Mad Men: Season 6 Finale

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: Season Six of “Mad Men” has gained the notorious reputation for starting and stopping story lines without developing them in ways that reveal and decode its enigmatic characters. The finale, therefore, had to somehow tie up all of the loose ends of the season so we could be satisfied going into what will be the final season of “Mad Men.” The audience wants a climax, some resolution, or potentially a revelation. Instead, we had a fast-paced, at times absurdist finale that awkwardly stitched up some of the dangling plot points, while simultaneously seeing Don Draper fall apart at the seams. I had to let go of wanting that elusive climax and resolution, because in fact that’s not always how life works. And when that happened, I saw the best season finale of “Mad Men” to date.

I think it is safe to say that with the intertwining themes of Vietnam, the assassinations of MLK and RFK, and the various riots throughout major American cities, we were anticipating a more violent catastrophe to end 1968. With hints throughout the season of Ken Cosgrove being beat up by Chevy, Peggy stabbing Abe with a home-made bayonet, and intermittent bursts of aggression between many of the characters, physically and emotionally, perhaps what we had in our minds was more akin to a “Boardwalk Empire” bloodbath than the silent explosions we are used to on “Mad Men.” But we had something more raw that pure violence in this finale, a scene that felt arguably more gutting than Lane’s suicide or Joan’s sacrifice. We had Don bringing up the gritty, crusty, caked rouge and stained silk world of his youth, in front of the people who had only seen the Park Avenue perfection of this mysterious man, in a presentation for Hershey’s chocolate. Only Roger really knew the eager, young Don who was working as a fur salesman in the late 1950s. After giving a contrived, yet stellar presentation for a potential Hershey’s campaign that ranked with Don’s usual stream of glowing work, he stopped, sat down, and told the real story of why Hershey’s meant so much to him. Time seemed to stand still in those moments where Don spoke the story of a past that we had all seen in jarring, cryptic flashbacks. His voice cracked, he choked up, and the rusty clarity of painful honesty poisoned and punctured the conference room. Though we have seen him reveal the truths of his past before to people like Megan and Betty and Sally and Rachel Menken in Season One, we have never seen such a display while “in his element,” so to speak.

Don has never been the picture of vulnerability or honesty, and this moment of self-exposure seemed to be both a purifying and damning experience for him, for he subsequently “martyrs” himself by letting Ted be relocated to California to begin anew with his family instead of Don taking that advantage. California, in this episode, reprises its role as a symbol of freedom and fortune in the language of film and television. Don and Megan were happy there, and could have meant a new beginning for their marriage. Ted needs to get away from his infatuation with Peggy for the sake of his family and wife, who I truly believe that he loves. Stan and Harry both just really want to go to California. But what if things don’t work out as they should on the west coast? What is beyond “California”? Considering the reputation that California gains in 1969, I have no doubt that the Disneyland fantasy will fade.

By sending Ted in his place, Don begins to see how his sudden honesty begins to work against him through Megan’s anger and through that strangely lit scene where Don, in basic terms, is “fired” from SC&P in “don’t call us, we’ll call you” fashion. In shades of grey, black, and white the tribunal of Joan, Bert, Jim, and Roger ask Don to take some time off to “regroup” without a definite return date. The unthinkable has happened: Don cannot get away with being “Don Draper” anymore. He has single-handedly angered, screwed over, or jeopardized every person on that tribunal, and that can’t be tolerated anymore for the good of the company. The shot reverse shot “Et tu Brute?” moment between Don and Roger left an icy silence for the twists of the knife to walk out of the elevator: Duck Philips and Lou Avery. What has Don done?

Yet the glimmer of hope in all of this comes from that final scene, where Don takes his children to see the broken-down dump that is left of the whorehouse where he grew up. Judy Collins sings Joni Mitchell’s profoundly beautiful “Both Sides Now,” as Don begins to understand his two identities and his series of choices that shows that he really doesn’t know life at all. Sally recognizes this as not just a peace offering, but the beginning of an opportunity to actually get to know her father. In yet another shot reverse shot, we see the distorted framing of Don and Sally in these moments as exaggerated: a lower framing than Sally’s vantage point and a higher framing than Don’s. Yet both share the frame. Both know that this is a huge moment of connection between the two of them, and they are ready for that honesty. There is no other option than to tell the truth. Is this rock bottom, for Don? Or is this, truly, the jumping off point?

NAVA BRAHE: Although I agree with most of what Sonia said, I still need to indulge my inner cynic and say that everything Don did in the conference room during the last two episodes was a direct result of his not being able to let go of his irretrievably screwed up youth. Tugging at the heartstrings of the St. Joseph’s Aspirin and Hershey’s people was the most spectacular manipulation, and really dirty pool. SC&P was on dangerously thin ice with the aspirin people for misleading them about the commercial budget, and all Don could think of to do was to flout the idea for the aspirin commercial as Frank Gleason’s last idea before succumbing to cancer. If I were Peggy, I would have lunged at him from across the table. Then, I would have quit. His Hershey bar confession during the finale was more uncomfortable than an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” without the humorous element. Again, a lunge from Roger, Ted, Peggy, or Jim would have been well in order.

It might be appropriate to note, since we are mourning the passing of James Gandolfini, that Don’s behavior was very Tony Soprano-esque. Some of the most riveting episodes of “The Sopranos” were the ones where Tony was desperately unhappy, and felt the need to make everyone else around him miserable. Tony engaged in a lot of “douchebaggery” when he knew someone was happier than him. The most brutal was during the episode where he found out that the New Jersey assemblyman he had in his pocket was dating his former girlfriend. Tony wished them well, but was seething on the inside. He proceeded to show up at the assemblyman’s house one night and beat him with his belt. Of course, that sort of behavior is not conference r00m-appropriate, but what Don did to Peggy was essentially the same thing. When Ted told him that she could smell the Cleo award for the aspirin commercial, you could sense Don’s plotting. He couldn’t stand the fact that she and Ted were in love with each other, and discrediting her in front of the client was the perfect revenge. Moreover, his magnanimity towards Ted in letting him go to California instead of him is a giant façade; could Don be setting up to move in on Peggy during the final season?

Overall, I was pleased with the finale because it left just the right number of strings hanging. Will Don ever regain his place at SC&P? Was Peggy promoted to Creative Director, since the last scene she was in showed her working in Don’s office? Will Megan leave him? Will Sally wind up a juvenile delinquent? Will we ever find out who Bob Benson really is? Most importantly, what will Don’s ending be? Will Matthew Weiner pay homage to David Chase and “The Sopranos,” and leave us wondering for all eternity?

