Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mad Men Episode 6-9: The Better Half

Recap: The episode begins with Pete, Don, and Ted in the conference room debating what ad campaign to use for Fleischman’s margarine. Harry is in the room but mostly as an observer. Ted insists that Fleischman’s will taste better to consumers because it’s more expensive than other margarines, but Don says price is irrelevant because all margarine is cheap compared to butter, and therefore the ad should be about taste. Pete says to go on taste alone. They pull Peggy into the room and ask her opinion. She says she buys according to price, but when she realizes she may not be in agreement with Ted, she hedges and refuses to give a further opinion, claiming she doesn’t want to take sides. At the end of the meeting, Ted caves in to Don’s idea, and then Don says it doesn’t matter to him because he won’t even be there. After Ted and Don walk out, Harry says to Pete: “I wasn’t going to get in the middle of that. Are you suddenly dumber than Peggy?” He also gives Pete advice to see a headhunter, and tells Pete of his own career plans to become a partner, although for now he’s keeping his options open by looking around.

Soon thereafter, Don confronts Peggy with: “I’m not paying you to be a diplomat.” Don wants Peggy’s opinion about the margarine commercial, but instead she gives him her opinion of working with him and Ted: “You’re both demanding and pigheaded…You’re the same person sometimes.” But she says Ted is more interested in the commercial and Don is more interested in having things his way. Don denies this. She also says about Ted: “He never makes me feel this way,” to which Don replies: “He doesn’t know you.”

When Peggy gets home that night, Abe has his arm in a sling and was stabbed. A cop is in their living room asking him questions, and Abe is uncooperative and claims he can’t remember the details, especially when asked the race of his attacker. Peggy confronts him after the cop leaves, and Abe says in frustration: “Everything you say is going in my story. Why would you side with the cops?”Peggy thinks the people in their neighborhood are not their friends, but Abe feels he’s on the side of “the people,” even though one of them attacked him, and that the country is basically a police state. Peggy wants to sell their apartment and move out of the area. She sympathizes with Abe and thinks his weird behavior is due to a trauma, but Abe feels she’s patronizing him by sympathizing. Then, unable to type because his arm is in a sling, he tells Peggy to go get his typewriter and help him get some of his story down. She says she has to work in the morning, and tells him she’s going to bed.

Later in the episode, Pete, Peggy, and Ted walk down the hallway of the agency toward Ted’s secretary. She stands up and announces to them that Fleischman’s has called. Pete sees it as a good sign, but Ted’s secretary says they just called to get some data about market share, which makes them all continue worrying. Ted then calls Peggy into his office for a personal conversation and yells at her for touching his hand during the presentation and for smiling at him. Unaware that she’d done these things, Peggy tries to calm him down. Ted says he’s been thinking about their kiss ever since it happened. Peggy says she thought the plan was to forget about the kiss, but Ted says he can’t, and she says she thinks about it too.

The next time we see Peggy, she’s arriving home to find Abe trying with his one free arm to fix a broken window, where somebody has thrown a rock through their window and broken the glass. Abe agrees with Peggy that it’s time to put their apartment on the market. Surprised, Peggy says, “You’d really do that for me?” Abe responds: “Maybe we’re not cut out to be pioneers.” Then he kisses her, but the kiss lacks passion.

Some time later, late at night, Peggy’s at home holding a homemade weapon – a knife attached to a long pole. She uses it to open the blinds to see what’s going on outside their building, where there’s a lot of loud yelling and fighting going on. She’s very frightened. Just then Abe walks into the room, and she turns with the weapon in front of her and accidentally stabs him in the abdomen. It’s serious and they call an ambulance. On their ride to the hospital, Abe tells Peggy what he really thinks of her: “You’re a scared person who hides behind complacency…I don’t know why I thought you’d be braver…Your activities [as an ad agency employee] are offensive to my every waking moment. I’m sorry but you’ll always be the enemy.” Peggy replies: “Are you breaking up with me?” Abe continues ironically: “I’ve got to hand it to you. You gave me a great ending to my article.”

Back at the agency the next day, Peggy enters Ted’s office for a private conversation. She tells him that Abe has been stabbed, but that he’s going to be all right. Ted shows sympathy and concern. Then Peggy says that her relationship with Abe is over. Ted flips into professional mode and tells her: “I’m sorry to hear that” in an impersonal way. He also tells her she’ll find someone else. Then he acts like an upbeat manager and says: “It’s Monday morning – are you ready to work!?” He says Fleischman’s has just called, and “It’s full speed ahead. Round up the team!” Peggy is stunned and looks very lonely.

Megan’s story begins onset as she enacts a scene from her soap opera with Arlene, the wife of her boss. After the director says “cut,” Megan is criticized over a loud speaker for not making “the twins” (her dual roles) different enough. Arlene tells her not to worry about it. Next we see Megan at home, greeting Don as he comes home. She’s prepared a fancy dinner for him. Surprised, since it’s just a Thursday night, Don tries to act happy about it and cooperate but refuses to talk about his day. When he hears Megan discuss her day (“I think they hate me” at work), and analyze her twin roles (they represent two halves of the same person who want the same thing but go about trying to get it in different ways), he tells her he’s too tired for dinner and wants to watch TV instead. Megan goes along.

Don leaves town to visit his son Bobby’s summer camp, and Megan invites Arlene to her apartment for a lovely dinner with plenty of wine. Arlene enters the apartment in a fancy dress and Megan wears a casual pants outfit. Megan wants to talk about her script, but Arlene says: “Megan darling, you’re a good actress on your way to becoming a successful one. There’s nothing I can help you with.” Then Arlene tells Megan her experience at the start of her own acting career and talks about how she handled some harsh criticism she received then. Megan compliments Arlene on her career security given that she’s married to the boss, and Arlene compliments Megan on her strong relationship with Don. Megan confides that her marital relationship has become distant and says she feels lonely. Arlene leans in and kisses her on the lips. Megan is shocked and backs away, telling her that’s not what she wants. Megan then gets angry and accuses Arlene of misusing the personal information she’s been telling her, but Megan’s smiles confuse Arlene and she moves in on Megan a couple more times before realizing she’s being shut down. Arlene tells Megan that her concerns about acting are foolish and that she feels Megan led her on. Megan worries that she’ll be punished at work for rejecting Arlene, but Arlene ends the evening telling her: “No hard feelings. Status quo ante bellum.”

By the end of the show, Don returns from his visit to Bobby’s summer camp and comes home to find Megan out on the balcony at night, dressed in a Macy’s tee shirt and her underwear. Don tells her he missed her, and Megan replies that she misses him all the time. She then launches into a fairly gentle confrontation about the decline of their relationship and tells him: “Something has to change.” Don says: “You’re right. I haven’t been here.” He then kisses her, and she leans in and rests her head on his shoulder while he holds her.

