Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Reprinted from BlogCritics.org - 'Mad Men' 1-6: "Babylon" - Exile from the Good Place That Cannot Be

This article is reprinted with permission from BlogCritics.org.

This episode of Mad Men is just incredible, both for its artistry and for its interwoven themes of exile and longing for mother/motherland, captivity, and liberation among Jews and among 1960s American women.

The Babylonian Exile (or Babylonian Captivity) occurred historically from roughly 598–538 BCE, when many Jews were exiled from Israel (Zion) and enslaved in Babylon, a place synonymous with sin. As the beautiful song at the end of the episode quotes from Psalm 137:1, “By the waters of Babylon we lay down and wept for thee, Zion. We remember thee, Zion.” The experience of exile and longing for one’s home or homeland are central to the episode. Yet separate “Babylonian” efforts by Don and Roger to “capture” their respective girlfriends, Midge and Joan, to use for their own personal “sins” of adultery, fail, and the men experience exile in an emotional sense as much as the women do.

Rachel Mencken’s classic explanation to Don of the two meanings of utopia – the good place, and the place that cannot be – Rachel and Donresonates throughout. After falling down the stairs while bringing Betty her Mother’s Day breakfast, Don recalls his feelings of exile as a boy whose mother had died in childbirth and whose father had recently died at the time his half-brother, Adam, was born. Even as an adult, Don longs for his mother, his original “home” – the good place that, for him, cannot be. Later, he tries to dominate girlfriend Midge, whom he wants to capture (metaphorically) and keep for his occasional pleasure, despite being married to Betty. Midge’s rejection of an exclusive relationship with him puts Don into a sort of emotional exile; he just doesn’t know why he can’t have Midge for his utopian “second home” – another good place that cannot be. Finally, Don and Rachel form an emotional bond in which she mothers him to some extent, yet it’s a relationship that has no future. Don is like a good place for her to feel at home for the moment, but one that cannot be for very long.

Early in the episode, Betty begins to reminisce with Don about her recently deceased mother. However, attempting to command her full attention, Don tells her that her remembrance is just self-pity. Betty feels exiled from her original home, her mother – her own good place that can no longer be, if in fact it ever really was a good relationship in the first place. Not long after, Betty talks to Don while making love with him and reveals how much she thinks about having sex with him, how badlyBetty and Don in Bedshe wants him, to the point of going through the motions of doing her daily chores in a sort of trance while being mesmerized by her desire for sex.
Don replies matter-of-factly, “You have me,” as if he doesn’t really understand the overwhelming level of yearning that sexually experienced women in love can feel. In this respect, Betty craves her personal utopia – sexual union with Don – because unlike Don, she can’t just have sex anytime she wants it. For Betty, having sex with Don is the good place that can be, but only occasionally – at his whim – and not enough.

Meanwhile, Roger spends much of the episode attempting to capture and isolate Joan, his office girlfriend. He proposes to set her up in a fourth floor walkup in the City with “no doors or windows” where she could cook for him and be there at his Joan & Roger neckingpleasure. He even offers her a bird in a cage (symbolizing beauty in captivity) to keep her company while she is isolated and put to work cooking him dinners in this imagined male-utopian retreat. She politely turns him down, however, saying that she likes hotels and carry-out food better. She also says she’s happy where she is, living with her roommate, Carol, and entertaining other guests as well. Roger’s good place requires Joan’s metaphorical enslavement, and because Joan rejects it, that good place for Roger cannot be.

Another picture of Babylon is seen in the Belle Jolie portion of the Belle Jolie lipstick focus groupepisode. We see a group of Sterling Cooper secretaries being ushered into a group room and asked to try on different Belle Jolie lipsticks. Unbeknownst to most of them, several male executives watch them from behind a one-way mirror, laughing, drinking, and making mostly crude comments about them. The women may not see themselves as enslaved or servile, but they accept being addressed as “girls” and clearly feel unempowered as adults. And considering it’s the 1960s, they work for much lower wages than the men do, and they take orders and do many personal favors for the men (including sexual favors) in efforts to please them, without reciprocity. For the men laughing at these women, and also patronizing Peggy for having a good ear for advertising phrases (Freddie Rumsen: “It was like watching a dog play the piano!”), this event creates a Babylonian/utopian good place that can be, but it also results in one of the “chickens” (Peggy) actually being promoted – being let out of captivity, metaphorically speaking.
 
Finally, the ad campaign that Don accepts for his creative group at the time is for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. The project Israel tourism imageinvolves depicting Israel as a good place for American tourists – the good place that not only can be, but that is there now, waiting for visitors to enjoy. This view of Israel and its beautiful people presents a nice twist on the story of Jewish exile through history. It’s also interesting to see how advertisers regularly create utopian types of images in order to sell products, or in this case, tourist attractions.

There’s so much more to this episode that can’t be tied to a single theme. Just to hear the beautiful music at the end accompanying the stunning final visual montage, to observe all the poignant human interactions throughout, or to catch the many great gag lines, makes Babylon well worth repeated viewings.

 Copyright 2014 Karen Field Bolek. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Reprinted from my new BlogCritics.org post about 'Mad Men' 1-1: 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes'

THE FOLLOWING IS REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM BLOGCRITICS.ORG.

One of the great things about Mad Men is its depth – with multiple layers of life, culture, and storytelling vying for attention in every episode.

In the pilot episode, we’re introduced to Don Draper – the tall, dark and handsome young Madison Avenue ad man who isn’t yet secure in his professional position but appears extremely comfortable in his masculinity. After work one night, we see Don visiting Midge, a beautiful, quirky, free-spirited artist in the Village, where he seeks help on his ad campaign and enjoys casual sex.

At the office the next day, we see him insult wealthy potential client Rachel Mencken during a client meeting and rebuke her after the meeting with, “I’m not going to let a woman talk to me that way.” Later, pressured by Roger to apologize to her because her business is worth so much money, Don attempts to charm her by inviting her to a posh restaurant where he tells her that he was wrong, and that he’s “not really as bad as all that.” Interestingly, she takes control of the conversation through her penetrating truthfulness, and at one point she keenly observes that he is someone who understands “what it’s like to feel out of place.” This comment both rattles and interests him. By the end of the episode, Don travels late at night to his picturesque suburban house, where his sweet little children sleep and his beautiful but overly trusting wife, Betty, welcomes him with open arms.

Both marital infidelity and the denigration of women are major themes. On the elevator ride up to work in the morning, Peggy is surrounded by a group of young ad men from the agency who talk about her in her presence. In Don’s office, Pete spots Peggy and says to Don, “Who’s your little friend?” He goes on to look her up and down, assesses her appearance in a way that obviously humiliates her, and suggests to her how to dress differently. Later, on the phone from his office, Pete reassures his bride-to-be, Trudy, “Of course I love you. I’m giving up my life to be with you, aren’t I?” During his bachelor party that evening, Pete tries to feel up a young woman at the strip club and gets rejected. After the party, he goes over to Peggy’s apartment seriously drunk and knocks on her door. Despite all the insults she has taken from him that day, she feels flattered and invites him in for sex.

We also see how American men in 1960 shared a sense of entitlement and defined their masculinity partly by their sexual conquests. Pete sees Don as the alpha male of the office and decides to sleep with Peggy, “the new girl,” partly in an attempt to get her before Don does and partly in an attempt to get her before his wedding that weekend. And far from resenting men’s crass treatment, Peggy seems to accept the idea of women defining themselves according to what men want. After Joan suggests to Peggy that she go home and put a paper bag over her head, punch eye holes, and then study her naked body in the mirror to assess her strengths and weaknesses, Peggy eagerly thanks her for her help. Soon Peggy begins to show her legs more at the office by dressing differently, gets birth control protection, and makes herself available to Don, although Don’s not interested.

Another theme of this episode is the contrast of romantic myths vs. harsh realities – in marriage, in love, and in smoking. Marriage is romanticized by and for women and touted as the way to become happy. The first song of the episode contains the lyrics, “I’ve never wanted wealth untold/ my life has one design/ a simple little band of gold/ to prove that you are mine.” This contrasts sharply with Ken’s description of Pete’s marriage as an anchor around his neck.

Don confronts Rachel by asking her why she never got married and asserts that she would be happier that way. He also tells Midge, jokingly, that he and she should get married, since she lets him come and go as he pleases and she has her own business – suggesting that Don sees actual marriage as less desirable. Moreover, in reality, neither Midge, Rachel, Joan, nor Peggy are married, and although half of them buy into the dream of marriage, all of them seem relatively happy in their single lives, at least for the moment. By contrast, Betty, who appears very happily married, is in reality being played for a fool as Don sleeps around behind her back.

