Sunday, June 23, 2013

MAD MEN 6.13--"In Care Of"

Well, it's come to this. twelve weeks, a few b12 shots, a bullet in the eye, a burglary, various infidelities, Planet of the Apes, Rosemary's Baby, a merger, visions, flashbacks, THE 60S, and I don't know how many words written later, we've come to the end of another season of Mad Men. Last week, we got in position for the finale, featuring Don being alternately distant and an asshole, Peggy calling him on it, and Pete finally solving the Bob Benson problem . . .or rather, getting it handled. What awaits us this week? Let's find out!


 "You know what they say about Detroit--it's all fun & games until someone shoots you in the face."
 It's a dark time. Nixon's president, and as Thanksgiving is just around the corner, things are not great. Don is trying to set new records for prodigious metabolisation of ethanol, either that or he's coping with Sally's painful hostility (Sally's courting contempt of court charges by refusing to return to New York and testify about the burglary) by drinking a lot, and punching men of the cloth who tend to proselytize to drunks.

 Stan sees great opportunity in packing up and moving to L.A. for the Sunkist account, even if it's a demotion--the notion of getting out and going somewhere new appeals to him. Unfortunately he makes the mistake of telling Don this who, in an effort to cover for his drunken assininity, decides to offer himself up to go to L.A. so he can run the Sunkist account. He sells this to Megan as being a fresh start where they were happy and Megan, being Megan, believes him (leaving aside that, as when he shipped Sally off to boarding school this is all about putting the maximum amount of distance possible between the piles of poo he leaves everywhere). This annoys the partners and enrages Stan, who calls him on his bullshit. Between this and how he handled Peggy, Stan has become one of my favourite guys.

 Not that anyone else is doing much better--Peggy and Ted are now separated completely, Pete's mom fell off a ship and is presumed lost at sea (because of course Pete incurs the most ridiculous misery) Meanwhile, Roger comes down hard on Bob and Joan's friendship because he's not connecting with his own family and he's closed off from Joan.

 Things get worse for Pete as he finally makes it out to Detroit (after shouting at Bob--apparently before she took a tumble off the ship, she married her nurse Manolo, who seems resolved to play the pleasant Baldrick to his Blackadder) Pete is immediately undone because he can't drive a stick and comes straight back home. Oh Pete, your whole life is one long sad trombone.

 Peggy decides to use the power of cleavage to force the issue with Ted, and it works (because of course it does) Ted insists he's going to leave his wife, though seems a bit ambivalent about the whole thing, and Peggy insists she'll wait for him and doesn't want a scandal, but considering that they apparently went at it like a horny couple of Hottentots, I don't put a lot of faith in their self-restraint.

 And Ted doesn't have any faith in it, as he begs Don to let him go to California, away from Peggy, so the temptations of the flesh won't ruin him (as it did with Don, a fact that Don is all too aware of.)  Don tells him there's no way he can change his plans, only . . .

 . . .Don loses his mind, and starts spilling the beans about his early life in a whorehouse . . .in the middle of a pitch to Hershey's. It's one of the most astoundingly excruciating bits of overshare in the history of overshare and he tells Ted he's going to California instead of Don. Then again, there is a strong probability that Don has finally gone insane, as he seems to be acting completely sideways.

 And the partners have had enough of that, pretty much, as they politely (as much as is possible) put Don on the bus. Yes, my people, Don Draper finally acted irrationally enough to force even his closest allies to get him out the door, with the upshot that is it's PETE of all people who gets to go to California (with Ted--I guess they have more people to spare than they thought) Don's future is uncertain in all ways (Megan storms out after quitting her job on account of his exit strategy) and well . . .I'm trying to see a plan in all of this, but damn if I can.

 In any event, we get a BIT of a happy ending among the ruins of all this. Pete has one last moment with his child and Trudy tells him to look on this as being free--No senile mom to look after, no family to be responsible for and let down, he can have a fresh start. If he can just let go of being an asshole, there's a way forward where he might possibly be happy. Roger has a odd (but kinda pleasant) Thanksgiving with Joan and Bob (resplendent in apron--that'll make a fellow viewer of the show happy) and if he can just let go of feeling like he has a claim on Joan, there's a chance he could be happy too.