However, earlier in the show during his travels to Bobby’s summer camp, Don had run into Betty (looking trim and blond again) at a rural gas station. In that scene, Betty asks the attendant for directions, but when the attendant (who is dazzled by her looks) fails to offer street names in his landmark-based directions, Don tells Betty: “Follow me” and they caravan their way to the camp. On arrival, Betty connects with Bobby first, and Betty and Bobby sing “Father Abraham,” a camp song with hand gestures, while sitting at a table in the camp’s canteen. Don walks in and joins them at the table, and they all sing the song together and have some family fun. Bobby says hi to another camper sitting with his parents at the next table, and explains that the boy is Bobby #2, while he is Bobby #5.

That night, Don walks by the row of adult cabins and sees Betty sitting on the step in front of her cabin. He brings over some liquor to share, they reminisce about summer camp experiences and the conception of Sally, and they both enter Betty’s cabin. When Don embraces her, she says: “What are you doing?” He replies: “I’m waiting for you to tell me to stop.” Instead she smiles and gives him the green light, and they have sex. In bed, Don tells Betty: “I missed you” but Betty says she’s happy in her life and just wants to enjoy the moment with him. She also talks about the way Don is before and after having sex, and says she loves the way he is afterwards until she begins to see the decay. Meanwhile, Don wonders why sex defines being close to someone. “If you climb a mountain, it doesn’t mean you love it” he muses. Betty remarks about Megan: “That poor girl. She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.” With that, Don kisses her and they move into passionate sex.

The following morning Don finds himself alone in bed. He dresses and walks to the canteen, only to see Betty and Henry sitting at a table enjoying breakfast together. He walks over to say good morning, and Betty and Henry greet him politely but then ignore him. Don walks to a small table at the other side of the canteen and has breakfast alone, looking out of sorts. Finally, when he returns home and greets Megan out on the balcony of their apartment with the same “I missed you” line that he’d given Betty a day earlier, he looks weary rather than excited.

Betty’s contentment with Henry at the breakfast table contrasts sharply with earlier scenes she has with Henry. First we see Betty dressed in an expensive gown at a dinner function she attends with Henry. Henry makes a couple of phone calls from a phone booth while Betty waits in the hallway and is approached by a man named Stuart. Stuart tells her he wants to be with her all night. Betty replies indignantly that she has three children, but then she repeats the statement in a flirtatious way, saying, “No, look at me. Do you believe I’ve had three children?” This takes Stu by surprise, but the conversation ends because Henry comes over to claim his wife. Then Betty and Henry take a limo home. After asking the driver for privacy, he initiates a conversation with Betty about what Stu said to her. She says she doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble, but then she tells him everything Stu said. Henry, after seeming to blame her for being the center of other men’s attention, is turned on and starts making out with her.

Pete’s story begins at the meeting in the first scene of the episode when, after siding with Don about the Fleischman’s ad campaign, he’s influenced by Harry to see a headhunter. Later in the episode, the headhunter he sees at his Manhattan apartment is none other than Duck Phillips, who is still up to his old tricks of trying to convince people that he’s way ahead of them. Duck puts the onus on Pete to do better at work so that Duck can help him. Duck tells Pete that, since the agency’s merger, his position is not strong. Pete says he doesn’t know what he can do in that regard. Duck ends the meeting by offering some advice: spend more time at home and learn to manage your family life or you’re not going to manage anything. However, Pete feels his family is a constant distraction, and he doesn’t even admit to Duck that he’s separated from Trudy.

Back at the agency, Pete enters Joan’s office and asks her whether she thinks his attention at work is “too dilute.” He feels he’s being pulled in multiple directions personally, but when he begins to talk about his situation with his mother, Joan says she can’t help him with his problems because she has the same types of problems. Pete then asks her if she wants to get supper with him, but she says she has other plans. Pete ends the conversation by thanking her, but Joan says: “For what?” Pete says he doesn’t know, and he seems confused as he exits her office.

Later in the episode, Joan is at home on the weekend packing things to go to the beach with baby Kevin and her friend Bob Benson. Bob is wearing short shorts and looking as friendly and polite as ever. Bob offers to get baby Kevin, but Joan asks him to wait. The doorbell rings and it’s Roger, wearing his suit and carrying a shopping bag that looks like it’s from an expensive store. Roger and Bob are surprised to see each other and they each quickly realize that Joan has a relationship to the other one. Roger then pretends he came to Joan’s place to get some work papers, and Joan plays into the ruse by saying to Bob: “Some people never stop working.” Bob offers to get the car so that Joan and Roger can speak privately, but Joan says: “Mr. Sterling was just leaving” and sends Roger away.

Back at the agency on Monday, Roger visits Joan’s office and brings the same shopping bag, which contains a gift of Lincoln Logs for baby Kevin. Joan tries to refuse the gift, saying it’s too confusing for the child to get gifts from Roger. She prefers that Kevin believe his father is Greg, a man far away that she can tell heroic stories about. She then thanks Roger for the gift and accepts it, but tells him he’s too unreliable to be in Kevin’s life.

Also, Bob visits Pete’s office and brings up the delicate matter of his need for a nurse for his mother. Pete immediately assumes Joan told him about the situation, but Bob tries hard to take Joan off the hook (“She was concerned about you and was well-aware that your well-being is also an interest of mine”) while providing a unique referral of a male army nurse who is “well-bred.”

Unfortunately, Roger has already had a bad experience with his daughter, Margaret, and his four-year-old grandson. Early in the episode, Margaret brings the boy to the agency to spend an afternoon with “Pop-pop” and Roger says he plans to take him to the zoo and then a movie. Later in the program, Margaret calls him on the phone and screams at him for taking the boy to see Planet of the Apes, a movie that frightened him so much that he’s been having recurring nightmares ever since. Roger defends the choice, saying the boy wanted to see that movie, and Margaret says it’s her fault for allowing a four-year-old to watch another four-year-old. She tells him he will not be allowed to take care of the boy anymore unless her mother (Roger’s ex, Mona) is there to supervise him.

The final song of the episode, Always Something There to Remind Me, is about a man who feels lonely and haunted by the memory of a past relationship that he hasn’t gotten over. This sentiment seems to apply to multiple characters this week. Ted tells Peggy he still thinks about their kiss (although he later acts as if he’s not interested in her); Roger can’t seem to get over Joan, who is always there at work to remind him of his feelings for her; Don hasn’t completely gotten over Betty, whose children bring them together and remind him of his feelings for her based on her beauty; Arlene may be constantly reminded of her crush on Megan since they work together; and Joan has her son, Kevin, who is always there to remind her of Greg, and possibly of Roger.

As the title suggests, a major theme in this episode is two halves of an individual, as well as couple dynamics (where a woman is traditionally considered a man’s better half).

·         Peggy tells Don that he and Ted are like the same person, but she implies that Ted is the better half.

·         When Abe breaks up with Peggy, his reasons for breaking up all have to do with her failings; not only is he resentful that she doesn’t seem to be his better half, but he implies that he’s the better half and that’s why he’s dumping her.

·         Don has long seen Peggy as a mirror image of himself, which may be why he’s so hard on her. He, too, is scolding and resentful of her because he finds his self-image (Peggy) to be so much less than he believes he is.

·         Megan plays two characters at work that are identical twin characters. Colette is supposed to be the better twin because she’s blond and self-confident, whereas the other twin is more subservient.

