Tag Archive for Joan Holloway

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: “The Flood” (Season 6, Episode 5) (4/30/13)

Sunday’s episode of Mad Men reminded us, as every season does at about this point, both where we are temporally and where our characters are developmentally. The United States was collectively shocked and awed repeatedly in the 1960s as political figures fell before their very eyes. In Sunday’s episode, which took place on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. The world kept on keepin’ on, but it was tough going for a bit. As far as our characters’ developmental progress, this is the first episode this season to remind us just how awful most of these people actually are. The opportunistic, greedy nature of the ad business is what Mad Men is all about – but sometimes we manage to forget. Sunday’s episode is a stark reminder.

Peggy Olsen is nervously searching for an apartment of her very own. In the opening scene, she stands in the middle of an ugly, plain apartment on the Upper East Side. A realtor, a woman with a voice like a bored auctioneer, lists the stats: 1,290 square feet (let’s call it 1,300 with the balcony), two bedrooms, one and a half baths. Peggy, in her sunny yellow work suit, appears out of place and fidgety until Abe arrives, late as usual. When he complains about the doorman’s suspicion (not a lot of longhaired hippie types living on the Upper East Side in 1968), Peggy, not understanding his reticence, whispers excitedly, “We could have a doorman!” When the realtor turns to Abe, the man of the house, and asks whether they’ll buy, he shrugs and says, well, it’s certainly not up to him. “I’m more her trusted advisor.”

Mad Men Season 6 Sylvia and Arnold

Sylvia, wearing that crimson color that, in Don’s mind, belongs to ladies of the evening.

Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

The Drapers head out on the town, but in the lobby they run into Sylvia and Arnie, who are going on a short trip to Washington, D.C. As Sylvia and Don exchange uncomfortable glances over their spouses’ shoulders, Don makes an ass of himself repeating questions and explaining that Megan is up for a copywriting award. Sylvia looks every inch the good Italian Catholic in her crimson suit – it’s another costuming nod to her role in Don’s life. (Basically, red = hooker.)

Last episode we got a hefty dose of Joan Holloway (Harris? Has she changed her name back?), and in this episode we got a little more of Michael Ginsberg. Ginsberg, every bit the outspoken, talented ad man by day, still resides in a tenement with his father, who’s every bit the outspoken Jewish gentleman. When Ginsberg arrives home, he finds Pop has set him up on a nice date with Beverly Farber, Chaim Farber’s daughter. The fathers play chess together. It’s all very “old world,” as Ginsberg notes grumpily. Tricked into a date by your ole dad, that’s rough.

Mad Men Season 6 Megan and Peggy

It’s funny how the only women in Don’s life who have really earned his respect, who ever really stood up to him, complement each other. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

At the advertising awards ceremony, Don avoids Peggy. Megan, chastising him gently, seeks out Don’s old protege and current rival. Peggy introduces Megan to Cutler (of Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough), played by none other than Harry Hamlin. Cutler, in a nose-wrinkling moment, tells Megan admiringly that “they didn’t make copywriters like you in my day.” Peggy, slightly embarrassed by this behavior, informs Megan conspiratorially, “He’s like Roger with bad breath.” Peggy and Megan make pleasing foils for one another – although they were rivals for Don’s attention in the office, they remain the two women he respects the most. They’re wearing dresses that shimmer with every movement, and Megan’s wealth and grace provides an interesting contrast to Peggy’s continuing awkwardness in dress and mannerism. Peggy still dresses ever so slightly like a teenage girl – you can still see her inner secretary cowering beneath the outwardly confident ad exec.

At Peggy’s table, Ted Chaough makes himself quite comfortable in Abe’s seat. Ted’s snarky wife repeats his name as he babbles excitedly at Peggy, until he gets up to let the longhair have his intended place at the table. Ted and Peggy exchange smiles over their own partners’ place settings. In this scene, Ted literally replaced Abe next to Peggy until his wife made him move. Foreshadowing of an affair, perhaps?

At the awards dinner, William Mapother is a creeper. (Then again, anyone releated to Tom Cruise just seems…off to me.) With distant eyes and a standoffish stance, he tells Don knowingly, “We’ve already met, and we’ve already had this meeting.” Don, needless to say, is confused. Roger takes it all in stride, as Roger is prone to do.

