Sunday, 20 April 2014

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 2, "A Day's Work"

"Just tell the truth." Sally Draper

When I decided to start writing these reviews, the hope was that I'd be able to write thoughtful, engaging, and possibly even humorous interpretations of the show's characters and themes on a weekly basis. What is Don going through now that he's on forced leave? Are he and Megan going to make it? What about his already strained relationship with his daughter? These are all important questions…uh…you see…but…ummmm…SCREW IT. THEY PLAYED MY FAVORITE ZOMBIES SONG AT THE END OF THE EPISODE AND THAT'S ALL I CARE ABOUT RIGHT NOW! IT'S THE ZOMBIES! AND THEY PLAYED THEM! AND THEY PLAYED 'THIS IS OUR YEAR,' EASILY MY FAVORITE SONG BY THEM EVER. IT'S EVEN BETTER THAN 'TIME OF THE SEASON!' I DON'T EVEN CARE ABOUT DON RIGHT NOW BECAUSE AAAAAHGHGHGUGHGHGHG I LOVE THE ZOMBIES SO MUCH I AM GOING TO BLAST 'ODYSSEY AND ORACLE' AS LOUD AS I CAN! BEST CREDITS SONG EVERRRRRRRRRR!
Phew. Okay. Glad I got that out. tThere was no way I was going to be able to wait till the end of the review to express how happy that made me. After an episode I thought was already hugely solid, they closed it perfectly (for me, anyway, because I guess subjectivity is still a thing. Ugh, when will people learn I'm always right?) And this was a great episode. One I enjoyed very much. Last week I mentioned how the first episode of the season for Mad Men (or most shows for that matter) has a bit of catch they always have to play, a sense of duty to show us what the characters have been up to (except Betty. Never Betty), so it was nice to see this episode slow down the pace. While plenty of things still happened story wise, the episode was able to move through them more slowly, giving appropriate emotional beats where they were needed (one of my favorite of which was the great scene of Sally walking through SC&P's empty hallways to find another man working in her father's office). 
"A Day's Work" takes place on Valentine's Day, 1969. For some characters it's a big deal (Shirley, Peggy's engaged secretary and true flower-receiver), for some it's only in the background (Don, who already had Dawn send Megan something), and for some it's something they wish they could forget entirely (holy shit Peggy was a hot mess this episode). Some of them had a great day, and some of them terrible. Some of them started out great and ended sour, and some vice versa. Valentine's Day is quite possibly the most divisive holiday of the year, and I liked that they used it as a loose framework for the day in question. 
The person who is most affected by it (though really it's her own doing) is Peggy. Not much happens in her storyline, except of course for her completely ridiculous , nearly unbelievable behavior. When she first gets to work, she doesn't even remember that it is Valentine's Day. And why should she? She stabbed her last boyfriend (usually a deal-breaker) and the last man she loved squarely took a dump on her chest (Ted's freaky). She seems to be doing about as emotionally well as Don at this point. They act out in very different ways, but if she had just been sucking back more Canadian Club, I swear they would have been twins. Peggy's storyline is largely told for comedic value (something we found out around season 3 that Elizabeth Moss was very good at), and while it is kind of depressingly funny (like a clown getting trampled by an elephant, or a herd of elephants, or even just a clown getting hurt at all for that matter), it's kind of rough to watch. I squirmed when she tried to find the perfect wording for her snarky response to Ted for sending her flowers he actually didn't. I'd be embarrassed as hell too if I were her and found out they flowers were for someone else, but she handles it with about as much grace as Don did at Sterling's mother's funeral (just with slightly less barf). She loses all sight of professionalism,  even telling Joan she couldn't get any work done today because of the flower mix-up. She is literally the hottest of messes. She ends up having to get a new secretary because she's too embarrassed to deal with Shirley again. Huh. Acting out irrationally to the point where you need a new secretary because you're too ashamed? SOUND LIKE SOMEONE ELSE WE KNOW? (It does. The answer is Don. It sounds like Don.)
Joan has quite a different kind of day. It starts out as same as ever, with her having to deal with her duties as a partner and also as "Head of the Secretaries," a role she was somehow never able to free herself from, even after her promotion. That's why it's so satisfying when Jim Cutler finally notices her double duties. Joan's story is on the same trajectory it was last week, with more and more responsibility rightfully coming to her door. She kind of oppositely mirrors Pete this week, who starts the day off feeling great but gets his new account partially taken away from him as the workday goes on. This week's Pete is definitely the kind of Pete we are more used to. Petulant, angry, hilariously storming in and out of rooms. I love when he tells Ted they aren't talking anymore. Good God, I love Pete Campbell. Ya know why? It's not because he's a good character (Lord no, he's mostly repugnant), it's because he's an interesting character. He's impatient and more than a little selfish, but he's also still damn good at his job. And his job is essentially getting people to like him so that they will like his company. He can't be only smarmy if he continues to land important accounts. And therein lies what I think makes Pete Campbell so interesting. He obviously has the ability to curb his emotions in front of others, but can't seem to hone it. 
