Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mad Men 7-6: The Strategy

I hadn't really thought about it until now, but "Mad Men" is a show full of broken families. In fact, you could even say it's about the breakdown of the American family as much as anything else - or, viewed another way, its evolution from the Kodak-ready family of 1960 to the odd, makeshift work family at a burger joint in 1969.

If I've said it before, I've said it a hundred times: contrary to popular belief, "Mad Men" is not subtle, not really. It will pound a theme into the ground, and this week's episode was a perfect example of that. But what it may lack in subtlety it makes up for in power, and this week's episode was a perfect example of that, too.

There's an attractive coherence in focusing on the dissolution and reconfiguration of the show's various families that stood in stark contrast to the chaos of last week. It helped that the central axis of the episode was the ad campaign for Burger Chef, which served as a kind of Rorschach test for the characters' views on family and the working woman. Don, who's always yearned for the ideal nuclear family he never had as a child and failed - twice - to construct through marriage, brushes away the image of the working mom who's too busy to cook dinner as being "too sad." Pete, grappling with the realization that his marriage is truly, permanently over and that he's a stranger to his own child, pushes Peggy into the role of "mother" and remains fixated on having the ad turn on mothers. And Peggy, after enduring broadsides of casual sexism from both men, broods on the path not taken - marriage, children - before reaffirming that the idyllic vision of family she's trying to shoehorn into the ad isn't the right fit at all, either for the ad or for herself.

Or, for that matter, for Don and Pete, though both men resist that conclusion: Don still holding wistfully onto the beautiful fantasy of domestic bliss with Megan, even as she drifts further and further away, taking the physical reminders of her presence with her; Pete, for all his glee at showing off the hot blond realtor girlfriend from his new life, still hung up on the woman who ejected him from the old one. It's no coincidence that we later see Bonnie and Megan on the same plane back to L.A., leaving behind the men who can't quite accept the idea of a non-traditional partnership with a fully independent working woman. And yet it's also no coincidence that the very last shot of the episode is of those two men at dinner with the show's most important independent working woman. Whether or not they like it, whether or not they admit it even to themselves, the three of them have become a more stable, if hardly less contentious, family than their own respective families.

The episode also saw the return of Bob Benson and with him, a fleeting image of another kind of non-traditional family - the single mother, her mother who helps out, and her gay BFF. Bob pushes his luck trying to make the arrangement more traditional, at least on the outside, undoubtedly inspired by the less-than-inspiring example of the Chevy/GM man with the wife who "understands." Joan's right to reject his proposal, of course, and gracious enough to be sympathetic rather than offended. But the whole encounter made me wonder how often women in her situation would - and did - knowingly accept just such an offer, and how uncharacteristically naive it was for her to advise Bob that he, too, should wait for love. "I'm just being realistic," he tells her, heartbreakingly, even as his expression reveals how dim his hopes are of finding happiness in the institutions of marriage or family. The culture may be changing, but not enough for men (or women) like Bob Benson.

Random notes:

-It's been a while since we've seen Don and Peggy have an extended, emotionally intimate scene together, and I could feel the "Mad Men" fan base collectively squeeing as the pair moved from sniping at each other to collaborating together, like old times (with roles slightly shifted - they're on a more equal level now, even if Don is still the mentor). It was a wonderfully satisfying sequence, right down to their tender dance to "My Way," which felt for all the world like the daddy-daughter dance that neither of them has ever had. Yet some part of me felt skeptical - as it has in the past with similar scenes - that the two of them would move so quickly and neatly from hostility to reconciliation and creative inspiration.

-On the flip side, it's sad watching the slow crumbling of Don and Megan's marriage, especially since you can tell they still care for each other. You could see the pain on Megan's face at that secretary's casual comment that she didn't even know Don was married.

-Everyone loves Don and Peggy, but in some ways I love the Peggy-Stan dynamic even more. I cracked up at their telephone exchange, especially Peggy's tart "Hey baby yourself."

-Pete, giddy as a school boy at the prospect of joining the Mile High Club: "I've always wanted to do that!" Of course he would.

-I would have liked Pete's championing Don for the Burger Chef pitch more if it hadn't been at Peggy's expense. Still squirming at the insufferable condescension of "every bit as good as any woman in the business."

-Harry Crane, partner? Have to admit I had the same knee-jerk reaction as Joan and Roger, although as I've said before, he probably deserves the promotion when you measure his overall contribution to the firm. But maybe not if you balance it against his douchiness.