HOWARD MEGDAL: Seeing Don Draper stop lying was a fascinating way to end Season Six. And I would be remiss not to point out the shot of Peggy, her back to the camera, finally in charge at SC&P in a visual tableau obviously meant as an homage to the Mad Men logo itself.

But I am shocked that you both didn’t discuss the very best part of the finale: Bob Benson and Pete Campbell in the most entertaining version of Spy vs. Spy ever.

At the end of the penultimate episode, Pete recognizes that he can’t outwit Bob Benson. It was powerful, it was great television, and it lasted a few minutes. Pete can’t help himself. And as a result, Pete loses his Chevy foothold, he loses his mother overboard (though the always-wise Trudy points out this isn’t necessarily a net loss), and he’s off to California.

Will we get more Pete vs. Bob? Good lord, I hope so. Pete might be the best character on the show. And somehow, Bob has already made himself as compelling. Still, the line of the night belonged to Pete, about his possibly still-swimming mother: “She loved the sea.”

Beyond that, seeing good things happen to Duck Phillips was as uneasy to watch as Don’s self-immolation with Hershey’s. But the payoff of Sally looking up at her father as he presented his real self to them was as iconic as any image in the history of this show.

It is worth wondering who we’ll be following in Season Seven. Don, obviously. Peggy, now at the center of the work world in the show. But is Ted gone? Is Pete (I sure hope not) gone? Do we finally get a Roger/Joan romantic reunion? How much Bob will we receive?

A season finale with that much dramatic payoff and simultaneously, that many created new questions is a difficult balance to strike. But in what might have been the most wide-ranging emotional season of this astonishing show, the finale lived up to both sides of that creative conundrum, evoking the end credits song from Joan Collins.

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James Gandolfini Remembered

NAVA BRAHE: When The Sopranos premiered on HBO in January 1999, it was a very interesting time in my life. That same month I was fired from a job for the first time, I was three years removed from losing my father, and I had just gotten married six months earlier. Add to that contending with an aging mother who could no longer live alone or maintain the family house, and my plate was overflowing. I wasn’t watching much television back then, but when my older brother described The Sopranos to me, my interest piqued. “Watch it,” he told me, “and tell me who Livia reminds you of.” He was referring, of course, to our mother. After that, I was hooked.
I remember reading that the cast and crew of The Sopranos compared the filming of each episode to filming a feature film. I also remember hearing that James Gandolfini worked the hardest of all of them, since he was in virtually every scene in every episode. The show revolved around him and his roles as husband, father and boss. You needed an actor of his stature to embody all those archetypes because he played them in not one, but two families. Tony Soprano could not have been played by anyone other than James Gandolfini; it’s as if he was born to play that role. His stage and film performances were well-received by critics prior to the creation of the series, but it was The Sopranos that elevated him from actor to icon.
What set The Sopranos apart from other television series for me, was the emotional investment I made in it. We are all born into varying levels of dysfunction, but something about the dysfunction The Sopranos depicted resonated strongly with me. It wasn’t just the similarities between Livia and my own mother, but the struggles Tony endured that I related to. He felt his mother favored his older sister, just as I felt my mother favored my brother; he struggled to please his mother, yet he knew that deep down, she was incapable of providing the maternal affection he craved. There was so much that was so real, it was impossible not to watch. Even in the years since the series ended, I find myself going back and re-watching my favorite episodes. Despite the violence and the discomfort the storylines elicit, The Sopranos comforts me, because the themes are familiar. It’s cathartic knowing that even though the characters are fictional, their basis is in a reality I know all too well. The show forever changed the television landscape, spoiling me, and I’m sure countless others, for the inane, insipid drivel that populates our cable and satellite receivers. As selective as I was prior to watching the series, I am even choosier about what I invest my time in because it raised the bar so high.
James Gandolfini’s untimely death at the age of 51 has hit me hard. I’ve felt genuine sorrow hearing about the passing of other celebrities, but not what I am feeling now. He was a singular talent who brought to life a character no other actor could have embodied. Sure, it helped that he was born and raised in New Jersey, and that he was Italian. But, he excelled at portraying someone we can all relate to. In a society where the illusion of having it all is so important to so many individuals, Tony Soprano showed us that having it all is impossible. We can’t have success without insecurity; we can’t have material wealth without paying a price above money; we can’t be perfect in every area of life. His role as mob boss was a metaphor for the Jekyll and Hyde in all of us; he could have been anything, but as a Mafioso, he was the epitome of profane. Deep down, we all wish we could behave as he did when someone crossed him, but most of the time, we manage to refrain. Still, it was thrilling to live vicariously through Tony, even if a lot of what he did horrified us.
Whenever a public figure or a celebrity dies, we immediately begin to assess that person’s legacy. James Gandolfini will be remembered as a major talent, even though he resided well under the radar of contemporary fame. His name never appeared in any of the online gossip rags, nor were the paparazzi constantly hunting him as if he were prized game. You were always aware of his body of work, yet you were never aware of him.
Before I sat down to write this, I watched his appearance on Inside the Actors Studio. My favorite part of the interview was his answers to the Proustian questionnaire each guest is asked by host James Lipton. When asked, “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?” Gandolfini responded, “Take over for a while, I’ll be right back.” He was joking, but Lipton would not let him change his answer. If he did indeed arrive at the pearly gates, I’m sure God gladly stepped aside. After all, not even God can refuse Tony Soprano.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Well said, Nava, and I don’t disagree with any of it. I just wanted to add my thoughts on just how much range I believe Gandolfini had as an actor, above and beyond the extraordinary set of emotions he deployed as Tony Soprano.
One of my favorite films over the past decade is the criminally underrated Romance and Cigarettes, a John Turturro-directed film starring basically everybody you’ve ever heard of. Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, but don’t let the name fool you: he’s no mobster here, just a working-class husband striving for something more exciting in his life.
When Gandolfini showed emotion in The Sopranos, he had the advantage of letting it play off of the extreme violence his character was capable of. The task was much harder in Romance and Cigarettes. And somehow, even as Gandolfini makes choices guaranteed to turn us against the character, we care about him. That’s a harder lift than caring about him in emotional scenes while compartmentalizing what he’s done in other scenes, as so often happened on The Sopranos. It’s astonishing acting.
We also saw just how much Hollywood missed out on by not casting him in more comedies in Armando Iannucci’s “In The Loop”, for my money the best comedy of the last decade. As a general eager to slow the rush to war, Gandolfini projects power and weakness, usually simultaneously within the same scenes. And he did this in The Sopranos, with laughs coming as an ancillary part of the scene. In this film, the laughs are the whole point, and he carries it off brilliantly.
Are there overlaps between these characters and Tony Soprano? Sure. But that’s part of his brilliance, too. He was best known, by far, for playing a particular character. And yet, in similar situations, he managed to convey utterly different circumstances and emotions while maintaining that inimitable look.
I will desperately miss watching him work.

