fireflies

This week we’re out in force. We’ve now got Illogical Volume added to the roster of mighty discussonaughts (‘Tremble before our discourse!’) So, yeah, they’re definitely a cast iron weekly thing now, these Mad Men posts.

Amypoodle: Although I haven’t checked, I think I can safely guarantee that over at Basket of Kisses there’s a debate genteely raging wrt whether or not this episode was fattist.

Illogical Volume: “Don’t you want to get back into that incredible closet of yours.” – American tv shows do love to fat up their pretty people, huh? It’s everywhere, from Monica’s fatsuit in Friends (“lol, remember when she was too fat to be in this TV show”) to Fat Lee Adama’s temporary command of Battlestar Galactica, in which fatness is a sign of weakness, something to be overcome on the road back to becoming a proper character.

Betty’s fat period is probably closer to the latter than the former, but we’ll see how it plays from here. Mad Men is a more nuanced sort of show, so – hopes, I still have them! To be honest, I found it hard to focus on that element of this episode because of the way it blurred into the “I found a lump” plot. It was almost too much drama for one episode (which is also very Betty somehow, plus it really amplified the sense that she’s frozen in her new life, that the skills she’s been told to value might not be much use to her if her body won’t oblige), you know?

Still, Betty’s… it’s hard not to empathise with her current situation. Plus while “I found a lump” stories are easy to overdo, they’re also scary stories to which we can all relate, sadly. And then you get to “your mother is obese” and “it’s good to be put through the ringer to find out I’m just fat” and it’s… ooft, the lady, she deals with horrible situations in some horrible ways. It was fashionable to slate January Jones’ performance in Sex-Men: First Class last year, but she was pretty great here, I thought. Her face conveyed just the right mix of blank terror and blank huffiness in pretty much every scene she was in.

Ad Mindless: Has everyone noticed that Betty actually lives in a castle now?

Illogical Volume: Ha, yeah! The scenes in Betty’s “castle” were lit as though everything was being seen through a particularly dull filter, which is was a neat visual representation of one aspect of the show. You spend so much time watching the characters in Mad Men try so hard to be what they’re supposed to be in order to get what they’re supposed to want that it can be quite crushing to see them living the dream, unable to escape it.

Shades of  Dirk Deppey on Moore and Campbell’s From Hell: “It’s impossible to imagine anyone living a fulfilling life in such a landscape…”


Amypoodle: What I found interesting about Betty’s story was the way it threw the haters such a curveball, her perrenial hardness vanishing under doughy flesh. I mean, it really literalised it, didn’t it, the weight gain? That we’re now dealing with someone soft, vulnerable, someone we can care about and can pity again. It was very clever. But the tensions are still there. I’m torn really, because there’s a new poster over at BoK who’s arrived with a shedload of theories about the show and who’s currently pushing the idea that Betty suffers from NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), and some of her arguments are quite good. Now I know that for some readers this probably reads as the new Betty is a BITCH! and that when it comes to MM grand unifying theories should always be viewed with suspicion, but I think there’s room for Betty to be at least on the spectrum. I don’t think she’s an acute case (quite apart from the oft quoted quiet breakdown during the separation talk at the end of season 3, there’s the odd head rub, loving glance, and warm, motherly ‘Go and play’ directed toward her children that suggests they’re more than just proxies), but she does seem unhealthily concerned with how her family appears and she’s unable to make a mental and emotional break with childhood -  when the whole world does appear to emanate from oneself. And inspite of her apparently revived relatability there’s nothing in Tea Leaves to directly contradict this. We don’t see a single conversation about how her death would effect the kids, for instance. Even her dream, complete with bowed family dressed in old world mouring gear, has a comedic self indulgence about it. And let’s not forget, this episode began with Betty unable to leave the house because of body-shame, and closes with her in apparently exactly the same mental and emotional space. There’s even the suggestion that she would prefer being terminally ill to being a bit fat. Remember her clanger ages ago where she said it might be better for Sally to be dead than permanently scarred? We’re in the same territory here. And I know I said that stuff about the children not being proxies earlier, but the scene at the end of the episode where she and Sally are eating knickerbocker glories is easy to read as Betty giving herself permission to eat via her daughter.

Anyway, moving on a bit, as I said earlier I just know there must be an online debate raging about whether or not Tea Leaves was fattist. It’s such an abrupt change and Betty’s so abject throughout so much of the episode that we can’t help but feel her physical situation is somehow wrong, that it’s symptomatic of profound boredom, etc. Saying that, though, as is so often with MM I don’t feel the camera really cares, that it’s only the people in its crosshairs with an emotional investment. I don’t know.

Botswana Beast: I do think the key is how broken, in need of salvage, Betty’s relationship with Sally is; it’s in the dream (“I’m sorry…”), it’s at the end sequence – watching the first four episodes (where she is nice, relatively kind beside her friends,  sympathetic and brittle) again, I obviously didn’t feel this animus. It built up *because* of her – to me anyway – because she was occasionally frighteningly agggressive to her daughter.

Amypoodle: Oh me too. I want to make clear that even if she does suffer from NPD, I still feel very sorry for her. It’s a condition often inherited from an overbearing, shaming parent and from what little we know of Betty’s childhood, she had a really shit time. Also, she’s stuck out there on that ledge all on her own this ep, and that’s always affecting.