Similarly, love is shown to be highly romanticized in the closing song, “On the Street Where You Live,” which dramatizes the excitement of walking down the street in front of the house of a love interest. Yet the reality is, as Don articulates, most of the men in this episode seem to believe that love is an illusory concept invented for women to get them to buy things. Meanwhile, the men in this episode are preoccupied with sexual conquest, not love.

Finally, smoking is romanticized by advertisers and smokers alike. As Don explains, “It’s toasted” is just another way that advertisers find of helping the public buy into the dream of having a great life, feeling that they’re okay, and experiencing happiness through the product they advertise. Of course, the harsh reality in 1960 is that smoking has recently been determined to cause cancer.

Against this relatively static cultural backdrop, the story of Don Draper and his creative mind provides a dynamic counterpoint. Don’s success can be traced to his nonconformist personality wrapped in the outer appearance of conformity – with his classic handsome looks, his beautiful home and family, and his relatively calm, confident demeanor hiding an extremely independent thinker who relies for success on his creative process above all.Don_Draper Episode 1-1
To fit in socially, Don acts the part of a man of his times and spouts then-current clich├ęs. But being creative, he’s influenced by Rachel’s incisive remarks as well as Midge’s artistic approach to life. His creative thought process in developing advertising ideas is driven by truth-seeking – an unusual approach for the time.

Since he recognizes that truths exist everywhere, not just in his social class, he crosses gender, racial, and socioeconomic lines in pursuit of some kernel of truth about why people smoke and how to get them to switch brands. For example, when he interviews Sam, the African American waiter at the bar, he shows respect for Sam’s opinions and experiences concerning smoking in a way that is totally contrary to the bigoted social norms of the time. Today we might assume that Don is open to all types mostly because there’s money in advertising to all types, but in America in 1960, that wasn’t the way people, even in advertising, were supposed to behave or think. And with Midge, he pleads for her help in developing an advertising concept, according her what appears to be equal respect as a creative thinker even though she’s a woman.

How does Don get away with bucking these cultural norms? First, he lives a double life, exhibiting lots of conformity on the surface and nurturing his creative process under the radar. Second, thanks to Roger’s recognition of his value to the agency, Don is dubbed a “creative genius.” This role allows him to basically do a lot of whatever he wants during the work day, just as long as he keeps coming up with great advertising concepts.

What’s most interesting to me about this episode, though, is that it illustrates through Don at least four habits of creative thinkers. First, they gather and consider lots of ideas, primarily by asking a lot of questions. Second, they respect their mind’s unique needs and ways of working, allowing the mind to float or disengage from the creative project consciously so that unconscious processes can take place. Third, they know the creative process cannot be rushed, so they wait as long as it takes for a sudden insight or inspiration rather than trying to force a quick resolution and settle for a less-than-inspired result. And fourth, they seek a new angle on a topic rather than following conventional perceptions or “right-answer” thinking.

We first see Don brainstorming about the subject of smoking as he jots down his ideas on a cocktail napkin Don cocktail napkinwhile observing the people at the bar. To gather more information, he interviews Sam, the waiter, and later Midge, his artist-girlfriend about why people smoke and what might make them switch brands. Further, he listens carefully to the answers as well as to the comments of everyone who speaks to him on the subject, regardless of the social status or IQ of the person speaking.

Second, when Don tries to come up with an ad concept for Lucky Strike at work, we see him stare off and then begin to distract himself with an exercise gizmo and other items. After Sal walks in to show Don his own ad artwork, which Don rejects, Don starts drinking alcohol, reclines on his couch, and gazes at the ceiling, watching a fly crawl across a light panel until he drifts off to sleep. That night he has an honest conversation with Midge about his fears of being displaced at the agency. That plus their sexual encounter helps Don relax both body and mind, and since body and mind are connected, it’s all part of the creative process for him. What may appear to less creative thinkers as goofing off is, in many cases, behavior that’s conducive to creative thinking.

Dr. Greta GuttmanThird, Don refuses to rush his creative thought process, even though he misses the deadline and can’t produce an ad campaign on cue for the Lucky Strike meeting. Long before the meeting begins, German-speaking psychologist Dr. Greta Guttmann presents him with what she considers a conclusive report based on her survey, supporting the idea that people who smoke have a death wish, and that this fact can be utilized in an ad campaign. Although this concept seems logical to her, it doesn’t meet Don’s criteria for a good ad and he forcefully rejects her contribution. For Don, an ad not only has to identify a truth (e.g., cigarette smoking causes cancer), but it has to be a truth that helps the public feel happy and accepted.


Sitting down to the meeting, Don knows he doesn’t have a good ad idea to propose, and yet he keeps stalling as much as possible, hoping that he’ll suddenly intuit a concept in the moment. When that doesn’t happen, Pete steps in and recommends Dr. Guttmann’s work. Not only does this anger Don, but the concept upsets Lee Garner, Sr., and he rejects it as well. On the other hand, this little scene buys Don a few more minutes to come up with a better idea.

And fourth, creative thinkers seek new angles from which to view things. For Don, a thought voiced by Lee Garner Jr., the lunkhead son of the Lucky Strike owner about all cigarette companies being in the same boat, suddenly kick-starts his creative process because it inspires a new way of viewing the problem of advertising their toxic product. With this new perspective, Don initiates the questioning process all over again and gathers information from Lee Garner, Sr. until he hears the word toasted. Recognizing the toasting process as a true aspect of cigarettes that is pleasant and non-threatening, that makes people feel good about themselves, and that evokes feelings of happiness, he repeats that term, recasts it in a new context, and presents it right back to Lee Garner Sr. as the basis for his ad campaign.

Mad Men episodes are some of the great literature of our time, so richly layered that it would be difficult to fully grasp in just one or two viewings. In fact, there are probably several other stories and perspectives about the pilot episode not even suggested in this essay. Therefore, purchasing Mad Men DVDs to watch repeatedly is an intelligent investment for fans who want to mine the full extent of this exceptional writing and acting.

Mad Men Season 7 will resume on AMC in spring 2015. Until then, why not re-watch earlier episodes on DVD?

See the BlogCritics version of this article, where you can purchase Mad Men DVDs, here: http://blogcritics.org/tv-review-mad-men-smoke-gets-in-your-eyes-the-creative-mind/

Friday, May 30, 2014

Mad Men Episode 7-7: Waterloo

Like Napoleon’s famous battle at Waterloo, this episode marks the downfall of a great ruler. That is, we witness the final days of Bert Cooper, leader and co-founder of the original Sterling Cooper Ad Agency, from which Sterling Cooper & Partners evolved. Concurrently, the story of the first moon landing stirs up a wonderfully positive, hopeful spirit that seems to carry Bert forward into his transition out of this world while also helping to buoy the agency’s sales efforts.


Blastoff

The episode begins in July 1969 in the living room of Bert Cooper, where he sits alone on his couch watching the television coverage of Apollo 11’s blastoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. From the next room, we hear a vacuum cleaner starting up, and Bert yells to his housekeeper to turn it off. As Bert watches the liftoff, eyes glued to the screen, we see him smile with great satisfaction.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Ted “blasts off” in his small airplane, taking two Sunkist executives up on a rocky flight to survey the California landscape. Being seriously depressed, Ted jokes that maybe the astronauts won’t make it and then all of their problems will be over. Next he points out an area that would be “good for smoldering wreckage,” as if he might crash the plane to end his own problems. Suddenly he cuts the engine, plainly scaring the men. “What are you doing?!” one of them yells.


The Battles Begin

From the New York office, Jim Cutler phones Ted and yells at him for scaring the clients half to death. Ted tells him, “I don’t want to die; I just don’t want to do this [advertising] anymore.” Jim tries to convince him to stay, but Ted says he’s made up his mind.

Lou Avery enters Jim’s office to report that their prospects for the Commander Cigarette account are dead. He complains that he spent 10 years building his resume for tobacco companies, and then Don Draper makes a fool of him in front of the Commander executives. Now that he thinks he has a chance with another cigarette company, he wonders if he should invite them in for “Don Draper dinner theater”? Cutler rejects Lou’s attitude and tells him he’s just a hired hand and should get back to work. However, Lou’s antipathy for Don seems to bolster Cutler’s determination to push Don out.