·         Megan is clearly Don’s better half; she is honest with him overall, confronts him and tries to drive his personal growth, and keeps trying to make their marriage work. However, it’s hard to know whether Don realizes her value as his better half.

·         Arlene shows two sides of herself, first as a coach and confidant to Megan at work, and second as a sexual vixen ready to swing with her husband and other couples or go AC/DC on the side.

·         Betty sees two sides of Don, the before-sex Don who’s aggressive and ready to “climb the next mountain” and the after-sex Don who’s attractive but shows signs of decay.

·         We’ve already seen two sides of Betty: the insecure fat Betty, and the self-absorbed snobbish thin Betty. We’ve also seen blond Betty vs. dark-haired Betty. The question about Betty and Henry is: which of them is truly the better half of that relationship? To me it looks like Henry, overall.

·         Roger and Greg may be two halves of the same person, each trying to serve as the absentee father of baby Kevin. Joan seems to believe Greg is the better half in that pairing.


A related theme of this episode is relationship triangles and the problems inherent in them.

·         The first triangle we see is Don, Ted, and Pete at the Fleischman’s ad meeting. Don and Ted square off about the focus of the ad, and Pete sides with Don.

·         Next, Pete is ignored when Peggy is pulled into the meeting, and the triangle becomes Don, Ted, and Peggy. Peggy expresses her own view but then refuses to say more because she realizes she’ll be siding with either Don or Ted and knows that either way is problematic.

·         After Don and Ted leave the room, Harry speaks of his relationship with a headhunter as well as his plans for becoming a partner at the agency, thus theoretically creating a triangle between himself and two agencies, one of which he’ll eventually side with.

·         After Peggy sits with Abe at home while he talks to a cop in their living room, creating a visual triangle, Abe accuses her of siding with the cop.

·         A visual triangle is shown when Pete, Peggy, and Ted walk together down the agency hallway toward Ted’s secretary.

·         When Ted pulls Peggy into his office to talk personally about his feelings about her, he reignites her feelings for him and thus sets up two triangles: one between the two of them and Abe, and the other between the two of them and Ted’s wife. After Abe rejects Peggy, Peggy chooses Ted, but meanwhile Ted chooses his wife, at least for the moment, making Peggy feel very alone.

·         The dynamics of Abe and Peggy’s relationship are strained by two triangles: Peggy’s love for Abe vs. her love for her career at the ad agency, and Abe’s love for Peggy vs. his love for “the people” and his radical belief system. They both ultimately choose their careers/beliefs over each other.

·         Arlene’s advances toward Megan create a triangle for Megan between Arlene and Don. This is not a hard choice for Megan to make, but it’s a funny twist to the triangle theme.

·         Betty drives to Bobby’s summer camp and encounters a service station attendant. When Don shows up, a relationship triangle is created (in the imagination of the attendant) and Betty chooses Don over the attendant.

·         At the summer camp, Betty, Bobby, and Don create a family triangle that seems stable, and nobody has to side with anybody else at that time.

·         Betty sets up a triangle between herself, Don, and Henry by having drinks with Don, leaving her cabin door open, and being available for sex with Don during their summer camp weekend visit. The following morning, however, she has no problem siding with Henry in this triangle.

·         Likewise, when Don accepts Betty’s come-on and sleeps with her, he’s in a relationship triangle with Betty and Megan. He seems to enjoy the adventure of conquering Betty once again, and he’s had so many affairs that he may be comfortable with triangular relationships. However, when Betty shuts him down the next day, he returns to Megan and “sides” with her.

·         When Henry and Betty emerge from the formal dinner they attended and Henry goes to a phone booth to place some calls, Stu comes along and creates a relationship triangle. Betty rejects him, then flirts with him until Henry comes along and Betty sides with Henry.

·         Wanting to create a relationship option with another agency so that he can side with either his current agency or a new one, Pete has a meeting with headhunter Duck Phillips. Unfortunately, Duck is unable to help him make a new connection at that time.

·         When Duck talks to Pete about finding him a job with another agency, Duck’s advice is to manage his family or he won’t be able to manage his career. This sets up a triangle between the individual, the career, and the family, suggesting that these three aspects of life need to be in triangular balance for success.

·         Following Pete’s conversation with Joan when he asks for her advice and tells her he needs to find a caretaker for his mother, Joan passes this information onto Bob Benson. This sets up a triangle (Joan, Bob, and Pete) in which Bob later gets back to Pete and tries to help him by suggesting a nurse, and Pete knows it was Joan who mentioned it. Bob does a pretty good job of siding with Joan while convincing Pete he’s on his side, too.

·          When Bob and Joan pack to take Kevin to the beach, they look something like a family triangle that could potentially be stable if they all play their roles well.

·         When Roger rings the doorbell and enters Joan’s apartment only to see Bob Benson there, the relationship triangle is tense because Joan has quite clearly taken sides with Bob and Roger feels strongly rejected.

·         Earlier in the episode when Margaret brought her son to spend the afternoon with “Pop Pop” Roger, a nice family-like triangle is created among the three of them. Later, Margaret sides with her mother (Mona) against her father (Roger), showing another family triangle that is disastrous for Roger.

A recurring motif of this episode that’s hard to miss is people giving mixed signals.

·         Peggy gets mixed signals from Ted, who wants her to keep her opinions to herself but also say what she really thinks about the Fleischman’s ad ideas. She also gets mixed signals from Don, who makes her feel like two cents while telling her that her opinions matter to him. Abe gives her mixed signals when he agrees to move out of the neighborhood because he loves her, and then breaks up with her shortly thereafter. Finally, Ted gives Peggy mixed signals about his feelings for her – first personal attraction, then a professional cold shoulder.

·         Don and Ted give each other mixed signals when they spend the meeting arguing about the Fleischman’s ad, and then both cave in to each other’s ideas at the end.

·         Megan gives Arlene mixed signals by inviting her over and acting excited to see her, serving her dinner and wine and telling her how lonely she is, and then blaming Arlene for putting her in jeopardy at work when Arlene kisses her. Even when Megan rejects Arlene’s kiss, her signals are so mixed that Arlene mistakenly tries a couple more times before realizing she’s being rejected. On the other hand, Megan has been getting mixed signals from Don for a long time, acting as though he loves her but also acting distant.

·         Betty gives Don mixed signals when she seduces him but tells him she’s happy in her life with Henry. When they have sex, she talks about his decay and expresses sympathy for Megan, who doesn’t realize that having sex isn’t a good way to get to Don. Surprisingly, Don is turned on by this talk and they make love. Also, Betty gives Stu mixed signals, brushing off his advances and then flirting with him.

·         Henry gives Betty mixed signals in the back seat of the limo. Henry seems to be scolding Betty for being the center of attention at the fancy dinner event, but when she tells him what Stu said, he starts kissing her passionately.

·         Pete gives Joan mixed signals when he enters her office to ask for advice, and then suddenly asks her out for supper. Roger has given Joan mixed signals for years, wanting her in his life but also wanting to sleep around and just drop in on Joan when he feels like it.

·         When Bob Benson approaches Pete with a recommendation of a nurse for Pete’s mother, Pete gives him mixed signals – first blaming Joan behind her back for talking about his private issue, then challenging Bob every step of the way, and finally seeming interested in Bob’s recommendation.