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Mad Men: Week 10 in Review

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: Ok… so that last episode of “Mad Men” was kind of a lot. With the many moving parts of discovering (kinda?) the mystery behind Bob Benson (who I’m still in love with), to Sally’s terrible track record with walking in on people during sex, to the whole enormous mess of Vietnam, this episode stands apart from the blur of this season as potentially cataclysmic.

So Bob Benson, we learn through a subtle but sweet little monologue to Pete, is gay… which I assume would make him kind of like Joan’s “gay-best-friend” in the language of television archetypes à la “Will and Grace”? I kind of couldn’t help but think of Salvatore Romano at this point in the season. Will Pete use the knowledge of Bob’s sexuality against him, since Bob seems to be ascending the SC&P ladder with more rapidity lately? Pete totally would too. Despite Bob’s terrible taste in men, he’s an incredible character and I am curious how they will develop him beyond what they were able to do with Kurt from Season 2, and even Sal to a degree. Bob has been such a confusing character, could he be just messing with Pete for the sake of confusing him, and hence push past Pete on his way up? But Bob’s so sincere, he would never do that! Right? Also, does this feel a little anti-climactic? Unless it leads to some kind of relationship with Pete, which is completely unbelievable but would certainly be a twist, I hope this isn’t the end of character development for Bob Benson.

And now Sally holds a very dangerous hand of cards that she could use against Don at any point in time. She has walked in on him in the act of cheating on Megan. I have been saying throughout this season that I kind of want Don to get caught with Sylvia, to expose his hypocrisy and see how he would react in trying to cover his ass. But not like this. Not right now, after he has done something so incredible for Mitchell, Sylvia and Arnold’s son. Not at this very vulnerable time in the lives of this love triangle. Sally consistently stumbling in on these jarring sex acts of men she has known all of her life sets her apart from the rest of the characters on this show as actively looking for answers to some very complicated questions, which happen to lie behind closed doors. Does she believe Don was just “comforting” Sylvia? Sally has always been wise to her parents’ antics and insincerities ever since she was very small, so I think her “Okay” from the other side of the door was more of an olive branch than an “I believe you.” How will this affect her relationship with Megan, whom she has looked up to so much? Suddenly, Sally has a new kind of power that could make or break Don’s life. Will this force Don to be more attentive to his kids? Fat chance.

We have two episodes left of this season, what can we expect to see? Everyone on this show is in an extreme transition, with or without Vietnam disorienting them in countless irrevocable ways. This concoction of futility, anxiety, pointlessness, exhaustion, fear, and frenzy is a difficult one to swallow, try as they might to chase it with an already stale routine.

NAVA BRAHE: Is it possible that Don fought so hard to keep Mitchell Rosen from being drafted because he feels incredibly guilty about screwing around with his mother? There is something about Don’s relationship with Arnold that is endearing, because Arnold is the only person Don seems capable of offering any empathy to. But, what will happen when Arnold and Mitchell find out that Don is screwing around with Sylvia? In many ways, that storyline has bypassed Megan, and rendered her superfluous in Don’s life. Megan was able to develop her career all on her own, and does not need Don’s support. She is being groomed as the feminist archetype who eschews marriage and a family for a career. Joan is trying to balance motherhood and work, and Peggy is struggling to be a successful female in an all-male world. But, Megan is altogether different; I think she is realizing that she does not need a man in order to be happy.

I am hesitant to predict what is in store for the last two episodes of the season, but once again, I must reference Matthew Weiner’s connection to The Sopranos and predict that something major will go down on Sunday, during the penultimate episode. David Chase was famous for that, and many shows (hello, Game of Thrones) have followed suit. My guess is that the shocking storyline will have something to do with Bob Benson, rather than Don, Megan and the Rosens. The spiders in that tangled web have much more spinning to do before the series reaches its conclusion.


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Mad Men: Week 9 in Review

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: At the end of this week’s episode of “Mad Men,” Janis Joplin roars to “Take it, take another piece of my heart now, baby. You know you’ve got it if it makes you feel good.” A perfect choice of song to end this episode concerning desire and not really knowing if you’ve got “it,” “A Tale of Two Cities” shows us, baby, “that a woman can be tough.”
“Didn’t I make you feel like you were the only man?” Joplin sings, an ominous homage to the trials of Megan Draper trying to be what she was, or what Don thought she was, episode after episode with little success. Don and Megan watch the footage of the Chicago Riots on separate sides of the country, truly, I think, missing each other but not knowing how to connect or comfort each other over what they are seeing. With the world seeming to topple around them, all they can do is watch, even when their marriage could end up among the rubble. Megan appearing in Don’s hallucination/near-death-experience showed us Don’s subconscious, idealized version of Megan with hair longer, in her bold patterns, cool with his philandering, and ready to give up her career for their unborn child, their “new beginning.” This says so much, as the previous episodes have, about Don’s attitudes towards the women in his life. It’s an exhausting issue, and at times this season has felt like mainly filler episodes with little hints towards dissecting Don’s sexual psyche, which can only be so interesting after a while. Maybe we’re getting to the bottom of something here?
Despite “fundamentally” going against everything that SC&P (good move on the name, I think) is about, I am beaming with pride for Joan. The little description for this episode that I read when I downloaded it warns that “Joan is caught off guard.” If this is Joan being caught off guard, then she is the most quick-thinking person at that company. She reprises her turquoise ensemble, dressing for success as she takes charge of her account and, with Peggy, tries to reel in Avon. She gives Pete a taste of his own medicine and pushes him out of her account. Yes, this is an aggressive move, but this company is not particularly known for its subtlety and loyalty. But Joan is, which is perhaps why her action is so shocking to Pete and Ted. Yet Joan fielding peoples’ judgments of her, indeed anticipating their jabs before they are even said, is a depressing reality in Joan’s life. Everyone appears to know what she did for Jaguar, and everyone is using it against her, even Peggy who has been a mentee-turned-ally for Joan in recent seasons. The courage and confidence, that Joan has naturally, she is using in her new position to better the company and to give herself the fulfillment she deserves, and continually drives her through these waves of judgment. She’s got this. She’s dignified. And, at the end of the day, she knows how to get what she wants.

