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.

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!

“I’m only in Rome for one night. I won’t have my heart broken.”

When in Rome… well, when you’re in Rome, you can pretend that your life isn’t so bad, that you’re not so bored in upstate New York, and that you’re maybe getting picked up by some guys straight out of a Fellini movie. Or, who wish they were in a Fellini movie. So, let’s get out of the office for the long, hot weekend and go make some accommodations while talking about last night’s episode of Mad Men, “Souvenir.”

August Bravo: Pete Campbell, man of reason.

Marco Sparks: And a reader of Ebony magazine!

August: And always so smart, so capable.

Marco: And ambassador to the Republic of Dresses! That would totally be a great indie rock band name, by the way.

August: Can you blame it on the kid for the ruined dress? Maybe you can, but Pete doesn’t. He’s just the man to step up and fix things on his own. But why just for a stranger?

Marco: He’s a sucker for a foreign accent?

August: Is he even really that good of a guy or does he just want a piece of ass?

Marco: Piece of ass. Definitely. Also a little boy…

…pretending to be a man. But without a proper understanding of what a man is (if any of us so called “men” really know).

August: And then there’s Betty’s man from the Governor’s office, coming through in a clutch. Is that more than she can say about Don? I think she thinks so.

Marco: It would seem that, as the show’s progressed, Don humors Betty less and less. But he did let her name the baby Eugene.

August: The reservoir is the only thing she’s shown passion in recently… or did I speak too soon? Who is this guy really and why is Betty so interested?

Marco: Perhaps it has more to do with the fact that he’s interested in her? Everyone sees Betty as an object of some kind, and more and more in a less favorable way since that’s all they see her as, so perhaps she’s entertained by this guy who definitely only sees her as an object that he wants to get into. Much like one would get into a reservoir, I would imagine, if I were to end this paragraph with a bad gender-related analogy.

August: She’s always had such a strange and wandering curiosity. And then she’s all smiles after the kiss in her father’s car.

Marco: Of course he compliments the car. Is this guy just lucky or does he know exactly how to play Betty? And as she drives off, who is she looking at in that rearview mirror? The man who wants her, or… just herself, satisfied?

August: Such a twisted woman. I’m slowly thinking she’s becoming more like Don with the deviousness.

Marco: It’s possible that, unlike Don, Betty knows how to be good and disgusted with herself after a bad time.

August: And then there’s Joan. Kicking herself maybe for leaving Sterling-Cooper?

Marco: Maybe, but she’s gonna play it cool. She’s Joan, after all. The fact that she showed up right then was perfect though, because, well, no matter how much Joan is used, she’ll always be underused. She is the climate of this show. She knows how to handle all of the characters on this show perfectly, including Pete, but except for herself. I mean, psychology? She knows her husband is less than pathetic. But I think she probably handles her marital lack of bliss better than Betty.

But it was also perfect that she showed up then because just as my disgust-o-meter with Pete was getting higher and higher, Joan showed up, cooled the whole thing down, played him like a fiddle, and reminded me of the only man on the show I think is more detestable than Pete Campbell: Joan’s rapist husband. But Pete will straddle that line before the episode’s end again.

You know things are bad for these characters when the recurring mantra on this show, said here and several places before, is: “This never happened.” It’ll shock you how that’s only a slighter worse philosophy than “When you have no power, delay.”

But your buddy Cosgrove had one scene in the episode and two fabulous lines, including this one, and then: “New York in August? It’s like a great big melting wax museum. Nothing but those fat girls with the hairy armpits putting their feet in the fountain.”

August: And then there’s Italy.

Marco: Just a quick jaunt over the ocean. When you look down at the water from the window of the plan, is it clear enough for you to see the bottom or do you only see your own reflection?

August: Don the big tipper?

Marco: Such a manly thing. I don’t know how much money I’m handling you and you know what? Fuck it. Take it all. Whatever. Get lost. The same with when Carla wanted to talk to Betty about Sally. Don’s all like, “Oh, this is about the kids? Shit. I’m gonna… go get the luggage. Or something.”

August: And apparently Don is the cock blocker of his own wife? Ha ha.

Marco: A scene that perfectly reverses what I said earlier about Don humoring Betty less and less. I found that scene both perfect and wonderful and also chilling. Roleplay adds so much excitement, but then again, it’s kind of sad when a couple needs that excitement. Betty wants to be someone desirable, and hopefully that someone is her, or the alternate universe her that never got married to Don and had kids? And Don? Don wants to roleplay as a guy who’s going to get laid.

