Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mad Men Episode 5-11: The Other Woman

Recap: This episode shows several characters making moves to get something they dearly want, even at a high cost, and often playing hardball to get it. The SCDP execs learn that Herb, an executive at Jaguar, will see that SCDP gets Jaguar’s business if they will arrange for Herb to spend a night with Joan. Don, wanting to protect Joan from this indignity and to show that Creative can win the account on its own merit, says no and insists that Jaguar doesn’t need Herb’s vote to make their final decision. Don walks out of the executive meeting and in his absence, the other four continue to discuss the proposal, ultimately being deemed by Pete to be “in agreement.”

With the goal of getting the Jaguar account at any cost, Pete meets with Joan and informs her of the situation, offending her further by suggesting that she will receive a large sum of money as compensation, like a prostitute. Pete instructs Lane to take out a loan to cover the cost. Lane, realizing he cannot do so because he recently sought a large loan that the rest of the execs don’t know about, and wanting desperately to keep his job and not get caught, approaches Joan and suggests that she should not ask for money but rather for 5% of the company profits along with full partner voting rights, thus ensuring her ability to earn enough money to raise her son in the coming years. Joan, humiliated to learn that all the partners heard about and discussed Herb’s indecent proposal, and repulsed by the idea of selling herself, yet wanting very much to be able to provide well for her son without Roger’s financial support, agrees to the arrangement and meets Herb at a hotel room to do the unsavory deed. Don later learns of the agreement of the other partners and makes an immediate trip to Joan’s apartment to tell her personally that she doesn’t have to do it; however, by that time, Joan has already returned from the sexual encounter. At Joan’s apartment, Don briefly meets Joan’s mother, Gail, but doesn’t know who she is.
Don’s pitch to Jaguar involves suggesting, but not saying directly, that men see a Jaguar as “the other woman” – expensive, beautiful, and fast, but risky, impractical, and impossible to control. His ad campaign, developed by Mike, was: “Jaguar – at last, something beautiful you can truly own.”
Meanwhile, Mike, Ken, and Harry are supposed to have a conference call with a potential client, Chevalier Blanc, but Mike is absent so Peggy sits in as his supervisor. When the client rejects the ad campaign Mike proposed, Peggy dreams up a similar but different concept involving Lady Godiva and the client loves it. After the trio informs Don of their successful phone call, Don assigns the work to Mike, not to Peggy, and insults Peggy for wanting to remain on the account by throwing money at her and telling her to go to Paris on her own if that’s what she wants. Clearly, Don has no idea what Peggy wants, which seems to involve respect for her work, seniority over Mike, and a closer mentoring relationship with Don. After Don’s insult, Ken comes to Peggy’s office to lend his support, but Peggy rejects his friendship and pact idea, saying, “Suddenly we all care about each other?”
On the personal front, Pete tells Trudy that, if SCDP gets the Jaguar account, he will have to get an apartment in Manhattan. However, Trudy is forceful in refusing to agree to that arrangement. Joan wants her mother, Gail, to get the refrigerator fixed by calling the married building super, Apollo, and it is revealed that Gail has had a heavy flirtation or an affair with him. Megan announces possible travel plans to Boston for three months if she gets the acting role she wants, and tells Don she hopes he will visit her on weekends. Don is shocked at this but agrees that, if she gets the part, she should take it. After Megan auditions for the part and gets a call-back, she looks uncomfortable when the three men assessing her at the call-back ask her to turn around, as if they were evaluating her body and not her acting talent. Although we don’t see the remainder of that meeting, we later see Megan telling Don that she didn’t get the part, and that if she has to choose between acting and Don, she will choose him but also hate him for it.
Gradually, Peggy realizes she will never get the respect and treatment from Don that she deeply longs for, so she has a coffee shop meeting with her old friend Freddy Rumson and seeks his advice. Freddy expresses confidence in her talent and advises her to move on to another company, adding that this is what Don would advise her to do, were he not involved. At the end of the episode, Peggy gives her notice to Don. Don offers her more money, but when she rejects the offer, Don kisses her hand and displays a sense of loss, feeling especially sorry for himself when he learns that his old rival Ted Chaough will be Peggy’s new boss. Peggy leaves the office just as the company celebrates the new Jaguar account, and she appears happy to be moving forward.

A prominent theme of this episode is men wanting to own and control women as “things” that can be bought (or at least rented), and being frustrated when they can’t do so.

·         Herb offers SCDP the promise of winning the Jaguar account if they will “rent” Joan to him so that he can control her for one night.

·         The SCDP execs offer Joan a good enough financial reward to give up her personal dignity in the interest of securing the Jaguar account. Ultimately, it’s her choice, but by offering her a 5% partnership, they, in return, give up total male control of SCDP, which is likely to frustrate them in the future.

·         Don tries to control Peggy by throwing money at her when she wants to be assigned to the Chevalier account, and later by offering her a raise when she gives notice that she’s leaving SCDP. He is visibly frustrated that she leaves anyway.

·         Don deeply wants to control Megan but also wants her to be happy; this puts him in the position of feeling frustrated with her when she says she may need to travel to Boston for several weeks. After Megan scolds him for underestimating her acting talent and potential for success, Don responds by yelling back at her, “Just keep doing whatever the hell you want!” – as if he feels insulted because he can’t control her.

