Wednesday, May 23, 2012

MAD MEN Partners' Meeting - "Dark Shadows"

Welcome to the Mad Men Partners' Meeting -- a roundtable discussion of this week's episode from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.

airdate: May 13th, 2012

Mark: Oh, Betty. Despite Ms. Francis doing the epically shitty thing of using her daughter as a pawn against her ex-husband, I think some of that season one sympathy that she instilled in me is creeping its way back in. Who, like Betty, wouldn’t be a little peeved to witness Don and Megan’s swinging Manhattan pad and genuine affection for each other when all they had to go back home to was a dark, empty house and a distant daddy-husband? You know you don’t mess with Sally if you want to stay in my good graces, but damned if I didn’t feel for Betty that her greatest source of pleasure in her life currently is a meticulously portioned glob of sweet potatoes. I’m definitely sensitive to weight issues, so maybe that has something to do with it. But I also know how deeply it hurts to be jilted, and although she does not process her feelings in anywhere near a healthy way, there is something to Betty’s anger and disappointment over Megan somehow having access to a sensitive, loving Don Draper that Betty herself never knew. Don’t get me wrong, Betty can be such a dope. After all, she is thankful because “I have everything I want, and no one has anything better”. It’s important to her that everyone else be on a lower rung. That line actually made me laugh out loud and exclaim “What a Betty thing to say!” Yes, I’m an obnoxious TV watcher sometimes. Well, anyway, chalk another one up for Sally’s dying innocence. Sorry, Sal, not even the grown-ups have it figured out. Good luck!

Now that Megan has flown the Sterling Coop to pursue guest spots on Dark Shadows (in theaters now!), Don has no choice but to reengage with his work. And he’s a little rusty. Not only does his cartoon devil pitch lack that Don Draper feeling, it looks downright quaint next to Ginsberg’s literally in-your-face Snoball campaign. It was painful to hear Don have to justify – TWICE – that his devil ad will work if you hear the scary devil voice in your head. When it comes down to it, Don predicates his idea entirely on the fact that kids like cartoon devils, which to paraphrase Roger Sterling, sounds like a client’s idea if I’ve ever heard one. Like Betty, Don feels jilted and passed up, in this case by the changing world of advertising. He has been checked out for a while (Ginsberg condescendingly congratulates Don on being able to write after not doing it for so long), and is jealous of the new kid on the block. Shades of Betty and Megan. And like Betty, Don takes the petty route and ditches Ginsberg’s mock-up in the cab ride to the presentation, and he sells the client on his cartoon devil after Ginsberg’s work was unanimously chosen as the stronger pitch by the SCDP partners. Maybe Don and Betty are more alike than we thought, and as genuinely supportive as Don is of Megan’s choice to pursue acting, maybe Don can only go so far. As Joan reminded us, Don was once this smitten with Betty back when she was a bright-eyed model plucked from a casting call. As Roger says (I’m quoting him a lot today), it’s every man for himself, and who’s to say Don won’t jump ship the minute he tires of his worldview being challenged? Megan, Ginsberg and the entire world aren’t going to stop moving forward, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Don just ripped the needle off the record in frustration and walked away from it all. Don vacillates between being with and behind the times, but ultimately I’m afraid he just can’t handle all those sitars and tape loops. By the way, I missed the last couple of weeks, but I can’t believe this show was able to license “Tomorrow Never Knows”. How expensive must that have been?

Gratuitous side-boob image brought to you by the good people of LowBrowMedia.

Continuing the theme of “Everybody’s Selfish!” is Mr. Pete Campbell and his dogged pursuit of Beth. This is more from last week’s episode, since I didn’t have a chance to weigh in, but gosh... It’s the same with Betty. Weiner and pals have a special talent of making their characters act like utter scumbags but having them still somehow be sympathetic. Pete’s motivations come from the most selfish and petty of places, all from his thwarted sense of superiority and unfulfilled need to be seen as important and to guide the narrative of his life, but damn his depression is palpable. He is the saddest little fuck I’ve ever seen, and his need to turn the tables on Beth in order to correct some misplaced idea that women shouldn’t have the ability to guide the course of action if a man believes things should go another way is just mindblowing. Wait a minute, Pete! That tiny speck of ground you have to stand on is crumbling! Watch out below!

I also appreciated that the fog of dread that has been hanging over this entire series became literal this week, in the form of the poisonous smog which apparently was a real thing and killed 169 people in 1966. I feel like that’s the kind of metaphor that causes Matthew Weiner to literally drool. After that and the incredibly ominous open elevator shaft from two weeks ago, I’m really starting to feel the cold hand of death hanging over this show. Or perhaps it’s the cold hand of Satan gripping his ice cold Snoball treat!