The way Sally puts up Betty’s chair like it’s the end of school – that’s death through a child’s eyes right there. Yeah, the dream indicates Betty knows where the real problems lie.

Just to say, I do think there’s a tendency to pathologise Betty that isn’t there with, say, Don. There’s a presumption that Men just do what they do because they do it. I want to add here that I absolutely do not find Don’s behaviour any more acceptable than Betty’s. Both of them take out their inadequacies on their children. I often wonder if the lack of love Don experienced as a child is what fuels all that chasing.

Illogical Volume: Total Agreemence. It’s strange, because while you come in with Don, and while his talent and charm are impressed upon you from the start, I don’t really think the show is weighted in such a way as to hide his more toxic attributes. And yet, people (including me, probably) do seem to focus on this less. Gender damage or charisma-induced blindness: U DECIDE!

Botswana Beast: True dat, it’s much the same as with Walt and Skyler in Breaking Bad – a TV show, if you like it, you will readily (I will, anyway) identify with the protagonist, no matter how destructive their behaviours, and may even wish for them to further said.

Ad Mindless: I find the urge to pathologise Betty disturbing too. Much of the cast would probably benefit from an hour or ten with a psychologist.

Amypoodle: Or with their child’s psychologist!

Sorry.

Did anyone notice Henry’s ref to a ‘Romney’ this episode? When he says he doesn’t want (I presume it’s) his boss, the mayor, ‘next door to him’, etc. Could he be referring to Mitt’s Dad, George Romney? The wiki says that even though he went for the presidency in ’68 he was an ineffectual campaigner – meaning unpopular. A little dig at the current candidate, perhaps?

One thing I was talking to Ad about at the weekend is how Peggy seems to be getting a bit of a lukewarm reception this season. Obviously it’s early doors, but I’ve read a few of posts over at BoK that were quite critical of her and my g/f who doesn’t know the show seems, well, not exactly underwhelmed by her, but she hasn’t gushed in the way you’d usually expect. As I was saying to Ad, I think this might be because, like Betty, she’s finally achieved the goals the audience desired for her and in some respects she’s now just a regular copywriter instead of a plucky underdog struggling for success in a man’s world. I mean, clearly she is still struggling  – there’s loads of unbroken ground – but not conspicuously so. A new viewer, as I’ve seen, will probably form very different opinions about her to those of us who’ve followed her trajectory from season one. Now that Peggy’s arrived, just as now that Betty’s found her anger, will we like her? As Ad says, Peggy will always be held to a higher moral standard than many of the men around her, but is that fair? How much of that is the product of watching her engaged in a righteous battle as opposed to being a righteous person in and of herself? I think there’s a middle ground here.

Botswana Beast: It is George Romney, yeah.

Peggy is mostly about keeping her head above water so far, I think; there’s probably something to the dynamic of her and Ginsberg presenting themselves before the patriarchal, Gentile figures of Don, Sterling, but one suspects patriarchy still outs above all.

Illogical Volume: Peggy’s new status quo plays nicely beside the stories Don and Betty are now inhabiting. I’m only capable of speaking from the perspective of someone who’s been watching all along, but I’m enjoying the “and then what?” aspect of this series so far. There’s something quite distressing about the realisation that time just keeps moving on even after you’ve achieved your, uh, happy ending, and if Peggy’s treading water as the Bottie Beast says then that makes for a nice contrast with Don’s hazy drift and the total submergence of Betty.

Ad Mindless: Frankly, if what Amy says is true about the fan reaction to Peggy this season, I’m genuinely surprised. I mean, where did people think she’d be at? Last time we saw her she was getting on with the job. This season? Oh look, she’s still getting on with the job. That’s what she does. Like Amy says, a lot of the (old) substantial battle have been fought and, if not won, precisely, gone in her favour. No-brainer alert! Peggy’s arc this season will no doubt revolve around her relationship with the hot new copywriter.

Betty’s got in touch with her anger?

Amypoodle: Well, you were one of the first to crow (quite rightly) about the Tiger Beatdown piece which was all about Betty getting in touch with her anger and why fans shouldn’t complain when they get what they want. Betty, admittedly, doesn’t seem so angry now, but there was plenty of rage last season. The living doll of season one was long gone.

Anyway, you wait and see, Peggy will garner much more criticism this season. I’m willing to place no money at all on it.

Ad Mindless: That’s what I mean, right now it’s debateable where Betty’s at – she doesn’t seem particularly angry to me, but there still are strong skeins of something I once would have point blank interpreted as her childishness. Everything’s been very complicated by her new castlebound, Don-less life. Betty’s difficult to figure out, but I agree that she seemed disappointed, or something approaching disappointed that she wasn’t dying. Dying people do get rather a lot of attention, fat people not so much, or at least not the kind that Betty values. I don’t know, I’m just noodling around here…

Amypoodle: Well this is it, I don’t think Betty actually wants to be dead, just that invisibility is more desirable to her than the (over) visibility she’s currently contending with. She’d like to be a beautiful memory, sort of thing. The humdrumness of being a little larger is too much for her. It’s the skeleton in paradise, isn’t it? She’s got what her mother wanted for her, she’s become the princess in the castle, but nobody ever told her the princess was bored stiff and overweight.