·         Although it was just a faint suggestion, when asking Megan to turn around, the three men at the call-back audition appear to look at Megan as a potential “piece of meat” for their consumption, a meal they might be willing to pay a high price to enjoy; since Megan reports to Don that she didn’t get the part, it’s possible that she refused to prostitute herself to get it.

A second theme involves diverse loves that include the love of something other than a person, where a choice must be made.

·         At the presentation, Don paints a picture of men leafing through a Playboy magazine, passing up the images of flesh to gaze upon the image of a Jaguar, essentially preferring something beautiful they can own to something beautiful they’ll never completely own.

·         Megan loves Don but she also loves the theater; as she told Don late in the episode, if she had to choose between acting and him, she’d choose him but she’d hate him for it.

·         Pete loves Trudy and the family life, but he also has a love affair with Manhattan, which Trudy tries unsuccessfully to squelch.

·         Peggy loves working for Don, but she also loves her career and ultimately is forced to choose between the two; fortunately, she makes the growth-oriented choice.

·         Roger still loves Joan (probably), but he also loves getting new business and making money; ultimately he sadly and reluctantly goes along with offering Joan up to Herb in order to get the Jaguar account.

Finally, a pervasive theme is people misjudging the character of others. For example:

·         Kenny misjudges Peggy, not realizing that she has become cynical about office relationships thanks to Don’s mistreatment of her. When Ken tells her “I’ll get us both out of here,” Peggy rudely scolds, “You and your stupid pact; save the fiction for your stories.” Ken suddenly realizes that Peggy is not the person he thought she was, and he immediately leaves the room.

·         Peggy misjudges Ken, a true friend whose friendship and career alliance she rejects because she doesn’t believe he will be willing and/or able to come through with any meaningful help. Considering Kenny’s family connections and past behavior, she’s wrong about that.

·         Pete misjudges Joan when he first meets with her and asks her for advice on how to break it to the partners that they’re going to lose the Jaguar account simply because Herb “wants something very unorthodox.” His language shows that he thinks he can fool Joan, but she sees right through him and knows he’s asking her to sleep with Herb.

·         Joan misjudges Lane, mistaking him for an honest man when he informs her that all the other executives – Roger, Bert, Don, and Pete – are on-board for having her sleep with Herb.

·         Joan’s new depth of disgust for Roger (after Lane said they all voted for her to sleep with Herb) is another misjudgment because Roger was not really “for” the indecent arrangement.  When Pete shocks the executives with Herb’s proposal, Roger appears dismayed and says, “I hope you said no. She said she’d do it?” He correctly judges her to be someone who would not want to do that. Later in the conversation, seeing that everyone else was not standing strongly against it, Roger finally washes his hands of it by saying he wouldn’t stand in their way but he also wouldn’t pay for it. Pete, like a typical salesman, takes Roger’s words as a yes since it wasn’t an unequivocal no. However, Roger’s words and reactions show that he clearly was not in favor of it or he wouldn’t have added, “Don’t fool yourself; this is some very dirty business.”

·         Joan’s presumed cynical perception of Bert (after Lane said they all voted for her to sleep with Herb) is a misjudgment too, because Bert’s only comment was to emphasize that Joan should still have the option of saying no.

·         Joan’s cynical perception of Don (after Lane said they all voted for her to sleep with Herb) is a misjudgment that she later over-corrects when Don visits her apartment. What Don doesn’t express when telling Joan he was against having her sleep with Herb is that not only did he want to protect her, but he also felt confident and proud of his Creative department and believed they could win the business on their own merit. Therefore, when Joan caresses Don’s face and views him as “a good one,” she is seeing his good side as a gentleman but not seeing his self-important pride.

·         Don misjudges Joan and Pete when he believes Pete after Pete says, “It was her idea”; Don’s mistake is both believing Pete’s lie and flipping his judgment of Joan when he should have realized that Joan would not come up with such an idea.

·         Don misjudges Peggy when he offers her a raise, telling her he respects her for finally asking for it at the right time, when in fact what Peggy wants from him is what she always imagined they had in the past – a mentor/mentee or protégé/champion relationship.

·         Megan accuses Don of misjudging her acting talent. When she hears of his disapproving surprise about possibly traveling to Boston and staying there to rehearse for 8+ weeks, she says, “What did you think? That I would be a singing waitress? Perform in the laundry room?”

·         Don misjudges Joan when, upon leaving Joan’s apartment, he says, “Say goodnight to your friend” – suggesting that he may think Joan lives with a “girlfriend.”

·         Don misjudges Joan when he advises her not to sleep with Herb, not realizing that she is not an innocent girl simply being controlled by bad men and waiting for him to ride up on his “white horse” and rescue her, and that as an adult she is capable of looking after her own best interests by making difficult choices that she thinks will serve her family in the long term.  