·         Joan gives Roger mixed signals when she first refuses to take the Lincoln Logs he bought for Kevin, and then later accepts them with thanks. Her actions give Roger the message that his gift giving is acceptable to her, even though her words say otherwise.

Possibly the biggest theme of all is relationship illusions vs. realities.

·         Don’s relationship illusion is that he’s the stud, always ready to climb the next mountain. However, his reality, at least in this season, is that he’s recently been rejected by Sylvia and he isn’t Betty’s first pick, either. Megan is his reality, and he doesn’t seem overwhelmingly happy about her.

·         Peggy’s relationship illusion is that Ted may get a divorce and marry her. Her reality, however, is that she is Ted’s protégé, making Ted feel powerful around her at work, but right now he is keeping their relationship strictly professional.

·         Abe’s relationship illusion was that Peggy would be a strong woman who would become radicalized and fight the police state side-by-side with him. His reality, which he suddenly realizes in this episode, is that Peggy is scared of “the revolution” that he’s dedicated to fighting, and she’s part of the capitalist establishment that he sees as the enemy. Meanwhile, Peggy’s illusion of a happy life with Abe has already become a nightmare for her, and even though she hadn’t planned on breaking up with him, his rejection makes her feel free to pursue a relationship with Ted, a creative ad person like herself. Unfortunately, that turns out to be an illusion too, at least as far as we can tell right now.

·         Arlene has illusions of forming a sexual relationship with Megan. Reality sinks in when Megan rejects her advances multiple times within a few minutes.

·         Henry’s relationship illusion is that he’s enough for Betty. The reality is that Betty plays around with Don when Henry’s not there, and she flirts with other men too. Of course, Henry doesn’t know about Betty’s night with Don, so his illusion remains intact for now.

·         Pete’s relationship illusion is more of a mask he wears around others. When talking to Duck, he creates the illusion that he still has a family life, although the reality is that he doesn’t. Pete also fancies himself a match for Joan, an illusion that she immediately shoots down.

·         Like Pete, Roger has illusions of being a good match for Joan. She’s rejected him before, but he now sees that she’s moved on to Bob Benson, a harsh reality for him. Equally harsh is his daughter’s screaming phone call, destroying his illusions of having a good relationship with his daughter and grandson.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mad Men Episode 6-8: The Crash

Recap: Working in Detroit with his counterparts at Chevy, Ken begins the episode behind the wheel of a Chevy Impala, nervously speeding as his drunken Chevy companions surround him inside the car and harass him with mocking laughter and even a pistol, urging him to go faster. This joy ride, leading to an off-camera crash, sets the tone for an out-of-control weekend at the new, as-yet unnamed ad agency, SCDP+CGC.  

At the office, Ted, Don, Roger, and Jim sit around a table looking worn out, with Jim and Roger playing checkers as they all try to come up with new ideas for the Chevy account. Ken enters the room saying, “Sorry I’m late,” but gets chewed out. “No one cares that I almost got killed?” he challenges, but in response he receives only abuse. The bad news he bears is that Chevy, the agency’s new overlord, has given them a three-year calendar and wants a constant stream of new ideas throughout that time, in exchange for the hefty sums of money they’re pouring into the agency.  

Dawn enters the meeting room and tells Don he has a phone call from Dr. Rosen. When Don goes to his private office and answers the phone, it’s Sylvia, who is angry about Don’s repeated visits to the hallway behind the back door of her apartment, where he leaves old cigarette butts. She says Arnold thinks she’s smoking again, and she tells Don that she’s afraid she’s going to burst into tears and tell her husband everything. Don tries to schmooze her as if he doesn’t understand the situation or the danger inherent in it, and she eventually hangs up on him.  In frustration, Don picks up the telephone and slams it against the booze cart, smashing glass all over. Just outside his office, Dawn hears the crash and buzzes him to see if he’s all right. He tells her he’s tired and just needs to take a nap. As he coughs, he begins to remember an episode in his teenage years when he had a bad cough and was fed soup and nursed back to health by a prostitute named Aimee who then molested him. More than two hours later, Dawn enters Don’s office to say that Mr. Cutler wants to see him, and she offers to clean up the mess of broken glass.

Jim Cutler announces to the team that Frank has died. Visibly upset, Ted excuses himself from work for a few days, and Peggy says that she can go to the funeral but also be available to work over the weekend. Next, Jim announces that “the doctor’s here,” and that Don should see him first. Not knowing what that means, Don follows Jim’s instructions and heads upstairs to meet a “Doctor Feelgood” who dispenses an “energy serum” via shots in the butt. The shots, which take a few minutes to kick in, are supposed to supply one to three days of “focused energy and confidence.” Nearly everyone in the creative department gets the shot and remains at the office all weekend to try to meet their next deadline with Chevy. Only Mike Ginsberg and Peggy seem to remain sober. The result is a lot of hyperactivity and chaotic bursts of energy among the creative staff, including Don, who are totally confident of their brilliance as they spout platitudes as if they were fabulous concepts. Don searches for artwork from an old ad campaign and is sure it contains the solution to his problem, but he’s more focused on the problem of winning back Sylvia than coming up with work for Chevy.

Ken comes to see Don and explains that he has no power in his relationship with the Chevy guys, but Don demands to be in on Ken’s next meeting with them, convinced that the timbre of his voice will make all the difference. Ken, feeling no pain after his energy serum shot, expresses his frustration and anger by performing a tap dance for Don on his injured foot while delivering an incredibly artistic rant about “It’s my job…” – as if he were a servant doing whatever his master says and wearing a big smile to mask his resentment. Don walks to the area where the creative team is working and gives an emphatic but empty-sounding speech: “There is no reason to give in…This is a test of our patience and commitment…” Peggy commends him for sounding inspiring, but when she asks for his ideas, he says he doesn’t have any yet, although he won’t stop looking.

Next, Don encounters Wendy, who is sitting in the creative office doing i-ching readings. Wendy offers to do a reading for Don, telling him he can just think of a question for the reading and doesn’t have to say it aloud. She later has sex with Stan in someone’s office, and at another point waits in Don’s office where she plays doctor with a broken stethoscope and tries unsuccessfully to seduce him. Much later, Don learns that Wendy is the daughter of the deceased, Frank.

Sometime during this crazy weekend, Stan challenges Mike to throw a makeshift dart (a pen? a hypodermic needle?) at the picture of a large apple positioned above his head. Mike misses and punctures Stan’s raised forearm, causing significant bleeding. Peggy dresses the wound in another room and Stan kisses her, saying that women resist men but they really don’t mean it. Peggy appears to enjoy the kiss but tells him to stop and that she has a boyfriend. Then Stan confesses that he’s feeling bad because his cousin, age 20, was recently killed in the Navy. He then jokes about the job of being a mailman to those on the front lines. Peggy advises him that he needs to feel his grief and not try to cover it up with sex and drugs.

