Sunday, May 27, 2012

MAD MEN 5.11--"The Other Woman"

 You may find yourself living a shotgun shack. You may find yourself in another part of the world. You may find your self behind the wheel of a large automobile. You may find yourself with a comics blog. You may mind yourself reviewing Mad Men despite the lack of overlap. You may say to yourself "Well, how did I get here?"

 Then you decide to hang all that and get to the point, because here it is episode 11 and in a couple more weeks this'll all be done and dusted. Last week we had a humorous pile-up of plotting, including yet not limited to Lane embezzling, Harry banging a Hare Krishna, Megan throwing spaghetti and Joan throwing airplanes. What madcap hi-jinks await us this time? We'll just have to see.


 "Don't fool yourself--this is some very dirty business"

 Man, this episode starts heavy and gets worse, ultimately becoming blacker than midnight in a coal mine. We pick up with where we left off last week--with SCDP committing itself in force to securing the Jaguar account. Don has his people working nose to the grindstone and have locked into the notion of Jaguar (they were--and are--extraordinarily high-maintenance cars)  as the "mistress" car--expensive, high-maintenance, and not altogether reliable. One may compare and contrast this with Don's past as searching out woefully complicated infidelities when he was with Betty and Pete's recent adventures in being oily and creepy and unfaithful this season.

 If that were all it was, that would be bad enough. But one of the Jaguar dealers decides to make things difficult by suggesting that if he were allowed to have sex with Joan, it would ensure his vote Unfortunately, he does this in front of Pete, who has not had his ethical program installed by Dr. Soong, and thus, makes it a whole production to Joan (who, obviously says no.) and then to the partners, which initially seems to go well, as Don thinks it's an insane idea to even entertain and Lane is appalled (naturally, as he has that whole embezzlement noose around his neck after last week) but . . .Roger and Bert are surprisingly willing to entertain the idea of what is essentially high-value prostitution.

 However, ugly as it is, Lane plants a rather explosive idea in Joan's head about making her a full partner (incidentally dropping a line about the source of his tax problems--when they formed SCDP back at the end of Season 3, he settled for something lower than his worth, which, one assumes, led to his tax problems. That he suggests something that might tank the entire firm is . . .intriguing, and speaks somewhat to his state of mind with the noose around his neck) as an incentive to sleep with the guy. And Joan, motivated perhaps by a broken fridge, her mom verbalising what we've all been thinking about Greg (that we hope he gets killed in Vietnam) lays down the ultimatum--she wants to be a partner (and not a silent one) with a sufficient percentage of the business to set her up for life.

 The "dirty business" or, to be less delicate, "shit rolling downhill" causes all kinds of shockwaves. For one thing, Peggy's handling all the work while Don and the boys are contemplating Jaguar. Unfortunately, added responsibility doesn't equal more respect or credit, a reality Don proves in an utterly repelled display (as display so bad even Harry Crane leaves without comment) Peggy's been close to leaving before, but in telling Ken to go to hell with regards to their pact that if he found something good he'd take her along, she's ever closer to going her own way.

 Don further fails to distinguish himself by throwing a shit fit when Megan's audition possibly will end up with her leaving for Boston for rehearsals. Don, upset about the Joan thing, upset because Jaguar's not breaking right, because the partner's voted to pimp Joan out without him, and maybe just upset at being abandoned, throws a shit fit and Megan gives it right back. Don's fear of abandonment will further wound him in this episode, but we'll get to that in a bit.

 Because Joan goes through with it, and it's cross-cut with Don's pitch to Jaguar (of Ginsberg's idea, which I must confess, I didn't think that much of. As usual with his stuff it seems blatantly on the nose so we're assured of how "deep" he is) with Joan having sex with the sales rep. It is easily one of the bleakest things I have ever watched on this show and I marveled, slightly, at the dark art necessary to make Joan being raped by Dr. Greg on the floor of Don's office seem like small potatoes next to the apocalyptic grotesquerie of this. It is an incredible scene, and honestly, I dunno if I could ever watch it again easily, especially when we realise that poor Don was too late to talk her out of it. It is sad enough to be William Styron level bleakness.

