Archive for 2013

Mad Men Recap: “The Better Half” (Season 6, Episode 9) (5/28/13)

Poor Peggy Olson. She was doing so well, the last time we checked in on her. But in the world of Mad Men, no one gets to balance work, love, and happiness. It’s just not in the cards. (Let’s face it, it’s not easy in real life, either.)

Mad Men The Better Half Pete Campbell

Pete Campbell is in a bad place (again). Photo courtesy AMC.

The SCDP/CGC Creative team is still musing on Fleischmann’s margarine, and playing around with the pop psych advertising techniques that were appearing in the late ’60s. Ted insists that people will buy Fleischmann’s not in spite of, but because of its expensive price tag. There’s something to that, and advertising underwent a sea change in the 1960s as psychologists discovered the true reasons people buy stuff. As usual, Chaough is a little more progressive than Don. After all, he did say “Groovy” last week, much to Don’s chagrin.

Pete Campbell, still hankering for Don’s approval, says (rather petulantly),”Don, I agree with you.” Harry Crane is like, “eff this I’m out.” Don calls Peggy into the conference room to actually choose between his approach and Ted’s. She refuses. Honey, you can’t be Switzerland forever. Things just don’t work that way. She knows exactly what Don’s up to, and she lets him know it. Their relationship is becoming more complex and fun to watch as Peggy continues to climb the ranks. He respects her, and it’s refreshing. “Your opinion matters,” Don tells her. It’s a big statement, one that doesn’t come lightly to Mr. Draper. “Ted’s interested in the idea, and you’re interested in your idea,” she answers. “He never makes me feel this way.” “He doesn’t know you,” Don replies.

Mad Men The Better Half Betty

Here she is, Mrs. Francis, back to her old self. Photo courtesy AMC.

Betty Francis, who digressed momentarily into mundane housewifery and too much junk food, is back to herself, every inch the politician’s wife in a sparkly yellow dress, impeccably crunchy hair, and green eyeshadow. While Henry’s on the phone, a very classy gentleman tells her, “I’d like to be alone with you all night.” Betty, her face all icy goodness, first tells him he doesn’t understand, she has three children. This is not an answer to his request, obviously. She’s as good at cat and mouse as she ever was, and testing the waters appropriately. Always vain, she asks him, “Do I look like I’ve had 3 kids?” On the limo ride home, Henry lectures her, and appropriately enough she acts like a child (Betty has never been particularly mature). “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble,” she says, allowing him to clutch her chin and scold her. Their father/daughter dynamic is oddly sexual, and knowing that his wife is once again desirable evidently gets Henry in the mood for limo fornication.

In the West 80s, Abe was stabbed in the arm getting off the subway, and refusing to cooperate with the policeman. “This is a fucking police state,” Abe yells to Peggy after ushering the skeptical officer out the door. “It’s fascinating, the attitudes I’m encountering.” Peggy first treats him as though he has some weird variation on PTSD (which, I think, would’ve still been called “shellshock” at the time). He asks her (rightly) not to patronize him, to which she responds snidely, “I don’t care if I take a loss, I’m going to sell this shithole.”

Roger Sterling, unsurprisingly, has no idea how to be a father. When he takes Margaret’s son so the kid can have a “special day with Pop Pop,” Roger uses the child to flirt with the secretaries, then tries to impress Joan, and finally he takes him to Planet of the Apes. (This is an interesting juxtaposition, since that is the movie in which, a few weeks ago, Don Draper realized he actually loves his son.)

At Harry Crane’s grouchy suggestion, Pete sets up a clandestine meeting in his grungy apartment with headhunter and throwback Duck Phillips. Everybody’s seeing headhunters – so much cheating in this season. Pete, though, is really and truly floudering. When he tells Duck he just doesn’t think there’s more he can do at work, he gazes down into his whiskey with genuine sadness. Is it possible I’m actually feeling sorry for Pete Campbell? (Nah.)

At her job, Megan is playing two roles, sisters who want the same thing but go about getting it very differently. The maid, whom we’d already met, the cheating cheater that Don visited on set, is one half of this duo – and the other sister, evidently blond and named Collette, is also a cheating cheater. Infidelity: it’s the name of the game in season six.

Megan packs Don’s suitcase for his trip to visit Bobby at camp, and sends him on his merry way. Don pulls into a gas station to fill up, and is bemused by the attendant, who’s eyeing the derriere of an attractive blonde. When the lady leans out of the car again, it turns out it’s none other than Betty Francis, also on the way to visit Bobby at camp. “Are you lost, too?” she asks him; there’s more depth to that question than either of them realizes. Everyone on this show is lost.

Meanwhile, back in the office, Peggy is beginning to realize just how difficult it’s going to be to balance Ted and Don. After a presentation, Ted yells at Peggy for touching his hand, for smiling at him. She tells him she forgot about the kiss, and he replies he hasn’t. He’s “a boss in love with his protege.” It comes back to her assertion to Don earlier that Ted never makes her feel the way Don does – remember how, in the first season, Peggy briefly and embarrassingly propositioned Don? That was never meant to happen, but one imagines it stung – and Peggy’s feelings for Ted are jumbled with her feelings about Don and Abe, as well as her respect for him.

At camp, Bobby is ecstatic to see his parents, who are for once acting civilly toward one another (Don’s indiscretion, the one that allowed Betty’s kids to be held hostage by Grandma Ida, is evidently forgotten). Don, never the family man, finds himself very charmed by Betty’s interactions with Bobby. Bobby teaches mom and dad a new song about Father Abraham’s seven sons, and the Draper family, broken and busted such as it is, sings a children’s song while smiling at each other. It is one of the weirder (and more heartwarming) moments of the season.

Mad Men The Better Half Drapers

Father Abraham has seven sons, and the Drapers are acting weird. Photo courtesy AMC.

Don and Betty are, of course, remarkably similar. After putting Bobby back to bed, they find themselves at the same hotel. Both of them crave booze, and they have a drink together. Betty, visually and developmentally, is very much like her first season iteration. Smoking too much, reminiscing about a trip the two of them took Lake Champlain with Betty’s parents. As any pair of parents is prone to do, they discuss the oddness of trying to parent a teenage girl. Betty doesn’t understand her and says Sally’s more like Don, but Don says she’s more like Betty. Both are correct. “When I saw you earlier today, I…forgot how mad I was at you,” Betty says, and she leaves the hotel room door open. When he grabs her by the back of the neck, we realize that Henry’s controlling, patriarchal behavior is really what Betty wants…and it doesn’t need to come from her husband. For the second time, Betty asks a flirtatious man for affirmation. She’s forever concerned about what people see when they see her. Aren’t we all?

While Don’s off having sex with his ex-wife, Megan’s getting drunk with Arlene (one half of the couple who propositioned her and Don a few episodes ago). Megan, unsure where to turn, tells Arlene she feels lonely. Arlene kisses her. Megan accuses her of taking advantage of a compromising situation, and Arlene accuses her, rather gently, of being a tease.

“I’m thinking of how different you are, before and after,” Betty tells Don as they enjoy pillow talk after they’re done with the lovemaking. Betty knows she can only hold his attention for so long. “Why is sex the definition of being close to someone?” Don muses. “That poor girl,” Betty says of Megan, touching Don’s face while she says it. “She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.” In these moments with Don, Betty is anything but childlike. She is, in fact, wise. Sometimes we forget that Don and Betty were married for a reason, that they’re far more similar than they’d like to admit.

Back in the City, Megan has successfully turned down a woman’s advances in favor of her rapidly failing marriage, which is something Don doesn’t ever manage to do. When he returns, she’s on the balcony staring out into the city in a t-shirt and panties. “I missed you.” The sirens are actually drowning out her words for the second time in the episode. She can’t be heard over the noises of the city. In a surprise move, Don agrees with Megan. “You’re right, I haven’t been here,” he says, and hugs her gently. He was clearly hurt by Betty’s coolness to him the morning after, while eating breakfast with Henry. He knows not to expect anything else – and something tells me he’s not done sowing those oats. However, perhaps his tryst with Betty, ill-advised as it was, will convince him he needs to be better to his wife. (Doubtful, really – but it’s lovely to think of it.)

Mad Men The Better Half Pete Joan

No one can solve your problems for you, Pete. Photo courtesy AMC.

