Sunday, April 7, 2013

MAD MEN 6.01-02 "The Doorway"

 And here we shake off the long hibernation of a moribund time trying to pretend to be a comics blog and failing by returning to Witless Prattle's inexplicably popular traffic-generating reviews of the popular show of the day, now beginning it's penultimate season.

 Last season, things got dark and stayed there. For those of you who came in late, Roger dropped acid, Peggy quit and went on to a new job, Don got his tooth pulled and struggled being married to a young Quebecois with the most splendidly assholish parents in history, Pete got the crap beat out of him twice, and Lane, who beat the crap out of Pete, hung himself, and that wasn't even the saddest thing that happened--that was Joan being pimped out for the Jaguar account (though she was smart enough to work it to where she was made full partner in the firm for it)

 Also, Betty got fat for awhile because the show struggles with what to do with her now and this was a desperate flail at keeping her in orbit. 

 That's what got us here. Let's get ramblin'.


 "One day I'll be the man who can't sleep and talks to strangers."

 We pick up on someone looking over someone else, and, one assumes, is having someone checking his vitals. That gets filled in a bit later, but is only one of the cornucopia of morbidity that erupts. While Don and Megan celebrate their anniversary in glorious Hawaii (a  working vacation for Don featuring more Jessica Pare fanservice than you could zou bisou bisou at) and Don's reading Dante's Inferno, because it's gonna be that kind of season, it seems.

 Stricken by late-night angst, Don wanders down to the bar and runs into a solider on leave from Vietnam, who's come to Hawaii for his wedding. As inevitably happens when confronted by poignant reminders of his real past Don is pretty awkward and aloof, but gets roped into standing in at his wedding, despite committing the unforgivable sin of wearing a crazy-ass late '50s jacket with leis in a way that says "I'm gonna throw up."

This has an ironic echo later on.

 Turns out ever since the commercial, Megan's had a decent amount of success--she's got on a soap opera and is popular enough to be badgered for an autograph whilst on location. She comes back to some frustration, however, when she's given a script for one scene upon her return and it seems she's being put on the bus. Things turn around some when she lucks into the role of being a scheming bitch on a soap opera (really seems like it'd be Betty's thing, but who am I to judge?) and seems to thrive in the role.

 Meanwhile, Betty is . . .odd. She gets a ticket for reckless driving, asks Henry if she wants to rape Sally's new friend Sandy (who gets and almost Ginsbergian level of "Hey! Please care about this new character that we're going to spend ten minutes with") and has a tense conversation with her about her future and Betty's past. It's good they can talk, even after the whole rape thing from before. I tell you what, you stop eating whipped cream right out of the can, and you just go crazy, I guess.

 I'd like to think Betty's bitter because with Cersei Lannister on the scene she's no longer TV's #1 bitch. But that's idle speculation. Meanwhile, Sally is following in the footsteps of her mother and eviscerating people with wildfire sarcasm. It's good to see her come into her own.

 Upon hearing that Sandy's headed off to New York City (in a rather squalid corner of the Village--it's rather gone downhill since Midge's days) and I hope no one was having dinner during that part of the episode. Betty gets confronted with the extreme deprivation there and handles it in her usual "you assholes brought this on yourself" kinda way she gets when people don't give her her way. She dyes her hair dark because that's the best way to deal with feeling disconnected with what's going on in the world, of course.

 Meanwhile, Roger's in therapy now--either the LSD had less than the desired effect, or he's moved on to further vistas of self-improvement in the usual Roger way, which means he's performing in his usual vapid, narcissistic, sarcastic sort of way for his shrink while still complaining about his dwindling options. When later confronted with the fact of his long-lived mother's demise, Roger acts about the way you'd expect him to act--bitching about how this will inconvenience him personally.

 This is a set-up for his mother's funeral, which ends as all good funerals should--with Don puking into a garbage can, as he's gotten into a weird, existential drunkenness. Apparently his doorman was the one who collapsed and nearly died and he's kind of fascinated by the notion of dying, having run into the army guy in Hawaii, convinced as he was that married guys live longer. Yeah, ask Greg Harris about that.

