Signal to noise.

I’m reading enjoying this new season of Mad Men – no surprise, that – but I especially enjoyed the most current episode, “Signal 30.”

Easily one of this show’s “instaclassics,” right? Pretty much on par with last season’s “The Suitcase.”

It especially fascinated me because it was a Pete-centric episode, especially since Pete was always my least favorite character. For the first season, he was the show’s villain du jour around the office, and his whole personality was always designed for you to love how much you hate him. Plus, I despised the actor by association of his character on Angel. And yet Pete is one of the realest depictions of what it’s like to work in an office like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and try to stand beside the towering monolith of all things awesome which is Don Draper and try to survive with the comparison.

I think once upon a time Peggy was also that character for us, young and hungry, trying to learn from Don and become like him, to become something in the advertising industry in the 60s, to be admired by peers and to leave the office each day with some self worth, but I think that’s beyond Peggy now. Or, rather, Peggy is beyond that. I think the show’s done a pretty good job now at showing that whatever Peggy’s destiny is, it’s not to become the next Don Draper. It’s to become something different, something new in the changing world that Mad Men teeters on the brink of.

And then there’s Pete. And Lane. Two guys who will always be fish out of water, who work hard, but can’t shake the fact that they feel they’re owed some other kind of respect. There’s struggles and there’s loneliness and there’s a lot of stabs in the dark at connections with people that ultimately fail. And then there’s the loneliness again, and the passage of time and the moments that always slip away. This show is so good at showing at time is always moving, always getting away from you.

There’s an expression that I always used to hear as a kid (far too much, in fact) that went like this: “God always answers your prayers, but He does so in the order in which they’re received.” Once upon a time, Don Draper’s confident, self-assured life looked perfect to Pete. The wife, the kids, the suburbs. Pete went out and got that for himself, without taking the time to appreciate it, and now it feels even lonelier. Don’s happy little life slipped away from him and he found himself another one.

And again all Pete can do is look over there, angry and envious, feeling as if he has nothing, and therefore is nothing.

The only thing I think that Pete Campbell/Theon Greyjoy wants to be more than Don Draper is not himself.

He’s a guy from a family that once had privilege, but they gave it all away. Probably because they figured that they were sitting on an endless supply of it. Sadly, Pete inherited a lot of that thinking. And now he’s either out there, acting without thinking, trying to claim what he feels should have always been his, or he’s left alone, so alone, sitting on top of a mountain of thoughts about how everything should be is and yet, somehow, is not.

There’s something just amazing about this past episode to me. The rhythmic moving of the teenage girl’s sandaled feet, keeping in time with the dripping of the kitchen faucet that haunts Pete, keeping in time with the ticking of the clock. There’s a man on a clocktower picking off pregnant women with a rifle, and Pete’s life is mired with echoes and ghosts, all visible but intangible, all tasting of ash.

And his former enemy, Ken Cosgrove, having himself surrendered in their rivalry, and somehow still doing better and happier with a successful career as a sci fi writer and married to TV’s Alex Mack. Kenny Cosgrove turns his dinners into drinks and he still finds time to write about robots who repair bridges, and meanwhile neither Lane nor Pete can maintain the ones they hope to link them to their fellow men. How can Pete learn to drive if everywhere he’d drive to is the same old shit that he brings himself wherever he goes? How much more irony and neat little metaphors can be packed in here?

I could go on and on, but bottom line: It was good. The episode had a sort of mesmerizing quality about it. The noble sadness of the normal guy, who is doomed to never appreciate what he has and something, something, something about a dog with two bones. Nice direction by John Slattery and an excellent script co-written by the writer of Dog Day Afternoon and Cool Hand Luke, I chuckled when I heard “Ode To Joy” playing.

Just like this season of Game Of Thrones continues it’s not too subtle quest to define power and where it comes from, the characters of Mad Men are just struggling to keep a little of it for themselves. Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future. They keep foreshadowing the death of Don Draper, which, in Mad Men language, I presume, will mean that someone close to Don will die this season rather than Don himself. No one wants to see Don Draper dead but we’d all like to see Don Draper deal with a loss so close to home, or so work, or to wherever his interior self lies.

So much of Game Of Thrones‘ story lays in its past, but the TV show nor the books (I’m only like 200 or so pages into the third book so careful on the spoilers, please) want to go back there. Mad Men will do flashbacks, sparingly, but it’s just to show you how much can change in so little time. The point of both shows is the same: This train is not stopping. It only goes faster. And we’re heading into the future.

One minute your dad is the Hand of the King and the next minute he’s getting his head chopped off and the sons of bitches all have crossbows pointed at you.

One minute every thing is fine and dandy at the whorehouse a few blocks from here and then the next a life, a marriage, and the hopes at landing that contracted are ruined by some bubblegum found on the pubis and we can only settle this one way…

Like men. In the medieval ways that we think men are supposed to act.

It’s hard to put one foot in front of the other when you have no idea where you’re going and no idea what you want out of the journey.

Return to Tomorrowland.

Mad Men finally returns tomorrow!

About fucking time, right? Bring on the cure for the common television show.