·         Most importantly, Peggy misjudges both Don and Freddy Rumson by imagining she and Don have had a mentor/mentee relationship through the years. In season one it was Freddy Rumson who discovered Peggy’s talent (her “basket of kisses” comment for the Belle Jolie account) and who encouraged and mentored her. Don went along with Freddy’s recommendation, seeing that he could use Peggy’s talent to get back at Pete at the time, and took credit for being her “mentor” when it was Freddy who actually did much of the work of mentoring. In fact, through the years, Don has taken credit for her actual work whenever he felt it made him look good, something a real mentor doesn’t do. At the end of this episode, when Don tells Peggy, “Let’s pretend I’m not responsible for every good thing that’s ever happened to you,” she seems to totally buy-in to his words, as if Don had been doing anything but using Peggy to his own advantage all along. Even today, Freddy consistently encourages Peggy and points her in the direction of career growth, while Peggy fails to appreciate what an enormous role Freddy has played as a mentor and continues to play in her development, attributing it all to Don instead.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mad Men Episode 5-10: Christmas Waltz

Recap: This episode reveals Lane Pryce trying to avoid imprisonment for an $8,000 shortfall in his British taxes by taking out a loan with the aid of an old acquaintance named Walt at Chemical Bank on behalf of SCDP and then trying to award himself and others Christmas bonuses. When his plan for bonuses fails to bring him the needed funds immediately, he cuts himself a check and forges Don’s signature. At home, he waffles between shouting at his wife, Rebecca, and deceptively sweet-talking her into remaining in New York over the holidays, rather than traveling to London to visit her parents, especially her ailing father.

Other featured characters in this episode are Harry Crane and the intellectual Paul Kinsey, who worked at Sterling Cooper before SCDP was formed. At first we see Harry having his in-office television turned off by Scarlett, the secretary who informs him that Paul Kinsey wants to meet with him. Harry decides to visit Paul at the address he is given, and discovers it is a Hare Krishna meeting where he finds Paul decked out in a robe and mostly shaved head.  Unable to get away due to Paul’s insistence, Harry joins the meeting led by a bored-looking Indian guru. Noting that everyone around him is kneeling and singing the Hare Krishna song, Harry joins in and is coached by a woman sitting next to him, “Mother Lakshmi,” who Paul later says was previously a runaway involved with drugs and prostitution. When Harry seems ready, Lakshmi directs Paul to take Harry for a bite to eat at a local restaurant, where Paul begins the slow sales job of recruiting Harry to the group.  Paul’s and Harry’s shared inclination to be candid with each other, though, brings them to a much more personal conversation in which Harry learns of Paul’s feelings of failure and his desperate desire to make a life with Lakshmi away from New York, possibly on a farm outside San Francisco. Paul also shows Harry a TV screenplay he has written for Star Trek and asks him in a roundabout way to show it to his television contacts. Back at SCDP, Harry tries to show Peggy the screenplay and get her opinion of it. Peggy informs Harry that since his days at Sterling Cooper, Paul worked briefly at a number of agencies and, last she knew, finally moved to the A&P grocery store chain. Peggy and Harry agree that Paul’s writing is bad. Next, Harry is visited by Lakshmi in the privacy of his office. She claims to have an open love relationship with Paul and comes on to Harry. After offering herself up to him on his desk, she tells him he’s disgusting with his “sense enjoyment” and forbids him to associate with Paul, since Paul is such a good closer for the H.K. movement. She also reveals herself as no less theory-driven and intellectual than Paul is, and just as full of herself as he once was. After realizing how Paul is being used by the movement, Harry meets Paul at a restaurant, tells him that his screenplay writing is promising, and offers him $500 and a one-way ticket to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a writer. With gratitude, Paul says, “All these people said they’d do something for me; you’re the first one who did.”
Don and Megan attend a play with an anti-advertising, anti-consumerism message, and Don is put off by it. At work, Don is asked by Pete to go to a Jaguar dealer and test-drive a Jaguar, since a business opportunity has reemerged with the company. On his way out, Don walks by the desk of Meredith, the front office receptionist, and sees Joan lashing out at her for failing to screen and block a visitor who was there to serve her Greg’s divorce papers. Don takes Joan out to the Jaguar dealer where he offers $6,000 cash to test-drive a sports car and either return it or keep it. He tunes in to Joan’s feelings and takes her to a bar. There they have a talk and a drink, he flirts and she resists, and he congratulates her on getting a divorce. Not consoled, she talks of having little to look forward to in terms of men. Don leaves her at the bar after pointing out a man across the bar who appears interested in her, and after giving her money for a ride home if she needs it. More Jaguar driving leaves Don cold and he returns the car to the dealership. When he gets home, Megan greets him with scorn and fury because he’s drunk, late, and unloving in not calling to let her know where he was all afternoon.
The next day at the office, Joan is visited by Roger, who brings in a bouquet of roses from another man – “Ali Kahn,” alias Don. Roger and Joan’s private conversation reveals that he knows her son, Kevin, is his and that he’s been trying to send her money to help raise the boy, which she resists.
Finally, when the SCDP executives announce Christmas bonuses to the staff at a company meeting, Don provides a stirring, inspirational speech that challenges everyone to work through the holidays.

A theme of this episode suggested by the title is waltzing around the truth to achieve good feelings in the short term.  

·         Lane waltzes around the truth of his immediate financial troubles when he talks his way into securing a loan from Chemical Bank, showing interest in his contact Walt’s chatter and making him feel comfortable in extending the loan. In the long term, it’s likely that Lane’s loan transaction will be caught and that he will be punished or fired, but for the moment, the maneuver makes Lane feel secure.

·         Lane pretends to care deeply about the SCDP employees’ need for a Christmas bonus, and uses this feigned concern to waltz around the truth he has yet to confront within himself regarding his dishonest behavior at the company.

·         Harry waltzes around the truth of his disgust with the Hare Krishna group’s and Lakshmi’s control of Paul when he lies and tells Paul he has a future as a screenplay writer in Los Angeles. One day Paul will likely fail at that, too, but for now, Harry’s words make Paul feel encouraged, grateful, and happy.

