sure that Don’s return as Lou’s whipping boy helps Roger, but I also believe Don spent valuable time strategizing during those excruciating hours, too. I think his quick acquiescence to the terms doesn’t mean he’s entirely on board with them. More on that below. It was interesting to see that only Roger had the ability to put emotions aside and look at the situation logically. He had the weekend to reflect on it of course. But it was interesting that everyone in the room, especially Cutler, reacted emotionally to the possibility of Don’s return, instead of focusing on the impact to the firm if they fired him – financially with the necessity of having to buyout his partnership, as well as facing off against him in the creative arena. What is the most interesting of all is that we, the viewers, know that Don is much improved thanks to their forced hiatus. He’s back on his game. They would have done well to have treated him a touch more kindly. Just a touch. He certainly deserves their distrust. But their letting him back in with the belief that to do so is facing certain doom is currently not the case.

  • Don

Fortunately for them, Don doesn’t fully believe that he will be able to turn things around himself which makes him more humble in that end-of-the-day partner’s meeting and able to, at least on the surface, accept terms that would make an earlier Don give them a sneer and a sermon. He knows that a backslide, while maybe not inevitable, certainly is predictable. Hamm, again with the face. I love his ability to say so much with his expressions. And still no award to show for it. Of course, there are other actors on this show who have been overlooked during awards season, too. Vincent Kartheiser, anyone? But I digress. Don’s face as Bert says that they have decided to allow him to return shows the immense relief he feels at those words. And then Bert says the word “stipulations” and Don’s face shows that he is not entirely surprised, but entirely disappointed. Those stipulations are quite harsh in the manner in which Bert delivers them. I don’t think they are unreasonable in light of what happened in the Hershey meeting, but as a viewer, I find myself reeling a bit along with Don. Actually, I’m not sure Don is reeling at all. Which makes me think, more than anything else so far, that Don may be fully back on his game. Roger’s quick note about Don’s new office location should make viewers reflect on the falling man in the credits, but I refuse to do so. OK, I clearly did. But the fixed balcony door tells me not to attach too much significance to Roger’s line. Is someone going to die this season? Almost certainly. Will it be Don? I no longer think so.

He’s taken such great steps again this episode. The old Don never would have flown out directly to see Megan. To do so on a work day meant that he would have to tell her the truth. He evaded it when she asked if he had been fired, but he knew the truth would come out. And he was pretty direct about it. For Don. The old Don would never have purposely put himself in the position were he would have to tell the truth. This Don actively did so. The old Don wouldn’t have cared enough to have put himself in that position. This Don does. It’s great seeing the character FINALLY show some growth. I’d really like to see Don continue on this trajectory in a believable progression. Best sign that we might be heading that way? The fixed door to the balcony. And there are plenty of significant roadblocks in his way that will be dramatic enough for us viewers without having to go down the tired path of drinking and women again. That office is rife with possibilities with Lou and Peggy alone. And that’s barely scratching the surface. Obviously, those stipulations are going to blow up in some exciting way.

  • Lou

I cast Lou as the villain, and that’s not exactly wrong. But a closer word would just be that he is the antagonist. He’s here to act as the roadblock for Peggy and Don. But we’re starting to see a more fleshed-out character this week. There were signs earlier. I said in the first recap of this season that I thought his bark was worse than his bite, and I think I was right. Lou is mediocrity personified. And Lou knows it. His reaction to Don’s appearance inspired sympathy in me which took me by surprise. And his warning to Cutler to call security “just in case” after the most serene of interactions with Don shows he’s very threatened by Don, and rightly so. I bet Roger’s comment that Lou didn’t submit anything to the CLIOs he couldn’t put his name on was accurate. I initially thought Lou was a jerk because he thought he was above it all. But now I see that Lou is a jerk because he knows he’s outclassed, and he’s pissed and blames everyone. I think this is how Lou has lived the majority of his life. Lou will still be fun to hate, but it was good to get a better insight into his character because now I feel flashes of pity for him from time to time. Very tiny flashes. It’s going to be delicious to watch how the Don and Lou pairing plays out. But to add Peggy as Don’s expected adversary into the mix? I cannot wait to see who lands on top and what happens to Lou in the process.