In another play for my sympathy, Pete asks Joan, “Do you feel my attention to business has been dilute?” Joan notes that she can’t solve Pete’s problems (a mother, son, job, and complex relationship), she has those problems. Indeed, she appears to be entering into a relationship with Bob Benson. They’re taking Kevin to the beach. Having been rebuffed (scolded, really) by his daughter after taking his grandson to Planet of the Apes, Roger makes another play to get into his true son’s life. He shows up at Joan’s door with a gift of Lincoln Logs (I loved those!). When he realizes what’s going on, Roger is upset. “I guess we’re all a little bit out of context right now,” he says. In other news, Joan tells Bob that Pete’s in need of a nurse for his mother, and Bob – who is entirely too good a character at this point, and I’m curious about his true motives – gets Pete the name of a nurse. “Is he Spanish from Spain?” Pete asks, taking the name begrudgingly. “Because otherwise my mother will refuse.” Oh, 1968. You’re great. “He’s very well bred,” Bob says, a slightly amused expression on his face.

Even as the sirens drown out Megan’s pleas for Don’s love, Abe is busily trying to convince Peggy that they’re in the best possible place for them. She can’t handle the danger. “Maybe we’re not cut out to be pioneers,” Abe says, admitting that maybe they didn’t make the right choice. Someone has thrown a rock through the window, and Abe has been stabbed getting off the subway. Instead of allowing the police to do their jobs, Abe, forever the counterculture instigator, tells Peggy she’s a fascist for trying to cooperate with them.

After Abe leaves her at home so he can work, Peggy hears a commotion. She goes to the window with a bayonet, and when she’s surprised by an “intruder” in the house, she accidentally stabs her boyfriend with a bayonet. In the ambulance, dripping blood and sweat, blue-faced, Abe tells her all the things he’s been meaning to. “You’re a scared person who hides behind complacency. I thought you’d be braver because you’re in advertising. Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment. I’m sorry, but you’ll always be the enemy.” Well, why don’t you tell us how you really feel? We’ve known for awhile that this relationship was unlikely to work out – but this minor, violent explosion was unexpected.

Mad Men The Better Half Peggy

Peggy is also in a bad place. Photo courtesy AMC.

The next morning, Peggy arrives at the office looking like complete shit. Dark circles stain her eyes, her unwashed hair hangs lank around her head. She approaches Ted first, telling him firs that “Abe was stabbed,” then that he was going to be fine, then, “It’s over, we’re done.” Ted reacts with eerie good nature. “It’s Monday morning, Peggy!” he cries, smiling. “Let’s get to work!” Don tells her promptly to round up the troops for the Monday meeting, and the two of them close their office doors. The two most important men in her life (or at least, the most important ones she hasn’t accidentally stabbed) leavePeggy standing, stunned and alone, on the opposite side of two closed doors. This, the writers are telling us, is what not choosing a side gets you.

All things considered, this episode presented a lot of information and didn’t really give us a hint as to what we should do with it. Don and Betty have hit a point in their relationship where they’re able to interact again, which is great. However, only one of them knows that sex is “the definition of being close to someone.” Megan is alone, lonely, and unable to be heard. Peggy Olson suffered the most this week – but I suppose we knew that was coming. It’s certainly a blow, considering how well she handled last week’s office shenanigans. You get knocked down, but you get up again, I guess. Such is the way of the Mad Men ‘verse.

For more Mad Men recaps, please join me at the soon-to-be live site musingonmedia. I’ll be continuing to write there, as well as with a number of other publications.

In the comments, share how you felt about this episode!

Mad Men Recap: “Man with a Plan” and “The Crash” (Season 6, Episodes 7 and 8) (5/22/13)

Well. Mad Men just got weird, huh? This happens about the same time every season; picture the guy who lost his foot to the lawnmower blade, or Roger Sterling tripping balls. The show’s been struggling with how to portray the transition from the 1950s toward the Summer of Love, and drugs and sex have played a large part, obviously.

I’m still running on the idea that during the show’s lengthy hiatus between seasons five and six, AMC slashed The Walking Dead‘s budget in order to cater to the demands of Weiner and his cast, but as a result the network stipulated that everything be just a tad simpler for the average viewer. It aggravates me – part of the reason Mad Men has always been good (nay, brilliant at times) TV is that you have to think. The last few seasons have basically opened each episode with a clear theme and then played it straight into the ground. Maybe it’s because I’m a total film nerd, but I love to analyze…and the writers have made thematic analysis nearly unnecessary. Womp womp.

Then, about once a season, they air an episode like Sunday’s “The Crash,” and I feel like I’ve been smacked upside the head (and I love it).

Two weeks ago, the episode began with the first day of the SCDP/CGC merger. In other words, it began in total chaos. It continued to loop back around itself, drawing comparisons to previous episodes, prior situations. Mad Men does the time warp again!

Mad Men Season 6 Joan Peggy

Peggy Olson, Coffee Chief. How times haven’t changed. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

At the Drapers’ building, Sylvia is shrieking at Arnie about money, that he isn’t taking care of her, and Don shuts the elevator door on that argument. In the office, the SCDP/CGC execs are making tough decisions about how to compartmentalize the newly merged staff, both physically and mentally. Joan is truly happy to see Peggy, we notice. This scene is pretty warm and fuzzy – these women should’ve been friends for ages, but their mutual interest in power, and the vastly different ways they’ve gone about getting it, have kept them from expressing true kindness to one another.

In the morning meeting, Pete Campbell doesn’t have a seat. Ted Chaough’s secretary Moira gives up her chair, and Ted gives up his for Moira, perching uncomfortably on the radiator as Pete sits comfortably next to Moira. Oh, Pete. You’re a hot mess as always. At home (at least, in his seedy, raunchy apartment – a “pied-à-terre”), he’s wrestling with his senile mother, who doesn’t know what year it is half the time.

Just to show us what year it is, and how our characters are reacting, the SCDP/CGC team takes on an account with Fleischmann’s Margarine. “Groovy,” says Ted, and we cut to Don’s bitchface at that ridiculous slang term. Get with the times, Don. As we’re looping around, time is oddly fluid. Roger fires Bert (SCDP’s former head of accounts) again, and enjoys it just as much the second time. Unfortunately this means poor Bob Benson is in imminent danger.

Mad Men Season 6 Sylvia head scarf

“I need you, and nothing else will do.” These are exactly the words Don needs to hear. Photo courtesy AMC.

A call from Sylvia tugs at Don, even in the midst of the merger. “I need you and nothing else will do,” she tells him repeatedly. He stashes her in a hotel room, much as Pete stashes his mother in his pied-à-terre. Although Sylvia clearly gets off on Don’s dominant behavior, she also resents it. “I can talk about whatever I want,” she says when he admonishes her for speaking Arnie’s name. At his command, she grabs his shoes for him and kneels to put them on his feet; a guilty Catholic doing penance. Sylvia, sweaty and tousled in bed, touches herself even as she follows Don’s orders.

When Don doesn’t show up to the Margarine meeting because he’s too busy commandeering Sylvia, Ted Chaough asks Creative to free associate. How very 1960s. Peggy, who spouts trivia about the origin of margarine, is the apple of Ted’s and Stan’s eyes. When Don shows up late, Peggy and Ted are understandably miffed. Chaough gives him a slight dressing down, and Don slams the door in his face like the child he is.

Now that Don has reasserted control over Sylvia, he reasserts it over Ted by pouring him whiskey after whiskey in the name of “camaraderie.” Ted can’t keep up with him, and Don knows it. He’s frightened and impressed by Ted’s “formula” for coming up with answers to creative quandaries, and Ted wonders why Don doesn’t have a formula aside from booze. After Don’s gets Chaough stinking drunk in the office, he feels like he’s the king again. Gross, Don.

Mad Men Season 6 Joan Holloway

There were no photos of Joan dealing with her ovarian cyst in the ER with Bob Benson, so I’ll substitute this one. I’m sure the real Joan Holloway would want it that way – and hey, who doesn’t want to look at this warm smile? Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

In a brilliantly edited sequence, a knock on Sylvia’s hotel room door puts a sexy red (the color of whores in Don Draper’s mind) dress in her hands; a knock on Joan’s office door reveals her (an occasional prostitute) in a very distressed state. Bob secretly escorts her on his arm out the front door. At the ER, she tells Bob he should go home. He says, “I don’t have anywhere to go.” Cringe. However, his ingenuity saves the day – he tells the nurse she drank furniture polish (oh, stupid women, forgetting to check labels!) to get her past the waiting room. A bit later, Bob stops by Joan’s house to check on her. When her mom comments that he’s adorable, Joan says, “He’s too young…he’s worrying about his job.” Gail says, “Honestly, Joan, every good deed is not part of the plan.” It is indeed something Joanie should remember…but it’s a difficult task for someone who’s been taken advantage of. As a result of his gallantry, she tries to save his job, but doesn’t succeed. Could this lead to a romance? Now that Bob doesn’t have a job anymore, he’d be free to court Joan. And he is adorable.

