Sunday, June 10, 2012

MAD MEN 5.13--"The Phantom"

 It's time now for Mad Men! Five good-looking New Yorkers from all walks of life! Draper, their leader, is Mad Men Red! Pete, able to leap tall trees, is Mad Men Black!  Roger, the acid-dropping human outboard motor is Mad Men Blue! Harry, the slow-thinking head of media is Mad Men Yellow! And their man squeeze Joan Harris is Mad Men Pink! Under the guidance of the his man, Dr. Cooper, who, from his advertising agency and day care center keeps the world safe from the evil machinations of Bernie Tanaka, and Mel Fujitsu--at one time his partners, but now his arch-enemies!

 Who can stop them? Who can save the world! Cooper, that's who!

  The ultimate persuader in the war against shitty advertising, these are the continuing adventures of Mad Men!


 "You want to be someone's discovery, not someone's wife."

 Well, in the midst of SCDP's best quarter ever, the mythical second floor is potentially no longer mythical, and everyone's lining up for position for a new office, because no one wants the one available, because it was Lane's. Lane's absence is felt, but not really talked about explicitly, most especially by Joan, who is really stepping up to his role, though the empty seat in the conference room is a silent reminder that things aren't quite right.

 Speaking of things being out of joint, Topaz Pantyhose storms out of a meeting where Ginsberg was being a pushy shithead (as usual) about their latest ad. Topaz, you may remember, was the company that finally broke SCDP's losing streak last season, and was won by Peggy. Clearly, her loss is beginning to tell--another silent reminder of one who is absent.

 This is manifesting itself around the office for different people. Joan is reminded painfully of the cost of their prosperity (and Lane's malfeasance) when she gets the cheque from the insurance company for Lane's death benefits, and wonders to Don if she could have done something for him (*ahem*) to help him. Don has no answer . . .

  . . .because Don has his own pointed reminder of absence and the cost of loss, because he's been seeing his dead brother Adam (who also killed himself by hanging) around the office. One could read this as his version of Joan and the empty chair, but Don's lost a lot this season--his notions about the company he built, his wife working the job and keeping him engaged, his friend, who he thought he was cutting a break, and now Peggy, his protege.

 It culminates in a very creepy moment with Don when, at a trip to the dentist, he sees Adam, who tells him it's not his tooth that's rotten. The image of the rope burn around his neck is really kinda creepy.

 Peggy, who we see in command at CGC (whipping everyone into shape) is doing OK, or seems to be, when Ted Chaough hands her Phillip Morris' newest project, a cigarette for women, which I suspect is Virginia Slims. This is a bit of a difficult thing for her, as she doesn't smoke. . .but I guess she'll learn.

 Pete, meanwhile, has another dalliance with Beth, who wants one last tumble before she goes in for electroshock therapy. I'm not really sure that he's the guy you would choose for your last fling before you use current to erase it from your mind, but I can certainly understand why you'd want to delete Pete from your memory. Though I'm not sure she really has any kind of mental problems that require electroshock therapy as much as she's a deeply bland actress.

 Pete should be happy, as he gets what he wanted--another ride on the Beth-train, plus deniability because she can't remember, but if you you know Pete at all, you know what's coming. Dude can't resist picking the scab. So he goes to visit her in the hospital post-therapy to see if she remembers feeling a tingle, but she's completely wiped him out, which causes him to do an agonizing appraisal of his situation, which, Pete being Pete, will not take in any way shape or form.

 Because Pete can't stop picking the scab, and gets in a fight with her husband on the train, which Pete loses. Then Pete picks a fight with the railroad dick, and gets punched again (Does this rise to fanservice yet?) and thrown off the train. And in a final twist of the ironic knife, Trudi says he should totally have an apartment in NYC, right about the time he'd talked himself out of it.

 But these are all little things which rotate around the spine of the episode--Megan is trying for a job in a commercial that Don is overseeing, one she wants so bad (possibly because she hasn't worked ever since she began going in for auditions) that she throws her friend under the bus to try to get it. Don tries to talk her down from it, claiming it'll do her no favours, but there's an added vector of pressure: Megan's mom, Mrs. Calvet, is staying over and really being an utter bitch.