Business as Usual

Meanwhile, the Creative team assembles in the conference room to discuss and plot out their presentation to Burger Chef. In pre-meeting chatter, Harry reports that his wife, Jennifer, has stopped talking about divorce now that he’s slated to become a partner at the firm. “She just wants the money” he complains. As Don enters the room, Harry asks Don for advice, to which Don replies: “Don’t negotiate. Give them what they want.” The meeting begins with Pete in the leadership role, and everyone quickly runs through who will say what, when. The plan is to have Peggy introduce Don, and to have Don deliver the story-board ad presentation. Pete ends the conversation with: “Now we just have to pray everything goes smoothly on the moon,” since the Apollo 11 astronauts are schedule to land on the moon over the weekend, just prior to their presentation to the client in Indianapolis.

As Don returns to his office, Meredith, his secretary, asks to speak privately and shows him a breach of contract letter signed by Jim, Roger, and Bert – a first step in the legal process of firing him. Stunned by the letter, Don absorbs the meaning of it in the back of his mind while restraining himself from bursting out laughing at Meredith as she attempts to calm him down and also seduce him with a kiss. When Meredith demands lovingly, “Tell me what I can do,” Don replies authoritatively, “You can get my attorney on the phone, and we can’t do this.” Clueless, Meredith responds wide-eyed, “You’re right – not right now.”


Uproar

Don storms into Jim’s office, scaring away the man who was there to speak to Jim at the time, and yells, “You think you can throw me out of my own company?!” Jim replies that Don’s breach of contract is cut and dried, since Don signed a stipulated agreement and then broke some of the stipulations. He also tells Don that, while at CGC, he and Ted used to feel intimidated by Don’s mysterious creative process. However, now that he’s been “backstage” he finds Don to be unimpressive – “a bully and a drunk.” In sexist and class-based insults so typical of Americans in the 1960s, he also refers mockingly to the time when he heard Don “blubbering like a little girl” in front of the Hershey executives about his “impoverished childhood.” Seeing Don’s anger rise, Jim taunts him, “You want to take a swing at me? It would save us all a lot of trouble.” Don restrains himself and strides forcefully out of Jim’s office.

Next, Don barges into Roger’s office, confronting Roger with his signature at the bottom of the breach letter. In an open area outside Roger’s office, Don yells for Pete, Joan, and Bert to come over immediately and demands an explanation for the breach of contract letter. Hearing the commotion, Ken and Harry gravitate to the group, but they quickly move away after Joan tells Harry bluntly that he’s not a partner yet so doesn’t need to be there. Roger claims he never signed the letter. Bert begins by saying, “I want you to calm down. We’ll get to the bottom of this.” But when he sees that his signature is also forged on the letter, he supports Don and opposes Jim Cutler. Pete is outraged because Don is a critical part of the ad presentation to Burger Chef that’s scheduled in just a few days and that could bring the agency considerable new business. Joan, however, stands against Don, to his surprise.

Jim states that the stipulations of his contract for employment at SC&P were clearly violated, and he justifies forging Roger and Bert’s signatures because they had previously signed Don’s contract. Don challenges Jim, “You want to play ‘Parliamentary Procedure’? Let’s take a vote.” They then vote on whether to retain Don, with three votes against (Jim, Joan, and Ted in absentia – according to Jim) and four votes for retaining him (Pete, Roger, Bert, and Don). After the vote the group disperses, but Roger quizzes Joan privately and she tells him she’s tired of all the money Don has cost the agency.


Bert’s Words of Wisdom

Roger heads to Bert’s office to discuss the situation privately with him and asks, “What are we going to do about Cutler?” Despite Bert’s protest, Roger refuses to take off his shoes upon entering the room. Bert tells Roger in derogatory tones that Don cost the agency a lot of money when they were unable to go public, and that he’s a pain in the ass. Roger wonders why, then, did he vote to keep Don at the agency? Bert explains that he himself is a leader, and a leader is loyal to his team, whereas Jim Cutler is a leader because he has a vision for the company, but he’s not on Bert’s team. And Roger has talent and experience, but he’s not a leader. Bert states that nobody has ever made a comeback after being put on leave – not even Napoleon. Mixing metaphors, Roger refers at one point to “Benedict Joan,” because Joan voted against Don’s continuation at the agency. Bert compares Don to Napoleon because, at Waterloo, Napoleon staged a coup (as did Don when he walked in on the Commander Cigarettes meeting), but ended up exiled on an island for the rest of his life. Unimpressed with Bert’s metaphors but still trying to compete in his own way, Roger recites lyrics from an Irving Berlin song: “So, let’s have another cup of coffee; let’s have another piece of pie” – a song that suggests better times are ahead. Roger then walks out of Bert’s office, slamming the door in frustration.


Sales Prep

At home, Peggy takes care of business as a landlady and prepares for her trip to Indianapolis for the Burger Chef presentation. At one point she comes home to find a handyman named Nick in her apartment, instead of the man who usually does work for her. Nick mistakes 10-year-old Julio, who’s over at Peggy’s watching TV, for her son, and says he was helpful. Feeling attracted, Peggy offers Nick some iced tea. Nick learns that Peggy owns the building by herself, and he hands her a piece of paper with his phone number on it, in case she has jobs for him in the future.

Sometime later, Julio knocks on Peggy’s door and asks to watch TV. First Peggy says no, but after turning him away she shouts, “Wait. Get in here!” Peggy asks for Julio’s help on deciding what to wear for her sales presentation, but Julio is confused by her questions. Next she tries to tell him about her travels to Indianapolis over the weekend and mentions that the astronauts might not survive. This upsets Julio, and so she gives him a hug. When Julio yells, “It’s not fair” and reveals that he doesn’t want to go to Newark, Peggy learns that Julio’s mother is planning to move to Newark for a new job, leaving Peggy with an empty apartment to rent. Meanwhile, Julio continues to hug Peggy, telling her that he doesn’t want to leave and that his mother doesn’t care about him. Trying to comfort him, Peggy offers false hopes, which Julio sees through immediately. The scene ends with Peggy allowing Julio to sit and watch TV. She also allows him to have her key so that on Sunday, when she’ll be in Indianapolis, he can watch the moon landing by himself in her apartment.

Over at Don’s apartment, he packs his suitcase for the Indianapolis trip and then pauses to call Megan and discuss his work situation. Megan picks up the phone while sunbathing on the deck of her home. She tells Don she plans to go to the movies with a friend to see The Wild Bunch. When Don says he wants to see it too, she asks whether she should wait to see it with him instead. Don begins to explain his work situation and possible ouster from the agency. Megan is sympathetic and suggests that maybe it’s time for him to move on to another job and another agency. Then Don suggests, “I could finally move out there” and asks Megan if she wants him to do so. Megan remains silent as she considers the possibility skeptically, leaving Don to conclude that the answer is no. Realizing there may be no future in their relationship, Don tells Megan he’ll always take care of her, and Megan delivers a final-sounding “Goodbye, Don.”


Big Apple to Naptown

On the airplane headed from New York to Indianapolis, the pilot makes reference to the astronauts as he welcomes passengers seated aboard the aircraft. Peggy and Harry sit next to each other and share their worries about how a disaster of the Apollo mission could jeopardize their business opportunity. A couple of rows up, Pete and Don sit together and converse. Pete comments that Ted is going to run the California office into the ground because he’s going off the deep end, like Lane Pryce. Pete also says encouragingly that now Don can finally go to LA (thinking Don can take the place of Ted at the California office), but Don says there’s no reason to go there. Catching his vibe, Pete grumbles, “Marriage is a racket.” Pete also talks business: “The ‘Don Draper Show’ is back from its unscheduled interruption” he announces. After continuing to encourage Don about the Burger Chef presentation, Pete is surprised to hear Don say that he’s confident about it. Pete observes, “You’re sighing a lot,” but Don keeps his thoughts to himself.

 
Moon Landing and Aftermath

On Sunday evening, everybody around the country watches the TV news coverage of the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s first steps onto the moon’s surface. Harry, Pete, Peggy, and Don sit in a hotel room in Indianapolis, watching while drinking beer together on the night before their Burger Chef presentation. Over in suburban New York, Betty, Henry, Sally, Bobby, and Gene sit in the Francis’ living room along with visiting family friends of Betty’s, including her friend Caroline, Caroline’s husband, and the couple’s teen sons, Neil and Sean. At the Sterling residence, Roger, ex-wife Mona, Brooks, and young Ellery sit together in the living room like a family, with Ellery dressed in an astronaut’s helmet sitting on Grandpa Roger’s lap. And in Bert’s home, Bert sits on his living room couch next to his housekeeper, with a proper distance between them. When astronaut Neil Armstrong steps out of the lunar module and says famously, “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind,” Harry stands up in excitement in Indianapolis, while Bert in New York looks entranced, beams with admiration, and says dramatically, “Bravo!” Don phones the Francis residence to speak with his children. Getting Sally on the line, he remarks, “Isn’t that something?” Sally, however, is more impressed with the two teenage boys visiting her home than with the astronauts, and mimics the older boy, Sean, when she says: “It’s such a waste of money. We’ll be going there all the time while people here go hungry.” Don reprimands her for being cynical and then asks to speak to the boys.