·         Joan enjoys Don’s flirtation to a point, but instead of openly rejecting his advances as would be direct and honest, she waltzes around the truth of her rejection and gives him time to feel “irresistible” while she resists him. It doesn’t take long for Don to figure out the truth, but for a while he seems to feel complimented by her smiles and reactions.

·         Lakshmi waltzes around her disgust with Harry and her desire to repel him when she tells him she burns for him, making him feel passionately wanted in the moment. Only after she brings him to feel excited does she end the “dance” and deliver her harsh personal truths.

A second and more pervasive theme is surprises – mostly bad ones. Most scenes involve a surprise for someone.
·         Lane is surprised to learn that his attorney hasn’t extricated him from his tax evasion troubles.

·         Lane gets a bad surprise when Rebecca comes from the bedroom to check on him at a time when he’s trying to hide something from her.

·         Rebecca gets a bad surprise when she comes from the bedroom to find out what Lane is up to and is yelled at and told to go away.

·         Lane gets a bad surprise when he visits Harry’s office and learns that none of Harry’s projections for future business are guaranteed, so will not help him secure a loan.

·         Lane gets a bad surprise when he later picks up a call from his attorney who hounds him about his fee. Lane responds, “Yes, of course, after the holidays” and hangs up on him, providing a bad surprise for the attorney.

·         Don gets a bad surprise while attending a play with Megan when he hears a major character talk about a time when ads made him sick.

·         Megan gets a bad surprise when she sees Don’s defensive reaction to the play and when he doesn’t share her enthusiasm for it or respond well to her anti-consumerism viewpoint.

·         Harry gets a bad surprise when he visits an address given to him by Paul and is shocked to see how pathetic Paul looks in his Hare Krishna get-up.

·         Harry gets a pleasant surprise when the woman next to him, Lakshmi, begins to coach him and help him enjoy the chanting.

·         Harry gets a bad surprise when Paul puts him in the awkward position of having to review his Star Trek screenplay and to provide feedback and/or a recommendation.

·         Harry gets an exciting surprise when Lakshmi offers herself to him.

·         Harry gets a bad surprise when Lakshmi turns on him and slaps him in the face after seducing him.

·         Paul gets a good surprise when he receives encouragement for his writing, money, and a ticket to Los Angeles from Harry.

·         Harry gets a bad surprise when, after giving Paul the envelope with $500 and a ticket to Los Angeles, Paul gives him an uncomfortably long hug, burdening Harry with a sense of just how desperate he is and making Harry feel even more guilty for lying to him.

·         Peggy gets a bad surprise when Harry asks her to review Paul’s script, since she’s already overloaded with work.

·         Pete gets a bad surprise when he learns that Mohawk Airlines is on strike and has suspended advertising indefinitely; SCDP execs and later employees get a bad surprise when they learn of this situation.

·         Pete provides SCDP execs with a good surprise when he announces that Jaguar is again considering them for their next ad campaign.

·         Pete gets a bad surprise when the SCDP execs react to his Jaguar news with little joy and without the kind of backslapping congratulations he expects.

·         Pete gets a bad surprise when, after he tells Don that a year earlier Don would have kissed him on the mouth for bringing in the Jaguar account, Don reacts by saying, “Maybe you should be my date.”

·         Pete gets a bad surprise when he asks for opinions of Jaguar and Bert tells him, “They’re lemons. They never start.”

·         Pete gets another bad surprise when he announces the Jaguar opportunity to the entire staff and nobody reacts.

·         Joan gets a bad surprise when she is served divorce papers at work and realizes that Greg wants to divorce her, as if he had the moral high ground.

·         The audience gets an amusing surprise when Don says to Joan, “I don’t think you should have thrown those papers out the window.”

·         Meredith, the receptionist, gets a bad surprise when Joan lashes out at her for failing to guard her from the man who served her papers.

·         Don and Joan get a bad surprise when they are told by the Jaguar dealer that they can’t go out for a test-drive together because it’s against the rules.

·         Scarlett, the secretary, is surprised by Roger’s bad taste when he shows up with a gaudy, bright-red short-sleeved shirt over his business attire.

·         Roger gets a bad surprise when Joan comes out of her office to tell him to be quiet.

·         Roger gets a bad surprise when Joan refuses to see the significance of his “experience” and personal growth in wanting to man-up to support Kevin.

·         After Don flirts with Joan, he gets a bad surprise when she doesn’t fall for his advances.

·         Joan gets a bad surprise when Don decides to leave her at the bar by herself.

·         Joan gets a pleasant surprise when she receives a bouquet of roses from Don, with a note that her mother (who raised her to be admired) did a good job.

·         Don gets a bad surprise when he arrives at home to find Megan enraged at him and demanding that he sit down and eat the dinner she has prepared.

·         Don gets another bad surprise when he tries to turn Megan’s anger into a sexual encounter and is rebuked for it.

·         Lane gets a bad surprise at the employee meeting when Roger calls on him to speak first, and he doesn’t know quite what to say.

·         Lane gets another bad surprise when, after trying to tell the employees that they’ll be getting a Christmas bonus, nobody reacts because they haven’t understood him.

·         The SCDP staff gets a bad surprise when they realize after Don’s rousing speech that they will have to work for the next six weekends, right through the holidays, in order to attempt to land the Jaguar account.

