Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mad Men -- Episode 4:4

This episode didn't work for me as a whole; it seemed more like a series of disparate episodes each of which advanced some agenda of Matt Weiner's. So my own views are disparate as well.

1. I thought the opening scene with Roger and Don having a conference call with Lee Garner was almost perfect.

2. I don't think Matt Weiner has done a good job of letting us know what Peggy really wants. At times during the last few years, it appeared that she was interested in pursuing the same type of Ayn Rand-lifestyle that Don finds appealing -- taking your work seriously while engaging in casual sex. Now, all of a sudden, we keep hearing stuff about how Peggy wants to get married and settle down. Why is this? Did things end badly with Duck? Is she unhappy with her current boyfriend? Why did she start going out with him anyway? What's the deal between her and the intern-guy at work? What happened to Peggy's family, and that priest who liked her? I'm sure Matt Weiner knows the answer to these questions, but I wish he would share them with us. As it is, Peggy's actions in this episode seemed oddly random.

3. It is possible, of course, that the show is simply clearing the decks for a return of the old Pete/Peggy drama that played such a major role in Seasons 1 and 2. I have to say I really hope that doesn't happen. The biggest problem with the show, in my opinion, is that Matt Weiner struggles with the long-term growth of his characters. We've now followed Don, Betty, Roger, and Joan for almost five years of their lives, and they really haven't changed much since we met them -- they're just older and sadder. From time to time they appear to have insights, or set goals for themselves -- but it never lasts for long. It would be depressing (and, I think, unrealistic) if the younger generation of characters showed this same tendency to repeat the same mistakes over and over.

4. I did really like the scene in which Allison (Don's secretary) assumes that Peggy has slept with Don. It occurs to me that this assumption must be shared by almost everybody, and I think the show could do a lot with it.

5. Did the scene with Cosgrove have any purpose other than to let Mad-Men geeks know what Cosgrove is up to? We know that he's a great account guy, and that Lane thinks he's better than Pete. Up to this point, I assumed that SterlingCooperDraperPryce left Kenny behind because he was doing so well that they didn't think he would want to join them. Now we see that Kenny is unhappy. If this is so, why doesn't SCDP bring him into the fold? I don't get the impression that any of this was really thought about with the care normally given to such issues on this show.

6. Why did the show keep Harry Crane? I think a lot could be done with his character (his marriage, for example, is one of my favorite relationships on the show), but this never happens. They could easily have eliminated him last year, but they kept him while getting rid of Kenny, Paul, and Sal. Why?

7. I liked how Joan punished Don for sleeping with his secretary.

8. I really liked the scene between Don and the polling woman. I like the polling woman, and in fact I could probably be persuaded to watch a whole show just about her character. I was particularly fond of her little tricks to get people to open up to her. And I thought the show did a good job of setting up the inevitable conflict between her and Don -- if polling is perfect, why do you need advertisers? If advertising can convince customers to do anything, why bother with polls? I don't know if they're going to do anything more with this, but I appreciated seeing how the issue was presented.

9. I thought Pete's story was handled very well. In fact, I think Matt Weiner does a better job writing for Pete than he does for any other character on the show. Pete and Trudy are the only characters on the show who I'm still rooting for.

10. Finally, I think the show has done a great job of showing how the divorce has made Don and Betty smaller. Together, the two of them represented a real power couple of glamor and mystery that intimidated almost everyone -- this was shown quite well last year when they attended Roger's Kentucky Derby party. But separately, they each come across as somewhat pathetic. A few years ago, David Chase has a season of the Sopranos in which he separated Tony and Carmela and made the same point -- he ended the year with the two of them getting back together. My guess is that Matt Weiner would like to do the same thing, if he thinks he can do so without appearing to steal an arc from the Sopranos.

1 comment:

  1. I need to go back and rewatch all of Mad Men in context of these great episode commentaries.