-I didn't pick up on all the plot machinations relating to GM and the rival firm (McCann) that seems worried about losing Buick to SC&P, but I'm guessing they will play out further in next week's so-called "mid-season finale." Will Bob Benson going to Buick help Roger poach that account? Or is there something else afoot? Whatever it is, I'll be delighted if it gives Roger leverage over that shark Cutler.

-Line of the week: Don to Peggy - "I worry about a lot of things, but I don't worry about you."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mad Men 7-5: The Runaways

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...
-Allen Ginsberg, "Howl"

If you haven't yet seen this week's episode of "Mad Men" (and don't mind spoilers), try to guess which of the following happened:

A. Don has a threesome. Roger is not involved.
B. Don, on the verge of ouster, throws a Hail Mary to save his job.
C. Betty embarrasses Henry by speaking her mind.
D. Ginsberg cuts off his own nipple.

The answer, of course, is "E. All of the above."

Every once in a while, "Mad Men" likes to throw a "wtf did I just watch" episode at its audience. Often, though not always, drugs are involved. They're marginally involved here, though a bigger player is the new office computer, which finally drives Ginsberg completely off the deep end.

One could read all sorts of cultural and psychological subtext into both the trigger and the response, though I don't know if I even want to try. Ginsberg's always been a bit off - lately more so than ever, unnerved by what he sees as the harbinger of the dehumanizing forces that are coming for them all. That he interprets the outward signs of these forces as turning men into "homos" is a little weird but frankly not especially weird for Ginsberg, and I'm hesitant to conclude it's a manifestation of his own repressed homosexuality. Even if that is part of it, his breakdown has more complicated roots. Arguably more of a construct than a totally convincing character, he's always come across as something of a mad prophet, an idiot savant, one who's especially sensitive to the dark, twisted, and corrupt side of humanity.

But seriously, cutting off one's own nipple? That there is some fucked up shit.

Still, one could see his removal of "the valve" as a symptom - or an extreme case - of the unease and instability that afflicts all the characters. In fact, everyone else in this episode seems lost and precariously on edge, from barefoot and pregnant Stephanie, who reenters Don's life and exits again before he can even see her, to anxious Megan, who quietly banishes the threat she perceives Stephanie to pose, only to fail to draw Don back into her orbit, to bumbling Harry, who wanders into and out of Megan's party, unsure of how he should handle the weakened but still formidable giant that is Don Draper, to Don himself, who pingpongs from the receiving end of Lou's petty vindictiveness to Megan's version of Hotel California and back again to deliver what he can only hope is a coup de grâce against the former. Not to mention Betty's stumble from incredulous shock at being left to twist in the wind, when she inadvertently goes off Henry's script, to furious rejection of having to stick to a script at all. Even poor little Bobby tries to escape the pain and anger in his house, only to have to settle for temporary refuge in his sister's bedroom.

Perhaps it's deliberate, but the overall effect of all these comings and goings, freakouts and resets, threats and fleeting reprieves is to give the episode a very choppy, disjointed feel. It doesn't help that we've had pretty limited exposure to half of the characters that are prominently featured this week - not enough to provoke much reaction beyond bemusement and maybe a small pang of sympathy at their fates. As for the characters we do know well, Megan and Peggy each seem stuck in a rut, while Don and Betty are still searching for their long-term trajectories. In some ways, Betty offers the most intriguing possibilities. Over the years we've seen her anger and discontent build and fester, and, like a much dimmer echo of Ginsberg's, it finally seems to be reaching a breaking point. (Though as the necessary catalyst, Henry Francis being an overbearing dick feels forced and out of character.) But what will she do with her budding desire for independence? Will she find a constructive outlet for once, or will she relapse into bitterness?

If Betty's beginning to explore the possibility of a new role in life, Don appears bent on reestablishing his old one. "I don't want anything right now," he says, heavily, as Megan and "Amy from Delaware" coax him into some fairly half-hearted three-way action. In fact, Don does clearly want something else: to regain a sense of authority, in both his personal and his professional life. Hence his eagerness to see and help Stephanie and his giant F-U to Lou and Cutler in hijacking the meeting with Philip Morris. The latter move may have worked, at least for now. Still, one can't help sensing that Don may be winning battles only to lose the war. "Get out while you still can," a departing Ginsberg implores his former colleagues. Don isn't with them, but he might do well to heed the advice. Even if it comes from a lunatic with one nipple.

