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 Twelve

So, I’m watching the scene with my precious Kenny and my mouth drops. I was actually hoping for a dream sequence to close that scene though I abhor those machinations generally. I’ll take it if it means that Kenny’s spared that injury and indignity. Anyway, Kenny’s line, “Chevy’s killing me,” doesn’t feel quite that hyperbolic after that scene. Poor Ken. Pete is perfect for that account and will finally get a chance to use that .22 of his. Speaking of which, am I wrong or do we have two plot devices in this season? It looks like Pete’s .22 is back for another cameo, and Bob is feeling a little less like a character and a little more like a plot device. Both are loaded and ready to go off, and both are potentially pointed at Pete. I can’t wait to see which one actually fires.

I’m rooting for Ted and Peggy less and less as the pairing becomes more and more inevitable. I always wanted Stan to be the one to win her heart anyway. Hey, Peggy, he’s actually available! Though their mutual admiration (Ted’s and Peggy’s) is charming to me because there is something pure at its core, I’d loathe being a colleague of theirs. Don and Megan catching Ted and Peggy at the movie launches Don’s petty side and subsequent setup of Ted. His self-righteous reaction to the Ted and Peggy relationship is the definition of hypocrisy because while Ted and Peggy crossed the decency line with the kiss, they haven’t remotely approached a transgression that could be categorized in the same ballpark as Don’s many crimes. He’s made so many nasty plays and betrayed so many people that he has purported to care about that I keep thinking that he’s out of moves that can disgust me further, but he surprised me this week. Watching Don remove the Clio (if they do get this ad made and it wins an award) from Peggy’s hands by saying it was Gleason’s last idea is bound to mean that he’s lost her forever. I just can’t see her forgiving him for that. And I certainly won’t. I gasped when he did that. As uncomfortable as I was with the pregnant silence that descended when he pushed Ted in front of the firing squad, I literally gasped when he said that the ad concept was Gleason’s last idea.

I think this line: “We’ve all been there – I mean, not with Peggy,” that Don delivers to Ted after he’s effectively thrown a wet blanket over their blossoming love affair is pretty telling. I think that the jealousy Don is feeling when he sees the closeness between Peggy and Ted is more complex upon second viewing than I thought initially as the episode played out. As Peggy’s come into her own, I’ve watched as Don has developed an attraction to Peggy that would never be acted upon but was no less real. I think he respects and admires Peggy (as much as he is capable) and that translated into an attraction to her. I never thought their relationship was strictly mentor/mentee; I always thought there was something more. But I thought that door closed when Peggy left. I think that line shows that Don hasn’t fully gotten Peggy out of his system though she is so far removed from his type of woman which explains his sneer as he delivers the second half of the line. And that just makes him all the more disgusted with the current state of affairs. Yep, pun intended.

As far as the other gun (named Sally) that was loaded in the last episode and pointed squarely at Don, my mother hit the nail on the head in my opinion. Sally will most likely use this secret she knows as leverage to get everything she wants from her father. I think that might explain that smile on her face when she was watching the smackdown Glen delivered to Rollo. She’s enjoying this experiment that she conducted with Glen, and he reacted perfectly according to her script. She’s ready to begin manipulating her father. Is this how she feels Betty operates as well? I don’t know if the discovery of her father’s adultery was the catalyst or the entire driving event.

I have to give some kudos to ol’ Roge for his continuous bon mots referencing Kenny’s eye patch in that scene where Pete’s given the Chevy account officially. That was an enjoyable scene.

What did you guys think? This is quite a setup for the final episode, isn’t it?


Thoughts on Mad Men: Season 6, Episode Eleven

Well, that episode was kind of a big deal.

And the walls come crashing down!! I wish it hadn’t fallen to Sally to bring Don’s recently-constructed glass house to the ground. She’s been let down so many times by the adults in her life, and I had hoped that her glimpse into Roger and her step-grandmother’s sexual side might be her last inappropriate brush with the secret lives of grown-ups. I can’t imagine her healing from this enormous betrayal by her father who was already way behind on the scorecard. The one thing he had to offer was that he “supports her dreams” but that won’t be enough to soothe the pain of this horrifying discovery. And Don’s pathetic explanation that he was “comforting Sylvia” is never going to fly with Sally. Sally sees the distinction between husband “comforting” his wife and neighbor from upstairs “comforting” other man’s wife.

