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?

 

 

 

 

 

HOWARD MEGDAL:

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