Monday, April 30, 2012

MAD MEN Partners' Meeting - "Far Away Places"

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: April 22nd, 2012

Jon: Mark, I completely agree with your assessment of "Signal 30" last week being the best installment of the season thus far. Because of that, I was expecting "Far Away Places" to feel a little flat in comparison. But that wasn't the case at all, as there were plenty of great moments once again. This was a week filled with high-level stress, experimentation and fear culminating in big changes for a trio of our principal characters as they went off to new, very different destinations.

Forgive me if I've forgotten a past episode that has done this before, but I'm fairly certain this is the first time Matthew Weiner and company have played with how time operates within the structure of an episode. Sure, they've given us flashbacks and dream sequences before, but I believe showing us the diversions of three characters took from a seemingly random suggestion of playing hookie between Roger and Don one morning and rewinding to that moment each time to that point to follow a different character's day was entirely new. And what makes "Far Away Places" all the more impressive is each are entirely different vignettes and yet are somehow complimentary when strung together.

First up was Peggy, who had a rough start to a trying day when the boyfriend fails to understand the pressure she's under at work. And that stress is only exacerbated by Don's removal of Megan before the team can review the latest beans pitch for Heinz. With Don headed to upstate New York, Peggy is left to take the lead of the meeting with the Heinz executives, and well... she simply lacks that Draper magic touch we've come to know in previous seasons in presentations like this. I don't remember Don criticizing the client after the Carousel speech, which this was pretty clearly modeled after. Following the disastrous pitch, Peggy takes off for an afternoon matinee (an idea she spurned the boyfriend on that morning) to blow off some steam. There, she smokes a joint with a stranger and, for good measure, dishes out a handy. She then returns to the office, sobers up and eventually calls up the boyfriend in an attempt to salvage whatever it is they have left together. Typical day for anyone, really.

Next comes Roger's day, where he was forced to attend a dinner party thrown by friends of his trophy wife, Jane, after Don swooped away with his plan to go on a business daytrip to a Howard Johnson hotel. Roger's unhappiness with his marriage has been hinted at all season and explicitly expressed by Don to Pete in the cab last week, and feelings between the two (or lack thereof) came to a head in "Far Away Places." Now, this turned out to be a far different dinner party than we saw at the Campbell's house last week. Jane's friends were a collection of snooty, outwardly drab intellectuals who "businessman" Roger who discusses Frank Lloyd Rice in order to fit in, much to their dismay. But no sooner was Mr. Sterling was ready to hit the road when a plate of sugarcubes laced with lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD, was placed before him. (Btw, if you only associate acid with hippies, Badass Digest wrote a great piece this week on the drug before it was outlawed. In fact, B.A.D. has posted fantastic Mad Men-related articles each week based on the historical aspects of each episode's background plot threads this year.) Aided by some wonderfully fun camerawork, Roger's trip was fascinating and, at times, hilarious to watch. And because I adore Pet Sounds, I was so, so, so, so happy to be reminded of "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" as soon as Timothy Leary's wife (or was Roger joking?) hit play on the reel-to-reel as it resonated marvelously with the episode. Ultimately, Jane and Roger get alone in the truth together, reveal their respective boredom and unfulfillment with their marriage to one another, and agree to separate. It was probably the most pleasant breakup in television history. And at that point, he no longer needed his note to get home because it was a beautiful day indeed for him.

While Roger ended "Far Away Places" on cloud nine after starting out miserable as ever, Don went on exactly the opposite trek. After hijacking Roger's hookie plan as an excuse for he and Megan to escape the office for the day. He's giddy as can be at the prospect of showing off HoJo's orange sherbet to her. However, she's still trying to earn her place at SCDP, so the idea of blowing off her share of the work for an important meeting with Heinz to eat dessert on the other side of the state is not a top priority of hers. She tries to express this to Don, but his insistence to recreate their California excursion from close of last season only elicits a childlike tantrum from Megan in order to get his attention. This reaction forces Don to engage in his own overreaction, leaving Megan standing alone watching his car pull away. I have no doubt the Don of past seasons really would have left her there, but a short while later on the highway, he realizes his mistake and returns to the hotel. But... dun-dun DUN! Megan's long gone, save for her discarded sunglasses in the parking lot with word from the HoJo staff that she hitched a ride with some random dudes. Guilt consumes Don, not just for his parts in that argument, but maybe you've noticed every episode has had talk of a serial killer this year? Yeah, he's fearing the worst while spending the night in the the hotel's restaurant desperately hoping for her return. (Man, how did people then do anything without cellphones?) Eventually Don drives back to their apartment, where he finds Megan. (Surprise! She wasn't murdered.) They reconcile, but I think it's safe to say the honeymoon is officially over.

So, we have Peggy and Megan lashing out, Roger finally free of his languid marriage, and the veneer of the Draper marriage cracking a bit more. Brian Wilson might as well have been talking about these characters when he composed that Beach Boys' song the Sterlings tripped to. Not too shabby of a week, eh? I didn't even bring up Ginsberg's Martian story or how frickin' awesome Bert is. Will he swoop in again soon with yet another an amazing one-liner, or was this week his "she was an astronaut" of season 5? Tell me what you thought, brothers!

Mark: Damn, Jon. I think saying the honeymoon is over is the understatement of the century. After that extremely disturbing display of Don chasing Megan through the apartment and knocking her to the ground like a serial killer, it's clear that those fucked up power dynamics we were talking about back in the season premiere are growing more wildly out of control. Sure, they seem to have reconciled for now, but that reconciliation was like putting a band aid on a severed limb. I hate to say it, Jon, but I think the "Don's a changed man" theory is officially kaput. I think he's been keeping things pretty well in line, but if his tranquility is shaken so easily by one fight, causing him to instantly revert to Don Draper Classic and leave Megan in the lurch at the HoJos, then I think things don't bode well for these two. You can only have creepy-sexy underwear fights for so long. Eventually the new car smell wears off and you're left to sort out the fact that you have two profoundly different worldviews. Then it's just a hop, skip and a jump to chasing your significant other around like Jason Voorhees.