Paul Newman, the presenter at the advertising awards, gets political in his opening speech. Roger chuckles as Joan squints through her glasses and complains she needs binoculars. It’s a clever way to handle a scene filmed in 2013 that features a real actor as he would have looked in 1968. Everyone is uncomfortable with Newman’s political discourse. “I know Bobby Kennedy, but I’m supporting Gene McCarthy for president,” he says, and there’s awkward shifting and sparse claps. Commotion erupts as someone hollers that King was shot. As Abe yells indignantly, people trade stunned glances and Joan and Megan start to cry. Abe realizes this is a story – a good one – and takes off for Harlem in a tuxedo. It’s brave, I suppose…but more than anything else it’s opportunistic.

Abe’s only the first to show his true colors in this episode…and hardly the worst. Everyone’s a terrible person, more or less.

Mad Men Season 6 Ginsberg and Beverly

We’re finally getting a glimpse into Ginsberg’s life since last season. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Ginsberg can’t handle his shit on a date with a pretty girl, which is unsurprising. “I’ve never had sex, not even once,” he says, and continues to babble nervously. I just wanted to reach through the screen and pat his head. In a clever sequence, the din of the diner slowly fades from the soundtrack as the sound of a news announcer grows louder until the crash of a dish signals the fact of King’s assassination. It compounds the idea that, truly, the whole world stopped for a moment.

In the ‘burbs, the Draper kids are worrisome little creatures. Bobby is peeling off the blue wallpaper in his bedroom. When Betty catches him, she becomes truly distraught. “Why are you destroying this house!?” she cries. Once a child, always a child. As usual, when the kids are annoying her, she hands them to Don…even when it’s probably dangerous to do so. Don, along with most of New York City, is drinking and watching the riots in D.C. on the TV. You can see his anxiety, his worry for Sylvia, that woman he “can’t fall in love” with. Betty calls on the phone to accuse him of using King’s assassination as an excuse not to see his kids. “She’s a piece of work,” says Megan…and she certainly is. Don begrudgingly puts down his whiskey (!) and drives his very young children through downtown New York as riots threaten to erupt.

Mad Men Season 6 Don and Roger

The Old Guard. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

The greatest national tragedy in the last few decades was, by far, the 9/11 attacks. Everyone in America who was old enough to understand remembers that day; what you were doing, how you found out, how you responded. It was a terrifying violation, and the whole country paused to watch as further tragedy unfolded. More importantly, though, when something so earth-shaking happens, something that seems to tear at the very fabric of America, people need to connect with one another. Don wants to see his kids, even if he isn’t aware of it at first. Pete Campbell, rightfully forced out of his comfortable home in the suburbs by his cuckolded wife, also wants to see his daughter. Trudy understandably wants nothing to do with Pete anymore, and although she has tears in her eyes, she tells him she’ll handle everything on her own. You lost your chance, Pete.

The whole episode is permeated with sirens, flashing lights, and blaring radios and televisions. Megan, with no kids of her own, calls her horrible parents, and tearfully tells her father repeatedly in French that she doesn’t agree with him. Hanging up, she incredulously, angrily tells Don, “He applauded the ‘escalation of decay.’ I’m so sick of that Marxist bullshit. He hides behind his intellect. He doesn’t want to feel any emotions.” Megan dear, are you beginning to realize that in some ways you actually married your dear father?

From a shot of Megan’s purse and belongings, plopped carelessly on the couch upon entering the apartment, we find out Megan won the copywriting award, for what it’s worth. Which isn’t much.

While Megan takes Sally and Gene to a vigil in the park, Don first tries to reach Sylvia by calling for Arnold in D.C. A tragedy truly does cause one to reach out – but the stupidity of this move is very un-Don-Draper. Trying to contact his mistress by calling her husband with no real reason for it? What’s happening in his head? Did he fall in love when he shouldn’t have?

In the office of Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough the next morning, Peggy comforts her secretary despite not exactly knowing how to do so. “It’s not gonna stop anything,” says Peggy’s girl. “And these fools running in the streets, it’s exactly what he didn’t want.” It’s prescient and graceful. Peggy tells her to go home because “none of us should be working.”