Ill-Vol, can I just say I like what you had to say about Betty being hemmed in by her house – the oaken dullity of it all. Sometimes I wonder if she and Don aren’t that different afterall and that she’s only landed where she has because it’s expected of her, not because she wants it. She clearly doesn’t want it, does she? The fairytale isn’t making her happy. There was that delicious contrast this episode between Betty’s fretful night in her palace and Don and Harry’s trip to the Stones’ concert, the way Don gets to keep playing the teenager while Betty wrestles with the very adult concerns of mortality, etc. It was nice the way things didn’t play out as I thought they would. At the beginning part of me expected Don to jump the girl and wind up shitfaced on some tour bus, but we got the exact opposite -  questions, mini-lectures, a man who feels far too old and too distant from this sort of thing to enjoy it at all. So that was nice. But the fact remains that he *does* still get to go to these sorts of things, that his life is still very interesting no matter how he feels about it, and Betty’s isn’t. All she’s got to look forward to is another dinner with the Mayor and the next bag of Fritos. That castle may as well have been erected on top of her.

Also, thoughts on the theme of Age?

Illogical Volume: Mad Men vs yoof is always a slightly awkward proposition and I’m never sure how much that’s deliberate (as a mirror for the characters’ awkwardness) or if it’s just that the show is less sure of itself when it strays from its natural habitat.

The Stones concert here seemed like a more successful attempt at this, possibly because you get to chose who you want to laugh at more.  Don’s awkward mix of flirtation, fatherly concern and businesslike curiosity actually ends up seeming kind’ve endearing compared to the shambling tragedy of “hip” Harry.

“Those young girls are so much fun” – aye, sure Harry, sure! Go tell it to your wife.

Age felt like the unifying theme of this episode, eh? It’s there in Betty’s mortal panic, in Don’s reactions to Megan’s reactions to Betty’s mortal panic, in the focus on “the kids” in Betty’s house and at the Stones concert, and in the office politics, which really are top notch this week, lots to talk about there

Ad Mindless: Oh for sure, or at least the passing of time. On top of everything you’ve mentioned we had a fortune-teller, Betty being told that she’s middle-aged, Roger on the outs (more than ever), a plucky young upstart copywriter. It even stretched as far as Don’s new secretary, Dawn, whose skin colour and name both imply a new day.

As Sean Collins has pointed out, Roger’s cry of “when are things going to get back to normal?” is maybe a little redundant, but I’m hopeful that it does go beyond mere tautology into something approaching a statement of intent: the answer the showrunners want us to reach being “never”. Betty’s brush with cancer remins us that when things change they sometimes change irrevocably.

Roger will never be useful or wanted around the office again, Don and Betty will never get back together, being black or a woman won’t be the same impediment it once was. Perhaps Betty’s new found weight problem will be treated similarly. She’ll no doubt slim down if only because January Jones will want to lose weight after the baby and probably doesn’t fancy being stuck in a fatsuit, but that doesn’t mean that putting on weight won’t impact the character in some substantial ways.

I’m not sure that I agree that Mad men is awkward when it comes to yoof. Can you give examples?

Illogical Volume: Hmmm, yeah, it’s possible that I should have chosen my terms more carefully there.

I was thinking “awkward” in terms of… it always feels like there’s a huge point being made whenever Don crosses over into youthful bohemia, you know? Which is another reason I should’ve chosen my words more carefully, because I’m specifically thinking of when the show plays culture against counterculture. I’m thinking of Don hanging out with his boho girlfriend and her pals in the earlier seasons, I’m sure there were a couple of other similar situations later on, I remember feeling like there was just a little bit too much DO YOU SEE? at work in those scenes. Like one of my Eng Lit professors said, whenever a TV’s on in a John Updike novel, you can bet that something terribly important or resonant will be happening on it – maybe I’m being overly harsh on this element of the show because it’s normally so good as hitting these notes while also giving you plenty of space to take in its characters and environments on their own terms.

Also: it’s maybe worth comparing Peggy’s experiences out in the world with Don’s here, I feel like it would either confirm or further undermine my already shaky point.

Ad Mindless: I know what you mean re the juxtaposition between culture and counter-culture, and young and old, but Mad Men loves to rinse meaning and resonance out of everything. There’s definitely something striking about the sorts of scenes you’re talking about, but is that maybe just because youth meets age is inherently compelling and often awkward?Mad Men is to some extent charting the rise of the teenager, which I suppose would also contribute towards these scenes having a particular kind of force, but what was especially nice to see is how the show doesn’t idolise the kids. The girl in this episode struck me as awkward and silly, but not entirely naive – as a person, albeit one still trying to find her proper shape.

Illogical Volume: You’re right to note that the girl at the Stones concert seemed to be an end into herself, rather than a sign of the times, and that’s probably another reason why I found this to be a fairly succesful culture shock scene.

I think that youth vs. age is always going to be an awkward conflict, yeah, but like I said I’m never entirely sure how much this awkwardness is thematic and how much it’s just a little squirmy.

From Sean C’s blog:

Something about Don in a public, dressed-down setting makes him seem menacing. Visually, he’s so different from the Rolling Stones fans at the concert it’s like he’s dangerous.

That’s a good point – you can add “quietly menacing” to “parental”, “flirty”, “out-of-place” and “coldly curious” to the description of how Don looked at the Stones concert. And again, contrast with Harry, trying to look like he belongs there and succeeding in looking only like he’s trying a bit too hard.

