Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mad Men Fights the Fight

A bit late with my take on the recent Mad Men--was in an American hotel with heaps of channels but not AMC on Sunday night.

Quite a tour de force of Don/Peggy moments.  But first a few stray thoughts:

  • What is with the pestilence theme?  Mice and then roaches?  Kind of disappointed that Peggy would go all "eek" with the mouse.
  • Interesting to see all of the white folks upset that Liston lost to Cassius Clay (Ali).  Really showed Don not adjusting too well to the times with his $100 (very big bet) on Liston, and his "If you have to say you are the greatest, you are not" line.  More and more, it looks like Don is falling behind, lining up with Roger as stuck in the previous era.
  • The details on Roger's tape were pretty shocking--Bert's, ahem, condition; Don's secretary's former status as the hot woman in the firm, etc.  Don had no shame about listening to it, and Peggy could only get sucked in with the revelations.  Alan Sepinwall and Dan Feinberg talked about how this memoir might be the gift that keeps on giving before this episode and rightly so, although this may have been it for this gag.
  • Alison Brie, as Trudy, in another rare but meaningful appearance has a pretty interesting conversation with Peggy, only to be topped by the look of panic and then relief on Pete's face after seeing the two women of his life get out of the bathroom together.  That Trudy still enjoys a good bloodsport event that deep into pregnancy was just terrific.  Dainty in appearance, strong in character.
  • 26?  Hmmm, what was I doing when I was 26?  Oh, I got married and was deep into grad school.  Um, never mind.
  • Very little of Roger and Joan, which the show has been maximizing of late.  Missed, but this two person tour de force was worth it.  Of course, we still had Roger whining about a booze-free night.
  • Finally, oh Samsonite, you tough hunk of luggage.  I remember the old ads of a gorilla trying to beat the crap out of it.  But that was an American Tourister (thanks wikipedia and then Sepinwall) apparently, before Samsonite acquired its rival.
 Ok, onto Don and Peggy.  So many ups and downs in just one episode.  Don treats Peggy as both underling and confidant.  He tells her heaps of "Dick" things like living on a farm, father dying by horse-kick, his mother-less-ness, etc.  It was a bit shocking to hear Don say some of these things to a non-Anna, non-temporary lover.  But if Don is to recover at all, then Peggy needs to be the NY-Anna with the real one gone  Already some are referring to this episode as "The Constant." The problem with that is the opening of the show--a man (Don) plummeting.  Um, the dude does not bounce.  So, is Don going to bounce back or is the rest of the show about his continuing struggle to stay afloat and with him failing miserably?  Jon Hamm is so compelling that you don't want to see that happen, but Don is not a good guy.  Interesting to see where that goes.  Hamm's performance here is pretty terrific, showing his moods from confident and obnoxious boss, to drunk and abusive, to friendly to needy and emotional, to competent and appreciative (holding hands) was just pretty terrific. 

And this episode was just terrific for Elizabeth Moss/Peggy.  She ditches the sub-par boyfriend, and rightly so after he commits the worst sin of all--dragging in her family.  What an idiot! We always knew him to be beneath her, but to try to turn a romantic birthday dinner into some time with her family?!  Perhaps she did not share enough of herself with him to realize what a grievous mistake that was.
Peggy's phone conversation with Duck is just brilliant--from loving that she is so valued to realizing that Duck is a loser and that there can be no agency with him.  Her eyeing the urinal as a new revelation about the mysterious men's room is another great touch.  Not only has she never flown before but she has never been in a  men's room. Her insecurities about her looks and Don's refusal to bed her were striking.  She does not like being a joke, but is strong enough to call Don on his "rules at work" bs, which used to be somewhat true (he didn't sleep with Jane Segal either).  I really liked it that she did to him what he did to her earlier--criticize his ad and wondered how it would play on TV.  But she, unlike Don, backed off, knowing that his fragile ego was at stake.  And that is what makes Peggy, ultimately, the hero of our tale.  While she is flawed and not without some malice, she has a big heart to go with her ambition and her creativity.  Don's heart is compromised.  He can be kind but he can also be cruel and not in a cruel to be kind way.

Towards the end, the hallway is shot to make it look like Peggy has to choose between drunks Don and Duck.  But there is no choice--she clearly was going to end up with Don.  He knows her secrets--discussed in the bar after a long absence of such one on one's, and she actually knows much about Don.  So, they briefly hold hands after a night of revelations and consolation.  To quote the immortal Tim Goodman: Wow.

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