It is interesting that serial killers have been mentioned so often this season. Perhaps it's a metaphor for the creeping dread these characters feel as they become increasingly confused and disoriented with where the world is headed. Don is stuck in the past and disconnected from how his business and society at large are changing, and he's trying to force Megan into the role of the subservient wife who shouldn't have any use for work when he wants to rush off to Howard Johnsons to recreate their Disneyland trip. At work, Don has been a mentor to Peggy, and he certainly trusts her ability, but I don't think he left her alone to run the Heinz pitch because he believes in her. The Heinz rep was a dickhead, but still Peggy isn't ready to do this on her own. She needs more experience and guidance before she'll be able to pull off her own Carousel pitch, but Don just doesn't care anymore. The fact that he had to be called on this by shoeless Bert Cooper was just a nice surprise. Don's dazed moment in the boardroom as he watched the young faces of SCDP literally pass him by was a great closer. This season's (nay, series) recurring theme of time passing people by was made literal in many ways in this episode. Time was all over the place in "Far Away Places", mostly because everyone seemed to be getting high (What, no shrooms for Don and Megan? That would have tied the episode together, and I hear they go great with orange sherbet and clams). Between Don and Peggy's blackout naps and Roger's disappearing cigarette, the loose sense of time gave the whole affair a druggy vibe. Drug experiences are hard to capture on screen, though, and honestly I didn't care for a lot of the Roger moments, except for his two-tone hair which was a nice visual metaphor for the duality of Mr. Sterling.

With Joan and Greg calling it quits and now Jane and Roger having the most existential break-up imaginable (I thought you were supposed to impulsively get married when you're under the influence?), could it be that Weiner and co. are setting the table for the big Draper divorce? Eh, I don't want to get ahead of myself, but Don and Megan have a lot of tests coming their way and I think they're both too immature to handle them.

I love Peggy. She's so earnest, and Elisabeth Moss' line reading of "It was the beans that brought them together on that cool summer night" delighted me to no end. I hope she and her Trotskyite fella can work it out. To be honest, I liked the non-linear structure of the episode. It played into the definition of Mad Men as being a televisual short story collection, and it continued this season's streak of interesting technical exercises. But I have to be real, I was slightly disappointed that Peggy's story was cut short a third of the way into the show. Part of me didn't want it to end after that superb scene between Peggy and Ginsberg in the darkened office. Beautifully shot, beautifully acted. After his reaction to the Richard Speck pictures a couple of episodes ago, I knew something was up with Michael, and my mind went to the obvious: he was in some way effected by the holocaust. Then I thought maybe the timeline didn't match up. But the fact that he was born and orphaned in a concentration camp just blew my mind, and the way he presented that information to Peggy through his story of being a Martian was the perfect blend of disorienting and deeply sad. Come on, Jon and Mike, you guys have been strangely silent on Ginsberg. I love this guy. Am I alone?

Overall, I liked this episode a lot. It took some chances, provided some great period detail and in its own weird way kicked the story of this season into gear. Mike will be back next week, so we'll see the rest of you then!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

MAD MEN Partners' Meeting - "Signal 30"

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: April 15th, 2012

Jon: DING-DING-DING! Obviously the big moment of the week was the board room duel between two previously unlikely participants, but we'll have plenty on that in a bit. While last week's "Mystery Date" focused on many of the ladies on the show, "Signal 30" was all about the fellas, as many of them flirted with or completely wallowed in their unhappiness and dashed dreams.

The big exception to this was Don who continued to ride high, while also doing his best at being the ultimate party pooper this season. He's reluctantly dragged back to suburbia by Megan and cunning of Trudy (man, did she out-Don Don, or what?) for an evening at the Campbell's abode, home of a lovely piece of furniture also known as the seven-foot stereo. He assumes he's going to hate it, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't as bad as he expected it to be. However, when you literally get to take off your shirt and tie while turning into Superman and receiving an uproarious round of applause when the damsels are safe from disaster, that'll probably exceed some expectations. The kitchen sink Pete previous thought he had fixed exploding into a geyser was the highlight of the party (at least it was for everyone aside from Pete, who was left feeling completely inadequate - but more on that later). The Megan/Don pairing knows no bounds right now, with her constant pushes him to being more outgoing finding success and his deepening contentment with their marriage becoming more obvious. Unlike the rest of his coworkers, his unhappy past seems further behind him than ever, even addressing Pete's inquiries about his forming philandering ways with, "I wouldn't have, if I had what I have now." We've never seen him this emotionally stable before, and because of that, I'm now convinced their relationship will come crashing down by the end of the season (this is a show that opens each week with the image of a man in a suit falling from a skyscraper window after all). It still feels like Don's changed to me, so it may come with a betrayal of some kind on Megan's part, instead of his.

Anyway, back to the theme of the week -- emasculation.

This season has made Roger's presence at the firm less useful by the day completely obvious, but even when he's trying earnestly to coach up Lane for securing his first prospective big cat client, his tactics yet again fail and he has nothing to show for it. However, plenty of this blame falls to Lane, who despite being handed the Jaguar account on a silver platter via a chance social connection, can't close the deal. We've seen this sort of behavior time and time again from Lane. His ability to mishandle a simple situation knows no bounds -- he can't just return a misplaced wallet to the cabbie, he has to track down the owner himself and have lurid phone calls with his wife; he can't just have sex with a Playboy bunny, he's going to fall in love with her; he can't just go to dinner, he's gotta get blasted out of his mind and rub his steak on his nether region. He is who he is. Lane's new-found British friend senses this as well, and waits for the SCDP cavalry to come in and show him the good time he's looking for. And, boy, do they ever.

The foursome's subsequent trip to a nearby "classy" brothel gives some interesting insight into the current state of mind of Don but more so Pete. Don stays faithful to Megan as he sits on the sidelines (further supporting my "changed man" theory), essentially just coming along for the ride for the sake of closing the Jaguar deal. However, Pete thrusts himself into a hooker's bedroom, but does not consummate the transaction before ensuring she'll be able to deliver with a role-play suitable for his needs. The winner? "You're my King." Boom. Done. After dropping off the belligerently delighted client who has assured them his business is theirs, Pete's sulks with Don in the cab and it's clear his professional success and sexual dalliances still left him unfulfilled. The next day during a Partners' Meeting, Lane furiously barges into the board room to announce that deal was off after our Jaguar magnate's activities from the previous night were discovered rather hilariously by his wife. One smart-ass comment from Pete undercutting Lane's value to SCDP shortly thereafter, and Lane challenges him to a duel.

Sure, it's exciting for us as viewers, but how did the two most timid members of SCDP culminate to this extreme result?