Meanwhile at SCDP, two assholes are screaming at each other (surprise!). Harry Crane is a truly terrible person, and even Pete Campbell calls him out on it. Harry somehow thinks it’s appropriate to bitch about losing ad money because the channels are interrupting regularly scheduled programming to report on King’s assasssination. “How dare you?” asks Pete, his face a mask of complete disgust. “This cannot be made good! It’s shameful. It’s a shameful day!” Harry, momentarily ruffled, tries to recover some dignity – but Pete only responds by calling him a pig. “We’re in the presence of a bona fide racist!” Pete yells. Bert Cooper, SCDP’s benevolent father figure, tells them to shake and make up. The two men, both of them deplorable humans, wear variations on this season’s color scheme of blue and green. Their argument is gorgeously shot, meticulously framed and beautifully symmetrical. The office, almost always bustling, is nearly empty because as Peggy said, “none of us should be working.”

However, Dawn arrives late, looking worse for the wear. She’s distraught and upset, tired and anxious…and one can’t help but wonder what Harlem looks like, even in the daylight. When Joan and Don try to send her home, she says repeatedly, with wide eyes, “I’d really rather be here today.” Her mom told her to go into work, one assumes to protect her safety. Mirroring Peggy’s interaction with her own secretary, Joan puts a very awkward set of arms around Dawn and tells her how sorry she is. Dawn has no idea what to do with that. These bougie Manhattan Caucasians don’t have any idea how the other half live – and they can’t see that Dawn feels unsafe in her own home right now, because they all live far away, or far above, the chaos and commotion. A day of mourning, for them, is likely a day of riots, fires, and looting where Dawn lives.

Peggy, of course, stays in the empty office, fielding her own calls in lieu of her secretary. Her realtor phones to suggest that they take advantage of this national tragedy to score Peggy’s dream home under cost (of course she does). By virtue of silence, Peggy agrees, allowing her hope to get the better of her despite the fact that there are riots surrounding the likely purchase.

Don, Roger, Stan, and Ginsberg also remain in the SCDP offices to meet with Creeper McGee, the gentleman Don met at the awards dinner. He, of course, also offers an opportunistic deal. Let’s hit the American public while they’re feeling vulnerable – yes, that’s just brilliant. He tells them softly, “I was visited by the spirit of Dr. King last night…he said I should question the whole property thing, man.” Don, for once an actual upstanding citizen, tells him it’s in poor taste. “The heavens are telling us to change,” he says. Well, on that point you are correct, sir. Nonetheless, Don refuses the business.

Because of his wallpaper peeling habit, Bobby is grounded from the television for a week. When he feigns a sick stomach to avoid a vigil in the park, Megan takes Gene and Sally while Don takes Bobby to see Planet of the Apes instead. He tells Don he’s being punished “because the wallpaper didn’t line up.” A little liar, he is – however, Betty is exactly the type to punish her child for some perceived offense, and this explanation makes total sense to Don. In the iconic final scene of Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston screams in the surf, and the camera pans out to the Statue of Liberty buried in eons of sand. Bobby turns to Don and asks him for confirmation on the movie’s apocalyptic ending. “The humans blew up New York?” “All of America.” “So he came back to here?” “The future.” Don, amused at his son’s quiet exclamation of “Jesus,” leans back to watch Planet of the Apes again with his son. Between shows (how interesting, the differences between theaters in 1968 and 2013), Bobby says to the black usher sweeping the floor, “Everybody likes to go to the movies when they’re sad.” This is absolutely the truth – and part of the reason I chose to write about them – but Bobby doesn’t understand the privilege of being able to go to the movies because you’re sad. He also doesn’t catch the slightly hurt and confused look on the usher’s face as he turns away.

Peggy finds out she lost the apartment to someone else in the hustle – more New Yorkers taking advantage of a national tragedy to further themselves. Abe can’t really muster much sadness over Peggy’s failure to obtain status quo. “I don’t feel right expressing an opinion,” he says, sitting down to finish his article. When she presses him, he says, “I saw us raising our kids in a place with more different kinds of people.” In the West 80s, maybe. Peggy, for what it’s worth, breathes a sigh of relief and kisses him softly. She wants to provide. Abe is, perhaps, her anchor, her reminder that she doesn’t have to be part of the establishment. Unfortunately, Peggy is becoming increasingly establishment as Abe draws away from her. This also, perhaps, foreshadows an affair and Peggy’s eventual acceptance of her role in the world.