 But hey, the ends justify the means, right? SCDP gets Jaguar, and everything's great, huh? Joan gets her partnership, Don gets a big win, Lane gets that noose around his neck tightened (and potentially has now dragged Joan into it--last season the partners were expected to kick in money to keep the lights on and even Pete couldn't afford his stake and Don had to kick his in) Don knows what it cost to make happen and feels disgusted . . .

  . . .and Peggy quits SCDP to go work with Ted Chaough (who you may remember from last season--he postured himself as Don's nemesis and got burned by Don with the Honda thing) Don takes this news . . .not well at all, really. Remember, this is the person who he begged to come with him when SCDP started, the person who was there with him when Anna died, the person who's always been there. And she left on a day wherein the business that kept him away from Megan won a big one at a price too awful to be easily tolerated.

 I don't say this easily, and it's certainly not as explosive in it's bleakness, but this episode was almost Breaking Bad level bleak. The recurring motif of the women of the show being eyed like a piece of meat (even when she's escaping to a new job poor Peggy has to deal with Chaough leering at her) was awful, the tension unbearable, and the final scene just brutal.

 Two episodes to go. Gonna be strange with Peggy elsewhere, and everyone else walking wounded for a whole host of reasons.

 That's it for this week! Join us next week when Joan plays with Silly Putty, Bert and Roger decide to get out of town and go for a drug-fueled rampage through Las Vegas, and Pete finally quits shopping in Nordstrom's boys department in a little funky fresh jam we call "Commissions and Fees." Until next week--soupy twist!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

MAD MEN 5.10--"Christmas Waltz"

 Low down dirty shame/kicking it live like it ain't no thing/Yeah, low down dirty shame/Witless Prattle like it ain't no thing. Pitiful attempts at R & B aside, this here is yet another installment in Witless Prattle's occasionally popular and much desired Mad Men reviews, which is like erotic fanfiction for your miiiiiiiiind, man.

 This week,  we enter the home stretch of the season, and from the episode description, it looks like a Harry Crane episode. Does this mean we'll be dealing with his wormy needy people-pleasing, his alleged whoring and stories of his large penis? In a Christmas episode? Let's find out!


"They're projections. They're based in reality, but they're hopes and dreams."

 Our first big plot development is Lane Pryce's tax follies. Turns out he's in for a bit hit from Inland Revenue (the cause of a lot of tax exiles from across the pond) and he connives to get the money by extending SCDP's line of credit by 50,000 and then hitting upon the idea to distribute Christmas bonuses ("how conveeenient," I hear you saying) to boost office morale.

 Meanwhile, Pete has finagled a meeting with Jaguar, again. You may remember that the last time this went down it ended with the Jaguar rep getting chewing gum on his junk and Lane beating real on Pete, a set-to that nearly repeats itself in the meeting as the room simmers between Lane wanting to ramrod through the Christmas bonuses and Pete wanting to thump his chest about Jaguar and not getting anything from anyone.

 This culminates in a scene that they very helpfully scored with MUSIC OF DOOM as Lane forges Don Draper's signature on a cheque to clear up his tax problem. Then, just in case we thought this was done with, his tax lawyer shakes lane down for his fee. Because there's no way this doesn't end up blowing up in his face.

 And hey! This isn't even the thing most pregnant with doom in this episode! Because you demanded it, Paul Kinsey returns. And he's a Hare Krishna, because he wasn't enough of a supercilious douchebag before now. He drags Harry Crane to a Hare Krishna meeting because I like to think Krishna told him to find the most awkward Cyril Figgis-looking dude in New York City and get him to chant for hours and hours.

 As with human interactions in mad Men, Paul has an ulterior motive for inviting harry. He wants out of the Hare Krishnas, but he wants to take his main squeeze, Lakshmi with him.So he needs Harry's help to get his spec script for Star Trek (honestly, Mad Men . . .I . . .have no words) which is horrible and pretentious like pretty much everything that is Paul Kinsey. Harry does his usual job of trying to wriggle out of having to tell Kinsey that his script is godawful (generally by trying to make Peggy do it, a task which she looks as much forward to as swallowing bleach) and Lakshmi comes back to the office to see Harry because his chanting made her sari moist.