Random observations:

-Highest gross-out factor since the infamous John Deere episode, ever so many seasons ago. When Peggy opened the box, I thought at first it was Ginsberg's ear. But no, it was worse.

-Ginsberg's ramblings about the computer's bad vibes was somewhat reminiscent of the unhinged general in "Dr. Strangelove" and his obsession with "precious bodily fluids."

-Also, a callout to "2001: A Space Odyssey": Ginsberg watching Lou and Cutler plotting in the computer room, unable to hear what they're saying. (Only unlike HAL, Ginsberg doesn't read them quite right - though he is correct that they're up to something.)

-Once again, the writers go out of their way to make Betty into the worst mother on earth. Sigh. She really wasn't always this way.

-Unexpectedly sweet, if sad, scene of brother-sister bonding with Sally and Bobby. It's good to have occasional reminders that Sally's aversion towards her mother hasn't totally curdled her affections towards the rest of her family.

-Visually, the show has been laying on both the hippie look and the hideous proto-'70s fashions pretty thick this season, as well as the contrast between the counterculture (Megan's party) and the establishment (Henry and Betty's friends). Can't say I care much for either, but aesthetically the latter is so much worse. I sincerely hope checked jackets never come back into fashion. Especially not when paired with striped ties.

-Line of the week: "I'm not stupid. I speak Italian." Oh, Betty.

-Runner-up: "Hello, everyone. Bye, everyone." -Amy from Delaware, leaving the most awkward Morning After ever.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Summer of Meh?

Normally the summer season heralds the end of the spring drought for movie lovers, as Hollywood rolls out its splashiest, flashiest, if not necessarily its best, offerings - candy for the eyes rather than the brain. You may not be edified, but unless you're a confirmed film snob, you'll probably be entertained. So imagine my dismay as I surveyed this summer's slate and realized that there's only *one* movie I'm truly excited about and only a few I'm even interested in seeing at all. What's up with that, Hollywood? Better hope that the springtime rule of low expectations holds true for the summer, too.

With that caveat, here are five movies that I'm looking forward to this summer, in order of release date:


X-Men generations unite! I don't know much about this one other than that it involves a time-traveling Wolverine who's tasked by old Professor X and Magneto to warn their younger selves about an impending threat to (what else?) the survival of their species. Which means we get Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, AND James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender all in the same movie. Sold! (Meanwhile, the studio suits are probably sweating bullets over the recent sex abuse allegations against director Bryan Singer - but for better or worse, they shouldn't affect the movie's box office performance.)


My most anticipated film of the summer, by a large margin. Written and directed by John Carney, the guy who brought us the wonderful little indie musical "Once," it's once again set in the music world, only with a bit more gloss: Mark Ruffalo plays a failing record label executive whose career and family are falling apart when he crosses paths with a young female singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley) who's been ditched by her more successful former musical & romantic partner (played, very appropriately, by Adam Levine) and finds new inspiration in guiding and working with her. Catherine Keener and Hailie Steinfeld ("True Grit," "Ender's Game") also appear as Ruffalo's estranged wife and daughter.

BOYHOOD (July 11)

Richard Linklater's fictional version of the "Seven Up" series? To show a little boy growing up, Linklater filmed the movie starring the same actors (including Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the boy's parents) at various intervals over the course of 12(!) years. Interesting concept, though that doesn't mean the film itself will be interesting. But I trust the Linkman, who brought us the "Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight" series and, before that, films as varied as "Waking Life," "School of Rock," and "Dazed and Confused."


Philip Seymour Hoffman's last lead performance? What a sad thought. But I've little doubt it will be a memorable one, as a German spy tracking a terrorism suspect in a film based on a recent (as in post-9/11) John Le Carre novel. Co-stars Daniel Bruhl ("Rush," "The Fifth Estate," "Inglourious Basterds," "Goodbye Lenin").

GET ON UP (Aug. 1)

Yes, biopics are generally plodding affairs, and the lead performances usually straddle the line uncomfortably between acting and impersonation. But *musical* biopics at least have the joy of good music and the curiosity factor of whether the actor (in this case, Chadwick Boseman, who played another, very different historical figure - Jackie Robinson - in last year's "42") can channel his or her subject's special star quality. Besides...it's James Brown, yo.