While Roger’s family is still watching the television coverage, Roger answers a phone call, apparently from Bert’s housekeeper, with the news of Bert’s sudden death. Sadly, Roger heads to the agency, walks to Bert’s office, and looks around. He then takes Bert’s name plate from his office door, perhaps as a memento, since Bert was like a father to him. Joan and Jim Cutler soon join Roger and express condolences, but a contentious discussion about the future of the agency ensues. With Bert gone, Jim clarifies that Don no longer has a majority in favor of his retention at the agency. Cutler expresses his vision to lead the agency away from its current creative talent–centered approach to advertising and toward a more computer data–centered approach, and he wants to start contacting clients right away, dividing up Bert’s clients and pitching SC&P as “the agency of the future.” Roger objects: “He’s been dead an hour. Are you prying his hand open? Is this what would happen if I died?”

Later that night, Roger tracks down Don’s location in Indianapolis and calls him in his hotel room to share the news that Bert died a couple of hours earlier while sitting on his living room couch. Roger’s voice cracks when he tells Don, “I’m going to lose you too” because, he explains, Jim Cutler is working to get rid of Don. Roger continues, “He [Cooper] was hard on me…but maybe he was right.” He also muses, “Poor Bert…anytime an old man talks about Napoleon, you know he’s going to die.” Don assures Roger that Bert was very proud of him. He also asks Roger whether Bert’s sister is still alive, but Roger doesn’t even hear the question because he’s so wrapped up in his own emotions.

Back at the Francis residence, Caroline’s younger son, Neil, slips away from the TV room and goes outside to look through the telescope set up in the yard. Although earlier, Sally had shown more interest in big brother Sean, who appears socially adept, she comes out to smoke a cigarette and walks up to socially awkward Neil to start chatting. When she tells Neil she doesn’t want to get criticized for smoking, he promptly states that “smoking causes cancer,” which inhibits Sally from lighting up. They have a conversation around his interests in getting away from his family and seeing things other than television. He helps Sally spot Polaris through the telescope. Then Sally leans in and kisses him. Clueless, he asks her, “What do I do now?” Then Caroline yells his name from the house and says, “Get in here. It’s bedtime!” Neil walks away and Sally then lights a cigarette, striking a pose that perfectly replicates her mother’s body language.


Changing Plans

Later that night, Don knocks on Peggy’s hotel room door and asks to speak with her. Inviting himself into her room, she with her hair in curlers, Don tells her that there’s been a change of plans and that she will need to be the one to deliver the presentation. Peggy asks, “Did Harry tell you about my dream?” which strikes Don as humorously odd. Don says, “You’ve probably heard they’re trying to get me out” and explains that, therefore, he can’t be the one to present to Burger Chef, as his departure from the agency after winning the business could then cause the deal to fall through. Peggy argues against it, but Don persuades her that he believes she can succeed.

The next morning, Roger has a breakfast meeting at a restaurant with his advertising nemesis Jim McCann. After some banter, McCann tells Roger that his company wants to hire the four people who won the Chevy account: Don, Ted, Roger, and Jim Cutler. In response, Roger proposes that McCann’s agency buy 51% of Sterling Cooper & Partners, making SC&P an independent subsidiary under the leadership of Roger, “without Jim Cutler and all that baggage from CGC.” Jim McCann considers the option but comes back insisting that Ted Chaough be a part of the package, since he says that GM thinks Ted and Don (who co-created the GM ad pitch) are essentially “one person.”


Burger Chef

In a conference room at Burger Chef, Peggy leads the SC&P ad campaign presentation. Introducing her, Don uses the very line that Peggy had intended to use to introduce him: “Every great ad tells a story, and here to tell the story is Peggy Olsen.” Peggy speaks with confidence and great timing as she begins to address the all-male Burger Chef executive team. Beginning with comments about the moon landing the previous weekend, she brings the conversation down to earth by describing ordinary life in America, where families no longer bond at the dinner table in the evenings and each family member has different tastes in food, entertainment, and such – yet all are hungry for a sense of connection. She then makes the case that Burger Chef provides an atmosphere away from all the things going on at home, without distractions like television, where each person can order what he or she wants and everyone can get the feeling of connectedness they crave.


New Strategy

On his arrival home from Indianapolis, Don meets Roger standing outside Don’s front door. “How did you get in here?” Don asks, since the downstairs doorman isn’t supposed to allow nonresidents up. “Money,” says Roger. “Cooper still dead?” Don quips. Roger then fills Don in about his meeting with Jim McCann. Don points out that their current agency was founded because they wanted to avoid working for McCann, but Roger emphasizes that much has happened since that time. He assures Don that, without the McCann offer, not only will Don be locked out by Cutler, but they’ll all end up out of work once Cutler has his way and eliminates everyone except Harry and the computer. Don complains that he’s tired of dealing with business and just wants to do creative work, and he challenges Roger with: “You can’t even save my job. How are you going to sell the agency?” Unruffled, Roger says he’s working on it, but that Ted Chaough will have to be part of the deal since McCann wants everyone involved in getting Chevy.


The Showdown

At the office, Roger calls a meeting of the partners. Pushing competing agendas, Jim Cutler and Roger Sterling both attempt to lead the meeting, but Roger gains everyone’s attention when he announces that he has some urgent business. Pete assumes it’s about whether Burger Chef has said yes to their ad campaign, but instead he learns that it’s about McCann’s offer to buy a majority stake in the agency and allow it to be independently operated, with Roger at the leadership helm. SC&P gets to keep their name, their office, and their clients, but each of their partners must sign a five-year contract. In return, they’ll all suddenly be worth a lot more money. Jim Cutler says he won’t do it, and Roger says that’s okay because he’s not needed, but Ted is. Cutler also remarks that this proposal is “a pathetic ploy and a delusion” and that the people in the room were all counting their chickens before they hatched. However, few if any of the others are influenced by Cutler’s negativity. It takes a while for everyone to talk Ted into agreeing to the offer, and Don is instrumental in persuading him to say yes. Don tells Ted: “I know you. I know the man I walked into Chevy with.” He says that Ted may not need to work at their company, but speaking from his own experience he knows Ted definitely needs to work, adding, “you don’t want to see what happens when you’re really gone.” Others try to play on Ted’s guilt by pointing out that he would be standing in the way of everyone else there. When Ted asks tentatively, “Should I move back to the city?” Roger immediately calls a vote.

Ironically, not only do the Sterling Cooper partners plus Ted vote in favor of the acquisition, but even Jim Cutler slowly raises his hand, saying, “It’s a lot of money!” Perhaps, as he was listening to Don appeal to Ted about staying with the company, he considered how it would feel for himself to be out of work, and realized that even a compromised work position would be better than no job at all.

 
Death and Good News

On the following workday, Roger announces to a gathering of all employees that their founder, Bert Cooper, has passed away. Rather than staying for the announcement, Don walks downstairs, telling Peggy he wants to get back to work.

Once downstairs, Don hears in his mind the voice of Bert Cooper saying, “Don, my boy.” Don turns around to see where the voice came from, and he imagines seeing Bert standing in the hallway smiling, singing and dancing to the tune of “The Best Things in Life are Free,” a 1920s song from the Broadway musical Good News. Bert’s rendition was complete with orchestral accompaniment and several corporate secretaries taking part in the production number. Some of the touching lines of the cheerful song include, “Love can come to everyone” – possibly foreshadowing a new love (Peggy and Don?) – and “The moon belongs to everyone” – mirroring the happy moment of the moon landing and how everyone everywhere with access to a television got to share the incredible event. At the end of the song, Don watches his vision of Bert walk into a small office across the way, wave goodbye to Don Broadway-style, and close the door, leaving Don alone with his fond memories and a deep sense of grief that he begins to process.

 

In this action-packed, heart-warming episode, endings and new beginnings stand out as a major theme.

·         The moon landing is the culmination of years of work at NASA and fulfills the ambitious prediction of the late President Kennedy to see America reach the moon by the end of the decade; it may also be seen as the beginning of new dreams and plans for further space exploration, and of new hopes for a better future across America.

