Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mad Men 7-2: A Day's Work

As I was watching this week's "Mad Men," I found myself thinking how characteristically Mad Men it was that an episode set on Valentine's Day would be all about missed messages and failed connections. Peggy misunderstands the significance of her secretary's flowers; Sally misses her train and then her father in the office; hell, half the plot outside of Don and Sally revolves around conference calls between Sterling Cooper's New York and L.A. offices that get cut off on one end or the other. No one seems to be able to get through to anyone else - until that last stretch of Sally's impromptu mini-road trip with Don, when Don finally heeds her admonition and tells her the truth. About telling the truth, no less. And she tells him she loves him.

Bam.

It was as sweet as it was unexpected. But was it truly earned? Don's expression as Sally leaves the car indicates he's wondering just that. Still, regardless of how one feels about the payoff, the leadup - the shifting dynamic between him and his daughter - was undeniably effective, though like all things Mad Men, it felt just a tad too carefully constructed, every beat a shade too precisely calculated. The actors, however, made it work: I'm not as huge a fan of Kiernan Shipka as most, but she was pretty darn convincing as the outwardly disaffected, cynical teenager or teenager-in-training (how old is she, anyway? 13?) who still holds a simmering grudge against her once-adored father and rightly calls him out for his hypocrisy. And Jon Hamm, as always, is terrific, his imperious Don Draper fa├žade (his line about Sally lying in wait, "like your mother," was particularly low) crumbling away in a single moment as Sally lands the blow that finally hits home - her disgust over the possibility of running into Sylvia, the neighbor-lady she saw him boning. You can see him turn into Dick Whitman on the spot, as deep shame floods his face and even his posture. It's no coincidence that that's when he finally cops to what actually happened to his job, and why, and you can see Sally's hostility melt away over that Formica tabletop. I'm not sure I buy that her resentment would disappear so fast, but then Sally at bottom has always loved her dad, despite the fact that he's been a pretty terrible dad. And his dine-and-dash joke was pretty endearing.

Back at the office of Sterling Cooper & Partners, there were so many internal maneuverings it was hard for anyone but Joan to keep them straight. The only one who seems to have a master plan is the interloper, Jim Cutler, who seems bent on taking over SC&P; his warning to Roger ("I'd hate to think of you as an adversary. I'd really hate that") was positively chilling. Though perhaps unnecessary, considering their clash over Chevy and Pete's car dealerships was hardly even that as Roger, who seems to have lost his mojo again, barely puts up a fight - much to Pete's disgruntlement. I knew it wouldn't be long before we saw disgruntled Pete again. And yet, hard as it is to sympathize with Pete Campbell, he kind of has a point: he's doing his job, and doing it well at that, but no one seems to care; or in his words (which again, are classic Mad Men speak), "No one feels my existence." Pete's problem has always been that he rarely, if ever, gets the validation he so desperately desires, and that perpetual lack of recognition is both cause and effect of his douchiness. It's hard to say which came first, the denial or the douchiness, but it's a vicious cycle he doesn't seem to be able to escape. Even in sunny California.

So much for the men of Sterling Cooper; in a lot of ways the most interesting action turned on the women. Peggy may be flailing - or maybe just reeling from smacking her head on that glass ceiling - but it was pleasant to see both Dawn and Joan come out of the mess with promotions; Joan literally goes up a level, while Dawn inherits both Joan's old office and her former duties (I think?) as head of personnel. Of course, we've learned that the latter is a thankless position, and Joan's ascendance may just be part of Cutler's plot to divide and conquer the firm, but small, temporary victories are still victories. And if there's anything we've learned through six seasons of Mad Men, it's that the moments of satisfaction are fleeting, so better savor them while we can.

Miscellaneous observations:

-Oh, Peggy. Her shenanigans with Shirley's roses (poor Shirley!) were painful to see. Also, was she drunk or high in the later part of the episode? Sure seemed like it.

-"Hello, Dawn." "Hello, Shirley." That exchange speaks for itself - and if you didn't get it, shame on you. Just kidding; but as someone who occasionally gets called by the name of another person in my office who doesn't resemble me in any way except ethnicity, I can relate.

-Pete's blonde realtor girl is an interesting study. I actually think she might be good for Pete, if he stops lusting for a minute and starts listening to what she has to say. And if *she* doesn't eat him alive and spit *him* out.

-Also love the odd couple pairing of irate Pete and sad, resigned straight man Ted. That "stay out of it" sign was a hoot, if also utterly futile. Pete wouldn't know when to stay out of it if a giant tar pit were right in front of him.

-Oh, Bert. Always the practical man, both in siding with Cutler over Roger on Chevy, and even - I'd argue - in ordering (er, "requesting") Joan to remove Dawn from reception. Racist? Yes, but a practical one. One senses that Bert doesn't care for himself whether the reception girl is black; he only cares because it might be bad for business. That is Bert Cooper to a T.

-Lou (aka Don's replacement) is an asshole. Was Joan's initial assignment of ditzy Meredith as Dawn's replacement her way of punishing him? Too bad that assignment didn't stick. Though at least Lou seemed to be getting along ok with Shirley at the end, and didn't appear to have tried to get Dawn fired for telling him off. So asshole (and probably sexist), yes; racist, no.

-Bob Benson, you are missed. Though not by Pete. Please come back! (Unfortunately, I think the actor who plays him is has a full time role on another show this season.)

-Line of the week: Roger at partners' meeting - "Pete caught him, let Pete mount him." Followed by Roger throwing his hands up in the air at his inability to avoid double entendres.

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