 And Don? Well, Don takes his kids to the ruins of the whorehouse he grew up in, in an effort to reconnect with them. Maybe if Don can actually be honest with the people in his life who love him (and doesn't punish them for having the bad taste to love him) and doesn't run away when things don;t go his way there's a way he might be happy too.


 This was . . .well, an interesting episode, and probably one that works more in a marathon viewing where you can see the threads that brought us here. It kinda meanders and goes off strange tangents before focusing up at about the 45 minute degree mark, but then, every episode has kinda felt that way this season. I was quite impressed with the final few minutes of people trying to go after what they need instead of what they want. It was more thoughtful than just having a BIG EVENT people react to.

 I liked it.

 And that's it both for the week and the season. Join us next season for the final season of Mad Men, wherein we will no doubt explore the world that's coming, the world of the 1970s. Perhaps we'll get grosser jackets, or why every appliance was avocado or squash coloured, and the sideburns situation, can only probably get worse. Somehow, I doubt very much that any of these things will even be addressed, but it's something to look forward to, at least. See you next year!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


 We like trilogies, don't we? It seems like a movie isn't considered a success unless it can immediately have a trilogy built around it (whether there's three movies in it or not). Of course, with our love for trilogies comes a certain knowledge that the third part is always a bit crap--I don't know whether it's the fact that once you get all the answers to something they're not as exciting as having all the questions being asked in the first place. Maybe it's just by the third part, things are feeling a little bit laboured or too familiar, or maybe things just feel a bit navel-gazey by this time. Many times we've seen a third installment that seems like it should be strong--all the things that you like in the first two are there--but for some reason, all you can see is the decline and rot setting in.

 I bring this up, because The New Teen Titans Omnibus Vol. 3 is a great example of a third installment that shows both decline and rot. If the first Ominbus showed the book in its first spurt of creative ferment and the second Omnibus showed the book at its creative peak, the third Omnibus shows us a book settling into diminishing returns and decline, a book perfectly happy to cannbalise its own history over and over and ride the horse the long way 'round to the glue factory.

 There are creative reasons for why this is in evidence, and business, reasons, and I've mentioned both before, and as they're actually happening at this point in the title's history, I'll be able to illustrate it as we go.

 We start this Omnibus by going back a bit, and picking up an issue that was excised from its place in the second Omnibus. "Who Is Donna Troy?" is considered one of the best Titans stories (even if it was all soon invalidated) and is quite a striking story in that there's not a single fistfight in the whole thing. It's just as detective story--Robin's trying to untangle Donna Troy's origins (no mean feat, considering even then she was a mistake that ended up being a character. Despite the somewhat overly sentimental tone and the near-toxic levels of Terry Long, it's a very affecting story, and justified, in a sense, that these were characters first and superheroes second, and when that's handled properly, that's just fine.

 The last part of that statement is rather important.

 Anyways, that detour set aside, we return to the book's "present." Tales of the Teen Titans #45-47 features the Titans going up against the H.I.V.E. once and for all (in revenge for the whole Terra thing) Aqualad and Aquagirl guest star, because they were victims of the H.I.V.E.'s vaguely batshit plan to kill everyone in Atlantis for . . .well, we're not sure what reason.Meanwhile, Wally West shows up to fret over things because we haven't quite figured out what to do with him, Changeling's getting all grim and gritty because Terra showed him up, and Raven's turning evil again because  . . .well, more on that in a bit.

 Art this time is by George Perez and Mike DeCarlo (though it's obvious that Perez is only doing breakdowns on this, as a lot of DeCarlo's "sheen" that he gives pencils he works with is in evidence more than Perez's level of detail.) Given what Perez is working on in this time-frame, that he even has this much presence on Tales at this point is pretty impressive.

 Issue #48 is a done-in-one featuring the Titans fighting the RECOMbatants (who are totally not the DNAgents, except they totes are) It's . . .all right, but the big feature this issue is the guest artist--Steve Rude drawing the Titans is something to see, for sure. Issue #49 features the return of Dr. Light and guest pencils by Carmine Infantino, who, thanks to Decarlo's inking, looks a lot less sketchy and shakey compared to how his stuff on Flash looked at the time.