Ad Mindless: I like how Mad Men tries to dramatise youth and age, actually, because it’s a big deal for people, like myself, who have lived through the various cultural constructions of the late 20th century – teenager, young adult / student – that have come to define early adulthood, and come out the other side, avec children and spouses and mortgages and Real Jobs. In my experience you get to a point where you feel your past slipping away, and you start to suspect that in some sense it never existed, i.e. it never really was quite as cool, or as interesting or as intense or as important, or as real as it seemed that it should have been. There is no 18, there’s just people. Cultural and situtational gaps exist, but maturity is in some ways a moveable feast (see Pete’s assault on Roger. A Step forward or a step back? Depends how you look at it), and people don’t necessarily learn. Is Harry any less awkward and silly than the girl Don ends up talking to? They both want to hang with the Stones, they both want to smoke grass, they’re both trying to be cool (one’s just better at it / culturally facilitated). Don gets to pretend that getting older doesn’t mean anything to him because his history is a hazardous place, 50% fictional, 50% too painful and awkward to deal with, but then we get a scene where he refuses to get out of bed and go meet Megan’s hip young friends.

It could be argued that Harry’s attempts to ape youth put him in his very own category of cringeworthiness, but then isn’t that the point? Isn’t everyone trying to ape youth, even youngsters, at least to some extent? Aren’t teenagers the original try-hards?

Illogical Volume: Oh absolutely, everyone is trying too hard to be young/cool/professional/funny – it’s another one of the grand themes of Mad Men, isn’t it? Harry is only more mockable because he just doesn’t wear it well.

Amypoodle: One of the common misunderstandings about the show is that it consists of a string of historical *events* – suits, assassinations, youth movements -  around which the action revolves, and that’s the hook, when as any real fan knows the truth is the exact opposite. All this stuff is happening out there, but it only intrudes when its especially meaningful. We don’t get gratuitous drama played out in the shadow of the grassy knoll and we don’t get to meet the Stones. This is the Sixties as they happened to (hyperrealised) normal people. And this is why Don’s ‘No. We’re worried about you.’ was just gold. Matt Weiner, I think, takes pride in presenting the decade from an unfamiliar vantage point, one that isn’t caught up in the tropes of the conventional 60′s narrative. In this world we’re allowed to seriously consider the other reality, where student rhetoric can be as hollow and poisonous as that of the redfaced bigots barking at them from the other side of the picket line. Actually, scratch that, Don – and the show – aren’t even interested in these oppositional games. This isn’t a commentary on the decade at all. This is a man getting older and fretting about his kids. This line’s really where it’s at – a really good example of why Mad Men’s not *about* the 60′s, but about life.

I don’t know if you guys are aware of this, but Weiner defined one of the core themes of the season as ‘every man for himself’. Roger’s ‘When’s everything going to get back to normal?’ line cuts to the heart of this. It’s strange, because even though 4 documented the birth pains of a new agency and in a very real sense represented a total scene shift, everything in season 5 feels much more at sea. Perhaps this is because in 4 we were focused on everyone sorting their shit out and it distracted us from the truth: things were never going to go back to the way they were. Sterling Cooper as it was is no more. SCDP is never going to be the boozy frat house its predecessor was. Roger can’t just mooch around missing meetings with a martini in hand and a perpetual one liner teetering on his tongue and expect to survive. This is about social change, etc., and we can talk about these things, but at its core this season is just about change period and the giddying truth that you can never go home again. There’s the comforting feeling that this is forever when you’re curled up with your wife and kids in front of the telly, or when you’re off fucking your millionth beautiful secretary, but now the divorce is through, the house is sold and all that’s done. Even Bert’s lacking an inner sanctum. There’s no place for anyone to rest their heads. Why? Because as the tumour makes clear – there never was. You can’t just reside in the horizon in perpetuity. That image of Betty and Henry on deckchairs in the twilight orbited by Sally and Bobby fizzing, like their sparklers, with energy and youth really got to me. It was just too loaded. Because the light’s already failing and in not so long Henry and Betty will be gone and those fiery little satellites will have to make their own way through the dark, and eventually their heat will burn out too. This episode wasn’t about the hospital bedside drama of a woman with cancer, but the sudden awareness of the proximity of irrevocable change – how it’s always immanent, and how we, even shored up in our castles, can never escape it. Roger faced this truth down a couple of seasons ago and, inspite of a brief dalliance on the Damascene road, went with the It’s Toasted solution: he decided to ignore it, distracting himself with a pretty young wife and the warm hit of another whisky. His exchange with Don vis a vis their respective approaches to death  – ‘I’m done with all that.’ ‘I can’t be.’ (or thereabouts, I can’t be bothered to check what Don said – sue me!) really draws a line in the sand between the two of them. It’s why Don will survive this turmoil and why the good money’s on Roger eventually being shown the door.

Illogical Volume: Getting back to the them of office politics, can we just take a minute to appreciate the supreme executive cock-slap that Pete “Bitchface” Campbell handed out to Roger in this episode?  The way he let the old boy strut around feeling like the big man just so he could spring out of and slap that throbbing member down… well played Pete, I didn’t know you had it in you.