 It's not just her usual haughty Frenchness. It's not sneaking off to go rolls in the hay with Roger (people bond over the craziest shit) it's not her cool dismissal of Don, it's her incessant smashing of Megan's ambition to be an actress. Mrs. Calvet has no faith that her daughter is talented or any good, and thinks Megan should just give up--it's not like Don won't take care of her anyways.

 This, then, becomes a vector of pressure on Don, because Megan really needs the win to throw it in Mrs. Calvet's face. Coupled with Adam saying he's "rotten" and a meeting with the widow Price, who lets him have it, blaming him for a whole bunch of shit he really had nothing to do with (kind of a shame, given what happens, that Don gets shit for what he doesn't do. Not like he didn't have plenty of ugly shit he actually did) this ultimately tips him to the dark side (we are led to assume) as he gets Megan the job, and, it seems, is going back to his classic philandering ways.

 Meanwhile, the view from where Peggy's staying in Richmond is of two dogs fucking. The symbolism in this show is like a heel kick to the groin sometimes.

 So! Sic transit Season 5 of Mad Men, where everything seems balanced on an abyss finally tumbles in. But at least Pete got smacked around a couples times, lest it all be utter bleakness. I'm not really sure I like the implication here that "at their heart, people don't really change," which, if you know that's coming, tends to negate the drama and my investment in it--resetting everything to default works for Tom and Jerry cartoons, not so much for five seasons of a continuing drama.

 We'll have to see how it all plays out, I suppose.

 And that's it for this wee. . .well, this season, really. Join us next year (I guess?) for the penultimate season of Mad Men, which I'm sure they'll switch up things by making it a happy fun-time musical or something like that. After the Russian winter that was this season, some sunshine would be welcome. Anyways, join us here at the Prattle for season 6, and until them--soupy twist!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Just Sayin'--Bullet Points

 In which I try to cover some of the news stories in comics which I have studiously ignored trying to talk about, focusing instead on the cheerier task of covering Mad Men, which for those of you not following the Mad Men reviews has included one character committing suicide and the entire firm in one way or another being complicit for turning one of their own out.

 All told, leagues more fun than anything going on in superhero comics.

 Yes, I would rather write about that than fucking Before Watchmen: The Phantom Menace.

 So, these things happened:

 1. Alan Scott comes out as gay, Internet (not surprisingly) reacts a lot like this:

 2. Just in case the notion of Before Watchmen: Donuts Don't Wear Alligator Shoes as anything other than a naked cash grab was not clear, buy the fucking toaster.

 3. Concomitant with Before Watchmen, every goddamn argument about it on the internet repeats the same points pro and con. And why the hell are there so many Charlton comics experts now when there haven't been Charlton comics for 30 years, and even when there were, no one gave a shit? Why, one would assume people didn't know what they were talking about

 4. Justice League and Batwoman nosedive, become so unreadable that Liefeld comics almost seem like Neil Gaiman by comparison. I had zero expectations that Justice League would be anything less than mediocre, but hoped that maybe DC would see the advantage of having Jim Lee drawing it to make everything sleek and energetic and moving forward.

 That hasn't happened. The plot is muddled to the point of incomprehensibility (there's a villain who was the guy in the backmatter of issues 1-5 and I'm supposed to give a shit about any of this why?) The art is static and muddied, everyone's the same alpha-male caricature, and the whole thing just feels so boring. And let us not even speak about the Shazam strip.

  I'm done there.

 Batwoman, never the most lickety-split of comics decided to further bog down by fragmenting it's latest story arc into a lot of character-specific bits that make the story even more muddled and confusing and slow slow slow oh my God so slow.

 On the plus side, Trevor McCarthy is a more natural fit for the tone of the book than Amy Reeder was, though that's not meant as a knock against Reeder at all--she was just Jimi Hendrix playing in the Beatles.

 Bottom line, Batwoman is a great-looking book that has become bewilderingly inscrutable, and it's on the bubble.

 Thus, I think we're all caught up now. There's a few trades I'll be covering in the coming weeks after Mad Men is all done, and maybe some more things as my interest/rage compel me.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

MAD MEN 5.12--"Commissions and Fees"

 Witless Prattle was a dream given form--oh, wait, no, it was just borne out of boredom on one day in January 2009. It's goal was initially to write about comics, but when that gets depressing, thank heaven we can always retire to the sunny feel-good television comfort food that is Mad Men. Last week was one of the most nightmarishly bleak episodes not in the run of Breaking Bad, wherein the whole firm near-about was dragged into the moral sewer and Joan got pimped out so they could get the Jaguar account, and bought into a firm that has a ticking time-bomb called "Lane Pryce's embezzlement" in it, for double the misery. Oh, and Peggy left, and carried the hearts of a besotted nation with her.