With three episodes left of the season, what in the world can we expect? Will we finally know who (the adorable) Bob Benson is? We’ve seen Don physically, emotionally, and mentally drowning, while his company transitions into shaky territory. Megan is alone, unhappy, and married to a man she barely knows. Every episode of this season has felt like it has been contributing to an impending climax. If this season’s last three are anything like last season’s, we’re in for a doozy.

NAVA BRAHE: Like Sonia, I too, am rooting for Joan, because she embodies the ongoing struggle of women in the workforce, and the reams of unpleasant innuendos many must put up with in order to co-exist with men. Yes, Joan has made her mistakes, the biggest of which she is constantly reminded of by Pete. Yet, she soldiers on knowing that it could have been much worse had she stayed home, and continued to languish in a bad marriage.

A few weeks ago, Sonia brought up the vivid colors of Joan’s wardrobe, in particular the bright greens and blues of her dresses. In “A Tale of Two Cities,” those colors appeared again, and gave Joan an even stronger presence, if that’s possible. Clothes might make the man, but when you’re a woman, and shaped like Joan, you need to walk a fine line between appropriate and incendiary. And, to her credit, she hits it out of the park. Her presence reminds me a great deal of Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson. She doesn’t say much, but you sure as hell know when she’s in the room.

I’m getting so bored with Don Draper and his follies. You know there is something significant coming, and I find myself hoping it will be something utterly soul-shattering. Maybe the Internet rumors are true: maybe Megan will meet an untimely death and Don will finally fall apart. I don’t think that’s likely. I think it will take much more than the death of his trophy wife to affect Don. Now, Sylvia, on the other hand – that would be significant. But, until that event happens, we’ll have to endure more of his near-misses until something hits the bull’s eye. Only then will things really get interesting.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Leaving aside whether the Sunset Boulevard Don Draper tableau was foreshadowing or present state of mind, there are no shortage of dynamics at play here this week.

On Joan, I think it is worth pointing out that neither Peggy nor Joan has hesitated to criticize how the other is getting ahead, but that neither one has been right all the time, and both are doing quite nicely, especially adjusting for 1968 standards. Moreover, are we really betting against that guy calling Joan? Is that ever a wise bet? Those not blinded by her looks are charmed by her personality. And kudos to Avon’s forward-thinking executive. His approach was so business-like, it caught Joan and us by surprise. She adjusted well, though.

Peggy is critical of her choice to wrest the account from Pete, but the overarching question is voiced by the Avon exec, not intentionally: what does Joan bring to the partnership? Joan’s efforts to figure that out will lead her in different directions, but not necessarily to her detriment.

Seeing Pete smoke at the end of the show, the last member of the cast to join the 1960s (Bert Cooper was in the 1960s before they even began) would also take him in fundamentally new directions. What is Pete Campbell, sans ambition? Do we have any idea?

And the chess gambit put forward by Ted and Jim: it feels like something too clever for its own good. Is Harry Hamlin more odious as Jim, or as Dino the Cabinet Thief on Curb Your Enthusiasm?

So many unanswered questions, and graceful writing/plotting that brought established characters to new places without feeling as if it is in any way a stunt. This was a magical episode, even if the specific payoffs are still to come.

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Mad Men: Week 8 in Review

NAVA BRAHE: Poor Peggy. If I had a nickel for every time I stabbed my boyfriend with a homemade bayonet because I didn’t feel safe in my own house… What a way to end a relationship; I have to say, though, Abe was a real mensch about their break-up despite having a knife sticking out of his stomach. As my mother would have said, he’s a real “catch.”

I felt really badly for Peggy during the entire episode, being caught in the middle of Ted and Don’s egotistical power struggle, and having such a rough time at home. There is no worse feeling than having a crappy day at work, and not having a sanctuary to go home to. And of all things to be fighting over: margarine; fake, oily butter substitute. I found it extremely ironic that they’ve gone from attempting to sell the public on the Chevy of the future, to fighting over how much the average housewife is willing to pay for margarine. Is it any coincidence that a fake blend of oils costs more than real butter? Do we really value a façade over the real thing? Apparently, we do.

And speaking of façades, could the newly slimmed down Betty have been more annoying? Honestly, I liked her better with a few more pounds, and when she was eating whipped cream straight from the can. She was more human and less plastic. Now, she’s nothing more than your average attention whore, and loving every minute of it. Never was that more apparent than when a stunned Don walked into the restaurant and saw her sitting at a table with Henry. That scene served two purposes: it validated Betty’s appearance, and it gave Don a taste of his own medicine for the very first time.

I found Betty and Don’s reunion in bed to be somewhat contrived. I had the feeling as soon as they met at the gas station on the way to Bobby’s camp they they were going to wind up in bed together. No matter where their lives have taken them since their divorce, Don and Betty will always have one thing in common: their appearances. Not only are they two very attractive people, they appear to be perfect, until they are confronted with life’s realities. Don and Betty were hardly Mike and Carol Brady when Bobby was trying to get them to sing “Father Abraham.” They looked for all the world like the most uncomfortable childless couple left in charge of an errant nephew for the day.

Maybe Matthew Weiner is considering a spin-off of “Mad Men” that will feature the screwed up Draper children. I read an interesting quote from Dr. Henry Morgentaler, the recently deceased Canadian reproductive rights activist, who said, “Well-loved children grow into adults who do not build concentration camps, do not rape and do not murder.” The Draper children are not what I would consider to be “well-loved.”

The title of this week’s episode, “The Better Half” did little to clear up much of the weirdness we had to endure during last week’s drug-fueled odyssey. None of the relationships on the show are what anyone would refer to as “healthy,” and I’m thinking that was the point of the title. Instead of watching the characters travel through a bizarre-o world, we saw how really dysfunctional they are during their everyday existences. Still, I would rather see them as they really are, instead of impaired by any substance. When it’s real there’s no hangover, and they are left to deal with the consequences of their actions. In the real world, tomorrow always has the potential to be a better day, but in the world of “Mad Men,” with three episodes left in the season, fantasy and reality are both up for debate.

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: Though I absolutely agree with Nava on the contrived rendez-vous of Betty and Don, I must admit a sick satisfaction with seeing them together, in bed, cheating each other as much as they are cheating the people they are married to. Betty and Don, though not always “equal” in society and in their households, they have always registered to me an equal level of conniving and attention-seeking that ultimately drives them farther from each other, despite their mutual goals. Some part of me felt really good seeing them with Bobby singing “Father Abraham,” being silly, engaging in their powdery banter, and enjoying a beer on a porch. They “look” great together, and they know how to play each other.

