Tuesday, April 22, 2014


(Mild spoilers.) Roger has left the orgy and it becomes clear that Don is who he pines for. His disappointment at the way Lou Avery, who has taken Don's office, receives his story about being called a kike is bad enough, but his own reaction to the news that Ogilvy picked up the Hershey account that Don blew is positively mournful. His misery trails him all through the episode -- it suffuses his "would it matter?" to Joan -- and into the elevator with Jim Cutler at the end of the day. It is my perhaps paranoid impression that Cutler is not dishing out human kindness when he suggests Joan drop office management and move up to the executive suite; I think he's exploiting a weakness in Roger's relationship with her, and the same office-warrior spirit animates his veiled warning to Roger about not wanting to have an adversary. I thought at first that Cutler was dull, but now I suspect he's just been lying doggo.

I might not have noticed Cutler's cuts had it not been for Joan's very different reasons for doing kindness in the episode. I doubt she's consciously fighting the bigotry behind the various idiotic reactions to the black secretaries in the office -- her line to Bert about firing Dawn for the color of her skin was not outrage but warning. She is sticking up for them, but Joan has neither the time nor the taste for crusades; she's being kind to them because no one else there deserves her kindness. Helping Dawn is justice to Joan, but not the kind toward which the arc of history bends. Joan reminds me in this episode of many people I've known who were monsters to everyone except a few people whom they unaccountably elevated. I think this is what she will become.

Whereas Peggy may just become a monster. Maybe they all will. It wouldn't be the first time a big-time series went that way. They aren't looking very good lately, these characters -- more or less happy, depending, but shits, basically. Maybe that's why Weiner let Dawn and Shirley talk so much. They're a refreshing change of pace.

Is Don an exception? So far he's just managed to tell his daughter a little bit of truth, looking like he just swallowed shit. I wasn't as impressed as some people with their scenes in this episode. The most disappointing thing about Don for years has been how little payoff there is to his self-examination. And he doesn't have much time left.

Which may be why I wonder: Will Pete ever actually listen to a woman he's fucking?


  1. Odder2:01 AM

    As one who virtually never watches TV dramas, I actually caught and enjoyed the first two seasons. But after that, our cable subscription thingy changed and MM was no longer on the menu. The SO is more dedicated and has somehow kept current via her newfangled tablet doohickey, but I've reverted to oblivious pottery in the garden and whatnot. Carry on!

  2. Odder2:08 AM

    Hmmm, "pottery" wasn't quite the intended word. Probably puttering is more apt.

  3. Doc Nebula6:51 AM

    If you're going to parallel MAD MEN to SOPRANOS, you may as well ratchet that throttle all the way over and head into the MAD MEN/DEADWOOD tunnel with a full head of steam. The secret of all three shows -- and unfortunately, these three ain't all, these days -- is some kind of weird show runner's bet -- how vile can we make these characters before our audience runs for the hills? Sadly, we have not yet plumbed those depths. DEADWOOD nearly reached them when Al Swearingen put out a hit on a four year old girl; Milch had to pull him back, plus insert into the show an Al figure even more vicious (and less charismatic) than Al to keep people liking Al... but Al was still an appalling prick, just a slightly lesser one.

    SOPRANOS always followed that formula, too... sure, Tony is a motherfucker, but every season, we'd see someone who was a worse one, in a less likable way, so we stayed with Tony simply due to the comparison. MAD MEN is doing the same thing. We're starting to get a very queasy quasi-incestuous vibe between Don and Sally and it's a little sickening, but fuck it, Roger is already mapping that territory with his own incrementally less likable, more adult daughter, so as long as Don never actually makes a move on Sally (which he won't; TV will give us heroic serial killers and drug dealers, but our culture simply won't accept a protagonist pedophile... yet...) he's good.

    Nearly the entire male cast of MAD MEN exists for this purpose alone... to make Don look at least slightly more palatable by comparison. (The female cast used to be there for two reasons -- to reflect Don, and to make Joan look like a bitch when foiled off Peggy's naivete. Things have grown more complex now, as Joan has steadily been emerging as the closest thing this show has to a genuinely heroic figure... but the show is always careful to remind us, whenever we are in danger of admiring her too much, that she has just awful taste in men.)

    I myself grow tired of shows about appalling and awful people, but my instincts tell me it will get worse before it gets better. After the heroic sociopath who murders less heroic sociopaths, or the chem teacher in crisis taking over the midwest's meth industry, I'm not sure exactly how it CAN get worse... but I'm confident it will. Don Draper's antics are small pototos, morally, compared to Dexter and Walter White's... but small potatoes is pretty much all the morals Don (or anyone else in this show) has, anyway.