August: Where the fuck did Betty learn Italian? Wait, she was a model there, wasn’t she? No idea she knew the language. Apparently this just attracts Eurotrash douchebags with bad hair  to hit on her.

Marco: The Eurotrash have been hitting on pretty girls with big, ridiculous 1960s hair and telling yankees to go home for a long, long time. Nevermind Franz Ferdinand, Pearl Harbor, and the Holocaust, I think that’s what the two world wars were actually about.

I love that Connie is fascinated by Don, and by Don’s wife. And he wants Don to see what it’s all really like in a Hilton hotel. It’s like he wants to tame and break Don. Or maybe at the end of the season he’s going to claim that Don is his lost son and give him his fortune?

August: Best moment of the episode: Sally asserting her dominance? I think so. All she wanted to do was play being married and kiss Ernie? Tsk tsk. She’s growing up so fast.

Marco: Sally’s going through a little kid version of what Betty’s going through, but she doesn’t understand it. Not that Betty does either. Not that Betty would explain it to her daughter even if she did. I was amazed to see Betty being calmly motherly about the first kisses, of which there’ll be lots of, so true, but not addressing a recurring problem that’s been coming up more and more: Sally’s latent anger.

Little Sally Draper’s still in my top 5 of favorite characters on this show just because of the scene where she watches her mother put the make up on in the mirror over her shoulder. Again, Betty sees herself, sees what she wants others to see, something desirable, something more, and ignores her daughter, and then leaves. And leaves her daughter only to ponder things that she’s too young to understand.

August: I guess that dress line/move does work! Man, is that what I should be doing?

Marco: No.

August: Shouldn’t I be walking around, trying to fix young German girls’ dresses? I guess that could get you into trouble…

Marco: Not only is it sleazy to the nth degree, it’s scary to see that Pete them forces himself on that girl. This is the little boy who yanks his shirt and tie off over his head once he gets home and his wife is gone, but then wants his “kindness” rewarded and his manliness affirmed. If not for the editing of the show, I think we would’ve been questioning if Pete Campbell was a rapist as well, making that au pair go through kleenex box after kleenex box afterward…

August: I was surprised at Pete’s feelings of guilt afterward, his silence as a confession to his wife.

Marco: The guy’s never been called out on his shit good and properly before. I’d like to say that maybe this will be a turning point for him, and it probably will be, but not necessarily for the better.

That’s one of the things I really liked about Peggy letting Pete know about the baby in last season’s finale: It’s not that we didn’t get a chance to see his emotional breakdown/reaction to the news, it’s that her telling him that left no space for it. She was making it clear what happened and that she didn’t care what he thought of it.

August: And now Pete wants Trudy around more? WTF? It’s the 60s. Who wants to be around their wife more?

Marco: As someone far smarter than the two of us put it: emosogyny. Also, Trudy can do better. But her reaction to his admittal/non-admittal fascinates me. It’s like there’s one thing on the mind of or on the tip of the tongue of every 1960s married couple: fidelity. And it’s fragile.

August: Betty keeps changing and changing. This woman is full of it. And yet, so empty…

Marco: The same ways as Pete. In fact, I feel like Betty and Pete are the same, with a few differences. Both want respect, both want to be desired and admired. Both are afraid of being in their house by themselves, or with kids (who aren’t really people yet, let’s face it). Both need their spouse to make this a home. But right now that may not be good enough for Betty…

But I’m going with that for now. The same as Peggy is a junior version of Don Draper, Pete is a junior version of Betty. Both couples, whether they know it or not, are destined to be stuck with each other.

August: Home is where the heart is. But where is the heart?

Marco: It’s in Italy.

“Are you aware of the number of handjobs Im gonna have to give?”

The week works through it’s cycle and here we are again, the fog clearing in the aftermath of another great episode of Mad Men, this one being last night’s “The Fog.” And it’s time for us to think upon it, is it not, August?

August Bravo: What time is it? What time isn’t it? And, yes, after being sodomized during my move to Manhattan last week, I am back. Sorry about the absence. Let’ just dive right in.

Marco Sparks: Last night’s episode, and I feel like I could be saying this every week during season 3 of the show, but last night’s episode was probably my favorite so far.

August: Oh yeah, definitely. Last night’s was such a great episode. So good from the get go.