Ted Chaough and Don aren’t sure what to do with one another, but they recognize each other. Peggy pops into Don’s office unannounced, and he actually knows he’s in trouble. Peggy Olson is one of the only people in Don’s life who has the power to make him feel truly badly. Don lost Peggy, and he used Chaough to get her back. She knows it. “I hoped he’d rub off on you, not the other way around.” When Don, in typical fashion, says that Ted’s an adult, Peggy speaks the words we’ve all been thinking: “So are you. Move forward.”

After Gleason advises Ted to take Don’s hit like a man, so to speak, Ted flies Don to upstate to Mohawk in his own plane, in a rainstorm. This is one of those times when the writing could’ve been a little less obvious. Ted Chaough pilots them into the sun above the clouds. He puts on his sunglasses and tells Don, “Sometimes when you’re flying, you think you’re right side up but you’re upside down. Gotta watch your instruments.” Ted is back in control – and this time, of Don’s life. Don knows it. He picks up the book he took from Sylvia before leaving her in that room by herself. “No matter what I say, you’re the guy who flew us up here in his own plane,” he says to Ted. Truth. One hopes the dick-measuring contest won’t last much longer.

When Don returns to Sylvia in her hidey-hole, she’s no longer interested in being his whore. She’s taken off the red dress, put on her sensible jewelry and old-fashioned frock, and tells him gently that it’s all over. She means it. Don, in an odd twist, begs her to stay. Back at the Draper abode, Megan is talking, but Don can’t hear it. Pete’s mom tells him about Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, but Pete says, “That was years ago, Mother.” His mother laments, “They’re shooting everybody.” Let’s do the time warp again!

Sunday’s episode opened on a startling scene of, well, “The Crash:” Kenny Cosgrove struggles with the wheel of a car with a bunch of hooligans, waving around guns and putting their hands over his eyes. Of course, they get in an accident; it’s like one of his adventure novels, without the sci-fi element (whatever happened to Cosgrove’s erstwhile writing career?). When he walks into the office, Cosgrove has a cane and a sliced up face. Everybody is tired and miserable, and they look it. It turns out the hooligans were from Chevy, and they didn’t like the latest pitch either.

At home, Don isn’t sleeping; instead he’s standing outside the Rosens’ door, chain smoking and eavesdropping. Don panics a bit when he gets a call from” Dr. Rosen.” On the other end of the line, it’s Sylvia, who tells him in no uncertain terms that he’s got to leave her alone. The two of them are stuck with each other; their lies have entangled them. It seems a situation of mutually assured destruction; however, the last time someone thought he was safe due to the fear of mutually assured destruction, Pete Campbell lost Vick’s Chemical – because of a whorehouse.

Speaking of whorehouses, this episode is punctuated with Don’s flashbacks. When, in his vaguely ill state of distress and exhaustion, he has a coughing fit, he remembers clearly a childhood illness and the whore who took care of him better than his stepmother ever could. When he awakens from a long nap, Cutler ushers him into his office, where a hack doctor is giving everyone a shot. An “energy serum,” a “complex vitamin superdose of B vitamins” and “a mild stimulant.” When Don leaves the office, Cutler and Stan are actually foot-racing manically, their eyes glittering.

Mad Men Season 6 Cutler Stan

Not everyday behavior at SCDP/CGC…we hope. Photo credit Jordin Althaus/AMC.

Just to make the afternoon a little trippier, Ted reports that Gleason has died. On the stairs (those stairs are becoming the centerpiece of the show), Don feels the drugs kick in. He sees Peggy with Ted and loses it a little. This is a man who absolutely cannot stand being out of control – and Peggy is not under his thumb anymore. He has another flashback to Amy, the whore who cared for him when he was sick with a chest cold.

Basically, at SCDP in this episode, everybody’s out of his damn mind while Peggy and Ginsberg, the (relatively) sober ones, are trying to come up with actual ideas for Margarine. Stan comes up with 666 ideas, but Ginsberg mentions Vietnam before he can tell them about his brilliant thoughts – “You just flushed a toilet in my head!” he cries; we don’t know it yet but Stan’s cousin was recently killed in action, and he’s really in a bad place.

THIS HAPPENED:

Like I said, everybody’s out of his mind. Gleason’s daughter, a hippie chick who’s telling fortunes and propositioning Don, brings yet another trippy element to the weekend. She asks him to think of a question; he doesn’t contradict her when she says everyone’s silent inquiry is, “Does someone love me?” She puts a stethoscope on Don’s chest, and says she can’t hear anything. “I think it’s broken,” she says, and Don asks if you can hear a broken heart. She obviously means that the stethoscope is broken…but that line of dialogue, the double entendre, certainly does make us feel like we’re on drugs.

Don, who can’t get his thoughts straight to save his life, asks Peggy to get into the archives and look back at 1958-1959 for a soup ad. She turns to Cutler and says, “Do you see the mess you’ve made?” Again, she’s one of the only women who can tell these guys what they need to hear. When Don locates the ad, he has another flashback to Amy, feeding him soup in a headscarf. “Because you know what he needs,” the ad copy reads, floating above a graphic of a woman feeding her son soup…in a headscarf.

Because everybody’s wasted, Ginsberg throws a dart at Stan, and it promptly lodges in his arm. Peggy, who’s only drunk, not speeding around on amphetamines, makes him wash it. She’s wasted, he’s wasted, they’re all wasted. Why isn’t my office like this? She’s taking care of him – much like Don is fantasizing about being taken care of. Because none of the men in this show seem able to compartmentalize, Stan leans over and kisses her. She fends off his advances quite pleasantly and with aplomb, but she kisses him back nonetheless. He reveals that his cousin was killed. So many dead boys. He unsuccessfully tries to cajole her into sleeping with him, and she picks up his hand from his kene and tells him she’s had loss (this is a direct reference to the loss of her child). “You have to let yourself feel it. You can’t dampen it with drugs and sex; it won’t get you through.” He tells her, “You’ve got a great ass.” She turns and says softly, “Thank you.” Who’d’ve thought, five seasons ago, Peggy Olson would be fending off genuinely respectful office advances (unlike that roach Pete Campbell’s initial advances in every way); who would have believed she’d be so graceful in her sexuality? It’s a little unconvincing and adds to the episode’s off-kilter feel.

Mad Men Season 6 Bobby Sally Grandma Ida

No, kids, you’re not Negroes. New York City is just not a place where you leave the back door open. Photo credit Jordin Althaus/AMC.

At the Draper apartment, Megan tries everything to get Don home, but ends up leaving the kids alone for the evening while she pursues her career. Sally is reading Rosemary’s Baby when she hears a noise. There’s an elderly black woman in the house, looking through their belongings. She tells Sally she’s their “Grandma Ida,” who raised their daddy. Obviously she’s a con woman, but Sally, who knows nothing about her father’s upbringing, takes forever to figure it out. “He still handsome? Your momma still a piece of work?” The woman uses brilliant leading questions. Both of these things are true – and they’re true of a lot of families. Bobby tells her where to find Don’s four gold watches. Just as Sally picks up the phone to call 911, he asks excitedly, “ARE WE NEGROES?!” (I can’t even write it without giggling – and I’ve watched the episode twice and had to pause here because that question is so ridiculous and strange…and in keeping with the rest of the episode.)

Don, in his drug-fueled haze, comes up with the most brilliant idea ever…only it isn’t. No one understands what he’s trying to say – except, maybe, Ginsberg. “No, I don’t have time for art!” Don exclaims as he exits the building. In the hallway, Cutler silently draws Peggy’s attention to Wendy, who’s slowly riding Stan on his couch. Peggy makes Linemouth face and announces she’s going home. Everybody’s on drugs, people are fucking openly in the office (because that’s exactly what this is); everyone’s preoccupied with whores and death…and Peggy Olson is taking it all in stride.

Don walks into his building with some harebrained scheme about opening Sylvia’s door and telling her how he really feels, only to find his entire family, including Henry and Betty, in his apartment. Betty shoots out a bunch of stinging barbs about Henry’s future (“Did you know Henry’s running for office!?”), Megan’s irresponsibility (“She’s off on the casting couch”), and Don’s lies (“What does he tell everybody, he’s at work?”). In the face of these, the drugs, and the realization that his mistress/whore is next door while his ex-wife and wife are angry with him, Don passes out. This leads to a final flashback: Amy tells the proprietor of the whorehouse that she took Don’s/Dick’s cherry, which results in Abigail beating him with a wooden spoon, screaming that he’s trash. He was punished for losing his virginity, he was punished for his mother’s absence; he was beaten by a whore for having sex. This is how Don became Don. We didn’t really need it to be shoved in our faces, but if any episode was up to the task, it was this one.

Megan apologizes for her part in the hostage situation debacle, but it was actually Don who left the door open – quite literally, he left his family open to attack from malicious strangers because of his affair. When Sally tells him on the phone she actually doesn’t know anything about him, he reveals that it was his fault. A small bit of good parenting on the part of a man who recently admitted he doesn’t love his own children.

