I’m not sure if it’s just my own mental state of buzzing around everywhere for everything, or if the drug injection episode really left this residue of a high over the last two weeks, but I’ve found it hard to really put to words my thoughts and reactions. Not that the episodes were uncompelling, or forgettable, I guess I am simply left in this haze of what’s really going on. And of course this past week we were treated to yet another drug high, furthering my cloudy vision of what is happening on Mad Men. The best I can do, instead of a plot by plot analysis, is to really touch on particular themes that struck throughout the two episodes.
Megan as the Actress and Don’s Wife
With (as far as we can tell now) the Sylvia affair behind Don, we’re seeing more Megan screen time. It’s been a curious dynamic between Megan and Don ever since her pursuit for acting began. Don’s resentment and disinterest in this aspect of Megan’s life has affected their relationship so much so that he essentially fell out of love with her, it seems. What’s even more intriguing is the fact that, given Megan’s trajectory, she can almost be perceived as a very perfect match for Don, as she is, in her own way, living the experience Don created for himself. I’ve read theories that the double-life thing is something Don didn’t understand about Megan’s love for acting – why STRIVE willingly to play two roles? We all know Don has primarily led a double life for most of his adult life. He continued to do so with Betty, putting on the ruse that he was only Don Droper, never Dick Whitman. Since his marriage to Megan, Don has begun to break the fourth wall of the Don Draper facade – Megan knew off the bat about the Dick Whitman past. Furthermore, Don’s past has also seemed to haunt him more and more as his relationship with Megan unfolded the last two seasons – we see his brother’s ghost revisit him upon Lane’s suicide, and the flashbacks to his adolescence in a brothel kept popping up during his affair. What now of Megan playing TWO roles on her TV show? We see her director chiding her for not making the two roles different enough. This parallel’s Don’s life, in that the lines between his past and current self seem to be blurring more and more. Interesting still is how Don and Megan come back together in their union as husband and wife – Don’s wake up call after bedding Betty at Bobby’s camp prompts him to approach Megan and say the words “I’ve missed you.” He approaches Megan in all white on their balcony – like they’re starting their love anew. When Don goes on his high in LA, he even creates a new role for Megan to play – this calming, free spirit, thus further blurring the lines between past, present, and even reality. These two have danced a delicate dance of how they will act with one another – will it be their true self, or someone else? What does this mean for their fate? The completely fabricated Megan ultimately leads Don to a stunning visual of doom – lying face down in a pool, near death. Is the acting game for their marriage an omen?
Peggy Caught in the Middle
The staging of Peggy in the office is the truest signal to what her role has become – dangling between Ted and Don. In trying to find her own in this new muddy universe, she seems unable to really assert herself as an individual voice, since Ted and Don pull and tug at her in their own ways. Peggy still wants Don’s respect, but also plays close to Ted and welcomes his flirtation. The final moment of the episode two weeks ago, “The Better Half,” is a perfect example of where Peggy falls in the merger – directly between the two men she admires the most, but not quite satisfied with being stuck there. When Joan enlists for Peggy’s help in “A Tale of Two Cities,” Peggy alone is not enough to push through Joan’s daring move to nab the Avon account herself. Peggy is someone simply caught in the middle, in her work and home life. With Abe, she finds herself somewhere between the loving supporter and the frustrated homeowner, unable to really assert one role over another with Abe until she accidentally stabs him. In almost all of these situations of being adrift in the middle and unable to truly assert herself, there always seems to be a losing moment for Peggy – the stabbing is the catalyst for the breakup that Peggy probably secretly desired, but couldn’t enforce herself, her appeal to align with Ted and elicit his sympathy turns into a moment of rejection. The only time she wins is when she allies with Joan, where she deftly creates a diversion to save face for Joan. What I’m hoping for Peggy at this point is for her smarts to push her more to the forefront as a definitive force that can actually save Sterling Cooper and Partners. She is still yet unrecognized, still fighting for her respect. She keeps getting closer and closer to that true feminist victory, but we’re not quite there yet. These moments are part of her journey to (what I think will be) her eventual rise above Don’s success and reputation.
The Veil of Crime
In the last two episodes, we see how close the Mad Men Universe feels to the rising tide of crime and chaos. In “The Better Half,” Peggy contends with Abe’s bouts with the neighborhood riff raff on the Upper West Side, constantly afraid of rocks coming through her window and yelling and fights outside her door. For much of the moments Megan speaks, whether it is about the rising tide of crime or just her own troubles, sirens blare in the distance. To digress a bit, I’ve started reading about people theorizing the signs of doom for Megan, and thinking about it now, the sirens as the soundtrack to her speech are ominous. Megan is so aware of the chaos and danger looming upon the American public – she even says in “A Tale of Two Cities” to Don that even though she can’t vote, she still has to live in this place where riots and violence envelop her world. Death, danger, and current events have not been a stranger this season – every episode has featured some major historical event, and I think this is purposeful. If not only to paint the aura of the era, I think history is going to be a counterpart to whatever moment of doom we are surely leading up to. Between the accidental stabbing and Don almost drowning, this danger is hitting closer and closer to home. I guess the last thing to wonder is who’s it gonna be this season – if last season it was Lane, could it be Megan? Could it still be Peter? (There were many Peter dying theories out in the internet universe last season) What historical moment could really directly affect Sterling Cooper and Partners?