Indeed, Abe was a mensch, but I’m glad to see him out of the picture. I did not think that Peggy was the one who was going to be dumped in this couple, but then again she did rail Abe with a makeshift bayonet. Suddenly the violence we have seen all season has visually transitioned from dropped jaws and personal disillusionment to the real, physical puncturing, penetrating pain on screen. This whole season seems to be foreshadowing an impending death or chaos for Don, and the literal bleeding of this chaos into the lives of the other characters suggest an even greater impact than we could possibly anticipate. Speculative articles on Buzzfeed etc. wonder if Megan is going to be murdered. We still have questions, with very few answers.

Speaking of speculation, who in the world is Bob Benson?? I am enjoying the possible leads as to his identity and purpose, but for right now I am thoroughly enjoying seeing him make Joan happy

HOWARD MEGDAL: Regarding Bob Benson first, I’ve increasingly come to the conclusion that he is the result of comedy introduced by putting a legitimately selfless person into the world of Mad Men.

This provides both a mirror for the rest of SCDPEIEIO or whatever the firm is right now, and it also allows us to root for a good guy and for Joan to be treated properly in a relationship. That’s plenty of emotional payoff.

As for Roger’s daughter, I think she underestimates how hard it is to find a good babysitter. We’ll see, though.

Let’s not discount Megan’s unwillingness to be mollified by peace within her own household. What will be unleashed when she discovers Don isn’t merely distant, but unfaithful, should be astonishing to behold.

And Peggy, I will totally buy your upper east side apartment at 1968 prices. Call me.

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Mad Men: Week 7 in Review

NAVA BRAHE: Alrighty; “The Crash” has to be the weirdest episode of “Mad Men” to date. The entire force behind the show decided to take every shocking element they could think of, and bombard the audience with them in one fell swoop. Sex, drugs, flashbacks, bad parenting, self-involvement, guilt, death; We saw it all, and then some.

I don’t doubt that the creative staffs of advertising agencies (past and present) indulge in their fair share of, how shall I put this: energy supplements that go way beyond a landslide of lattes from the local Starbucks. I’ve taken speed; I know what it can do to your mind and body. But, whatever was in the proprietary blend that was injected into the glutei of Jim Cutler, Don Draper, Ken Cosgrove, Stan Rizzo, and the rest of the creative team at SCDP, or whatever they’re calling themselves now, it did much more than stimulate their collective creativity. It made them fly their freak flags just a tad too high for my comfort level.

To start, I found Don’s flashbacks to his time at the brothel a weak bit of insight into his sordid past. We know where he came from and why he felt the need to try to become someone else. They were overstated, and a waste of time.

It’s also no surprise that Don keeps dropping the ball as a father; we’ve known this ever since he divorced Betty. Unfortunately, Megan is guilty of her own parental shortcomings, and their personification as an “old Negro woman” robbing apartments in the building was a clever way to illustrate that Don and Betty’s children are extremely vulnerable despite their privileged surroundings. We’ve seen time and again how the Draper children have been affected by neglect despite their parents’ affluence. Just because they come from a nice home doesn’t mean they’re well brought up and adequately cared for. Don checked out on his kids once again, and Megan followed suit by leaving Sally to look after Bobby and Gene with the promise of buying her boots to go with her skirt. She probably did not know that Don left the kitchen door open, but even still, you can leave a 12 year-old in charge for only so long. Sally’s instincts were good, but ultimately she could only do so much. It was heartbreaking to hear her admit she knows nothing about her father during the conversation they had at the end of the episode. She will never know anything about Don because he will never reveal his true self to anyone, not even his children.

I admire the way Sylvia is handling herself post-breakup. I think the domination-gone-awry snapped her out of whatever delusions she had about being able to keep up the charade. She’s figured out what kind of person Don is, and managed to extricate herself from the relationship before it was too late. Sylvia has the sense to know that her actions would hurt not only her husband, but the wife of the man she was sleeping with. She has genuine empathy for Megan, unlike Don, who couldn’t help himself from loitering outside her kitchen door like a starving puppy. Maybe the “old Negro woman” was supposed to be an allegory meant to represent what can happen when you screw around. In any case, Don should thank Sylvia for saving him from himself – this time.

Okay, I think I just figured out what the brothel flashbacks represented in the episode: Don’s closing line, “Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse,” though a total mystery to Ted and Jim, represents Don’s frustration at having to “whore” himself and his agency in order to get the coveted automobile advertising business. He literally used Joan to secure the Jaguar account, and now he’s frustrated at how hard he has to work in order to please Chevy. He doesn’t like it; and no amount of liquor, speed or sex is going to eradicate the shame he feels at being incapable to meet his most important client’s outrageous demands.

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: At this time I want to say a big ol’ “What she said” following Nava’s comments. I completely agree with the absolute chaos of this episode being a total overload of allegory, symbolism, and over-saturated themes. It was just too much. Too weird. With four episodes to go, I see nothing less than a total explosion erupting from this compacted, angry volcano that is SCDP/CGC.

Forgive me, but I wish to look at fashion and style (again) this week because it might very well decode some of the strangeness of the episode. Betty is suddenly back to being a size 4 with her Grace Kelly blonde hair, though the dark roots are visible from when her hair was dark. She does not have that pure porcelain elegance of Seasons One and Two, but she is back to being that stunningly beautiful presence instead of “fat Betty” whom we all felt sorry for, but couldn’t look away from. She is clearly trying to embody Henry’s partner and glow as a senator’s wife, which bares an even more striking contrast to the micro-miniskirt-wearing Megan, who in turn is influencing Sally’s style (“I earned [the skirt].” “On what street corner?”] Megan is an indulgent stepmother who is not afraid to buy love from her husband’s children in the form of toys, skirts, boots, and independence, represented by the playful patterns in her fucsia dress and heavy silver eyeliner. We see a freedom in Megan, a false sense of authority over Don’s kids: a hot pink patterned mini-dress and go-go boots with too much makeup and hair spray. In a word, “overkill.” It’s such an awkward image, seeing Betty and Megan side by side, representing such polar opposite yet immensely misguided maternal identities.