  4. Very interesting analysis, Doc nebula. I guess I wonder whether the show runners have the problem that if they make the main protagonist (whether Don or Tony) truly awful they don't make the other characters look better by comparison. Or if everyone is awful then the show is so totally dark that it becomes impossible to watch, like a show set in a concentration camp (not hogan's heroes) where you watch the prisoners and the guards turn on each other and destroy each other on a daily basis.

    I stopped watching Mad Men because of time constraints and the general tedium of the awfulness. Don's sins are too small bore to be other than boring. He's a terribly damaged and damaging person but he is so out of control of his misery and his actions that its hard to get worked up about them. I felt that the Sopranos operated on a different plane--the point of the Sopranos was to disabuse you of the notion that a sociopathic murderer can be other than poison to everyone he knows and everything he touches. Even the audience. And I felt the showrunners tried as hard as they could to put the audience in the position of Dr. Melfi, and show the audience that they, like Melfi, had been sucked into an enabler's role by a sociopath who could not be cured.

  5. Doc Nebula8:01 AM

    Well, honestly, it's actually even simpler than my analysis makes it. The formula is actually just this -- do a show about an alpha male in some kind of interesting situation that allows the alpha male to successfully dominate everyone around him. This is the key. Yeah, the alpha male has to struggle, and yeah, the setting/context has to be interesting (which includes the beta characters who support and interact with the alpha male). But as long as the alpha male continually and inevitably emerges triumphant, we will continue to watch, because nearly all men want to be alpha males, and nearly all women want to sleep with them. 'Nearly' isn't universal, but it's enough to sell ad space.

    Nearly every successful dramatic TV show I can think of has had an alpha male at its heart. The formula is really that simple. Lately (the past ten, fifteen years) we've seen a surge in shows about bad boy alpha males who "break all the rules"... but in point of fact, the best alpha males always broke the rules, it's just that now, they don't have to conform to the standard cultural mores... they can be cutthroat pimps, high school teachers turned meth gangsters, serial killers, o.c. bosses, what have you.

    ENTOURAGE is probably the purest example we have of this formula... it's nothing, absolutely nothing, but a dubious alpha male romping around with his betas.

    On MAD MEN, it's all dominance struggles, and Don always wins. It's really that simple. That's why we are fascinated with Don Draper... various other wannabe alpha males are always taking him on, and somehow, Don always dominates them. It doesn't make him in any way likable or admirable... but we still want to be him.

  6. As soon as I read "Roger has left the orgy" I thought, "Wow, a behind the scenes peek at Fox News."

    I'm heavily invested in brain-bleach futures.

  7. Provider_UNE10:32 AM

    Glad that I have only seen a few episodes from the first season. It seems like MM might be a show consumed over a couple of weekends. I also have BB on the same list. I am lucky enough to have avoided too much spoilage as far as both are concerned.

    Though from what I have read I can imagine bailing on both shows midway through their run.

    The wire, remains unwatched (but for a couple of episodes during the first season)...

  8. sharculese10:46 AM

    Cutler is definitely trying to pull Joan away from the rest of the SCDP veterans.

    As for Joan and Dawn... I'm not sure it was a conscious decision to elevate the black woman so much as that Joan is one of the least concerned about race in the office (probably matched only by Don) and going back to their brief exchanges in season 6 I think she identified Dawn as having that quality of lack of concern about being liked that Cutler mentioned.

  9. RogerAiles10:47 AM

    Roger is heavily invested in Kleenex and Jergens.

  10. M. Krebs11:10 AM

    At the end of the third season (or thereabouts) I finally asked myself: I care not one whit about any of these characters (except maybe Peggy), so why am I watching this shit?

  11. You lost me there because I think there is some confusion about what an Alpha male is, and what a protagonist is. There are lots of male protagonists on TV--basically every show that isn't female centered (and few are) is based on a male protagonist and his issues. But not all of them are alpha males in the modern psycho babble sense and not all of them are men that "other men want to be and women want to fuck." In comedy this is especially the case. In drama--what about Monk? The loner, the weirdo, the slightly autistic, and the loser all have had their moments in the sun as protagonists on very succesful shows.

    As for Don Draper I think that Mad Men is really a very special version of the phenomenon you are describing but I think thats almost a result of the audience's desire to project a lost utopia on a scene which the writers are depicting as relentlessly awful. Of course there are people who watched the show lusting after Don (both male and female) but the writers always showed us a Don who was so damaged and so indifferent and so shallow that he certainly couldn't sexually satisfy most of the women he was involved with. So to the extent that women "wanted to fuck him" I'm not so sure that it wasn't as much as a mercy fuck as a fantasy projection on the audience's part.

