Mad Men: Dark Shadows
We're thankful for last night's episode of Mad Men—whipped cream, Manischewitz and all.
Nobody wakes Don Draper up on a Sunday just to throw their failures in his face.
Since we assume you watched too, instead of a straight recap we're discussing the parts of "Dark Shadows" we found most interesting. Be sure to join in in the comments, and cast your vote in our Mad Men Hunger Games!
While Betty has always been prone to petulance, her obvious envy of Megan—with her flat stomach, swank apartment, and note-leaving Don Draper 2.0 husband—loomed large this week. Maybe it's because Betty seemed so comforted by the platitudes and praise in her Weight Watchers meeting (remember, this is a woman who was bullied out of therapy and tried to sneak sessions with her daughter's counselor, so we know she'd like someone to listen), or maybe it's just that I'm a Betty loyalist, but I couldn't help feeling sorry for her. Yes, she was out of line in employing Sally to make Megan miserable, but she expressed genuine care and concern for Henry's job situation (is unemployment in the Francis' future?) and honestly, I get why she's jealous of Megan. After all, Don never left notes like that for her when he was out fingerbanging half of the ad industry.
It was interesting, if not surprising, to see Betty's feelings so clearly represented by the food she consumes. (It was also not surprising to see the Fat Betty Schadenfreude blowing up Twitter last night. Nothing gets the trolls going like a fat woman eating, right?) When she got upset seeing Megan and Don's apartment, Betty came home and ran straight for the whipped cream can. She may have spit it out into the sink in shame—over her jealousy of Megan as much as her lack of whippet willpower—but unbeknownst to Betty Francis she's being watched from the Digital Age, and there's no escaping the animated gif:
Though some of Betty's weight struggles are clearly being played for uncomfortable laughs (see: animated gif), her jealousy of the younger version of herself and the feeling that she's lost control of her life run parallel to those of Don, her ex in marriage and soulmate in pettiness. We've seen Don Draper do some messed up shit over the past five seasons, but he's never been a creative saboteur before—he hasn't felt he needed to be. This is the guy who used to blow off work, pensively smoke a cigarette at his desk, and strike creative gold without lifting an ash-flicking finger. It was odd enough that he came into the office on a Saturday to try to out-Ginsberg Ginsberg, since we rarely see him put in that kind of work, but when he left Ginsberg's idea in the cab! This is no longer the cool, confident, cocky Don Draper we've come to know and have mixed feelings about. Don is feeling weak, threatened, and jealous of his younger, less tailored (seriously Ginzo, get a shirt that fits you) counterpart.
That said, I did laugh when Don shut Ginsberg down in the elevator. Dude, you should know by now that you'll never out-cool Draper, even if he is bluffing when he says, "I don't think about you at all."
As a child of divorced parents, that scene in the Draper apartment rang uncomfortably true to me. Anyone else?
The article Pete thought would feature him and subsequently get him laid is real, of course.
On to the next one.
Delusions of Grandeur
This episode's narrative focus may have been on Betty and Sally—but can there be an episode of Mad Men that's not, in some primal way, about those titular men and what drives them? Not when there's this much ego and anxiety in the mix. And the shadows of this episode's title may well refer to the nagging, clawing delusions of grandeur that plague the bright white halls of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
First up, there's Pete Campbell, who enters the building's elevator's bursting with news: the New York Times, it seems, has interviewed him for a magazine story about hip, evolving ad agencies. ("Hep," corrects Bert Cooper, hilariously.) Pete is so supercilious in this scene that I was half expecting Lane Pryce to pop into the elevator as the doors closed and punch Pete in the nose, just because. But Bert and Roger settle for bitching quietly behind his back, with Bert bringing a piece of potential business directly to Roger, lest the firm have to change its name to Sterling Campbell Draper Price because of that grimy little pimp.
Pete is so consumed with the idea of his name attached to a Story—advertising is important, and thus so is he, Peter Campbell!—that he's more or less incapacitated for the day, lying on his office couch and daydreaming about Beth Dawes. It's possible that Pete has real, sincere feelings for his train pal's tragic-seeming wife, but her fantasy incarnation—she slips into his office, wearing the classic seductionwear of fur coat, pearls, and high heels, purring that she "saw his name in the Sunday magazine"—exists simply to massage Pete's turgid self-regard. And it's a not-so-happy ending when Sunday rolls around and there's no mention at all of SCDP in the New York Times piece, a fact that chaps Pete so bad that he phones Don at home to share the pain. Not a smart move. "Don't wake me up and throw your failures in my face," snaps Don. Oh, Pete. Don't worry—I think there's a can of whipped cream in your fridge. (Fun fact, the Times piece was written by future Nation editor and publisher Victor Navasky.
Then there's Roger, whose delusion is that LSD has changed him. The Manischewitz job Bert Cooper tucks his way, however, fires up some of Roger's old delusions as well. The job not only necessitates that Roger bribe yet another employee (Michael Ginsberg, who gets the episode's second great throwaway line in when he says, after being approached about Manischewitz, "You assume that I'm Jewish?"), but also has him calling on his soon-to-be-ex, Jane, to be window dressing at dinner with the client. The mere sight and sound of Roger apparently turns the eyes of every character on this show into cartoon cash registers, and Jane's price for the evening is a new apartment, because living in the one they shared together is giving her a sad. Also, apparently Roger's mother is her landlord, which really seems like something we should have heard more about. Who else thinks Mama Sterling should get an episode just based on this premise?