OTHER FILMS I'M TRACKING, MAY SEE IF REVIEWS ARE GOOD: Chef (Jon Favreau directs and stars as a down-and-out chef who tries to revive his career by starting a food truck); Million Dollar Arm (Jon Hamm stars as a down-and-out sports agent who tries to revive his career by recruiting Indian cricket players as pitching prospects; side note: what's with all the movies about middle-aged men trying to revive their failing careers?); The Immigrant (directed by the severely underrated James Gray, a probably dark tale of a poor N.Y. immigrant in the 1920s (Marion Cotillard) who falls prey to a pimp played by Joaquin Phoenix); The Fault in Our Stars (based on the bestselling three-hankie young adult novel about a girl dying of cancer - played by the luminous Shailene Woodley - who falls in love with a fellow cancer patient); 22 Jump Street (what can I say, I mostly enjoyed the first one, and I have a soft spot for Channing Tatum); Jersey Boys (based on the musical, directed by Clint Eastwood); Lucy (ScarJo stars as ordinary woman who accidentally gains superhuman powers after ingesting a drug she was supposed to be transporting; directed by Luc Besson, who may be uneven as a filmmaker but does know how to give us strong action heroines).

Spring movie roundup

Most people associate springtime with new life and hope. In the movie business, spring is winter: cold and dead. The charitable view is that it's a period of rest for Hollywood, as it falls between the campaign frenzy of Oscars season and the marketing frenzy of the summer season. Less charitably, it's also the period during which Hollywood tends to dump the movies it doesn't think are likely to do particularly well, either critically or commercially. On a rare occasion, a genuine blockbuster does arrive - for example, the first Hunger Games movie, which was released in March 2012 - but most years, spring is a time of low expectations for both studios and moviegoers. On the plus side, that means one is less likely to be disappointed and, conversely, more likely to be pleasantly surprised. Perhaps for that reason, I enjoyed most of the movies I saw in theaters this spring. It's a short but generally solid list:

THE LEGO MOVIE (voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett)

If you'd told me a year ago that the LEGO movie would get better reviews than George Clooney's prestige project "The Monuments Men" (see below), I'd have asked what you were smoking. But turns out it's true, and what's more, justified! Yes, the Lego movie may seem at first glance like the crassest kind of product placement - a massive toy advertisement masquerading as a movie. That doesn't disguise the fact that it's actually a good movie. Thematically it's surprisingly high-concept, playing out the age-old tension between the order of conformity and the chaos of creativity. Oh, there's also a prophecy, a diabolical plot, a counter-plot, and a lot of chases in between, but the main attraction here is the often hilarious interplay between the Lego characters and the ingenious rendering of the Lego world through detailed CGI that's made to look like stop-mo animation. The pace is sometimes a little frenetic, and I also wasn't a huge fan of the ending, which seemed too cute by half - though I can see it appealing to those who actually grew up playing with Legos (unlike me, for whom even stacking blocks was too much of a challenge). Still, overall, it lives up to its weirdly catchy them song: "Everything is Awesome!" GRADE: B+

THE MONUMENTS MEN (directed by George Clooney; starring Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett)

Proof that great (true) story + good director + great cast ≠ a great, or even a good, movie. Based on Robert Edsel and Bret Witter's acclaimed book about the unlikely WWII heroes who saved some of the greatest art works in the world from being destroyed or made part of Hitler's private collection, Clooney's labor of love unfortunately doesn't yield a very compelling movie. The first half lacks any real narrative momentum and fails to convey a clear sense of where the Allied and German forces are moving, or why. Worse still, the film doesn't let us get to know the Monuments Men themselves in any depth. While the pace and urgency do pick up in the last third or so, the protagonists remain undeveloped as characters. We can care, in theory, about the mission, but it's equally important for dramatic purposes that we care about the men who committed to it. "Monuments Men"'s failure in this regard ends up being its fatal flaw. GRADE: B-/C+

VERONICA MARS (directed by Rob Thomas; starring Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni + most of the rest of the show's cast - yay!)

(This review for fans only; I've no idea what a non-fan would think, and suspect there weren't many in the audience.) Rob Thomas delivers a perfect tonic to those who felt cheated of a satisfactory ending to the series. Who cares if the movie stretches contrivance a little to bring a grown-up Veronica, on the cusp of a successful New York legal career, back to Neptune. As with the series, the plot is just middling to ok, but the wit is razor-sharp and the characters are aces. Logan Echolls, of course, is front and center, though thankfully less dickish this time around, and the Veronica-Logan dynamic is balanced by a healthy dose of the Veronica-Keith father-daughter dynamic, IMO the best thing about the show. The movie also provides just the right amount of Dick Casablancas (who hasn't lost any of *his* dickishness, and somehow became even funnier), and a downright lovely appearance by Leo D'Amato (my favorite of Veronica's boyfriends). Not quite enough Wallace and Mac, but what you gonna do with a 2-hour limit? All in all, a fun couple of hours revisiting our old friends. GRADE: B+ for Veronica Mars fans; probably a B for anyone else