All I know about tomorrow’s episode is that it’s two hours long and supposedly called “A Little Kiss.” Other than that, I’ve maintained a blissful sense of being unaware… What will year will the show be in when it returns? Will Don have finally married his secretary, or even still be married to her? What will be up with Peggy, and Pete, and the rest of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? Will Joan’s husband have been killed in Vietnam yet? And, sigh, what will be the state of Betty Draper?

Those, of course, are just a few of the burning questions. And oh, how they burn.

I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, not yet anyway. And I guess you could say that I’m ready to be hit over the head here.

Until then though, this is talking about some previous Mad Men episodes and other Mad Men Mania:

Tomorrowland.”

The intoxicating weirdness of Jon Hamm.

Christmas Comes But Once A Year.”

Public Relations.”

The timeless wisdom of Marshall McLuhan.

Shut The Door. Have A Seat.”

The Dream Of The Fisherman’s Wife and the art fetish of Burt Cooper.

The Grown-Ups.”

The Gypsy And The Hobo.”

The Color Blue.”

Wee Small Hours.”

…and many, many more.

Anyway, we’ll definitely be watching tomorrow. And we assume you will too. See you in the future.

I Got You Babe.

There’s no such thing as fresh starts because lives are always going on, or is there? Or are they? I don’t know, but I do know that you can always go home again, as long as your ex-wife hasn’t sold it, because it’s where the heart is (and perhaps where the head is not). That and maybe more as we talk about last night’s “Tomorrowland,” the season finale of Mad Men

August Bravo: No matter what we thought, well, maybe a little, or what we thought the writers might have thought, this episode, and season for that matter, was about Don Draper, or as some know him, Dick. Lives, businesses, relationships, friendships, and all those other ships we thought were sinking, didn’t. Like Marco told me earlier, this finale wasn’t as upbeat as last season’s. It showed slim promise and some possibilities, but didn’t leave you thinking, “What the fuck is going to happen next?”

Marco: Well, I’d definitely say it leaves you wondering what happens next, but more so than usual, I think you can guess what’s going to happen next and you’re worried that it may not be so great for the characters. Don, especially.

August: Don’s somewhat “redemption” was almost completely omitted from this episode making everyone believe that crises was averted or that it may play a role in his probably inevitable divorce with Megan. Is it Megan?

Marco: “Megan… out there?” as Roger puts it so perfectly. As Joan says, Don’s grinning like an idiot, as if he’s the first schmuck on Madison Avenue/in professional New York/the world to marry his secretary, but having Roger be surprised adds a very special symmetry, especially since Don’s pulling a Roger there, and it’s kind of weird.

Can you imagine the Don Draper version of Sterling’s Gold?

August: The somewhat reference that the rest of the cast ACTUALLY exists was finding out, which we thought we knew, but thought it might be too obvious, but I guess wasn’t, was that…

…Joan is in fact still pregnant.

Marco: I love that Mad Men is such a unique show that amongst it’s many other wonderful qualities, still has it’s own rhythms and ways of going about the rules of storytelling, counter to other popular ideas about narrative. There is a certain pattern you can expect from each season, we’ve finally learned, isn’t there?

It’s usually: The season starts with some intriguing signs of where the characters have landed since the previous season. Intriguing ideas and/or questions are brought up. Should they actually answer those questions, it’ll be in a relatively vague though still meaningful way. That question, which literally started off this season was: Who the fuck is Don Draper? We’ve gotten a multi-faceted answer to that, certainly.

From there, certain problems and dramatic conflicts will arise around mid-season. They’ll seem massive – Oh no, the government is about to discover that Don Draper is a liar and a deserter! – but will fizzle quickly, leaving you curious as to their placement at all. Certain things will pop up, which will make you suspect where the story is going – did Joan actually not get that abortion? – but you’ll think, “No, that’s far too obvious. They won’t go there.” They will, friends. Then, whatever the endgame of the season is, it won’t appear until the last two or three episodes and it will be an all consuming fire.

August: Except for Megan. That carrot was dangled in front of us and we’ve just been waiting for Don to take bite after bite after bite.

Marco: True. It’s funny how we believe certain things from this show. When Dr. Faye said to Don that he’s the kind of guy that would be married again within the year, I think we all believed that.

Though, of course, I don’t think I stand alone when I say that we hoped that it would be Dr. Faye that we hoped Don would end up with, or that she’d be the kind of partner he’d strive to find happiness with. The fact that she’s a feminist and someone who has pushed Don to accept himself, and possibly integrate his two personas as it were, didn’t hurt. She’s helped his business, helped his mind, and helped his soul, as it were, yet there’s certain things she couldn’t provide Don that seemed to really make him look elsewhere.

August: She couldn’t be a caregiver to his children while he was off doing whatever he wanted to. She’s the anti-Betty.

Marco: That and she couldn’t worship him the way Megan seemingly can. Plus, I think that as much as Don wants to be able to stop hiding and stop running from the spectre of Dick Whitman, a part of him enjoys the lies that come with the running and hiding. Don Draper is the greatest product he’s ever advertised, and with Megan, he can find a fresh start at that.