 Tales #50 is a milestone, in more ways than one. For all intents and purposes, this is the end of Tales of the Teen Titans' new material, as there's now enough of a lead time for the "hardcover/softcover" thing to start (more on that in a bit) It's the wedding of Donna Troy and Terry Long and while it's the least romantic wedding I can imagine, George Perez goes all-out on the art side of things and book fully commits itself to its soap-opera side for this long double-size issue. While it definitely feels like a moment long in coming, the overall experience seems a little empty, as Wolfman has never written a convincing reason for why Troy and Long are together (short of having characters lecture at the reader a whole bunch of informed attributes) and if you don't buy into that, the whole thing might seem more than a little self-indulgent.

 So, sic transit The New Teen Titans. After 50 issues, New Teen Titans leaves the newsstand more or less, and the "hardcover/softcover" format is upon us as last. For those who missed the explanation in previous reviews, DC had this idea in the early 80's--take their most popular books at the time (Titans, Legion of Superheroes, The Outsiders) and relaunch them as direct sales only titles, with fancier paper, offset printing, better colour and (most importantly) a higher price. The newsstand issues would then, a year later, reprint the deluxe issues with shitty Flexographic printing that would make any artistic gains utterly muddled and gently punish those plebeians who didn't have comic stories for . . .not having comic stores, which if you remember the early 80's, was most of the country.

 It had one good point, and that point is evident in the next arc we're looking at--it gave artists a bigger canvas to work on and get more elaborate. Whatever the issue with the story, New Teen Titans Vol. 2 #1-5 looks great, with Perez experimenting with un-inked pencils, spot colouring and breaking out of the standard panel borders in expansive and adventurous ways . . .it looks fantastic. So if you had great artists doing great work, the Deluxe format comics were beautiful things (and even though Perez will soon be gone, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Eduardo Barreto are pretty good, as consolation prizes go)

 If you didn't, well, it made shit work look even more awful. Sure, the Flexographic printing made everything even uglier, but set the bar any lower and we'll be in the Earth's mantle.

 Story-wise, it accelerated a process that was going on over in Uncanny X-Men at the time as well--namely, a writer who had stayed on too long was running thin on new directions to take things in and either repeated himself, worked in as many of his own private obsessions as he felt he could get away with, or, in the case of Marv Wolfman, both.

 And this brings us to the story half of  New Teen Titans Vol. 2 #1-5: Oh Dear, Raven's Gone Bad. Again. There's a foreword from Wolfman that prefaces this Omnibus (reprinted from a previous collection) that talks about Raven being a compelling character and all of that, and while I don't dispute she has some uses in the team dynamic . . .she's really NOT that great a character, at least at this point, because Wolfman only seems to have one story he runs featuring her: She gets possessed by Trigon and turns evil. It happened in the original series, it happens here, and it'll happen 100 issues hence in New Titans #100. She's forever turning evil or being possessed or otherwise acting with no agency of her own. The rest of the time she skulks around being remote and trying to discover "what it means to be human" or some Star Trek bullshit like that.

 Raven's inherently passive role is illustrated by the structure of the story: Raven finally loses her shit and turns evil, summoning Trigon and talking like Dark Phoenix for a couple issues. Trigon shows up and bellows that he will enslave the world and etc. etc.  . . .and then takes a nap for two issues (no, really!) while the Titans fight manifestations of their inner evil and self-doubt (not the only time we got to that well . . .not even in this book!) and then the evil Titans show up and kill Raven (and obviously that's gonna stick, right?) then Lilith and Raven's mom put Raven's promise rings back on and she turns into Raven the White and fixes everything and Trigon is killed absolutely for realsies this time.

 I should mention, by the way, that in the first five issues of this book, the Titans utterly fail to notice Raven's been going nutty for at least a year of continuity, immediately get sidelined by her initial attacks, turn evil and murder Raven, and then can't even kill Trigon and win the day in their own book.


 This would, it seems to me, be a red flag of some sort, and that portraying your team of superheroes as screw-ups who fail to pull together at the critical moment and mope about it the rest of the time is not the sort of thing that long-running books are made of. Mind you, the Titans had made mistakes before and suffered reversals born of their own oversights and arrogance, but had previous to this, always pulled together at the critical time and been heroic.