The Struggles of the Business
In “The Better Half” we see Harry Crane hint that he’s plotting to get partner somewhere and get his reward. He hints to a begrudging Pete to seek a headhunter and look for options, as Sterling Cooper was such a mess. The divisiveness of the merger is still very much in play and effect, as Pete reluctantly explores his options and tries to figure out his alliances. Then in “A Tale of Two Cities” we feel the conniving moves of Cutler, his impulses attempting to dictate how he wants to shake up the company. Just because of a disagreement with Ginsberg, he barged into Ted’s office fuming and ready to fire Ginsberg. Everyone is fighting to hold their ground in the unsure waters of the Sterling Cooper world, as is evidenced by the indecision over their new name and by Joan’s new endeavors to rise above her simple managerial position. Managing the politics of the company has been a cat and mouse game, a game of quiet manipulations – I even see Cutler toying with Bob Benson as he promises Bob a larger role as an account man. There are signs of continued struggle and failure, with communications falling short, undercutting things happening, and even the fact that Don and Roger failed in their mission in LA to land more clients is a terrible sign. All the partners comply with the final decision of renaming the company as Sterling Cooper and Partners, but the repercussions of this are still yet to come.
Family DynamicsI can’t ignore the very family-driven moments of two weeks ago, with Roger failing as the grandfather and father figure, and Don surprising himself in a moment where he is asked to fit into the father-husband role, sans Henry Francis at Bobby’s camp. I remember very distinctly the moment Don admitted to Megan not fully understanding his children and his relationship to them until the day he spent with Bobby watching Planet of the Apes over and over in the theater. So naturally, a new revelation would come to him while spending time with Bobby. Don is re-introduced to the old Betty, slimmed and blonde (totally in preparation to campaign alongside Henry Francis) and plays the part (again – the acting!) of the ideal nuclear family with Bobby during a lunch at his camp. Bobby tries to reach out and introduce his family to a friend, and by appearances alone they are the spitting image of the all-American family. But of course we know this isn’t so. Don is drawn to this image, of course, falling into the arms of Betty, wanting to fulfill this role. His wake up call here happens when he wakes up alone after sleeping with Betty, and finds her with Henry Francis, and surrounded by otherwise happy functioning couples at the camp. Then there’s Roger, who shows off his grandson at the office and lavishes in the attention and fulfilling the role of pop-pop. Later, he is scolded by his own daughter for taking his grandson to see Planet of the Apes. She says to him she shouldn’t have let a 4 year old watch a 4 year old – this nips Roger’s complex in the bud, for sure. When Roger tries to be the father to Joan’s child, he also finds himself flubbing and failing, with Bob Benson answering the door and Joan rejecting Roger’s gifts for Kevin. We find the two top dogs of the show – Don and Roger – struggling to successfully fulfill these leading roles in their lives. Again, I can look at this as another omen of their impending doom, but maybe that’s a stretch if we’re trying it to their failures with their families. These moments undoubtedly have caused Roger and Don to re-evaluate their lives in some small way, and I’m sure these moments will kick back before the season is over.
Overall, we slowly progressed in the last two weeks toward some sort of gloom and doom, in both current events and for Sterling Cooper. Everyone is so unsettled over a number of things, and we know that feeling isn’t going away. What I’m left with is a concoction of half-baked theories that we can only begin to unfold as the season comes closer to its end.
And now, some last odds and ends:
-Bob Benson as Joan’s new friend (or more) was a rather funny image to me, but makes me wonder how else is he going to leave his mark in the Mad Men world as the merger progresses. Yes, he’s now given an increased role. But who is he really? He came out of nowhere, happens to have the right answers to everything. There are lots of theories regarding Bob Benson out in the internet, most of which I write off in my head as way too crazy. But I think we’re about to come to a head with what Bob Benson is really capable of before the season ends.
-When did Ginsberg start to lose it? I think the hippie culture is about to swallow him whole. Maybe he’ll join Abe in their fight for a cultural and societal revolution against the suits.
-The LA party was so cinematic and cliche – I was conflicted about the depiction of that trip to LA. The music stings and the types of characters in the party (there was definitely a Hendrix lookalike planted there) felt cornball, even for Mad Men, but the portrayal of Don’s high was very well filmed and edited. This seems a very easy introduction to the rising subculture of the 60s – but I guess the fun part is seeing the hippies clash with the suits. Don and Roger looked so dated and out of place at that party.
-Harry’s sideburns. Nuff said.
-Never thought Don would be the type of guy who hates convertibles with the top down. He felt so old to me complaining about the car Harry got them in LA.
-Pete Campbell smoking a j at the end and having that slowed moment of quietude after another one of his bitching moments was an excellent end to another wacky episode. What will this mean for Pete though? His concerns for the business have been a backdrop of the last few episodes – is this moment for him a good or bad sign for Pete?
Hopefully, tomorrow night I’ll snap out of the fog I’ve been left in from these episodes of Mad Men.