March 31st, 2012
For those of you who don’t know – probably all of you - some of us Mindless like Mad Men a whole lot, and I think now that the new series is underway it might be time to get my thoughts down about it. The general format of these posts is presently undecided, so it’s difficult to give you an idea of what to expect. Whole screeds, mini essays, round robins with the other Mindless – all are possible. Whatever, these posts will be dense, but hopefully enjoyable if you’re familiar with the show, and, I’m sure, in some cases even if you’re not.
Botswana Beast – I find myself somehow rooting for that “disaster of a man” Pete Campbell now? Despite his party-wear.
Amy – I haven’t found Pete to be a disaster for some time now – we’re obviously not supposed to – but he’s still a character carefully poised between likeable/dislikeable. For example, the way he proved his point to the other partners (having them all nudged up on that bloody chair) was hilariously irrefutable, but somehow we all still understood when, one by one, they all left the room shaking their heads. Only Pete could achieve this, to be so righteously right but still provoke scorn with his petulant manner. I also picked up on the way the script continues to subtly align him with the future – see his complaints about the SCDP drinking culture and his request that Roger not smoke in his office. Obviously both of these things represent a power play with Roger and serve as a general indication of how sick Pete is with the man’s general carrying on, but they also slot neatly into a continuum of behaviour that should be viewed as progressive, especially when these complaints emerge in an episode where he also makes disgusted noises at a rival firm’s racist shenanigans (that scene where he refers to the the rival ad guys as ‘bigots’ caught my attention actually. Not just because Pete impresses by continuing to be the only partner who’s prepared to publicly express anger at these sorts of things, but also because the Mohawk representatives nod and laugh along with him. I’m not sure how to take it though. It could just be that they’re happy and drunk and want to gloat, but there’s also the possibility that the times they are a changin’?).
Amy - Speaking of the race issue, given Matt Weiner’s general position on ethnic representation in MM (only when historically appropriate, bascially), the partners’ decision to employ a black secretary at the end of the episode, regardless of whether or not they were railroaded into it, is a surprising turn of events. Obviously we don’t know how big or small the character’s role will be – I’m guessing pretty small – but I’m sure we’ll see ripples. Afterall, A Little Kiss went to great pains to demonstrate Bert Cooper’s dogmatically anti-communist stance, and we already know that in his case this shades into outright racism and paranoia (remember his conversation with SCDP’s head of research last season about equal rights leading to the abolition of private property?). Further to that, Roger is often casually racist, and Lane, while the previous …err *possessor* of a black girlfriend always treated her like a trophy (‘my Chocolate Bunny’)/a weapon in his ongoing war with his Father, so future hiccups seem a given at this point. Even the staunch meritocracist Don, if he does come into contact with the new employee, could land the company in hot water because of a general unwillingness to not speak his mind if they fuck up. And all of this is before we get onto the gossipy secretary pool and potentially racist clients (‘We can’t have one out front.’)
Are Fillimore Auto still with SCDP?
But these are all reasons not to employ black staff – the kind of excuses people like Bert have fallen back on ever since it became a possibility. There could be various benefits to this move. For starters, even though they’re the second agency to do it (I can’t remember who but in seasons previous we were made aware that another agency had employed black creative), this still positions SCDP as forward thinking and progressive – desirable traits in an ad agency whatever your politics. And while the move may alienate some – ailing, aging – companies, what about the plucky new upstarts? Were there any companies owned by black people in the late sixties, ones big enough to get SCDP’s attention? Regardless, this is a door opening, and where it’ll lead could be terribly exciting and interesting from a business point of view. From a non-diegetic point of view, it’ll just be nice to see a bit more diversity. I have no time for the Mad Men is racist argument, but that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally feel a little queasy at all the milky whiteness.
Ad - Yeah, that’s the thing. The show’s obviously not racist – it’s never once suggested that we should have anything other than complicated and troubled feelings about the wealthy white male world of SCDP – but from this fan’s point of view it’ll sure be nice to see a bit more ethnic diversity (assuming that’s what we’re going to get).
