Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mad Men: Something good happens, something bad happens

A story arc sequence in this episode says it all about the "business model" of ad agencies like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. (I'd also make a sarcastic remark about investment banking here, but that's another blog.)

The partners are gathered in Roger's office prior to leaving for a funeral of a fellow ad man (we really don't know who David Montgomery is). They talk about how to use the event to find new clients. Don's newest secretary Megan enters the room to announce the birth of Pete's daughter. Congrats, all around. Thanks guys.

Pete says "Let's get going." And he and the guys head off to the funeral where we see them whispering to each other about who is going to talk to whom.

“How was the funeral?” Megan asks Don later.

“We’ll see,” he responds.

Death seems to fill the atmosphere at SCDP in this episode after everyone finds out they've lost the biggest client, Lucky Strike. And yet, at the end of the episode we see a nefarious act and blood ketchup in the future. But back to the details of the episode. Let's look at four of the show's key characters.

Don Draper

Well, Big Don didn't "go on the wagon" and neither did "Little Don." While Megan and Faye struggle to keep him from drinking too much, he couldn't keep to his limit of three drinks and couldn't keep "Little Don" in his pants with regard to Megan, who wants a mentor and wants to be successful like Peggy.

And, of course, he manages to manipulate Faye's concern for him to get a future meeting with Heinz to try to replace Lucky Strike.

For these women, Don is the traditional "bad boy." Somehow they see him in jeans and a t-shirt with a cigarette pack rolled up into the sleeve, except he's in a suit.

His pep talk to the employees was adequate, but Jon Hamm really does make Don seem uneasy and worried while struggling to make it convincing.

Losing Glo-Coat was symbolic of how crushing life can be for Don/Dick. But Megan is right in putting his Clio back together. It is a symbol of possible accomplishments.

Peggy Olson

"Every time something good happens, something bad happens. I knew I'd pay for it."

There is nothing like being a fallen-away Catholic. Think about it. Can you imagine any other character in this show summarizing his/her life this way?

For Peggy, having a fulfilling personal life is part of being alive, unlike Don for whom a personal life can never be more than a prop or an occasional escape. So when she wanders late into the gathering listening to Don's pep talk, happy from her new relationship with Abe it's a heck of a come down. (On the other hand, can being told by your lover that you have shoulders like an Olympic athlete really lift your spirits?)

Don, who actually is her mentor, bluntly warns her not to kid herself into believing what he just told the rest of the employees. She's still young and inexperienced. No wonder she thinks some kind of Catholic punishment will follow everything sinfully good that happens to her.

She nails the Playtex presentation, but not without experiencing another team member stabbing her in the back by not telling her about the lipstick on the teeth. Of course, that team member is not a part of any team. Her only teammate is Don.

Sometimes though, I wonder if an overarching morality lesson in "Mad Men" is "Every time something good happens, something bad happens."

Roger Sterling

Roger Sterling is going to be the Brett Favre of  "Mad Men" - the lesson is one should retire at the top of their game and then stay retired.

Roger catches a glimmer of the future, that there might not be a celebration of his life attended by grateful clients and coworkers, a mourning lifetime partner and children, no expression of a man appreciated. From that funeral, we hear about how that man buried himself in his work bringing tokens to his family from his business travels.

In fact, Roger behaves like a child, hiding his guilt over Lucky Strike (it's a good thing caller ID was invented later). Bert Cooper, the firm's resident elderly leader emeritus, crushes him with: "Lee Garner Jr. never took you seriously because you never took yourself seriously."

And Joan finally acknowledges that the "fun loving" Roger is also an irresponsible Roger who has been a constant source of disappointment and now has endangered her livelihood. When she makes it clear that she is ending their relationship, Roger looks like a child who's favorite toy is taken away.

But Roger has Sterling’s Gold and signs his first copy...for his young, new trophy wife who has already replaced his real wife and, unintentionally on Roger's part, Joan. One has to wonder if the writers have actually written the book to be sold at the end of this season.

Pete Campbell

Some might find it odd that Pete didn't stay at the hospital to be present at his daughter's birth. If you do, you were born after the 1960's. In 1965 husbands tried to stay at the hospital in the waiting room, but they weren't expected to hang around for days as they had a life and they never, ever were in the delivery room.

Still, for Pete the meaningful interaction was in that waiting room. His father-in-law wants him to get out of SCDP and take an offer to work for the rest of his life with people he hates. What will Pete do? He seems to forgive Don a lot, but Don pushes him away again accusing him of screwing up the Glo-Coat account.

The future for Pete is a family. But we seem to see a maturing Pete, finding his footing, not wanting to bail on what appears to be a failing firm. We know he will seek a way to take advantage of the situation, but this Pete knows full well that opportunities for real gains won't present themselves in a firm he didn't help start.

As we were serenaded during the ending by Jim Reeves singing "Welcome to My World," we realize that seasons of "Mad Men" don't wind down, they rachet up to leave us wanting more, from the show and from life. For the characters and many who lived during this period:

Knock and the door will open
Seek and you will find
Ask and you'll be given
The key to this world of mine

Welcome to my world...

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