 What sort of sublime joy will we find in this, the penultimate episode of the season? Let's find out!


"You'll tell them it didn't work out; and the next one will be better, because it always is"

We open with Don getting a haircut and trying to field a compliment about getting Jaguar (is there a conflict of interest there, given that Roger hawks Lincolns and Don shill Mercedes Benz during the commercial breaks?) Don handles the comment about like how you'd expect given his attitude last week--it's like sloshing acid around in his mouth.

 At work, things aren't much better--at the partner's meeting Joan has to hold Scarlett's hand through her old job, Pete is ungodly smug (Jaguar really likes him, and you may read into what that you will) Don is still bitter about the way Jaguar was attained and snipes at the rest of them for it.

 But what comes to pass is a recommendation by Jaguar to work on a fees-based system instead of the commissions model that SCDP had been using up to this point. This entails a lot of due diligence, and everyone goes off to do that . . .

 . . .and that's when Bert finds the cheque Lane wrote and signed Don's name to. If you thought that things would lighten up after last week, well, suck on this: Don quickly discovers what's what and brings Lane into his office, forcing him to flat-out fire Lane's ass. This is easily the worst day of Lane's life, as he'd been nominated (and accepted) a position of fiscal responsibility (ha ha) for the 4 A's. This turns to ashes in front of Lane's eyes and he comes apart to Don, finally blowing up that he didn't have the luxury, as all the other partners did of having a comfortable nest egg to fall back on when he left his job.

 This leads to a downward spiral that gets very close to the darkest latitudes of total blackness, as Lane has to pretend that he;s not fired to his wife, who bought a Jaguar XKE to celebrate. This causes Lane to snap and try to kill himself in the Jaguar, which won't start (nice payoff of the long-running joke, there) and well, he goes to plan B. More on that later.

 Meanwhile, in plot B, Sally throws a fit about re-using ski boots which causes Betty to get her bitch on (good to see she's bounced back to her old self) and drops her off with Don. Sally demonstrates her usual good judgment by inviting Glenn to see her, and calling him her boyfriend. Glenn further lays an emulsion of ickiness on the proceedings by confessing he told the kids he goes to school with (who, we're told, beat the shit out of him. Kids are real perceptive that way) and Sally further makes sure this is as uncomfortable for all concerned by freaking out when she realises she's getting her period, getting a cab, and going all the way back to Betty's house. Betty handles this as you'd expect, smugly telling Megan "she just needed her mother." I realise that the show's creator wants us to think Betty's sympathetic and all, but really, if she had a mustache, she'd have been twirling it during that whole scene, and I can't even take her seriously as a character what that kinda thing happens, let alone feel any sympathy for her.

 Back to Don for a bit. His annoyance with the way the Jaguar thing went has made him irritable and restless. One imagines he wants another big win, but a cleaner one. Roger, recognising that this is the Don with the fire back in his belly suggests they go after Ken's father in law at Dow Chemicals, the one who told Don that the tobacco letter was an albatross around his neck that marked him down as someone far too untrustworthy to hire. Roger and Don decide to take a run at him all the same, if for no reason than to get the secret of good business hugs.

 Don comes out swinging and if you thought that this meant things were turning around? Well, suck on this: Lane hung himself in his office. Did anyone have "death by hanging" in the suicide pool? I myself worry now that I kept using metaphors like "the noose tightened around his neck" and stuff like that.

  Everyone takes the news with horror (even Pete, surprisingly enough), especially Don, who probably feels more than a little responsible given that he was the one who fired Lane and also because his brother hung himself when he rejected him wayyy back in the first season. You can imagine this causes him pain on a number of levels.

 So, yeah. TWO fun episodes in a row! Gosh, the relentlessly upbeat sunniness that is Mad Men threatens to make my cup of joy overflow at times.

 And that's all for this week, thank heaven. Join us next week for the season finale, wherein Don looks at things, Peggy looks at things, a lot of people open and close doors, and Pete hates everyone for looking at things and opening doors in a shock sandwich we had to call "The Phantom," featuring music by Paul Williams. Until; next time--soupy twist!