Marco: Do you think Don’s going to go the easy route and hook up with Sally’s maypole-dancing teacher, the anti-Bobbi Barrett, who feels her job a little too much? And equally importantly, are we, the fans, almost hungering for that?

August: No, But I definitely think he’ll get a chance to this year.

Marco: Fuck yeah, he will. Evening phone calls with a drink in hand, hugging the corner of the room, and that seductive bra strap hanging off her shoulder? Lesser men would puddle at that sight.

August: Yes. But do you think that maybe Dennis the prison guard’s little speech may have sunk in with Don to a certain degree? I’d like to think so. I think it’s what everyone wants. That would be awesome.

Marco: Nah, not me. I’m anti-hugging, learning, crying, or understanding. I’m against redemption in pretty much all forms. Redemption gets passed to me at a party and someone’s all like, “Yo, you want a hit o’ this?” That someone could be Peggy’s drug dealer from two weeks ago, mind you, but even still, I’m like, “No, thanks.”

August: Also, I loved seeing the little bit part/cameo by the woman who voices Lisa Simpson.

Marco: Yeah, really. Seeing Yeardley Smith totally stunned me right out of that scene for a moment, you know?

August: I thought it was really funny. Also, I love Don’s constant annoyance with Pryce. Walking into that meeting and then walking out only seconds later after realizing it’s extremely pointless (to him), that was one of my favorite Don moments this season. After all, why should he have to worry about money?

Marco: I think Don does worry about money, just not the company’s, you know? I feel like that’s a big part of his conversation with Peggy towards the end. Peggy, voicing the feelings of everyone, sees Don and thinks he has it all together and has everything. And he does. He’s Don Draper, after all. But I think at every single moment, Don’s afraid of losing it. His “greatest fears lay in anticipation,” after all.

But speaking of that money, and I have to love the way Jared Harris makes the alliteration of “pencils, pads, paper, and postage” sing. Also, Sal’s expense account was higher than Don’s, right? Did he have to pay for that half a hand job?

August: Good question. And one better suited to an accountant. I enjoy finding out more and more about Don’s previous life in each episode…

Marco: …and the way little bits of his previous self filter into his current persona?

August: Yeah. There’s nothing particularly revealing about that in that first scene in Sally’s teacher’s classroom, but everything about that scene, as they’re there to deal with Sally’s misbehavior in the wake of Grandpa Gene’s passing, was just perfect. And awkward. And perfectly awkward. And was only made better by the teacher then calling Don that night, and seemingly after some drinking. Why would she do that? Again, I’m sure there’s a hidden agend at work, even if none of the characters are aware of it yet. Maybe you’re right and her and Don will sleep together.

Marco: Or, at least have… a confrontation of some sorts. And if the game is seduction, maybe it won’t be Don Draper who seduces her, maybe it’ll be Dick Whitman?

I just love the tease the writers give us as super pregnant Betty comes down the stairs, seemingly out of nowhere to ruin Don’s budding conversation with Sally’s teacher, and announces that it’s time. And then asks who was on the phone. “No one.”

August: The waiting room scenes, like we said, were pretty interesting. Don’s chat with Dennis, the prison guard, who’s having a baby. And there’s been a breach. “Our worst fears lie in anticipation.” And Don, always so cool, calm, and collected. And playing the alpha male around someone who’s just it is to always be in charge.

Marco: It seems like when put into an social situation that he just doesn’t really care to be in, Don will have a drink with just about anyone. In that regard, Don Draper is Ernest Hemingway. And next time, I think Don will remember to bring a bottle.

August: That part, he stuff in the waiting room, was just a great aspect of that storyline in this episode. Dennis’ last words to Don are what I liked the most. The stuff about how Dennis can just tell that Don is an honest man. And how this, being fathers, will make them better men. . Nice lingering thought to leave with someone, either inspirational, or…

Marco: …meant to make them feel guilty?

August: Yeah.

Marco: I think there’s a bit of that, the guilt, maybe, in Don based on that chat. That, or Don listens to Dennis’ naive take on the nobility of a man’s sperm conquering his wife’s eggs and spawning a life and therein lies redemption just kind of cute. I think Don was thinking, I used to think like you did, and now I’m just drinking your booze, buddy. And then afterward, in the hallway, they act like strangers.

But I tell you, Augustus, the show is tugging on me about Betty again. Deep down, I’m honestly rooting for her, even though, really, I’ve grown to hate her. But the way she’s basically just passed off at the nurse’s station amazed me. That girl is just so, so alone.