Mad Men Season 6 Ted Chaough

Don’t even ask what happened over the weekend, Ted. Also, love your suit. Photo credit Jordin Althaus/AMC.

When Ted arrives back in the office, he wonders just wtf happened over the long weekend. “Chevy is spelled wrong!” he cries, confused. Don says he’ll remain on Chevy as a consultant, as Art Director – but nothing more. “Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse,” he says, and turns his back, leaving Cutler and Chaough to stare after him quizzically.

To Don, every woman is either a mother figure or a whore. If Don isn’t in control, no one is. He lost his virginity to a whore (no surprise), he’s sleeping with a woman now who doesn’t really want to be his whore (no surprise), and he’s got some mommy issues to work through (really no surprise). In other news, SCDP/CGC has some kinks to work out, some power struggles and dick-measuring to get beyond, and if indeed they succeed at repping the doomed Vega, they’re all headed to hell in the proverbial handbasket.

How did you feel about the last two episodes? How about Don the Dom? What about Kenny Cosgrove’s crash and literal tap dance?

Mad Men Recap: “For Immediate Release” (Season 6, Episode 6) (5/7/13)

“It’s a common mistake to not ask questions when you want to, because you’re afraid of the answers,” an empty-eyed banker tells Pete, Bert, and Joan in the opening scene of Sunday’s episode. We all have questions, indeed; does all this doom and gloom indicate someone (else, RIP Lane) is going to die? Is SCDP going to be able to keep up with the times? Will Don Draper ever actually “find himself”? Sunday’s episode was a slap in the face, but also featured more of the same. With an unexpected but unsurprising development, Don Draper proves he doesn’t learn, and Peggy Olsen takes a step back. The whole crew jumps into a handbasket together – and guess where it’s headed?

It’s around Mother’s Day in 1968 (Weiner has meticulously lined up the air dates closely enough with present day, and at least here on the East coast, we’re well in the murky/gorgeous spring weather the characters are also inhabiting). SCDP is surreptitiously meeting with bankers about going public. Bert Cooper wants them to debut at an ambitious $12 a share. The banker coolly admits that $9 is what they’ll give, but he’ll need to keep the documents for 24 hours. He smiles at Joan, his eyes glinting appreciatively, and says, “These papers are impeccable. My compliments to the chef.” After he leaves, Pete Campbell proves he is still a creep, despite his show of prideful indignance at Harry Crane’s supposed racism last week. “It’s a marvel,” Pete says to Joan, smarm pouring from every pore. “Everyone wants you, don’t they?” Once Joan hears aloud that her portion of the company will be worth nearly $1 million, she smiles and collapses. “You’re flushed,” Pete says. She’ll never get around her sexuality. She used it to get here, and it’s going to haunt her forever.

Roger Sterling, he of the season premiere breakdown, is up to something. He’s sleeping with a 20-something flight attendant who gets up before him so she can put on her face. When she tries to leave him to spend Mother’s Day with, you know, her mom, that manipulative little bastard Roger tells her “But my mother just died…” She gets back in bed, flashing panty-clad crotch at the camera in the process. Funny, the way Weiner is so careful about the sexual imagery surrounding his leading ladies, but purposely careless about the “throwaway” characters’ portrayal. It feels as though we’re viewing the show’s women through Don’s eyes.

Trudy Campbell has relented and allowed Pete back to their suburban abode, at least on the weekends. She hasn’t, however, let him back into their marriage bed – and she’s teasing him. When he gets into bed, she gets out, mentioning that their daughter, not their sex, is the most important part of their marriage. When she stands, she reveals a distinctly un-Trudy like, bright pink robe that flaunts her formidable assets. Because he is perpetually twelve years old, Pete Campbell narrows his eyes and warns her, “I have big things coming. You have no idea.”

Mad Men Season 6 Marie

Marie Calvet: beautiful, classy, cynical, miserable. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Marie Calvet has come for a visit (oh, joy!). She’s accessorized with her Gaulois (just a guess) and glass of wine, bitching prettily about how she hates being called “Grandma.” She perks up very nicely when Arnold stops by the Draper household in his bathrobe, though. The good doctor is in need of wrapping paper for mother’s day. Marie offers the flowers that Megan gifted her, explaining she’s quite done with them. “Thanks, Mother,” Megan says sarcastically, understanding on the basest of levels that the men in Marie’s life will always be more important to her than Megan will be. Marie, always the pot-stirrer, tells Don with a slight, cynical smile, that she wouldn’t leave Megan and Arnold alone together. Marie, of course, would have no way of truly knowing how funny that is…but she’s far more aware of her surroundings than Megan is. “I’m more worried about you,” Don tells her. As well he should be – Marie’s shown a taste for rich silver foxes; her last tryst was, of course, with Roger Sterling.

Abe and Peggy are a comedy of errors/Money Pit duo, trying to fix up their new place, we assume in the west 80s. Kids are sitting on the stoop, passing joints and banging on bongos. Peggy smiles ruefully as Abe accidentally electrocutes himself a little, then reports that there’s human feces on the stairs again. This isn’t her ideal situation, and Abe’s insistence on it is only pushing her farther away…and farther toward Ted Chaough.

Mad Men Season 6 Ted and Frank

Gleason is ill, Chaough is just dressed like a car salesman – sartorial foreshadowing, perhaps. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Chaough and Cutler, into whose lives we are for the first time really getting a glimpse, are asking the creative team at CGC to keep drawing rockets. “We never should have resigned Alfa Romeo,” says Frank Gleason pitifully. “I don’t want to draw rockets anymore.” Gleason shares that he has pancreatic cancer and laments the fact that he’ll cause the agency money problems if he dies. Chaough, for what it’s worth, acts every bit the encouraging, strong friend. “You are going to beat this thing!” he says. You can see this development whirring around in his head, though.

SCDP has set up a meeting with Herb Rennet, but Pete isn’t involved this time. Don is disgusted by Herb and the necessity of continuing interaction with him. Don, unfortunately, doesn’t have the world’s best poker face (except when he’s cheating on his wife – which is interesting, all things considered). He invites Megan and Marie for dinner with Herb and Roger, against his better judgment. Megan is obviously hurt that Marie clearly prioritizes the men in her life before her daughter (first Arnold with the flowers; then Megan notes that rather than spend an evening with her daughter, Marie would rather “spend an evening listening to Roger Sterling’s jokes”), but this is news to exactly no one. Two young ladies stop Megan and Marie in an elevator to ask Megan for an autograph. Marie’s face is priceless. Megan dishes to her mom about her failing marriage; “He’s gone so far away sometimes when we’re alone I feel like I’m making conversation,” she says, genuinely hurt and concerned. Marie, always the cynical French diva, gets straight to (part of) the heart of it…Don is threatened by her autographs, her fame. She’s not supposed to be better than him. “The only thought he should have at this meal is how quickly he can get between your legs,” Marie says. (My beau, whose command of colloquial French is admittedly imperfect, noted that although the subtitles said, “between your legs,” what Marie actually said was a racy term for the female anatomy – which explains Megan’s embarrassed giggle.)

Meanwhile, Bert gives Pete the news that SCDP is going public at $11 a share. Celebrations ensue! Unfortunately, across town Don Draper is forced to interact with Herb Rennet, one of SCDP’s best customers (and Joan’s ultimate shame and saving grace). Roger Sterling never shows up to dinner because he’s using that stewardess for all her talents – including getting him on an impromptu flight to Detroit to talk to Chevy.

Mad Men Season 6 Dinner with Jaguar

Peaches Rennet, a.k.a. the apple in the pig’s mouth, can’t shut her stupid mouth. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Without Roger’s calming influence, Don can’t handle Herb or his wife, who’s babbling about a bitch laying a litter of pups on their dirty garage floor. (Happy Mother’s Day!) Marie can’t handle it either. In French, she says to Megan, “Dear God, listen to this idiot. I need another drink.” She jokes halfheartedly about breaking the bottle over Herb’s wife’s head. Megan gets up to “powder her face,” and we discover she’s taken Marie’s fashion/marriage advice to heart; her dress is so short her lady bits are probably communing with the restaurant chair. Herb gives Don a name, a guy who’s writing ad copy for Herb’s car lots. Don takes matters into his own hands, as he always does, and loses Jaguar for SCDP. He escorts Megan and Marie from the restaurant as Herb huffs and his wife plaintively calls, “It was lovely! See you soon.”

Mad Men Season 6 Drapers

Don can’t disguise his disgust. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

At home, Megan also discovers her fashion choice didn’t go unnoticed. Marie guzzles wine straight from the bottle while she listens to her daughter and son in law get it on against the wall of the next room. When the phone rings, Marie answers. It’s Roger, of course. He kind of wanted to talk to Don – but he’s ditched Marie for dinner and she is pissed. Marie tells him to forget her name. Roger, of course, is hardly in a place to feel snubbed at the moment.