One small detail that was recurring throughout the episode that is absolutely worth noting is the detail of the turquoise silk chiffon bandana that Sylvia, Ms. Swenson, and the woman in the soup ad are all wearing throughout the episode. At the beginning we see Don standing outside Sylvia’s back door, and we cut to a scene inside where Sylvia has a bathrobe on and a turquoise silk bandana around her head. She is in her home, living her life and heating up “left over veal and cold pasta” for her husband. The next instance we see of the turquoise bandana is in the flashback where the prostitute, Ms. Swenson, is feeding Don soup to help him get over his cold. She is also wearing a bathrobe, and she is serving him food in a bedroom. That turquoise bandana reappears on the head of the woman in the soup ad from 1958, with the tagline “Because you know what he wants,” once more in a domestic setting. Though she is not wearing the turquoise chiffon in bandana form, Megan appropriates the material and the color in her nightgown at the end of the episode after Don collapses on the floor. She is in the bedroom, which is also a domestic space, but it has a very different implication from kitchen spaces. The bedroom and the kitchen overlap in theme, implication, purpose between these women held together by the visual cue of the turquoise silk chiffon. This is no accident. What is this turquoise silk chiffon supposed to represent for Don Draper? A mixture of the sexual and the maternal? The unattainable care that he has always longed for? A woman who exists solely for the purpose of his own desires? Sylvia played along with it for a little bit, and then saw the light. Ms. Swenson was the first woman in his life to combine the sexual but nurturing attention he has come to crave. The woman in the soup ad he created to convey these desires, in a “Pygmalion”-esque kind of way. And finally Megan, who tries to fulfill his needs without compromising her own happiness, is leaving Don anxious and unfulfilled. Turquoise is a color that both provokes and soothes, as these women have done for Don, and the links between these women come a few steps further into the light.

Wendy was totally unnecessary. I hope she does not return. Peggy kissing all of these guys in their respective offices intrigues me. Are we supposed to assume that “the crash” has happened already, and now we must deal with the consequences? Or is the crash more like a domino effect? I am only left with questions following this episode, that I hope are answered before the season ends.





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Modern Family: Season 4, Episode 24 – “Goodnight Gracie”

KIP MOONEY: It’s been a little more than two months since my grandfather passed away. I miss him every day, some days more than others. What usually makes me sad are the fragments of things he said that come to my mind, seemingly at random. They’re fond remembrances that simultaneously lift me up and take me back down. I’m grateful for the time I spent with him, but knowing he won’t be there at Christmas or my wedding puts a weight on my soul.

So when Phil starts talking about his mother’s endless generosity, I was crying right along with him.

This week’s episode, the best of all four season finales, was one of the most emotionally rewarding things the show has ever done. The death of Phil’s mother (whom I never recall seeing) serves as a catalyst for a series of heartwarming moments, and I say that with no sense of irony.

The whole family flies down to Florida for the memorial service and immediately breaks off for their stories. As I’m sure you’ve read all season, my most frequent complaint is that the show is too afraid to go an episode without involving every principal cast member in at least one story. But that can be easy to forget if all the stories are solid, as they were in this episode.

Jay’s is easily the weakest, but I like storylines for him that don’t involve him getting frustrated at someone younger than him. He notices Phil’s dad (the always uproarious Fred Willard) has a neighbor who looks awfully familiar. Turns out she was the older woman who sent him off to Vietnam no longer a virgin. She claims to remember him and brings him what she thinks was a memento he gave her. Turns out she’s got a whole box of special gifts from young sailors.

Now, Gloria pairing with just about anyone makes for great TV. But her and Mitch made for a dynamic duo as he tried to help get her out of an arrest warrant for, ahem, running a brothel. She claims it was the woman she sublet her apartment to, not her. So Mitch defends her, and several other folks, in court. The litigation ignites a fire in him, so much that he’s going to quit his job and go back to being a trial lawyer. That should make for some stellar episodes next season.

Alex, who I’d argue is the most neglected character on the show, arguably gets the show’s biggest moment. Disappointed that her grandmother only left her a lighter and card with “This is a lighter” written on it, she’s surprised to discover the card opens to reveal instructions for an elaborate rule-breaking tribute to perform during the memorial service. Her grandmother, with whom she always felt a special bond, gave her this so maybe this by-the-book girl would break a few rules. She does, and gives her character new layers the writers had previously hidden.

But the real golden moment, and possible Emmy showcase, is saved for the show’s greatest character Phil Dunphy. Ty Burrell has kicked it up a notch this season, a seemingly impossible feat considering he was already the show’s greatest asset. The emotional gut-punch, brought on by his fond memories of mom, is delivered beautifully. He’s sharing all this to a neighbor he’d never met, a woman with whom his mother wants Phil to fix up with his now widowed father. It’s a tough thing to do. But once Phil sees this woman’s equally generous heart, he knows he must, to save his dad from the cavalcade of lonely, horny women who are already swarming like vultures around his condo.

This season felt like a bit of a creative resurgence following the lackluster third season. It didn’t reinvent anything, but only rarely felt like it was coasting. A fourth win for Outstanding Comedy Series feels inevitable at this point, which is fine. But the show can’t rest on its laurels. After its greatest finale, it feels like it won’t.

One final note: This will be my last review of the show for this site. Despite being long-winded tonight, I really feel like I’ve run out of things to say about this show at length. Thanks for reading along for the highs and lows of the past three seasons.

Luke, upon seeing a shoebox containing gifts from Grandma: “Cool! Rockports!”

Phil: “Oh no. She’s going to ask me to throw her ashes in the pope’s face!”

Cam: “I’m gay.”
Older Lady: “Do you know my son?”
Cam: “About this tall? Dark hair, circumcised?”

Frank: “We [your grandmother and I] got hammered, then came back and made our own fireworks.”
Alex: “Grandpa!”
Frank: “It was just a couple of glowsticks and a slingshot in the backyard, which led to some pretty memorable lovemaking.”

Frank: “Everything sticks together here.”

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Mad Men: Week 6 in Review

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: Don Draper seems to be on the brink of losing it entirely. The scummy way he basically peer-pressured Ted into drinking at the level and speed of his immensely high-functioning alcoholism was sickening and slimy. The absolutely bizarre verbal manifestation of Don’s subconscious view of the purpose of “his” women would make Sacher-Masoch blush. His absolute self-absorption and disorientation during his sex games with Sylvia and after she tells him its over put Don in an immensely compromising position. His return home to Megan and her announcing that they should take another trip brings us back to the suicidal undertones of Don’s tagline for Sheraton in episode one of this season, after he returns from Hawaii. What does this all mean?