August: Betty’s vision question as she was induced and the dreams of her mother and father are so intriguing. I feel like she’s slowly losing her insanity throughout the progression of this show. And the horrible nurse, and her accusing said nurse of cheating with her husband, wow.

Marco: “I don’t want to be here.” I imagine you don’t, Birdy. I’ve seen a lot of people online loving the nurse’s analogy there: Betty is on a boat. And Don is on the shore. And right now, it doesn’t really seem like he’s waving her away from the rocks.

But I’m fascinated by how, even in her dreams, Betty gets no respect from her father, and knows the place that she’s been stuck in for so long. “You’re a housecat. You’re very important, but you have little to do.” There’s a whole other discussion/bit of bloggery to be done on the pop feminism dripping out of Betty’s storyline in this episode alone.

August: It was a very interesting, very revealing dream, I think. But who was the black guy sitting there in the kitchen? And the blood? And that was the Hofstadt’s longtime maid, Viola, right?

Marco: I’ll admit to a bit of confusion there as well. At first I thought it was meant to be Medgar Evers. Especially since his death was mentioned earlier. Now I’m pondering if it was just supposed to be someone from Betty’s past? I don’t know.

But, you know, Medgar Evers, that Tibetan monk, Gene Hofstadt, and the upcoming assassination of JFK: This is the year of death on Mad Men.

August: I like Duck – now with ducks on his office wall – trying to scout Pete and Peggy. So good. And especially doing it at the same time.

Marco: And the suggestion that they have a secret relationship, which, of course, they do in a way, but that’s an offensive notion to Pete, who always sees Peggy as less than he. Starting with the fact that she’s just a woman, and continuing with the fact that she is a genuinely talented woman. She represents everything Pete hates about woman,and everything women show Pete has within himself: weakness.

August: Peggy always seems to be breaking down. Or crying about something. Not having enough money. Having a baby. Life being too hard. Or too expensive for her. She puts up a strong front, but falls right into every woman’s stereotype of being a whiny little baby herself.

Marco: I am not going to touch that one with a thirty foot pole.

But I do like Peggy, and like that she gave Don the baby present, and that it was an elephant. Of course it’s an elephant in that room, considering her past and his secret knowledge of that!

August: And I like Pete Campbell. Ah, Pete and “the negro” in the elevator. Always taking work a little too seriously and undervaluing people a little too much.

Marco: He’s always a bit racist, though he doesn’t like being called a “bigot,” but poor Hollis there just wasn’t going to be respected by Pete in that elevator because of the color of his skin anymore than Peggy will ever be because she’s a woman, and because she has power over little Pete Campbell.

It’s kind of funny that Kinsey thinks he’s cool because of his knowledge/fetishizing of black culture. I feel like Kinsey and Pete come at this group of people from just opposite directions.

August: Little Pete Campbell? I tell you, I love his initiative. He basically created the idea of the urban market last night. And I think a lot of his disgust with Peggy comes from his not respecting the decisions she makes. But he is such a controlling guy, even when he shouldn’t be. Or, maybe he should? He is that baby’s daddy.

Marco: I think Roger summed up Pete best last night: A lot of times this business comes down to just, “I don’t like that guy.” That, and chocolate sundaes.

But Pete sums up one of the larger things going on in this show perfectly. We talked before about characters relationship with the previous generation and how they feel out of place with them and that they can’t learn anything from them, but the thing is… they’re just like them, in their own way. Everyone on this show, to use the ship metaphor, is essentially a passenger on the Titanic. And social change is about to hit them hard like a motherfucking iceberg.

August: I hate how everyone dislikes him there at Sterling-Cooper. He’s not the most noble man, no one there is…

Marco: It is advertising after all.

August: Right, but he does have the occasional good idea, you know? It’s a shame some companies worry about image when dealing with “undesirable customers” and not money. I guess Pete’s ideas aren’t good enough that Roger won’t have to give out a few handjobs in 1963.

Marco: Been there, done that.

August: And we cut to the credits. Also, totally unrelated: Kanye West is the shit.

Marco: Kanye is just the new Joe Wilson. Actually, he’s like a wrestler who’s grown too old for his good guy storyline and now has to flirt with evilness and rudeness.