Pete may be the star of company these days, but he's out of place among the other partners in their basic attitudes of the world, shaped by such trying life experiences as having fought in a war not to mention going through all that without the benefits of a silver spoon at birth (aside from Roger, of course). His attitude has always reeked of the upper-crust privilege his family squandered away decades ago, but his missteps in the office tended to keep that in check to a degree. Now that he's batting near 1.000 in every deal, those reservations are gone. He's lashed out impetuously at just about everyone recently, but he finally met his match in Lane. Of course, this wasn't the first time Mr. Campbell has been called out to defend his smarmy quips, as Roger proposed the two step outside a few episodes ago. It was, however, the first time he ran into a challenge he couldn't backtrack his way out of with a seething Lane Pryce staring him down, refusing any other course of action.

As much of a low blow as Pete's cruel statement was, it garnered Lane's reaction because he knew it to be true. He really can't provide any additional value to SCDP, and even he admits his current role is would be better administered by Joan. Lane's list of items to feel inadequate over has grown quite lengthy since we've come to know him, and they likely reached an all-time high at the outset of that meeting.

The convergence of these two frustrated men results in the Board Room Brawl, each awkward fighter dishing out and taking blows from the other. Ultimately, it resulted in a TKO by Lane, and utter embarrassment for Pete. I suspect the combination of Lane's rage with some training from Her Majesty's Armed Forces long ago gave him the edge over the clearly ill-prepared youngster.

Now, the boxing match and the sink incident weren't the only occurrences send Pete into his latest fit of self-loathing. He'd also been lusting after young Jenny who's taking the same driver's ed course at the local high school he is. He's buoyed by her initial signs of interest, but when another classmate of hers (a guy literally called Handsome) walks into the room one evening mistaking Pete for the instructor, it's yet another blow. For all his success and achievement, Pete's still just a dude watching the cool guy in class fingerbang the girl he's crushing on during a high school movie.

Essentially, he and Don have swapped places from the outset of the series. Pete has the beautiful wife, a cute little munchkin, a house in the suburbs and is absolutely thriving at his work, yet none of it is enough for him, as he claims to Don he has nothing as they descend down the elevator together. For the first time, I've begun to wonder if getting that office window a couple of weeks ago has pushed him one step closer to becoming that faceless man we've watched drop down to the street each week during the opening credits.

Okay, wow. I wrote a lot this week. I went on for so long on all the above, I didn't even mention Ken Cosgrove! (Who probably got more screentime this week than over the past three seasons combined.) I suspect the subtle notes of his story in "Signal 30" will lead to a big shake-up at SCDP in the coming weeks, possibly involving Peggy. And I'll also leave it to you boys to discuss Joan and Lane's moment. But this was a crazy-good episode! What else did I fail to mention?

Mike: Man, I tell you what -- I was over the moon for this episode. Going back years and years to when Jon first let me borrow all of his "Angel" DVDs, I have wanted to see Vincent Kartheiser get his ass handed to him onscreen, and this week's episode delivered in full. But it wasn't just that which really hit the spot this time. For me, this was the first week in the new "Mad Men" season where I felt the old Must See TV magic. Don't get me wrong, I've really enjoyed season five thus far, but with this one, the entire team was firing on all cylinders. The whole episode, I was alternately on the edge of my seat, not believing that they're actually going to go through with this, wondering at the character development, and pausing it to catch my breath and exchange bewildered glances with my wife. What a show! What an era of TV we live in!

(SIDE NOTE: It didn't hurt that we watched this as part of a double-bill with the penultimate episode of "Ringer." Which, if you haven't ever watched it, don't bother. But the second-to-last episode of that series, though not far from the exact opposite of the definition of "great TV," finally delivered on all the trashy, loopy, soapy promise of the series. Unfortunately, the finale went right back down to depressing underachievement. We'll always have episode 21! But I digress.)

Jon's done a great job above of outlining Pete Campbell's plight, and I'm totally on board with the idea that he and Don have, at least up to this point in the season, exchanged places in their lives. Will this last? Well, in my experience at least, "Mad Men" rarely goes to expected places and directions. Ever since the brazen, joyful season three finale, I've been wary of even trying to predict what might come next.

As regards Pete, here's a little secret about me: I'm a sucker for the "Mad Men" writers' room when it comes to character allegiances. I'm buying what they're selling. What I mean is to say is, my feelings towards pretty much all the characters more or less depend on what's going on in each episode. My wholesale suspension of disbelief with shows I trust is probably more of a fault than an asset, but I'm always in the moment and not thinking about what something might mean or its implications. This episode, though, I swung back and forth a few times.

Now, I think most people would generally say it's up for debate as to whether Pete Campbell is a flawed but sympathetic character, or an irredeemable jerk. You know, despite that extremely punchable mug, you've got to admit, ol' Pete has his moments. Maybe not good ones, though. Just ask Peggy, Trudy, or any of the various co-workers, relatives and in-laws he's let down over the years, in big ways and small. In this case, I felt for him a little bit as he sniffled his way down in the elevator with Don, but that doesn't excuse his years of privileged, loutish behavior. Nor do I imagine anyone really would stand up for Pete's side of things in this most recent bout of Lane vs. Pete.

(And I gotta say, I just love the looks on Peggy and Joan's faces when they get a glimpse of the post-duel carnage in the conference room.)

Speaking of allegiances, though, one character I've never wavered on at all is Lane. Despite the occasional straying from his wife, he seems like a solid enough chap. And even though what Pete said in his incident-sparking comment was partially correct -- probably Lane's most crucial contribution to SCDP thus far has been his complacence in their plot to get rid of their former British overlords -- it's Lane's day-to-day efforts that are keeping the lights on in the office, as it were, and which enable the other three elder partners to go about their business in the ways in which they are accustomed. Bert and Roger are used to their idiosyncratic methods, which are productive but certainly not cost-effective or particularly reliable in theirs or anyone else's hands, and even Don has in recent times moved much closer to their side of things than Pete's ethos of unsung toil and hard work. It takes someone like Lane to count the beans and make sure that everything is as it should be every Monday morning without fail. This kind of position doesn't come with a lot of glory, though, and that seems to have been weighing on Lane, especially with the loss of the Jaguar account which he had been counting on as one for the "win" column. After the fisticuffs at the partners' meeting, this is the state in which Joan finds Lane.

And then he makes the classic sad-sack's error, which is to mistake the kindness of another for a romantic approach. It is to Joan's credit that she opens the office door again, to erase any impropriety and make her intentions very clear, but then sticks around to finish their conversation. I don't see this as the beginning of any love affair. I really don't even see this as being a stumbling block for Lane and Joan's cordial, even warm, working relationship. In the twisted world of office politics at SCDP, Joan probably simply chalked this one up in her head to the cost of being a woman who appears as she does, and who holds the power and position that she does. Only time, and maybe next week's episode, will tell if I'm correct.

