Not dead, just braindead

I’m alive, and I know it’s been more than two weeks since I last wrote. A friend said recently that nothing’s worse than having a blog and not keeping up with it – and I wholly agree. But I simply haven’t had the brainpower to write much in the last few weeks.

Work is insane. I had a really vicious panic attack last Tuesday. I studied intensely hard for, then took an expensive, nebulous, comprehensive certification exam that may mean some kind of monetary acknowledgement from my employer (which would certainly make the panic attacks more worth it, right? …right.) – and hopefully, mobility. But that’s assuming I passed, and I hate to jinx these things. I’ll hear sometime in the next week or so.

Some friends came to visit from Indiana, and that was wonderful. We saw a really big black bear from less than 40 feet away. We rock climbed. We drove to the West Virginia border to watch the Camelopardalids meteor shower at 2 a.m. We ate Indian food and watched ducklings. It was a great visit, fantastic to see old friends – and way better for my mental health than delving deeply into a TV show.

I have zero mental energy to tackle the UCSB shootings. I have very, very strong feelings on the subject, and I’m too tired and yeah, kind of afraid to be publicly strident about it because I can’t deal with the fallout right now. When tragedy strikes, it provides us an important lens through which to examine our cultural inadequacies. For all of us, both men and women, to take a close look at what’s going wrong. It also allows us to lift up the rocks and examine the scum that have been living in remote corners of the internet, advocating for treating women like objects to be won, and tell them this shit will not fly. #YesAllWomen is important, and I’ve already argued my point into the ground with people I love re: the value of focused anger, forgiveness and divinity, and actually taking an opportunity to look at what women go through all the time. I’m angry, other people are angry, and we have every right to be. I don’t feel sympathy for anyone but the victims. There’s plenty of great reading out there about mental health (which frankly I don’t think should factor into this discussion at all – he committed a hate crime), gun control, masculinity, and pervasive misogyny. You don’t need to hear it from me.

There are three episodes of Mad Men to recap, and I’ll probably write one lengthy piece next week sometime. That is, assuming I am not drowning in spreadsheets and busywork. The next month is going to be tough, and even if I hear that I’ve passed the certification exam, I won’t really be able to take a break until July. I just don’t want to sacrifice my writing to my day-to-day employment. We’ll see how it goes.

Wish me luck.

Musing on Mad Men, movies, & being a real adult

I’m studying for an exam that’ll take place on Thursday (May 15), so my recap for this week’s episode of Mad Men, “The Runaways,” will be bundled into the next week’s piece. But I wanted to write a listicle of sorts, punctuated with exclamation points! Because this week’s episode deserves some !!!.

– Betty Draper is more of a teenager than her daughter! (Also, doesn’t want to be a Stepford wife for actual.)

– A threesome is pretty much never the answer, Megan!

– “It’s a nose job, not an abortion!”

– Holy 2001: A Space Odyssey references!

– A nipple in a box! (!!!)

– “This is the Final Solution.” What you did there, I see it, Stan.

– Did pregnant Stephanie’s craving for steak remind anyone else of Rosemary’s Baby? At least Megan cooked her a medium-well done hunk of meat instead of searing a rare one.

– “I have a stomachache all the time.” 🙁

– Phillip Morris is back in the picture!

– “Scout’s Honor” actually makes me feel kind of sorry for Lou!

Aside from Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Revenge, and Hannibal, I’ve also started tentatively watching Don’t Trust the B*%&$ in Apt 23. So far, fun and funny. Also, I haven’t been writing about them, but I’ve seen quite a few movies in the last few weeks. More lists because it’s easy:

Frozen: cute, but not mind-blowing. I adored The Princess and the Frog, so it isn’t just being an Old that left me with so-so feelings on Frozen. The characters are pretty static and the music felt a little jumbled. (I know, I know: blasphemy.)

Noah: I need a re-watch. This shit was bizarre. I’m agnostic, I don’t know the Bible at all, and I saw it with two (largely) nonpracticing Mennonites, a nonpracticing Quaker, and a nonpracticing Catholic. Nobody was entirely sure what to do with it. Mostly: a waste of a brilliant cast on poor performances, but what a pretty movie. I expected more from Aronofsky, but I have a feeling it’ll grow on me.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: It’s a downright angry NSA allegory, and the graphics are gorgeous. Totally enjoyable and definitely better than the first.

Grand Budapest Hotel: gorgeously curated, meticulously crafted, hilariously acted. I’m a sucker for Wes Anderson’s particular breed of quirk and this one is grotesque and odd (in that Eastern European way) on top of the usual idiosyncrasies. A winning combination.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Mehh. It has some serious pacing issues, and I don’t think Andrew Garfield is as funny as he thinks he is. I’m not familiar with the books, but I know the basic mythology, and some of the changes they’re making aren’t sensible. Dane DeHaan is great, and the sound design and graphics are magnificent.