 Not anymore, not in this book, anyways. There starts to emerge a persistent thread of failure and obsession with failure that really starts to strangle the book. Most of the rest of the stories in this book concern Nightwing constantly grappling with his relationship with Batman and his attempts to become his own man (even though he'd kinda already done that, he has to do it eight or nine more times for it to stick, I guess?) It becomes a real problem and one that sets the book on a course of navel-gazing and spinning its wheels that becomes so pervasive that the whole books becomes this oppressive culture of failure (really, the same thing happened with Claremont's X-Men, it's just happening faster here) that got so bad, for the last 25 issues leading up to #100, they tried damn near everything to scour the Earth and get back to their roots.

 But we can't deal with that now. After a "catch our breath" issue in the wake of the Trigon attack, we skip ahead (four whole years and a title change to New Titans) to Issue #50, which is Ground Zero for why Donna Troy was (and possibly still is) such a continuity nightmare for "Who is Wonder Girl?" a four-part epic that is not really all that epic and replaces a rather elegant solution to a continuity problem with enough nightmarishly intricate gobbledegook that it could almost be, say, Cable's origin.

 It's also about the time Danny Chase showed up. I talked about Danny Chase back when I wrote up Games. The short version for those of you who missed it--bad as Terry Long was, he's nowhere near the utter shit that Danny Chase was--a pet character that was portrayed as being relentlessly unlikeable and obnoxious and was pushed down everyone's throats. I would say Danny Chase has X-Pac Heat, but it's more accurate to say that he IS X-Pac Heat, incarnate: Just seeing him makes you wish he would go away forever.

 Anyways, to the extent that any of this makes any damn sense at all, let's see if I can make this at all coherent: Donny Troy is a child of the Titans of Myth (who are good guys now, I guess?) who decamped to outer space and raised aliens to be New Gods (but not those New Gods) only one of the godlings has gone crazy so now Donny Troy (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the Titans) must go and save them, except they leave Danny Chase behind, ostensibly to protect him, but more, I think because they can't stand him either.

 So they faff off to outer space and fight aliens and it goes about as well as you'd expect, in that the Titans get the crap kicked out of them pretty consistently and things get worse because it's just that sort of book, innit? Eventually Donna and the rest of the godlings kill the mad godling (it is nice that the main character of the story gets to have some of her own agency, I will say that, even if you don't really give a crap who the rest of the godlings are because they pop up out of nowhere and never show up again) and everything's OK and Donna has a brand new origin that people will immediately begin to ignore and snarl up even moreso.

 This is a lead-in to the next issue, where Donna Troy debuts her Troia look and . . .well, not unlike her new origin (now with 100% more space aliens and confusion) people begin trying to tweak the costume almost immediately, possibly because the damn thing looks very hard to draw correctly. Meanwhile, in Subplot Theatre, Danny Chase tells Nightwing that Jason Todd's been killed with all the taste and conscientiousness you would expect from young master Chase. Nightwing almost beats the crap out of him and throws him out of the Titans (though he still sticks around because Marv Wolfman will MAKE YOU LIKE HIM if it's the last thing he does.) Nightwing goes to commiserate with Batman about Jason dying and Batman punches him in the face because Batman just rolls like that.

 The book gets slightly flabby and shapeless after that, as issue #56 tells the thrilling tale of Gnarrk post-Crisis, and if you're first response was "wait, who?" the answers are "exactly," and "congratulations, you're not crazy?" I would spend more time on this and Lilith's weird mental sex-thing with him, but it's 2013 and neither you nor I should be spending the brief, precious time we have on this planet thinking about stupid fucking Gnarrk.

 Issue #57 features the return of the Wildebeest, perhaps the most frightening of his breed since Gary Gnu. Wildebeest is interesting because initially they did a good job of working around the whole "a cool costume with no one in it" idea because the Wildebeest was always a different guy each time. This time, the Wildebeest is Cyborg, who's been sidelined since they went to outer-space and is being mind-controlled (again, by some weird sex thing! Man, does Claremont know they're biting on all his shit?)

 Also, Jericho's mighty blonde Afro is now an afro-mullet thing. Also he's polyamouous. Wolfman really wanted to sell that as an example of Titan's progressive sexual politics, because dammit, if anyone's going to lead the vanguard of open sexual lifestyles, or, indeed, progressiveness of any kind, well it DAMN WELL BETTER be corporate superhero comics, right? 

 Meanwhile, Danny Chase does stupid shit no one cares about.