Meanwhile, back in the suburbs, Henry Francis is having an existential crisis. He’d have handled all of this better, of course, and as a result he’s going to run for a Senate seat. “I can’t wait for people to meet you. You know? Really meet you.” And he leans into Betty and kisses her passionately. Yet another person who uses a national tragedy to further himself.

Mad Men Season 6 Megan and Don

Despite Don’s debauchery, Draper duo destined for favorable future? Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

In another beautifully arranged shot, we get a last glimpse at the new Mr. and Mrs. Draper. Megan clutches herself in the doorway as, in a mirror behind her, a sweaty, downtrodden Don clutches a drink on their bed. She’s intensely angry with him for not trying to be a father to his children in their time of need – which we also realize is Megan’s time of need. She has an unnerving tendency to project her daddy issues onto her husband…but then again, her husband has an unnerving tendency to project his mommy issues onto, well, every woman ever. In this case, though, Don actually opens himself to her. He has never really loved his children. “Especially if you had a difficult childhood, you want to love them but you…don’t. And the fact that you’re faking that feeling makes you wonder if your own father had the same problem.” Then suddenly, as when Bobby exclaimed, “Jesus!” about Planet of the Apes, “you feel…that feeling you were pretending to have…It feels like your heart is going to explode.” Megan can’t resist Don’s sad tale, told because he’s drunk and missing his secret mistress. Other bloggers are certain their marriage is now doomed. I’m not so sure. I think Megan, more than almost anyone else in Don’s life besides maybe Peggy, knew exactly what she was getting with him. Only the future will tell.

The end of the episode features the few characters who were unable to or didn’t want to make connections. Pete tries to have a conversation with the Chinese deliveryman, but the language barrier prevents it. He’s very lonely, sequestered in his dingy little bachelor pad. He did it to himself, but nonetheless it’s the first time I’ve felt sorry for Pete in a few seasons. Betty Francis examines herself in the mirror, her appearance so utterly different from when she was married to Don. She’s still chubby and newly brunette. The idea of “really meeting” people is terrifying to her. Unsurprisingly, I don’t feel sorry for Betty Francis. Her son, though, evokes some sympathy. With those parents, the kid is basically doomed. As of now, he’s scared. When Don tries to comfort him, Bobby says exactly the wrong thing. “I just keep thinking, what if somebody shoots Henry?” Don, who’d just confessed to loving his son for the first time ever, takes that blow as gracefully as he can. “That won’t happen,” he says, tight-lipped. “Henry’s not that important.” As they often do, the episode ends with an intoxicated Don Draper, all by himself, unable to truly connect with anyone.

Harry complained about losing money; Betty accused Don of using King’s assassination for personal gain; Peggy tried to use the tragedy to acquire a new apartment; Pete tried to use it to get in good with his wife again; the William Mapother character strove to use it to make himself some more cash; Henry used it as an excuse to run for Senate, thus empowering himself and Betty. Everyone tried to connect, and almost no one succeeded. It was a sad and ugly episode, the kind that’ll make you want to yell at the screen. One hopes we get a pick-me-up next week, but the world of Mad Men is marching on, leaving its out-of-touch Manhattanites in the dust.

What did you think? Share your thoughts 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?

Mad Men Recap: “The Doorway” (Season 6, Episode 1-2) (4/9/13)

Every season premiere of Mad Men offers us a compelling glimpse at characters who’ve been living their lives even when the cameras aren’t following them. While we aren’t sure what year it is – 1967? 1969? – Matthew Weiner offers us a window to the zeitgeist, the feeling of upheaval of that beloved decade. The minutest of details allows us to see how things have changed while we weren’t looking. Last night’s season six premiere was no exception to this rule – everybody is alive and well (mostly), but each character’s attitude has shifted, some seismically and some gently. Last night’s episode reflected a completely unsettling pall of impending doom, an obsession with rape and death. The times, they are a’changin.

The episode starts with a jolt: a female scream, a fuzzy POV shot of someone performing CPR on a prone body. Then we are suddenly on the beach in Hawaii as Don Draper’s voiceover throws the episode’s theme in our faces. Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood. A quote from Dante’s Inferno. As he speaks, the camera focuses decadently on on Megan’s sweaty, titillating belly. In the first few minutes of the premiere, Don says nothing while Megan talks and talks. She’s important now, and her body, displayed to the universe on her soaps and commerials, is fully on display. She wandered down the beach to someplace seedy and bought two joints, persuading Don he should try it again.