Throughout the weekend, only Mike produces a couple of good nuggets that could become ad ideas, which Peggy acknowledges. At one point Stan excitedly says, “I did it! I’ve got 666 ideas!” Mike says, “I’m wasting my Saturday with lunatics.” At some point, Peggy tells Jim Cutler, “See what a mess you’ve made?”At another point, Don is excited about his new concept: “History cannot be ignored!” As he explains his idea, Mike tries to build on it, saying “Promise them anything – you’re going to change their life – take away their pain – Chevy.” But Don quickly rejects the “Chevy” statement and talks about “getting in the door” – which doesn’t make sense to the others. Peggy realizes Don is out of it. Jim Cutler then calls Peggy over to peek on Stan and Wendy having sex, and Peggy is disgusted and decides to go home.

Meanwhile, Don calls Megan from the office. She needs him to come home immediately to watch the children so she can go out to a play and meet a producer. Don apologizes but says he’s in the middle of something and can’t leave. Megan ends up quickly trying to ensure that the kids will have something to eat before she walks out and leaves Sally in charge. When Don finally leaves the office for home, he first goes to Sylvia’s back door and knocks, but nobody answers. Leaning in, he overhears the kitchen radio blasting the lyrics, “Well I think I’m going out of my head…out of my head over you…day and night…I must think of a way into your heart….” At this point, Don is crashing from his drug high and meanders through the hallway to the front door of his apartment, muttering aloud instructions to himself and rehearsing private lines, such as “Sylvia, don’t close the door on me.” When he enters his home, he’s stunned to see two cops, Betty and Henry, Megan and the three children all sitting in the living room looking at him. He then learns that while Megan was out and Sally was babysitting, an elderly black woman who called herself Ida snuck into their apartment through the back door and stole valuables while pretending to Sally that she was a long lost relative. Don suddenly passes out and falls flat on his face, recalling in his unconscious state the beating he took from his aunt as a teen after being molested by Aimee.

That night as Don rests on the bed staring off, the ever-supportive Megan tries to reassure him. She also apologizes for leaving the children alone, saying, “Sally seems so grown up but she’s really still a kid.” Don, however, can hardly relate to Megan as he ponders his own frustrations.

On Monday morning, Don and Sylvia happen to ride the elevator together. Sylvia asks, “How are you?” but Don stares straight ahead and says, “Busy.” When Don is at work, he calls Sally at the Francis residence to reassure her that he’s okay and that he didn’t have a heart attack. Sally says she’s embarrassed, and that she “acted like a stupid kid.” She also comments that she knows very little about him, which gives him pause. Don replies that he was the one who left the back door open, and that she did everything right. His final advice is: “Try and forget about it.”

Later that morning, Don meets with Ted and Jim in Ted’s office. Ted demands, “What the hell went on this weekend? This work is gibberish!” He also asks, “How could you bring Frank’s little girl [Wendy] here?” to which Jim replies, “It’s better than if we let her go to the Village like she wanted to.”  Then Don announces that, from then on, he will evaluate the work of the creative department for Chevy but not work directly on the account. Indignant, Ted says, “I can’t do it all!” Don replies, “I’m sorry Ted. Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse.” As Don strides confidently out of Ted’s office, Ted and Jim stare after him in shock and disbelief.

As the title and opening scene reveal, a major theme of this episode is a loss of control that leads to a crash.

·         Ken lost control of the car because his Chevy companions pushed him too much, leading to a car crash.

·         Don lost control of Sylvia, and then of his temper, leading him to crash the phone into the booze cart in his office that created a mess for Dawn to clean up for him.

·         In Don’s flashback of being molested, he lost control over his own body, and this resulted in being beaten by his step-mother, a sort of crashing of his psyche.

·         Most of the office, including Don, lost control of their moods and their thought processes because their boss, Jim Cutler, took control and pushed them to take a mind-altering drug. This led the creatives to “crash” at the office all weekend and end up with nothing but a mess of gibberish to show for it. At one point, Peggy told Jim Cutler, “See what a mess you’ve made?”

·         By leaving his back door open, Don lost control of his own home when the intruder, Ida, “crashed the party” of Sally and her brothers by trespassing.

·         When Don came down from his drug high, he lost control of himself and literally crashed onto the floor in his apartment, becoming “a mess” that Megan attempted to “clean up.”

·         The agency itself was out of the control of its own executives, being controlled instead by their Chevy counterparts; this caused the agency to “crash” in the sense of becoming dysfunctional.

A related theme is work as a form of prostitution. This is similar to the crash theme because prostitution involves a woman giving up control of her own body and allowing men to crash into her in exchange for money. At the new agency, Jim Cutler and most of the others agreed that the large amount of money they were receiving from Chevy was a good reason for them to allow the Chevy execs to screw them over as far as workflow. By remembering his experiences as a youth in an actual whorehouse, Don understood this transaction for what it was and, by the end of the episode, closed the door on it and said no to having his talent prostituted in that way.


A motif throughout the episode is closing doors that should never have been opened.

·         Although Don obsesses about finding a way to get Sylvia to open the door for him, Sylvia closes the door on him permanently, and says he should be happy he got away with it.

·         The drugs in that “energy serum” opened doors in people’s minds that are normally kept closed for good reason.

·         During Don’s attempts to get Sylvia to open her back door to him, he leaves his own back door open, thus allowing Ida the intruder to enter his apartment, threaten his children and steal his valuables.

·         When Stan and Wendy were having sex, they left the door open and Jim Cutler (and Peggy) were able to peek in on them.

·         Don tries to convince Ken to “open the door” to allow him to accompany Ken on his next sales trip to Detroit. Ken doesn’t hold that door closed, but rather explains that he lacks the power to open that door.

·         In taking care of Stan’s wound in a nurturing way, Peggy “opens the door” to an intimate encounter with him that she then explains to him is inappropriate.

·         Jim Cutler opens the door to Wendy hanging around at the office all weekend while her father is being buried, which Ted feels is inappropriate.

·         Wendy tries to “open the door” of intimacy to Don, but Don realizes it’s inappropriate and keeps that door closed.

·         Don’s memory of his first sexual encounter is the memory of being molested, against his protestations. This sexual abuse happened because he wasn’t accorded the right to privacy and a room of his own where he could close the door to intruders like Aimee.

·         At the end of the episode, Don walks out of the office, through Ted’s open door, and Ted and Jim both think his behavior is totally inappropriate.

A key quote in this episode is Peggy’s advice to Stan that he needs to feel his pain, and that sex and drugs ultimately can’t cover it up. That same advice could be applied to Jim Cutler, who felt that drugs could ease the pain of his employees who had to work through the weekend. It could also apply to Wendy, who was using sex and possibly drugs to mask her pain at the loss of her father. More broadly, it may even apply to Don to some extent, although Don also uses sexual relationships to grow and learn, not just to avoid his marital problems.

Given all the control issues in this episode, it was nice to see Don shift from feeling out of control to getting back in control of his life. Sylvia rejects Don first, but by the elevator scene at the end, Don rejects Sylvia too and feels more empowered because of it. At work, Don at first goes along with Jim’s advice and takes the shot he was told would give him more energy and confidence, but by the end of the episode, Don tells Jim what he will and won’t do. Over the weekend, Don puts his home life on hold because of his altered state and his need to produce new ad ideas quickly, but by the end of the episode, Don places a call to Sally from work and handles the conversation like a strong parent, one who takes responsibility for his mistake and gives his daughter an appropriate sense that he’s still in charge.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

If You Can Dish It...

