140 Character or Less Review:
Establishing Shot: Nothing is sacred
Episodic television works because of continuity. Without a stable base for our wacky, damaged, tortured, gleeful characters to orbit around, we'll quickly lose track of what changes. Specifically, them. When you think of “Seinfeld,” you think of Elaine and Kramer and George running around Jerry's always-stable apartment. The couch, the refrigerator, the Superman statue, the telephone, all placed exactly where you left them. In that stability, you can have floundering latex salesmen or recreate a famous spitting incident. What matters is you focus on what's most important, comforted that everything else is the way it's always been.
The same goes for the way a television show is shot. It's something that you don't exactly notice so much as feel. What would "I Love Lucy" be if Lucy didn't get her close-up after Ricky found out about her latest ruse? What would "The Office" feel like if the documentary-style cameras weren't peaking around corners inconspicuously picking up on plot points and character developments hidden from the rest of their coworkers? How could "The West Wing" keep up the relentless pace without their signature walk-and-talks? What would "The Wire" be if they didn't have an omniscient camera, gliding around Baltimore like the Ghost of Prosperity's Past?
"Mad Men," for all of its chic clothes, impeccable sets, and beautiful lightning, never really toyed with the camera much. The pilot, directed by “Sopranos” vets Alan Taylor and lensed by Phil Abraham, kept mostly to the smooth, pulled back look of Carnal Knowledge, the Mike Nichols film based in and around the same time period of "Mad Men." In numerous interviews, Matthew Weiner has mentioned the film's influence on the show's overall look, and I'll be damned if the famously meticulous showrunner ever let go of those specific visual reins. (I'd bet money that the reason most people think the show is "so slow" is because the camera moves gracefully, unlike any other show on television.)
Setting this kind of specific look is a built-in coup when you want to show how a person's worldview alters, such as when Don passed out in California in Season 2's “The Jet Set.” Watching the camera on a mount was as disorienting for the audience as it was for Don. This was an experience completely alien to all of us, making his collapse even more jarring (especially at that moment of the show, near the end of season two).
It has become very evident over this season that as the world around our Mad People change, so too will the show's basic style laws. Last week's episode featured fairly well thought-out dissolves and the odd cutting of Pete leaving the office wasn't an aberration. Even the way this episode was structured has a bit of a nod to the three-narratives-in-one style of Season 2's “Three Sundays” but it didn't mismatch stories over a single day (I was half-expecting Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer to rob the place [NSFW]). This seems to be a part of the thematic whole: everything around our characters is changing, even the way that the audience watches them.
This idea was capped gorgeously in the sequence where Roger drops acid in the apartment. The tricks employed were beyond a fever dream or a pregnancy fog; this was Roger straight tripping balls as we followed him down the rabbit hole. We had seen some idea of this in the past when Don smokes weed with Midge or when "I'm Peggy Olsen and I want to smoke some marijuana" was uttered, but that was played rather straight. The more mind-bending stuff affords us Roger's cigarette getting finished instantly like an accordion. And the further we move in time, the more likely experiences like this are going to happen. The only constant for our characters in this time is change. Who knew that the show itself would go right along with it?
Or maybe they got bored after making five seasons of the show and Weiner doesn't think that hard about the show after all.
The Close-Up: What a girl wants, needs
A bittersweet week for a lot of our femmes in the "Mad Men" world. If only someone would listen, maybe they wouldn't have these problems?
- If Peggy Olsen wasn't sure she could hack playing the game like a man anymore, her blow-up with the Heinz executive isn't going to make her enjoy the job that much more. After failing one pitch, she goes for another that is more in line with what he wants, happily relaying, "we want you to have everything you ask for." He responds with, "well stop writing down what I've asked for and start figuring out what I want." To further turn in the screws, he demeans her with, ”miss you’re lucky I have a daughter or I wouldn’t be so understanding.” All of which drives Peggy to get high in a movie theater and give a guy a handy (the Hydrox cookie of sexual favors).
All of this is coupled with her workaholic attitude that is slowly pushing her journo boyfriend Abe out of the picture. But, just as she's nearing her end, she learns from Ginsberg that he was an orphaned Holocaust baby, once again showing Peggy that while she believes she's at the bottom, she's got a much better head start than a lot of her co-workers.
- This might be the only time I ever feel sorry for Jane, as I can't really remember a time where I felt, well, anything about her character before this. (Except for thinking she was incredibly attractive every time she's on screen, mind.) While she will make out very well in the divorce -- these things are "expensive" after all -- that doesn't make her already-dissolved marriage to Roger any less depressing. He never listens to her, even when she says, "yeah so we're going to my shrink's house to drop LSD." Not exactly "I picked up some extra eggs, so make some this weekend."