One final note before I have to go. I know there's still a lot left unsaid here about Ken Cosgrove and his secret literary career, but all I could think of when hearing about his various short stories was, "I'd love to read some of them!" Like Jon said, there are definitely some side elements here that will be boiling over into the larger SCDP picture, and sooner rather than later. It's just too bad that Ken's too-adoring wife was the cause of "Ben Hargrove"'s literary end. I hope he doesn't hold it against her too much, especially since he starts right over again that night under a new pen name. Go, Ken!

Any way you slice it, guys, I'm more on board after "Signal 30" than ever. If anything was missing in previous episodes (which I'm really not saying at all!), this one was a masterpiece. Can't wait for the next one.

Jon (again): I decided I really wanted to talk about Ken Cosgrove after all, so I'm back! I've already watched "Far Away Places," so I'll be mum on those details here, but Ken's character took a backseat in favor of others, so I'd like to spitball about him before I forget what I found so intriguing about him in "Signal 30."

Mike, I'm glad you agree with my speculations about Ken playing a part in the future drama at the firm. Apparently Ken and Peggy have an agreement to take the other with them if and when they depart SCDP (is this the first we heard about the pact? I don't recall it). It seems very plausible to me that he'll eventually find enough success with his writing career that he'll feel confident enough to leave his day job and focus on writing entirely, or at least find employment at another business that Peggy would also be a fit for.

But Peggy isn't the only one who learns of his writing career this week, as his wife spills the beans on it at casa de Campbell to the group. Ken's summary of his robot and the bridge story is a pretty clear indictment of his role as an account man, taking directions without choice devoid of any possible better judgement. (Btw, don't you think there should be a blog of Ken's short sci-fi stories on AMC's website for us curious fans?!) But Ken's clearly not a robot deep down, he just plays one at the office. If his comments to Megan are taken at face value, Lane may not be the only one Pete has to look out for after ratting Ken out to Roger.

By the close of the episode we see that Ken will continue to spend his free moments with pen and paper in hand, composing away under a presumably new pseudonym (although I think Peggy is the only one who knows what it is, so perhaps not). If he doesn't, he has firsthand knowledge of what turning into an unappreciated author looks like -- Roger. From the little we've seen of Cynthia, I gather she's a sweetheart and Ken appears to be a pretty genuine guy all-around as well. Right now, he looks like the only character on the show capable of finding happiness, and that won't come as long as he remains at SCDP.

Mark: Hey, guys. Sorry I’m late! I’m currently in the process of setting up my own little suburban (see: Greenpoint, Brooklyn) love shack, suitable for drunken dinner parties and sink-related heroics. Note to prospective DIY interior designers: everything is expensive, but you can’t put a price on a gigantic sectional couch. Ours will comfortably seat two Wilt Chamberlains end-to-end. You’re all invited to our housewarming party, and we won’t take no for an answer.

Hoo boy! I’m calling it: Best episode of the season so far. This was Mad Men at its absolutely best. A lot of people complain about its deliberate pace and relative lack of plot, but when this show is firing on all cylinders its like reading the best short story collection that has ever graced an English Lit syllabus. With amazing performances all around and assured direction from John “Roger Sterling” Slattery himself, “Signal 30” was a bonafide series classic. Maybe I just don’t recall offhand from past seasons, but it seems like this year the show is taking some new stylistic chances with scene transitions. I loved the match cut from the tapping foot of Pete’s high-school object of obsession to the dripping faucet as he lay in bed, the dripping water and the unattainable girl both taunting the poor, pathetic, angry little shithead. It’s funny. I was talking about Pete and Trudy a few entries ago as perhaps the only functional couple on the show, and this was already in light of Pete’s past infidelities. Maybe I spoke too soon. Jon and Mike, you guys are right, Pete’s dream of being Don Draper is finally coming true, he just didn’t realize what that life entailed.

Call me crazy, but I feel for Pete. He is a terrible guy in so many ways, from the huge (multiple infidelities, outright rape, denying his child with Peggy) to the mundane (did you see the way he strutted out of the office a couple weeks ago? What a dope!) . But I can’t help but “read” the character as a complete blank who is trying to approximate what he has been told or has observed as being the ideal adult life. How can you be mad at someone who is essentially a non-entity, even if he constantly behaves like a total creep? Okay, maybe my argument is flawed, but hear me out. Pete looks up to Don and seeks to emulate him, but the young Mr. Campbell has no soul. Don is no great shakes as a person, but he has a level of self-awareness that Pete will never possess. Whereas Pete’s blankness makes him ideal for his job, he can be an adaptable worker bee as he brings no prejudices, preconceived notions or any personality at all really to business in the way stubborn Roger does (accidental alliteration!), but it causes a profound loneliness and alienation in his personal life. The guy has seemingly got it all, the perfect wife, the perfect baby (look at that smile!), a high-paying job, and now with a window office, but there is an all-consuming black hole at his core. Sure, he blames the emptiness he feels on everybody but himself and acts out in the most petty, destructive way possible, but I still find it profoundly sad and relatable to watch Pete continually bang his head against the wall. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy seeing the little pipsqueak get his face rearranged by Lane, the brawling dandy. Don’t get me started on Lane. Fair enough, Mike, Lane is the unsung hero of SCDP. He keeps the lights on, which is an important but distinctly unsexy job. He doesn’t get the accolades or the wide berth that the cool kids get. He’s the whipping boy, who like Pete is trying to assume the secretly empty role of the swaggering All-American hero. Jared Harris has a way of smiling and laughing nervously as Lane that is incredibly heartbreaking. It’s the laugh of the world’s saddest nerd, who longs to be in anyone else’s skin.

With Pete and Lane, and Roger too, it’s becoming more clear that this season is paying off the threat of obsolescence that has been hanging over the world of Mad Men since the beginning. However, it’s starting to go deeper than just the wide-ranging social upheaval of the 1960s and manifest itself in a more personal way. Pete for instance is starting to realize that he is no longer as young as he thinks he is. He’s no longer a viable candidate for the affections of his nubile Driver’s Ed classmate, if he ever was, and as much as he tries to push against it he has a family that depends on him. He can’t handle this, and being the asshole he is he rushes off to indulge his gross, empty power fantasy at a high-class brothel. The life that Pete never understood how to live is closing in on him, and as he weeps in front of Don for the possibilities he never took advantage of that are increasingly lost to him now, I’m compelled simultaneously to give him another sock in the nose and weep right alongside him. I’ve known Pete Campbells, I’ve felt like a Pete Campbell at times in my life, and I want to wring his neck for saying “I have nothing” in the face of all the privilege and good fortune that has been handed to him. But I think sometimes in the back of all of our minds, there is a dripping faucet that we can’t fix.