What makes this episode so unique, but also so disturbing (yet cathartic), is the fact that everyone seems to be seeing right through Don’s games. Yet, whether or not they see through them is irrelevant to how it affects the way that they act towards him. When Don comes into Ted’s office and starts brainstorming for margarine, Ted seems to be giving off this strange sense of enjoyment in Don’s destructive visit. It feels pleasurable to be the object of Don’s focus, and there follows a desire to please Don and give him what he wants, no matter the consequences. Ted understands what is happening to him. He knows the liquor is strong and numbing, and for that moment there is a connection with the charismatic, elusive Don Draper. Similarly with Sylvia, she knows what he is doing to her is crazy and demeaning, but there is a sense of excitement for her being a “kept” (well, imprisoned) woman. Even when she seems to suspect that this is not just a role play sexual fantasy and that this is what Don really wants from her, she indulges it, because after all there is gratification in knowing you are giving someone what they want. And then it becomes too much. By taking her book when he leaves for his trip with Ted, Don is forcing her into a total state of both physical and mental servitude, where she can’t do anything but think about him and rest up for when he returns wanting more.  But unlike Ted, Sylvia puts her foot down, saying she feels ashamed, and exits Don’s life. His desperate, slightly tearful “Please?” hoping she will stay gives us a window into Don’s soul as he grasps at some semblance of power, dominance, and stability. Peggy is the only one who sees through Don’s games and tells him off to his face, distinguishing her once more as a totally different kind of person that he must deal with, but unfortunately for him she has always been able to put him back in his place.

Are we going to find out what Bob Benson’s deal is soon, because I can’t find any reason to dislike him and it’s scaring me. There is always some reason not to like every single character on this show (yes, even Joan, but she wears bitchy well, so it’s not really a flaw), and Bob Benson seems almost too generous, too self-sacrificing, too good to be true. When he took Joan to the emergency room and got her in to see a doctor with some quick thinking and a white lie, my heart skipped a beat. Can this guy be for real? No one seems to like him very much, and everyone says his kindness is overstepping some major boundaries. Is it because people fear him? He might be a good soul, and hence very dangerous in the corrupt Madison Avenue bubble. What do we have to fear? My curiosity is piqued. Watch him end up being the real “man with a plan.”

NAVA BRAHE: I am so glad Sonia chose to reference Venus in Furs when comparing Don’s halfhearted attempt at dominating Sylvia, instead of the vastly more pedestrian Fifty Shades of Grey. That being said, I, too, was completely horrified by how he treated Sylvia during their tryst gone awry at the Sherry Netherland hotel. That entire storyline illustrated just how twisted Don Draper is. He becomes more unhinged with every episode, yet only a select few are able to see through his façade. Right now, that group includes Sylvia, and ironically, Peggy, who does not seem all that excited to be back in the SCDP fold. Her time away from Don was a period of significant growth for her, and I think she realizes that being back under his thumb is a huge step backward in her career.

In terms of backwards and forwards, I can’t help but think about how this will all end for Don Draper. It’s becoming quite clear (at least to me), that Matthew Weiner is setting him up for a Tony Soprano-esque ending. Remember what Tony said to Dr. Melfi: “There’s only two endings for a guy like me: dead or in jail.”

Once again, the fates are intent on crapping all over Pete. His marriage is over, his career is teetering on the brink of disaster, and now his mother turns up with a rather inconvenient case of dementia. Unlike Don, Pete does not land on his feet every time things go wrong. Yet, he manages to pull himself up and deal with whatever is thrown in his path. Pete and Don are quite similar in that they both don’t have strong family ties to get them through the rough patches, but at least we are given a glimpse of Pete’s humanity, rather than watching him attempt to sweep it aside with alcohol and subjugation. Even a bumpy plane ride can’t ruffle Don’s feathers. If it was Pete in the passenger seat of Ted’s plane, he would have been projectile vomiting all over the windshield.

With five episodes left in this season, it is safe to say that Mad Men has gone from intriguing, to the quintessential train wreck we are unable to tear our eyes away from. Each episode has taken on that “what now?” aura, in which a character like Bob Benson can be viewed as enigmatic, instead of just a genuinely nice guy. There too, I must agree with Sonia, he is most likely not what he seems.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Generally, I like to cover different aspects of the show than the two of you. But this week, I’d like to expand on a pair of observations you made.

Sonia, is it possible that no one on the show likes Bob Benson precisely because his decency is so at odds with the rest of the characters? Seems quite possible to me. Of course, I think it is also quite possible that everything he does is in a desire to get ahead, from his comical attempts to get to know Don and Pete earlier this year, to his treatment of Joan. And the ancillary benefits of getting closer to Joan cannot be escaping Bob: they are as plain as… let’s be polite and say the smile on her face. Still, one of the most successful aspects of Mad Men is the extent to which Matthew Weiner allows his characters to experience, and respond to events, for complicated, sometimes diametrically opposed reasons, instead of a more common television formulation of “event plus single emotion = new emotion”.

As for Nava’s point that Pete doesn’t always end up back on his feet: doesn’t he, though? This particular punishment is spectacular, and seeing Pete at the residence he schemed to buy as a place to keep his mistresses, taking care of his mother, is the kind of karmic payoff Weiner gives us pretty regularly on this show. (That Trudy understood precisely what he was doing, as we found out earlier this season, was another.) But Pete is an indispensable part of the agency. He managed to try to blackmail Don Draper and still kept moving up many moons ago. He got Peggy pregnant. Does Pete ever pay? Not that I can see.

The same has largely, but not entirely, been true for Don. And the double dose of reality late, Sylvia getting out of the hotel room, and Ted flying the plane as Don holds on, green, should make for an entirely different set of circumstances for Don to make his next few choices.

Oh, and if the show had just been an hour of Roger firing Burt Peterson, no complaints.

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Mad Men: Week 5 in Review

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: In what certainly reads as the strongest episode of the season so far, “For Immediate Release” leaves us in this strange limbo of excitement, catharsis, and confusion. Did Don seriously just merge SCDP and CGC without telling anyone, except for a bewildered Peggy? What is this going to do for Peggy, who felt very triumphant and happy moving on from being under Don’s supervision? And can we talk about that kiss between Peggy and Ted (that we could totally see coming)? And Pete falling down the stairs, then seeing his father-in-law at the whore house? Where to begin?

Probably with Joan’s reaction to hearing that the Jaguar account was dropped. I’m sorry, I know you’re not supposed to do this, but can you imagine what she must be feeling at that announcement? Hendricks shows her signature “I am keeping it together but I want to smash something” performance with Joan, but instead of a fierce, yet brooding disappointment in her situation, this reaction manifests in a biting anger towards Don. Her voice changes from the creamy Marilyn Monroe breathiness to a deeper, broken tone behind which are floodgates of tears that she has been keeping back for a very long time. I can’t help but notice that her most contentious moments with Don in the past two seasons have involved her clad in deep shades of turquoise and emerald when he visits her apartment after she sleeps with Herb and she puts on the green robe, the sunny turquoise dress when she waltzes into the office the next day and gives Don the “Don’t you dare judge me” stare,” and now, in a dark grey-ish green. These are cool, soothing colors but similarly they have a boldness to them against her pale skin and red hair. She stands out, she always has. In a moment when one would think she would not want attention placed on her with Don’s announcement, she takes the reins to give it right back to Don, no longer placid and meditating on issues that she is just realizing are in her control. By giving it back to her (oblivious and self-serving) partner, she makes her voice heard and her opinions known on an issue that was handled awkwardly and inconsiderately for the past two seasons. I am proud of Joan, and I am eager to see her push back a little more, because her immense eloquence, poise, and passion might be the change that creates a very different company.

