Hello and welcome to Liquor and Delicatessen, your weekly "Mad Men" column. Each week, I will discuss one major storyline that tickles my fancy with a smattering of other thoughts below.
Act I: New and Improved
Well, if it was a bit ambiguous how the rest of the show was going to turn out at the end of season four, season five's two-part opener certainly clarified things. The series is about change, something that's essentially a one-way street. For every idea that enters the collective conscious, another must be forced out into antiquity. For every up-and-comer that wants the job he or she deserves, there's an old fogey who's clinging to the armrests, refusing to give up and get out.
Of all the characters on the show, no one's trajectory has fascinated me quite as much as Pete Campbell's. At the onset, he was a spoiled blue-blood brat, a petulant child who always got his way and expected that to continue in the offices of Sterling Cooper. He expected to stand on the bullpen's floor, like Moses at the Red Sea, as the secretaries' desks all parted giving him a direct path to Don Draper's desk. He was lascivious, selfish, and hostile to everyone around him, leading to two important, sobering confrontations: one with "Dick Whitman," the other with Peggy, the mother of the child he fathered and will never see. Pete was a boy in a man's world, thrust into the wilderness of adulthood courtesy of two parents who cared more about the appearance of parenting than the act itself (one doesn't want to get one's gloves too dirty).
After defying his mother -- a shrill, financially bankrupt woman -- Pete went about creating a family of his own with Trudy, the wife he gradually accepted not only as a partner, but as an equal. No couple in the history of the show has ever had as much success as the Campbells currently enjoy. Notice how he takes a cab home so as to not wake the baby (or Trudy), the frank discussion they have about his job, her little pep talk on how he should keep working hard, how he covers for her at the party when Trudy's too busy being a parent to keep up with the news in her conversation with Abe. Sure, Pete clearly misses living in the city (the look on his face as Trudy complains about the din of the traffic under Don's party speaks volumes) but he's learning to love it (beagles! in-ground pools!) just as he learned how to truly love Trudy.
Roger Sterling is a man set adrift. He seemed to have a similar upbringing to Pete's: a boy born at home plate who thought he hit a home run. Though he fought in defense of his country during World War II (something he has no qualms bringing up), he hasn't fought for much else. Roger became an account man because that's what his father was. He became the head of big-ticket accounts like Lucky Strike because his father handed them off to him. He became the "Sterling" of "Sterling Cooper" when his father shook loose the mortal coil. And he became a patsy to the rest of the organization when he sold his share of company to PPL, effectively beginning an early retirement but still sitting in his large, cushy office. Finally, he added a new wife -- just another beautiful secretary -- because she had a love for the money he has amassed, not earned. And that marriage is going swimmingly; notice the pillow talk of “shut up!” when she asks what time it is.
In order for Pete to climb to the top of the mountain that he so rightfully deserves (in his mind or otherwise), Roger has to be tossed aside. It's prudent to observe that instead of going out and trying to find new business outside of his Rolodex Of Dead Contacts in order to stave off Pete's move on his office, he instead brings in Harry Crane and offers him $1100 to switch his office instead. The hardest he was willing to work to keep his position was to drop his hand, reach into his pocket, and count eleven times. We'll call it "a losing effort."
The only thing separating Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell are titles, "partner" and "junior partner." And as Cassius Clay illustrated last season, titles can change hands very quickly in generational battles such as these.
Act II: Conflict, ahoy!
- Welcome, everyone, to the '60s! After playing around with black characters on the show (Paul's girlfriend Sheila, the Draper's housekeeper Carla, "the help" around the office) the civil rights movement has now literally moved to outside of Madison Avenue's windows. The callous joke that the Rich White Men of SCDP played on Y&R saying that they're an equal-opportunity employer was only poo-pooed by one character, my man Pete, who was tucked in the waaay back of the shot when Lane and the rest of the brass address the black men and women in the waiting area.
Funny how Lane is at the forefront, a man who cheated on his wife with a "chocolate bunny" who still refuses to let the black cab driver take in a missing wallet (something the man must do routinely) and tips him a shiiiiiny quarter for his efforts. This is obviously just the beginning of the internal struggles against the external ones taking place outside the office's walls, which will lead to a much-needed addition to a cast that resembles the bread aisle of your local supermarket.
- Now let's get all our conflict ducks in a row before we head off into the rest of the season, shall we?