Lots of good stuff on this theme here, I like Molly Lambert:
When you hire disrespectful pricks because they remind you of yourself, how surprised can you be when they disrespect you and act like pricks? (The same goes triple for dating them, as Peggy really ought to have learned by now.) Both Roger and Peggy operate under the faulty belief that the hierarchy can be controlled. Roger, because of his ignorance, nepotism, and privilege, believes he will always be around, and Peggy, because of her (feminist) belief in meritocracy, thinks the best will surely rise to the top. But being king of the mountain just means you’re now in a position for someone to knock you off. What is cool is then doomed to become uncool and dated, spurring counter-movements before eventually reemerging as the buffed-smooth surfaces of nostalgia: edited to omit the anxiety of failure, forgetting solo albums and bad haircuts and comeback tours. Nobody can take 1966 away from Mick, but he can also never go back.

Peggy’s current role in both the show and the office is very interesting, isn’t it? I think - not in an evil way – but I think I’m going to enjoy watching her trying to work out to conduct and look out for herself in her new “solid” (but maybe not that solid, eh Roger?) position.

Ad Mindless: That quote from Molly goes a long way to explaining why this episode showcased Roger and Peggy’s newfound relationship.
Fucking hell, that was some bitchslap from Pete. I don’t know who was more dumbstruck, the audience or Roger. I felt let down, like the boy who grew up just shoved his thumb back in his mouth.

Illogical Volume: Haha, okay, here’s a question – is Pete’s performance in this episode a step forward or a step back?

I mean, it’s a snippy little move, but it’s also far better executed than, for example, his attempt to take Don down at the end of the first season.

Ad Mindless: Pete? It’s probably, on balance and in a very narrow way, a step forward.

Illogical Volume: Her double-punning name aside, how do you all feel about Dawn’s role in this episode? Part of me liked the way she’s just there now, the radical nature of her position SCDP only flagged up by clumsy jokes by a couple of the usual suspects, but as Molly Lambert has already pointed out, it’s hard not to notice how little time here she gets compared to Michael “it makes the company look more modern” Ginsberg.

Equal ops is a growing concern in SDCP, and there’s lots of good friction to be had there, even if so far it’s mostly manifested itself in the form of the aforementioned jokes in the office/in the ad pages last week. Am I talking balls it or was there a bit where Peggy was going through the copywriter applications and she jokily discarded one like – “female copywriter”, *tosses portfolio to the ground*?

Loved Peggy’s awkward response to everyone praising her for hiring Michael (“good work”, etc) and that she’s still worried that she’s fucked up when it’s possible that she should be more worried about having done well.

Ad Mindless: I think it’s safe to assume that when Roger says “other agencies have got one” in relation to Michael’s status as a jewish creative, he’s giving us a bit of expository detail about the rise of the jewish ad man, so I suspect fealty to history in conjunction with the way Mad Men prioritises management and creative over the secretarial pool probably account for Dawn’s small role versus Michael’s prominent one. Michael gets more time not because he’s Weiner’s preferred minority, but because he’s a jewish ad man just when jewish ad men were on the rise.  Which doesn’t exactly excuse the show, but at least it’s a consistent with what’s gone before and therefore doesn’t risk upsetting the verisimilitude.

I’m hoping we’ll see more of Dawn further down the line, but I won’t be suprised if we don’t.

Amypoodle: Speaking of the token jewish staffer, I think he’s going to be anything but. As is always the case with Mad Men, it was brilliant to see all the possible motivations converge when Peggy originally turned down Michael Ginsberg. Because that thing about Don not putting up with his behaviour is obviously true, but then so’s the fact that Peggy can see this guy is talented, has boundless energy, probably comes from the bottom like her and will do whatever it takes to succeed, and therefore sees him as real competition, especially given that she’s only just achieved her success and she’s hyper-aware of the precariousness of her position. It’s great how it can be two things simultaneously, just as it’s great how Don can be really upset about Betty, but also very uncomfortable around Megan’s friends and that both things probably feed into his reluctance to go with her to Fire Island (further to that, there’s also the fact that not only does all this youth make Don feel threatened generally, but he’s also just spent an evening around a truck load of young people and is in all likelihood feeling even more justified in, what is in the final analysis, an emotionally led decision). It really is one of the great strengths of the show, the way these things are never clear cut. We’re given just enough to form an impression of character, but enough is withheld so that we feel like we’re dealing with people – because in reality other human beings are always just that little bit opaque.

Anyway, I found Michael’s final scene quite touching. He’s the new Peggy, isn’t he? Or at least in that moment he was. It remains to be seen if his jewishness will be a problem for him. He’s got a dick, talent and ambition, and maybe that’s all that counts.

28 Responses to “Mindless Mad Men #2 – Tea Leaves”

  1. RetroWarbird Says:

    Just to throw back to that reference to “whatever is on TV having some meaning”, Betty was watching “The Andy Griffith Show”, depicting idyllic Southern America … a town with little troubles, with no black people beyond a few crowd scenes (and no speaking roles). Almost definitely no Jews, either. Andy Griffith ended in 1968. Mayberry is a fictional construct. Certainly apropos that it was Betty, now settled into her princess castle Hell in 1966 watching it, this staple show that everyone in America had been watching since 1960, which would be ending in two years.

    When are things going to be normal again? Normal was made up by slicker ad men than you, Roger.