Amy – I don’t know about anyone else, but to me this episode seemed preoccupied with new beginnings. Having seen it reduced to zero, Roger is trying to rebuild his roster of accounts, Pete has his new house in the country and a baby, Joan has just given birth too and is preparing to return to SCDP, and all the while the world is crashing open around them: a black homosexual singer plays Don’s(! – how’s that for *new*?) fortieth birthday (another fresh start: he’s now middle aged), civil rights marchers march all the way up to the 37th floor and stay there, young women juggle work and motherhood, cannabis is now consumed (semi) openly at work do’s. And astride all of this – at least in plot terms – there’s Don and Megan’s new relationship, still figuring itself out. I suppose it’s a common Mad Men trope to see history and narrative align like this, but it’s handled well in this episode. This is a new world and we don’t know the rules yet. But we do have at least one clue, as Matt Weiner has said, and Roger’s client thieving in A Little Kiss underscores, in this season it’s every man for himself.
Ad -There might be more of an emphasis on professionalism and the slow rise of modern office values this season: the abject redundancy/uselessness of Roger and Bert, Don “I don’t care about work” Draper’s new found clients know best attitude, the disorganisation of the office in Joan’s absence, Peggy’s resentment at the hours she has to work juxtaposed with senior management and their wives buggering off home when they feel like it, Pete’s general situation as one of the two hard-working partners left in the building, the secretaries who can’t handle the book-keeping versus Joan’s implacable efficiency all point in that direction. But perhaps most conspicuously, lazy ad men pelting protesters who just want “the same economic opportunities as other silver spooners”, i.e. jobs and decent pay, with water bombs. I could go on.
Amy – Yeah, while he still displays the odd moment of true Bertian cunning, I think it’s fair to say that the old guy’s on the outs. There’s a doddering obliviousness starting to creep in, definitely. He seems just that little bit removed now, and, as in the hallway meeting he missed even though it took place right in front of him, his absence isn’t really felt or remarked upon. I mean, he’s never really taken a big role in office life, but in an episode where everyone’s talking about Megan’s sexydance, that Bert’s only commentary on the party is ‘Marvelous fete!’ seems comically non-sequiterish (the sort of humour non MM fans always miss, but which absolutely cracks up regular viewers). Like he’s floating around somewhere else, somewhere in 1925. Where they still have fetes.
Ad There’s a real good worker / bad worker, vibe here, with good and bad being defined somewhat differently than they would have been earlier in the show’s history – subject to the whims of a changing society. The company’s clearly in a bad way, and dead wood like Roger and Bert aren’t doing it any favours (is Laine even taking a wage?). They’re necessarily a problem for a business that’s in trouble, but in this episode they’re just the tip of a bigger iceberg, a whole way of doing things whose time is rapidly passing, exemplars of an older, less efficient, less professional (in the modern sense) way of doing things. Could be quite a different work environment come the end of this season.
Amy - Given what I was saying before about fresh starts and new beginnings, I think we need to take a look at Megan. A lot of viewers have commented that they haven’t got a handle on her yet. Now that can be unpacked in lots of ways, but what I find interesting is how it relates to her relationship with Don. Megan’s flitting back and forth between perfect au pair, doting wife, whiny princess (I can’t be the only one who thought her behaviour when she left the office was profoundly, obliviously, privileged and unprofessional), go-getter, coquettish Bardot-alike and vampy S&Mer renders her difficult to locate not just for the audience, but for her husband too. I get that this was the first episode and I’m sure a more rounded picture of who she is will eventually emerge, but she does seem awfully comfortable inhabiting a variety of, on the surface at least, contradictory personas. Perhaps Don is drawn to her because she’s an enigma, the woman who ‘surprises her spouse every day’, or, in starker terms, a woman who’s always at ‘the beginning of things’. Don can chase and chase but never catch her, and he likes it like that.
Amy – It could be argued that this is part and parcel of an unhealthy marital dynamic however, all this chasing and catching and chasing again. I count at least three instances in A Little Kiss when Megan places herself on a pedestal out of reach, only to climb back down again into Don’s arms. At the party where she performs her song and dance routine – the movie star sex goddess who flirts and flirts but…. in the end belongs to her husband; when she leaves work expecting him to follow, and, later, when he does, rebuffing his advances until inevitably giving in. The trouble is, while Don is addicted to the chase (afterall that’s how he’s spent the last five years of his life (probably more), in a string of unfulfilled relationships), he’s recently been made all too aware of his limits (see all of season five) and judging by the Megan’s taunts during their sex play (‘I don’t want an old man…’) he’s also aware of time passing and that he might be past his prime. One has to remember that the whole sentence could read as a defensive ‘….It was only a little kiss….’, and that Megan’s peck on Roger’s cheek might’ve ignited real jealousy. Because Megan is in her prime. The world is her oyster.