The gentlemen of SCDP visit the whorehouse again…and who else should be there, but Trudy’s father Tom, who’s also purveyor of Vick’s Chemicals? Pete Campbell freezes in place as his father-in-law passes him in the hallway followed by a voluptuous African American hooker spilling out of her top. When Pete approaches Ken Cosgrove in the morning, Ken assures him his pop-in-law isn’t in a place where he can tell anyone about Pete’s indiscretion. “It would be mutually assured destruction,” says Kenny, not incorrectly. “It’s why I’m not worried about the Bomb.” Cosgrove is odd this season – there’s been no mention of his erstwhile career as a sci-fi writer; he’s been hovering in corners, giving staid advice and murmuring about destruction under his breath.

A few minutes later, Pete Campbell literally falls down the SCDP stairs screaming at Don at the top of his lungs. Don, he reports to the entire office at a fever pitch, fired Jaguar just as they were looking into going public. Joan, forever the peacemaker, ushers the partners into the glassed-in conference room (where everyone can look on – whose idea was this place, anyway?). As it turns out, Roger’s conniving resulted in great things – they have an appointment with Chevrolet. When Don admits to having fired Herb, Joan’s eyes well with tears…but not of gratitude, not like Don expected. No, she’s mad as hell. “Don’t you feel 300 pounds lighter?” Don asks – seriously? Why yet another reference to Joan’s only talent? Even to Don, her knight in shining armor, her talents only shine when she’s on her back, obviously. “Honestly, Don, if I could deal with him, you could.” She tells him he can’t keep doing this, making big decisions on the part of everyone. It isn’t his responsibility. Remember how Joan reacted when Peggy came to her defense last season? This lady can handle her own shit, and she needs everyone to know it. Did Don just sever his budding, pleasing relationship with Joan?

Not understanding to what level Roger Sterling has actually saved his ass, Don eyes the Chevy account, and his eyes light up. Chevy is building a secret car, with a COMPUTER. Don knows a jackpot when he finds it. The team sets to work with renewed vigor, knowing as each of them do that this may be the last chance for a car for SCDP.

Mad Men Season 6 Peggy Ted

Peggy has officially become one of the ad guys: she’s cheating on her partner. Also, oops. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

On her end, Peggy finds a drunk Ted Chaough in his office, banging on the TV. After her prior interactions with Drunken Don Draper, she must feel a little oddly about Chaough’s behavior. Thinking he needs reassurance, she naively tells him, “Don’t let Frank Gleason make you doubt yourself.” It’s the same kind of pep talk Don needed, one she couldn’t quite give then. Fortunately for Peggy, Ted Chaough is no Don Draper. When he kisses her on the mouth, she applies only the slightest protesting pressure. She and Abe are basically doomed at this point.

Arnold reveals to Don that he’s quit his job because he couldn’t complete a heart transplant, and in the process of trying he ended up with two dead kids. Arnie asks Don to get a drink with him, but Don obviously can’t do that. By the way, where do we think Sylvia is this week? Wherever she is, her absence is letting Megan Draper back into Don’s sex life.

Since his father-in-law didn’t respond to calls, Pete Campbell took it upon himself to go to Vicks’ “lair.” The man immediately fires SCDP; the partners are learning that nepotism and underhanded dealings are simply not the answer, not anymore. “My daughter is a princess,” Tom Vogel tells Pete. “You have no business being a father.” Pete isn’t particularly hurt by any of this, but he is certainly pissed off. “You just pressed the button, you just blew everything up.” It’s a sly reference to Kenny’s comment about the Bomb. What bombs are in store for the rest of the partners?

Peggy, wandering around her apartment wearing a red bandanna on her face (red, that color of whores), complains that the paint fumes are making her sick. She doesn’t understand why Abe would want to live in this neighborhood with the hippies with bongos. “I don’t like change. I want everything to stay the same!” she cries, saying aloud the sentiment going through every character’s head right now – except, of course, Abe’s. As Abe comforts her with his political rhetoric – Johnson’s gone, the war is ending, they’re going to have a new president soon one way or another (“Best case McCarthy, worst case Kennedy”), Peggy tumbles into a ridiculous fantasy about Ted Chaough. Ugh.

In Detroit, Chaough and Don run into each other at a bar. “Dammit!” Ted yells from across the room, before sitting down next to Don to share a drink together. Chaough knows that when there are two little agencies at a meeting, everybody’s dead. Chevy, he says, knows how to “fight the war with bodies on the ground.” With planes flying by in the background at the airport hotel bar, the repeated bomb and war imagery, we are clearly meant to internalize the fact that SCDP has officially entered a war of its own.

On their respective bar stools, Don and Ted are playing show and tell. The men who’ve most influenced Peggy’s life are pitching to each other. The ad campaign Don describes is far ahead of its time – despite his reticence to change, Don Draper is actually moving advertising in its inevitable direction: forward. Out of the blue, Don suggests combining the agencies. After all, as Joan Holloway told him, “we” is more important than “I.” However, dear Don, you are doing it wrong. Making these enormous decisions on your own, even if you see them as combining forces with an ally, creating a “we,” is exactly what Joanie was warning you against.

Pete Campbell, a vindictive child, tells his wife about her father. He sits Trudy down at the kitchen table and tells her he saw Tom “with a 200 pound Negro prostitute.” Pete’s own racism, his own ugliness, pours from his lips only a week after he railed against Harry’s bigotry. Trudy tells him it’s over. They’re done.

Mad Men Season 6 Peggy Don Ted

Why, this is awfully awkward. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Peggy is preparing to leave the office (after dark, as always) when her secretary tells her Ted wants to see her. Peggy, smiling like a schoolgirl, touches up her makeup before going to Ted’s office. Ted has forgotten the drunken kiss, obviously – and Don Draper is his new date. Peggy obviously feels ambushed, wide-eyed and surprised. The two men in her life who’ve had the biggest professional impact, the two men she worked her hardest to keep separate, have merged. In fact, the agencies are merging completely. And Peggy has once again taken second place. “We’d like you to write the press release,” Ted says, thinking that’ll make her feel warm and fuzzy. It’s May 17, 1968. Peggy writes the press release.

Remember how excited the partners were to acquire a new floor in the building? Those stairs, the connection between the top and bottom floor of the agency, are fast becoming the series’ physical centerpiece. Joan had her partner photo taken on them, reflecting her metaphorical status between the upper and lower levels. Joan also fired Scarlett on them, but Harry Crane rebuffed her attempts to take control. Most importantly, in this episode Pete Campbell literally falls down the SCDP stairs. Is this, perhaps, foreshadowing? Pete’s whole life is exploding all over again, but it’s his own damned fault, not Don’s this time.

When I first heard about the top-secret, computer designed Chevrolet, I initially thought it was perhaps the Camaro – which was one of the most recognizable and beloved cars of the 1960s. The internet, however, tells me SCDP and CGC are preparing to write an ad campaign for one of the biggest automobile failures in the history of American cars: the Chevy Vega. If this is true, the whole kit and kaboodle are barrelling toward advertising doom. The whole season has been foreboding as hell, and the Vega could be the death knell we’ve all been waiting for.

What are your thoughts? Share in the comments!

Mad Men Recap: “To Have and To Hold” (Season 6, Episode 4) (4/23/13)

Last week’s dose of Mad Men had our characters ruminating on prostitution in all its forms; Don Draper, as it turns out, has some mommy issues. This week’s episode tones down the sharply honed writing and begins to settle us into a lull. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is perfect – if the season continued to amp up the way Game of Thrones is, I’d be tearing my hair out once a week.

Bloggers more observant than I have pointed out that blue and green seem to be a theme in season six, and this episode opens on a shot framed by the blue and green glass wall of Pete’s dingy Manhattan apartment. Don and Pete are meeting Timmy, the purveyor of Heinz Ketchup, surreptitiously. It is all a little too clandestine, too shady, not to compare to courting a mistress or a hooker. Timmy, wearing a blue-and-green checked suit, matches the decor. “I guarantee that Raymond will fall in line. I have that power,” he says, looking like the cat that got the canary. On his way out, the creep licks his wedding ring, saying, “I don’t need much of an excuse to come to Manhattan.” The two SCDP reps wait in silence for the ding of the elevator to make certain Timmy has gone. Pete, smirking gently, drawing his chin back – they’re not aging Vincent Kartheiser very well in the show – smarmily tells Don he can borrow the apartment, “if you ever need to spend the night in the city.” Don snaps, “I live here, Pete.” Pete is, I believe, trying to let Don know he understands something’s up – Pete knows Don’s up to his old tricks, and Don can’t stand it. (This is understandable, considering Pete once tried to blackmail him.)