Pete being Pete, Joan getting more responsibility, Jim almost butting heads with Roger, secretary shifts, it's apparent that life at the office is going on almost exactly the same without Don there. It's disconcerting to see things go smoothly without him. I'm sure most people (myself not excluded) secretly hoped SC&P would start to fall apart without their masterful creative director there to make somber, gravely-toned soliloquies about life, death, and the nature of happiness to their clients. But that's just not the case. Business must go on. Copy still needs to be written, accounts to be landed. It's a scary notion for him to arrive at, but Don needs them more than they need him. It's been almost three months now, and still no call. Rumors have begun to circulate about Don's absence, and while no one knows exactly what happened, people know that SC&P is Draper-less and still functioning without him. 
Jim Cutler refers to him as their "collective ex-wife who's still receiving alimony." Ouch. I remember when they told him to go on leave last season that it seemed unlikely he'd be returning. I read somewhere that usually being told to go on leave like that was actually just a polite way of firing someone they couldn't technically fire. But then Don seemed so confident about his imminent return last week that I myself found myself feeling hopeful, especially since he was still writing such dynamite copy. But things at the office definitely suggest otherwise.
How much does Don truly believe he's going to get to come back to work? He's putting on a decent front, at both his "social" lunch with a fellow ad-man (whose name I am far too lazy to go back and find out, because whatever, dude was wearing a pink shirt with an orange tie anyway, LAME), and when Dawn came over to give him the low-down, but how much of it is bullshit? It was extremely depressing to see Don clean up his place and get all dolled up, straightened tie and all, to just have a two-minute discussion with his former secretary about the current state of affairs at the office. The need for secrecy does not seem to bode well for Don's future either. And then to see him just immediately turn the TV back on and loosen his tie…ugh. It's sad. We're used to seeing him in turmoil, but he usually gets to be wallowing in it in his office. It's much sadder when it's in his apartment. Alone. In his robe. Watching Little Rascals. Munching on crackers (but he is eating again! Don ate two episodes in a row! That has to be a Mad Men record.)
Don's business affairs are paramount, but the center of the episode is Sally. I'm glad they didn't try to cram even more into last week's episode, but she was the one thing it was missing for me. Sally's revelations about her father last season were some of the most painful in the shows history. The older Sally got the more inevitable it became her father's sordid affairs would start to spill out onto her. But it ended up even worse than I could ever have imagined--her walking in on her dad plowing Lindsey Weir. That's not an easy sight to bounce back from. It seemed unlikely the two would ever be able to get past such a traumatizing event. Don, however, in one of the most rare examples of honesty, shed some light onto his past when he showed Sally and Bobby the run-down whorehouse he called home. That moment at the end of Season 6, with the two of them exchanging glances in front of the old brothel was one of my all-time favorite moments in Mad Men. No words were needed between the two, and Sally, young as she is, finally started to understand, at least a little, something about her father's past that perhaps made him the way he is today. It was subtle, beautifully acted, and highly effective. 
Personally I am much more invested in this part of Don's redemption than I am his relationship with Megan or the firm. The firm is doing fine without him, Megan is living in LA all on her own and doing well in her career, all without Don living there. If anyone still needs Don as a positive influence in their life, it's his children. Already coming from a broken home with a painfully narcissistic mother, it seems unlikely Sally can escape adolescence healthy and unscathed. It's Don's responsibility to do everything he can to make sure she doesn't end up who he is. I know it's not an easy task for him, but the episodes that put this dynamic in the forefront are usually my favorite, most emotionally responsive episodes. 
It doesn't start out well for them either, when he first returns home to find her waiting there for him. As she's grown, Sally has definitely inherited a lot of Betty. Fortunately, Sally is still at the age when acting like a fifteen year old girl is appropriate. She's snarky and angry at her father, and is now old enough to see through his lies, which she's piecing together there are a lot of. The more he lies to her the further away she gets, and it comes to a head in the car when he won't answer her questions about his job. "It's more embarrassing for me to catch you in a lie than for you to be lying." This, too, is the first time Sally clearly brings up his affair with Sylvia. It's heartbreaking hearing Sally express genuine fear of going to her father's apartment. Don has no moral recourse. They sit and eat (well, she doesn't at first, and he only eats a french fry…but there's still food in front of Don! I shouldn't get so excited about this every time, but dammit I do) in almost silence until Don realizes the only thing he can do to get through to his daughter is just be honest with her. Because of him she's had to grow up a lot faster than she should have, and he owes her honesty more than anyone. 
And he finally gives her some. He tells her the truth about his job. He tells her the truth about being ashamed. And she responds. And she eats. And he even makes a cute little joke about dining and dashing (a wonderful bit of acting from John Hamm. He even had me going for a second). The episode ends with a beautifully earned moment between father and daughter, one that I think the episode rightfully took its time building to. The look on Don's face after she tells him she loves him is devastating and sweet. It pleases me greatly to see Sally and Don at the emotional center of this episode, because I think it might be the only relationship Don has left he might be able to salvage. AND THEN THEY PLAY 'THIS IS OUR YEAR' BY THE ZOMBIES AND EVERYONE GOES CRAZY! HAVE YOU HEARD THAT SONG? I MEAN, HAVE YOU REALLY HEARD IT? IT'S SO GODDAMNED GREAT! MAD MEN YOU BEAUTIFUL BASTARD.