Joan accuses Don of never saying “we,” and then suddenly he jumps into the merger with CGC, transitioning with the line to Ted, “‘We.’ That’s interesting.” I don’t quite know how to read Don’s merger with Ted at CGC, even though it makes perfect sense and is intensely exciting to watch. However, something under all of this begs the question of whether this is just a forced circumstance to create some much needed conflict that will keep the show going. I recently re-watched Season One of “Mad Men” and was blown away by how different it felt from what we are watching now. Of course that’s the point, and of course characters transition and change over the course of seven years, but the immense elegance with which conflict unfolded was one of the defining factors of the series until more and more chaos began to filter in. It now feels like conflict is very loud, and very angry, and incredibly disruptive in a way that is exhausting (and hence brilliant in a way of creating a dramatic empathy from the audience to the characters). Is this merger just a plot twist, or is this genuinely something that will make this show more complex and interesting? Or both?

Something tells me that Peggy and Abe are not going to last the season. Abe was gorgeous before he began with the Frank Zappa look, and it seems that his “vibe,” so to speak, is clashing with Peggy’s success. The thing is I like Abe a lot, he’s a good guy, but it seems that Peggy is going back and forth between seeing a solid future with him and seeing him as a transitional “Mr. Right Now” instead of Mr. Right. Peggy has had her fair share of sexual tension at the office throughout the series, and maybe that speaks to a desire for her to consume the success she sees around her daily, but I think her success is taking her to places in her career where Abe just doesn’t fit with the way she wants to be seen and respected. Peggy’s ability to adapt in all kinds of environments from 1960s counterculture to the grind of Madison Avenue is both a blessing and a curse. This talent is what makes Peggy such a fascinating character.

NAVA BRAHE: I have to agree with Sonia about this being the strongest episode of the season. The rapid-fire upheaval that included Don jettisoning Jaguar and it’s slimy representative, and the spur-of-the-moment merger, made it the most compelling to date.

I’d like to discuss Roger’s role in all the goings-on, because for some reason I cannot quite put my finger on, I found his rejuvenated ambition quite charming. Even though his caper is comprised of sleeping with a cute first class lounge hostess, the cheekiness with which he has re-embraced his role at SCDP is irresistibly amusing. I loved the scene where he was shining his own shoes in his office, before heading out to the airport. Plus, the serendipity of meeting Mikey the Chevy guy and the spontaneous trip to Detroit made me pea-green with envy. If only we could all have jobs that involved getting crucial tips from people like cocktail waitresses, instead of more nefarious individuals, like, say, stockbrokers. It would be fun to watch Roger continue to farm more business from the airport lounge, but I’m sure this was a one-off storyline that has run its course.

The storyline that struck the deepest chord with me, however, was Pete’s unfortunate run-in with his father-in-law at the brothel. Despite his own indiscretion, Pete was positive that his father-in-law had much more to lose than he did. Instead, Pete underestimated the power of the father-daughter relationship, and was blindsided by his father-in-law’s yanking of the Vick’s account as a preemptive strike. Freud would have been so proud of the “my daughter is a princess” proclamation, and Trudy’s refusal to believe that her father was consorting with a prostitute. Just as we thought she was ready to let Pete back into her life full-time, Trudy now seems determined to remove him from it completely. Poor guy; it just goes to show you that two wrongs don’t equal a right, and that some women never cease being “daddy’s little girl.” Moreover, despite the deception, the familial loyalty between Trudy and her father is something Pete cannot comprehend. He never experienced it in his own family, and it has had a profound effect on his behavior as a husband and father.

One detail in the episode has me a bit confused: the depiction of Peggy and Abe’s upper West Side apartment does not seem credible. Could someone please tell me if the west side of Manhattan was really that decrepit in the late 60s? The human “poo on the staircase” bit and the exaggerated shabbiness of the place don’t seem to ring true. Yes, the west side has always been more bohemian than the east side, but come on…Was the Dakota a dump before John and Yoko moved in?







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Modern Family: Season 4, Episode 22 – “My Hero”

KIP MOONEY: By confining the families to one location, Modern Family exponentially increases its success of having multiple stories gel. My most frequent complaint is that Modern Family always feels like every character has to be involved in some way, lest a cast member get jealous or a fan ask, “What happened to that person?” because our attention spans are so small now.

But placing everyone in the skating rink, having a blast with Mitch’s ex, was the source of endless comedy gold that all felt conducive to the larger narrative, even as Alex gets a flirting lesson or Claire rejects her father’s job offer.

The gang’s all here for a fundraiser thrown by Teddy, Mitch’s frighteningly perfect ex-boyfriend, “The Big One Before Cam.” We all have that ex, the one responsible for the tough break-up before the love of our lives came along. But I doubt many of them are still friends, especially not to the point where the whole family still hangs out. But it’s impossible not to love Teddy, who’s uncommonly kind, smart and handsome. Of course, this brings out the dormant prima donna in Cam, who asks by not asking Mitch to have the whole family break up with Teddy.

Our big emotional scene comes courtesy of Jay, whose heart-to-heart scenes always tend to care a little more heft. I think that’s because, like our parents or grandparents, it’s probably hardest for him to show true emotion. When he tells Cam that it’s Teddy who could never compete with him, that it’s Teddy who never made Mitch smile, it’s incredibly touching.

Yet what I enjoyed the most about this episode was how weird it got, with the creepy concession stand worker trying to make a move on Claire, or Phil giddily skating with his pants around his ankles. It’s those little moments that show this show will never stay on cruise control, even if it puts it on for an episode or two.

Manny: “I’m worried about you drinking wine while babysitting my little brother.”
Claire: “Well, it was from an open bottle in your fridge.”
Manny: “It’s about judgment. This isn’t the ’70s, Claire.”

Phil, excited for the limbo: “How low can you go?”
Haley: “I’m at a roller rink with my family on a Saturday night. I win.”

Cam: “I worked my fingers to the bone to get these jumpy Protestants to like me.”

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