·         Bert’s death is reminiscent of the death of his dear old friend Ida Blankenship. After Miss Blankenship passed away while sitting at her secretarial desk outside Don’s office, Bert spontaneously eulogized her by saying in an unintentionally funny way, “She was born in a barn and died in a skyscraper; she was an astronaut!”

·         Bert’s housekeeper’s job has suddenly ended, and she has to seek new employment. In addition, it may be true that she and Bert formed some sort of a friendship or companionship during her time with him that she may miss and have to try to replace in her life.

·         With the passing of Bert, SC&P is collapsing as a corporate entity; however, it looks like McCann’s offer will allow SC&P a new beginning under the leadership of Roger Sterling, where the other partners, including the competitive Jim Cutler, will have to respect Roger’s authority.

·         Roger loses a father figure, Don loses a mentor, and everyone around Bert who had a relationship with him loses a leader as well as a relationship with a unique, sometimes inspiring individual. Now they will each have to look for ways to fill the void in their personal and/or professional life.

·         The end of the Burger Chef presentation leads to the beginning of a new client relationship for the agency.

·         Jim Cutler initiates the breach of contract letter to Don, attempting to end Don’s relationship with the agency; with Roger’s help and Jim McCann’s offer, however, Don ends up headed toward a full partner position, clearly a new beginning.

·         Don and Megan’s relationship seems to be over, giving them each a new beginning as a single person. Yet at the beginning of their phone call, before Megan learns that Don will be out of work, Megan shows no signs of breaking up. Will Don’s new wealth and business success due to McCann’s offer cause Megan to rethink her feelings towards him and give their love a new beginning?

·         Through the Burger Chef presentation process, Peggy has ended her feud with Don, and now through cinematography, Don and Peggy are beginning to look like a couple. Could this be suggesting the beginning of a deeper relationship for them?

·         Ted is ending his time in California, but will his return to New York end his depression or make his life more difficult? He begins the episode in deep depression and ends on a hopeful note. Could this move lead Ted and Peggy to a romantic relationship, possibly destroying Ted’s marriage?

·         At her apartment, Peggy meets Nick, a new maintenance man, and they seem mutually interested in each other. Now that Nick has given her his phone number, will she seek a new relationship with him, assuming she feels unable to have a relationship with Ted and unaware that her relationship with Don could change?

·         Julio hugs Peggy because he fears his relationship with her is about to end, as it looks like his mother is moving them to Newark. However, Julio will at least have a new beginning there, which he can’t yet envision.

·         Will Sally have a chance for a new relationship with one of Caroline’s sons?

·         When Betty talks to Caroline about her relationship with Don, she says she’s starting to think of him as an old bad boyfriend. This may be Betty’s way of distancing herself from her memories and creating a greater sense of finality.

·         Although Roger and Mona have been divorced for quite some time, it appears that they’ve made a new beginning by uniting as grandparents in order to provide emotional support for son-in-law Brooks and grandson Ellery.

 

Another important theme is leadership, with great examples of both bad leadership and good.

·         Bert hands down some wisdom to Roger involving the topic of leadership in what would be their final conversation. Basically, he says that a leader is someone with a vision for the company and someone who is loyal to his team. He says Roger isn’t a leader because he doesn’t have a vision. Taking this information to heart, Roger later tells Jim McCann that he has a vision for his agency, and that vision entails continuing to operate just as they have been, as an independent subsidiary of McCann, with himself as the president, and without the baggage from CGC that includes Jim Cutler. It’s a vision to basically stay in business, make more money, be loyal to his team, and eliminate his main rival there, who comes from another team.

·         Jim Cutler is also described by Bert as a leader because he has a vision for the agency. However, Cutler’s vision involves changing the agency to the point where many people on his team would sooner or later have to go, because in the “agency of the future” that he envisions, computer data is the key to success and is far superior to creative talent.

·         Cutler provides an example of bad leadership when he gets an attorney to send Don a breach of contract letter with forged signatures on it. This action blows up in his face because he fails to gain buy-in from the key stakeholders before making moves to bring about the change he wants to lead.

·         Cutler also exemplifies bad leadership when he listens to Lou Avery’s complaints unsympathetically and then demeans him by telling him he’s just a hired hand, and “We don’t owe you anything.” His “Get back to work” is equally demeaning, making Lou less likely to be loyal to Cutler in the future.

·         Don provides valuable leadership to Peggy when he turns over the Burger Chef presentation to her, listens continuously to her objections and self-doubts, and then persuades her by forcefully communicating his confidence in her ability to excel. By the next morning when Peggy steps up to deliver the presentation, Don’s confidence in her and validation of her talents have taken root to bring out the best in her.

·         Pete attempts to provide leadership to Don by validating Don’s talents and trying to encourage and inspire him to do well in the Burger Chef presentation. However, he misinterprets Don’s somewhat depressed mood because Don is already confident of his presentation skills. Pete’s behavior represents good leadership in the making, where he’s still learning about how to first gather enough relevant information about someone so that he can apply the right leadership skill at the right time for maximum effect.

·         Comically, Meredith attempts to provide leadership to Don when she presents him with the breach of contract letter by attempting to provide emotional strength for him in a moment of what she assumes is confusion and vulnerability. If she were reading Don correctly and he actually felt vulnerable and in need of her strength, she did exactly what a good leader would never do, and that is to try to seduce the vulnerable individual in his/her moment of weakness and confusion. However, she misreads Don completely and, even in the midst of his bad feelings about the breach letter, he leads Meredith back to work in a very professional and non insulting manner.

·         Both Betty and Caroline provide strong leadership within their families in this episode, but their leadership skills are not that good. They lead mostly by being bossy, yelling at or commanding their children regardless of how humiliating it may be for the children, as was typical of American parents in that generation. This is the kind of leadership that demands respect from followers but in return, doesn’t provide followers with the feeling of being respected as individuals.

·         Peggy generally takes a rude and bossy tone with Julio and at times asks him to perform tasks that are inappropriate for who he is, such as helping her pick out the right outfit for an adult event. However, when she realizes Julio is upset, she tries to comfort him. This shows that, like a good leader, she does respect his limits when she’s able to perceive them. Also, when he can’t do what she asks, she doesn’t blame him for it. On the other hand, she recites a bunch of platitudes to him when she tries to get him to stop crying, which Julio immediately sees through – and her lack of thoughtfulness there makes her not such a good leader in that situation.

·         Nick, who does some handyman work in Peggy’s apartment, tells Peggy that Julio helped him a lot. In this instance, Nick is a good leader who gives credit to others where credit is due, rewarding Julio with appropriate attention. Even his “Goodbye, kid” was Nick’s way of giving Julio acknowledgement, attention, and respect, which Julio might not have expected from an adult.

·         Roger provides exceptional leadership in saving the company on very short notice, despite his need to mourn the death of his father figure and mentor (who’d just told him he wasn’t a leader). Assessing Jim Cutler’s intentions at the office on the night of Bert’s death, Roger makes phone calls in the middle of the night and ends up negotiating over breakfast with Jim McCann to regain control of the agency from Cutler and save his friend Don’s job, which is crucial to the agency’s creative success. Further, Roger announces the death of Bert Cooper to the agency the next day in a dignified and professional manner, despite having little sleep over the weekend. His words give everyone confidence in his leadership skills so that the company can move forward.

·         The strong visionary leadership of President Kennedy suffuses the entire episode – and all of America at the time – with hopefulness and excitement about a better future, as his long-term vision of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade is realized during that weekend.

 

A third theme is twists of fate.

·         Bert compares Don Draper to Napoleon and says he’ll never come back, but Don survives the twists and turns of the episode, and it’s Bert who departs, never to return.

·         Jim Cutler attempts to kick Don out of the agency, but by the end of the episode, Jim stands alone against the other partners and crawls back to the group, having almost been eliminated. McCann demands both Don and Ted, but is less interested in Jim Cutler. Thus, Cutler may still be cut from the new organization if Roger decides to do so.

·         In previous episodes, Megan has expressed her strong desire to be with Don again and to be the center of his attention. She even offers to change her movie plans so she can see The Wild Bunch with him, if he wants her to. However, now that Don tells her he can join her in LA because he’s going to be unemployed, she suddenly isn’t interested.

·         Sally meets teenage brothers and feels attracted to the older brother, Sean. However, finding an opportunity with younger brother, Neil, she kisses him instead.

·         At the Burger Chef presentation, Peggy paints a picture of the modern American family, where Dad likes Sinatra and his son likes the Rolling Stones, the TV is always on, there are multiple distractions, and yet everyone is hungry for human connection. Ironically, she explains how a family dinner away from home, at Burger Chef, can create that connection since everyone gets to order what they want, but they all sit around a table and eat together, undistracted by television and phones.