 Yeah, I call bullshit on that in pretty much every permutation of bullshit that it is possible to extrapolate from that situation. He is Cyril Figgis now, I swear.Fortunately, she's running a savage burn on him that culminates with her straight-up slugging Harry (making her blessed in my eyes, if not Krishnas) apparently Paul's an awesome recruiter, and she won't have him strayed from the path. So naturally she decided to slap and tickle Harry, in the literal and figurative meaning of the term.

 But Harry, bless him, actually tries to do the right thing, giving Paul $500 and telling him to go to LA and pitch his shitty teleplay. You can't really say his motives are entirely noble, but good on him for rising above solipsistic schlubbiness for a bit.

 Man, what was a more depressing outcome--finding out Midge was a junkie last season, or Paul being a Hare Krishna?

 Meanwhile, in plot C, Joan is trying to carry on with all the dignity she can muster, so much so that she's turning down Roger's off-the-books child support payments (explaining, not altogether incorrectly, that it's easier if he's completely out of the picture and they don't have to play the lie) This goes drastically southward when Joan is served with divorce papers from Doctor Rapist (and admit it--when you saw the guy with papers you were hoping he'd been KIA in Vietnam) Joan actually cracks under this, and doesn't just give the receptionist a stern talking to, but completely loses her shit, and it's only the timely intervention of Don that defuses her going completely nuclear.

 This does double-duty for Don, as Pete's been pressuring him to take Megan over and test-drive a Jaguar. In the wake of Megan leaving (a fact that is STILL causing tension and plenty of passive-aggressive barbs from Don) don't not so eager to do the husband and wife Nick-and-Nora-sell-ads fandango they were doing before and takes Joan instead. Joan is on-board with pretending and eyes a Jaguar XKE (also known as Emma Peel's car of choice. Joan has a good eye.) This leads to a great extended scene with Don and Joan talking about divorce and the olden days and really connecting and having a good time, which, given how grim this episode is about to get, was kind of wonderful.

 But in Mad Men, as with poetry, nothing gold can stay, so Don comes home to a furious argument with Megan (which he is unable to twist into some spicy angry sex) and some bitter words about how even she knows he's not giving his all at work. This seems to engage something in Don, and in the last scene, he gives a rousing speech that they're going to get the Jaguar account (getting your first car is a big milestone in an ad agency, and as we're in the heart of car fetishism here at the doorstep of 1967, you can see how that would be a thing worth chasing) and he will work night and day to make that a thing.

 And it's a good thing, because Pete's initial announcement makes nary a ripple. Partly because it's just a pitch and as with the Honda  thing from last season, that and 50 cents will buy you a cup of coffee. There's also a teeny weeny pall hanging over things, as Mohawk Airlines gets hit with a strike (which, if Wikipedia can be believed, labor disputes will ultimately finish them as a company four years hence) and pulls their advertising. Cooper suggests the partner forgo their bonuses so the lower ranks can have theirs, and it's a great idea.

 It just. . .kinda . . .screws up Lane's plans from the beginning big time, doesn't it?

 So with three episodes to go, we have some gentle embezzlement, sparks striking between Don and work (and to a lesser extent, Don and Joan) Roger being frozen out of Joan's life, Pete continuing to feel unappreciated, and everything hinging on getting the Jaguar account. It wouldn't be near-the-end-of-a-Mad Men-season  without everyone looking into an abyss, I s'pose.

And that's it for this week! Join us next week when Roger spikes the office's water cooler, Joan goes on a roaring rampage of revenge, and Don gets the Lego brick accounts and builds brightly coloured robots all day in a little Ray Parker Jr. joint we call "The Other Woman." Until next week--soupy twist!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

MAD MEN 5.9--"Dark Shadows"

 Welcome welcome, one and all to another installment of Witless Prattle's continuing, highly rated, and rather dubious (given that this a comics blog and all) coverage of Mad Men, a show which is much critically regarded and yet every person I've suggested it to has not cared for it.

 Last week things took a turn for the creepy in some respects and things began to assemble in some sort of shape as we slowly turn towards the conclusion of this season. What surprises wait for us this week? Let's find out!


"They're refreshing for the damned"

 The house of Collinwood is. . .oh, wait, hang on. The title threw me. No, we begin with the Betty draper Miracle Diet, wherein burnt toast, 4 ounces of cheese, a grapefruit, a personal trainer and a month or so of being off the show will make the pounds just melt away. Betty takes an opportunity to have a snoop in Don and Megan's apartment (and to check out Megan in her brassiere, because of reasons) and she and Megan have a conversation which is only marginally less chilly than, say polar ice pack.

