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!"


Post a Comment

<< Home