Watching Don and Sylvia’s conversation, it’s again clear that this relationship was one of Don’s most meaningful. He’s always been more invested in his flings and his friendships than his socially-recognized romantic relationships. Of course Don’s ability to care for anyone only goes so deep. While he has deep feelings for Sylvia, he doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of her gratitude and talks her into bed again.

That Don had to endure the gratitude from Arnold and Mitchell followed by Megan’s adoration and kiss in front of Sally was perfect and I hope he’s developing a really nice ulcer. He’s got enough of a moral compass left that he felt a healthy kick to the gut when he had to suffer through that charade with the added punch of “Sylvia sends her gratitude. She’s overwhelmed.” He deserves far, far worse than that of course for what he’s put all the women in his life through.

Poor Peggy had to endure a few bombs from Pete’s mom, although that first one was a surprising direct hit. I’m always surprised when there’s a mention of Peggy and Pete’s child, but now the child has been alluded to twice in the past few episodes which makes me wonder what’s coming in the final episodes of the season. I enjoyed the easy banter between Peggy, Pete and Ted, and it’s clear that Ted is still trying to battle his feelings for Peggy. I hope I can still root for Ted when all is resolved one way or the other. Peggy and Pete have a nice familiarity with each other that I hope desperately doesn’t end up with Peggy settling for Pete. It would be terrific for Pete to be hitched with Peggy. She’s such a shining star in so many ways, but he’d be terrible for her. That Pete was so repulsed by Bob’s advance was disappointing since I thought Pete was more open-minded and progressive. Hey Pete, a no thanks would have been all that was needed here. With his racist response to the prostitute that his father-in-law was with and his response to Bob’s advance, it’s clear that Pete’s progressive stance has been more about appearances than about seeking to change the status quo. Which is good in one way. It means that my intense dislike of Pete has been justified all along. I would find myself on the Pete Campbell love train from time to time when it seemed that he had more progressive leanings. Now I know it was all about trying to be correctly positioned to take advantage of changes in the business climate and didn’t reflect his own personal views.

I wish Peggy didn’t have to be on rat patrol because Abe talked her into buying a fixer-upper, but I thought her late night phone call to Stan was a nice payoff. I still think those two have such great chemistry: the actors and the characters. I’m rooting for that relationship to gain more focus over the next episodes because I really enjoy watching them.

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.

  • 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 Seven

Don’s scorecard:

  • Don and Ted – Team Ted for the win! I have liked the idea of Ted even before getting the chance to meet his fully fleshed-out character. Because he had all the pizazz of Don: ideas, charm and tons of swagger. And there was the hope that he could be the counterpoint to Don who wasn’t decaying with increasing speed from within. I think we need a character like Ted to gain focus at this point. Don is heading for an epic crash. It’s the arc that is logical for his character, and anything else wouldn’t feel genuine to me. But if Don’s storyline goes the way it should, I think we need someone that we can champion just to help us deal with the rest of Don’s descent. So, it’s great to see that Ted is proving to be interesting in many ways. He’s an overall good guy in a realistic way. When he gave his seat up to his secretary in the partner’s meeting after Pete came in full of his usual piss and vinegar, it was more about highlighting Pete’s obnoxious behavior than it was gallantry. When he engages the creative team in a rap session on margarine, he knows it’s winning them over by making them feel involved and respected, but he does it because he knows that something good might come from it. You never know where the kernel of a great idea might come from. Ted is just so much more savvy when it comes to people skills. I know, major obvious point on that one. But it is why he will be more successful than Don in the long run. Well, that and the fact that Don is working on turning himself into the most pathetic excuse of a human ever. But Don hasn’t completely devolved yet. And he knows that Ted is a major threat. So he challenges him to the one thing he is pretty sure he can beat him doing. Drinking. He and Roger have been training all their lives for this type of thing, so anyone’s bet would have to be on Don. Which of course turns out to be the right bet. Poor Ted. I loved how Frank  counseled a hungover Ted to let Don tire himself out in the early rounds as Ted would win the bout. It’s no doubt true. Advantage: Ted
  • Don and Peggy –  As ever, Peggy sees through Don and all his machinations. She sees what he’s doing with Ted trying to gain the upper hand. “I hoped he’d rub off on you.” Zinger one and it’s clear where Peggy’s aligned. Peggy knows Don loves having her back under his control instead of competing against him and says as much. Of course, Don would never admit to such a thing but wants to shake her confidence and make her feel insignificant despite the fact that they used to be friends. Though Don’s zinger hurts Peggy, she’s gained confidence now. Her second zinger hits the mark as well and is particularly deadly because he’ll never be able to do so. Her parting shot? “Move forward.” Advantage: Peggy
  • Don and Sylvia – As someone who appreciates good wording, I love how Don fixates on the way people say things. When Sylvia says, “I need you, and nothing else will do,” Don is going to meet her regardless of what is going on at work. I think that line was what jumpstarted all the twisted madness between those two in the hotel room. I feel like Don is continuously trying to make sense of his childhood and this hotel room game was his way of giving his childhood credibility. It’s not sordid if the doctor’s wife is willing to play this game. This is one of Don’s endless loops. His wish to whitewash his childhood and remove all the shame associated with it. As we see at the end of the ep, Sylvia specifically mentioned that she was ashamed and that the whole thing was over. Advantage: Sylvia