  • Peggy

“Well I can’t say that we miss you.” Look, I get that Peggy would blame Don initially for Ted’s leaving. Initially. But shouldn’t she have gained perspective by now? I don’t think she should be feeling any love for Don right now. But the hate for him? I don’t understand it. I’m not sure I’m feeling her trajectory at the moment. I am trying to see the justification for her rapid descent into bitterness. I can see her maybe being at this stage in a few years of dealing with Lou coupled with a personal life as unfulfilling and empty as what we’ve been shown. It just seems that they have lost their way with this character which pains me terribly as Peggy has always been my favorite. Having said that (typed that), I have high hopes for a shake up that may push her buttons enough to either have the character earn the bitterness and coldness that she now embraces or have her return to a more well-rounded character with the relatability I’m used to from Peggy.

Betty’s Her Mother

Oh, Betty. I was actually briefly on your side. Very briefly. When Bobby traded your sandwich for the candy and you were annoyed, I thought, “Yeah, that would have annoyed me, too, because I’d be hungry for the rest of the day.” So, I thought a quick little, “Yo, how about we don’t do that again, kay?” was appropriate. And then move right on. But then I listen to his “I didn’t know you were going to eat,” and I see him eat the candy he obviously doesn’t want to eat because you tell him to, and I know there’s a lot more going on here. Then, you sulk about it all day and tell Henry it RUINED YOUR DAY????? WTH, Betty? And then you’re confused about why the kids grow apart from you as they get older and discover how cold you are? Bobby wishes it was yesterday, and he could talk his mother out of going on his field trip.

 

Thoughts on Mad Men: Season 6, Episode Ten

I watched The Killing before I watched Mad Men and it totally threw me off my game. And this episode of Mad Men was packed with things I wanted to address, but I don’t have time to watch the episode again to catch them all.

So here’s what I have for this week:

  • Don tries his hand at what I’m calling a suicide attempt regardless of the fact that he was on a bad trip (no, I’m not trying to make a pun there though I think this LA trip ranked far below his other trips to the west coast) and I’m thinking with the many balcony shots and sirens in Don’s scenes this season, the opening credits shot of the man falling feels awfully close at hand.

http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/mad%20men%20gif

  • I’m trying to be neutral about Ted after his treatment of Peggy last week. At best he was guilty of a miscue there in that last scene and that’s really giving him the benefit of the doubt. I know he’s guilty of some misconduct where Peggy is concerned. But I enjoy every scene that Ted’s in. It could be that Kevin Rahm is really effortless with his portrayal and I’m enjoying that aspect. Or it could be the character’s just likable and believable. I haven’t been able to suss it out yet. I think it’s clear that Ted and Bert are the peacekeepers in this crazy mess of a new agency. I thought the new name was a strange compromise, and I really wish we had been privy to Crazy Cutler and Ted discussing that.
  • As much as Don and Roger have been clinging to the old while trying to remain relevant as times change so rapidly around them, that scene when they arrived in LA was the most obvious visual evidence of how out of touch they still remain in many ways. Just looking at them in their suits standing next to silly Harry Crane who is far more comfortable in the current environment in every way was glaringly obvious. It was odd to think Harry might best these two in the end mainly because I find him to be so ridiculous and though he did anticipate the tv revolution, I’ve always felt that he backed into that. But he should get credit. His ideas are sound. I am becoming more and more annoyed with Roger’s inability to take anything seriously, and I really enjoyed the smackdown that he received via Jack and George at Carnation that directly challenged his New York condescension.
  • Watching how the haves and the have nots react to the political upheaval and upcoming election is interesting. Megan is the outlier because she is a member of the haves but is very affected by the rioting and the war and is frustrated by Don’s ability to distance himself from it. It was interesting to watch Ginsberg’s righteous anger be pierced and then fueled by Crazy Cutler’s technically correct but escalating comment that Ginsberg’s just a hypocritical hippy who cashes the paychecks funded by his enemy.