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (directed by Wes Anderson; starring Ralph Fiennes and a whole bunch of Wes Anderson's regulars)

A Wes Anderson confection at its most Wes Anderson-y, crammed with super-stylized visuals, dazzling miniaturization, and quirky tics and crossed with undercurrents of wistful melancholy that save the whole production from being annoyingly precious. However, in some ways "Grand Budapest Hotel" feels like a departure for WA; there's a darkness that hasn't been present in his previous work. It's the darkness of pure evil - specifically, the evil that haunted Europe in the 1930s. No, Hitler isn't in the film, which takes place in a fictional central European country, but the specter of the Nazis' brutality looms over the fragile, double-embedded narrative of a first-rate concierge (Fiennes) trying to keep alive the Old World charm and civility his hotel represents, even as the region teeters ever closer to the brink of war. Fiennes is fantastic; the rest of the characters, alas, aren't given enough room to develop beyond caricature, and as is often the case with WA, the driving A-plot turns into a series of elaborate setups with a far too drawn out (and ultimately rather anticlimactic) payoff. GRADE: B/B+

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (directed by Anthony and Joe Russo; starring Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford)

The rare superhero sequel that's decidedly superior to its predecessor, "The Winter Soldier" builds off the discovery made in the first "Captain America" and expanded in "The Avengers" that Marvel's squarest hero could be its most compelling. Steve Rogers, a WWII-era soldier now planted in the 21st century, is an obvious fish out of water, but the movie doesn't just play that displacement for laughs (unlike, say, the first THOR movie). Instead, it zeroes in on the loss of his moral innocence - his belief that good and evil are easily identified and his job is to defend the former, slowly undermined by the dawning realization that he's being manipulated to serve other, far more sinister ends. In that respect, the film hearkens back to the paranoid conspiracy thrillers of the '70s (yes, I know every other critic has said that), and not just because Robert Redford appears as a key character. Of course, "Winter Soldier" is still a popcorn movie, loaded up with the requisite bang and boom, and surprisingly gripping fight and chase scenes, but what it's best at is building the tension of not knowing who one's true friends are. Chris Evans, as before, gives a likable and nuanced performance as the decent man whose decency is what makes him remarkable in an indecent world, and ScarJo pairs well with him as his ultimate foil - the woman of no fixed moral attributes who acts as his ally but whom he may or may not be able to trust. GRADE: B+

THE LUNCHBOX (written and directed by Ritesh Batra; starring Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui)

Did you know that Mumbai, India, has a service that allows any office worker to have his lunch delivered every day from his home to his desk? It's true, and the system is reputed to be remarkably efficient. But not, apparently, infallible - at least for the purposes of this quiet, modestly appealing film about a young housewife (Kaur) who tries to rekindle her relationship with her inattentive husband by cooking him scrumptious lunches, only to discover that they're being delivered to the wrong person. The accidental recipient is an older man (Khan, excellent as always), a widower who's on the verge of retirement and in semi-denial about it. The two strike up a correspondence that eventually leads to the question of whether they should meet in person. I won't spoil whether they do except to say that the film, somewhat annoyingly, tries to have its cake and eat it too. However, setting aside the unavoidable will-they-or-won't-they beats of the main plot, "The Lunchbox" provides an intriguing look at the culture of modern Mumbai and captures the isolation of being lonely in a big city with subtlety and grace. GRADE: B/B+

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Mad Men 7-4: The Monolith

"Why am I even here?"
are you here?"

Gimlet-eyed as ever, Bert drily asks a crestfallen Don the exact question we were all pondering last week. At the time, I floated a couple of different possible explanations for why Don would voluntarily come back to Sterling Cooper under the terms offered him. Perhaps, I suggested, he was accepting those terms in the spirit of mending his ways. On the other hand, as I wrote,

Perhaps Don's return isn't a gesture of humility at all; perhaps it's a reflex of arrogance, a conviction that he can prove himself again and earn back his position of respect. Perhaps it's simply a reflection of his attachment to Sterling Cooper as the institution that he helped build and that defined him for so much of his life...