Comments on Emily Nussbaum’s “Faking It” Article in the May 20, 2013 issue of The New Yorker

By Karen Field Bolek

Emily Nussbaum’s May 20, 2013 New Yorker article, “Faking It,” is largely a critique of Mad Men’s Don Draper character as developed by Matt Weiner. While Nussbaum’s writing style is witty and often insightful, her content is debatable. I would caution that she who accuses others of faking it and featuring more style than substance in their writing should try to avoid those same faults.

I was surprised to read that Nussbaum perceived as “clunky” the scene in episode 6-6 in which Peggy imagined she was kissing Ted rather than Abe. Why, Emily? Is Peggy’s fantasy life too much information for you because she’s not a glamorous enough character? If so, your remark devalues the fantasies of average-looking women, which is most of us. Imagine that same scene, but with Don kissing Megan while fantasizing that she was some other outstandingly beautiful woman – is that still TMI? Personally, I identify with Peggy and find her character to be just as interesting as Don’s even though her appearance and her personal life aren’t as glamorous, so I appreciated the window into her romantic fantasy.    

Nussbaum states that the audience fell for Don Draper in the early seasons. That sounds right – at least among female viewers – but since I never felt that way, I don’t have the heavy expectations of him now that she has. I guess Nussbaum must have fallen hard, because the tone of her article is a bit like a lover whose overoptimistic expectations of her partner have been shaken. In addition to expecting Don’s character to conform to a certain character arc rather than just being what he is and trying to find his way from year to year, as we do in real life, Nussbaum expects Don not to be “a drag.” But why not? We’re all pretty draggy sometimes, aren’t we? Don is currently at a critical point of growth, faced with needing to reinvent himself, not because he chooses to, but because times are changing and forcing him to do so, and he finds himself resisting core aspects of that change. Really, criticizing Don for being a drag because he desperately wants to cling to his old self-and-worldview is like criticizing anybody out there for having to confront a major life challenge, such as aging, and having trouble dealing with it. Not cool. And I disagree that we’re watching the “downfall of the man in the suit” at this point in Season 6. It might go that way, but maybe not – or at least not yet. Don is at a point of deciding whether he will take that dive off the building by clinging to his old attitudes, or whether he will continue to allow people like Megan and Peggy and others to influence him to keep growing, adjusting his views and behavior accordingly.

Another feature of recent episodes that Nussbaum criticizes is the increasing number of Don Draper flashbacks. However, I believe Don’s many flashbacks are a sign of his increasing efforts at self-understanding, not a flaw on the part of the writers. Don’s character is working hard to understand himself by reflecting on his childhood, little by little, and since people often think about childhood experiences in an effort to integrate them with their current lives, the flashbacks make sense.

Nussbaum’s comment that Don’s character is over-determined, unlike the other characters, might be attributable to her unwillingness to grant creative license to the writers who may be telescoping Don’s experiences to tell his story in just seven seasons. But another possibility is that she doesn’t find that kind of intensity of events believable. Yet I’ve known people who’ve been through a lot more drama in life and many more unusual events than the average person, people whose life stories are way “too much” for typical fiction, and stranger as well. Don’s story may sound improbable in an outline form, but seeing it unfold is still riveting.

Finally, Nussbaum claims that Don has become more of a symbol than a realistic character. Maybe the writers are using Don’s character to symbolize overarching thesis topics, maybe not. But who cares? As postmodern observers, we can simply use an unassuming approach and try to walk a mile in the shoes of Don, Peggy, and each of the other characters as presented, framed by a blending of their worlds and our own. This makes for entertaining exercises in socio-spiritual development rather than intellectual exercises in literary analysis. 

Personally, I like the life-as-odyssey flow of Don’s character development. He seems more like a real person, and therefore more interesting, because of it. The only recurring character that doesn’t make sense to me is Bobby Draper (see my comments at the end of my Mad Men Themes blog post for episode 6-5: The Flood).

Perhaps Nussbaum is faking a deeper understanding of the art of storytelling and character development than she really has. To me, the question is whether Matt Weiner’s storytelling skills ought to meet a traditionally educated audience’s expectations for a well-told, compelling story with a hero who never disappoints romance-hungry female viewers but yet seems like a real man (as if that’s possible), or whether our expectations need to be ditched in favor of following each character’s growth process while bearing witness to the unusual storytelling gifts of someone who continues to engage and fascinate a worldwide audience by trusting his own unique writing talents. I vote for the latter.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mad Men Episode 6-7: The Man with a Plan

Recap: Riding the elevator, Don overhears the Rosens yelling at each other in their apartment. Sylvia accuses Arnold of being self-serving and not taking enough care of her, and Arnold threatens to leave. At the office, Dawn’s phone rings but Dawn isn’t at her desk, so Don decides to pick it up. It’s Sylvia, and she demands coyly that he come to meet her immediately. “I need you and nothing else will do” is her sex-talk. Don counters that she should meet him at a hotel around noon. He then steps in to an executive board meeting that includes execs from CGC and SCDP and takes the last available seat at the table. The board members discuss who is doing what and who they will fire – with Bert Peterson among the first to be axed. The execs find themselves being led by Jim Cutler. The meeting includes lots of competitiveness and blaming. Don is told to collaborate with Ted on the new Fleischman’s margarine account. It’s also decided that Ted, Don, and Pete will fly up to a client the following day, and Don learns that Ted pilots his own airplane.

Don leaves the office to meet Sylvia at the hotel and has her repeat her sex talk. Then Sylvia starts talking to Don about her problems with her son and husband, and how self-involved Arnold is. Don tells her she can talk about her son but he doesn’t want to hear her talk about her husband. Sylvia counters, “I can talk about whatever I want.” Don proceeds to command her to find his shoes for him, and she replies, “They’re right over there.” “Do it” says Don, and she fetches them for him. He then gives her a series of orders – take off the dress, get back in bed – and she decides for the moment to go along. Sylvia then gives him a command: “Come over here.” Don moves towards her but then picks up the hotel room key and leaves the room, saying, “Don’t go anywhere.” Sylvia does as told, but pulls out a book to have something besides sex to occupy her mind during the hours he’s gone.

After this escapade, Don shows up at work and walks into the meeting of creatives that he was supposed to co-lead along with Ted. Meanwhile, Ted has convened the meeting and led a brainstorming session on margarine for the Fleischman’s account. Ted scolds Don for being 40 minutes late. Silently rebuking Ted’s reprimand, Don walks into his office, shuts the door, and calls Sylvia at the hotel. He asks, “Are you still in bed?” and tells her she needs to wait there without knowing when he’ll be back. Sylvia replies, “What’s gotten into you?” but Don continues: “Don’t answer the phone again.” Later Don calls her room again, and she follows his instructions not to answer. Next Don grabs a bottle of booze and walks over to Ted’s office to offer an “olive branch” – but really to challenge Ted to a drinking man’s match as they spout ideas for the margarine commercial. Ted comes up with Gilligan’s Island analogies, which Don trashes. Don counters by describing a farm kitchen breakfast, which Ted amends with the addition of cows and bacon. By the time they have a concept to present to the creative group, Ted is ripped and all the creatives witness his drunkenness, much to Don’s satisfaction. Meanwhile, Don has a box from Saks Fifth Avenue delivered to Sylvia’s hotel room. Sylvia opens the box and puts on the red evening dress, assuming it means she and Don will be going out somewhere together. But when Don arrives at the hotel room, he says in a surly tone of voice, “Why would you think we’re going somewhere? You are here for me. You exist in this room for my pleasure.” Then he commands her to take off her clothes, and she obliges but is uneasy.