I don’t know if I have much to add about Ken Cosgrove, other than he seems like a swell, well-adjusted guy. I’ll say this, as someone who labors over every sentence I’m able to sputter out, I’m a little jealous of Ken’s ability to let go and write so prolifically and with such ease, but I think he primarily exists in the show as sort of a control group. He is the one guy who will keep his head down and make it through unscathed by Mad Men’s special brand of personal torment. Sounds like fun! See ya next time!

Episodes 1&2 - "A Little Kiss"
Episode 3 - "Tea Leaves"
Episode 4 - "Mystery Date"

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Few Words On Cormac McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN

You don't need to take it from me that this Western novel from Cormac McCarthy is a masterpiece - there's plenty of other places online that have made the same claim and with far more veracity since it's publication in 1985 than I will here. I'm merely writing this post to encourage those of you who know nothing of it or do and have yet to embark on it to seek it out. Blood Meridian is without question one of the finest works of art I've ever come across in any medium.

If you've read McCarthy's work before (The Border Trilogy) or watched a film adaptation of one of his novels (No Country For Old Men, The Road), you have an idea of what to expect -- it's a tragic, beautiful, bleak, dense and hauntingly violent story. I've only read two of his novels, but McCarthy's prose has an unique ability to make me feel alive in a way no other author I've been exposed to is able to do. And Blood Meridian accomplishes this feat with far more regularity than when I took on The Road.

Someday I'll re-read this one (something I rarely even consider with most books these days), partly because I'm sure its finer points will have escaped me and also because something this magnificent must be experienced again. I wonder if I'll have a drastically different opinion of it when that time comes, kinda like how some scholars say a 20-year-old will interpret War & Peace vastly differently than a 50-year-old would (and some of those attest that you shouldn't even attempt that one until reaching a more advanced age). I can't imagine at 31 I've read this one too soon, but if I have, it was worth spoiling it.

So, again, I advocate all of you to open this one up. There have been recent rumblings about an attempt to film it, but I frankly don't see how it'd be done effectively, even by the great Nicolas Winding Refn (so says Wikipedia which means it must be true despite lacking a source), let alone that James Franco directorial rumor.

After the jump, my favorite passage from the book. Read at your own choosing.

Monday, April 16, 2012

MAD MEN Partners' Meeting - "Mystery Date"

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: April 8th, 2012

Mark: You know, despite its title and the amount of time it spends focusing on Don, Roger, Pete and all the other mixed-up dudes in the ad biz, I feel more and more that Mad Men is secretly (or not so secretly) a show about women. Actually, maybe the title is appropriate along those lines, as I believe that Weiner and the other writers do some of their most powerful work when they explore what it means to be a woman in a Mad Mad Mad Man's world.

For the last couple of seasons, Joan has been reaping the whirlwind of female oppression in the Mad Men universe. She hitched her wagon to Dr. Greg even though he was a petty, useless little rapist, because she was told she needed stability and couldn’t have it on her own. Greg was going to be a doctor and provide for Joan, but he couldn’t cut the mustard. After a series of professional humiliations, being the scumbag he is, Greg asserted his dominance on Joan to make himself feel like a man. I thought Mad Men would go the rest of its run without having Joan or Greg reference the rape in Don’s office, so needless to say I was very satisfied to witness Joan throwing Greg out on his ass. Greg turning his back on his family (sure, it’s not really his kid, but he doesn’t know that!) so that he can voluntarily run off to play the big man in Vietnam was really the last straw, and I am relieved and excited for Joan that she took a stand. The final overhead shot of her lying on the bed with the baby and her ridiculous mother was equal parts funny, sad and unnerving. I’m worried for Joan. She’s still living in the patriarchal shell game of 1960s America, but change is on its way, and she is free to take control of her own life when she’s ready. I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of the final shots of the Kill Bill saga, another graceful overhead shot, of Uma Thurman weeping/laughing with joy having completed her bloody journey.

Like Joan, many characters this week were second-guessing the motives of those around them. As the news breaks of the Richard Speck murders in Chicago, a tense undercurrent of paranoia starts to run through the episode. On a side note, I have to say I’m really loving Michael Ginsberg. He’s a hot shot, and he went over Don’s head to a client (a definite no-no), but this guy’s got layers right off the bat. Maybe he’s just a normal person, compared to the callused copywriters of Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce, for not wanting to see the gruesome pictures Joyce brings of the slain nurses, but this deliberate contrast seems to hint at something in Michael’s past. What happened to him? Or are Weiner and co. just trying to show that Michael comes from a place that the relatively-privileged SCDP-ers are disconnected from, a place where violence is very real. Anyway, he seemed extremely uncomfortable and brought that energy to his mesmerizing Cinderella pitch. Great performance from Ben Feldman. Michael Ginsberg understands women. Maybe I just have Richard Speck on the brain, but could Michael be a secret murderer just like Don? Just kidding, but more on that below.

Anyway, Peggy has Richard Speck on the brain too. After bilking Roger for $400 when he needs someone to pull an all-nighter on the Mohawk Airlines image campaign, Peggy finds herself alone in the dark office. She hears a pounding sound, and when she goes to investigate, the normally bright and welcoming corridors of SCDP suddenly look very creepy. The sound ends up not being a murderer, just Dawn. She can’t get a cab uptown because of the riots in Harlem. It’s interesting to note that Peggy initially thinks Dawn won’t ride the subway because she’s scared of a Richard Speck copycat. This is a parallel to the situation with Ginsberg. The riots present a very real, immediate threat to Dawn, not to mention her day-to-day of just being who she is. She doesn’t have time to get wound up about the murders that happened hundreds of miles away. Peggy, still feeling pretty proud of herself for putting one over on Roger, invites Dawn to stay at her apartment and tries to connect with her as a fellow female trying to make it in a man’s world. Unfortunately, Peggy is too caught up in her own narrative and never really listens to Dawn, who unsurprisingly doesn’t seem to care about being a copywriter. And in a few agonizing seconds as Peggy hesitates to leave her purse alone in the living room with Dawn, it seems like the door has been closed on any friendship that may develop between them. Peggy started out questioning the motives of the people around her, and ended up questioning herself.