 The stuff with the Wildebeest and Cyborg's crazy dreams of electric sex grind on until #59, where, after nearly killing the team and being mind controlled and now bed-ridden, Nightwing makes him leader of the Titans because Nightwing used to be a born leader who made careful decisions, but hes got to nip over to Batman for a few months for a crossover and just can't be hassled with this crap because hey, people actually read Batman.

 But hey, this is about the time Tom Grummet starts working on the book, and he's pretty good--not Perez like, but his fine sense of detail serves him in good stead on this book.

 The Batman crossover "A Lonely Place of Dying," lasted 6 parts and went through both Batman and New Titans. Only the two parts, both of them the New Titans portions, are reprinted here, to annoy you and generally make things needlessly baroque and complicated. It's all rather pointless, as none of the Titans really have much to do with any of it and it's pretty much Nightwing going solo for a bit and fretting about where he is in relation to Batman, then teaming up with Batman and being there when Tim Drake hits the scene. It didn't really need to be six parts, as "Batman turns into a grumpy asshole without a Robin to function a stablising influence" is not really a thing which needs to be drawn out very long to make that point (that said, they've been doing great in making it seem longer and more interminable when they revisit it later) and . ..yeah. "Titans Hunt" could only have helped this book.

 Rather than provide any attempt at closure, we detour to Secret Origins Annual #3, which ostensibly features the post-Crisis origin of the Titans, but what it actually features is Nightwing having bad dreams about how bad he thinks he sucks. I kinda wish that was just me exaggerating for comic effect, but unfortunately, I'm not. 

 We end with neither a bang, nor a whimper, but a "wahaa--?" with New Titans #66 and 67, featuring Raven falling in love with a robot, more or less. If this seems strangely familiar to you, it's because they've done this story before, only it's usually Starfire who ends up dating someone who's evil/a a robot/doomed/all three. It is completely bewildering and serves no purpose--Raven still doesn't have much of a character and her only contact is Jericho, who can't talk, so the whole thing feels a bit empty, really.

 And with that, we're done. The Wolfman/Perez era of New Teen Titans is well and truly done, and this is the story of how it ended. Perhaps had Perez stuck around longer (no sooner was he working on the relaunched book than he was working on Crisis on Infinite Earths, then Wonder Woman) there would have been more of a balance, because as Wolfman, as with Claremont on the other big book had more leeway to follow his interests, the book become more insular and more broken and just plain duller. I can't imagine DC squeezing another Omnibus out of this run, as by this time, Perez is pretty much long gone and while Titans Hunt would be interesting to read again in a more or less complete form, it's not really part of this era and it's kind of a clusterfuck (three or four crossovers break out in the middle of it) and doesn't really succeed in its remit to revitsalise the book in a long-term sort of way.

 So the trilogy ends in the way a lot of trilogies (and long-running superhero comics that have seen better days) seem to end. Not with any sense of finality or closure, but merely a shrug and a slow slide into complacency.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

MAD MEN 6.12--"The Quality of Mercy"

 Well, as things wind down, things can be said to have heated up, yes? Welcome one and all to Witless Prattle's dubious yet strangely popular coverage of Mad Men. Last week, some major shit went down as Sally actually saw Don banging Sylvia (because we will never be done with that plotline until someone dies, it seems) and Don seemed to weather the storm well enough. But given the title of this episode and the implications of same, will he continue to get away scot free? Let's find out!


 "He just disappeared one day with an electric pencil sharpener and the company Christmas card list.."

 So, uh, Cosgrove got his eye shot out.

 Then the episode got weird.

 Don has reacted to the whole fallout of the Sally thing in his usual style--acting hurt, drinking a lot, and generally retreating into himself. Sally's elected not to visit him anymore and is considering going to boarding school (Don eagerly offers to pay for all of it, because he's never averse to situations that involve him pushing people away with money in a way that seems to him like he's doing them a favour) and he's been telling everyone he's got a horrible cold.

 To cheer him up in the midst of all this grinding angst, Megan takes him to see Rosemary's baby, which is a method of coping with things, I hadn't realised was a thing. While they're, they see Ted and Peggy chilling out in the same theatre, which Megan immediately twigs as something salacious going on (though given what Peggy gets up to in movie theatres, it's not an unfair assumption) and Don, perhaps reminded of his own infidelity, gets annoyed when Megan won't drop it.