August: But Henry Francis says there are no fresh starts!

Marco: I can’t believe that Henry Francis has lingered this whole season.

Sadly, we’ve really dropped the ball this season, August and I, because there’s so much we could say about this episode, so much that needs to be said, but it all ties into this past season and that’s a dialogue that I’m incredibly sad that we haven’t had here at Counterforce. On behalf of us and directed at the three people who actually reads these Mad Men posts from us, I apologize. I had some shit going on and August didn’t have cable. And refused to buy the episodes on itunes. And couldn’t figure out megavideo.

from here.

August: You just knew where it was all going once Stephanie handed Don that engagement ring from the real Don Draper.

Marco: Oh, seriously. Chekhov might as well have come out to California with Don and the kids and fired that ring out of a gun right at Megan.

It’s funny that I posted this picture from Videogum the other day…

…and sadly it came so true, in a lot of ways, since we’re speaking of Megan and Dr. Faye and Sally and… Well, have we mentioned Sally yet? Cause if we haven’t, we should be talking about Sally this season, right?

August: We haven’t mentioned her yet.

from here.

Marco: Sally! I believe I kept mentioning in our conversations about the show last year how much I liked Sally’s character, how interesting I thought her storylines were, and I feel like that’s only been compounded on more wonderfully this season. Bobby’s still kind of useless, but I’m glad that Sally has really stepped forward and is becoming a real person, even at such a young age, though, again, it’ll be interesting to watch her grow into herself and who she’s going to be while still being the child of Don and Betty Draper.

Anyway, so that once picture: Sally telling Dr. Faye that she’s fired. Ha ha, funny. But kind of eerily prescient in a way, considering that episode, “The Beautiful Girls,” when I know that a lot of people read that one scene there, Benjamin Light included, as Sally kind of picking Megan out of the rest of the “beautiful girls” that surround her father. And maybe Don picked up on that.

I mean, we knew Don wanted to fuck Megan. That notion was exploding louder than bombs for a handful of episodes before it happened, but this picture from Videogum

…is kind of funny for how very accurate it had become.

August: I can’t write too much about this episode because in my head I’m still processing how to feel about it all. The bit I particularly enjoyed the most was Don telling Peggy that Megan(??) looked up to her, and had the same sort of spark, and Peggy being completely jealous. Maybe Peggy will be wife number 3 (or is it number 4??) Her childlike jealousy really made this episode. To see Don slowly turning into Roger (maaaaybe), or to see the evolution of Betty, and I guess Peggy’s, unhappiness/jealousy, or maybe Megan’s (yes, it is Megan) slow transition into the life of being Mrs. Draper/Whitman will be the most interesting thing to watch next season.

Marco: I don’t trust Megan. Well, no, that’s not true. But she’s very manipulative. And Jessica Paré is, I think, very good at playing that so subtly. Megan’s incredibly smart, but dumb and silly in all those ways that a 25 year old would seem or should see to a 40 year old man who should know better – though Don has two addictions in his life: women and the sauce - but it’s not hard to see the way she’s worked the situation with Don to her advantage.

That’s not particularly insidious because all stabs at romance are some form of manipulation, if you think about it, no matter how well intentioned and wholesome they seem. But she’s told Don exactly what he needs or wants to hear, especially that she doesn’t care about his past, just who he is now. For a man who’s finally started to accept that he has all his life ahead of him, what he really wants to do is live in the now. Especially with a girl like Megan, who seems to adore him, but I think will be much better at getting what she wants or deserves than Betty was.

Maybe this really will be “happily ever after” for Don, but I doubt it. But really, it’s not the happily ever after I would’ve picked for this character. I suspect that he’s traded in one “lost weekend” phase for perhaps another? But let’s face it, Don’s not a guy who will get a classical happily ever after, is he? He’s too prone to a life of solemn remorse.

That said, I would disagree with your take on Peggy. Jealousy? Maybe. But I think that was a very, very small part of that look she gave Don. I think if we could’ve heard her thoughts or seen them in a comic book word bubble floating over her head, they would’ve read as: ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? HER?! HUH? WHAT?

But Peggy’s defined her life by Don to a lot of degrees. She has, in her own small way, just saved the agency by finally signing some new business, no matter how small, and here’s Don, her mentor, running around like an idiot. And his comment to Peggy about how Megan reminds him a lot of her is the ultimate slap in the face for a great many reasons. For a season that contained the show’s best episode, “The Suitcase,” in which Don and Peggy finally bond in kind of a real way, it was kind of hard to watch their interaction this year end like this.

But, that scene with Joan and Peggy immediately after was perfect. A Joan/Peggy show? I’d watch that. I hope that next season shows those two really claiming some of the power around SCDP (or will it just be SDP?) that they more than rightfully deserve.

August: I think this season had a lot of ups and downs, but mostly ups. Overwhelmingly ups. Like I said, the storyline I’m most interested in for the next year is the stuff with Don and Megan, should Don and Megan really work out. They didn’t leave us with a lot of answers this season, but we maybe that’s because we were all asking too many questions.