    I can’t help but think of my own father. He’s young enough he should know better, but as a child of the 60′s, just about Bobby Draper’s age, he honestly believes that “Real, ideal America” and small towns are just like Mayberry. Depression-era self-made (in ways both good and bad, because he’s not naive) Don is right to worry about the younger generation, in hindsight. He’s worked so hard to create this idyllic life, and to fit the mold of “what you’re supposed to be”, that while he might know how he got there, he’ll also probably never go into heavy detail with his kids how un-idyllic it actually was. Bobby will grow up thinking that’s how the world is for everybody, blindly believing in that kind of white-washed American dream and being angry in 2012 when his family can barely afford the kind of average, but in disrepair neighborhood they live in and his 2.5 kids keep voting Left and canceling his “Keep America the way it was when I was a little boy” vote.

    MM has a pretty evenly staggered distribution of generations, going decade-by-decade, and generational clash is nothing new; Pete vs. Roger has been running since the beginning, when Roger (who entitled rich prick or not earned his bones and defended his freedom in World War II) isn’t that fond of Baby Boomer Pete with his smug self-satisfaction and college degree. Further back, we have Bert Cooper, between Pete and Roger lies Don, but there’s a bit of a gulf between Pete, who’s probably just over 30 now, and say, the next youngest male character … Bobby Draper (or Sally’s goofy boyfriend what’s-his-face). The show was asking for a early twenties guy who might actually be concerned about being drafted into Vietnam (I don’t see Peggy’s cliche counter-culture boyfriend filling the role), thus negating his talent and future … which isn’t a narrative I expect to see Pete Campbell go into. And by 1966, Vietnam is starting to escalate.

    It’d be interesting to see Peggy worried sick about having hired a better copywriter than herself based on these gender-lines … only to have her gender be the reason she doesn’t get drafted. A real gut-punch, even.

  2. Bruce Martin Payne Says:

    Roger actually inherited his wealth and his position at Sterling Cooper, something that I seem to recall him remarking on during a moment or two of genuine self-reflection in past seasons.

    I really can’t see any direction for Roger but on his way out, and the tension they’re infusing into that idea just 2(ish) episodes into the season is alarming. Particularly with all the talk about stuff flying out of the office windows. I’m hoping we don’t see any career-motivated defenestration for Roger (or anyone else).

    Don’s reactions to Betty’s possible illness are fascinating to me – he brings it up almost out of the blue to Roger, and does so with peculiar dramatic certainty (“Betty has cancer”, without any confirmed test results). His conversations with Roger and Megan immediately move toward what will happen to the children (rather than Betty’s well-being), but I wonder if Don isn’t misdirecting his very complicated feelings for Betty when discussing the topic. Betty remains in her own plot-bubble, something I thought they pulled off with proper thematic resonance last season, but I’m curious to see how/if they tie her back in with whatever else develops over this one.

    I also think it’s likely we’ll see the concert-going teenager again – before disappearing for a bit (I think they were implying she went to get high) she grabbed Don’s card under a pretty flimsy pretense about using it on the backstage doorman, right after comparing him to a/her psychiatrist. I feel like her having Don’s number is going to come up again.

    Also also – Harry’s really, really gross. I can’t see the show judging him much over it, but I hope we get a good Don vs. Harry dust-up before the season’s out, just to see Jon Hamm wail on the gross little guy.

    Great write-up. In a way, like the Sopranos before it, I feel like reading so many comics over the years prepares the brain for a show like Mad Men, ideally training you not to jump to too many conclusions with the serial stakes of the show, just taking it in and letting it take its shape on its own time. A lot of the online unpacking of this show is frustrating, leaping to conclusions about plot and theme with very little to go on. Though again, I guess that sounds like comics criticism as well, so maybe I’m wrong.

  3. amypoodle Says:

    Hmm, the show isn’t asking for someone to fulfill the young life cut short narrative you describe, Warbird. Now that *would* be a cliche. And speaking of, what have you got against Abe (Peggy’s boyfriend)? You only ever seem to talk about him in disparaging terms. I don’t see him as a stock counter-cultural character at all, or as particularly goofy…. or smarmy. What did poor what’s his face ever do to you?!?

    That said, I think you may be very right about grown up Bobby. And, man, you just made me feel really sorry for him.

    As for Roger killing himself, again, I don’t think so. I don’t know how familiar you are with Mad Men fandom, Bruce, but people have been talking about Roger offing himself since season 3. I’m fairly certain it’s too obvious and just won’t happen.

    But you never know.

    More to say, but busy now. Back tomoz.

  4. David Fiore Says:

    Nice discussion here fellows – I’m looking forward to going through the MM season with you all.

    The ongoing furor over Don/Betty (i.e. excusing the former and judging the latter) is one of the best things about the show – it’s designed to make thinking people (both men and women) realize just how thoroughly ensnared we all are in the patriarchal trap (as we struggle to put down the nagging interior echoes of moronic on-line comments by people who actually think the show is a nostalgia piece)

    Dave

  5. Ad Mindless Says:

    Glad you like the posts. Spread the word!

    My favourite dumb, yet all too common response to Mad Men: it’s not about anything.

  6. RetroWarbird Says:

    I’ve really got nothing against Abe, except that I couldn’t remember his name. “Counter-cultural, kind of awkard in conversations guy”. He’s a good character. If I’m at all put off by him, I think it’s just because I’m surrounded by people like him every day what with idealistic young artists and writers. I “guess” … I identify with his causes, and he’s a guy who has causes, and as someone in a similar environment I’ve kind of had similar themes, 40-years-delayed, beaten into my thinking, when despite being able to relate with most characters on the show, the only one I really latch onto is Don. That kind of “house of cards” persona. I don’t think I know how to deal with earnest people who wear their hearts on their sleeves in real life either. (In that regard the actor is quite nailing it … but maybe it’s a symptom of the fashion sense of the time, he just doesn’t read “young” to me like say, those teen girls this ish did. I suppose we just haven’t really gotten to know him well yet. He seems a good fit for Peggy to keep her apprised of what’s going on outside the office walls.)

