Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mad Men -- A Parade of Ugly

*Warning -- Spoilers ahead from the recent episode of Mad Men.*

Okay, first we've got to talk about the fashion. Normally, I don't comment on fashion. But come on, those clothes in the "Signal 30" episode were hideous. Don's jacket?! Ken and Pete's jackets? And that heavy swath of blue eye shadow over Megan's eyes ... we are so entering the ugly part of the latr 1960s where the fashion evolved from the crisp and proper duds of 1960 into Technicolor horrors like the ones on display on this episode.

The other shocker: Pete and Lane (Lane?!) going mano-a-mano in the conference room while Don & Co. closed the shades, pulled out the smokes and gawked at the skinny, nerdy and perverted dudes, wondering who'd prevail.

The pathetic and creepy quotient was extremely high in this episode as Lane pummeled Pete's face after Pete attempted to show Lane up in the workplace, as Pete ogled a teenage girl (and actually thought he had a shot with her) and as Lane plastered a big smooch on Joan, whose recent separation from her husband wasn't mentioned.

Everything, from the buttoned-down fashion that was featured in season one (remember that scene where Don chastised guys for talking coarsely and not removing their hats in the presence of a woman in the elevator?) to the fabric of society was being deconstructed and the stories of the Mad Men characters seem to be reflecting that.

In season one, Don and Betty's home was a symbol of making it in America. The enviable home in the 'burbs, complete with two kids and a dog, the gorgeous wife nurturing the home and hearth and trying to make her husband happy. The suits, the dresses, the meals Betty put on for Don's higher-ups to make a good impression for Don, who craved all of this when he was raised in poverty by an abusive, alcoholic father who'd knocked up his mother, the prostitute, who died while giving birth to him. But, inevitably, getting all of this didn't make Don happy.

In season five, the home in the 'burbs, with the baby and the pretty wife wasn't looking so good. It's being called a veritable hell by Don -- who twice made references to suicide, as a New York Magazine observer noted -- while he's living in a swanky Manhattan apartment with his twentysomething trendy career gal trophy wife.

Pete, who's now at the point in his life where Don was when the series began, is more openly opining about how he thinks his life sucks even as he welcomes his work colleagues into his home (and saves the biggest steak for the big alpha dog Don). He doesn't seem to want Trudy any more. Doesn't seem to care about his child. The look that Pete gave Don in the elevator after all of this, as he practically trembled with anger, outrage and frustration ("I have nothing, Don.") as Don, the remarried former (or simply dormant) womanizer, not only didn't find it necessary to patronize a prostitute like Pete and the others, but has found himself a younger, hipper wife and still lived in the cool city: Total envy.

Is anyone ever happy?

What does all of this mean for Don, who, despite his violent feverish dreams of murdering his former lover, is still exuding a complacent, life's okay attitude? Is it all an act? Is he still suffering from what he complained about to Anna with regard to Betty, that he's scratching around the edges of his life but can't get inside of it?

Image credit: Ron Jaffe/AMC.