Marco: I think you’re right about that. The status quo’s been changed, some things and people are gone, and some are still with us, just amplified. We think we’re ready for what tomorrow will bring, but we have no idea. Just like Don there, we’re laying awake in the dark with a near stranger sleeping beside us as stare out at the night.

The cure for the common television show.

Mad linkage:

John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe (and hopefully teaming up with young Abe Lincoln to hunt vampires).

Obama urges Americans to “turn the page” on Iraq.

Bill Compton as Doctor Doom and either Jack Bauer or John McClane as the Thing.

Jon Hamm: “If Rob Lowe had been cast in the part, it would have been different. There was no backstory with me.”

An interesting write up on Phonogram: The Singles Club.

Behind the “Frazenfreude.”

Stephen Hawking changes his views on God.

Just imagine this: An 80 hour Lost marathon.

5 mind blowing ways that your memory plays tricks on you.

5 UFO sightings that even non-crazy people find creepy.

5 stupidest ways that movies deal with foreign languages.

6 famous unsolved mysteries (that have totally been solved).

January Jones: “I need not to think about my character. Betty is so blissfully ignorant in certain ways, so I feel like I should be too.”

Speaking of Arcade Fire: Their new collab with Google folks, The Wilderness Downtown.

A cannibal restaurant in Berlin. Figures.

Laura Marling’s award-nominated love triangle.

Self-described CIA assassin dies in ([accidental] self-imposed) gun accident.

Some of these pictures are, of course, from Rolling Stone, which will be featuring Mad Men on the cover of their new issue. Great idea. Bad photoshopping on that cover though.

And, I tell ya, August and I have really missed doing our Mad Men write ups the past few episodes, especially since, as far as I’m concerned, this has been the show’s strongest season yet, but on the plus side, it’s probably spared you an incredible amount of Nora Zehetner photos that I would’ve just bombarded you with…

Seriously.

Creepy artificial arm from the 1800s.

Peter Travers talks with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Weezer’s just trying to sell some clothes and Cee-Lo says “Fuck You.”

Is Barnes & Noble really going bye bye?

Blah blah blah bedbugs.

The Bloom Box: A power plant the size of a coffee mug.

Why do hurricanes often curve out to sea?

There’s some NSFW happening in the new Conan movie.

One year after Disney bought Marvel: Not much has really changed.

The perilous profession of underground mining.

Wormholes in NYC.

I honestly can’t believe that they renewed Human Target.

Booty calls are their own special type of relationship.

Oh, and hey, the next post will be the 750th!

A man from a town with no name.

Right off the bat, let’s lift a shadow off this evening: The only people for us are the mad ones and there’s nothing nearly eloquent enough to explain our excitement about the return of Mad Men tonight (and the return of us gabbing about each new episode afterward) with the fourth season premiere, “Public Relations,” but August is going to start us off with…

August Bravo: One of those guys is going to leave New York with a VD.

Is it me or shouldn’t this episode have been titled “Don Fucking Draper,” right?

from here.

Marco Sparks: Seriously. That would have been a great title for the season premiere of the show for rich people and rich minds alike.

August: Seriously. This episodes taps into the psyche of Don and who he is now. Maybe who he always was.

Marco: I feel like every single season we’re told that there’s a larger question hanging over that particular year or story arc, and there is no resolution, not clearly. There’s milestones. There’s totems on that timeline. There’s road blocks and rest stops, but that probing question only gets more complicated, more faceted…

But it’s nice that no matter how despicable some of Don’s actions can be, he’s still one of our better role models for men on television. Right? Well… no, probably not. There’s obviously a very masculine energy to him, a complicated creature of intrigue and overflowing with a talent that can’t be denied and a certain enviable confidence. But it’s a weird time for men now, not unlike the 60s in some regards, and it’s hard to find good male role models in this day and age…

from here.

…I mean, right?

Though it’s interesting to watch the new era of Don Draper. The single Don, a man living a sadder life perhaps? It’s like watching an actor without a real role. Don’s always a little more in his zone when he’s lying to a woman effectively and it’s got to be hard for him when the possible new girl in his life sees through a little of the old tricks of his. But, Don being Don, and knowing the ways of the world like he does, and being in advertising after all, he relies on kindly women from the oldest profession who can give him what he wants, a literal expression of what has happened to him thus far: A good slapping around.

August: No need for the hooker to take off her brassiere, she already knows what Don wants.

Marco: Even if perhaps Don himself doesn’t.

August: I’m not sure a lot of people could have imagined Don throwing himself down to this level. But I don’t think it’s like that.

Marco: I’m sure the events of his life sure haven’t helped. The confusion at work as they build a new company. The constant struggle to move out of the darkened corners of invisible anonymity in the creative department to becoming the poster boy, the handsome cipher, the face of the company.

It’s 1964 at this point, it’s Thanksgiving, and Don isn’t finding himself a whole lot to be thankful for. This new found freedom isn’t necessarily good for him, it sure as hell isn’t glamorous in any way, and divorced guys are seemingly considered basically damaged goods. And I think a lot of people came up with a lot of reasons for why Don like or wants or needs a bit of the rough stuff in his sex life, specifically being slapped, but the very first thing I got out of it was a reminder of Betty slapping him back in the season finale last year.