Stray Observations:
  • "Just cash the checks, you're gonna die someday." Ted Chaough is a real barrel of monkeys in California. It's quite humorous. I love when he wonders which of Peggy's accounts they lost, completely unaware of how bat-shit crazy Peggy's acting in New York.
  • The bit where Dawn and Shirley jokingly call each other their own names (Get it, cuz they're black and they are easily mixed up?!) was quite funny. Also, who isn't happy for Dawn at the end when she gets Joan's old job? She's quite possibly the best secretary Don's ever had, except for Miss Blankenship, who's only fault was not being able to properly stay alive.
  • "She knows what day it is. It's right there on her calendar. February 14th, gloomily masturbate." Dear God, Ginsberg, don't ever change. DON'T. EVER. CHANGE.
  • Don sets an alarm for 7:30am, turns it off, and then sleeps past noon. Yep, that sounds like unemployment to me. People definitely sleep a lot when they're unemployed. Or sometimes they wake up early to watch an episode of a TV show twice so they can write a review about it and make sure it's up by the time people are awake in the states to read it. I don't know. I mean, I've heard that some unemployed people do that.
  • "Jesus, Draper, is this your first funeral?" Sally gives a great look after that question that clearly conveys, "Shit. It is." I want to quickly mention how lucky the show was when they cast Kiernan Shipka. She was like all of six when the show started, and almost eight years later, she has blossomed into quite a solid little actress. I think her work in the last two seasons has been increasingly good.
  • Roger Sterling said kike about three times in twenty seconds. DON'T YOU CHANGE EITHER, STERLING. YOU STAY GOLD. Oh man, should there be Ginsberg/Sterling spin-off, a la The Odd Couple? I think I've answered my own question.
  • I would be remiss if I didn't point out Burt Cooper's impeccably polite racism. Goddamn, dude. I mean, of course it makes sense. It's still 1969, and Cooper is about a hundred and fifty years old, but you still can't help but drop your jaw at his request to get a "colored" girl out of sight from the elevators. But at least he was cordial about it! If you're gonna be racist, at least do it politely! That's what my mother always taught me, anyway.
  • Two episodes without Harry Crane? I can get used to this. 
  • There's only five episodes left of this little half season. I'm thinking by the end of these seven episodes we will have a definitive answer as to what is happening with Don and SC&P. 
  • Oh, and did I mention THE ZOMBIES WERE PLAYED AT THE END THE EPISODE? DID I? DID I?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 1, "Time Zones"

In this new weekly segment, I will review each week's new episode of the current and seventh season of AMC's Mad Men. Are you all as excited as I am? Of course you are. Of course you are.

"Time Zones"

                               "If she doesn't know you, you should just keep it that way, that's what people do."