On the gender front, two themes emerge. For men, Don’s assessment of the man at the bar thatHe doesn’t know what he wants, but he’s wanting” rings true for multiple male characters in their relationships with women. Specifically, this applies to Don, Paul, Harry, and Roger. For women, a theme emerges of the strong desire for control in their relationships, whether or not they do it effectively. This includes Megan, who is frustrated in being unable to control Don; Joan, who controls Roger and Don but is frustrated in being unable to control Greg; and Lakshmi, who goes to great lengths (with some success) to try to control both Harry and Paul for what she considers to be the good of the Hare Krishna organization. Even Walt, the banker, implies that his wife, Laura, is in control at home when he confides about his holiday travel plans, “I want to fly, but I think we’re going to drive.” The exception is Lane, a man who at the moment knows clearly that he wants to be with his wife and dig himself out of financial trouble, and who is highly controlling both at work and at home. Unfortunately, his ability to maintain control personally and professionally will crumble as soon as someone at SCDP reviews the books and discovers what he’s done.
Finally, on the social front, the theme of anti-consumerism permeates the episode, reflected in both the theater scene, where actors portray their rejection of advertising, and the Hare Krishna movement, where members are asked to give up their possessions. Anti-consumerism formed part of the bedrock of the 1960s counter-culture, and was embraced (like Paul) or at least given lip-service (like Megan) by numerous otherwise disparate segments of society.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mad Men Episode 5-9: Dark Shadows

Recap: In this episode, Betty goes on a strict diet and attends Weight Watchers meetings. At the meetings, she attempt emotional honesty when relating to other women. Additionally, she picks up some reassuring lines by listening to the Weight Watchers meeting leader console the women who fail to lose weight during a given week. Later, when Henry expresses disappointment about his career, she repeats these reassuring lines to him to good effect.

When she picks up the children at Don and Megan’s place, she gets a look at their updated, stylish home and Megan’s buff figure. Unable to compete, she thinks of revenge. That night she runs to the fridge to get a hit of artificial whipped cream, spitting it out so the calories won’t count. At the table with Sally and Bobby, Betty is dismissive toward Sally’s assignment to draw and color a family tree but sorts through Bobby’s homework and offers words of encouragement. On the back of a picture Bobby drew, she sees a romantic note written by Don to Megan, and her immediate sense of her own lack of romance sparks her anger. She then flippantly reveals to Sally that Don had another wife before herself, and she encourages Sally to include Anna in her family tree picture. When Sally asks for further information, Betty tells her to ask Megan – thus putting Megan and Don in an awkward position.
Megan teaches Sally an acting technique, and Sally is appreciative. When Betty comes to pick up the children, Megan chats awkwardly with her and then focuses on the children and kisses each of them goodbye, in striking contrast to Betty’s lack of affection for them. Later Megan reads through a soap opera script with a friend, Julia, but Julia is resentful and expresses jealousy because of Megan’s wealth. Megan tells her she’d love to be auditioning for a part in the soap opera even though it’s badly written, but she’s not resentful and wishes Julia good luck. Later she learns that Julia got the part, and Megan appears happy for her but sad for herself.
Early in the episode, Pete brags to Don, Roger, and Bert in the elevator about being interviewed by Victor, a journalist from the New York Times, and suggests that the article will feature his perspective on SCDP. None of the listeners is impressed. Later, Pete takes a break at work to fantasize about Beth showing up in a mink coat and underwear, but no such thing occurs. Encountering Howard on the train ride home, he hears Howard’s callous plan to see Beth in order to buy future time in the city with his girlfriend, to which Pete challenges him to stay in the city so that he can make love to Howard’s wife. Howard, believing his wife to be frigid, doesn’t take it seriously. When the Times article by Victor finally appears in print, Pete phones Don at home on a Sunday morning to complain that it doesn’t include anything about himself or SCDP; Don advises him not to share his failures and shuts down the conversation.
At work, Don sneaks a peek at some of Mike’s ad ideas for the Sno Ball account and sees the high quality of his work. He snickers at a sketch of an ad where a snowball hits a man in the face. Feeling competitive, he decides to head to the office on Sunday afternoon to generate more and better ideas for the account. The next day at work, Don calls a meeting of the Creative department and listens to each person’s contributions. Peggy’s concept is a New Yorker cartoon, and Don doesn’t quite get it so dismisses it. Mike’s best contribution is “It hits you in the face” and Don compliments him for it, but attempts to trump it with his “snowball in Hell” sketch. Nobody likes Don’s idea but everyone pretends to, because they can see that Don is heavily invested in it. Don chooses to have both his idea and Mike’s worked up to show the client, but ultimately Don presents only his own ad concept. When Mike finds out Don left his ad material in the taxi and presented to the client only his own idea, he gets angry and tells Don he feels sorry for him – to which Don replies that he doesn’t even think about Mike.
Meanwhile, Roger calls Jane and asks her to accompany him to a dinner with a potential client and his wife. In return, Jane asks Roger to buy him a new apartment, and he agrees. At the dinner, the client’s son joins the dinner party and flirts with Jane. That night, Roger talks his way into Megan’s new apartment and seduces her. Jane goes along, but then tells Roger the new place has been spoiled for her. Roger admits she’s right, says he feels sorry about it, and wonders why he did it.
The episode ends with scenes from Thanksgiving at the Draper and Francis residences.

As the title suggests, a major theme in this episode is the dark side of human nature. This includes envy, jealousy, hatred, betrayal, revenge, unfairness, resentment, domination, deception, desperation, and so on.  Because dark shadows are best seen by contrast to the light, we also see an unusual display of positive traits among the characters. By featuring these extremes, the episode mimics a soap opera, as symbolized by the title “Dark Shadows” and by the soap-opera acting scene with Megan and her red-headed friend Julia.