 Meanwhile, Pete, who is always the guy you go to for expressions of profound humanity, inveigles into Ken's spot after he finally decides he's had enough of Chevy and their crazy-ass bullshit. This seems for a moment to be a return to grace for him--after being marginalised for so long, here he is at the head of the firm's biggest account.

 The he discovers he has to work with Bob, and it seems much less like a triumph, especially when Ted nails him to the floor by telling him that he knows Pete's trying to get rid of him because he made a pass at him. Ted tell him he misunderstood, then advises him that he better be careful what he says to people with the quiet gentility Patrick Bateman expressed right before he hacked up someone with an ax.

 What follows is a game of chess, and if I'm honest, Bob kinda kicks Pete's ass around the woodpile. Pete tries to use Duck to get him a better job elsewhere, Bob uses Pete's mother's relationship with Manolo to get at him. Pete fumes and acts like a jackass because that's his default response to stimuli.

 This little thread takes a hard right turn into crazy-town when Duck reveals that Bob Benson . . .is not at all who he claims to be. Yes, SC & P has fallen yet again for another man without a past (even Duck is pretty flabbergasted they didn't bother to check him out)  Pete's able to use this to bring Bob to heel in a way he was never able to with Don.

 Meanwhile, during Sally's boarding-school overnight, she calls up Glen (because of course she does) so she can impress the students. This leads to Glen being her white knight, which she actually liked, and yeah, I'm calling bullshit on that and moving on.

 Meanwhile, Peggy and Ted are rapidly approaching power couple status, as he's constantly putting her on the vanguard of new accounts and runs with her idea for a commercial for children's aspirin based on Rosemary's Baby (thank God they didn't go see Night of the Living Dead) Don is pretty troubled by this, though whether it's because Peggy's a stranger to him more than ever or because Ted can fuck around and get away with it and he's jealous.

 It's probably the latter, because it finally comes out that after torpedoing Ocean Spray (which Peggy was working on) and the aspirin ad (in the ugliest, most vicious way possible) and lambastes Ted for being indiscreet with Peggy (under the guise of doing him a favour, because Don LOVES punishing others for crimes he's committed) Peggy sees through it, of course, and rips Don a new asshole, calling him a "monster." And because Don's coping skills are like Pete's, he immediately curls up into a ball and goes all woe is me while the fucking Monkees play us out.

 This was one of those episodes where you kinda hate everyone on this show as they're all doing really hideous shit to each other and clothing themselves in the vestments of self-righteousness. I'm with Peggy--Don's completed his molt into full monsterhood and he's finally managed to piss away the last bit of potential that this merger offered him personally and professionally. It's a good episode, but holy shit, its heart is as black as midnight in a coal mine. If the season finale goes all Red Wedding . . .it wouldn't be like they didn't have it coming.

 And that's it for this week. Join us next week for the season finale, when Peggy finds her dragons and frees the slaves, Roger violates the rules of hospitality and stabs everyone, and Bert gets his junk cut off again. All of these things happened on another show, but surely won't happen on this one, when we meet in seven days for a little chunk of finality they're calling "In Care Of." Who will survive?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

MAD MEN 6.11--"Favours"

 So, last week on Mad Men, we got a rather problematic episode that nevertheless managed to get some plot legwork done--SCDPCGC had a new name "Sterling Cooper & Partners," or SC& P for short. Behind the scenes, it seems Cutler is playing a long game to take over, Don almost drowned because he's a terrible hash-head, and Pete took a rip of his first joint. It was, as I said, a rather problematic episode. Fortunately, not many folks were watching as they were busy losing their shit over the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones.

 What will happen this week as we begin the final lap for this season? Well, there's no time like the present to find out, is there?


 "Like everything else in this country, Diplomacy Club's just another excuse to make out"

 We begin on a succession of awkward notes--Peggy has an awkward encounter with Pte's painfully senile mother who blabs about having a child, mistakes her for Trudy, and confesses that she's having a physical thing with the nurse that Bob Benson got her a few episodes back. Pete and Peggy have a grim, awkward, and finally cathartic laugh about it soon after, which is a great little bit of business--they haven't really had a scene that's not been tense or guarded and when you add Ted to the mix (Pete can see he's crazy about her and considers Peggy one of the few people who really knows him, as Don told her a couple seasons back) It's a great scene because it shows that Ted, unlike Cutler, really wants to fit in here and some of the long-term members of our gang are happy to let him in.

