Sunday, September 19, 2010

MAD MEN 4.9--"The Beautiful Girls"

This needed two quotes:

"I would have my secretary do it, but she's dead."

"She died as she lived--surrounded by people she answered phones for."

There is a world, just after now, where reality runs a razor thin seam between fact and possibility; where the laws of the present collide with the crimes of tomorrow and the needs of Lucky Strike and Vick's Chemical. Patrolling these vast offices is a new breed of ad man, filling magazines and TV with ads as they drain cigarette packs and whiskey bottles, they are known simply as ‘Mad Men’… and this is their story…

Okay, so last week, just as we're about to run into double-digits, we got to see Don Draper making a go of getting his life together, Peggy got a taste of power and dropped the hammer on Joey, and Joan told a group of people that when they were dying in Vietnam, they weren't going to die for her because she never liked them, which considering when this is all taking place means she just laid down a savage burn on them equivalent to saying "God hates you and for ten generations, your children will look like Thalidomide babies. How's that taste, you punk bitches?"

This week, we begin with Don moving some furniture by having some ferocious boot-knocking with Dr. Faye. Apparently, he could go a little farther after all. They've apparently been having hot sordid nooners and trying to compare notes (not that Dr. Faye is having it) and joking about their mutual suspicions of each other. Don seems especially concerned about her possibly rifling through his things (not without cause--look what happened with Betty) the phrase "Chinese Wall" is dropped, which in what is sure not to be a coincidence, is an episode title from later this season . . .

Meanwhile, Roger is fulminating over trying to sell his book, which is not going well despite the lascivious details about Don's secretary and Bert Cooper's testes. Joan busts his balls about a few things, as she's feeling cross about her husband being called up to Vietnam, which, if there is a God, He will frag her ass. Feeling bad, Roger arranges for a Swedish massage for Joan, because he's racist, an alcoholic, and fading fast in terms of relevancy, where Joan's concerned, he's kind of a sweetheart.

Peggy, meanwhile meets up with her lesbian art-house friend from "The Rejected" and complains about trying to hire more copywriters (now that Joey's been cut off) and she arranges a meet-cute for Peggy with Abe, a guy from the party that got raided. They talk a bunch of hippy-talk about the coming revolution and how the mass media is keeping the will of the people down and he fails to see that to Peggy, the struggle for civil rights is relative. Why not work for minority and gender equality, right? Needless to say, they don't hit it off, and I find myself missing Paul Kinsey, who formerly kept the "pretentious douche" end up on this show in seasons previous.

And because God knows even "enlightened" dudes can't take the hint any more than the sexist dinosaurs on this show, he shows up later and delivers a dissertation to her that he wants her to read as Don and Co. has a rather ghastly meeting with Fillmore auto parts, which evolves into a bigger crisis when Sally shows up at Don's work, as she's skipped the train and tried to come see him, which evolves into an even larger crisis and Don and Betty yelling at each other, playing up the reason Sally acts like this in the first place--she was already acting up, but now, as the football in the ongoing pissing contest between Don and Betty. Thankfully, Don doesn't have a TV in his office so there's no danger of a Man From U.N.C.L.E. repeat incident.

Peggy, meanwhile, is mightily pissed off--Abe seems to want to use her as an exemplar for a screed he's written indicting big business for the sort of things people wrote manifestos in 1965 about and because multiple collisions and disasters seem to be theme of this episode Don's secretary, the late "queen of perversions" Ida Blankenship drops fucking dead and this episode explodes to balls-out craziness. Joan tries to handle this with aplomb but one doesn't expect "hauling out a dead body" as a skill on the c.v. of even the most capable office manager. Thankfully the Fillmore Auto Parts guys get distracted by a little theatre on the part of Don as they try to get Mrs. Blankenship's body out the office with a minimum of drama and the whole thing rapidly descends into the tensest, darkest farce one can imagine. Yes, even worse than the one where the guy got his foot run over with the lawnmower.

And even though Blankenship was a bit of caricature, she was funny and Roger takes it hard. From listening to Roger's book, we know they had a relationship together, but there's more working on him than that. Having had two heart attacks and come frighteningly close to dying on the job, he's watched his greatest fear be wheeled out under a blanket. And even though his attempt to quid pro quo Joan into being with him failed, his speaking honestly about his pain and their mutual, unspoken fear of morality.

Which leads to a great scene with the two of them talking over what's bugging them. Over and above the fact that Roger's hung up on her sexually (hey, who wouldn't be?) what holds them together is more than that--they're very close, but not quite as friends, not quite lovers. That tension, by the way is what makes their scenes hum with such energy. Good turns to bad, as Roger and Joan then get mugged, and Joan goes apeshit because the mugger takes her wedding ring. But because nothing about this episode follows the normal chain of cause and effect, they end up making out hot and heavy in the middle of the neighborhood they just got mugged in, because really, how likely is it that lightning would strike twice?

Don, meanwhile, is dealing with Sally's unexpected stay, and Sally tries to make up for it by making french toast. Unfortunately, she confuses Ms. Butterworth's with a bottle of rum, in a recipe I am sure to try for breakfast. Meanwhile, Bert and Roger are still aching over the loss of Mrs. Blankenship (from the picture painted in Roger's book, they were contemporaries of a sort, and Roger and Bert fret a lot last season over the feeling of time passing them by) and Roger and Joan have a rather tense confab wherein she reminds them both that they're married . . .and not to each other. Yet she doesn't regret it. Hm. Could be something there, eh?

Meanwhile, Peggy picks a rather thorny time to take a political stand on Fillmore Auto not hiring black people, which goes about as well as you'd expect (really, Pete's experience with trying to sell Admiral on pitching to black customers last year) Meanwhile Sally decides to detonate and refuse to leave and in the service of not causing a scene (which happens anyway), she storms out, falls on the floor and takes a shine to Don's new secretary, Megan. Dr. Faye, meanwhile, nails Don to the wall for setting her up on a test to see how well she handles being with his kids (which I really don't think he did, because Don isn't quite that Machiavellian, at least not when it comes to matters of the heart--far too impulsive for that) Don contemplates going off the wagon (given the day he's having, who could blame him) and Peggy and her gal pal discuss the finer points of feminism and weirdly apt soup metaphors. Peggy, Joan and Faye go to the elevator and this weird-ass puzzle box of an episode draws to an end.

Man, so . . .things happened this week. Not in the more extroverted end-of-season Mad Men way, but in the more low key way that sets up the end-of-season stuff. Characters have had their places in life (and their places in relation to one another) given a good jostle, someone died, and if this episode can be said to have a moral, let it be that "the more you try to keep things from developing into a scene" the more explosive the end result will be when it inevitably ends up as one anyways. There's a lot to unpack for this episode, and I probably missed tons of it, but hey, that's what the "edit" button is for.

NEXT TIME: Well, we're up to Episode 10, which means we're either at the end of Disc 3 or the beginning of Disc 4 if you're following this after the original airdates, which means, in some small way I have perfected a kind of time travel, at least insofar as it is possible to transmit ideas of some immediacy across great gulfs of time. Obviously, I'm ruminating on this as a way of deflecting the question of what in the hell is supposed to happen next week, as really trying to read the tea leaves of AMC's promos are a fool's errand. Suffice it to say--something will happen, and as we'll be 4 episodes until the end, it's time for big things poppin', little thing's stoppin'. Be here next time for the winner of the "Which Mad Men Episode Title Most Sounds Like An Early Prince Song" contest, "Hands and Knees." GONNA BURN SOME MUSCLE!

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