Back at work, Dawn is still absent or away from her desk, and Don opens his office door to find Peggy sitting there waiting for him (without knowing when he’d be back). She immediately reprimands him for getting Ted drunk, saying, “I hoped he’d rub off on you, not the other way around.” Don calls her a complainer and says, “He’s a grown man,” to which Peggy counters, “So are you. Move forward.”

Returning to the hotel room, Don hears Sylvia confide that she doesn’t feel like thinking about anything. “Who told you you were allowed to think?” he responds. Sylvia passively asks what she should do, and Don tells her he’s going on a trip upstate and she should stay in the room and be ready for him when he returns. Then he confiscates the book she’s reading, and she protests, “Come on!”

Back at work the following day, Don meets Ted, learns that Pete had some emergency, and agrees to go ahead with just Ted to the client in upstate New York, although he tries to postpone the flight because of a thunderstorm. Ted insists on leaving right away, and during the plane ride, Don looks frightened and pale until they soar above the storm clouds and reach fair weather. Ted tells him, "Sometimes when you're flying you think you're right side up, but you're really upside down. You've got to watch your instruments." Don says something to the effect of: “No matter what I say, you’re still the guy who flies his own plane.” He then pulls out the book he took from Sylvia and begins reading in an effort to marginalize Ted.

When Don eventually returns from the trip, Sylvia has snapped out of her mental fog and tells him their affair is over. Don says, “It’s over when I say it’s over,” but Sylvia replies that she had a dream in which Don died in a plane crash, Megan cried on her shoulder, and she went home to Arnold and made love to him. Don tries to reinterpret the dream and then begs her, but Sylvia says, “Let’s go.” As they exit the room, Don sees that Sylvia has left the red dress behind, and he realizes that his sexual fantasy of total dominance is over. Returning home to Megan, he tries to listen to her chatter about her plans for them to take some time off together and go on a trip, but his mind drifts off into a fog and he stops hearing what she’s saying. The trip they take is soon disrupted by the news of the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy, where Megan watches the news and cries in their hotel room while Don faces the other way and stares off. As the final credits roll, we hear the news report of RFK’s condition (still alive at that moment but weak) superimposed on a then-popular upbeat song with the lyrics: “I think it’s so groovy now, that people are finally getting together.”

For Ted’s part, he competes hard with Don by taking him up in his airplane in the middle of a thunderstorm for a very jerky flight, successfully unnerving him probably to get revenge for the previous day’s drinking match. Yet we also see Ted visiting his mentor Frank, the cancer-stricken partner from CGC, and we hear that Ted believes Don is mysterious and that, by comparison, he’s not interesting.

Joan’s story begins as she takes charge of organizing personnel on the first day of the merger, where the SCDP facilities are overcrowded as the CGC people file in to find out what room or desk to report to. She and Peggy exchange sincere well-wishes as she shows Peggy to her Copy Chief office, and Joan brushes off Moira, her own counterpart from CGC. Both Joan and Moira go to the executive board meeting, and Ted gives up his chair to Moira since the group is one chair short. As soon as Joan is able to get to her private office, she nurses a sharp pain in her side. Bob Benson knocks on her door and walks in to find her looking ill. He takes charge and allows her to lean on him as he ushers her out of the office and over to a clinic. Next he makes phone calls for her, sits in the waiting room with her, encourages her to stay positive when she worries about possibly dying, and finds a way to sweet-talk the nurse-administrator into expediting Joan’s case. Joan tells him he doesn’t have to stay there with her, but he replies, “I have no place to go.” After Joan has seen a doctor and gone home, Bob drops by for a visit, bearing a gift for Joan’s baby boy and wishing Joan well. Joan’s mother comments on Bob’s attractiveness but Joan explains to her that Bob is just concerned about his job, although Joan is visibly flattered by his gentlemanly attention. Back at the office, Joan sits at a pared-down executive board meeting in which Jim Cutler announces that Bob should be fired. Pete, Joan, and Don (who have all had positive interactions with him) look disturbed and manage to save his job.

Meanwhile, when Pete shows up to the executive board meeting on the first day of the merger, all the chairs are taken and he indignantly demands a seat. Moira volunteers her chair to him, which he takes, and that’s when Ted quickly offers his own seat to Moira. Pete’s self-righteous attitude helps to fan the flames of the meeting’s blame session. When he’s asked to travel with Don and Ted in Ted’s plane to see a client, he asserts his authority by recommending they make the trip the very next day, which the others agree to do. However, Pete soon gets a phone call about his mother and has to take time out to handle her wacky behavior and out-of-touch-with-reality demands. He learns that his brother, Bud, is dumping their mother on him, making Pete even angrier than he was at work. He tries to express to Bud his fear about potentially losing his job, but Bud’s decision is final. Both brothers agree their mom should be institutionalized but the paperwork will take time. The following day, Pete is sidetracked by his mother’s claim that there’s a fire at Pete’s apartment. Rushing home, he learns that there’s no fire and takes the approach of making up stories to confuse his mother even more, in order to quiet her down. Occupied with handling his mother’s mental confusion, he misses Ted’s flight and the client meeting he was to have with Don and Ted. When Pete’s secretary, Clara, later explains to him that the others left without him, Pete is enraged, dumps his anger on her, and tells her his mother can “go to hell,” although Clara takes his outburst in stride. At the end of the episode, Pete’s mother sees breaking news on TV of the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy. When she tells Pete about it, he assumes she’s disoriented and is talking about the assassination of JFK. She then tells him he’ll be late for school, reinforcing his mistaken assumption.

The irony of the episode’s title is that most of the men’s plans are unsuccessful. Don’s plan to dominate Sylvia (because he can’t dominate Megan) succeeds for a while but later turns her off to him permanently. Meanwhile, his plans to establish dominance at work are partially undermined by Ted, and even more so by Jim Cutler’s stronger leadership position, businesslike approach, and authoritative communication style. Ted’s plan to immediately dominate Don falls short, although Ted manages to get good advice from Frank on how to dominate in the long run by discerning Don’s weaknesses over time. Pete’s long-time plans to get Bud to take care of their mother suddenly fall through and he finds himself saddled with a responsibility that undermines his career efforts for the moment, although the brothers’ long-term plan of getting their mother committed will likely succeed. Meanwhile, Pete’s plan to establish his dominance at work by self-righteously yelling at everyone turns people off, and Clara treats him like he’s off-base, echoing the way he treats his mother. Bob Benson’s plan all along has been to ensure job security by building a network of strong personal relationships with key individuals at work. Bob seems to be “the man with a plan” when he quickly figures out how to help Joan, and his larger plan succeeds when his allies on the board save his job.