 Don's brush with mortality is a lot for him to take, no least because the private's lighter seems to almost follow him, as if it were reminding him that death is not very far away.

 Roger, meanwhile, is grappling with feeling like he's teetering on the abyss. His first wife, Mona, tries to explain to him that people do care about him and he shouldn't disappear up his own backside being so self-centered, and Roger kinda attempts to reconnect, but . . .well, that's a big wall to hurdle. It's not helped by his daughter immediately trying to persuade him to invest in a refrigerated truck scheme.

 Everyone wants something always, it seems.

 Roger finally shatters when he gets one tragedy too many--his shoeshine man dies, and on top of everything and his fears that he's peaked and now his life is only going to be one long series of goodbyes, and everything that's happening seems to be confirming his worst fears.

 Peggy, now in charge at CGC, deals with a crisis--the headphone company she's done a Superbowl ad for, echoing a bit from Julius Caesar, now seems somewhat less than judicious given the war in Vietnam has now given us the indelible image of GI's cutting the ears off Vietcong. To her credit, she's a good deal more diplomatic than she was when Heinz nixed her ad, in that she's not yelling so much, but she hasn't quite mastered veiling her contempt all that much, especially with her almost Don-esque viciousness with her subordinates. Nevertheless, she seems to be thriving in her new job, and that's something to see.

 There's a great moment when, in the throes of crisis mode, Peggy puts it together and comes up with an alternate idea for the headphone ad. Her boss loves it, and speaks glowingly about it.Peggy's really coming into her own, but while she has Don's agility (well, the agility Don usually has) she lacks the wisdom to know when not to drive the help too much. That said, she really did seem to need that career move after all.

 Don, back in his element at the office (now with swank new staircase!) is . . .not in his element anymore. Now he seems a little distant than before, and Pete and the underlings at the office (Good Christ, Stan's beard, Ginsberg's mustache and whatever the hell Harry Crane molted into--late 60's fashion is almost more eerie than Betty's rape-happiness) seem to be more open in their contempt. Given that things seem to be going well for the firm in general (apparently they got Dow chemical after all) the question is was this due to Don or is this kind of thing happening without him and he's drifting into another, more distant, orbit?

 Meanwhile, Don screws up the purpose of his Hawaii trip--the presentation to the client goes rather badly when the ad he suggests doesn't include the hotel and suggests a suicide attempt. Don seems rather flabbergasted that such a thing would occur to anyone, flails about a lot, and even Roger and Pete look on him with withering contempt.

 Given what we discover in the punchline to all this--the relationship with their neighbors, his interest in Dante, and oh yeah, Don's banging his neighbor's wife--they're probably right to be disappointed. Don says he'd like to stop doing this, but feels like he's locked into the things he does.

 As the timeline for this two-hour episode is really fragmented, the episode seems a lot more concerned with asking questions than answering them, which is no great revelation for Mad Men--this early in the season, the writers delight in playing with space, time, and perception. The first act of these seasons always does this kinda thing, then the middle third is short stories featuring the characters before things wrap up by tugging at a few disparate threads. While this may be annoying to folks used to a tightly-plotted arc, Mad Men trusts that you'll be interested enough just seeing the characters interact as things slowly unfold.

 Sometimes it even works.

 And that's all for this week. For you newcomers, I will explain how we do things here--owing to AMC's policy of taking a simple proposition of a "Next time on Mad Men!" and, perhaps in homage to William S. Burroughs or Negativland, cut the thing up into such an incoherent mess as to be utterly opaque. So in general, we just make shit up here as to what happens next week. With that in mind, join us next week as Don declares whoever passes sentence should swing the sword, Pete gets slapped by a midget, and Joan has a lot of names to offer up to the Red God. Join us next week for "The Collaborators." It's a momentary diversion on the road to the grave!

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