  12. M. Krebs12:33 PM

    Well said, Doc. But, on the other hand, with Deadwood, the Sopranos, and Breaking Bad the sheer awfulness of many of the characters was always tempered by a certain level of black comedy (and good, old-fashioned gore). At least as far as I could tell, that's missing in Mad Men.

  13. edroso1:25 PM

    I follow, Doc. Sure, the troubled antihero is what makes these properties sellable. And what you said further down about "standard cultural mores" makes sense; who wants to waste time on Mannix when you can follow a serial killer? Interestingly, the breakdown of social codes -- which are connected with "standard cultural mores," aren't they? -- is one of the themes of Man Men, and the one I think it handles best. Would be cool if they could fast-forward through media culture at the end, like in the finale of Six Feet Under.

  14. Yes, the humor in Mad Men is in things like the infamous scene where little Sally is playing in the plastic dry cleaner bag and her mother simply chastises her for getting mommy's clothes wrinkled. Its painful but in an odd way--as though the distance in time heightens it and transforms what would be contempt (if they were our contemporaries) into pity and shock, like coming on an elderly relative naked.

  15. I topped out on season 3 of Six Feet Under--maybe I've only got three seasons in me--what happened in the finale?

  16. [sees "orgy" in reference to mad men episode]

    [thinks about orgy in reference to several mad men characters]

    [sues Roy Edroso for losing Master of His Domain Bet]

  17. glennisw3:21 PM

    My take on the women wanting Don is not so much for mercy, but in the self-defeating fantasy that they think they are the One Who Can Change Him.

  18. glennisw3:31 PM

    I found Lou's behavior regarding Sally's walk-in so both incomprehensible and also so reprehensible as to be unbelievable, even viewed through the lens of it being a different time.
    Sure, he's angry that his valuable time is wasted by having to interact with her for the - oh, what was it, thirty seconds? - he was forced to do so.
    But to claim it was Dawn's fault? What, isn't she allowed to leave her desk? And to fire her for it? I don't read Lou's character as being someone with a hair-trigger like that. Yeah, he's an asshole, but I see him taking his anger out on Dawn more by upping the belittlement and racism rather than firing her, which, actually, is a release.
    His anger about Sally and his reaction to it seem way out of proportion to the actual incident. Wouldn't taking on a new secretary be much more disruptive to him?
    Was there something else, an embarrassment that Sally didn't know about Don? I would see that as more of a plus for Lou, negative for Don, than something to be upset about.
    On the one hand, shouldn't he be concerned that there's an unsupervised minor child wandering in off the street, shouldn't he lasso some woman employee in to deal with it instead of just letting her wander off?
    I'm wondering how Dawn will adapt to her new position - and how the others will adapt to her (I['m rooting for her!)

  19. "a very queasy quasi-incestuous vibe between Don and Sally"


  20. J Neo Marvin3:58 PM

    The lawnmower accident and Lane's first failed suicide attempt should count for something in the black humor department.

  21. Well--are we talking women in the show or women in the audience? Because though its true that for women in the show Don must always be an ever receding fantasy lover for women in the audience the fantasy can contain the possibility that they can change him--that's not self defeating. Its just fantasy.

  22. WAs that really...uh...funny? I mean the running over the foot incident was horrible and jarring and black but not really funny.

  23. J Neo Marvin4:28 PM

    Isn't Lou also the one from rival agency Dancer Fitzgerald who taunted Roger and Don with the breath mint joke? He's always been a bully.

  24. I mentioned the lawnmower as an example of gore, not comedy; M. Krebs seemed to be bemoaning the lack of both.

  25. J Neo Marvin4:51 PM

    Did you respond with a hilariously smug one liner or seething butthurt rage?

  26. Doc Nebula5:36 PM

    MAD MEN's humor is less black than it is bleak. It's there, but it's like an indictment of your basic humanity to recognize it, much less crack a snarky grin at it.

  27. Doc Nebula5:39 PM

    It may just be me, but it's a hit I've been getting off the Roger-daughter relationship, and lately, I've been getting it from Don and Sally, too. It may just be that nearly any time we see Don alone in a car with a woman, the vibe is entirely sexual... but, then, any time we see Don alone with any woman anywhere, the vibe is entirely sexual.

    I know the show can't be allowed to go there -- as I've said, there are still some cultural depths that even cable, much less AMC, can't/won't plumb... but if we look at Don Draper as a real human being, knowing what we know about him, what in the world would keep him from sleeping with Sally, given the opportunity? Innate decency? That he's such a good father? Please. Only the fear of getting caught would hold him back... and that's never held him back for long.

  28. oh definitely rage!

  29. Geo X9:36 AM

    Er, maybe because even really, really fucked-up people are not commonly sexually attracted to their children? Is this so hard?