 Hilariously (seriously, I lost my shit laughing at this) Betty goes home and decides to blast whipped cream into her mouth. I'm sure this was supposed to be a nuanced story beat, but for Christ's sake--this was just too damn funny for words.

 But seriously folks, Betty's real secret is Weight Watchers, which is kinda nuts, but well, the theme for this episode is "competition." Betty having a peek at Megan, seeing how Don lived now, she measured herself against Megan and Don's new life, and found it wanting, hence, her tumbling off the diet wagon for a bit.

 If that were the only thing she did, that would be one thing. But, being that she's well and truly sick of Megan being so awesome, Betty decides to use Sally to ask Megan about Anna, Don's first wife. As this is Sally we're talking about, it's a lot like Betty just dropped a daisy-cutter bomb in from 20,000 feet, and boy does it do a lotta damage.

 I confess, don't get this--I guess we're supposed to sympathise with Betty, but then she does this utterly vindictive thing which proves that any of these vague motions at self-improvement are just part of a larger game wherein she "wins" against Don. It's very hard to get "sympathetic character" out of that for me, and she got a lot of episode to do it with. Really, the most honest thing she says is that she has everything she wants and no one else has anything better.

 Not a flattering sentiment. Time for an informal poll: Who's more evil--Betty Draper or Cersei Lannister?

 She's not the only one competing, however. Don's noticed that Ginsburg's (because more of Poochie is always a good idea) name is on a hell of a lot of the work from SCDP and the most recent thing he did was the letter for the New York Times last season that he was told not so very long ago guaranteed he'd never get the highest profile business. What's more, it's clear from the brainstorming session that his ideas are. . .well, a little wanting. There's a danger that like Freddie Rumsen, he's losing his ability to connect with the people they're selling to.

 On the plus side, Jon Hamm's "devil voice" is really funny. On the other hand, goddamn Ginsburg's idea is the clear winner. I'm sure he has his defenders, but Ginsburg hurts like an abscess tooth. He's a great big Katamari ball of Yiddish caricature and made out to be the Next Big Thing and hasn't really earned it by virtue of being a, y'know, interesting character.

 So it was rather pleasing to see Don sandbag him, at least in a visceral sense and to put him in his place, and to see Peggy turn against him when Ginsburg couldn't stop running his mouth about the secret job he got from Roger (who has doled out so much money for off the book projects and favours, even he thinks he should carry less mad money)

 And of course, Roger's always competing with Pete, hence his enlisting of Ginsburg (again) to woo a Jewish concern who wants to sell wine to Gentiles. This requires him to shell out more money (and a new apartment)  to Jane, who you might remember he divorced on the advice of a brain full of acid. Given that she seems taken with Bernie, the son of the boss of this wine company, it may or may not work for all parties.

 Roger deflects Peggy's bitterness about it by saying "every man for himself." Given what we see demonstrated this week, he's not wrong. However, the larger question is "can a business held together by the local gravity of simmering resentment on all sides against all sides survive?"

 You could say that Roger has a moment of regret when he realises he's screwed up Jane's fresh start by . . .screwing her in her new apartment, but it's too early to tell.

 Oh, and Megan's competing with her other actress friends, who's auditioning for a role on Dark Shadows (No, really. I kinda winced) I also question whether or not their timeline is right--Dark Shadows did start in 1966, but I'm not sure it was the Dark Shadows that everyone came to know until a little ways in. By which I mean it wasn't an excuse for Johnny Depp to gad about in goth drag again, of course.

 So yeah, everyone is busily trying to shank everyone else. I can't imagine how this could possibly go badly--after all, on Game of Thrones, everyone's been barely holding back their urge to kill everyone since the first episode and look how good that's been going! In any event, we're lining the pieces up for the final stretch of episodes and everyone's appropriately miserable. It remains to be seen if everyone will rally or further rip themselves apart.