August: Life is just slapping him around at this point. I think it’s about what he said earlier. Every day he works is an investment for the company. He has no time to pick up women and seduce them into copious amounts of sex, to play that particular game that he plays so well. He has work to do.

Marco: Cause in every single way, Don is the star of this show.

I love the use of “John And Marsha” by Stan Freeberg, one of the kings of early satire, and the song is both a lovely inside joke when it comes to the world of advertising and a nice joke on soap operas. And it only becomes so much more meta when you consider that that’s really what Mad Men is.

August: Johnnnnnn.

Marco: Marshaaaaaaa.

August: In the metamorphosis from Sterling Cooper to Sterling Cooper Draper Price I’m glad they’ve updated from their shanty of an office in a hotel room to an actual floor, which unfortunately enough for Harry Crane doesn’t have more than one story, with their name on the door. Sorry Pete, guess they did end up having a lobby. But still no table…

Marco: I think we’re all holding our breath in anticipation of more Joan. And the possibility of Joan and Don… you know. That’s the difference, in just some regards, between a show like Mad Men and True BloodTrue Blood is all soft core fan service (at some point everyone on that show will have fucked everyone else on that show for our amusement) and Mad Men is cerebral teasing all the way. It’s about dangling and snatching away at the last moment.

I especially think that’s true in light of this episode of Mad Men, which is all about not being able to close certain deals and not wanting to close others. You gotta love Don’s orchestrated “fuck off” to the prudes manufacturing sex in swim wear and thinking they’re better than they are.

August: I enjoyed the ruse Peggy and Pete conjured in order to garner press for the ham company. Didn’t go as planned, but that’s life I guess.

Marco: “It was going great… until it wasn’t.” Is this the beginning of real publicity stunts as prominent and regular tools for advertising?

August: It’s hard out there for the boys and girls in America. Especially in the 60’s. 1964, if I’m not mistaken?

Marco: It certainly is.

August: Sad to see no one from the old Sterling Cooper in the episode, but I’m sure we will in due time.

Marco: Like your beloved Ken Cosgrove.

August: Ken had cool hair. Terrific few parts of the episode? Don and Roger bickering back and forth about the one-legged reporter and his inability to write a real story. Maybe they should talk to a whole reporter next time? Ha-ha. Roger sure as shit was the comedy relief in this episode as a lot of things/people were so morose.

Now back to Don, who has always been the main character of the show, I guess the protagonist, if you will, who really made this episode what it was. I think he feels this is temporary, this won’t last with Betty…

Marco: Henry Francis just feels like he’s about to get hit by a car or walk off the top of a skyscraper any moment now, doesn’t he? His patheticness almost makes Betty look even more cruel and horrid. It leaves where she ends up because of her frustrations from the past few years even more unchecked. Just as the kids are scared of their mother, I can’t imagine Francis not growing bored of her and then where will Matthew Weiner deliver her( and us)?

from here.

August: Will Don get back with her? Will he want to? The man with no key to his own house. I love his ability to take the jabs by his attorney and Roger in this episode. Usually so defensive, I think he’s just too shot down. Or just doesn’t give a shit anymore.

Marco: I’d be hurt if Benjie Light doesn’t have a few words to share with us about Betty, but I like where they’re taking the kids here, story-wise and post-divorce, the way they’re building on what we’ve seen so far concerning Sally and Bobby Draper. Sally, of course, is going to rebel and be repulsed by the way her little life is going so far and Bobby is going to grow up to be fucking creepy. If they ever do an episode flashing forward to where all the characters ended up, I want to see Bobby Draper, with his new striving to be liked by everyone now, as a politician.

And since they cast Matt Long as Peggy’s little partner, I’m wondering just out of curiosity since I never actually watched Jack And Bobby (and I don’t believe that anyone else did either)(though I think John Slattery was on there too), but didn’t Bobby end up being the one who grew up to become President?

August: No need for Don to try to defend his failing marriage, he’s got other things to worry about. Like mentioning jai alai…

Marco: Fucking jai alai.

August: …in his news story. Maybe that interview with the Wall Street Journal will make it all better?

Marco: Or so much worse. Is this the beginning of Don getting so much bigger in his own mind? Don Draper as Dirk Diggler?

August: His bitterness towards Henry and Betty was no surprise, after all, they’re living in his own house, rent free.

Marco: I hope that Betty becomes the new Don in that house.

from here.

Especially since Henry’s idea of recapturing the magic between involves them fucking in the car, seemingly echoing back to when they had to sneak around? Only one episode in and I already feel like these characters feel like they can’t handle the a-changin’ times around them and they’re flirting with the soft seduction of the past and all of it’s elements, the moments when they felt happier or more dangerous.

August: I couldn’t tell you where this episode may take us, as far as the new season is concerned. I’m just hoping I get to see more of Pryce.

Marco: And Joan. And maybe more Trudy/Alison Brie? And maybe we can slowly grasp our way towards something resembling that eternally elusive question that this show constantly is hanging over us…

August: Who is Don Draper?

Public relations.