Mad Men undermining Joan

It seems that whenever someone darkens Joan’s doorway, trouble’s afoot. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

This is generally the point in every season where we get a bigger helping of Joan and our other female characters; Peggy has basically made herself one of the guys, so we’ve already got an update on her life. In Sunday’s episode, Joan’s friend Kate (Marley Shelton) is in the City to visit. She’s the picture of perfection, made up gorgeously in a pink Jackie Onassis dress. As it turns out, she’s in the beauty business (Mary Kay), and she’s in New York to interview with Avon. Joan’s mother, Kate, and Joan giggle briefly in amazement and joy at Joan’s title. “A partner at a Madison Avenue Advertising Agency,” Momma intones breathlessly. It’s all so exciting! If only they knew how she got there.

At SCDP, Joan affects a dangerously frigid, “do not fuck with me” persona. She’s downright terrifying. Scarlett asks Dawn to punch Scarlett’s time card in the evening, five hours after Scarlett has actually left the office, and of course Joan finds out. Joan uses her powers of manipulation to try to get Dawn to come clean. It’s notable that in this scene, Joan is wearing a brilliant, icy blue dress and Dawn is clad in green. Scarlett, the outlier in, well, scarlet, pops up at the wrong time and gets herself unceremoniously canned.

Unfortunately, Harry Crane disagrees with Joan’s “petty tyrannies” and undermines Joan’s authority. In SCDP’s glass conference room, the partners (which of course include Joan) meet, and as Harry peers in you can nearly see the steam coming out of his ears. Ken Cosgrove mutters a short, half-hearted admonishment of “Don’t” before lighting a cigarette to enjoy the show. Harry storms in and makes an ass of himself, uttering a line about Joan that made my entire body cringe: “You know what? I’m sorry my accomplishments happened in broad daylight and I can’t be given the same rewards.” Pete is indignant, Don dangerously so. Poor Joan; she was just giggling with her best friend about her position, and now she’s bombarded with ugly reminders of just how powerless she still is.

Stan, the hippiest of the SCDP bunch, walks through Creative in his fringed jacket, into a room marked Private. On the soundtrack spy music plays, heavy on the xylophone. Ginsberg and the new lady (do we even know her name yet?) toss ideas back and forth and complain gently about Stan’s secretive involvement in Project K. When Don arrives, Ginsberg tosses off a one-liner and Bob Benson asks, too politely, “How are things, Don?” Don, however, is tired of the bullshit from Creative and instead helps Stan with a joint. The Private room is, of course, Ketchup – a perfect topic to work on when you have the munchies. Watching Don and Stan giggle about hamburgers and hot dogs and argue about condiments is pretty entertaining.

Mad Men Season 6 Don and Megan

The happy couple. Photo credit Jordin Althaus/AMC.

Megan’s costar Arlene, who is also the wife of the head writer, gets Megan a love scene with the male lead, Rod. Arlene, a lovely, aging sexpot, kisses Rod on the mouth and asks Megan how she’ll tell Don about it. When Megan frets that Don won’t like her doing a love scene, Arlene asks, “Would you be upset if he did?” Arlene insists the Drapers go out to dinner with her and her husband. At dinner, the other couple invites Megan and Don back to their place to smoke some grass and “see what happens.” Don, understanding full well the weight of the question, protests it’s late, while Megan is clearly willing to go in order to save her job. “Don, I have to go back to work with them!” she says, giggling with him in the cab afterward. Arlene and Mel have been married for eighteen years, and their situation seems quite stable. Now the Drapers are confronted with the idea of swinging – but does it spell out their future for them? Can Don handle it if Megan is the one sleeping with other people? Something tells me not.

In Sunday’s episode we also get a glimpse into Dawn’s life. She provides an interesting, if slightly shallow, look at the plight of people of color in 1968 (but it’s notable that the only other black person on the show thus far was Lane’s Playboy Bunny rebellion girlfriend a few seasons ago). As Dawn worries for her job, in boardrooms Pete reminds everybody that the Commission on Human Rights is investigating the employment of “her sort” in the ad business. Dawn meets a friend in a restaurant almost entirely populated by African Americans, always late, always anxious. She complains to her friend about the culture of SCDP. “There’s girls crying in the bathrooms, men crying in the elevators; it sounds like New Year’s Eve every time they empty the trash, there are so many bottles.” It’s a succinct, frightful evaluation of the way SCDP is functioning these days. “I want to keep my job, so I keep my head down.” As a black woman working in Manhattan, Dawn also can’t find a man to date. Her life is looking pretty rough at the moment. When she incurs Joan’s wrath, you just feel like crying for her. Joan, knowing her place (and unhappily), doesn’t fire Dawn but gives her more responsibility. When Dawn thanks her, Joan snaps, “You don’t understand that this is a punishment.”

Meanwhile, outside of the office, Joan is softer, kinder. She meets Kate and enables her flirtation with a few gentlemen. The two women pass a guy back and forth in a taxi, playing kissing games, and when they arrive at some gorgeously decorated club (remindful of The Factory), Joan has her own fun. When Johnny, a stranger who knows Kate’s date, leans in for a kiss, she gives it willingly enough, but he pulls away to say his friend was right about Joan. Joan, forever sensitive to what men say about her, asks what he said. “He said I’d want you,” Johnny says, and that is the correct answer.

Mad Men Season 6 Joan

I love it when Joan has fun. Photo credit Jordin Althaus/AMC.

When Joan and Kate awaken the next morning crowded in Joan’s full bed looking every bit the teenagers they once were, still wearing their ripped dresses, with smeared mascara and messy hair, Kate laments her behavior. She tells Joan what we all knew; she wants what Joan has. Joan is the envy of all the women in her life, but she’s the only one who knows what she had to give up to get where she is. “It’s a title,” Joan says bitterly. Kate replies, “I don’t care how they make you feel. Everything is right in front of you for the taking.” She’s right, and it’s exactly what Joan needed to hear. In this episode, we finally see Joan cutting loose a little bit. Her mother is still in town to help care for the baby; there’s no sign and hardly a mention of Greg, thankfully. Joan appears, from the outside, to be living the high life. Only she understands the implications and constant blows doled out to a woman in a precariously attained position of power.

Roger and Bert, the original Sterling and Cooper, invite Harry Crane into Bert’s office, where we’re reminded that everyone has to remove his shoes prior to entrance. Bert sits on the couch, hands on his ample belly, looking like Buddha. Roger and Bert try to pay Harry off with a check for $23,000, more than he makes during one year. Harry, not understanding he’s in danger, accepts the check but says it just isn’t good enough. When he compares himself indignantly to Bert, the old man shows once again that he’s not addled yet. “I was different than you, Mr. Crane, in every way,” he says coolly. Roger wonders aloud, “Should we fire him before he cashes that check?”

In an expensive hotel room, yet another implicit reference to prostitution, the SCDP crew pitches to Timmy. Their campaign features naked hot dogs, fries, and hamburgers with a simple phrase on a white background: “Pass the Heinz.” As far as SCDP is concerned, Heinz is now just ketchup – it’s a betrayal of sorts. Poor old Raymond, he of the baked beans. What happened to Don’s advice to Ken last episode that “sometimes you gotta dance with the one that brung you?”

Mad Men Season 6 SCDP Chaough

Having unsuccessfully courted Ketchup, the spurned ad agents meet for a drink. Photo credit Jordin Althaus/AMC.

After they finish their pitch, they find Peggy and Ted in the hallway. There’s a long scene of eyefucking, and we are treated to an ample helping of Pete Campbell’s bitchface. Don stops to listen in the doorway, shooing Pete and Stan away, and is bitterly amused to hear his one-time protege parrot him: “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.” Peggy is the new Don, through and through. Chaough’s pitch includes the classic image of the Heinz ketchup bottle, which is important to Heinz, and which they requested SCDP include. It seems fairly certain, for awhile, that SCDP has lost the pitch to Chaough.

Unfortunately, the clandestine courting ritual was not a success for either suitor. Neither Chaough or SCDP gets it. Ken Cosgrove pops into the restaurant where Peggy, Ted, Don, Stan, and Pete have met by accident for a stiff morning drink (gotta love this show) and tells them they also lost Baked Beans. As Stan gets up to leave, he flips Peggy off pointedly, in response to which she smiles; their friendship, though competitive, doesn’t seem to have suffered for her betrayal. Or does it?

Mad Men Season 6 Don voyeur

Don likes to watch, kind of. Photo courtesy AMC.

Don, ever the voyeur, spends a lot of time this season listening in doorways and watching through keyholes. He leaves the SCDP crew at the restaurant so he can visit Megan’s studio for the first time ever and keep tabs on her sex scene with Rod. “You like to watch, do you?” Arlene asks him, dripping honey with every word. Megan, dressed in a French maid’s outfit, tumbles onto the bed with her costar, and it’s a soap opera, and it’s ridiculously hammy and not at all sexy.

