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Author Archives: Sonia Brand-Fisher
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.
NAVA BRAHE: Although I agree with everything 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.
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. Continue reading
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.
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. Continue reading
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.”
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 continued to languish in a bad marriage.
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. Continue reading
SONIA BRAND-FISHER: A much anticipated episode of “Mad Men” begins and ends with balconies, one of our characters looking at them from inside a potential apartment, and one out on one looking over New York. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. is tackled in this episode with that same disorientation and strength as was the JFK assassination in Season Three. The reactions from Pete, Don, Dawn, Megan, Peggy, Betty, and Henry show a range of emotions teetering on the edge of a very real understanding of the world they live in, but not quite able to process the very real implications of a society that would destroy such an influential and inspirational leader.
NAVA BRAHE: After watching “The Flood,” I am convinced there will never be another television show that will accurately depict human emotional responses better than Mad Men. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, as experienced by a bunch of self-absorbed white people, could not have been more timely, as Sonia pointed out, so soon after this latest period of national turmoil. Continue reading
SONIA BRAND-FISHER: As a long-time viewer of “Mad Men,” witnessing this show’s hypocrisy and cheating, (professionally or sexually) should not phase me as much as this episode did. “To Have and to Hold” is a very fitting title for this examination of possession, success, and pursuit. Aside from having the strongest urge to yank off Harry Crane’s pretentious little sideburns, this episode really made me feel extremely angry and tired. To use one of my favorite Joan quotes: Mad Men, “you have gone from lubricated to morose.”
NAVA BRAHE: Thank you, Sonia, for reminding me about Rachel Menken. It is maddening to witness Don’s sexual attraction to women who challenge him, juxtaposed with his hypocritical treatment of the women he has chosen to marry. I’ve always hated the concept of the “trophy” wife for that very reason: the women on the arms of successful men are merely decoration, while they have to find solace in the arms of women who are already spoken for.
SONIA BRAND-FISHER: You know, for a finale to such an amazing season, this definitely fell short for me. The highlights of the final episode of “Downton Abbey” this season were none of the gigantic and lame plot twists, but were the small moments. Bates and Anna’s picnic. Rose grabbing Anna when it was time to dance the reel. Thomas and James at the beginning of what hopefully will be “a beautiful friendship.” Carson carrying baby Sybil. Cora getting choked up talking about revolutionary, modern daughters. Mrs. Pattmore and Mrs. Hughes sharing a spot of tea and laughing over presumptuous grocers. But throughout the entire episode, it felt like little tiny mounds of conflict were being made over sticks of dynamite that just kept being added to and added to as the episode went on, and one by one they exploded, awkwardly, with some piles still in tact for next season.
NAVA BRAHE: Well, there we have it: Matthew has been conveniently killed off in the spirit of high drama that occurs on the most commonplace of soap operas. I must admit that it was a huge disappointment for me as well, and I agree with Howard that “Downton Abbey” has likely “jumped the shark” with Dan Stevens’ departure.
SONIA BRAND-FISHER: This week’s double dose of “Downton Abbey” was one of the best episodes (well, technically two best) that I have seen this season. Minus the pointlessness of Cousin Rose (seriously, I don’t want to know what they’re going to do with her thoroughly obnoxious character) despite introducing us awkwardly to the fabulous underground party world of London in the 1920s, many very interesting story points were introduced. Characters often stuck in their ways proved to have more complexity than their starched exteriors often allow. Relationships developed and grew with a surprising level of intimacy, trust, and knowledge. And finally, we got to see Carson playing cricket. With so much to possibly focus on in this episode, I’m going to tackle a few points that I have been particularly interested in all season.
NAVA BRAHE: Since Sonia tackled the Thomas issue in such depth, all I will add is that Lord Grantham’s admission of having to rebuff what sounded like countless advances from his Eton classmates, sounded rather hollow. You would think that a man of his standing would be more homophobic than he was portrayed, especially given his resistance to change.