When Ginsberg comments on the op-art in his office, Roger says that the pattern is reminiscent of "certain experiences." But Roger's own patterns haven't changed—he's newly re-enamored of Jane after the dinner (at which she is reliably luminous and charming, but also, notably, is conveniently seated next to the client's chiseled, yacht-owning son), and seduces her in her brand-new, memory-free apartment. The next morning, Jane shatters Roger's delusions: "You ruined this," she says unhappily. "You get everything you want, and you still had to do this." For real: Between the ballroom blowjob of a few episodes back and this, Roger is not exactly succeeding with the whole higher-self thing. But, to his credit—and markedly unlike Pete—Roger hears what Jane's saying, and recognizes that he's screwed up. I think. Or else he just wants to get out of springing for another apartment.
Finally, we have Michael Ginsberg, whose delusions may be the least like delusions, in the sense that he's the most demonstrably talented of these three men—seemingly without even trying very hard. (It's notable that his tossed-off sketches that fire up Don's own creativity are filed in a folder labeled "Shit I Gotta Do.") But thinking he can just step to Don the way he did seems both surprising (given his earlier fanboyish attitude toward him) and foolhardy. Ginsberg knows he has skills, but doesn't yet seem to get that power trumps those skills every time. If Michael knew how to read a room, if he had the social capital to know to hang back and play the game, rather than crowing about his millions of ideas (not to mention bragging to Peggy about his side hustle for Roger and Manischewitz), he'd be in a better position to really play Don. We, the audience, know that Ginsberg—or, at least, his talent—has caught Don's attention in a big way, has made him realize that he's go catching up to do. But Don's biting dismissal—"I don't think about you at all"—seems likely to stoke Ginsberg's pride in ways that, when added to his utter lack of verbal filter, may prove self-destructive.
"I think you've seen most of it" is new-wife speak for "Get the hell out of here."
"I'm not an airplane"
This week's episode found many of our female Mad Men friends playing along in various roles in order to establish power. We saw Juliet practice lines with Megan for her upcoming Dark Shadows audition, and then defend her need to play the part—despite its corniness—because she needs the money. We saw Jane, the freshly ex-Mrs. Sterling, put on the performance of wifey during the Manischewitz dinner, thus reasserting her relevancy and importance in Roger's life (and briefly taking control back from Roger, only to later lose it in her new apartment).
Some of the more interesting moments came from the Mad Women we know best. We saw Betty play the part of diligent dieter, from weighing cubes of cheese in the kitchen to saying all the right things in her group meeting. For a character so desperate for approval, a structured system for praise is obviously a source of power. By having a singular brussel sprout and a couple of spoonfuls of brown mush for Thanksgiving dinner, Betty is able to establish momentary control over something that makes her feel frustrated and ashamed. And where are folks standing on the cancer vs. no cancer debate? By policing her body so stringently, is Betty also trying to assert control over her possibly declining health?
As a diehard Peggy fan, it was a bummer to see Ginsberg's name all over the Best of SCDP ads Don was reviewing, which made her plea in the elevator with Roger all the more powerful. After confronting him for using Ginsberg for the Manischewitz account, Roger uses Ginsberg's Jewishness as an excuse, which Peggy then calls him out on. She vocalizes her frustration for that sort of reasoning, which makes me wonder if she's still feeling pigeonholed into lady/family-products territory, barred from a wider range of projects, or both. Clearly, Peggy sees herself as someone who could adapt and write convincing copy, thus playing the part, regardless the identity of the client. If she could surpass this hurdle, her options at work would hypothetically multiply—Ginsberg seems to be stealing everyone's jobs lately though, so what's the point?
And then we have Sally. Sally's role this episode was initially as a prop through whom Betty could cause tension in the Draper residence. While this plan is successful, at least at first, as soon as Sally realizes what Betty was trying to use her for, she flips the script. Once back in the spooky Francis mansion, Sally pretends that Don told her all about Anna Draper and everyone was all sunshine and puppies afterwards. She fooled her mother successfully (Happy Mother's Day!) and gained an upper hand that seemed almost too easy to call an upper hand. She just gained the hand? Regardless, Sally showed us that if anyone is getting played in the Draper-Francis family, it is most certainly not going to be her. And given how manipulative she appeared to be this episode, a sense of power could be a dangerous addition to her growing skill set (along with family tree diagramming).
This season has been really rigid in terms of the characters whose backstories matter. Where are the outside lives of Harry, Dawn, Stan, or Ginsberg (other than the two glimpses we've had of his father)? While I understand that Mad Men can't meander from character development to character development, we've been stuck in a Roger-Peggy-Pete spiral for a couple of weeks now (I would count Don and Megan in here, but complaining about the show focusing on Don seems stupid and any focus on Megan makes sense as she's the most central "new" person). I've especially wanted to know more about Stan since his introduction last season, but we still know very little about his character.
Notable Historical/Cultural References: Dark Shadows, Fiddler on the Roof, Weight Watchers, that Thanksgiving smog emergency
Inappropriate Office Behavior: We should rename this the Roger Sterling Office Award! Seriously though, his anti-semitic jokes to Ginsberg were made even less appropriate by how funny he clearly found them. Looks like Roger wins again this week.
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