Mad Men s7 ep 10

44a02656-ba16-c235-5bbc-f1473ca61491-mm-710-my-0506-1022jpg-a5bc8188d4cddec6Even by Mad Men standards of on-the-nosiness, Don’s storylines this week in ‘The Forecast’  are remarkably untroubled by subtlety: he’s selling his empty, wine-stained apartment (his realtor: “Looks like a sad person lives here. This place reeks of failure”), and he’s been asked by Roger to prepare a statement about where the agency’s going in the future, for which he tries to get ideas from Ted and Peggy. Yes, he’s letting go of his past and trying to work out what the next few years might hold.

For now, though, Don has the usual workplace crises to deal with: settling a petty dispute between Pete and Peggy, then providing advice to Johnny Mathis on how to bounce back from a failed pitch by making a joke. Unfortunately it doesn’t work and Mathis is taken off the account, whereupon he comes at Don with all guns blazing. Don suggests that it’s a test of character. Mathis: “You don’t have any character. You’re just handsome. Stop kidding yourself!” Now, we know the first sentence to be not a million miles away from the truth, since “Don Draper” is a construct, and the second probably has something going for it as well; Don has more about him than looks, but those looks have undoubtedly smoothed his path through life. Still, speaking half-truth to power isn’t going to go down well, and Mathis gets fired.

A potentially significant week for Joan: in LA for business, she hooks up with wealthy retired businessman Richard Burghoff (Bruce Greenwood). At least, he leads her to believe he’s a wealthy etc., and for now we don’t have any evidence to the contrary. He then visits New York, only to baulk initially at Joan’s revelation that she has a child, then presumably realising that this makes him the most stupid man on the planet – it is, after all, Joan – he does his best to unscrew the pooch. He might have succeeded as well. I can’t imagine that everyone’s going to get a happy ending. Perhaps Joan will.

images-15And as part of our farewell tour of Mad Men characters, Sally Draper’s back this week. Unfortunately for her, she has to watch both of her parents flirt with her much younger friends: her mother with off-to-Nam Glen Bishop (who will later make a pass at Betty), and her father with a “fast girl” at a meal with her and a couple of friends. Sally observes that her parents, in this respect at least, are similar: when receiving attention they “just ooze everywhere”. Once again, there’s at least a grain of truth in that. Glen, though, has now delighted us for long enough, and if we see him again I’ll start to wonder why he’s taking up screen time which could be used on someone we care about a little more.

In many ways this was a good episode; there was certainly a lot going on. I couldn’t help but feel, though, that much of it was a little… inconsequential, and I come back to the point I made in my review of episode 8: we really don’t have too much longer to go here, so pretty soon the punches are going to have start landing if Mad Men is going to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.

Unpopcult at the Emmys 2014 Part 2: Leading Men

Yawn.

I know, I know. You’d think I’d be bouncing up and down with excitement (or at the very least fanning myself with a large palm leaf) over the “Men in Tuxedos” category but since the nominees for this year’s Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Emmy can be summarised as “Men Who Were Nominated Last Year Plus the Movie Stars from True Detective,” I’m finding it hard to muster up much more than a shrug.

On the snubs front, I’d have liked to see James Spader nominated for his genuinely brilliant turn in The Blacklist and the wonderful Timothy Olyphant for Justified but I’m all out of fury since my last Emmy rant, so let’s just move on to the nominees.

First up, we have Jeff Daniels from The Newsroom who shocked everyone last year by actually winning the thing. In fairness, he was excellent and season 2 of The Newsroom this year, though still flawed, was significantly better than season 1 – I love it and continue to watch it, unlike the rest of the shows on this list – but he’s not going to win this time. Sorry, dude.

At least Jeff can take comfort in the fact he has actually won it once, though, unlike perennial Lead Actor Emmy bridesmaid Jon Hamm. Could it be seventh time lucky for poor old Jon? Nah. Maybe he’ll finally win next year for Mad Men’s final, final season, maybe he won’t, but this year? Not going to happen. Again. Sorry, Jon. You’re amazing but Mad Men has gone right off the boil and there are Oscar-winning movie stars and Breaking Bad to contend with.

Speaking of which, it’s Breaking Bad’s final, final season (this “splitting single seasons into two and competing in two different years” thing is annoying me greatly) so ordinarily it would be Bryan Cranston’s to lose. This is his sixth nomination for playing Walter White and he’s already won it three (Three! If I were Jon Hamm, I would weep!) times. People LOVE Cranston and – unlike Mad Men – the longer Breaking Bad was on, the more they LOVED it. And since the buzz around House of Cards has been significantly quieter than it was last year, I don’t see Kevin Spacey beating him.