Thank fucking God that Mad Men is coming back, right? Right? After the end of Lost, I kind of felt like I wanted to take a break from TV, and for the most part, I have. The only shows I tune in regularly to in any regard are Party Down and Doctor Who, though by “tune in regularly,” I do, of course, mean via the internet. Oh, and True Blood too. And yet, all that said, it’s funny how I realize what a Mad Men-sized gap there’s been in my life once I really start to visualize the return of the show. Does that make sense? Do I care? Either way, I think we can all take a vote on it and it’ll come out unanimous that it’s time for Mad Men to return, yes?

Mad linkage:

This is the greatest story you’ll see today.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, The Runaway General?

Alleged fugitive drug lord arrested in Jamaica.

Wikileaks founder emerges from hiding.

It’ll be good to have you back, January Jones.

Serial killers, religious cults, human hair.

Various upcoming movies: Inception, The Green Hornet (which looks, if possible, more terrible than I could’ve imagined in my wildest dreams), Pumzi (a short film by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu about a world decimated after “water wars”), and A Topiary, the second movie by Shane Carruth, who directed Primer.

Oh, and just so there’s no confusion: According to Wikipedia, “Public Relations” is currently listed as the title of the first episode of Mad Men‘s upcoming season.

Adam Mckay directing Garth Ennis’ The Boys? Whatever.

A tale of Anne Frank’s fictional sex life.

Gigantic green algae slick heads towards China.

Just click here for your moment of daily zen.

“So you do want to be in advertising after all?”

Lets do something crazy!

“From one john’s bed to the next,” and here we are, sitting in our hotel suite office ordering room service and naughty adult movies, ready to ruminate on this past Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, the season 3 finale entitled “Shut The Door. Have A Seat.” And what an episode it was…

Onward to the littlest biggest divorce in the world.

Again, normally August Bravo would join me here, but that guy just can’t learn his lesson. Remember when he didn’t heed Peggy’s mom’s advice and moved to Manhattan and then was thoroughly raped? Well, now he’s moved to Portland and while there’s a bar on every corner and someone you can buy a hanjob or coke or both from every ten feet, apparently there’s not enough of a signal to watch Mad Men on youtube via your iphone.

Howdy Don. I am old and crusty. And if you want a father figure, I will gladly give you a spanking.

A brief recap (if possible): We discover that Don has been sleeping in Grandpa Gene’s room because of the strife between Betty and himself. Conrad Hilton gives him the cold brush off and informs him that PPL is being sold, and with it goes Sterling Cooper. Don tells his would be father figure where he can stick it. Then he goes and wakes up Cooper and brings Roger Sterling back to life and gets them excited about taking back their lives and their company and starting over. Together, they begin picking out their dream team from Sterling Cooper and assembling what will be their new company as Don goes around with both his dick and his tail between his legs and learning to value relationships. And sometimes valuing relationships means knowing which ones to say goodbye to, and so off goes Betty and her new boyfriend to Reno for a “quickie” (six weeks) divorce and Don discovers that he has a whole other family. But this, you see, is just a brief recap, so, as we’re told in almost every scene in this episode, “Have a seat.”

John John salutes.

Well, Kennedy is still dead. John John’s had to make his goodbyes, and America has not quite realized it, but everything is different now. The changes are no longer coming, they’re here.

Alarm clocks do not wake the dead.

And Don starts the episode by waking in a tomb, the former bedroom of a dead man and the newborn baby who shares his name. He then goes to meet Connie, the odd kitten who’s treated Don like a ball of yarn half the season, and really wakes up when Connie cuts him loose and then gives Don a self righteous spiel about how he’s impervious to whiners who can’t earn things for themselves. But Don couldn’t give a shit. His company’s about to get sold and he doesn’t want to go work for some sausage factory.

From there on, the episode becomes just a powerhouse of awesome, giving us some truly satisfying and exciting moments dealing with Don Draper and the exiles of Sterling Cooper as they play the phoenix from the ashes of their company, but before we go there, let’s get to what we all knew was coming, especially after last week…

...when both parties are guilty.

“The state of New York doesn’t want anyone to get divorced. That’s why people go to Reno.”

The thing is, after last week’s episode, this season finale was all set up in our minds to be the ultimate downer as the Draper castle was torn apart and washed away, and yet, back in the office, we saw excitement and joy, and more of a sense of family than we’ve seen in a long time in the cold walls of Don and Betty’s metaphorical bedroom. Just another way this show wonderfully plays with our expectations.

So, Benjamin Light hates Betty, and I can understand why, but I can still see where she’s coming from. And I’m glad she’s going. Don remains characteristically clueless about a lot of what she wants and needs, and really, she’s the same way about him. And now that she sees him, now that he’s no longer the “football hero who hates his father,” but the son of poor co-op farmers, he’s nothing to her. Everything that his double life has brought them is completely illegitimate to her, and she longs for the silver haired loser from the Rockefeller campaign instead.

