Monday, August 17, 2009

'Mad Men' Monday: Out of Town

*Warning: Spoilers ahead from the recently aired episode of Mad Men.*

The season three premiere of Mad Men had, overall, an ominous feeling, punctuated by wry moments of sarcasm. From the first scene, conflicting messages were being sent, reflecting the conflict boiling inside our leading man, one Don Draper. There’s an ongoing culture clash and power struggle within Sterling Cooper as the Brits have taken over the joint, while Ken Cosgrove and Pete Campbell have been pitted against one another in the same way John F. Kennedy, the president at the time, famously did with his staffers, with the hope of yielding the best efforts from all his aides.

The Ghost of Fathers Past

Given that the season began with a conflicting scene – Don being a good, doting husband warming up milk for his sleepless, pregnant wife while recalling what an uncaring horror his father was – one would’ve thought, that Don would’ve reformed his womanizing ways. His time spent living out of a hotel room last season, followed by his admission to Anna Draper that he might’ve screwed up the greatest thing he’d ever had, his family, seemed to indicate that Don would try harder.

However a well behaved Don Draper would’ve made for bad television, apparently. So, while he visually conjured up in his mind tales of his father’s cutting cruelty (blaming his wife for “killing another one” after she gave birth to a stillborn baby, then quibbling with a prostitute -- Don’s mother -- over the cost of a condom), you’d at least hope that the reason Don was thinking about these things was to remind himself not to repeat his father’s mistakes. Don, who was thrown out his house last season and then disappeared during his California jaunt, did tell Sally, “I will always come home,” didn’t he? He was comforting Betty with a lullaby woven from detailed descriptions of a warm, sandy beach as he spooned her in bed, right? He’s not his father.

But when Don could not resist the temptation of a blond stewardess who threw herself at him in a Baltimore hotel, does that mean that Don can’t shake the ghost of his father or that he’s simply a kinder, gentler cad named after his mother’s dying wish to do something gruesome to his father’s sex organ?

My favorite scene came at the end of the episode – which featured the same instrumental music that played during Don’s recollections of his father – when Sally, who missed her father so much when he traveled that she broke the locks of his luggage with a hammer, found the stewardess’ TWA pin amid Don’s things. In that moment, Don’s infidelity was right there, in his bedroom, in his daughter’s hands. Don literally gulped when Sally asked if he’d brought the pin home for her and watched as the woman who’s pregnant with his child took the pin and attached it their daughter’s clothing, almost as if she were being stamped with Don’s scarlet letter, except that only he and Sal knew about his unfaithful moment, not the whole village.

Culture Clash

The transition from working for the New York-owned Sterling Cooper, to a British-owned version of Sterling Cooper has not gone smoothly, or so we saw from this first episode when we learned that a third of the Sterling Cooper’s employees have been axed, including the head of accounts who has a sick wife and three kids. Fear of layoffs has been rampant among the staffers and Joan Holloway is being driven bananas by a smarmy, pompous windbag known as John Hooker (the British version of Pete Campbell), who referred to Sterling Cooper: The British Edition, to a “gynocracy.” I’m hoping Joan exacts a slow, twisted revenge on this twit. We saw the first installment of that revenge when Joan told Hooker – whom Peggy Olson called “Moneypenny” -- that he could have the recently vacated office of the fired accounts manager, only to have Hooker’s boss, financial officer Lane Pryce, chastise Hooker and tell him to work at a desk outside the office, not in it.

The Kosgrove-Campbell war shall be very interesting to watch unfold, even if it did seem like a cruel thing to do: Tell someone he’s been promoted to head of accounts, only to later tell him he’s got to share the job with someone else with whom he’s competing. The difference between the ways in which the two men took this news was eye-opening. Ken was relaxed, self-assured and witty when he walked into Pryce’s office. Pete, by contrast, was noticeably nervous, wouldn’t sit down and made lame, almost defensive excuses about why he hadn’t been more hospitable to Pryce since he arrived in New York. At the meeting when the accounts were divided between Ken and Pete, Ken was giddy and smiling, as opposed to Pete, who was sulking, looked near tears and then bubbled over with anger afterwards, like he’d had something taken from him, telling Ken, “You’re no good,” whereas Ken’s response was, “What could possibly be the matter?”

Other episode moments of note:

-- As Sal uncomfortably awaited Don’s response to catching Sal with the bellhop during the hotel fire, I found Don’s response curt but to the point, not at all surprising, given he seems to be the keeper of Sterling Cooper secrets, “Limit your exposure.” Not just a slogan for London Fog (I HATE the chick-flashing ad campaign by the way) but for lying, two-timing husbands like Sal and Don, regardless of with whom you’re cheating.

-- The octopus-pleasuring-a-woman painting in Cooper’s office was off-putting and plain freaky. “I picked it for its sensuality, but it also, in some way, reminds me of our business,” Cooper said. “. . . Who is that man who imagined her ecstasy?” Then Don entered the room. “We were just talking about you,” Cooper remarked.

-- What did Joan mean when she said to Peggy, “I’m gonna be out of here soon.” Are they going to have Joan quit her job in order to marry her rapist fiancĂ©? Or has she already married him and plans to live the at-home married life? God, I hope not. Sterling Cooper sans Joan would be a wretchedly dull place.

I'd love to hear your take on the premiere, both the good and the bad. Why do you think Don was thinking about his father? Who'll win the Ken-Pete showdown?


Cooley said...

I never really noticed that Cooper said "We were just talking about you" after looking at the picture. Interesting--and telling--segue.

I cannot wait to see what happens with Pete and Peggy this year. Pete is perhaps the most challenging character on the show--almost moreso than Don--because he goes back and forth between being an underdog needing a break and an absolute jerk who should be put in his place.

Good recap!

Meredith said...


I agree with you about Pete. During last season's finale, I actually found myself feeling sorry for him when Peggy told him she'd given birth to his baby and given it away. He looked absolutely devastated. Overall, he's a weasel, but he's an interesting one.