- Don has gotten younger by marrying Megan, in all the worst ways possible. The sight of the woman has turned the former Master of the Universe into a lovesick teenager. He comes in late and leaves early (with the lady on his arm), he refuses to fight clients on pitch ideas because it'll last "an hour and a half" and might not end up anywhere so why bother, and he confides to Megan that he doesn't "really care about work." Hell, the hardest he had to work all day was talking Megan into opening her blouse and giving a cleavage "peek-a-boo" before Pete arrived for Don's first (and only) scheduled meeting for the day. Remember the guy we met in the pilot, scribbling advertising ideas on a cocktail napkin?
- Peggy does, and man is she disappointed. She has worked so hard to become Don's equal (a point she brings up, constantly, especially to Megan) so what do you do when your equal isn't pulling his weight? Only Peggy knows fully that the Don Draper everyone knows -- the big fish that Pete wants to show off at the Mohawk lunch to no avail -- no longer exists. He takes ideas for commercials from others and wins a Clio in his name alone, he takes ideas from outright strangers and sells them for cereal spots, and he spends long weekends away from the office as Peggy is hunkered down. As Peggy learned, elves don't do this work, a lesson taught to her by the same old layabout boss she now resents.
- And what of poor Megan? She has married a man too old for her, and, sadly, knows it. She seems to be career-oriented with the worst name possible to be so inclined. She wants to be young and party and sing French songs to risque dancing in order to impress her husband who hates the party, hates the guests, hates the idea of the party, but loves the thighs. And when she tries to clean up in her underwear, it just gives the idea to Don that he's able to clean up, because she's in her underwear. Of all the main adult characters in this show, her position is the most precarious: the youngest of the bunch. If she's already yelling at Don this early in the marriage -- something not seen with any other Draper paramour -- lord only knows what we have in front of us. And was it just me, or did that “love making” scene come awfully close to Joan/Dr. Greg/Don's office territory?
- Ken Cosgrove smokes pot and recites poetry to his wife. Ken Cosgrove rules.
- While Mrs. Price's eye is focused on their son's education, Lane's is busy wandering about. Forced to accept his wife back into his home (as his father would not let him live in two worlds) he must act as happy as he does with her out at Don's surprise party. However, the surprise is all our own as he clumsily hits on the owner of the wallet's "girl." Lane comes off as desperate and pathetic as Harry, which is as much of an admonishment as one could possibly give.
- Oh, Joanie. It's bad enough that she has an illegitimate child she has to raise on her own while her husband is overseas (or at Fort Dix...?) playing surgeon. No, she also gets all the help and wisdom in the world from her mother, who parrots the advice she gleaned from her own mother, which now falls on deaf ears. Joan's reaction on how Dr. Greg won't allow her to work ("Allow Me?") might she be including herself?
Act III: Who Watches the Watchmen?
There are few shows as meticulously realized and as beautifully put together than "Mad Men." This space celebrates the little moments that trigger my film schooling while making my mother go, "I think you're looking too much into this." Fair warning -- this could get ridiculous.
- The job of the camera is to tell the audience what's important. It's the director's best tool to get the audience to care. At the beginning of this episode, a lot of attention is given to the children. First is the black child who gets hit with water from above, who we watch take in this event that will most certainly shape his world view going forward. The same can be said of the attention paid to Sally Draper as she gazes at the naked Megan in bed, or when her dad is making breakfast. Don't think for a second that she isn't taking this all in. 1969 Sally Draper is going to be a god damn lunatic.
- Great little bit of framing and set decoration when Lane gives back the (mostly untampered) wallet. The owner leaves and refers to Lane as a “gentleman.” Obviously this is not the case. But as the doors to SCDP close behind this gentleman, the name "DRAPER" is framed just over Lane's head, possibly giving a visual clue to Lane's impending infidelity (a trick that he learned from Don early on last season).
- Notice how clumped together the three young couples -- Peggy and Abe, Ken and his wife Cynthia, and Pete with Trudy -- were at Don's party. Their bodies practically filled the frame together, showing just how cohesive they are with each other as a group, and especially when paired together in two shots. It's a stark difference from the acres of space given in certain wide shots, to express just how far apart these two parties are. This occurs during the conversations between Harry and Roger discussing the office switch and, most alarmingly, when Don comes home to find Megan cleaning in her skivvies. This brings up two alarming notions I hadn't previously thought of: Roger actually knows Harry's name and Don and Megan might be more volatile than imagined.
- Funny how Joan's baby is only comforted in an elevator, shooting to the top ever so quickly. Couple this with Bobby Draper's assertion that by the time he's 40, Don will be dead, and you have a pretty good idea of where the old folks will soon be headed: the scrap heap. (Yes, this one is really pushing it.)
Come back next week when we'll finally visit the Statue of Liberty.
Image courtesy of 30 FPS / Mocksession.com