 Sorta. More on that later.

 Less successfully, there's a bit with Don getting involved with helping Sylvia's son avoid the draft, thus forming a perfect combination of two things I haven't liked this season--THE SIXTIES horning in on the story in more blatant and thuddingly obvious ways at the expense of the story, and the dreadful Sylvia Rosen subplot that refuses to end even though we had the damn ending a few episodes back. Don makes some effort to help his kid (who is a real dolt) and I can see why they thought it made sense to do it (Don deserted, so putting him in the position to defend the war is dramatic irony) but . . .I kinda recall this show being subtler than this before.

 Ted,  though he likes working with Peggy and Pete and building relationships with them, is also in a hell-for-leather competition with Don (even though they're part of the same firm now, that need to prove oneself is a fire that is never quieted) and even more exasperating, Don's so disengaged he doesn't even see it, which only makes Ted even more exasperated. Though thanks to Don's clumsy attempts to feel out how the well-to-do at Chevy handle getting their kids deferred, it seems he has a sign of weakness, and Ted, who is actually paying attention at work, might actually do something with that knowledge.

 The two things dovetail, however--it turns out that Ted has a resource that can get Sylvia's kid in with the Air National Guard, and he offers to set it up if Don will stop fighting him and work with him. Don acts like he didn't even realise that he was doing it (thought considering how out to lunch he's been, that's entirely possible) and if this gets him on the same page, it might even be worth this rather leaden plot. Unfortunately, the main upshot seems to be Don and Sylvia canoodling some more and shit, I've seen enough of that by now.

 But I'm not the only one. Because, due to circumstances WAY too convoluted to go into here, Sally walks in on Don and Sylvia in flagrante dilecto. Don reacts like you'd think he would--as if the world were but a few seconds from ending and the Earth was about to swallow him whole. But while he goes on a bender and prepares himself for imminent doom it turns out that things aren't so bad--the kid may get his deferment and Sally hasn't told anyone anything (yet) and Don tries his best to defuse the situation. I can't say I rate his chances high.

 Meanwhile, Peggy is freaked out by the rats in her apartment, to the point where she tempts Stan with sexual favours to get him to come clear out the rat traps. Honestly, there has to be a better way to handle these crises than getting horizontal in the name of rodent extermination.In other news, Pete is grossed out by his mom's crush on his nurse and lays down the law to Bob, who (not so) subtly outs himself, and Pete responds with the usual withering irritated disgust which was summed up best by his senile mom in a moment of clarity when she called him unlovable.

 Well, I knew that whole draft-dodging plot would end in disaster and sure enough it did, as now Don's thinking with his Dick Whitman has led to a slow-motion explosion. Given we have but two episodes left, it'll be interesting to see how this plays out. I can't really call it a good episode as of yet--it's probably one that will work better in the context of the whole season. We shall see.

 And that's all for this week. Join us next week when Cutler decides to eat a whole pallet of margarine on a dare, Ted Chaough is deeply fascinated by a single Lego brick, and Don becomes the Beastmaster. All of these things plus the revelation of who's going to play Doctor Who next have a likelihood of not happening on the order of "metaphysical certitude"in a funky penultimate little kind of thing we're gonna call "The Quality of Mercy" (a title which, given the circumstances and people involved of this episode, feels a touch dodgy) Join us then, won't you?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

MAD MEN 6.10--"A Tale Of Two Cities"

 Some people think Sunday is the end of the week, and some think it's the beginning of the week. All we know is that if it's Sunday it's time year again for another trip 55 years (give or take) back in time to review Mad Men--exactly the kind of show you wouldn't expect someone writing about comics on a blog somewhere to be writing about, and yet, you would be wrong. This may or may not be what is considered a "black swan event." I myself am not sure.

 Last week, Abe got stabbed by Peggy, thus making last week the Greatest Episode of Mad Men ever. Well, not so much, but there was a lot of people realising they couldn't exist either in the place they used to or the place they wanted to. What waits for us this week? Let's find out!