The thing I was hoping to see the most in this episode was, since I knew that it’d be some Pete stuff, a scene with his lovely and wonderful wife, Trudy. Especially since the actress who plays Trudy so wonderfully, Alison Brie, is in this month’s Esquire, in their slightly condescending Funny Joke From A Beautiful Woman segment. Anyway, we shall end our chit chat today with her joke, which I think you’ll find oddly fitting to this episode of Mad Men

A guy walks into a bar and sees a sign that reads, “Cheese sandwich $3.50. Chicken sandwich $4.50 Handjob $5.” He checks his wallet and calls over the waitress. He asks, “Are you the one who does the handjob?”

She smiles at him seductively and says, “I am.”

He says, “Well, wash your friggin’ hands. I want a cheese sandwich.”

Why, yes, you should receive a Victory Medal for beating the clap.

I mean, why wouldn’t you?

Here at Counterforce, we have three simple rules for dealing with all life:

1. Jai Alai is fucking stupid.

2. Funny, sad, tragic, or fitting, death is always weird, no matter where you go or who the hell you are.

and

3. No sailors. No way.

That said, ruminate on last night’s episode of Mad Men, “The Arrangements.” Normally August Bravo would be here to join me, but, well, he didn’t heed Peggy’s mom’s warning and moved to Manhattan. And he got raped.

Somewhere out there in the ether there’s a t-shirt waiting to be dreamt up: I Moved To Manhattan, Got Raped, And All I Got Was This Lousy Fucking T-Shirt. Oh, And A New TV. I’d wear it, but only to classy parties.

Last week I mentioned that Sally Draper was becoming one of my favorite characters and this week, if you didn’t agree with me, let’s face it, that shit was all over your face. Little Kiernan Shipka acted her way nicely (and, yes, adorably) out of the damp paper bag that was the Grandpa Gene storyline (which I respect so much more now, because Gene Hofstadt was a real grandfather, crazy warts and all), and did so marvelously. And she fits so perfectly into the scheme of the show that it hurts.

Oh, and interestingly enough, for a show that’s all about the multi-faceted horridness of 1960s masculinity, I have to say that Bobby Draper, you’re just not cutting it. You’re just there, kid, taking up space, and taking dead men’s helmets. If you’re not careful, you might go upstairs one day, and like the little sister on Family Matters, just never come back down again…

Families are tough, man. And this was an amazing episode about seeking out familial approval, and how you’re never going to get it. Not really. You may always get their love, but they’ll never really understand you. Not in the way you need to be understood.

And the same for the previous generation. You’ll ache to see out their approval, but it’s not coming. And right now, it really feels like that’s what so much of this show is about, at least this year: Looking to the people older than you for understanding and approval and guidance. And finding nothing. Only more confusion.

It’s not their fault. The older generation of America at this time didn’t know how to love. Maybe they still don’t. But back then they didn’t know how to get past the horrors they’d seen within and without and to connect with another human being.

And saddest of all, they haven’t realized that the world changed around them when they weren’t looking and now they’re hopeless to catch up. They don’t even know they’ve been left behind, much like Roger in last week’s episode.

Though it doesn’t say much in credit of the younger generation when they have nicknames like Ho Ho and think that jai alai is the future. And in color! On all three networks!

Poor Betty Draper. As much as I want to root for her, she keeps falling into the category of the precious sad victim. And as much as I want to feel bad for her, I can’t. This woman is terrified of intimacy, of anything outside a perfect world that hasn’t existed in a long, long time, and even when it did, it may have only been in the revisionist history of her pretty little head. In fact, Betty and Ho Ho have a lot in common in that their parents meant the best for them, but know that their kids are unprepared for the world.

Betty Draper = Worst Mother Of The Year, 1963.

Instead, the Mad Men housewife I do actually feel real remorse for is, of course, Sal’s poor wife, Kitty. Her husband’s a commercial director now, ripping off the finest for ad work, but with a little luck, Kitty’s realized something powerful there about the man she loves. And hopefully it’s not that everyone just wants photographs.

She doesn’t need a lot, Sal. But she does need… tending.

And the saddest part of all? On this show, they’re easily the most functioning couple. The truth may be kept at arm’s length, but there is a closeness there. And more importantly, there’s a mutual respect in their bedroom.