 

Finally, the prominent theme of spreading “memes” (through imitation) is one I write about in my other Mad Men blog. If you want to, you can check it out by visiting BlogCritics.org and then searching forMad Men.’

Friday, May 23, 2014

Mad Men Episode 7-6: The Strategy

The story begins with Peggy and Mathis conducting in-person surveys in a Burger Chef parking lot. Peggy stops a woman driving her kids home with their Burger Chef order and inquires about why she goes there. The woman immediately states that she needs to beat her husband home, but Peggy offers her $10 (more than $60 in today’s money) to answer their survey questions first. Still looking worried, the woman says that she comes to Burger Chef because it’s close to home, that she comes there too much, and that her husband would never pick up Burger Chef. Also, “It’s bad enough that I’m not making dinner.” After she drives away, Peggy concludes that the woman feels guilty about buying Burger Chef dinners.

We next see Peggy in the Creative meeting where Pete, visiting from the Los Angeles office, is helping to provide leadership. Lou heads the meeting of Stan, Peggy, Harry, and Pete, and Pete requests Don’s presence as well. Confused, Peggy asks if Mathis (Peggy’s other subordinate) should also be present, but Pete assures her that only Don is needed. When the meeting begins, Peggy announces that they’re “circling a strategy. Our job is to turn Burger Chef into a special treat.” Referring to the research gathered by their survey, they discuss that moms need permission to go to Burger Chef because they basically feel guilty about not being at home doing the cooking every night. And who gives moms permission but dads? Peggy then describes the ad posters featuring Stan’s artwork, and ends with the tag line: “Aren’t you glad everybody loves Burger Chef as much as you do?” Lou loves the ad concept and comments that it’s nice to see “family happiness” again. Others in the room all say they like it as well. Sitting quietly at the back of the meeting room, Don eventually summarizes that dad surprises the family, thus absolving the mom of any guilt. “Right on strategy” he says, confirming the group opinion.

However, after Don leaves the room, Pete throws Peggy a curve ball by suggesting that Don should be the one to deliver this presentation to the client, not Peggy. But “it’ completely your decision” he emphasizes. When Lou wonders about this, Pete says, “Lou, you’ve never seen Don at his best.” He tells Lou that Don will give the ad pitch a sense of authority, whereas Peggy will give it emotion. Surprised and offended, Peggy says, “I don’t like being in this position.” Then Ted, in California, speaks up over the speaker phone and tells Peggy, “I would use every resource at my disposal to win it…but it’s your decision.” Surprised to realize that Ted is even present and listening to the meeting, let alone that he agrees with Pete, Peggy is taken aback. Pete then assures the group, “You know, she’s as good as any woman in this business!” (translation: Peggy’s good…for a girl…but we need a man to really sell it). Finally, Ted encourages Peggy and the group, “Keep up the good work,” further undermining Peggy’s confidence.

Later, Peggy goes to Don’s office, and in her role as an authority figure, announces to him (as if it were her idea): “I’ve given it careful thought and I think you should give the presentation.” Surprised, Don tells her she did a good job and asks, “Wait a minute – whose idea was this?” Towards the end of their conversation, Don tells her that he was “noodling around” and wondering what the ad would be like if presented from the kids’ perspective. “Mom, can we go to Burger Chef?”  Without giving it much time to consider the concept, Peggy says, “I appreciate it, but we already have a strategy.”

Peggy then exits Don’s office and, out in the hallway, runs into Megan, who has come for a weekend visit. They chat, and Megan says that pretty soon, Peggy will be in Don’s office, to which Peggy shrugs. Then Stan joins the gathering, greeting Megan with a kiss. “Did you hear about Ginsberg?” he asks Megan. Stan tells her he’s visited Michael in the hospital, but that Peggy won’t go. As Don comes by and whisks Megan off to a lunch date downtown, Stan says to Peggy, “I miss her.” Thinking of herself, Peggy accuses him, “You didn’t even ask me how it went!” Stan looks at her with surprise and asks, “Are you mad at me?” and, after observing her bad mood, exits the room.

At home that night, Peggy rifles through a pile of work files, too agitated to sleep. Stretching to come up with a better ad idea, she tosses the files on the floor of her bedroom in frustration. Later she calls Stan at home to talk about the ad. Since it’s a Saturday night, Stan immediately says, “Find something else to do today…that’s an order!” However, Peggy continues to discuss her discontent and frustration with the ad. Although Stan says, “The work is great, I’m positive, exclamation point!” she disregards his opinion because, she says, “We both know there’s a better idea.” Stan says, “There’s always a better idea” but Peggy’s insecurity continues, until finally it sinks in that Stan has a date and so she ends the call.

Next Peggy calls Don at home and states bluntly that his “kids’ idea” doesn’t work and is a bad idea. Surprised at being unnecessarily offended, Don engages in the conversation with her anyway. Next she accuses him, “Why are you undermining me?” to which Don replies, like an obedient subordinate, “From now on, I won’t express myself.” Then Peggy yells, “It’s tainted because you expressed yourself!” They end their phone call and Don attempts to have a nice dinner with Megan, but later that night he turns up at the office to work with Peggy on developing a better idea.

There Peggy continues to hurl offensive remarks at Don until she finally finds the humility to ask him how she’s supposed to know when she has found the best idea. Don says “that s a tough one” and continues, “that’s the job – living – not knowing.” Remembering the days when she worked for Don, Peggy’s anger re-emerges and she yells, “I would have given you 100 ideas and never asked why!” Peggy then challenges Don: “Show me how you think.” Don turns to reviewing pros and cons, the pros being: “It’s almost done, it’s good, and the client’s onboard.” Peggy complains: “Those are cons, and you know it!” Then Don says ironically, “Whenever I’m really unsure about an idea, I abuse the people whose help I need. Then I take a nap and I start again and see if I end up in the same place.” Having been on the receiving end of Don’s abuse, Peggy calms down and seems to understand herself a little better.

They continue to brainstorm ideas, with Peggy lying on the office couch drinking, and Don posing questions from across the room to Peggy’s stream of consciousness. Together they discuss women who have to work but don’t get the dignity of a professional title, and yet still have to be the mom – a fact that Don says is too sad to be the basis of their ad. Peggy questions whether the happy, smiling family even exists anymore – the family that eats dinner smiling at each other instead of watching TV. Then she says, “What the hell do I know about being a mom?” and reveals that just a couple of weeks earlier she turned 30 years old. “Now I’m one of those women lying about their age.” In a fatherly way, Don says, “I worry about a lot of things, but I don’t worry about you.” Still wrapped up in her self-pity, Peggy asks, “What do you have to worry about?” Don replies, “That I never did anything, and that I don’t have anyone” – comments that show insecurities he has seldom revealed. Peggy goes on to ask, “What did I do wrong?” and Don hands her a tissue along with the reassurance, “You’re doing great.” Suddenly, this triggers a new idea for Peggy and she asks, “What if there was a place where you could go and break bread, and whoever you were sitting with was family? – That’s it!” Don then comments on the Frank Sinatra song “My Way” playing on the radio, and he invites her in a gentlemanly way to slow-dance with him” – mirroring the support Don provides Peggy for doing the ad her way, and for living her life on her own terms.

In the episode’s final scene, we see Peggy, Don, and Pete sitting at a table at a Burger Chef, where Peggy tells them that she plans to shoot the ad there. “It’s about family” she says. “It’s clean, well-lit, and every table is a family table.” Pete counters, “I hate the word family. It’s vague. Mom is more specific. Tell her, Don!” But Don tells Pete that Peggy is doing it the way she wants to do it, and that it’s right. Pete quiets down and bites into his burger, smudging food on the side of his mouth. Like a dad, Don motions as if cleaning his own cheek to give Pete a clue, and like a mom, Peggy hands Pete a napkin. The camera pulls back and we see the three of them through the Burger Chef window, looking like one among many family tables, where Pete is the kid and Peggy and Don are the parents.

 
Throughout the episode, Don interacts heavily with Peggy from his subordinate role, and also as a supportive, fatherly advisor. In addition, he, like Peggy, works at home over the weekend on ad ideas; is polite with Pete and cooperates with him, even though he doesn’t really like Pete; and showers Megan with appreciation and loving attention, taking her shopping and showing her consideration almost as if he were playing a Cary Grant role. When Megan searches Don’s hallway closet for a fondue pot to bring back to California at the end of the weekend, she says, “I miss my things.” Don replies, “I sleep better when you’re here” and then offers to bring her things next time he flies to LA at the end of July. This thought triggers Megan’s imagination, and she says, “I want to see you somewhere where there’s nothing else going on – not LA, not here.”  When Megan finally flies back to LA, we see both her and Bonnie sitting separately in First Class, with Bonnie smoking and looking upset, and Megan smoking, drinking, trying to be emotionally controlled, and distracting herself by looking at a magazine.