Mad Men Season 6 Premiere Don and Megan

Megan’s scandalous bikini reflects her modernity, her effervecent and slightly threatening sexuality. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

In the opening scenes of the episode – up until about seven or eight minutes in – everybody else is talking at Don, and he, that master of manipulation, doesn’t say a damn word. It’s eerie, actually. His wife, who’s evidently come into some fame from TV roles, is voluptuous and sexy in a way Betty Draper never was – and she’s reveling in it. At a tiki bar in blue Hawaii, Don encounters a kid who’s drunk, desperate for connection, and going back to Vietnam any day now. “Army” is the first word out of Don’s mouth. Out of some sense of duty, pity, and camaraderie, Don awakes early to give away the young private’s bride on the Hawaiian beach.

As Don and Megan return, sun-kissed and beautiful, from their winter beach vacation, the doorman collapses. This is a gentleman with whom they’re close enough to ask, “How are you feeling?” but whose real name they don’t know – and that’s important. This is the man from the first scene, the man on whom Dr. Rosen, Megan and Don’s neighbor, is performing CPR. The idea of knowing oneself is evidently looming large this season, and this startling scene brings it to the fore.

While Megan and Don languish on a Hawaiian beach, in New York the Francis women attend The Nutcracker. Betty is still wrestling with her weight, but passes up some candy in the theater, eyeing it with some envy. Sally is becoming the very picture of her mother…and it’s frightening. “Betty got a ticket,” she says to Henry; her frightening poise and the way she speaks to and about her mother reflect a very ugly but comfortable vibe that’s developed between the two of them. Sally’s friend Sandy (the similarity of the names is no coincidence – there are no coincidences on this show) plays the violin, and tells the Drapers she’s going to Juilliard next semester. Bobby notes, uncomfortably, that the violin case looks like a coffin. Betty, on the other hand, offers a different kind of horrible morbidity. She noticed Henry’s affectionate gaze when Sandy played the violin. “She’s just in the next room,” Betty says. “Why don’t you go in there and rape her?” (What in the everloving…?) “If you want to be alone with her…you can stick a rag in her mouth and it won’t wake the boys,” she says, teasingly, smiling. Who is this woman? Henry’s evidently used to this dirty fantasizing, as he hardly flinches. (After Steubenville and the India gang rapes, this kind of language is especially hot-button – and one assumes Weiner did it on purpose.)

In the Francis kitchen, Sandy and Betty share a late night conversation. The similarities between the two are remarkably blatant in action and dialogue. For the first few seasons of Mad Men, Betty Draper did nothing except sit at the Draper kitchen table and smoke cigarettes. Sandy is doing the same. She talks to Betty about Betty’s past, her stay in New York City. Sandy recognizes Betty’s life for what it really is, breaks it down incisively, and Betty can see it. Her heftier frame and her padded pink housecoat shield her from the wild life she used to live – and doesn’t miss.

Mad Men Season 6 Premiere Betty Draper Francis

Betty, drab in her waning fatness, looks so out of place in the real world…and yet the costuming places her comfortably in this color scheme. What’s up, Janie Bryant? Photo credit Ron Jaffe/AMC.

Sandy, as it turns out, never got into Juilliard, and she’s desperate for…well, an experience. When Sandy tells Sally she’s left for college, Betty goes after her. Poor Betty, standing around in the dingy NYC street in her neat pastels with honking horns and longhairs. She finally gets into the building she thinks Sandy lives in, and she’s so out of place it nearly hurts. In this dingy, frigid, drug-riddled hovel, a bunch of kids are squatting. Someone says “cold as a witch’s tit” to Betty Draper Francis. Someone tries to hand Betty Draper Francis a joint. She walks in on a guy pissing into a bucket. She contributes a goulash recipe, but is stunned and disgusted there’s no running water. Seeing this person, impeccably dressed and cold as ice, in these circumstances, is effectively bizarre and chilling.