I love that Don Draper operates by a certain set of rules that he holds dear. They may not be the same as society’s, not the surface of what society says anyway, but they’re his rules. He’s a man of few words, and they’re sharp, cutting, to the point when they have to be. Surgical strikes, dripping with wit (particularly the line about the guy going off to direct a feature in Hollywood).  And he has no problem taking money from that guy, Horace, for his stupid jai alai campaign, but he’s going to seek out the approval of his elders, and he’s going to at least warn the guy that he’s a moron.

Question for you: Pete’s line about his father and money: “This is his kind of investment.” Is he just playing the account man, trying to line up the sweet deal, or is this his subtle acknowledge of his father’s own financial failures?

Warning sign #1, Ho Ho: If you have to pitch your idea to the ad men, your idea’s crap. If it’s good, they’re just going to sell it right back to you to get your cash.

I think Pepsi certainly learned their lesson there with the Patio commercial. But like Don says there, even a failure can mean reaching a new plateau. Or, to use the parlance of today’s television lingo, reaching a new “game changer.”

“Game changer” is the buzzword/phrase, I hope, that killed “jumping the shark.” All TV jumped the shark five or six years ago, and now we’re all praying for game changers.

Speaking of Patio, you had to adore Peggy’s satisfied grin as she walked out of that meeting. She was right. Maybe she wasn’t right for the her own reasons, but still, she was on the winning side, no matter what was in or out of her toolbox.

And I think I love Peggy’s new roommate. So much so that I want them to have their own spin off. And it shall be called I Love To Have… Fun!

And Joan, Joan, Joan. The Tex Avery girl brought to life. We saw a little bit of it last season when dealing with Harry Crane and the television scripts, but Joan is clearly meant for more than just being a secretary and house mother figure to a bunch of confused young ladies with” stupid looks on their faces.” Her spicing up of Peggy’s ad was perfect. No more stage directions from an Ibsen play here! Just look at the catch it nabbed Peggy. Just don’t forget, Peggy: A door should only be closed for one thing. You know what we’re talking about.

I have to say it again: Poor Sally Draper. Her path, at least through the rest of this season and, one presumes, next season as well, is going to be an interesting one. Her mother can’t acknowledge her sadness because she’s too busy trying to ignore her own. Her father is doing the best he can but he doesn’t know who he is. And she’s growing up without that guidance or nurturing in a confusing and confused world, raised by people unprepared for the social forces about to knock them down. The pope is dead and monks are lighting themselves on fire.

Before long, she’ll stop mixing Tom Collins for her parents and just making them for herself.

Life under British rule.

As much as we’ve been waiting for Mad Men to return, you kind of get the feeling after last night’s season 3 premiere, “Out Of Town,” that Mad Men‘s been waiting for us too. August Bravo and Marco Sparks are here to bask in the luminous afterglow…

August Bravo: Not too much much to say about this episode. It seemed so much like a filler episode, really. It’s interesting they would shoot an episode like this to start off the season. It’s too smart of a show to just make his the premiere. I feel Matthew Weiner has a hidden agenda with how this episode is supposed to make the viewers feel.

Marco Sparks: Starting with the bare feet. I’d both agree and disagree with you there, agreeing in the sense that I think last night’s episode wasn’t an explosion right out of the gates, and that the new season will probably take a few episodes to really spread it’s wings and get of the ground, but this is also a show that has proved itself able to have a major storyline soar within just a few episodes.

But I’d have to disagree in that I found last night’s episode incredibly satisfying, especially it’s perfect beginning…

Don Draper, resolving to be a better husband, up in the middle of the night making some warm milk for his pregnant wife, and his sleep deprived mind begins to wander to his own origins, hypothesizing not just how he came into the world, but how he got his original name from the eponymous male body part. How fitting.

Especially when you add in the great throwaway line about the eldest Draper daughter almost immediately afterward.

Augusto: One of the things I really liked was the way Draper found out about Salvatore, the art department guy, was gay. What a nice way for that to finally come out of the closet.

Marco: Yeah, how nice, and how tragic. Sal’s a character you just like, who always feels classy even when he’s being petty, and so in a way you were rooting for him in that scene, I think, and yet, not at all surprised at how tragically cut short it was.

Plus, the way Don flirts with the bohemians and the intellectual rich vagabonds in the past seasons, you get the sense that he’s probably much more forward thinking than some of his comrades, more so than even Kinsey, who’s just for show, so while he may hold this over Sal later (though I don’t know why he’d need to), he’s not disgusted by it. Plus, you know that Don can respect a man’s secrets.