I’ve made some tongue-in-cheek pronouncements about Sally’s importance to the series, but I’m really kind of serious about that. The ongoing slaughter of Sally’s innocence has been one of the most compelling aspects of the show for me. And just as she found herself drawn to the coverage of JFK’s assassination, poor little Sally can’t help but seek to satisfy her morbid curiosity about the Speck murders. Locked in the house with Grandma Pauline on a long, hot summer day, Sally too learns the hard lesson that she is in danger, in this case from men simply because she is a woman. Puberty is going to be brutal for Sally. While it was nice to see Pauline humanized a little bit and taking it easy on the young Ms. Draper, I sure hope Sally doesn’t think Secanol is the cure for what ails her.

I won’t say too much about Don’s storyline. This show has a problem with corny dream sequences, but I think this one was probably the least problematic of the series for me. I thought it captured the logic of dreams very well, and Madchen Amick continually showing up evoked the anxiety within a dream when you just can’t stop something from happening no matter how you try. Don attempting to wrestle with and kill his own predatory side was interesting, and gives credence to Jon’s theory that he is a changed man, but... I don’t know, it’s also starting to feel that the writers are just sidelining Don as a character quite a bit this season. I’ll reserve judgment on that one.

So what do you guys think? Are you happy Joan got rid of Greg? Will it stick?

Mike: Okay, first off, let's talk about the elephant in the room. A lot of people have been looking at me strangely in the streets and hallways this week because of the -- let's be honest -- wholly prescient comments I made in our last installment about Don becoming a Tony Soprano-esque murderer. I don't have any connections at AMC in the script department or any special knowledge of the upcoming season, but if there's one thing I know, it's Don Draper. It was only a matter of time until he took another step towards becoming the next Hannibal Lecter or Dexter Morgan. C'mon, guys, you just need to watch the show a little bit closer. It's all there, you just need to start paying attention, like I clearly have been.

BUT SERIOUSLY THOUGH, I thought it was pretty funny that, even though a post-coital Don squeezing the life out "Twin Peaks" alumna Madchen Amick was just a fever dream at best, there was definitely a part of me that wouldn't have been all that surprised to see the next scene be in a morgue or arraignment room. Don't get me wrong. I'm definitely rooting for Don (and company) to come out on top by the end of season seven. That said, this dream of his once again, for me, underscores again the bleak pragmatism of the Don Draper persona. To become the man he is today, and to remain that man in public and in private, Don has had to step over a lot of bodies, both in the figurative sense as well as literally in the case of the man whose name and life he stole. We've seen a more relaxed and personable Don this season and last (he even did some journaling!) but it's little grace notes like this dream and his behavior after the ill-fated birthday party that remind us that his other side is still in existence.

I like what you're saying, Mark, about "Mad Men" and its women. Yes, we are ostensibly tuning in each week to see what kind of hijinks Don is going to be pulling this episode. But the stories of the show's women, when the focus is turned there, can be just as compelling. If I had to pick just one for some reason, I've always identified more profoundly with eternal (but scrappy) underdog Peggy than with Joan, and it's not just because my office sexpot days are over. This week, I enjoyed the delicious tension ("Should I take my purse full of Roger's money off the coffee table or not, because it might look like I'm a racist? Because, you know, it does kind of mean that I am one if I do!") between Dawn and Peggy during the impromptu sleepover, and I hope to see more interaction between the two nascent friends as the season continues.

On the other side of town, we witness some pretty explosive events in Joan's life that, I'm sure, will only serve to pave the way towards her inevitable return to the SCDP offices. Her decision to sever ties with (as the Internet has deigned to name him) "Dr. Rapenstein" can only be described as brave. She still has a potential benefactor in Roger, who after all has been throwing a lot of money around lately and, even more importantly, is almost definitely the father of her child. In kicking Greg out, though, how much closer did she come to becoming just like her mother, who she can barely stand even in small doses and is on the verge of kicking out herself?

I enjoyed the throughline of the serial killer news story as it ran through the various environments and ecosystems of the show, too. From once again giving Megan an excuse to be disgusted with her workmates, to Don's dream which surely had at least something to do with his hearing about the elements of the story, to Sally cracking the stony exterior of Grandma Pauline, that huge butcher knife, and certainly not the last pill that young Ms. Draper will ever pop... what a great bunch of scenes.

Meanwhile at SCDP, Mike Ginsberg is busy letting Don down and proving that he's maybe not the golden boy that everyone thought he might be, Roger is losing his touch, and was Lane even in this one? Anyways, allergies and work pressures are going to make me cut this one short this week, but all in all I thought "Mystery Date" was a pretty darn fine episode.

Jon: I dug this week a lot too, Mike, even though I felt it was rather obvious from its beginnings that Don's murderous tirade was little more than a fever-induced dream. But there were plenty of other juicy bits throughout "Mystery Date" that more than made up for it.

The Joan/Greg breakup was unpleasant to watch, but wholly necessary. However, I fear things may get worse for Joanie before they turn around -- Roger may be that kiddo's pop but he's not going to be admitting that any time soon (if ever), reinserting herself back into life at SCDP likely won't go as well as she expects, and her mother is probably going to be around to bother me as much as Joan. But I also expect Greg to come back in a box before the divorce is able to be finalized, thus saving her from the dire straights I expect in the coming weeks.

As far as the Mad Wo-Men (betcha no one's ever thought of that one before!), yes, yes and yes. I've long loved our principal ladies (aside from Betty, as I brought up last time). To illustrate this, I will now tell a brief tale that you'll have to take my word on, but I swear it's a true story. Being a single fella in these modern times, I've had myself an online dating profile or two over the years. Having listed Mad Men as one of my favorite shows in some of those, one interested party asked me during a wonderfully awkward email exchange which character I related to most on the show, or maybe it was some other similarly pompous English major-esque inquiry, but I'm pretty sure this potential mystery date just wanted to know which misogynist I would compare myself to. But I was super bored that day and decided to answer her question honestly -- for my own curiosity more than hers. After a bit of deliberation, like Mike, I too realized it was Peggy Olsen that I best fit the mold of, being that she's forging her way through the workplace to find herself in the world, among other things (this was a few seasons ago before she'd established herself as an ace copywriter). So while Don's exploits generally take center stage week after week for me, I rarely am disappointed to share time with Ms. Blankenship and company.

And this was a particularly great week for the ladies to step into the spotlight since Don was hallucinating and bedridden for much of the hour. In his absence we were still treated to his two most prominent protegees displaying his power-play techniques. Peggy railroaded Roger's weak resolve as well as his wallet in record time during their negotiation, and while nowhere near as successful, Sally did her best to outwit Grandma Pauline by utilizing a couple of different tactics.