·         Betty’s budding humility, growing friendship skills, encouragement toward Henry, positive attention to Bobby, and approval of Sally when she gets an A+, stand in stark contrast to her mean-spirited interactions with Sally, her envy of Megan and her attempt to sabotage Megan’s love relationship, her willingness to sneak around in the Draper residence uninvited, her self-centered feelings of being diminished  when someone else has something better than she has (like Don and Megan’s apartment), and her dishonest claim on Thanksgiving that she has everything she wants and nobody has anything better. The scene in a darkened kitchen where she desperately grabs a can of artificial whipped cream from the brightly lit refrigerator and sprays it directly into her mouth, then moves to spit it out so she won’t have to count the calories, shows a very immediate, direct contrast of darkness (the dark room; addressing her feelings with food) and light (the lighted refrigerator; sticking to her diet no matter what it takes).

·         Don’s re-engagement in his creative work, his mostly positive relationship with Megan, his fatherly role with Sally including his honest apology to her for forcing her to learn about a situation she couldn’t understand (Anna), and his initial acceptance of Mike’s ad idea are all very positive. By contrast, his apparent need to dominate the Creative department leads to over-competitiveness toward Mike and willingness to trash Mike’s creative work to make sure only his own idea is seen by the client. He also fails to encourage Peggy, whose good ad idea he dismisses because he doesn’t even get the joke. Overall, his dark side lacks humility and he comes across as an egotistical, out of touch, unfair boss.

·         Megan teaches Sally an acting technique, helps her friend Julia run through lines for a soap-opera audition, addresses Julia’s jealousy without taking it personally, admits her own jealousy of Julia’s audition opportunity without resentment, nurtures the children, handles Sally’s outburst in a reasonably understanding, fair, adult way, and keeps the toxic smog out of the apartment. On the dark side, while admitting her jealousy of Julia’s audition opportunity, Megan’s honesty leads her to insult the soap-opera script that Julia is about to audition for, calling it “a piece of cr—p,” thus putting Julia on the defensive. Also, by telling Sally about Anna when Sally asks, she betrays her agreement with Don not to do so, although her response to Sally is reasonable and measured. Additionally, Megan promises Sally not to tell Don about their conversation, but then she does – and Sally hears her doing it, making her feel even more betrayed.

·         Roger behaves in a charming, sociable way, works hard to generate new business for the company, buys ex-wife Jane a new apartment at her request in exchange for some work-related role playing at a client dinner, and gives full credit to his creative associates for his ad idea at the dinner. His dark side shows up when his apparent need to dominate drives him to seduce Jane in her new apartment, thus disregarding her need for a clean break from him, a major reason she wanted to move. It also shows up when he talks of wanting to acquire the Manischewitz account behind Pete’s back because he hates Pete, even if, in the end, Pete will benefit.

·         Jane’s positive side involves her willingness to cooperate with Roger in the interest of helping him get a new client, and her lovely femininity, even if it causes her to be seduced by Roger to her own disadvantage. She also presents Roger with her honest feelings and desires as they arise. On the dark side, she remains self-absorbed and unwilling to take full responsibility for her actions. She also fails to learn from her past, enabling Roger to once again use her for his own selfish purposes.

·         Peggy’s bright side is shown when she displays talent in her New Yorker ad idea, humility in accepting Don’s opinion of it, and tact in reacting to Don’s weird ad idea, wisely recognizing that Don wanted so badly to be the “brilliant” one of the group that he was not able to accept anything but approval for his idea. Peggy’s shadow side, however, shows up when she reacts hostilely while listening to Mike talk about his pre-paid side-job with Roger, instead of tactfully congratulating Mike and absorbing the information he provided to sort out privately later on. Of course, she tries to give Mike helpful advice during the conversation, but when her sense of her own value is diminished by Mike’s revelation that he has already received partial payment, she is clearly angry and jealous. Later she confronts Roger as they share an elevator ride and berates him for being disloyal to the company – in spite of the fact that in a previous episode, Roger paid her even more money for a side job than Mike got this time. Roger may not have acted according to protocol, but Peggy appears mostly offended because she wasn’t the one to be asked. 

·         Mike shows his light side in the brilliance of his creative work, his justifiable self-assertiveness to Don when Don is unfair to him, the candor and business savvy he shows when Roger asks him to do a side job, and his forthright honesty with Peggy. On the dark side, he goes beyond self-assertiveness and strikes out at Don for not bringing his ad to show the client, thus biting the hand that feeds him. Also, his generally curt, insensitive conversational style irritates just about everyone, thus preventing himself from getting the accolades from them that he otherwise deserves.

·         Pete’s enthusiasm for bringing SCDP a feature article in the New York Times (per his contact, Victor) has to be counted as a positive or bright spot in his character, even if it is mixed with boastfulness, delusional egotism, and ultimately foolishness. Later, when he has a sexual fantasy about Beth, it pivots around his name being featured in the newspaper, highlighting his positive desire for public recognition for his good work alongside his dark desire to attract secret love and sex outside his marriage. On the train, Pete’s bold proposition that Howard remain in the city with his girlfriend so that he can screw Howard’s wife is at once challenging in a positive way, asking Howard to consider what he could lose, and darkly threatening. That he phones Don to rant about the Times article, which doesn’t even mention him or SCDP, and about Victor, who he feels is a “rat bast_” that betrayed him, shows a contrast between his positive concern for the company and desire to relate to Don as a friend vs. the reality that his call irritates Don and that his efforts have failed to bring personal acclaim for him or publicity for SCDP.