And that does it for this week. Join us next week as Don feels "ways" about "stuff," Roger spikes the water cooler with LSD, Joan and Lane start a fight club, and there are so many more hiLARious jokes about Harry Crane's allegedly enormous dong in a little sumpin'-sumpin' we call "Christmas Waltz" because nothing says Christmas-time like the middle of May. Until next week--soupy twist!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

MAD MEN 5.8--"Lady Lazarus"

Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away, only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air. That unease being, of course, Witless Prattle's occasionally dubious, definitively inaccurate (for all I know) coverage of Mad Men. Last week culminated with A lot of illusions being shattered and a blowjob scene that was clearly mentally scarring. What fun awaits us this week, I wonder?!

"Is it harder to lie to me now that you know me?"

 Well, it's been a bit of time since we dwelt on Pete's problems (one could hardly blame him for receding into the background given that the last time he tried to break bad Lane beat the shit out of him) and we see that he's still the same awkward, unpleasant, cauldron of drives that he was previously.

 He can't even take Roger's gift of new business (and skis!) with any grace, and pretty much everyone ends up giving him shit as he awkwardly tries to get the skis home in his car (he passed Driver's Ed! And people say Mad Men never pays off plotlines) a situation which is complicated slightly when the wife of one of his train-ridin' buddies (who just told him he had a woman in town he was banging on the side) locks her keys in the car and is futilely waiting for her husband (a parallel to something else that's going on which we'll get to in a tick) One thing leads to another and, after an elliptical car ride home wherein Pete shows he didn't pay much attention in Driver's Ed and keeps whacking her in the face with his skis, they decide to have sex because why wouldn't you?

 I was stunned by this turn, mainly because I thought she was too old for him, as his thing used to be mad jailbait.

 Pete being Pete, of course, treats infidelity the same way you and I used to treat having a loose baby tooth when we were small--by constantly picking at the damn thing, even if it hurts and making the whole situation that much more awkward.

 But Pete always has Harry to abuse, so there's that.Of course, he does this in the midst of an anti-woman rant which is a bit staggering in terms of its venom and also because it's basically "waah wahh, the woman I'm not married do won't let me put my penis in her again!" Pete being Pete, can't really leave it alone, so, flexing the same nuts that got him totally schooled a few weeks back, invites himself to the guy's house so he can make a pass at the guy's wife . . .and nearly tries to fingerbang her right then and there. I'm trying to think who comes off as more awkward and unpleasant as Pete in these moments, but there's really only someone like Torgo who exceeds his oily creepiness.

 While this is happening, Megan is keeping secrets. Nothing quite like that--she's been doing auditions for acting jobs (her father ran her down for turning her back on acting last week and we've heard a few times about her ambitions previous to this) She's been keeping it on the QT as much as possible, but circumstances lead to her lying to Don and relying on Peggy to keep up her side of the lie.

 This fails, believe it or not, and Don starts pestering Peggy with calls (which Peggy blows off hilariously by making it seem like he's called the pizza place) and Peggy, who one gets the idea that she's sick of getting calls like this even when she wasn't tangled up in some elaborate web of lies. This leads her to blow up at Megan, who finally lays it on the line to Don.

 Don actually takes it pretty conciliatory, all things being equal, and Megan's on her way out the door at SCDP. What this means for Don is another question entirely. He was finally willing to let Betty go off and be happy, but there he had no choice and there had been a scorched Earth catastrophe previous to that. Plus, being with Megan has been the source of any and all engagement he's had with work, and his big win this year was when he and Megan worked together to get Heinz. With that particular spell being broken . . .what happens?

 Besides a very leaden bit of symbolism where, shortly after seeing Megan off, Don looks down an empty elevator shaft, a yawning abyss and OH MY FUCKING GOD THE SYMBOLISM.

 It's like a fecking bowling ball to the groin sometimes, I tell you.

 Anyways, while Don talks a good game about being OK with Megan going back to acting, in practice, things fall down a little when Peggy proves to be a rather poor understudy for Megan, which loses them the chance to shill Cool Whip and leads to an argument between Peggy and Don where both of them fight over why they thought Megan quit (Don things Peggy made her leave because she felt threatened, Peggy things Megan didn't really think advertising was a sufficiently worthy endeavour)  and Megan, trying to help Don be a bit more with it, gives him a Beatles album to listen to, and while Revolver is a actually a pretty good album, I can't say "Tomorrow Never Knows" is a thing I would play for people to get them to like them. It. . .just doesn't scream "gateway song" is all.

