Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mad Men: The Amazing Rolling Fables?

When I'm drivin' in my car
and a man comes on the radio
he's tellin' me more and more
about some useless information
supposed to fire my imagination.

When I'm watchin' my TV
and a man comes on to tell me
how white my shirts can be.
Well he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke
the same cigarettes as me.
The above is the first two versus of the opening song in this weeks episode, "Mad Men: The Summer Man." Most recognize the chorus, few know the verses from (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, the June 1965 hit release from The Rolling Stones. That it's about advertising and about dissatisfaction certainly is appropriate to the show.

But it isn't the only material lifted from another source in this episode. We saw Faye relating the Aesop fable The North Wind and the Sun to Don:
The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveler coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.”

So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveler wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair.

Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveler, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.
Don asks what this means and Faye says that “kindness, gentleness, and persuasion win where force fails.”

While this had some relationship to the episode's story arcs, in my mind I juxtapose this to Don's watching with concern the Vietnam war news that American troops were taking a more aggressive strategy and we were escalating our troop presence. After an attack on a U.S. Marine barracks at Pleiku, a bombing campaign began that lasted for three years. Ho Chi Minh warned that if the Americans "want to make war for twenty years then we shall make war for twenty years. If they want to make peace, we shall make peace and invite them to afternoon tea." American policy makers chose to be the North Wind.

Dealing with post-cataract surgery glasses of that period, Miss Blankenship adds a third piece lifted from the song Amazing Grace: "I was blind but now I see." That was, of course, quite relevant in this episode as we hear Don Draper describe his process of gaining control of his life.

The "Recovering Don" story arc which picks up from the ending of the last episode was enjoyable to watch as creative TV - keeping a journal, swimming, and trying to control his drinking. I hope future episodes will continue this character.

But the more compelling "period piece" story arc is that of the women. It's now clear that we have four struggling characters that will continue. Joan and Peggy, of course. Betty. And Faye. Each is trying to cope with identity and role issues.

Betty is still struggling with a "what happened to me?" attitude and maybe she can live comfortably using Francine's suggested mantra: “We have everything.” But so far, it's not convincing.

Joan's confrontation with Joey makes it clear that she is operating out of the same rulebook his mother's generation used. In fact, he called her on it and also gave us a look into the source of his attitude which involved a disrespect of his mother. Joan began a manipulation process to get rid of him. But it didn't seem to me to be going anywhere.

Welcome to the new generation of women, Joey. Meet Peggy, bolstered by Don's "You want some respect? Go out there and get it for yourself." By the way, Joey, your fired.

Joan and Peggy. Joan is struggling with her soon to be military doctor husband, her perceptions of the workplace and women. Peggy is slowly, but surely, marching forward, one soldier in the feminist army that will ultimately find itself dominating the workplace in 2010. Except, of course, for the glass ceiling. Could Peggy ever become a Don?

Faye offered some news about her mafia family background in this episode. One can only wonder where she and Don will end up.As usual, there were many layers in this episode, and some pretty heavy psychological expressions. Whether it was Don in the waters of rebirth or Joan expression of hate attacking the macho pigs telling them death awaited their dumb asses in Vietnam, emotion pours out of this show.

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