 
Pete’s story occurs during his week in New York with girlfriend Bonnie. On flying from LA to NYC, Bonnie insists on paying for part of the trip. However, Pete overrules her and lets her know the costs are covered by the company, not him. She then tries to convince Pete to let her meet his daughter, Tammy, but Pete says, “I don’t want to confuse Tammy.” When Bonnie wonders why Pete is not yet divorced, she says, “I don’t know where this is going, and I don’t want to fail because of delay.” Pete counters evasively with, “I thought you were never going to get married again.” The conversation ends with Bonnie grabbing him in a way that embarrasses him, and then telling him, “Meet me in the restroom in 60 seconds,” an exciting prospect for Pete.

At work, Pete seems in command and gaining respect during his meeting with the Creative group, where he manages to bring in Don and persuade Peggy to go along with the ad presentation strategy secretly agreed upon behind Peggy and Lou’s back. But privately, Pete spends a lot of time and energy trying to win back ex-wife Trudy, an effort destined to fail, rather than courting Bonnie.

On the weekend, he goes to Trudy and Tammy’s house (where they all once lived as a family) and calls out for Trudy, but she’s not there. The maid, Verna, appears holding little Tammy’s hand, and Tammy hides behind Verna, possibly not even recognizing Pete as her dad. After introductions, Pete wants to give Tammy a Barbie doll “all the way from California,” but Tammy stays back. Then, speaking to Tammy, Pete says, “Well, Verna’s going to come with us to the car,” in effect marginalizing Verna by refusing to make eye contact with her and make a direct, adult-to-adult request.

Later that night, Pete brings Tammy home and, seeing Verna, asks, “Where’s Trudy?” Verna responds that Trudy came home but then went out again. Pete says, “Why don’t you give Tammy a bath and I’ll tuck her in?” to which Verna consents. Next, Pete calls Bonnie and says he’s stuck at Trudy’s house with no one to look after Tammy, clearly a lie but also a strategy for ensuring that he sees Trudy. Amazed, Bonnie responds, “You want me to see ‘Oh Calcutta’ by myself?”

When Trudy finally arrives home she’s dressed up in an expensive evening dress, the usual fashion for dates in those days. Trudy asks Pete if he (and Tammy) just got back, and Pete accuses, “No, but you did.” “Did you have a good time?” she asks, and he replies, “I was in fine spirits until I thought about you pulled over on the side of the road, necking with Charlie Fidditch.” Trudy laughs this off, and Pete demands, “Who was it then?” He tells Trudy, “You still have feelings for me!” but Trudy says definitively, “We’re getting a divorce” and “You’re not part of this family anymore.” Yet Pete insists: “We’re still married!” and stomps off, ruining the homemade cake sitting in the kitchen on his way out.

Back at his hotel room, Pete orders food and relaxes on the bed as Bonnie enters after a long day of shopping. She’s surprised that Pete didn’t wait for her so they could share dinner, complains about how dirty her feet are because of shopping in sandals, and asks Pete if he got his work done. When Pete says he only got some of his work done, Bonnie loses her patience with him for not spending time with her. Pete attempts to come on to her sexually in order to shift her mood, but she defies him with, “You’re not going to ___ your way out of this!” She then leaves the room to wash her feet.

 
Bob Benson’s story covers his relationships with Joan and family as well as with Chevy executive Bill Hartley.

We first see Joan at home, leaving baby Kevin to Grandma Gail while Joan goes to work. Gail asks, “Aren’t you going to eat? You’re disappearing!” to which Joan instructs her mom to take the baby and go outdoors today. Next we see Bob Benson at the New York office, in from Detroit, as he invites Joan to come over and chat with the visiting executives from Chevy including Bill Hartley, the new VP of Brands. While secretary Clara ushers the Chevy group in to visit with Harry Crane, Bob tells Joan he wants to see her on Saturday evening “unless you have plans with some married guy.” Joan responds that if he wants to see Kevin, he has to see her mom, too, but Bob says he wants to see the whole family.

Next we see Bob waking up to a phone call in the middle of the night. He rushes out to bail Bill Hartley out of jail after Bill has been arrested and his face bloodied by the cop for attempting oral sex with an undercover cop, with even the jailer mocking him as he’s released from his handcuffs. In 1960s America, homosexuality was both illegal and publicly despised. As Bob and Bill take a cab to Bill’s house, Bob tells Bill he should go to the hospital, but Bill fears being further abused there. He also tells Bob, in so many words, that his wife understands his homosexuality and won’t turn him in. Bill also gives Bob the lowdown on the Chevy account, saying to Bob, “I’m going to miss having you around.” Bob responds forcefully, “I’m not of your stripe, and you should think twice about threatening me like that.” Bill, however, explains that GM loved SC&P’s work and they loved Bob’s service, but their strategy was always to take the XP in-house. However, Buick will soon come to Bob with an offer. Surprised, Bob asks when this will happen, and Bill says it’s imminent. Then Bill asks Bob how he manages to live in New York City with so much “temptation,” and Bob reflects, “It’s hard.”

On Saturday evening, Bob arrives at Joan’s apartment bearing gifts, including an erector set for baby Kevin and flowers for Gail. Bob promises the family “a day that starts with pancakes and ends with an ice cream sundae.” When Joan enters the room, Bob gives her attention as well. Later that evening, when Gail and Kevin have gone to bed, Joan and Bob sit on her living room sofa and enjoy a drink together. Bob tells Joan he got her something and that his heart is pounding. Then he shows her a ring. Surprised, Joan warns, “You don’t want this” but Bob says, “You’re not listening to me.” Then Joan confronts him: “You shouldn’t be with a woman,” to which Bob responds, “I have been, you know.” Joan demands, “Why are you doing this?” At that point, Bob admits that he’s going to be moving on to a job with Buick, and that GM expects “a certain kind of executive,” i.e., a man with a family who at least appears to be straight. Joan is shocked that he’s planning to leave SC&P, and he says he just heard about it and warns her not to divulge the information. “We could comfort each other through an uncertain world” he appeals, but Joan says she wants true love, and she’d rather die hoping to find it than to settle for such an arrangement.

 
Finally, Roger’s story involves conflicts with a few key characters. We first see Roger sitting in a men’s club steam room with Jim McCann, head of the competing ad agency named after him, just as Sterling Cooper is named after Roger Sterling (actually, after his father). Like sparring brothers, they needle each other, with Roger saying, “Thank you for failing at Burger Chef and giving us a chance.” Jim gives it right back to him, with, “I know you guys want to be just like McCann when you grow up.” During their spat-chat, Jim mentions something about Buick, and Roger wonders, “Are you looking for a job?” Jim responds that he just wants to “advance the lives of people I respect,” although it’s unclear what that means.

Next, we see Roger having a talk with Jim Cutler at Sterling Cooper offices. Jim confronts Roger and, in a demanding way, asks for Roger’s cooperation, which leaves Roger looking skeptical. By the end of the program we see the SC&P partners’ meeting (Jim Cutler, Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell, Don Draper, Bert Cooper, and Joan Harris), in which Cutler announces that the company has just lost Chevy, their largest account. In blaming tones, he dubs this “Roger Sterling’s Failure” but Roger counters, “You signed it.” Cutler continues that the agency will be taking on Harry Crane as their newest partner, a bad surprise for Roger and Joan. Pete offers, “If that’s what it takes…” and Don voices the opinion, “Say what you will but he’s very loyal.” Roger and Joan both object loudly, but after a vote is taken, everyone present except Roger and Joan vote to approve Harry as their newest partner, and Bert Cooper tells everyone to get back to work.

Returning to his office to sulk, Roger is disgruntled when Joan enters the room to talk. “Spill the beans or get out” he snaps. Already having heard from Bob Benson that Chevy would be lost to SC&P and that Bob would be invited to work with Buick, she tries not to show too much. Roger says, “I knew McCann was up to something. They’re afraid we’re going to steal Buick.” Sounding shocked, Joan says, “What?” and Roger replies, “Just forget it.”

 

 
Some strong themes stand out in this episode, the first being the strategies people develop for both professional and personal success.

·         Peggy and Lou have a strategy for the Burger Chef ad campaign under Peggy’s leadership, featuring a happy family.