In her dressing room after the scene is done, Don confronts Megan. “You kiss people for money. You know who does that?” This man is such a hypocrite, it’s almost hard to believe. His stepmother was a hooker, his mother was a hooker, he helped to turn Joan into a hooker, and he pays his mistress…and now, in his mind, his wife is a hooker. His view of women is becoming even more disturbing as the show progresses. “Why don’t you have dinner with Arlene and Mel tonight?” he snipes. “They’re much more open-minded.” Meanwhile he’s using a coin to communicate with Sylvia, having sex with her behind closed doors. There are no coincidences; Megan was just dressed as a maid, and now Don is cheating on her…in the maid’s room. Brilliant. Don asks Sylvia to remove her cross. She tells him she won’t, and he turns it around so he can’t see it. She tells him she prays for him to find peace. What she doesn’t yet realize (or maybe she does; Sylvia is an interesting character, beautifully played by Cardellini) is that Don Draper will never find peace.

One hopes the tone will remain a little mellower from here on in – in Sunday’s episode the writing is on point as always, but less piercing. Again, doorways appear to be a theme this season. Ken Cosgrove hovers in doorways, watching the show from afar, multiple times. Joan’s comment about Fred “darkening her doorway” last episode comes to mind when Harry and Scarlett darken the same doorway to remind her of her impotence. Every time someone crosses her threshold, she’s reminded of her position. Don, of course, is spending a lot of time hovering in doorways himself. Who will cross the doorways, and what do they symbolize?

Likewise, the theme of blue and green is becoming more and more prominent in season six. What do you suppose these colors are meant to indicate?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

Mad Men Recap: “The Collaborators” (Season 6, Episode 3) (4/15/13)

If last week’s episode was about death, rape, and finding one’s own path, respectively, this week’s dose of Mad Men was about prostitution and guilt in all its varied forms. All the main characters are tangled in complex collaborations, whether willingly or unwillingly, sexual or chaste. Everyone’s wrestling with guilt in this episode, handling and mishandling situations as a result. Don Draper is, as ever, standing at the center of the tempest, acting as though he’s a port in a storm when really he’s rocking harder than anyone else.

Mad Men Season 6 Trudy Campbell

Don’t f*&% with Trudy Campbell.

Trudy Campbell, as it turns out, has grown a helluva backbone in the intervening years between last season and this. She’s stone cold, her prim words and sly smile thinly veiling total contempt. When she describes the local Easter Egg hunt to a new neighbor, a man with a gorgeous, blond wife, he asks if she dresses up like a cottontail. Trudy plays at offense, but the very things that would’ve genuinely offended characters like Trudy or Betty a few seasons are their very stock in trade these days. “You simply must see ‘Hair!'” Pete tells the neighbor’s lovely young wife, Brenda, and her pretty, blond friend (or is it daughter? I couldn’t tell). The two women joke flirtatiously about the veracity of claims that “Hair” featured real sex acts. The Campbells, once a shining beacon of American success, are not keeping up with the Joneses, so to speak. After they finally usher the newcomers out the door, Trudy tells Pete tiredly that the neighbor is insisting they all go skinny dipping. Pete sprawls undaintily on the couch to watch war coverage as Trudy cleans up. It’s evident, only in these tiny interactions, there’s no love lost between the once-blissful Campbell duo. (Remember their brilliant dance scene at Roger’s wedding? In other news, I need to re-watch the whole series – this music feels so old, and these couplings so ancient. How things have changed.)

The next morning, things get a bit awkward in the elevator at Don’s apartment building – Sylvia and Arnie argue contentiously about something that needs to go in the mail, and Sylvia asks her husband fruitlessly for money. Don, eyeing Sylvia in her bathrobe and curlers, pretends to have forgotten his cigarettes so that he can excuse himself to jump back into bed with her. He uses one bad habit to get to another, just like old times.

And suddenly it’s flashback time! Don, who in this episode always seems to be approaching a doorway (certainly not a coincidence, considering the title of the season premiere), has a sudden, uncomfortable memory of the day his stepmother moved them into the whorehouse where he grew up. Upon entering the brothel’s foyer, Don/Dick’s stepmother, very pregnant with Adam (now deceased, his suicide still a partially-buried point of agony for Don), glares stonily at the lecherous implication that she would do anything dirty for the brothel’s proprietor, Mack. As Mack and his wife usher the Whitmans into their humble abode, a whore admonishes a teenaged Don/Dick, “Little boy, find your own sins, stay away from Mack’s.” Well, he certainly didn’t have a problem with that.

Mad Men Season 6 Dick and Abigail Whitman

Welcome to the whorehouse. Photo credit Ron Jaffe/AMC.

In bed with Sylvia after lovemaking, Don and his mistress smoke a cigarette. Ahead of his time, Arnie Rosen is advising people that cigarettes are *gasp!* bad for you. When Don asks how she is allowed to smoke inside, Sylvia replies, “I just found out the maid smokes.” Linda Cardellini is perfect in this role, though it’s still intensely difficult to unsee her as Lindsay Weir. Her cross perpetually dangles between her breasts, reminding us every second of her Catholicism. As he gets up to leave, Don hands her the money she couldn’t get from her husband – and she seems to revel in the implications of such an illicit transaction. “I have money, I just never have money,” she says, practically purring.

The blatant similarities between Don and Peggy continue to astound, unsurprisingly. Peggy’s secretary is also African American, much like Dawn in her style of dress and hair. If you’ll remember, Dawn and Peggy had an odd, awkward interaction last season about their mutual feelings of discontent. Peggy strove to connect their plights, not understanding the extent to which the color of Dawn’s skin made her Other. Peggy and her secretary, though, seem to have a good rapport on the surface; the woman gently chastises Peggy for treating the Creative team like crap (this echoes Abe’s sentiments from last week). Peggy, as unsure of herself in the way of comforting people as Don is, stumbles over trying to tell Creative she loves them just the way they are. “The way you are…has nothing to do with the fact that the work needs work,” shes says, obviously anxious to get them out of her office. It’s a bit cringe-worthy.

Meanwhile, it appears Trudy Campbell has followed through on her suggestion for Pete to have an apartment in the city. Her attempts to separate his city life from his suburban one have worked well, so far as she can tell. His cheap, generally unoccupied flat in Manhattan is sparsely decorated when he leads lovely young Brenda in the door. “Please dear, don’t linger in the hallway,” he says; she’s no better than a you-know-what to him. He can offer her the simple things in life: peanut butter and cheese crackers, cheap-ish liquor, and vulgar comments about how “it can get hot in here.” He leads Brenda into the bedroom, which is walled in colored glass, a visual reminder of the drabness of the Campbell home in the suburbs. The contrast between this lively young blond and his pretty, dark wife is stark and intense – his life in the city and his life in the suburbs don’t overlap if he can help it, but Pete isn’t always good at helping it.

Mad Men Season 6 Heinz

It’s no coincidence ketchup looks so young, attractive, and dapper in blue. Photo credit Ron Jaffe/AMC.

At SCDP, things are heating up. Heinz is back, and this is not a good thing. Kip Pardue, one of the most stereotypically attractive actors working right now (most memorable to me for this artful, extremely NSFW montage of debauchery from Rules of Attraction), is impeccably dressed and pretty as Timmy, the Ketchup guy. “So the question here is, what can you do for ketchup?” Timmy asks the SCDP crew. Raymond, he of the Heinz Baked Beans account from last season, stays behind to tell Don he will have no further contact with Timmy. At Heinz, baked beans are falling by the wayside as the up-and-comer ketchup gallops past. “I’d rather retire than watch that guy screw my girlfriend,” he says angrily, impotently. As anybody who’s paid attention in the last 50 years knows, Heinz is not a household name for its baked beans. Heinz ketchup, as Ken notes, is “the Coca-Cola of condiments.” After Ray, who has in his insecurity disgraced himself, leaves the office, Ken and Don talk of Raymond’s weakness. “Sometimes,” Don says when Kenny asks why they can’t just slip Raymond and approach Timmy, “you gotta dance with the one that brung you.” Sometimes you do, indeed, Don. How about dancing with your own wife?