August: Also, maybe something picked up by me was Don’s inner struggle with himself. Like he wants to be a better husband and father. Weird to say as you still him participate in his usual hobby of extramarital affairs. But the expression on his face seemed to change, to show more depth, than other episodes.

Marco: Not much of a struggle though. Don definitely wanted to fix his relationship with Betty at the end of last season, but perhaps tha didn’t mean he wanted to cut out the cheating. Maybe just get better at the cheating? Maybe only stop cheating within the state of New York? Or maybe cut out the cheating except for the opportunities hat just so perfect drop right into his lap like candy. Or, like stewardesses.

Billy and Sam, accountants/g-men.

As much as I loved the stuff in California last year, I think that “Billy and Sam” and the stewardesses was one of my favorite sequences ever in this show. Also, whie “It’s my birthday” would be a great (or should be) a great line for sex, I suspect that it actually was Dick Whitman’s birthday, if not “Don Draper’s.” I keep waiting for you to tell me that you love Pete Campbell, August.

The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, 1820, by Hokusai.

August: Great appearance by the English guy, Pryce, as the new CFO. He was great in Benjamin Button. Probably one of my favorite characters in it, in fact. I liked the way the Brits played Pete and Ken Cosgrove off of each other, making each think that they were going to be the accounts executive.

Marco: Yeah, that guy, Jared Harris, is good, and his voice was the best thing about Fringe last year. If I remember he casting announcement, he’ll probably be around for a while and could very well bloom into Don’s nemesis this season. Plus, I’m digging the inclusion of the Brits in general this season, and laughing at the limey version of Pete Campbell, Mr. Hooker/Moneypenny.

August: What is your impression of that guy, Moneypenny/Hooker, Pryce’s right hand man? Sweet talking all the ladies and stuff. What a weird thing to put in the episode unless it actually means something down the road. I don’t know. I feel like everything in that show happens for a reason.

Marco: I think it was to set up Pryce’s debasement of him, relegating to be one of the secretaries, “one of the girls.” Plus, an office full of cute girls and you’re a tosser like Hooker, yeah, you’re probably going to try to hit on anything that moves in a skirt, you know? Plus, who knows, maybe he’ll end up as Sal’s new love interest. He is British after all.

I get the impression that you’re a big Ken Cosgrove fan.

August: Cosgrove is such an awesome character. Probablythe most interesting to me because he’s neither married nor dating anyone. He just goes out and does what he does.

Marco: In case anyone’s curious, August Bravo is the Ken Cosgrove of Counterforce.

August: Yes.

Marco: So, August, accurate or not, what do you think of the name “London Fog?”

August: I don’t know if I like/dislike it. For the show it’s a little mysterious. But I guess the entire show is built on the mystery of others. It’s the 60s, after all. People’s public lives aren’t out there in the open.

Marco: Not yet, though I think you see a little of the beginning of that last year with Marilyn’s death. And presumably with Kennedy’s death this year. The mystery of a person can be so much more real (and interesting) than the person themselves.

August: What interests me quite a bit is the idea that Don has for the London Fog ad, with it’s subtle extra meaning concerning Sal aside, with the coat being open. Very fitting for the product.

Marco: I’m actively forcing myself not to bitch too much about Pete Campbell here. In fact, I don’t need to. He’s the opposite of Don in so many ways, or at least the opposite side of the same coin as Don. He’s really just there to be the asshole and he’s perfect at it.

August: This episode doesn’t sum up too much for me, nor does it need to be summed up too much. It’s Mad Men. They don’t need to do shit, but be excellent. They just do.

Marco: All in all, and I know that August won’t really agree with me here, but this was an exciting return to form. Or maybe just the fact that the show is back and is still of such high quality is what’s so exciting. Everyone likes Don Draper, but he’s a bastard, obviously. But’s magnificent at it. You’re almost rooting for him, much the same way that if we’re all honest with ourselves, we liked Bill Clinton and that he secretly has carte blanche with us. I just hope the opening moments of the episode do indeed deliver us more about the Don Draper/Dick Whitman enigma.

“Help yourself. Not the stoli.”

And no that the show is beloved by viewers and the media alike, I hope it stays this consistent level of great and deep, and doesn’t drift off into epic levels of mediocre bullshit like Battlestar Galactica did where people were afraid of calling it what it was for fear of not looking smart.

But hey, just like Don Draper himself, this show could keep going places and ending up where it’s already been and I’d be okay with that.