But it falls perfectly in line with the rest of their trippy evening. She implores him to stay because she doesn't want to do it alone, and promises it will be good for them to swim around in a shared truth (and she's correct, though probably not in the way she imagined when saying it). Look at when the girl crawling on the floor starts a discussion about the emptiness of death and Jane says that's how she feels when Roger leaves for work as he's too busy caught in a voiceover laughing about how people are talking, but not about him. Or when she ends up crying and saying how this place is "perfect," and Roger immediately says, "let's go home." There she gets to watch as Roger reminisces about seeing Model T's and Model A's driving by while Jane tries to remember what they looked like when passing through that museum that one time.
But at least it's over.
- The same cannot be said for our "newlyweds," Megan and Don. Good lord are they up to some ridiculous shit. Don utterly controls her, much like he attempted to do with Betty. But Betty was subservient and not, well, a sentient being capable of making her own decisions. Megan most certainly is. She wants to work, Don takes her on a trip. Don starts to work on the trip, Megan is forced to eat a brain-freezing amount of orange sherbet. And like it. It all culminates in not one, but two knock-down, drag-out fights: one in a nice Howard Johnson's in Plattsburgh, NY (home of the nation's 97th market!) and one back in their home, in a much more hectic -- and less sexy -- version of the fight in episode 2. While in the car, Don offers, "There has to be some advantage to being my wife.” And there is, right?
B-Roll: Holy shit Roger Sterling dropped acid.
- It really can't be said enough. If tonight was the series finale, and everything in this show built to the one moment where Roger conducted an orchestra by opening up a bottle of Vodka, well, that would be alright by me.
- Some troubling bits with ol' Rog though. He talked about his past back when the Black Sox scandal actually occurred, he and Don mentioned Roger's trip to the hospital for his first two of successive heart attacks from waaay back in season one, and they openly discussed death while tripping on LSD. Oh, and even worse? He's happy and Joan is single while caring for their baby. We'll see if Weiner has a little Whedon in him and takes away our Silver Fox. Christ, I hope not.
- From The Department Of Perfect Cutaway Gags: When Peggy is taking care of her new friend in the movie theater, you hear a lion roar before it cuts to her washing off her hands. This is almost as wonderful as Pete putting his hand down the young model's skirt as the TV recites, "and I touched the face of God."
- Some more nice match cuts: Roger so happy watching Megan and Don skip off to Plattsburgh before cutting to he and his wife looking absolutely miserable. Poor elevator guy. Ditto for Peggy's cigarette being lit transitioning into her talking about fire (the image was just a teensy bit off to make it incredibly, ridiculously on point).
- So Ginsberg can get a little bit of slack now, huh? I think "born in a concentration camp, adopted by a stranger, and told to stay there by your actual father as your birth mother was killed in some horribly ghoulish fashion" is a good excuse for his behavior.
- Ginsberg did get an interesting bit of business, though, as did three other men: they were all shown in reflection, how they were viewed by significant others or how they viewed themselves. For Roger, he was front and center while Jane lingered behind. Abe was shown against it while telling Peggy she reminds him of his father. And Don gets a brief reflection in the window as he's poked awake by the trooper. Less of a real thematic connection than an interesting style choice.
- This is the second time in three weeks that Stan Rizzo has to stand back with his hands clenched in front of him as a writer commits career suicide at his feet. He looks equally uncomfortable. Nearly as uncomfortable as his realization that he needs to get into photography, which is the next big thing in advertising.
- Loved when Peggy bemoaned her fate, saying, "I couldn't take one more omen of doom" juuuust as Don entered to say he won't be in for the pitch. Ah, “cut-to” jokes, straight from "Gilligan's Island." What can I say? I'm a sucker for the classics.
- I hope to shit that Jessica Paré likes orange sherbet, cause she probably had to ingest a shitload while filming. She really woofed that stuff down, too.
- Funny how Megan tells Don that he cares more about the opinion of the waitress than her own, then the waitress tells Don almost exactly what Megan did. Note to self: waitresses at Howard Johnsons are as wise as Yoda.
- ”It’s not a destination. It’s on the way to some place.” - Megan on Howard Johnson's, or her new marriage? DUN DUN DUN, etc.
- Always nice to see Bertram Cooper lay the hammer down. A shame that he doesn't have any balls.
Fact-based Guesses About Next Week's Episode:
Joan catches wind of Roger's second divorce and prefers living with the old man rather than her mom; Pete Campbell kills a gopher with his gun and bathes in its blood as the rain falls in Connecticut; fresh after his victory over Pete, Lane attempts to rassle a mountain lion while Sally and Roger have a swingin' pill party.