 "SCDCC sounds like a stutter and looks like a typo"

 We begin by foregrounding this week's major 1960's Event, which is rolled out in a somewhat clumsy fashion: This, dear readers, shall be the episode about the 1968 Democratic Convention. Thankfully it fades into the background, more or less and becomes an occasional level for conflict more than having people talk about The Big Historical Events That Will Reverberate For All Time . . .mostly. When it doesn't it reaches Wonder Years-level navel contemplation, sadly. At least when they did the Kennedy Assassination it felt a little more natural.

 There's plenty of internal friction, in any case--after a notable period of time, the agency grapples with trying to name itself. This is a look under the hood at some internecine strife, as Cutler is rather annoyed that there's so many of SCDP's people still in key positions, but Ted recognizes (as Don doesn't) that there aren't two sides--they're one side, and they have to get along together (which was the whole point of the merger in the first place, you'll recall) Cutler seems to make an effort to do that by getting Bob from accounts to babysit Ginsburg who's being an ass.

 Or so it seems, because the whole thing ends up being a somewhat complicated gambit to lose one of Roger's clients as a means of centralising some power on their end. That this costs them a lot of money and some bad word of mouth is immaterial, as Cutler's still playing the power game, which Ted warns him about again.

 Meanwhile, the episode draws a contrast between Roger, Harry and Don going to woo the Carnation people. They're pretty arrogant and lazy about the whole thing, assuming the Carnation people are going to be country mice, completely wowed by the hoity-toity New York City folk. They get a rude surprise when they learn that the Carnation people have their own views of the city mice and take a hard line with them. It doesn't work.

 Meanwhile, we spend a bit of time at a 1960's Hollywood party. I'm not gonna spend too much on it, because dear God it was pretty embarrassing.  Thought it was something of a surprise that Danny from Season 4 (he of the crappy 'The cure for the common ______" ad pitches) shows up and when he's finally tired of Roger's short jokes, punches him in the nuts. Don takes a rip from a hookah full of hashish and nearly drowns. Given Roger is an experienced LSD pilot, obviously Don is a lightweight by comparison.

 Joan lucks into something by arranging a meeting with Avon's ad rep (this is, one assumes, the payoff to the girl's night out with her friend a couple episodes) and feels a bit all at sea when she detects that this could be new business. She tells Peggy, who blanches a bit when Joan immediately suggests Don. Things seem a bit better when Ted suggests that Joan take Peggy along, but then it's Joan's turn to blanche when Pete gets the call to woo the client.

 So Joan doesn't invite him.While this seems like a good idea because nothing brings a business dinner down like having Pete there is a definite baller move on Joan's part (who's been struggling this season about trying to get out of the perception people have of her as the Eternal Secretary) and she and Peggy actually do a decent job of wooing the client, even though they don't quite work as smoothly as Roger and Don (possibly because they're doing something Peggy knows they probably shouldn't) Joan sees it as a necessary power move to get herself seen as something other than The Girl Who Slept With Jaguar The Hutt which she wants to be even less than the Eternal Secretary, and unfortunately Peggy throws it right in her face. It's . . .well, kinda mean.

 That said, I hope it works. Given Peggy's grave warnings about going her own way, I hope Joan doesn't have Lane Pryce's punishment for overreach in her future. It's not quite that bad--Pete reads her the riot act for the thing with Avon, but Peggy--bless her--covers for Joan, even if it's a temporary respite.

 So this all culminates with a new name at last: Sterling Cooper & Partners. It's a concrete example of Ted trying to make peace and unify everyone and Don seems to grudgingly see the need for it. Pete freaks out and smokes a joint so powerful it makes The 60's happen right in front of him.

  This was a pretty muddled episode, and for all the good bits, there was just so much "Look! The 60's! Mini-skirts! Janis Joplin! It was a time that happened!" It got a bit wearing. And the whole business with constantly playing the whole "two cities" motif felt a bit obvious and lacked Mad Men's usual light touch. Though if I remember right, they pretty much have an episode that's not quite as complete before things speed up for the final drive. Here's hoping they've got all the nonsense out of their system now.

 And that'll do it for this week. Join us next week when Sally invents a time machine out of baking soda and a refrigerator box, Harry Crane becomes a cyborg, Pete develops a mad posh for cuchi fritos, and Peggy perfects the Weirding Way. All these things and more guaranteed to have an utterly negligible chance of happening when we meet back here in seven, for a little somethin-somethin' called "Favors"It's bound to be a real thigh-slapper!