Lastly, HBO is airing The Heat right now and I thought it’d be kind of terrible, but my thoughts are as follows: Melissa McCarthy is a goddamn genius.

Send me good vibrations on Thursday, okay? I’ll need them.

Mad Men Recap: “The Monolith” (Season 7, Episode 4)

I’ve been gathering a few people to watch Game of Thrones and Mad Men each week, and it’s interesting the way other people can change your perspective. When I was writing for California Literary Review, I think my editor enjoyed my pieces because I chronicled the reactions of the audience as lovingly as I wrote about the film. After last night’s episode, my friend Chelsea said with a considering expression, “That was kind of like a sitcom episode,” and she’s right. In “The Monolith,” problems are presented, problems are fixed, and we’re back to the status quo. It was a filler episode, which is common at this point in the season. But despite its easily solvable character dilemmas, it was a truly weird one. It is Mad Men, after all. It’s 1969 and everyone’s staring into the void, looking for answers. For some, the answers may lie in technology. Others search for a more organic sense of belonging, while still others just want a damn couch that isn’t full of farts. Basically, we’re all a bunch of monkeys gazing at a monolith.

Gazing into the infinite. Photo credit Justina Mintz/AMC.

Staring into the infinite. Photo credit Justina Mintz/AMC.

In the opening scene of Sunday’s episode, we drop in on a scene in which Pete describes the various destinations of choice for an upcoming trip with Bonnie. She spots George Peyton, a ghost from Campbell’s past who worked with Trudy’s father Tom at Vicks. Remember the Vicks drama? If I recall correctly, Pete’s shameless philandering lost SCDP that account. (Don’t shit where you eat, Pete.) Pete explains to a curious Peyton that he and Trudy are getting a divorce, and that Bonnie is his real estate agent (she’s none too pleased with this informal introduction). Peyton reports that Tom Vogel, Pete’s father-in-law, had a heart attack. “Who knew he had a heart?” George chuckles. Further, Peyton’s now working for Burger Chef. You can practically see the lightbulb ding into existence over Pete’s head; the guy knows how to use his connections. Meanwhile, the two men circle around their respective lady friends, both wearing ridiculous(ly awesome) ’70s dresses with feathers and fringe.

"This agency has entered the future!" Photo credit Justina Mintz/AMC.

“This agency has entered the future!” Photo credit Justina Mintz/AMC.

When Don comes into the office for his first official day back, he’s looking every bit the old Don Draper. His eyes are alert, his old but neat suit impeccably pressed; his hat rests in his hands. He disembarks from the elevator to discover the office has been evacuated, and rapidly. A phone dangles eerily from a secretary’s desk; he hangs it back up. On the second floor, he discovers the entire office in an impromptu meeting to announce a construction project: they’re putting in a computer. Cutler intones smugly, “This agency has entered the future.”

Unfortunately, in order to enter the future, they have to take out the Creative department lounge. Peggy mentions under her breath that Lou has no idea what he’s doing, and Lou says pragmatically that he’ll use that computer more than the lounge. Ginsberg gets a moment to shine; he feels (quite rightly) displaced. “Harry Crane took a huge dump and we’re cleaning it up,” he cries. With a maniacal glint, he asks Don to help him move the massive orange couch into the office he shares with Stan because “the other one’s full of farts!” Ginsberg climbs onto a soapbox and bellows a battle cry: “They’re trying to erase us, but they can’t erase this couch!” It’s all so very dramatic and very Michael Ginsberg. Read more

Mad Men Recap: “Field Trip” (Season 7, Episode 3)

Sunday’s episode of Mad Men took us on a number of trips, metaphorical and physical. The theme here is related to Megan’s repeated questions: “Where are you? Why can’t I reach you?” Sure, she’s asking about why Don is never there when she rings up – but at the same time she’s not. He’s mucked up his entire world, and try as he might, it’ll never be what it was. He’s adrift, searching for a lighthouse.

This episode also sees the return of our favorite trophy wife, Betty Francis, who despite hardly interacting with Don anymore, still shares their children (and interestingly enough she’s probably the worse parent). The other day, I got squinty-eyed and a little pissy about this Salon takedown of the series by a young(er than me) writer named Matthew Brandon Wolfson. Wolfson notes that we’re supposed to “soak in Betty’s poise while pitying her for her limited possibilities.” I beg your pardon? I pity Joan Harris for her limited possibilities (even though she did rather put herself in this position), but I do not pity Betty Draper. She’s no bombshell, not thwarted by her femininity; she’s a petulant, blank-faced child. The piece is worth a read (?), but I’ll continue to rebut it throughout this recap.

Betty Draper Francis is an utter child. Photo courtesy AMC.

Betty Draper Francis is an utter child. Photo courtesy AMC.