Her interactions with the kids in the hovel are uncomfortable – the sixties were a time of discord between the haves and the have-nots, and that is coming to a head. Betty reverts to childish behavior as a result, telling them petulantly, “You have bad manners…I hope you get tetanus or crabs or whatever else is wandering around this place” – so this is the same old Betty. One of the kids notes that it kills her to be out of control, and she narrowly escapes being mugged. Sandy sold her violin to one of these poor unfortunate souls, and Betty finally gives up the search. A few days later, she arrives home with a brand new ‘do. Our quintessential blond housewife is now a brunette, no longer a bottle blond. Will she search for a new version of herself this season? One can only hope.

Peggy Olsen is thriving in her new position, fielding midnight phone calls even as a longhaired Abe rushes past her with diarrhea, letting us see just how their comfort level with one another has become. Wearing a little beret and knee socks on her night off, Peggy looks every inch the Girl Scout – she’s changed, but her fashion sense is still a little flawed. “‘Lend me your ears? It’s Shakespeare!” she cries into the phone. Her confidence is lovely.

Roger Sterling, that stodgiest of ad men, is in therapy (analysis, as was the parlance). He reclines on a chaise, bitching about how nobody actually knows him; he’s obviously not comfortable, and his jokes and frivolity don’t amuse the analyst. Once again, the writers use Roger to dropkick us with the episode’s overriding theme. “The experiences are nothing,” Roger moans. “That’s all there are. Doors and windows, bridges and gates…they all close behind you,” Roger says, and before you know it, “you’re headed straight to you-know-where.” A nearly-clumsy reference to Dante’s Inferno.

It feels funny, watching the Mad Men premiere on a laptop or a DVR, that once it has aired in 196?, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson is gone forever. In 196?, there was no DVR, no VCR, no way to record television. (We’re so damn spoiled.) Much to Peggy’s chagrin, some comedian did a routine that dealt with soldiers slicing off Viet Cong ears to display on necklaces. This meshes uncomfortably with a print ad for headphones, whose tagline is “Lend me your ears.” It’s horrendously morbid, and no one seems to think anything of the fact that American G.I.s are keeping ears as trophies and comedians are joking about it. Certainly not Peggy Olsen, who bosses her minions and struggles to get through to Ted Chaough about the super bowl ad (which for some reason involves a lengthy conversation with a pastor).

Don, who’s still suspiciously silent even after arriving back in his normal life, realizes he’s accidentally exchanged lighters with PFC Dinkins, the kid he met in Hawaii. The engraved lighter, given by the service, says, “In life we do things that are just not our bag.” Back at SCDP, the partners are having portraits taken. “I want you to be yourself,” the photographer says to Don. Yet again, we’re reminded that Don isn’t himself, and he never will be. “I had an experience,” he says; “I don’t know how to put it into words,” a statement that mirrors Roger’s earlier assessment that “experiences are nothing.”

Mad Men Season 6 Premiere Joan Holloway Harris

Joanie, regal as ever. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Joan Holloway Harris is regal in purple (a color the brilliant Tom and Lorenzo noted had a very specific meaning in earlier episodes, but which doesn’t seem to now) and lovely as ever. “Don’t know if it’s the photographers or the writers, but it really smells like reefer in here,” she says to Don – words you’d never expect to hear from her. Everybody eyeing Joan as she poses sensually – a subtle reminder of just how Joan got to be partner. Well, if you’ve got it, use it, I guess. Sigh. Pete Campbell, whose smarm is pretty out of control at this point in his life, asks Don about business, Don gives him shit for it, at which point Pete grabs his shoulder amiably. They’re closer and everybody seems to have fallen into a vibe.

Mad Men Season 6 Premiere Pete Campbell

Pete Campbell and his smarm are back in the game. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

When Roger’s secretary Caroline informs him that his mother has passed of a stroke, she’s upset, sobbing, but Roger is nonplussed. He arranges a funeral at his mom’s home and invites all the proper people, who react with improper nonchalance. Pete, Harry, and Ken chatter about dead mothers as Roger’s “fruitcake” auntie opines how Roger was the love of his mother’s life. Roger’s second wife Jane appears, looking lovely as always, but it isn’t her who causes Roger to have a minor breakdown. His first wife Mona brings her new husband, causing a minor freakout. Suddenly, a very drunk Don vomits everywhere, for some reason. Before racing up the stairs like a kid, Roger yells “It’s my funeral!” What is this foreshadowing? Why is death looming so near? Who’s going to go first?