·         Pete and Ted have a twist on this strategy, letting Don present the campaign as the voice of authority while Peggy would step in as the voice of emotion; they also use the strategy of telling Peggy it’s up to her whether to do this, while at the same time undermining her confidence to the point where she gives in.

·         Peggy develops a new strategy for the ad, first by trying to elicit Stan’s help and then getting Don’s help in rethinking the ad.

·         Pete has a personal strategy for winning back Trudy, but his strategy of arguing with her to convince her she still has feelings for him fails, while his strategy of keeping Bonnie happy on the side is quickly falling apart.

·         Bob Benson uses a gift-giving strategy for winning over Joan and her family.

·         Bob Benson has a strategy for becoming a Buick executive that involves a marriage proposal to Joan, where he proposes to play the role of a good provider to Joan and a model father and son-in-law, with the understanding that he would have a secretive homosexual lifestyle on the side.

·         Joan has a strategy for being happy that involves finding true love, or at worst continuing to hold out hope for the rest of her life that she will someday find it.

·         Bonnie has a strategy for getting remarried, and it involves investing time in Pete’s life, but not delaying too long, and also being honest with him about her doubts and concerns.

·         Chevy has had a strategy of testing out Sterling Cooper & Partners on an advertising project for the XP, and then taking the project in-house but continuing the business relationship.

·         Jim McCann has some sort of business strategy when he talks to Roger at the clubhouse steam room, although Roger doesn’t know what it is.



A second major theme is the many ways that people handle uncertainty.

·         Advertising agencies always deal with uncertainty when they develop ad campaigns and then try to sell their ideas. Their business is to meet uncertainty with high levels of creativity and optimism.

·         Roger and rivaling agency head Jim McCann have a men’s club steam room conversation that leaves Roger very uncertain of what McCann is up to. Rather than confronting McCann, he deals with this uncertainty by listening for clues in a subsequent conversation with Joan, where he attempts to piece together the puzzle analytically.

·         Peggy is uncertain about the quality of her Burger Chef ad campaign, and handles her uncertainty by listening to her self-doubts, raising the bar on herself, and pulling in a coworker to help her develop a superior ad concept.

·         Bonnie is plagued by uncertainty regarding her chances for marriage with Pete. To deal with her uncertainty, she invests time and energy in their relationship but also starts asking questions about why Pete isn’t divorced yet, and why he isn’t spending time with her during their week in New York, as she constantly assesses the situation in her mind.

·         Joan has an uncertain future, being an aging single mother living in a cramped apartment with her mother and not having a husband or lover. Yet the way she reacts to this uncertainty is by clinging to the hope that her true desire for an authentic love relationship may still happen, and by rejecting any false marriage arrangement that could prevent the real thing from occurring.

·         Bob Benson’s future in business is particularly uncertain because, in that era in America, his sexual orientation is not only illegal but also scorned in the business community. He handles his uncertain future with Buick by not only hiding his gay identity but also attempting to secure a family arrangement so he can appear to be a straight man and thus move up in the ranks at Buick.

·         Bill Hartley faces uncertainty every time he seeks a sexual encounter, including not only the uncertainty of whether his advances will be accepted or rejected, but the uncertainty of whether he will be arrested and beaten for trying, and the uncertainty of being revealed at work as “queer” and therefore becoming a business outcast. He deals with his uncertainty through his marriage to a woman who understands his homosexuality and accepts him for who and what he is, which at least helps to protect him at work.

·         Tammy is very uncertain of who Pete is, and she deals with her uncertainty by hiding behind Verna, someone she trusts, and holding her hand. She only moves forward into a relationship with her dad when Verna leads her to Pete’s car.

 
A third theme is the myth of male authority compared with the way women seek to gain validation from a special man (or men).

·         The men Peggy desires validation from include Don and Ted. When Pete suggests that Don should be the voice of authority and Peggy the voice of emotion for her Burger Chef ad campaign, Peggy objects to this, because her inner authority is what matters to her, whereas Pete’s opinion doesn’t. When she hears Ted make the same suggestion, though, her confidence is shaken because she craves his validation. Don supports the ad campaign, but maybe because Ted doubts it, she believes Don must doubt it too.

·         Stan attempts to play the male authority figure for Peggy when he tells her, “I want you to take the day off. Find something else to do today. That’s an order!” But since Peggy obeys her own inner authority, she continues bothering Stan for help until she realizes she should leave him alone. She doesn’t want his authority or his validation because he’s not that kind of special man to her; she just wants his assistance in reaching her goal of a better ad.

·         Don attempts to play a subordinate role to Peggy, but after abusing him for a while, Peggy treats him like the talented mentor he really is, learns more about the creative process from him, and is deeply relieved and comforted to obtain his fatherly validation of her as a woman, despite the fact that she’s not married at her age.

·         Bob Benson attempts to play a supportive male role with Joan and her family, providing her with a sense of validation and offering to comfort her in the midst of an uncertain world. However, when Joan objects to his proposal, he warns her sternly: “You’re not listening to me,” as if being the man makes him the de facto authority figure in the relationship. Joan, however, is following her inner authority about the direction of her life and rejects Bob’s authoritative tone. She expresses her desire for a man that she truly loves – the man she envisions whose validation (not bossy authority) would mean great happiness to her.

·         Roger used to play the role of validating Joan’s femininity and business intelligence. However, now Roger is reduced to the role of trying to boss her around as if he’s the authority, telling her, “Spill the beans or get out,” when in a previous year, he might have drawn the information out of her through an intimate discussion.

·         Bob Benson and Bill Hartley help to validate each other. When Bill tells Bob, “I’m going to miss you,” he wasn’t threatening Bob with being fired; he was expressing deep gratitude for the validation and comfort he feels from Bob’s likeminded understanding of gay life.

·         Pete plays the authority figure both to Bonnie – approving or disapproving her various requests as if he’s the boss – and to Tammy, Verna, and Trudy. Neither Trudy nor Bonnie respect his authority, as these women respect the authority of what they believe to be true. No doubt Tammy will grow up seeking his approval and validation, but Trudy no longer has any use for his validation and is looking for another man to fill that role, while Bonnie is slowly learning that Pete isn’t the man of her dreams after all.

·         The woman in the first scene who is interviewed at Burger Chef and says she needs to beat her husband home clearly feels fear due to her husband’s authority. She represents many ordinary mothers of that time who were treated as subordinates by the man of the house, men who demanded that their wife be home with dinner on the table the minute they arrive home from work. This woman’s worried demeanor speaks volumes about the level of comfort and validation married women received in 1960s America, in comparison with the insecurity they felt under the domination of male authority at the time. Unlike the independent women at SC&P, many women still felt they had to obey the authority of their husbands over the authority of their own inner voices.

 

Multiple homecomings, dreams of a “getaway,” and surprises help to pull together the episode.

·         Megan and Pete both enjoy homecoming greetings when they arrive at the New York office from Los Angeles, while Bob Benson’s homecoming from Detroit brings him handshakes as he ushers in the guests from Chevy.

·         Bonnie dreams of her week-long getaway in New York, although the reality doesn’t live up to the dream; meanwhile, Megan tells Don she longs for a place they can meet where nothing else is happening – not at his place or her place, but a special getaway; finally, Peggy envisions Burger Chef as the perfect getaway where a family can go to enjoy a clean, well-lit place to eat, where every table is a family table, and where the people you sit with while you eat are family.

·         Some of the many surprises throughout the episode include Bob Benson’s surprise gifts for Joan and family; Peggy’s surprise when she hears people undermining her ad strategy and realizes Ted is in on the conversation; Don’s surprise at being insulted by Peggy multiple times when in fact he is supporting her original campaign idea; Peggy’s surprise at running into Megan at the office; Stan’s surprise at Peggy’s sudden mood change, to which he asks, “Are you mad at me?” and backs away from her; Trudy’s surprise at seeing Pete in her home when she returns from a date; Pete’s surprise at meeting Verna when he goes to pick up Tammy; Bonnie’s surprise at discovering that Pete ordered room service before she arrived back the hotel from her shopping trip; Bob’s surprise at receiving a phone call in the middle of the night from Bill Hartley; Bob’s surprise at learning that SC&P is going to be dropped by Chevy but that Buick will make him a job offer; Joan’s surprise at receiving a marriage proposal from Bob; the Executive Board’s surprise at learning they’ve lost Chevy, their biggest account; and Joan and Roger’s surprise at learning that Harry Crane is about to become a Partner at the agency.

 
Finally, a major theme in this episode is the nature of family, a topic I explore in depth this week in my other Mad Men blog article, which will be posted on BlogCritics.org.