“Field Trip” starts us out in a smoky theater where Don Draper idly watches a film set in San Francisco. This is the same theater where Don caught Ted and Peggy on a date; it’s where he taught his protege to escape to when she needs to get away from the office. Once the movie’s over he returns to his “work day,” which means calling Dawn because he needs typewriter ribbon. Poor Dawn, recently promoted to head of the secretarial pool, is utterly swamped. Don is peevish about her assignation of a courier to bring him his supplies. “I didn’t make any plans. I was expecting you to come over!” he cries. Dawn reports that Alan Silver called from California; Megan’s manager, the slimy, slightly swishy guy from last episode, wants to talk to Don. Dawn, overrun by SC&P business, can’t connect the call, so Don resentfully dials up Silver himself. (Poor Don. Must be rough.) Alan reports that the stress is getting to Megan. She burst into tears after bombing an audition, then stalked a director. “I’ve seen it before,” Silver says. “You know her best!” Of course this dude would call the husband to quell what he sees as a hysterical episode.

Don, obviously, jumps on a plane to California to “fix” Megan’s problem. The stewardess greets him warmly as “Mr. Draper.” When he tells her he’s flying home to surprise his wife, she flirts with him gently as her massive blond pompadour bobs near the ceiling of the plane. “I’ve said it before – I hate her!”

The return of Francine, and wearing a pantsuit no less. Photo credit: Justina Mintz/AMC.

The return of Francine, and wearing a pantsuit no less. Photo credit: Justina Mintz/AMC.

Out in Rye, Betty Francis meets her old friend Francine for lunch. “How are things in real estate?” Betty asks. Francine responds patiently, “I’m a travel agent, Betty.” Francine is thrilled to tell Betty about her new job, for which she’s in the office three days a week. She reports happily that one of her customers says she “redefined his definition of first class.” While Francine continues to contentedly natter about work, Betty becomes increasingly disgruntled. “Being alone in the house all that time, I really needed a challenge,” says Francine, echoing the sentiments of a million housewives in 1969. She amends this with a sly smile: “Fine, I needed a reward.” Betty, raising one perfectly groomed eyebrow, says, well, I thought the kids were the reward. She finishes this with, “I dunno, maybe I’m old fashioned.” Do y’think so? Read more

Mad Men Recap: “A Day’s Work” (Season 7, Episode 2)

After last week’s premiere, which set an ominous tone for the final season of Mad Men, the writers reached out to pick us up and dust us off in episode two. Peggy and Pete are flailing about on opposite coasts, each experiencing ennui and scrabbling for purchase in their daily lives. Sally Draper is navigating her own transitional phase and handling it as gracefully as you’d expect from a 15-year-old. Dawn, Shirley, and Joan are shuffled about by the various men of SC&P while Cooper’s old-fashioned sensibilities hold up progress. Roger and Jim are at odds beneath a cordial surface. Out of everyone, though, Don Draper is most adrift.

Out to sea. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Out to sea. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

The opening scene of Sunday’s episode calls back to the premiere with a time motif. Don awakens to his alarm clock on a Thursday at 7:30, stretching groggily. Moments later, he awakens again, this time at 12:34. Don’s discombobulated, out of time and place. In his apartment, he blankly stares at Little Rascals on TV, his face unshaven and his robe hanging open. He idly pages through Look Magazine, which features a headline about abortions (the contentious topic would’ve been ramping up toward 1973’s landmark Roe vs. Wade case). He passes a full-page ad that inquires, “How do you handle a hungry man?” while absent-mindedly eating Ritz directly from the box. He marks the level on a bottle of Courvoisier, tsking to himself – he’s drinking too much. A cockroach wanders by and Don just sighs. The time passes, and into the evening Don shaves and dresses, buttoning up his shirt and fixing his tie just as the doorbell rings.

Dawn steps into the apartment, but she can’t stay. She’s brought him Sweet ‘n Low and Coffee Mate since she noticed he was out. Likewise, she arranged for a Valentine’s bouquet to arrive at Megan’s house in California. Dawn’s another set of eyes into SC&P, and it’s making her uncomfortable. “I don’t mind keeping you aware of things, but there’s something about the money that makes it feel wrong,” she says. On her way out, she reminds him that the cleaning woman is coming tomorrow morning. She takes the money.

Our very own Don Draper, the hero/antihero of the series (this is debatable – there are those who think it’s been Peggy’s story all along), has gotten interminably sad. Without his work, without purpose, Don Draper is nothing. He can’t even handle the basics of his marriage and his home without help. It’s tough to watch.

So grownup. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

So very. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Sally Draper has transformed into a full-blown teenager. Her friends smoke cigarettes in her dorm room, gossiping about another friend’s dead mother. Everybody’s stoked to go off campus for the funeral because they an sneak away to shop for Pocahontas boots. (I’m actually shaking my head in consternation as I write this.) That lucky bitch whose mom died, she gets to stay out of school until Easter! “I’d stay here til 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground,” Sally says, dragging on a cigarette. (Snort. It’s awful, but can you blame her?) Read more