After the funeral, Roger’s daughter asks him for money, leaving Roger feeling abused. “She gave me my last new experience,” he tells the analyst, “and now I know that all I’m going to be doing from here on is losing everything…I don’t feel anything. Life will eventually end, and someone else will get the bill.” In his last scene in the episode, Roger learns his shoeshine man died. Caroline hands him the guy’s shoeshine kit and walks away, calm as a cucumber. Alone in his office, Roger sobs like a baby over the death of his shoeshine man – a scary and indicative contrast to his composure regarding the death of his own mother.

Coming back from Roger’s funeral (self-named), a wasted Don asks the doorman what he saw when he died. Was it “like hot tropical sunshine?” His curiosity and obsession with death is unsettling at best. Megan reports happily that at work today she pushed Derek’s mom down the stairs (Derek is evidently another character on the soap). She doesn’t differentiate between her character and herself. “You’ll still love me, even if I’m a lying, cheating whore?” she asks Don sweetly. She hands him PFC Dinkins’s lighter, which Don had tossed in the trash. The resurrected lighter feels like a gentle indication that Megan, of all Don’s women, knows he isn’t who he says he is – and she won’t let him forget about it.

Mad Men Season 6 Premiere SCDP gents

Roger, Don, and a be-sideburned Pete chat business. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Don explains in a pitch to Royal Hawaiian, the company that provided his lovely little winter vacation, that the trip gave him an “unsettling feeling…you are different. You don’t miss anything, you’re not homesick.” Everything is the same temperature, the breeze and the blue…”The soul can go in and out of the body…” Compared to Don’s incisive, intense way with words in earlier seasons, this babbling is odd and disconcerting. The client notes that this is very grotesque imagery, that the subject of the proposed ad seems to be killing himself. When someone explains that it’s, well, a little morbid, Don counters that “Heaven’s a little morbid.”

Peggy Olsen, our poor downtrodden heroine, seems to be the only one who’s doing well. She and Stan are still in close touch – Stan puts down the phone but doesn’t hang it up so that he can go grab a sandwich. “You think Joan and Roger are still sleeping together?” he asks her. “We don’t know if that really ever happened,” she answered, letting us in on the fact that what once was sacred at SCDP is no longer. Ted Chaough tells Peggy she’s brilliant, but she’s gotta let people go home to their families on New Year’s Eve. She is Don Draper.

Mad Men Season 6 Premiere Christmas Party

I want to be there, drinking port and wearing a fabulous jumpsuit. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

On New Year’s Eve in the Draper apartment, someone’s horrible Tippi-Hedren-lookalike wife flirts obviously with Don while Megan plays a slideshow of their Hawaiian vacation. Linda Cardellini (a.k.a. Lindsay Weir from Freaks and Geeks) plays another wife, uncomfortable with references to gay bathroom sex and the discomfiting flirtation Don fields. There’s such narcissism here, so much focus on oneself and one’s own problems. These people are becoming insufferable – except poor Linda Cardellini, who continues to point the focus away from the people in the room and back toward their children, their things, their lives. All of the men in this episode are obsessed with death, and most of the women with rape, periods, and sex. Although everyone seems comfortable in their new lives, their new roles, having their new experiences, something is extremely off. If this sets the tone for the whole season, it may be a taxing one.

Choosing a life path, the notion of impending death, the fact that these men are no longer vital and necessary – these are the themes of season six, if the premiere is to be believed. New experiences, new doorways, new paths, all inching us closer to an inevitable death. The writing, as always, is directly on point. Remember a few seasons ago when you had to really pay attention to understand what Weiner was telling you? I miss that. I have this ugly feeling that upon giving the show a bigger budget (and therefore slashing The Walking Dead‘s funding, if lore is to be believed), AMC insisted Mad Men not be quite so “abstract” and “poetic.” So now the writers are hammering in their intentions, and it’s a little disappointing. The costuming and set design, thanks to that budget increase, are flawless and gorgeous as always. The acting is brilliant as ever. The tone, though, is extremely unsettling.

How did you feel? What do you think lies in store for our cast of characters? What are the writers up to in season 6? Share your thoughts in the comments!