·         Sally is beginning to lose the sweetness and light of childhood as she goes through troubling dark feelings and reactions, mostly caused by the adults in her life. On the bright side, she acts like an innocent, trusting child when taking an acting lesson from Megan early in the episode, and she generally obeys her father and her mother throughout the episode. On the dark side, she suddenly feels betrayed by Megan and begins to behave badly, her self-righteous, accusatory tone resembling both Betty and Don’s role modeling. Sally’s moods and sassy outspokenness are a naturally dark part of her development as a budding young woman. Beyond the burdens of puberty, though, the dark shadows cast by the adults surrounding her, symbolized by the toxic smog that Megan tries to keep out of the apartment at the end of the episode, are shaping her perceptions.

The final song, Sweeping the Clouds Away, applies well to Megan and contrasts strongly to the rest of the characters. Throughout the episode, Megan works hard to fix problems, keep toxic emotions and pollution out of her home and relationships, and stay positive.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mad Men Episode 5-8: Lady Lazarus

Recap: Pete is approached on the commuter train by Howard Dawes, a married man who sells life insurance and brags about having an apartment in the city and a young, blonde girlfriend on the side. Howard uses all the standard sales tricks to try to sell Pete an insurance policy, saying in effect: “Poor me, I’m not making good sales this month” and “Be afraid…your insurance payout will go to your company, not your family” etc. Pete is wise to his tactics and counters effectively. Later, Howard’s wife Beth introduces herself to Pete in the parking lot and asks him to drive her home, since she’s locked her keys in her car and Howard hasn’t shown up at the station. During the drive, they discuss hobos in the city and bond over their shared sentiment: “I guess we’re supposed to get used to not seeing them.” Arriving at the Dawes house, Beth walks quickly into her house but leaves her front door wide open. Pete naturally follows, and after a moment grabs her firmly by the upper arms and insists he will not leave until he’s sure she’s not hysterical. When Beth leans in and kisses him, Pete protests, “You’re just doing this to make Howard jealous.” Beth denies it and Pete can no longer resist her. They make love, sharing tenderness and honesty, with Beth admitting, “I used to be like this…reckless.” She also talks of Pete’s big blue eyes, which remind her of a recent satellite photo of Earth that she feels makes the Earth look “tiny and unprotected, surrounded by darkness.” At the end of their time together, Beth says this can never happen again, and Pete leaves, somewhat confused. When Pete later tries calling her at home, she tells him not to call again. Eventually Pete tricks Howard into inviting him home for dinner so that he can again see Beth, but Beth pushes him away and avoids further contact by telling Howard she has a migraine.

At SCDP, Megan surreptitiously calls her acting agent about a recent audition. She has a private conversation with Peggy and reveals that advertising bores her and that, to be true to herself, she feels she needs to pursue acting. Peggy comes across as hostile to Megan and lacking in understanding. Throughout the episode, Peggy seems to bottom out in terms of her professional relationships, although she occasionally rebounds in moments of connection with others. In this scene, despite her self-centered attitude, Peggy advises Megan rightly that in no uncertain terms should she lie to Don about wanting to be an actress. Having been caught in her lies by Peggy and Don, Megan wakes Don up in the middle of the night and tells him the truth. Trust is restored in their relationship, but after a vigorous debate, Don is confronted with losing Megan’s talent at work and his close working relationship with her that he has enjoyed. Megan makes the case that she will become bitter if she doesn’t follow her dreams, and Don chooses to go along and support Megan’s desired career path. Don then directs Megan to hand off her work to Peggy the next day. When Megan announces to Peggy, Stan, and Mike in the Creative office that she is leaving, each of them suggests a different reason as to why. Departing the office to attend a luncheon with “the girls” – arranged by Joan – Megan steps onto the elevator and waves goodbye to Don. Just as the elevator door closes, he feels the impulse to catch the next elevator and meet up with her. However, when the next elevator door opens, Don fortunately hesitates and, looking down an empty elevator shaft, realizes that he could have fallen to his death.

On the work scene, Roger adds levity by giving Pete the “Head” ski company account along with complimentary ski equipment, and by telling Don, “I can really see Megan as an actress…not that she’s insincere, but….” Mike takes too much credit for his exuberant presentation to a pleased client and finds it challenging to work with his Creative counterparts to select Beatles-like music. Ken, Don, and Peggy try to capture the Cool Whip account in Megan’s absence, but they bomb in the Cool Whip test kitchen due largely to Peggy’s stilted role playing and her failure to remember her lines. Despite Ken’s encouraging words, Don and Peggy end up in a yelling match, telling each other off. Peggy ends with, “You are not mad at me, so shut up!” and Don reflexively reaches to light a cigarette, only to be told that smoking is not allowed there.
That night when Don gets home, he sees Megan briefly as she is about to head out to her acting class. Visibly elated, she advises Don to listen to “Tomorrow Never Knows” from a new Beatles album. He listens to part of it while spacing out in his recliner, but before the song ends he turns it off and walks out of the room, drink in hand. At her class, Megan and other students lie on the floor, as if experiencing death. Finally, we see Pete in his car, about to leave the train station parking lot. He looks out the window to see Howard and Beth in their car. Beth draws a heart in the steam of the side window, sending Pete the message that her affection for him still exists.