Perhaps Don doesn’t need to settle down, perhaps he’s happy chasing and catching and chasing again, but, like with most S&My scenarios, the chances are we’re dealing with the sublimation of real pain, and addiction to momentary catharis may ultimately be bad for him.
Botswana Beast - Megan is interesting particularly as a direct contrast to the markedly absent Betty – I don’t know if you watched the ‘Previously’ at the start, normally those just give away what’s going to be in it, but there was quite a lot of Betty and then you’ve – you know, the scene with Don dropping Sally and Eugene and whatever his name is, Michael (idk) I think. And Don pointedly does not go in, there is Betty’s front door. Maybe that’s what divorce is like, kids living these parallelisms.
I really quite like Megan, she is an actress, she has hella bohemian friends evidently, in some ways she seems composited of a number of Don’s former conquests – I don’t think she’s any more unprofessional than basically everyone in the office bar Peggy Olsen, maybe Pete, for going home there. Her distress read genuinely to me, to the point her face was almost unrecognisable. But she is swift and changeable. (Which – I’ve
not read a lot around the ep, but I did catch an interview with Jon Hamm in the Metro today where he said Don would “pursue monogamy” or a similar unusual phraseology, something you’ve nicely contextualised
there). Contrast with Betty’s black moods, monomania (we have all read the Sady Doyle piece by now, twice, I still do not like Betty, who you’re a lot more charitable to) (but I sort of missed her icing it up with her frosty reserve, somehow).
Amy – I don’t know, I think compared to much of the creative and accounts staff Megan’s behaviour is pretty unprofessional, particularly when viewed in the light of her elastic time keeping and the fact that she landed the job because she’s Don’s wife and isn’t a proven quantity yet. You get the feeling that Peggy, while big hearted and basically resigned to it, does think all of this is kinda annoying. I get what you’re saying though, she did seem distressed, but no one else in creative would be allowed to pack up and leave early just because they’d had a row with their husband. Megan’s a nice person who’s unfortunately found herself in the privileged position of being the boss’s wife and she can’t help taking advantage of it basically. Who could? I think it’s also worth noting that her upset isn’t the only reason she leaves. She also wants Don’s attention (it’s in the script – ‘I think she wanted to be alone.’ ‘You don’t know her at all.’).
Botswana Beast – Ah, what did I want to say – oh, Sterling seemed even more clapped-out than normal (and unusually charmless) – he’s always been pretty useless, really, a millionaire’s son, an inheritor, and this is what Americans would probably point to as – or a scanter few still believe is – the benefit of their system, this idea of meritocracy, that guys like Pete, like Don, through graft and hustle will supercede him. I really liked Pete’s face when he showed up at that meeting, that sort of furious embarrassment he tried (apparently with some success) to hide – I don’t know if it qualifies as a bitchface http://petecampbellsbitchface.tumblr.com/, couple good new ones there, but it made me laugh. I do empathise with Pete a lot more, these days – the thing with Peggy’s boyfriend, talking about civil rights, that sort of strained dinner conversation… his wife basically said the right thing, without really saying anything? So awkward. Psychological realism. I think – it’s not really clear what year it is, ’67? But it’s probably going to run into 1968 and there will be some serious shit going on.
Ad - There’s the sign on the window in the first scene that reads “Goldwater ’68″, but I don’t suppose that guarantees that the season is set during 68. Maybe an American could clarify?
Amy – It’s ’66. Google is your friend.
Ad – On the characters, it was fascinating how the assertion that “Don hates Harry” helped to skew my perception from basically decent if flawed guy to creep. His bout of cringeworthy misogyny notwithstanding – every male character has the occasional bout of cringeworthy misogyny – I don’t know if the script had him be any more or less douchey than usual, but I found him unpleasant in a way that I haven’t before. Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention.
Amy – I think he’s very struck by his semi-new role as Head of Media. Probably been playing away from home a lot – cashing in on casting couch bullshit to get laid as opposed to any natural ability with women. He was pretty sleazy in the last episode of season four, tbh, when he tried to chat up Joyce’s model friend in Peggy’s office. I can imagine him toadying up to Don at some work do, crassly boasting about his conquests (‘We’re men of the world… Been around the block a few times, etc’) and Don being disgusted by the suggestion that they’re in any way equals. Regardless of whether he gets more sex than he did, he probably still has to promise the world in order to get the job done. He’s still looking in through the windows, basically. These women don’t like him. He doesn’t know them.