In fact, I think Betty quite accurately throws it in Don’s face when he suggests that she may have to be sick to want out of their “perfect little world.” Well, actually, he just suggests that she’s had a bad year, which she has, and that she should probably find someone to talk, which she should. But her inference is also correct, I think, when it comes to Don’s real intentions there. I can defend Betty to a point, am curious to see who she’ll become as she now enters the real world that Don and her father have essentially protected her from up until this point, but she has been, and in this episode especially, a bit of a stone cold bitch.

“Why are we in the living room?” Bobby Draper asks, and he’s right. It’s the scene of Betty’s ultimate fantasy world and in it, the cathedral to which she can have those fantasies now ends as the family breaks up. This was easily one of the most heartbreaking scenes on TV, and so harsh, so cruel, so real. Don suggests this new status quo is only temporarily and Betty emphatically shakes her head no. And then there’s the kids, the real victims of the way people treat each other, and as Light suggested to me the other day, though it’s not said, you almost feel that for all the coldness they sometimes get from their father, they’d still prefer it to freezing to death with their mother.

Have a seat, Bobby.

As much of a fan of little Sally Draper as I am, the lasting image from that scene for me isn’t just Betty shaking her head no, but it’s Bobby’s ceaseless clinging to his father, clinging to his world that he barely understands as it all falls away. Oh, the fathers and sons this season. Don and Bobby, whom Don rarely shares moments with, honestly. Don getting kicked out by his pseudo-paternal figure, Hilton, which starts flashbacks of the loss of his real father (or real step father, whatever), Archie Whitman.

Archie Whitman sees you masturbate.

Which brings us to the night before the Draper family ended in their living room, when a drunken Don invades the master bedroom in the house, that his wife and their newborn baby now occupy alone, and he pulls Betty out of sleep and onto her feet, confronting her with what he’s only just learned about: Henry Francis. Don has the greatest line of the season when it comes to Betty: “Because you’re good… and everyone else is in the world is bad.” Don’s cruelty is usually cool, measured, but when he delivers these lines, it’s like he’s finally releasing some pent up venom. But it almost goes to far and we’re taken back to his imagined origins in the late night reverie from the season premiere, as he becomes his father, Betty becomes the whore, and then there’s the baby crying. It’s arguable in that scene that Don is confronted with a subtle choice as you half expect him to hit his wife: Does he want to be Don Draper or does he want to just another dick?

Who the hell is Henry Francis?

Which takes us back to the offices of Sterling Cooper, the kind of place that Don never expected to work at, but where he thrived, or, where he’s thrived for the last three years. With PPL being sold off and the SC along with it by their new British masters, Don is awake, and on his way to wake up Bert Cooper…

The dialogue in their scene is perfect, and I love that Cooper, who’s always kind to Don and his talents and his mysteries, and who purrs like a fat old wise and eccentric housecat with a bit of a Japanese fetish, lets Don know flat out that he doesn’t think he has the stomach for the reality of the future Don wants so brutally to regain control of…

Meow.

Cooper: “Young men love risks because they can’t imagine consequences.”

Don: “And you old men love building golden tombs and sealing the rest of us in with you.”

But something begins in this scene, the start of building something, a bridge out of their indentured servitude and Cooper hits Don with one of those harsh realities he’s going to have to face: He can’t do this on his own. He’s going to need Roger Sterling.

I was going to tell you. Well, no, I was not. Bros, hoes, whatever. Lets drink!

And let me just say: Fuck Yeah, Roger Sterling.

When the highpoints of this episode was literally everything that came out of his mouth. Don and Cooper both make their pitches to Sterling about taking the tough road and starting something new and Sterling breaks it to Don: You don’t care about people. And maybe that’s why you’re so bad at being real with them. And Cooper hits Sterling with some real talk too: You need the excitement and danger of this business to survive and feel alive like you’re used to. Retire now and you might as well move into a plot in the ground with your child bride. It’s funny how enduring Jane has somehow purified Roger in our eyes, made him possibly realize that Joan is the woman for him, not the girl for him like Jane is, and put him on a better path.

From there, they go to Pryce and put forth a plan: He’ll fire them, thereby releasing them from their contracts, in exchange for shared power in their new company, and over the weekend, they’ll assemble a dream team to take with them along with any clients and supplies they can swipe from the office. And the show literally explodes into life. It became the gathering of the dream team from something like Ocean’s 11 or the start of a mission from one of those crack team of guys going on a mission World War II or something. It was perfect and it was exhilarating.

Beg me? You didnt even ask me.

And it was a great moment for the characters to confront their own failures and move past them, to be happy beyond them. Don especially, as he does the walk of shame, first treating Peggy like dirty in assuming that she’ll just follow him blindly so he can beat her about as he pleases and then getting told off by her as she finally stands up for herself to him.

And then Pete, whom Don actually has to compliment for his eye towards the future. He’s not just wanted, he’s needed in the new company, Don tells him. And thankfully, along with Pete, will come his perfect partner, Trudy.

Sorry, August, but I guess Ken Cosgrove doesn’t make the cut.

This guy? Really?

Sadly, they took Harry Crane along too, but maybe since they’re literally sifting through the ashes of Sterling Cooper, maybe they’ll blow a little of those embers into him and ignite some potential. Or maybe he came along just so Cooper could deliver my actual favorite line of the episode, telling Harry that if he turns him down, he’ll spend the rest of the weekend tied up in the closet.