But the buzz around True Detective and this year’s Oscar-winner, the all-conquering – and, in fairness, magnificent – Matthew McConaughey has been deafening. Even his fellow nominee Woody Harrelson, despite giving an equally fantastic performance, has essentially already surrendered the award to him; I don’t see the voters disagreeing and an Emmy will round off the Year of the McConaissance very nicely, so he’s my (and just about everybody else’s) prediction for the win. All right, all right, all right.

Unpopcult convention demands I also mention the nominees for Lead Actor in a Comedy although I’m even less enthusiastic about them; as regular readers will know, comedy tends not to be my thing. Full disclosure: the only one of the shows mentioned in this particular category which I’ve sat through more than a few minutes of is The Big Bang Theory. I found it about as funny as being slapped around the head with a stapler, but – given its massive and global popularity – I’m very much in the minority and your mileage may well vary. The Emmys’ certainly does, since (just like Bryan Cranston, coincidentally) Jim Parsons has been nominated six times for the role of Sheldon Cooper and won three, including last year’s. (FYI: He’s also nominated this year for a supporting role in TV movie The Normal Heart.)

Will he win again? No idea. Louis CK, Matt Le Blanc and Don Cheadle are all in what seem like far more challenging, innovative shows – Louie, Episodes and House of Lies, respectively – but since Jon Cryer (not nominated this year) has previously won both Lead and Supporting Actor Emmys for the execrable Two and a Half Men, it doesn’t seem to me like these voters are looking to think too hard. Give it another couple of years and Louis, Matt and Don may well be challenging Jon Hamm for the ultimate “Always a Bridesmaid” crown.

Which leaves us with Ricky Gervais for Derek and William H Macy for the US version of Shameless which used to be a Drama for Emmy purposes but is now a Comedy for Really Want an Award purposes. Rules, shmules. Anyway, if anyone can prise the statuette out of Sheldon’s hands, I’d say William H has the best chance, given his lifetime body of work, but Shameless itself doesn’t seem like it floats the Emmy boat, no matter which category it goes for (Why not try Mini-series? Or hey – stick a few songs in and call it a Musical/Variety Series!) so I think Parsons will probably win again.

Unpopcult at the Emmys 2014 Part 1: Outstanding Drama Series

Ordinarily, we’d kick off our Emmy coverage with posts about the acting categories first, but I can’t really sit on my rage for 4 posts, so I’m calling shenanigans on the Outstanding Drama Series category before I burst. What do you MEAN The Good Wife is not nominated?!?!

One of the two best programmes on tv (and the other one, Parks and Recreation, isn’t eligible for an Outstanding Drama nom yet didn’t score an Outstanding Comedy nom either – ARGH) TGW had a revolutionary season, burning its own house down with plotting as brave and risky as it was intelligent and devastating, and still managed to be both insanely entertaining and funny as all get-out. And yet DOWNTON ABBEY gets the nod again instead?! What is WRONG with the people nominating for this thing?

It’s not as if they aren’t watching TGW – they must be, since it scored big in the acting categories but that’s a post for another day – so the Orphan Black explanation (niche programme on a niche channel with miniscule ratings where the acting and tech work are much better than the show itself – it was never going to be nominated) doesn’t apply. But one thing OB and TGW have in common, besides not being nominated for a Drama Series Emmy this year, is that they’re both fronted by complex and powerful female characters.

TGW is about a woman striking out on her own and refusing to be defined by her marriage. OB is about a group of women coming together and refusing to be defined by the circumstances of their birth. There are important male characters – more crucially in TGW where Will was a massive part of the story and Peter, Cary and plenty of others are hugely significant – but, for the most part, Alicia and the clones are the ones driving the main plots along. The shows revolve around these women, the challenges they face and the choices they make, often exploring and subverting stereotypes and sexism along the way. (And that’s without even mentioning characters like the magnificent Diane). How many of the shows which were nominated this year can you say that about?

I suppose, on one view, Downton Abbey is all about Lady Mary, the Dowager Countess and their corseted chums, but ITV’s cosy chocolate-box period drama subverting stereotypes and sexism? If you watch it and I’m wrong, tell me, but till then I reserve the right to spit chips.