Jon: Ask and you shall receive! Last week I petitioned for some overdue Betty action and, man alive, did I get it this time. She's been busy trying to lose some of that excess weight we were introduced to earlier this season by engaging in some serious portion-controlled meals and attending some therapy sessions (also known as Weight Watchers). Things seem to be on the upswing for her, but the combination of getting glimpses of Don's swanky new apartment, his new wife's banging physique and their lovey-dovey correspondence prove to be too much, and she immediately regresses into the childlike behavior that drove her into this mess in the first place. But as awful as it was of her to spill some of Don's secret past to Sally, it was probably the most fun thing I've seen her do since she was gunning down birds with a ciggy hanging out of the side of her mouth. As much as her character drives me bonkers, "Dark Shadows" was a wonderful reminder how necessary Betty is to the show. She makes almost everything around her more interesting. A lot of trouble was caused this week, as she accelerated a lot of things into motion involving Don and Megan, as well as Don and Sally for the final episodes of season 5.

In addition to Betty's return, there were a couple of important shifts with other characters that occurred this week, namely the rest of the Drapers -- Megan, Sally and Don -- and young, enigmatic Michael Ginsberg.

Megan continues to buy into her father's disappointment in her life, with this week bringing us a peek at a similar sentiment from her acting friend we last saw at the "Zou Bisou Bisou" party. As her lovely ginger friend points out, Megan's pretty far away from the struggling actress reduced to reading for a cheesy gothic soap opera. At this point, I'm wondering if she'll leave Don to pursue her stage dreams just to struggle for the point of struggling, or if he'll become completely disenchanted with her before she has the chance.

But cute redheaded actresses aren't the only ones giving Megan a hard time this week, as Sally cuts deep at her with Betty's claws. The revelation of her father's dark secrets hurt Sally immensely, shattering her idealistic view she's allowed herself to build of him as an absentee parent, an image very unlike what Sally's cultivated for Betty. Soon enough, she'll be free of any simple vision of either one of her parents. But Sally's further ascent into adolescence does stop there. This week has shown us she is an absolute master at manipulating every adult in her proximity. She circles around each of Betty, Don and Megan with amazing tact, and one can only marvel at what she'll be able to pull off next season.

After having spent most of the season avoiding work at such an astonishing rate Roger has probably been the more productive SCDP employee this season, Don finally heads back into full workaholic mode. Bert's chastization from a few weeks back has finally become undeniable, so Don spends part of the weekend alone in the office brainstorming on the pitch for a new client. Really though, this is little more than a residual effect of Megan's decision to leave the advertising industry, as Don's physical and creative wanderings around the office seem a result of escaping his homelife now that it's no longer intertwined with his work.

And this new-found immersion in work brings him head to head with rising creative supernova Michael Ginsberg. A few weeks ago, Mark mentioned that we weren't talking enough about Ginsberg, and he was completely right. Season 5 has been peppering tidbits of information on the newest copywriter almost every week, but I never felt I had enough to really sink my teeth into with him until now. As great at their jobs as we've seen Peggy and Don be, Ginsberg has a wild, unpredictable streak that allows for his work to possibly reach another level of greatness. He's incredibly young and knows he's supremely talented, a difficult combination to harness. When he learns Don never brought his Snoball idea to the client -- one that was clearly superior to his boss's idea -- he goes berserk, partly because he knows Don did it intentionally and also because he has no filter. Ginsberg confronts Don in the elevator the following morning. As much as my hearts goes out to the kid for calling him out, Don so effectively swats him away that I'm immediately sent back into his corner. Ginsberg will receive his due accolades if he swallows a smidgen of pride. It just may not be within the offices of SCDP.

The only other major event that happened this week was Roger hooked up with Jane in her new apartment basically because he decided he wanted to. Not sure if anything significant will come of that, but it gobbled up enough of the episode that it's worth mentioning.

On a closing note (and also because it actually worked last time with Betty), I'm calling for the return of Lane. I miss that crazy British bastard! Did Pete mess up his face so much, he's gone into hiding? I need to know. And also please more sideboob. See you all again in a few days!

Episodes 1&2 - "A Little Kiss"
Episode 3 - "Tea Leaves"
Episode 4 - "Mystery Date"
Episode 5 - "Signal 30"
Episode 6 - "Far Away Places"
Episode 7 - "At The Codfish Ball"
Episode 8 - "Lady Lazarus"
Peggy wasn't a big player this week, but we couldn't bring ourselves to leave this shot on the cutting room floor.

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