And, of course Joan is back. They’re all brilliant actors and they’re staging what could be a fascinating play, but they need a director, they need someone to coordinate them and make their needs accessible. And of course Roger knows that Joan is the person to do that.

But alas, no Sal. But in a small way, that could be a good thing. Sal may not be able to come back to the new company and the show in his old capacity, but more on that soon. Cause there’s always this:

Fuck doors. Fuck yeah.

And then there’s Don’s return and appeal to Peggy. He stops treating her like his former secretary. He stops treating her like just an employee. He actually sees her as a person. Possibly through a mirror, but still, he’s awake now and really looking at her. He’s really to lay down his sword and shield in front of her and stop holding the fact that he’s a man over her as something superior. I think one of the most realistic and truthful things Don has ever said is when he told her that she’s just like him, she’s his anima, and together they both can conjure the words, the “asa nisi masa,” if you will.

If I say no, you will never speak to me again.

“Because there are people out there who buy things, people like you and me, and something happened. Something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that, but you do. And that’s very valuable.”

SHOW ME THE MONEY!

When he says that, it’s not just to her that he’s confessing things, it’s to himself as well. Peggy ventures a guess that if she turns him down, he’ll cut her off forever and, baring his soul to her, he says it’s the opposite: “No. I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.” It’s telling that the most touching scene of the episode isn’t between Don and his departing wife, Betty. It’s between Don and himself/Peggy.

Fan Fiction, start your engines.

But of course Peggy is her own creature as well, and I think everyone, not just Don and Pete, are going to see it. So classic was Roger asking her for a cup of coffee and her flat out saying, “No.”

Velveeta really is the cheesiest.

But then the long night of the weekend comes to an end and the sun comes up on Monday morning and the all stars of Sterling Cooper are gone, spirited away to their new home, an office in a hotel suite. In fact, really, all of Sterling Cooper is gone, shredded to pieces in the night…

And now:

Sultry phone voice.

“Good morning! Hello Sterling/Cooper/Draper/Pryce. How may I help you?” It’s nice to meet you.

Pip Pip. Cheerio. And good day to you then, sir!

“Very good. Happy Christmas!”

Pete tried to poach John Deere.

“He didn’t even leave a note!”

Still miss you, Sal, but you’ll have to change or die, as is often the case with history. As the always explosively brilliant Karina Longworth suggests when talking about the end of the episode as the camera captures the joy on the faces of the new SCDP employees/refugees:

The glow in the room that’s reflected on Don’s face in that shot—that is only there because they are all there, because he needs all of them to do his job, and vice versa. It’s arguable (probable, for all the lines like “we don’t have art”) that Sal could be back in Season Four and SCDP (and the show) would be better for it. But his sham marriage may need to fully deteriorate before he belongs in that hotel room.

One can only hope that Sal embraces his sexuality and himself and comes back into the fold as a contracted big time commercial director. Wouldn’t that be wonderful. Also, Fuck Lee Garner, Jr.

Will Sal be forever left on the cutting room floor?

This episode was everything I could ever want from Mad Men. Much like us here at Counter-force, sitting her in our hotel suite/bloggitorium, at least when I’m doing my song and dance, we’re obsessed with the future. But we see it through the multi-colored lenses of the past. The past was bombs, the present is rubble, and the future is fireworks and we’re looking up at the stars, to dangle as many silly pyrotechnic metaphors in your face as I can.

The limeys invade.

The Beatles are coming. Vietnam is coming. The world isn’t done being changed and the light from the future can’t be fully seen yet, but for now, in the world of Mad Men, the characters are happy. Excited. Don Draper has perhaps finally said goodbye to Dick Whitman and is ready to move on. Trudy is showing up with sandwiches. Joan’s husband can hopefully only be guaranteed a nasty ending. There’s Peggy/Pete stuff on the horizon. There’s Joan/Roger stuff on the horizon. And there’s always fucking Jai Alai. We may never seen Suzanne Farrell again (though she’ll live on in Twix commercials). Or Paul Kinsey or Duck Phillips or Ken Cosgrove, for all we know. But what happens in this world and in Don Draper’s life could be anything.

Don and his new family.

Especially when Don places that call to Betty. He won’t fight her. She can have whatever she wants. And he hopes that she finds out what that is. “Well, you’ll always be her father,” she pathetically replies with, but I think it was meant to be a kind statement, something Betty’s always been foreign too. She’s going to leave two older children with a vastly better mom, Carla (so classy, Betty), and take baby Eugene, her youngest child and ball and chain from the past, to Reno with her new boyfriend.

I just called to say  I do not love you anymore.

And Don’s going to crawl off into the city, heartbroken maybe, but feeling lighter and hopefully optimistic. We have a general idea of the future he’s going to see, but he doesn’t, and he’s excited for it. And we’re going to go with him.

And, wonderfully, Roy Orbison is going to sing a song about the whole thing. August and I had a great time talking about Mad Men and hopefully you enjoyed it too. And hopefully it’ll only get better since, after all, “the future is much better than the past.”

Future, here we come...