The main question going into this final season of Mad Men (not actually the last season, because ugh, but more on that later)is: Is Don capable of change? Is he even worth salvation? After last season's glorious Don Draper meltdown (Hershey's Chocolate…Whore's Love It!), I was in the camp that maybe Don wasn't long for this world. I'm not saying he was going to kill himself (because that would be laaaaazy), but maybe he was finally tired of the facade of Don Draper. Maybe he wanted to be able to reconcile what was left of Dick Whitman. That sad little kid who was practically raped by a busty whore, and then beaten with a wooden spoon because of it. His marriage, his children, and his job were all detonating at the end of season 6. Was it the beginning of the end? Or was it an opportunity for Don to get his shit together and burst triumphantly from the ashes, like a goddamned phoenix?
The phoenix thing seemed…less than likely.
Which brings us to the season premiere of season 7, "Time Zones." Two months have passed, and a great deal of the episode, like most of Mad Men's premieres, focused on reacclimatizing us viewers into what's going on around at SCDP (SCDPCGC, SC&P, hey, that is the best one). Since Mad Men uses real-time in-between seasons, there are always a lot of questions they have to answer in the first episode. It makes for a fun watch, to see Joan, and Ken, and then Pete, and the whole gang and then go "Oh so that's how Pete's doing!" but it also makes for less nuanced, captivating episodes. Yes, I am interested in Ken's daily breakdowns due to Pete and Bob's absences (I LOVE BOB BENSON), but the show is at its best when the story is slowly unfolding over several episodes rather than just playing catch up (MORE ON THAT LATER, OKAY???). That being said, there was still plenty to like about this episode.
Last season fiddled with the idea of Joan trying to climb the Accounts ladder at SC&P with Avon Cosmetics, but that didn't go very far. This season we find out that they did in fact get the account, but she's still hungry for more. Lord knows Joan deserves more say around there. She's a goddamn partner of the entire firm, but they still treat her like Head Secretary most of the time. Maybe that can finally change? It looks like she's started demonstrating some more Peggy-ish qualities lately. Unlike Peggy, however, Joan still has a demure, sexy, female sensibility she brings to the table. It might not be as direct as Peggy, but I bet it could be just as effective.
Cool Ken Cosgrove and awful Pete Campbell have pretty much switched places, and it's hysterical. Ken even has Pete's old secretary, and apparently does have a limit to how aloof and laidback he can act under pressure. Just a buttered roll for breakfast? Come on, Ken, you need some more fiber in that diet. I for one have always been an unrepentant supporter of Pete Campbell (I'm not even totally sure why, I just don't think he's actually as shitty a person as most of his actions would lead you to believe), so I am particularly pleased to see him doing well in California. Those plaid pants, the hug he plants on Don, that goddamn sweater he ties around his shoulders, the way he just yells for iced tea instead of ordering it like a normal person…it's hilarious. We actually got to hear him seriously use the word "….vibrations." I could watch an entire episode of just Hippie Dippy Pete. Maybe he won't blow his brains out like everyone's been speculating for seasons. OR maybe it's a misdirect! Hippy Pete overdoses on groovy vibrations and pastrami sandwiches!
Peggy, however, ain't doing as great. After she took Don's chair at the end of season 6, I thought things might really be looking up for ol' Margaret. But she seems to be stuck in more of the same than ever. She's still in that same shitty apartment she bought with Abe. She's still stuck around Ted. And now she's got an even stupider boss to make her job even harder (Lou Avery is gross, just let me say it. I don't like him. Or his face.) Peggy's ambition and hardass attitude have seemed to hold her back as much as it has propelled her forward. If it were happening in today's world it's because strong women in the workplace, equality, you go girl, but back in the 60's, even after she's spent almost a decade making a name for herself, she still is putting up with bullshit from all angles. And Lou sucks.  Did I mention that about him? He might not be as emotionally damaging as Don, but at least Don knew copywriting.
And then there's Don. Donny Don Donny boy. The episode title clearly stems from his new bicoastal life with Megan (Roger seems to be experimenting with some BI-coastalness himself, AMIRITE!?!? *Looks around for high-five. Sees no one. Clears throat.*) While it's anything but perfect, I have to admit that Don's doing way better than I anticipated. I was pretty sure he and Megan were done after he told her he wouldn't be moving to LA, and I didn't think he'd be doing very well with being practically fired as well. But as it turns out, he and Megan are still trying to make it work. Only now they're across the entire country from each other. Absence make the heart grow fonder, right? (I actually have no idea if that's true, I read it in a fortune cookie once) But Megan still has reservations; not wanting to bang, getting extremely agitated over Don trying to give her large presents, and why shouldn't she? Don was the absolute WORST last season. She says she hates barely seeing him in this new arrangement, but it also seems to be the only way to possibly have their relationship work. Is it worth it?
The reveal that Don wrote Freddy Rumsen's inspired Wristwatch copy was delightful, but a lot of me expected Don to just be way worse off than he is. Yes, he is still working his way back up, and using other people to get his ideas out there out of fear of losing the job he only might still have, but his copy is great, and he's apparently been kicking ass at it since he was asked to leave his own firm. Last season I don't think we saw Don nail one pitch. They were either all about suicide or robbing dudes with prostitutes for candy bars. It's frustrating that he can still be that goddamn good at his job, but only months after the fact. Get it together, Draper. Or don't. I don't know. I DON'T KNOW, DON.
It all seems like a temporary fix. He is trying to make it work with Megan, but then the second he's on the plane he starts flirting with the attractive Megan-esque girl sitting next to him. He even admits "She knows I'm a terrible husband." Well, you're goddamned right. She knows it, you know it, this chick sitting next to you on the plane knows it…even if he doesn't go home with her, I don't know what he's going to do, or can do, to truly make things better. When he is watching TV with a sleeping Megan, the screen shows some fairy-tale looking text that reads: 
"In these days of war and rumors of wars--haven't you ever dreamed of a place where all was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight? Of course, so has every man since Time began. Always the same dream, sometimes be calls it utopia--sometimes the Fountain of Youth--Sometimes merely 'that little chicken farm.'"
       Yep. I'd say that sounds like Don. At the beginning of the end, this is where Don's head is. But it's also where his head has always been. We've seen him go up and we've seen him go down, but he keeps ending up in the same place: looking desperate and forlorn, gazing off far away as the episode turns to black, only this time he's sitting outside in the freezing cold. What does this last season have in store to possibly fix that? Or is he just broken and can't be fixed? Maybe he's not supposed to ever find that little chicken farm.
Are we going to find out this season? Who knows, because it's not a real season. It's half season. Just a little halfsy. Part of a season. This is the biggest problem I see going into these seven episodes. Since there's going to be another year long break between Season 7 part I and Season 7 part II (barf), it's actually two distinctly different sets of episodes. But with only seven episodes instead of the regular 13, I think they are going to have to cram a whole lot in the next six hours of television to make it feel like it's at a proper point of completion. I understand why AMC is breaking them up (Because A) with Breaking Bad gone, and now Mad Men almost done, AMC is totally screwed with their line-up, and because B) DOLLAR DOLLAR BILLS, Y'ALL), but after this episode, I am even more wearisome that it is only going to stifle the slow, deliberate pacing that the show has become so famous for. I want to watch everything unfold in its own time, and I don't think 7 episodes are going to cut it. 
But still, Mad Men is back, and I am gleeful about it. It is easily the best show on television today, and also the best show AMC has ever aired (suck it Walter White). Two half seasons or one regular season, either way I am still excited to see how Don might better himself, or further explode everything in his life he gives a shit about.