Looks like my second idea was the right one. (And so was the third, too, in a way, if Don's petulant "I started this agency!" was any indicator.) Don was in denial, plain and simple. He didn't really believe the new rules would be applied to him, at least not once he reestablished his value to the firm. This episode marked a rude awakening for him with the double whammy of being assigned to work under not just Lou but Peggy and seeing his proposal to land a new client contemptuously rejected. Don's reaction is not constructive, to put it mildly. Still in denial, or rather in childish semi-revolt, he effectively craps on his contract by passive-aggressively refusing to do any work for Peggy, stealing Roger's liquor to go on a bender, and skipping out of work early - and completely soused - to attend a baseball game. It's only thanks to Freddy Rumsen that he doesn't get busted and thrown out on his ear.

Freddy Rumsen! Was there ever a better friend or unlikelier guardian angel? To his credit, Freddy's always been there to provide support at critical junctures to those he considers worthy. Never forget it was he who first encouraged Peggy to write copy, all those years ago, and who continued to be her counselor and cheerleader even after his own disgrace and rehabilitation. Now he manages to save Don from pissing on himself - both literally and figuratively (and ironically, given the circumstances of Freddy's own exit from Sterling Cooper). Whether Don sticks with his sound, if limited, advice remains to be seen, though I wouldn't bet on it. "Do the work," yes - but I don't see Don doing Lou's tags indefinitely.

Meanwhile, the ghost of poor Lane hovered over Don, as Bert rather brutally made no bones of pointing out. If Freddie Rumsen functioned as something of a cautionary Ghost of Christmas Present to Don, Lane was the even more cautionary ghost representing Don's grimmest potential future. Appropriately for an episode that revolved around the firm's "creative" space getting displaced - and replaced - by a computer, Lane's empty office and sad Mets banner served as a cold reminder of obsolescence, of being pushed out when one is no longer needed. It's the very real risk Don runs now that the powers that be have decided that the enterprising, boundary-pushing Don Draper of yore no longer has a place at SC&P. Can he adapt and reinvent himself, or is he doomed to spend his days there as an increasingly outmoded relic of a past era?

It's no coincidence that the other major storyline of the episode - the "away from Sterling Cooper" half - focused on Roger's parallel realization that he may have finally reached the limits of his own adaptability to the changing times. After dabbling in counterculture himself and largely skating by its more subversive elements, he's found a side of it that he can neither co-opt nor ignore: the side that openly and personally defies his basically conservative, paternalistic values. I wasn't surprised that Margaret (aka Marigold) admitted to hoping that Roger would be more open to her new life than her mother, and indeed for a moment there it didn't seem wholly out of the realm of possibility that Roger would find some attraction in the commune - at least for a little while. After all, you don't ever need to sell Roger on the beauty of doing whatever you want to do!

But even in paradise there's always a hierarchy, to paraphrase his own words, and Roger doesn't like being placed outside that hierarchy. Tellingly, the trigger for his abrupt transition from detached, faintly amused observer to heavy father wasn't Margaret's silly, dirty clothes or her platitudes about peace and love or her burn on her mother, but the forced proximity of her knocking boots with dirty hippies. (Free love is fine as long as it doesn't involve your daughter!) Which is a natural enough gut reaction for a dad, though he tried to sell it as disapproval of her abandoning her maternal duties. Now there's a fair argument that Margaret is being inexcusably selfish and irresponsible with respect to her child; and yet coming from Roger, who was hardly much better as a parent - as Margaret caustically notes - and who didn't even want to come on this rescue mission in the first place, it felt more like a knee-jerk response to his own sudden sense of irrelevance. Like Don's gambit to Bert, it failed to provide the validation the man was desperately seeking. And like Don, Roger will have to keep searching for a way to stay in the game, both at work and outside of it.

Random observations:

-Hell of a death stare from Don when he first digests that he'll be taking orders from Peggy. You just know she quailed inside, despite her outward composure.

-Harry and Cutler get their computer after all. Too bad they look ridiculous in hard hats.

-Maybe it's just that I know the actors playing them are married in real life, but Roger and Mona, divorced, still have more chemistry than most of the other married (or formerly married) couples on this show.

-And speaking of which, poor Ted is still just a shell of his old self. Can't help feeling sorry for him, even though he made his own bed. Literally. With Peggy's help, of course.

-Line of the week: "Harry Crane took a huge dump and we're being flushed down the toilet."

-Runner-up, and wtf Ginsberg moment of the week: "They're trying to erase us. But they can't erase THIS COUCH!"