    I think I was “what’s his naming” the kid, though. The creepy kid. God what is his name? I’m too lazy to look it up. Doughy kid … lock of Betty’s hair.

    And Michael, I think … well if the “show wasn’t looking for him” it’s fair to say that was a projection of “I was looking for a guy his age, and roughly his background, in the show”, with particular interest because of my own age. The only contemporaries I have on the show (at least with lasting appeal) are Peggy and Megan. (Or Jane, but she’s not headlining episodes). Pete, Ken and Harry are upwards a little bit from my number, and I’d like a relatable 20-something with a Y-chromosome.

  7. Bruce Martin Payne Says:

    I wasn’t aware Roger suicide was a thing. I just got all caught up on the show over the past year, so this is the first season I’ll be watching As It Happens, which I’m curious about.

    Mad Men is a great show to be able to burn through, where you’re not waiting for payoffs and just enjoying the ride.

    Still, in 2 or 3 episodes, Roger sure is talking a fair bit about stuff going out of windows. We’ll see how tonight plays out.

    On the subject of identification, like Tony Soprano (or to a lesser degree, Walter White) I also can’t help but identify with Don Draper. As said multiple times, it creates an interesting ongoing question about his accountability for his actions when he’s the audience identification figure, as he is for me and many others.

    Is he a better parent than Betty? He’s a more openly caring parent when he’s around, but that’s not very often. I do think he’s really wrestling with the idea of trying to be a better parent, even if he’s unsure how to do it.

  8. Ad Mindless Says:

    I agree with Amy that Roger committing suicide is way too obvious for Mad Men, but, yeah, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. As time goes on it’s steadily become more and more plausible, but it still feels wrong to me.

  9. amypoodle Says:

    Okay, because you didn’t name him, I didn’t realise you were talking about Michael, Warbird. Fair enough. I was in a completely different movie for a minute there and I thought you were too.

    Can I just say that I really agree with you about Don’s reactions, Bruce. They’re about as fucked as these sorts of things always are IRL to be honest. First there’s the scene where he uses the cancer as an excuse not to meet up with Megan’s friends and then there’s the scene with Roger, yeah, where it’s almost as though he’s…. well, not exactly happy about Betty being ill, but, as you say, weirdly eager to embrace the possibility. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the latter scene actually. Is it resignation? Does he want to neutralise Roger’s self pity? Is he trying to tell Roger something about how serious he is? Himself? Is he trying to convince himself that he’s the sort of person who can deal with this sort of thing, his comments formed out of a mixture of fear and vanity annd the need to cope?

  10. Marc Says:

    On “Baby Boomer Pete”: Pete ain’t a Baby Boomer. He was already graduated from college and working at Sterling Cooper back in 1960, so that puts his birth in the 1930s. (Wikipedia sez: 1934!) That makes him part of the “Silent Generation,” which is the generation that everybody forgets about.

    I mention this not to contradict Warbird but because it plays into one of my favorite things about Mad Men: this is a show about the 1960s that isn’t about the Baby Boomers. The only Boomers on the show are Don’s kids, and now the girls at the Stones concert, and maybe a couple of others. (Glen!) “We’re worried about you” is such a perfect and surprisingly sympathetic look at the generation gap from the other point of view, the one we don’t see memorialized anymore.

  11. amypoodle Says:

    Yeah, which is kind of what I was struggling to say above. It’s a different story.

  12. RetroWarbird Says:

    I hadn’t intended to misdescribe Pete as a Boomer, but I can see where my lack of clarity or transitional elements from one sentence into the next (lack of proof-reading) might’ve led me to that inference. So I “Oh, Christed” when I quick-scanned and saw my own term.

    He’s no post-war kid. Math is fun. I suppose it’s something to see how different the pre-Warborn boys are from the post. Their kind of antiquated fratboy antics that kind of from the chrome-plated 50′s playbook that seems so equivalent to boxy B&W tvs, cars with fins and old family photos at grandma’s house. Happy Days/American Grafitti with none of the hazy rose-tinted Roy Orbison Ray-Bans looking back, making times seem sweeter. But the sweaters stuck around.

    I’d bet money teenage Don, for whatever “teen years” he had, was as close to a Greaser as that office had seen. He is something of a car guy (at least, he can sell them).

    But therein lies the beauty, too. All the timing could line up for any given character to fit some preexisting mold of “how things were supposed to be”, but they don’t, and won’t. Never the obvious route, and never the shock value here. Roger’s death would be rote. It’s lovely to have a show that recognizes the audience is smart enough to get bored with the predictable and the imprudent. That’s network TV hackery.

  13. RetroWarbird Says:

    Actually I just recalled Don chatting with those hot-rodders in California … he seemed nostalgic in that scene.

  14. Marc Says:

    Pete as Baby Boomer is an honest mistake. He’s younger than the senior partners, he’s more progressive on racial issues (though that, I suspect, is at least in part a myth the Boomers like to tell about themselves), he’s the one who’s always looking forward to new markets and new trends. He’s the character most oriented towards the future, and it’s part of the genius of this show that he’s also a) not a Boomer, and b) a frequently detestable prick.