Uncoincidentally, the next scene is in the basement of the Drapers’ and Rosens’ apartment building, where Megan is firing the maid while wearing a wholly unflattering (and very depressive, for Megan) green cable knit sweater. Unexpectedly, she bursts into tears just as Sylvia walks through the doorway. Sylvia accompanies Megan to the Draper apartment, where Megan, obviously lonely and sad these days, spills her guts. First she talks about her mother’s will – deliberately drawing our minds to Megan’s horribly unhappy French Canadian mother, who slept with Roger last season – before we realize she’s talking about her soap opera character. Then she tells Sylvia she had a miscarriage a few days prior. Sylvia understandably mixes up Megan’s fantasy life with her real life. It’s something the writers clearly intend for us to do this season. Megan’s miscarriage, though, is very real, and of course she didn’t tell Don. “I’m such a horrible person…to be pregnant now, at this moment,” she says, unable to finish her sentence, implying delicately that she had contemplated abortion. Her guilt, the superstitious notion that she might’ve caused her own miscarriage by thinking about it, is ruining her. Sylvia is in an intensely uncomfortable situation here. The man with whom she’s having an affair had a pregnant wife, and he isn’t even aware of it. Now Sylvia’s saddled with the burden by virtue of her gender. Sylvia was raised Catholic and quite simply doesn’t understand how anyone could consider getting an abortion. “In your heart I think you feel the same way,” she says to Megan, just as Don walks in the door.

Peggy finds a container of Quest Feminine Hygiene Powder on her desk, and carries it to Ted Chaough, hoping against hope that it’s a new account. Peggy’s wardrobe is heavily purple this season, drawing comparisons to Joan in all her self-appointed regal glory. When Peggy reads the folder to Ted, she realizes it’s a bad joke courtesy Creative. The intended target for Quest Feminine Hygiene Powder: “professional women and other Olsens.” She takes it as much in stride as she can – but to anyone watching now, the gesture is hardly playful, and actually seems a threat. This provides the only concrete contrast between Peggy and Don – Don commands, if not appreciation, at least respect. Peggy, a woman in the same role, is going to have trouble commanding anything from a troupe of men who haven’t caught up to the idea that ladies are, in fact, capable of supervising a project (and oh so much more).

Mad Men Season 6 Joan

A reminder Joan desperately didn’t want – and look how well she blends with the pops of color in Don’s office. Photo credit Ron Jaffe/AMC.

As though to make the connection between Joan and Peggy even clearer, the following scene gives us Joanie herself, surprised as Herb (of Jaguar fame, the very gentleman she slept with in order to obtain her status as “non-silent” partner at SCDP) darkens her doorway. “I know there’s part of you that’s glad to see me,” Herb says, sweating like a pig and practically reeking through the screen. “And I know there’s a part of you you haven’t seen for years,” Joan responds tartly, without a hint of a smile. She barges into Don’s office and pours herself a drink directly from his bar. “He’s here,” she spits venomously, and they need converse no more. Herb, wiping sweat from his brow, tells the male portion of the SCDP crew they need to present an idea to the bigwigs at Jaguar to put 60% of their current funds toward local ads. Whatever he’s plotting, it can’t come from him – it has to come from the ad guys. Don’s disgust with Herb is palpable and problematic.

Peggy and Stan have a very comfortable rapport, joking and chattering during evening phone calls. Stan tells Peggy all about the ketchup debacle – the hilarious way “‘fraidy-cat” Raymond commanded them to have no further contact with Timmy, the way Ken bungled the potential ketchup account. The two giggle discreetly at others’ misfortune; it’s a much-needed reprieve from their day-to-day. Unfortunately, Ted Chaough, he of few morals, overhears the conspirators (or is it collaborators?) and makes it abundantly clear he is entirely comfortable with stealing both talent and clients from SCDP. Peggy is obviously not okay with this behavior, but Ted’s the boss. Unfortunately, he successfully poaches ketchup from SCDP – and now Peggy is left to feel guilty (something she used to be pretty good at) for her carelessness.

In the suburbs, the Campbells suddenly hear screams from outside their normally idyllic home. Brenda stumbles up to the doorway, yelling for help, her nose bloodied. “Hey Campbell, she’s your problem now,” her husband shouts from the car. Trudy struggles to restrain her anger while icing the wounds caused by Pete’s (and, obviously, Brenda’s, and her husband’s) bad behavior. Trudy takes it upon herself to drive Brenda to a hotel (“Come, dear, it’s better this way”), even as Brenda begs Pete to please take care of her.

Mad Men Season 6 Sylvia

She radiates warmth and maturity – and is every bit the opposite of Megan. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Megan begs off from dinner at an Italian restaurant with the Rosens, and Arnold leaves the table to attend to a patient, leaving Sylvia and Don to eat together. Sylvia, who knows Don’s life better than he does at the moment, is openly hostile. “How could I possibly know what you like to eat?” she asks, indirectly jabbing at her role as not-wife. She points out that Don gets wicked enjoyment out of how foolish the cuckolded spouses appear. Don, who at the beginning of last episode couldn’t think of a damned word to say, works his magic on Sylvia. “Oh, I see. You want to feel shitty right up until the point where I take your dress off,” he says, stunning her with his incisive reference to her innate Catholic guilt. Despite (or because of?) said guilt, Don can turn any woman on with words. As a pretty Italian aria plays in the background, she becomes visibly aroused by Don’s dirty talk. “Weren’t you the one who told me you were drifting apart?” she asks, requesting permission to alleviate her guilt. He lets her order for him, ostensibly granting her power, and the scene frequently cuts from the restaurant foreplay to Don and the doctor’s wife screwing on the maid’s bed.

Mad Men Season 6 Don Megan

Not for the first time, we’re reminded that Megan still sometimes needs a father, rather than a husband. Photo credit Ron Jaffe/AMC.

When Trudy finally shows up at the Campbell house after dropping Brenda off at a hotel, it is very late and she is very pissed off. She turns off the bedside lamp and gently closes the door as she enters the bathroom, eyeing prone Pete scathingly all the way across the room. The gentle click of the bathroom latch, her exit from the marriage bedroom after learning about her husband’s affair with the neighbor, matches perfectly with the slam of a door that is Don coming home after his own affair with the neighbor.

Megan, distraught and looking more juvenile than ever, tells Don about the miscarriage. He has no idea how to react but does his best. “You have to know I’d want what you want,” he explains, letting her know he’s up for the “let’s have a family” conversation whenever Megan is. The man is once again juggling as many women as he can stand, and isn’t fazed that he has to reassure his guilt-ridden wife while battling his guilt-ridden mistress.

At least one person in this episode doesn’t feel guilty, but enraged. “Somehow I thought there was dignity in granting permission,” Trudy says to Pete as he comes home the next day, spearing him with ice crystals in every word. Suddenly she starts throwing out orders. She won’t accept a divorce, she says, because she won’t be a failure. Instead, “I am drawing a 50-mile line around this house, and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.” She means it, too. Do not mess with Trudy Campbell. How things have changed. Cleaning up your husband’s bloody mistress, who lives just down the block, is a valid last straw.

When Jaguar returns for their big meeting at SCDP, Don upends Pete’s whole pitch in a horribly misguided show of solidarity for Joan. Jaguar isn’t a fan of the updated approach. Roger agrees good-naturedly and succinctly with his only line of the episode (and one of the best): “That was the deftest self-immolation I’ve ever seen.” Don, in all ways, is very deft at self-immolation. Don and Roger have to explain to young Pete what they mean when they reference Munich. “We gave the Germans whatever they wanted to make them happy, but they just wanted more,” says Roger. “Well, who the hell won the war?” Pete asks before storming off. Unsurprisingly, all three of these men have been given everything they wanted to make them happy, and they only want more. It’s the way of the Mad Men universe.

The penultimate scene brings us back to Don’s introduction to his stepmother’s role as a prostitute. Teenaged Don peers through a keyhole as clammy, naked Mack gently pushes Abigail down on a bed and leans into her. Another whore (probably the same one who’d warned him to steer clear of Mack’s sins) tells him he’s a dirty little spy. On the soundtrack, “Just a Gigolo” plays mellowly, softly. After stopping by the Rosen household in secret, a drunken Don collapses weakly outside his own double doors before crossing the threshhold.

This season, it appears, will be all about doorways. Finding them, using them, entering them, leaving them. Mad Men has never been light in tone, but in this season’s opening episodes, it’s clear that the show’s themes are only growing darker and tenser. Don is indignant about Joan’s prostitution (which surely links to his matriarch’s), but hands his own mistress a wad of cash after sex. Pete, still hovering somewhere near the bottom when he wants so badly to be at the top, refuses to separate his suburban life from his city life, leaving his mistress beaten and his wife enraged. Peggy can’t quite leave SCDP behind, and Ted Chaough takes advantage of her weakness. Megan and Sylvia are racked with their own guilt, though Sylvia’s used to it (and even, it appears, gets off on it a bit) and Megan’s not. Trudy and Joan refuse to be treated like hookers, even as the men around them make it clear that’s what they’re worth. It’s shaping up to be a tense swirl of collapses and explosions, a stormy expanse of guilt and seeking penance.

What’re your thoughts? Who is Bob Benson, really? Who is headed where, and do you have predictions?