That look of admiration Ted shot Peggy when she knew the history about margarine was again telling and goes back to what I was saying earlier about Ted. He’s a good guy but in a realistic way. He clearly has feelings for Peggy. Feelings that he shouldn’t be entertaining since he’s married, but the kiss in the previous episode suggests that Ted’s got himself a set of clay feet like all humans do.

I admit it. Just as I teared up in episode four when they announced that MLK Jr. had been assassinated, I teared up at the end over the Bobby Kennedy assassination, though Pete’s mother’s strange delivery of “They’re shooting everybody,” had me chuckling unwillingly.

Finally, the ‘Mad Men’ premiere I’ve been anticipating for so long

NOTE: Spoilers below

So, you’d think if a person was desperate for the return of one of their favorite shows ever that person might have had the sense to check the time that show was premiering, right? Well, no. But my DVR had me covered, and I was able to skip the commercials which made viewing more enjoyable anyway. I have to start with the “Oooh look, shiny things!” part. ‘Breaking Bad’ is coming soon as well as ‘The Killing’ which the promos sprinkled helpfully through the ‘Mad Men’ premiere kept promising. As ‘Breaking Bad’ shares favorite drama ever status with ‘Mad Men,’ I’m obviously impatient for the final episodes to start airing.

As far as the ‘Mad Men’ premiere goes, my favorite exchange of the night occurred when Mona was comforting Roger after his mother’s funeral. He’s saying he feels nothing and he needs a drink. Mona says, “She lived a long time. She knew that you loved her. So maybe there’s nothing to drink about.” Of course Roger says that he feels he didn’t spend enough time with her, but Mona’s point is taken. No guilt. No regrets. About that relationship. But he has family that he needs to be more mindful about, and he could use his relationship with his mother as a reference point.

My least favorite exchange of the night goes to Betty and Henry discussing raping Sandy. WTH was up with that? Wouldn’t any girl be lucky to have a benefactor like Betty? The scene with just Sandy and Betty had me twitchy waiting for Betty to do something irrevocable. I have trouble feeling sympathetic for Betty’s character though I certainly did when she was hitched to ol’ cheatin’ Don, and I think that rapey talk with Henry might have been the last straw coupled with her continuing neglect of Sally while, as usual, showing more interest in other people’s children.

There was so much else to appreciate about the episode, but every scene with Peggy was a pure delight. I’m glad that she’s still in touch with Stan. I love how she has become such a force. She always had it in her so it’s true to that character. But it’s just so much fun to see her hit her stride and being appreciated for her value. It was long overdue. I’m starting to love you, Chaough!

I’m so surprised that Don is cheating again. /sarcasm