A major theme of this episode is forging new regimes. Power struggles in forging these regimes involve individuals pitted against one another to determine who will dominate whom and who will be ousted in the regime changes. These new regimes are formed by the merging of two agencies into one, the shift from old to new gender politics, and the shift from class-based master/servant relationships to greater democracy and equality, which are associated with both the Women’s Movement and the Civil Rights Movement of that era.

·         The most obvious regime change takes place as the two agencies merge to form the new company.

o   Don and Ted compete for dominance in the creative group, while the casual-looking SCDP creative team competes with the more inhibited, buttoned-up CGC creatives. Michael Ginsberg (“Now I see you’re my height”) attempts to position himself as equal to Ted, who quickly puts Ginsberg in his place (“I hope you can still look up to me”).

o   Moira (“I’ll need a copy of that”) challenges Joan’s dominance (“These are just notes”) as the office maven. Joan pointedly suggests to her that not everyone present on the first day of the merger will be there for long.

o   Some workers are cut immediately, and many more workers including Pete fear for their jobs. On day one, Roger fires Bert Peterson, whose work will be absorbed by Ken and Roger, partly because Roger feels competitive towards Bert and realizes his own position at the company is less secure, given that Jim Cutler is not easy to charm.

o   Bert Cooper has always been the sage of SCDP, but in this episode he sounds a bit weak as he reads aloud his incomplete letter. With the merger, he is naturally competing with the sage of CGC, Jim Cutler.

·         The next clear regime change is the shift in gender politics from old-school male domination to the rise of feminism. The old regime comprises both “male chauvinists” and the women who accommodate those men’s behavior. The new regime comprises women who take charge in non-traditional ways, along with men who work to be sensitive to women’s needs and respectful of their power, treating them more as equals.

o   Betty and Don’s marriage functioned according to their mutual belief in the old regime of male domination and fell apart because that regime includes a man’s right to cheat on his wife. Under Megan’s outspoken, direct-dealing influence, Don has been trying to shift with the times and become a more sensitive man. However, his secret longing for the old days when men believed women existed to serve the needs of men has led him to act out his fantasy of dominance with Sylvia. That ended when Sylvia stopped being servile.

o   As a fairly sensitive man, Ted tells Don, “Sometimes when you’re flying you think you’re right side up, but you’re really upside down. You’ve got to watch your instruments.” This quote has the ring of greater meaning, and is perhaps a coded message that Don is “flying upside down” in life and doesn’t know it.

o   Sylvia begins the episode as a fairly confident, self-assertive woman struggling for what she considers her rights within her marriage and getting what she can on the side. Surprised at Don’s behavior change in the hotel room, she plays along with him for the most part, until she fully understands what it is to be a sexual object, there to serve the pleasures of a man without reciprocity. At last she “wakes up” and finds her power as an equal human being, rejecting the old male-dominant regime by telling Don their affair is over and returning to the struggle for a more equal relationship with Arnold.

o   Bob Benson epitomizes the respectful, sensitive man that complements a woman who is confident in her own power and demands equality. Whether he’s being gentlemanly to Joan strictly to get ahead at work or whether deeper motivations drive his behavior, his respectfulness and sensitivity to her needs indicate his alignment with the new gender regime.

o   Pete’s behavior towards several women in the past, and Clara in this episode, indicate that he’s of the old regime that expects to be served by virtue of being a man. Interestingly, Pete came close to forming a respectful, sensitive, egalitarian relationship with Trudy in the early years of their marriage. Trudy played along with his self-important, male-dominant attitudes to some extent, despite her self-confidence, but that ended when she was faced with his cheating ways. Now, Clara is more bemused by Pete’s authoritarian rants than servile towards him, although she is still his secretary and therefore paid to serve him on the job. Overall, his continued alignment with the male-dominant regime of the past has given him some hot sex but undermined his long-term love relationships.

·         Another regime change that’s more subtle is the shift in society from the master/servant type of relationship (based both on gender and social class/wealth) to the view that servile people can stand up for themselves and just say no, pushing the conceited/arrogant people to mature by adopting a more egalitarian spirit, dropping their pretentiousness, and doing their own “grunt work.”

o   Dorothy, Pete’s mom, expects Pete to freshen her drink for her, as if she couldn’t or shouldn’t have to do it herself. Both Pete and Bud learned as children to adopt the master/servant lifestyle and to play along with their mother’s desire to be served, based on wealth and social status (although they plot to dump her in an institution as soon as possible). Dorothy also mentions to Pete that she’ll ask the cook to make a meal, indicating that she may not even know how to cook, or that she felt that cooking was beneath her.

o   Pete’s arrogance is supported by his beliefs, learned in childhood, in both male privilege and the entitlements of wealth and social status. With his high-status mother now mentally unstable, his marriage destroyed, and his job in question (at least in his mind), he’s terrified at the prospect of losing everything that supports his feelings of superiority.

o   Dawn’s absence from her desk drives Don to actually answer his own phone calls.

o   The spirit of democracy and egalitarianism (rather than the entitlements of the elite) is also represented by Bobby Kennedy, a man of great wealth and privilege who nevertheless stood up for treating poor people with greater fairness and compassion.

It’s interesting to watch the growth process, or lack thereof, in men in this episode. For instance, Peggy tells Don to move forward (which he doesn’t appreciate); Sylvia struggles to get Arnold to mature and stop being so childishly self-centered (which he resists); and Sylvia pushes Don to mature when she dumps him (which he doesn’t yet understand). Ted is fascinated by Don because he (Ted) is eager to grow by learning about Don’s mysterious creative process, and by figuring Don out as a person. Yet instead of being stimulated to grow by learning from and about Ted, Don tries to dominate and marginalize him. With their very different temperaments and styles of creative work – Don needs lots of time to think quietly until he comes up with great ads, whereas Ted uses a methodical approach to eventually come up with great ads – they’re well-positioned to spur one another’s professional growth if they both commit to growing rather than waging war. On the other hand, Don’s movement backwards instead of forwards on the gender front in his affair with Sylvia, attempting to recapture the old male-domination regime, ultimately makes him unattractive to her. In my view, the reason he’s still attractive to Megan is that when he’s with her, he’s trying to grow into a more sensitive man, thus meeting more of her needs and matching her commitment to growth.

Finally, the placing of the TV report of RFK’s shooting over the upbeat 60s song about “finally getting together” is a striking reminder of the contrary 1960s memes across America of women’s empowerment and a more inclusive and engaged democracy making demands for change, vs. right-wing reactionary forces attempting to stop these new movements from sweeping the country and altering the culture. This is reminiscent of today’s desperate, last-ditch efforts at control in America by people who, in politics and society, are insisting at all cost on the old-school regime of male dominance and the old-school entitlements of wealth that grant people the “right” to treat other people as inferior and as property – buyable and sellable, usable and “discardable” – rather than as full human beings worthy of equal respect and equal opportunities.