HOWARD MEGDAL: I think of Cousin Rose as the lone blemish on an otherwise delightful Downton Abbey. Julian Fellowes has birthed many characters we adore; indeed, it is their company I believe so many of us who watch Downton Abbey are seeking out, not some new plot twist. Continue reading
NAVA BRAHE: Oh, the poor Crawley family. The fact that they had to make a show of it by keeping the stereotypical stiff upper lip in the face of Sybil’s death really got under my skin. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a little keening or wailing under the circumstances: a 24 year-old girl is struck down in the prime of her life, leaving behind a grieving husband, family, and a newborn child (not to mention a houseful of well-meaning servants) who will never her know her, is deserving of some screaming, crying, and the flinging of breakable objects. Then again, I am not British, and I am sometimes known to wear my heart on my sleeve. Of course, in the best of British families, behavior like I just described would lead to banishment in the attic. Or, to one of the attics if you reside at Downton.
SONIA BRAND-FISHER: In echoing Nava’s observation of the emotional constipation of this episode, I found the stiffness in the days following Sybil’s death to be just fascinating to watch. Frustrating, of course, also from an American perspective, but at the same time I can completely imagine the benefits of holding one’s self together for the moment, then on one’s own, in a safe place, letting it all out. But the moments of letting down their emotional guards seemed to speak volumes. Elizabeth McGovern as Cora (probably because she, along with Branson, is not keeping it together for the sake of appearances as well as Lord Grantham or Ladies Mary and Edith) is becoming the most interesting character to watch for me. The intensity of her gaze at Dr. Clarkson in the Dowager Countess’s parlor was numbing and beautiful, punctuated by her mutual breakdown with Lord Grantham at realizing Sybil’s death could not have been prevented. It was a solid moment of emotional breakthrough for the two of them which, in recalling previous seasons having gone through it all from affairs to miscarriages to potentially fatal illness, puts them once more back together as a couple who truly loves each other.
HOWARD MEGDAL: We tend to agree on these episodes broadly, so I’m surprised that I took so much more pleasure from this episode than any other this season, or apparently, than the two of you. Continue reading
SONIA BRAND-FISHER: In the still relatively new season of “Downton Abbey,” we get an episode so full of sorrow, confusion, and woe that it feels, like tragedy, so out of the blue. Sybil was my favorite of the Crawley sisters, and her relationship with Branson was in turn one of my favorite love stories. Her death felt like one of a dear but distant friend, whom you have always loved and admired and who always gave so much with every decision and every action she made. The glee with which she displayed her turquoise harem pants to her shocked family in Season 1 will never be forgotten, and will always be my favorite moment at Downton. A woman “at the height of her happiness”departs from this world and leaves behind all that she has been so important in anchoring.
NAVA BRAHE: I could not possibly add anything to Sonia’s description of the events leading up to, and following Sybil’s death. What I would like to tackle, however, is what this portrayal of a young woman’s demise in childbirth means outside the bubble of popular culture.
HOWARD MEGDAL: I, too, wouldn’t have done well with corsets, Nava. You are not alone. Continue reading
NAVA BRAHE: Lady Mary is becoming as annoying to me as someone flushing the toilet while I am taking a shower. Now that Matthew has “invested” in Downton, she seems to have become more uptight, rather than relieved by the fact that her ancestral home and lavish lifestyle are no longer in limbo. The scene in the newly commandeered sitting room was telling, when her dismissive attitude reared its ugly head at the thought of becoming pregnant. Now that Matthew has cemented his position as both heir and savior of Downton, of course he wants offspring of his own. Is Mary afraid there won’t be enough funds to hire the army of nannies she would require to rear her children?
SONIA BRAND-FISHER: One of the major criticisms that this show has received is its supposed glorification of the upper classes with a seemingly complacent attitude from the servants. Though I can see where these critics are coming from, I have always defended “Downton Abbey” saying that the commentary on the British class system is subtle and not overbearing, but ever present. Episode Three, however, seemed to address these issues of class head on. As Nava stated, the Branson/Sybil plotline meshing with the Ethel tragedy provided the loudest roar I have ever heard from “downstairs.” I sincerely hope episodes with intricacies like these continue this season, because I am growing very tired of Mary’s icy demeanor and incessant snobbishness.
HOWARD MEGDAL: Agree with both Nava and Sonia that this is a dramatic improvement on last week; Julian Fellowes, at last, takes some time from racing through plot and allows the complicated characters in Downton time to breathe. Remembering Season 1, when luxuriating in their presence was the overriding pleasure of the show, would do Fellowes good as he plans future episodes. Continue reading