There’s so much I wanted to discuss about Joan and Peggy’s pursuit of Avon, but that deserves more than a brief mention in this post. “I thought it was a date, but it turned out to be better!” I hope Joan can land that account. That Pete will be the loser if Joan lands this is a nice payoff.

Thoughts on Mad Men: Season 6, Episode Eight

Another episode filled with flashbacks to Don’s childhood. What’s interesting about Don and his obsession with his less than Norman Rockwell childhood is that he’s so ashamed of it and yet it’s something he had no control over. However, he’s not the slightest bit ashamed of his adultery, his failure as a parent, or the way he manipulates and even bullies those around him to get his way (poor Sylvia) all of which he has complete control over.

That opening scene with Kenny and seeing the way everyone treats him when he comes in the office made me sad because Kenny has always been a favorite. Listen fellas, did you really think Chevy was going to be an easy ride? Give Kenny some love before justifiably freaking out over the timetable.

Crazy Cutler and his crazy drug pusher, I mean doctor….. That certainly gave us some much-needed levity. We don’t get much of that on this show, so you enjoy it when you get it. And of course, you always pay a price for levity, so you’re always on edge waiting for a repeat of something like this.

http://www.gifday.com/mad-men-lawnmower/

And when Stan lined up for his William Tell moment, I thought, here we go again. Fortunately it was nothing like the lawnmower scene but instead led to my favorite scene of this episode. I finally got the beginning of what I hope might eventually lead to a Peggy and Stan relationship. That scene was so touching, and the two of them were so sweet and tender. Two adjectives that I wouldn’t associate with either of those characters. After I thought that, I had to laugh because this is ‘Mad Men’ and there are so few characters that I can imagine attributing those adjectives to that I had to go back multiple seasons to find one: Carla.

Fun moments the drugs gave us:

  • Stan and Cutler racing.
  • Stan rapid-firing ideas for Chevy and Ginsberg interrupts him with his and when rejected says, “What, I’ve got nothing interesting to say because I’m not on drugs?” and Stan says, “No, you just flushed a toilet in my head.” Because it is like that when you are on a roll and you are interrupted. You lose your train of thought and you know you’ll never quite get that magic back.
  • Kenny’s amazing tap dance routine. I must have watched that 5 times it was so cool.
http://www.vulture.com/2013/05/mad-men-gif-ken-cosgrove-does-a-jig-dance.html
http://www.vulture.com/2013/05/mad-men-gif-ken-cosgrove-does-a-jig-dance.html
  • Crazy, out of control Don who is so earnest but so intense he’s pitiable. And Peggy watching crazy, out of control Don and trying to determine how best to manage him while suspecting that she’s watching him fall apart before her very eyes. It was funny to watch the creative suck-up say to Don with awe that he is as good as they say as he falls for Don’s inspirational speech of no substance, but it certainly drove the point home that Don was making to Kenny about his presence and the “timbre of [his] voice” being as important as the content which made it all the more important for him to be present for the Chevy pitches.

That cough that has been cropping up over the course of the show appears again and again I wonder if this foreshadows a serious sickness for Don?

Speaking of the price paid for levity, it wasn’t an over-the-top gory lawnmower scene this time. This time we got to watch Sally at home trying desperately to control a very scary situation where she understands how vulnerable she is and how ultimately she really has only herself to depend upon. And she has to be responsible not only for herself but her two brothers as well. No .gif for that. And certainly that is far more frightening than that lawnmower scene was. And after that, I respectfully request that there be no more levity because the bill due this time was a little steep. Those scenes were very tough to watch.

As a final word, I must enthusiastically applaud the last line of the episode. “Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse.” Perfection!