    Don as greaser… he would have been a teenager in the late Depression and the war years of gas rationing, not much of a car culture then. Maybe that was envy rather than nostalgia? But I’m not sure the writers have planned out the chronologies of these characters with calendar in hand; why would Don have to “run away” to enlist if the Korean war started when he was in his mid-twenties…?

  15. Carnival of shows « Attentiondeficitdisorderly by Sean T. Collins Says:

    [...] Mad Men: The Mindless Ones on nearly everything about “Tea Leaves.” Hob on subtletly and its discontents. Deborah [...]

  16. RetroWarbird Says:

    I can empathize with him perhaps envying the greasers. I didn’t have it any different; entirely too poor to have a sweet ride to cruise around in, and this even before the petrol price-hike when my schoolmates were able to do so.

    Maybe that’s why he sold them rather than cruised in them.

  17. amypoodle Says:

    Hey, come over to the other comments section and we’ll continue the conversation…

    It’s like a graveyard in there at the moment. It’s silly comics fans not realising that Mad Men is much better than most of the comics they’re reading.

  18. grant Says:

    1. On the way into the Stones show, didn’t Don say something like, “I have to look like The Man”? Marvelously ambiguous, yet… the kids kinda thought he was a cop, I thought. Both the grown up and the male of the species… and the Establishment, maaaan. The whole “you be this and I’ll be that” also makes me think of good cop-bad cop roleplaying.

    2. That parental scene with the groupie is echoed by the bit with Ginsberg and his dad at the end – the scene seemed to be playing with tropes of abusive parents to me (dim light, smoking in an undershirt, reading/not reading the paper). Such that when he stands and steps to the son, I was expecting violence. Instead, a blessing. Which was beautiful.

    3. I also think there was an intention behind this scene to show how Jewishness has changed from then to now. That father has an accent – I wouldn’t be surprised if what he was reading turned out to be one of the now-defunct Yiddish newspapers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Yiddish-language_newspapers_published_in_the_United_States (Cruising around that category on Wikipedia makes me think they were mostly Communist/Socialist affiliated, which could lead to some interesting dynamics later on). 1967 is when Israel expands her borders….

    Oh, and 4. Cancer, at this time in American culture, is almost literally unspeakable, especially with anyone who has anything to do with marketing or publishing. Talking about someone who’s “sick” simply wasn’t done in polite society. I think that’s a factor in Don’s abruptness and lack of hedging when telling Roger – he’s breaking a taboo.

  19. grant Says:

    More on the taboo of cancer here: http://www.oralcancerfoundation.org/emotional/last_taboo.htm

    Especially:

    In the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, one did not reveal the cancer diagnosis because of the prevailing attitude that cancer equaled death. It was considered cruel to take away a person’s hope since the prognosis was zero. A “white lie” was justified to keep the ill person from knowing the truth. Of course, the patient was acutely aware of symptoms and signs of progressive illness, and the reality of what was happening, but he or she also responded to the taboo by asking few questions.

    A façade of “everything’s going to be okay” prevailed, with all parties recognizing the unspoken truth but with honest discussions occurring only between the doctor and the family.

  20. amypoodle Says:

    That’s interesting, Grant, particularly in the light of the events of last season – when Anna’s sister withholds information about her cancer. At the time I remember finding it hard to swallow, that anyone could do that, but now it seems it was probably common. Wow. Times have changed.

    But did people really dump their litter all over the park? That’s what I want to know.

    And you are so right about the final scene. I WAS expecting violence. Such an elegant and beautiful reversal.

  21. Ad Mindless Says:

    “But did people really dump their litter all over the park?”

    They still do

  22. amypoodle Says:

    No they don’t. Not nice middle class families. Not like *that*.

  23. Ad Mindless Says:

    Not like that, I grant you.

  24. grant Says:

    My redolent spouse and I both saw that litter scene and had the – “Oh, I remember that!” response. That’s probably a hard border in age… either you’re old enough to recall the crying Indian and “Give a hoot – don’t pollute!” ads or you’re not.

    http://www.feistees.com/woodsy-owl-give-a-hoot-t-shirt/

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lk5ssc1uY30

    At around the time those ads came out, it was pretty common to see piles of wadded up paper wrappers in gutters. Picnic grounds were rich in pull-tabs from beer cans. We played with them – look! magic rings! knives! In the 70s, making things out of pull tabs was kind of a *thing* – chains, belts, sashes.

  25. Ad Mindless Says:

    “either you’re old enough to recall the crying Indian and “Give a hoot – don’t pollute!” ads or you’re not. ”

    Or you’re British!

  26. amypoodle Says:

    I just want to be clear on this though – I mean, I’m sure picnic grounds were rich in magic rings, but did people (in Don and Betty’s class bracket) really do stuff like emptying the remains of their picnic over the grass? It just beggars belief. And not just because of ad campaigns and awareness and whatnot, but because surely the whole reason someone’s attracted to a picnic in the country in the first place has something to do with it being all pretty and unspoiled.

    It really is a very perverse thing to do.

  27. Ad Mindless Says:

    Surely space is the issue. The US has a lot more of it than the UK so people probably felt freer to litter. One imagines that’s still part of the problem re the US and climate change scepticisim

  28. amypoodle Says:

    Well, space and privilege.

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