Speaking of which, Sally and Pauline impromptu sleepover was my favorite part of the week. I'm probably in the minority on this one, and it's the one tidbit I forgot to mention last week, but I've always liked the elder Mrs. Francis. Going back to last season, she sees through everyone's bullshit and is not shy about calling it out to those who need to hear it. Her frank conversation with Betty in "Tea Leaves" was marvelous. This week, she continued that stern manner with Sally only to have the Draper charm pulled on her, getting her to admit that perhaps she was a bit harsh. From there, the two begin to come to an understanding, if not a full-fledged bonding. Can't wait to see what she teaches Sally next time.

Now, I know I essentially dismissed Don's segment briskly at the start of my recap here, but I suspect there was something to be gained from it for future episodes. The dream was clearly a manifestation of his true nature, and it'll be interesting to see if he'll actually try to change that behavior to keep his marriage with Megan intact or if this is merely a sign of things to come. Personally, I'd like them to stay together happily for a while, but expect it's all but inevitable that their relationship will ultimately collapse. Any way, there's still plenty of time until that happens! See you guys back here next week.

Episodes 1&2 - "A Little Kiss"
Episode 3 - "Tea Leaves"

Sunday, April 08, 2012

MAD MEN Partners' Meeting - "Tea Leaves"

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: April 1st, 2012

Mark: The times they are a-changin’ on Mad Men, and as the 60s are starting to become the real 60s, our favorite WASPy white folks at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are starting to feel the pinch. Don has brought in a new African-American secretary named... uh, Dawn, an ambitious Jewish copywriter named Michael Ginsberg is gunning for Peggy’s spot as the firm’s rising star, Pete is pushing Roger further into the scrap heap over the Mohawk Airlines deal, and Megan Draper and the rest of the young folks are grooving to the crazy sound of the Rolling Stones. Roger and Don are struggling to understand what happened as the world continues to evolve beyond them, and they are bitterly coming to grips with the fact that they are no longer the coolest guys in the room.

That fear of being passed by and the subsequent search for meaning is an overarching theme of the episode, and it is especially prevalent in the main storyline. Betty has put on a bit of weight since we last saw her (January Jones was pregnant for the first half of the season, and her extra pounds are augmented here by an awkward neck prosthesis and an even more awkward body double). She is encouraged by her awful mother-in-law to get prescription diet pills from her doctor, but the doctor ends up finding a tumor on Betty’s thyroid. With her death possibly imminent, Betty reflects on her place in the world as she waits for the biopsy results Cleo from 5 to 7-style, and she finds her suffocating, unexpected life of quiet desperation lacking. This is a heavily Betty-centric episode, so your enjoyment of this week’s Mad Men installment really comes down to how you feel about her.

In the earlier seasons of the show, I found Betty to be an extremely sympathetic and deeply sad character. A jet-setting model who suddenly found herself as a suburban housewife with two kids, Betty’s struggle to cope with absolutely no coping skills was touching. No matter how awful she was to Sally (who, let’s not forget, is the fulcrum on which the entire show pivots), she was also being taken advantage of by Don, he was eavesdropping on her therapy sessions by proxy, and she was carrying on a very creepy and very sad friendship with that little weirdo Glen down the street. She was a confused child. But at some point, my sympathy dried up and Betty became just awful. Jones has always been a limited actress. I feel like detached, depressive sullenness is right in her wheelhouse, and any note that she is asked to play beyond that exceeds her grasp, but I also think the writers aren’t doing her any favors. But really, who wouldn’t want to give up and have a second ice cream sundae if they were in Betty’s shoes? She’s shut off from the world in a giant, musty Addams Family house with only a horrible ghoul of a mother-in-law around to remind her that her expiration date is approaching, and she’s doomed if she doesn’t do all she can to preserve her only value, her attractiveness to her husband. That’s a pretty sympathetic situation, but I don’t know. I can’t relate to Betty anymore. Something has changed. Ultimately, her tumor is benign, but she is still deeply depressed and wearing that depression with Bugles and hot fudge. Not sure what’s going to happen there, but at least Sally got some ice cream and sparklers. Phew!

If I’m not making myself clear, I didn’t really like this episode. It was a step down from the premiere, which I thought was very strong and entertaining. This episode was stylistically strange. I didn't care for the overtly symbolic dream sequence, and there were a few jarring dissolves that didn’t quite work for me and a few moments I felt were too on the nose. The civility between Don and Betty was interesting, as was the fact that Don was so gutted by the possibility of losing his ex-wife, and the ways in which Don and Betty’s new spouses react to that continuing connection will be fun to observe. But the phone call between Don and Betty where she asks him to tell her everything would be okay seemed very un-Mad Men to me.

Shit, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Betty. I’m eager to hear what you guys think, so I’ll wrap it up. I liked Don’s interaction with the backstage teenybopper, which was pitched somewhere between a concerned parent, an old man envious of her youth and a market research coordinator, but I thought the rest of the business with the Rolling Stones was a little too goofy. At least Don didn't have sex with her. Harry doesn’t want to go home. He’s definitely headed for Divorce Town, USA. Lowbrow has its roots in the great state of Pennsylvania, so I was glad to hear Pittsburgh get a shout-out from the Heinz guy. Of course he is painted as an out-of-touch boob who thinks the Rolling Stones will shill for baked beans, but I’ll take what I can get. Anyway, we’re the new Portland now, so Pittsburgh gets the last laugh.

What did you think, Jon/Mike? Where do you stand on Betty? Did you like “Harry and Don go to White Castle”? How about Ginsberg? As long as he doesn’t get in Peggy’s way, I actually like this guy a lot. And I thought it was hilarious that he and Roger bonded over wanting to throw things out of the window.

Mike: Betty, Betty, Betty. Look, I dunno, man. I'm going to spend this whole time talking about her, too. But where to begin? As I courageously and iconoclastically stated in last week's installment, I'm kind of a fan. I like Skylar on "Breaking Bad" way less than I like Betty Hofstadt Draper Francis, even though both can be a real shrew. I want Betty to be happy, despite the fact that she is selfish, and has made a lot of bad decisions, and has undoubtedly poisoned her own children as a result. It's not completely her fault, but she's got at least one failed marriage under her belt, and her looks ain't what they used to be (thanks to some real-life circumstances and a little help from Peggy's season one fat suit). Things could go either way for her at this point.

[Side note: Mark keeps insisting, with maybe his tongue in his cheek and maybe not, that Sally's going to be important, that she's important even now. Well, I think Kiernan Shipka's portrayal of her is great, and I hope Sally the character can pull through with minimal permanent damage, but I keep coming back to feeling that she, even more so than little Gene or Bobby, is going to reap what her parents have sown.]