Stray Observations: 
  • Roger is apparently living in an opium den. It suits him. It really does. I like his inter-gendered harem, too, he's very 1969 right now. Is his daughter in a cult? Iiiiiiiiit seems like his daughter is in a cult. I could do some inter web research to see if there were any popular cults emerging in the late 60s in New York, but that's NERD STUFF. I don't RESEARCH. I WATCH TV, OKAY?
  • I was so excited to see Joel Murray (Bill Murray's younger brother) in the opening credits. I love Freddy Rumsen. "There's a nice way to say that, and the way you just said it." Classic.
  • Ken not being able to throw the earring because of his eye patch was the funniest thing I've seen.
  • Megan's very gay agent mentions getting her teeth fixed and I got very angry. I love Megan's teeth. They're probably her best feature (cause it's obviously not her spousal choice skills AMIRITE??? *Holds hand up for high five. Waits. Puts it back down. Clears throats*) But really, I think her teeth are cute. 
  • Lou is creepy. When he called Dawn "nurse?" Yuck. 
  • We saw Done take TWO BITES OF FOOD this week. In ONE EPISODE. That has to be a goddamn record. Don NEVER eats. I hate handsome men on television who are never hungry. I ate a sandwich and chicken tenders during 45-minute episode alone. 
  • Mad Men has absolutely perfected the Megan Draper side boob. Megan's side boob is worth more than most women's whole boob. There, I said it.