 Then again, I like "Eleanor Rigby," so what the hell do I know?

 Over and over again Don voices his fears that he doesn't want his marriage to turn out like his and Betty's. But there is a feeling that maybe with Megan out of the office (costing him some of his engagement with his work, which everyone had noticed has flagged somewhat) and her pursuing something that he couldn't even conceive of (he and Roger talk about the fact that to their frame of reference, the notion that you can choose a career is a bit mystifying) that maybe what Don fears is being Betty as she was when married to Don--on the outside looking in. We've had inklings of that fear already this season, and rather than defuse this . . .I have the feeling that things are only gonna get more tense.

 In all, a pretty good episode, I thought. Could have done without the elevator shaft gag and also, Pete acted like a right creep. Just thought I'd say it again.
 And that's it for this week. Join us next week when Pete confesses his love of schwarma, Peggy asks what the hell "schwarma" is and Don just wants Megan to shut up so they can rage-hump in a little. Join we like to call "Dark Shadows." It can only be better than the movie coming in a couple weeks. Until next time, y'all--soupy twist!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Just Sayin'--AVENGERS, and This and That.

 So, just got back from seeing Avengers, and, one week after Cabin in the Woods set my teeth on edge with its insufferable Whedon-ness, I bet you'd think I hated it, right?

 Well, I didn't. I don't know whether it was because he had to rein it in or what, but it was exactly what I wanted--superheroes fighting giant monster as Asgardians and flying dugongs and shit like that. Everyone gets a cool bit, no one gets sidelined, it's just a great well-rounded team movie, a feat which I thought was impossible. The usual Whedon hallmarks are turned way down and when they show up, they're rare enough that they're actually funny.

 My only quibble is: So is Maria Hill just there to make all the mistakes and get clowned so Nick Fury doesn't have to look bad? It is difficult for me to see the point of her.

 Oh, and the whole echoing 9/11 stuff was a little tacky, guys. Let's not not do that, shall we?

 Anyways, go see it. BUT--if you DO go see it, I urge you to consider Jon Morris' suggestion of matching your ticket price with a donation to the Hero Initiative. It's a good idea and a good cause, and with all that's been happening in comics and all that has been discussed here recently around the nets . . .well, let's NOT talk for once and just do a little good, hm?

 I'm not insisting you do it, I just want you to consider it.

 Anyways, some comics!

 GLORY #23--Oh Rob Liefeld, your attempts to continuity-implant a whole history for your Extreme characters was uproariously funny back in the 90's. He actually had a guy who was all but the Sub-Mariner, and his name was "Namor" spelt backwards. Liefeld, you crazy.

 Anyways, you may remember that Glory almost became Promethea before Alan Moore's cheques from the Rob didn't clear, and none of this has very much to do with the new series, which is good, because the new series is . . .well, quite a lot of fun, really. The first issue is a little elliptical and has a rather curious nested structure, but reads for me in a way that draws you in and makes you interested in what's happening rather than the confusing impenetrable mishmosh that usually comes from writers who think they can pull some Alan Moore level formalist shit.

 In any event, a lot is set up here, we get a cross-section of Glory's history, a lot of exposition framed around some action so it doesn't reek of padding or nothing and ends of a cliffhanger that gets you kind of excited to see where they go from here.

 PROPHET #24--I've heard people compare this to a story from the glory days of Heavy Metal, and y'know, they're not wrong. There's a sense of coming in in the middle installment of some untranslated Heavy Metal story wherein a man (mostly) silently wanders through ever more trippy set-pieces and gonzo ideas (like a synthetic skin that heals you and is essentially a giant transparent baby) and none of it makes any obvious sense, but is very intriguing in its minimalism.

 It was very much like reading a Metroid comic featuring Solid Snake instead of Samus and drawn by Tim Truman. I have no real problem with any of the things in that sentence. It's amazing that we've come so far from Prophet as a born-again Christian Warpath/Shatterstar mashup (yes, that was a thing which happened) and I'm really intrigued by it and it's odd voice and synthesis of genres. It's well worth a look.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Listen To The Sounds . . .Of Wildcat