Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mad Men: Makes the smoker appear superhuman

Historical context is the elephant on the set in the opening scene of this week's episode "The Rejected." We know that Lucky Strike is the cash cow that keeps Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in business. From this episode, we begin to see that for Don and Roger this is going to continue to be the nightmare client.

The scene began with us seeing Don, stressed, chain smoking, lighting a cigarette off the end of his last one. (Sometimes I wonder if the final scene of the final episode will be about Don dying of lung cancer.)

At one point Don describes to American Tobacco Company heir and closeted gay sadist Lee Garner, Jr., what can't be shown as: "Anything that makes the smoker appear superhuman." We know that while he's assuring about the latest regulations, ultimately TV advertising will be banned.1

In another context scene, we see Peggy and her newfound "counterculture" friends standing outside the glass office door as Pete schmoozes in the lobby with the representatives of his new client - the entire Vicks line worth $6 million in billings. (Good work Pete, even if you had to extort it from your father-in-law!) The representatives were all men in suits, middle aged and older. Outside the glass door is the future, diverse and soon to be the target demo. We know that first the two generations must clash violently, beginning in 1965.

Peggy was well represented in this episode except for one part. I know the "ring" shots were meant to show her still evaluating traditional relationships, but it appeared like she was longing for that role as housewife. And the peeking through the window at Don was meant to show that for a woman seeking a route to a stable traditional relationships is fraught with problems, something she already learned the hard way with Pete (emphasized in this episode) and that Allison's breakdown emphasized, but it also emphasized that men have problems there too.

My problem is with the writers or the Director (sorry, John Slattery, who directed this episode). The Peggy character is too smart and too experienced to appear wistful about a ring. The one thing we know about Peggy is she knows she has the talent and skills for the job and has already chosen to become "a suit" not a hippie nor a traditional wife and mother.

Her adventure in this episode was more consistent with her character. I was anticipating that being in the Time Life building would bring her more exposure to the direction of the future. Let's hope that the character Joyce Ramsay effectively played by Zosia Mamet ("The Unit", "United States of Tara") will continue to expand Peggy's big picture view.

But what about Pete and Peggy? We know that Pete and Peggy have a history. In the sequence where Pete is coping with having just been told he'll have to "fire" the Clearasil account, in frustration he ends up banging his head against a post.

In a different sequence:
  1. Peggy and Joey have an exchange over the shooting of Malcolm X which tells us (a) we're at the end of February 1965 and (b) neither one of them is very cool as Peggy is a week late learning about it and Joey gives a snotty reply.2
  2. Peggy congratulates Pete on his wife being pregnant, leaving a pregnant moment between them.
  3. Peggy ends up banging her head on her desk in frustration.
I'm not sure what to make of these images:

Nor do I know what to make of the second to the last scene where Peggy and Pete stare at each other through the glass door, each with their "group."

Then, of course we have the whole Fay(e) demo and Allison's breakdown.

We are shown Don's clumsy handling of Allison's request for a letter of reference. Then we have his nearly angry assertion to Faye about going with the traditional "find a husband" approach to women for Ponds: “You can’t tell how they’re going to behave based on how they have behaved.”

Don is inherently progressive in everything including women, except in his personal behavior. And even there, he knows he keeps screwing up and tries to figure out how to apologize.

Finally, there is the context reminder of the Don/Dick story arc that is offered in a haunting way.

In the beginning scene, in the middle of trying to explain things to Lee Garner, Don is obviously upset when he opens this letter from California:

In the last scene of this episode a sober(!) Don is in his apartment complex hallway with the "pear pair":

Don watches them as the old man asks the old woman repeatedly if she got the pears. She says to go into the apartment to discuss it in private.

We really can't see enough of Don's reaction to them.

But Don/Dick knows that Anna is dying of bone cancer. The picture of Anna and Dick in earlier times in the beginning scene juxtaposed with the old couple who are, after all, aware that death will come sooner than later, but who are together as a couple, a pair, has to touch a painful place in Dick/Don as a person isolated from love.

1. Last season we were made aware that the "Surgeon General's Report" on health effects of smoking was published. In early 1965 FTC regulations were going to require among other things the health warnings that we see now. The industry obtained delays and then got Congress to pass weakened rules in the form of the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965. In June 1967, the Federal Communications Commission would tighten up its rules on tobacco advertising and in April 1970, Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act banning the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio effective January 2, 1971.

2. There is some ironic relevance to today regarding the assassination of Malcolm X as it involved a dispute over militancy between Muslim sects. From Wikipedia:

While in prison, Malcolm X became a member of the Nation of Islam. After his parole in 1952, he became one of the Nation's leaders and chief spokesmen. For nearly a dozen years, he was the public face of the Nation of Islam. Tension between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam, led to Malcolm X's departure from the organization in March 1964.

After leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X became a Sunni Muslim and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, after which he disavowed racism. He traveled extensively throughout Africa and the Middle East. He founded Muslim Mosque, Inc., a religious organization, and the secular, Pan-Africanist, Organization of Afro-American Unity. Less than a year after he left the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X was assassinated by three members of the group while giving a speech in New York.

1 comment:

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