As the title suggests, a major theme of this episode is being raised from the dead by another person. In the biblical story of Lazarus, no mention is made of whether Lazarus wanted to be revived, but we assume he was glad to be alive again when Jesus raised him from the dead after four days in the tomb. In Sylvia Plath’s poem entitled Lady Lazarus, she writes of being raised from death painfully, against her will. In this episode we see gender role reversals: it’s two men who, like Plath’s Lady Lazarus, are both destroyed and then revived in a painful cycle, whereas two women, like the biblical Lazarus, are glad to be raised from the dead.

·         Megan actively seeks to revive herself from her feeling of career death at SCDP after some months there, but she needs Don’s permission and love to do so; therefore, Don raises her actress-self from the dead out of love for her

·         Beth leaves enough breadcrumbs for Pete to find his way to her so that, out of his desire for a more emotionally real relationship than the one he has with Trudy at this stage, he can revive Beth from the years-long death of her authentic feelings of love, tenderness, and sexual desire due to her “dead” marriage

·         In Beth’s seduction of Pete, Pete’s feelings of authentic sexual intimacy are revived  by her as well; however, Beth sets off an emotional roller coaster for Pete, raising his hopes and then dashing them, reminiscent of the Nazi doctor in Plath’s poem

·         Don undergoes the death of his dream of working alongside Megan, but not by choice; instead, Megan brings on this death, and she then challenges him to grow through a painful, unsought-after rebirth as a man who learns to go with the flow and let go of control; as seen by his willingness to listen to the Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows” but his decision not to hear it all the way through, this rebirth is a huge challenge for him that will take some time to complete

Another theme is the huge challenge people feel when it comes to giving up control in relationships.

·         Don is challenged to let go of controlling Megan and allow her to follow her career dream

·         Don is challenged to let go of over-controlling his emotions through smoking when he is told by a woman at the Cool Whip test kitchen that no smoking is allowed

·         Pete is challenged to let go of controlling Beth and allow her, a woman, to set the rules of their relationship; at one point he asks Harry, “Why do they [women] get to decide what’s going to happen?” and he repeatedly tries, without success, to push Beth to extend their physical relationship

·         Beth is challenged from within herself to stop over-controlling herself and experience her wild side again, as she used to do when she was younger

·         Megan is challenged in her relationship with Peggy and Don to let go of lying and deception as a means of controlling others to get her way

·         Peggy is challenged to accept Megan for who she is and not try to control her by telling her what to do or what not to do

·         Peggy accepts Stan’s offer to share a joint at the office, turning off their inner controls and relaxing in the work environment

·         The lyrics to the Beatles song, “Tomorrow Never Knows” outline the solution to the urge to control too much: “Turn off your mind…surrender to the void…see the meaning of within…love is all…listen to the colour of your dreams…” and this is the process that lies ahead for Don, for Megan as an actress, and for Pete and Beth who each individually long to be emotionally and sexually vibrant

·         President Lyndon Johnson is challenged to give up his attempts to control the fate of Vietnam by barreling ahead with a war he knew could not be won, a situation that is broadcast repeatedly on the radio as part of the background of the episode

A third theme is self-projection, or people seeing mostly themselves when they look outward.

·         Beth talks to Pete of hobos in the city who she views very sympathetically; later she says she doesn’t think her husband cares whether she lives or dies, suggesting that she sees herself in the hobos of the city who nobody cares about, and who her father couldn’t be bothered to help

·         Beth looks into Pete’s eyes and sees her own beautiful blue, round eyes, rather than his less blue, less round eyes

·         Beth speaks of looking at the satellite photo of Earth and describes it as tiny, unprotected, and surrounded by blackness – possibly a description of how she feels in the world

·         Harry speaks of the same satellite photo of Earth and describes it as majestic – mirroring his grandiose self-concept

·         Don puzzles about the importance in society of music (other than jingles), reflecting his own lack of awareness of his emotional and subjective side that, for most people, is stimulated by the sounds and poetic lyrics of popular songs

·         When Megan announces that she will be leaving SCDP, Don tells her it took him years to reach the level of creativity she already has achieved, seeing his talent reflected in hers and assuming (or maybe just hoping) that she would value her creative ascendency in advertising as much as he does

·         Peggy tells Megan in regard to the job, “I know it’s hard but you can do it. You’re good…Don’t give up”; these are probably words she has told herself, and she assumes that Megan, like her, would love to work hard at copy writing and advance in the profession as she has

·         Mike talks of Megan’s departure not in terms of Megan, but only in terms of how it hurts him; maybe Mike is trying to convince his coworkers that Megan owes him money so that one of them will feel sorry for him and give him $15, or maybe Megan really does owe him $15, and he thinks she’s leaving in order to skip out on the debt, reflecting his overall feeling of victimization

·         Stan talks of Megan’s departure by projecting his own disappointment with the job, saying that Megan’s probably leaving because after months of hard work on a project, “all you get is Heinz beans” – as if it were a booby prize

·         Peggy talks of Megan’s departure by noting that Megan has a lot of guts to leave a promising job and go for the insecure world of acting; in a general way, Peggy could have been talking about herself, since one of Peggy’s greatest strengths is her courage

Overall, the episode provides a panoramic view of people being stuck in their selfish concerns and some people occasionally learning to step out of themselves and transcend their self-centeredness.