Now, with "Mad Men," we're ostensibly supposed to be rooting for Don. It's his animated representation, after all, that has been committing suicide in the credits each week for five seasons now. He's no Tony Soprano-level sociopath -- while he has shadings of it, and if he ever does end up committing murder onscreen (for, I'm sure, an excellent reason and with nothing but the best of intentions) I wouldn't be all that surprised.

This week, though, it's Betty's episode, and everything that Don does is either focused on, or filtered by, his feelings over whatever relationship remains between them. His cruel, cold side (let's go ahead and call it his "Don Draper" construct), who maintains absolute control of the meeting room, who can be so terrifying to me when he rears his ugly head, takes a backseat this week to some genuinely warm feelings and sentiment toward his ex-wife. Is Dick Whitman actually the one who shares empathy with others, who is starting to really concern Peggy with his kindness and patience in the office, and who is genuinely worried about Betty's physical well-being? Or does this cognitive dissonance theory of mine just sound incredibly stupid?

Anyway, a while back when Betty and Don traveled to Italy and a magical time was had by all, I thought that there might have been some hope, however slim, for sustaining their marriage. But as it turns out, that's been over for a while now. Both Don and Betty have moved on, with their children still providing a lasting tie between them. As that distance from their sustained everyday struggle produces a kind of memorial fondness, and as they fall back into familiar patterns of relying on each other for support, I'm forced to ask the question: is this really over?

(Yeah, I think it is, mostly.)

I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you, Mark, about the scene where Betty begs Don to reassure her. When he calls her "Birdie," and she asks him to say that everything was going to be okay like he used to do, it broke my heart a little bit. Am I just a big romantic at heart? Has Matthew Weiner lost his touch? Nah. It's interesting, really, to see how unguarded both Don and Betty can be with each other now that there is relatively little at stake, at least relationship-wise, between them. In a lot of ways, Megan Draper and Henry Francis will always be on the outside of these matters. Henry's palpable frustration at the end of the episode was telling. Though he keeps up a front of negligible civility with Don, as far as this New York State governor's advisor is concerned, the less of that guy in their lives, the better. Don will always be a threat to whatever the perceived stability is in that big, drafty mansion of theirs. For that matter, though, I don't think that what Don and Megan have is actually all that stable or permanent, either.

Okay, I've successfully avoided talking about everything else that went on in this episode, but the above is what stuck with me the most. Yeah, I'm pretty certain that this will not end up being my favorite episode of the new season. That said, I trust Weiner et al, and they've more than proven that they're capable long-form storytellers of the highest caliber. Wait and see, guys. This is gonna be a good one.

Jon: Sorry for lagging so behind on this article this week, fellas. I'm still basking in the sheer awesome that was the Spartacus finale a few days before.

I'm totally with you guys on not being particularly wild about this episode. And you know why? Too much Betty for my taste. She was entirely absent from the two-hour debut last week, so she was due a bit of screen time to keep us up to date with where she's at, but I'd be happy if she was off spending these episodes at a party with Sal Romano, Freddie Rumsen, Duck Phillips, that douche who got his foot hacked apart by the lawnmower, and the other members of Mad Men's past now lost to the abyss of disregarded characters.

Okay, I admit that was a little overboard and somewhat exaggerated, but I've never been a big fan of Betty's. Her immediate reaction after learning her tumor was benign says it all to me: "I may be cancer-free, but I'm still fat. Pass the Bugles." Perhaps I'm nothing more than a heartless bastard, but knowing that she's emotionally equipped as a third-grader to deal with the trials and tragedies of adulthood has engendered giant swaths of disinterest from me. Plus, now that she's on the periphery of the lives of the actual centerpieces of the show (Don and Sally*), I suspect her character will continue to fail to excite me until she snaps herself out of this funk.

* Is Sally Draper really the nexus of Mad Men as Mark asserts? I'm highly skeptical, but I've yet to derive a convincing counterpoint, so I'll roll with it for now.

Since you two covered just about everything there is to analyse about Mrs. Francis in episode 3, I'll branch out into an area I believe will be one of the more intriguing aspects of season 5 going forward - the unlikely alliance of Roger and Peggy in the coming weeks.

Mark, I think you're spot on with Ginsberg. He's great in his manic honesty, but the moment near the end of the hour with his father illustrates the potential that he'll be more than just SCDP's Jewish Stan, magically pulling resumes from his sleeves from his stupendous blazer on command. Speaking of Stan, I believe his warning Peggy to stick to hiring mediocre talent will prove to be prophetic, because although none of us wants to see Ginsberg get in Peggy's way, it seems crystal clear to me these two are headed for a major collision in a few weeks, assuming she doesn't find a way to oust him before it gets to that stage.

Of course, Roger is already embroiled in an ultra-competitive workplace showdown. Pete once again proves himself as being far more valuable than Roger in this post-Lucky Strike world, and has become increasingly brazen in rubbing Roger's nose in it to boot. After the embarrassing Mohawk presentation, a defeated Roger asks Don when will it all get back to normal -- a line that speaks to his (and his compadres, for that matter) reluctance to see the cultural upheaval of the times swirling around him has already become the norm as much as he intends it for he and Don's immediate troubles -- and it's hard to say for sure if this conflict with Mr. Campbell is a dead end or merely a speed bump for him. My guess is Roger's still got some fight left. Whether or not he's still a contender is yet to be seen.

And even if this Roger/Peggy partnership fails to come to fruition, I think the similarities between their storylines will still be ripe for dissection.

A few other bits that crossed my mind this week:
-- Ah, White Castle. Home to cinematic potheads since 1966.
-- "Who was it?" "Nobody." Harsh, bro. Even that clown Romney wouldn't have gone that far.
-- Mark, I was also relieved Don didn't sleep with the Stones' groupie, which is probably a first. When she stole his tie, I was swept in a mild panic. I'm usually all for his philandering as it's often coupled with some brash decision-making in other areas in his life. Nothing of the sort this time around on either front.
-- David Letterman would have a field day with Don/Dawn.
-- Judging by Betty's dream/nightmare this week, I think we can ascertain that Matthew Weiner played a large role in those similarly forced sequences during his time with The Sopranos. He did not learn his lesson.
-- Mike, Skyler White and Betty Francis may be shrews, but they ain't got shit on AMC's queen biotch, Lori Grimes.

Episodes 1&2 - "A Little Kiss"