Especially when I look at some of its fellow nominees. At least Downton Abbey actually has central female characters. The nomination of the misogynist True Detective, a modern show with a defiantly period attitude to women, is hardly a surprise given the praise lavished on it, the undoubted talent (behind and in front of the camera) involved in it and HBO behind it. And in fairness, it looked beautiful and packed an almighty punch. But it also relegated women to entirely agency-free roles: they existed as wives for the men to wrong, mistresses for the men to wrong, prostitutes for the men to wrong, murder victims for the men to…. and so it goes on. Sex objects and victims, whose sole purpose is to suffer at the hands of the male anti-heroes. So, yes, True Detective’s many nominations are not surprising and, on one view (not mine, I hated it) entirely deserved, but they are also utterly depressing.

The domination of the male anti-hero doesn’t stop there, either. Mad Men (long past its best) and last year’s winner Breaking Bad both, in fairness, include (I’m told – I don’t watch the latter) fascinating female characters but they play supporting roles to the central focus: a man who’s bad, often mad, but very exciting to know. Which isn’t a bad thing at all; it can often make for fantastic drama. It’s just a very obvious contrast when set against TGW.

The last two nominees, House of Cards and Game of Thrones, are a bit trickier to pigeonhole, however. I don’t watch House of Cards but opinions on the role of the main character’s wife, Claire Underwood, are both interesting and divided. I do watch Game of Thrones though. Its gender politics can be deeply suspect – the copious amounts of gratuitous female nudity, the disturbing rape-scene-that-wasn’t-meant-to-be-a-rape-scene etc – but its sprawling cast includes anti-heroes, anti-heroines and juicy, complicated roles for everybody. And I love it. But it’s not going to win, is it? Sigh. At least it was nominated. I don’t know who’s going to win this category, but I’m all ranted out, so I’ll take a guess at Breaking Bad since it’s the final, final season and leave it there.

Mad Men s6 ep 13

MM_613_JT_0410_473At the start of ‘In Care Of’, the final episode of this season, there’s an apparently trivial development which will become hugely significant as we go on: Stan tells Don that he’d like to go to California to handle the Sunkist account out there. Don grunts that it’s a demotion, but whatever. As Don’s life unravels, though – he’s drinking more and more heavily, to the point where he ends up in the police cells, and learns that Sally’s been suspended from school for, yes, buying beer – he starts to see that making a break and moving to Los Angeles has considerable possibilities; not least for Megan’s TV career.

So Don gazumps Stan and announces to the other partners that he’s going to California instead. The partners are apathetic at best, for reasons which will become clear. But then Ted decides that he wants to go instead, in a bid to save his marriage: backing up a bit, Peggy shimmies into a staff meeting looking like the hottest thing on two legs, announcing that she’s going on a date, glancing pointedly at Ted all the while. Well, Ted’s only flesh and blood, and he turns up uninvited at her apartment, whereupon the two of them finally hit the sheets. As married men are obliged to do in these circumstances he promises to leave his wife, but on returning home he realises that it isn’t going to be that simple, and he sees LA as offering the only possibility of keeping his family together – he can’t be in the same city, still less the same office, as Peggy.

MM_613_JT_0417_354And on top of that, Pete gets himself exiled to California: the care assistant recommended for his mother by Bob Benson seems to have taken her on a cruise, married her, then – possibly – pushed her off the ship, so when Bob asks how he is it’s just asking for trouble. Bob, though, as I suggested last week, isn’t someone to be trifled with, and his revenge – ensuring that Pete humiliates himself in front of Chevy executives – is swift and ruthless. You do not fuck with Bob Benson.

The business end of the episode, though, is driven by two scenes which top anything we’ve had in this season. In the first, Don’s outlining the shape of a possible future campaign for Hershey’s chocolate, spinning a beautiful yarn about buying candy with his father. It’s a terrific pitch; and, for all that we’ve spent most of this season studying Don’s decline, and for all that this episode, in particular, is devoted to that decline, it’s a clear sign that Don can still do it. Almost immediately, though, and after seeing the look on Ted’s face – a man who feels as if his life is coming to an end – he tells the meeting the truth about his upbringing: orphan, whorehouse, the lot. And when the stunned Hershey’s execs leave he tells Ted that he, Ted, must go to California instead, possibly recognising that keeping a family together, even someone else’s, is worth a personal sacrifice. (Megan, of course, doesn’t see things the same way, and storms out of their apartment when Don tells her, slamming a door and, quite possibly, ending their marriage.)

It’s Jon Hamm’s finest moment this year, but as a scene it’s matched by the partners’ meeting at 9am on Thanksgiving to which Don is summoned, but which he attends only to discover that the other partners are waiting for him. It looks like an intervention, but it isn’t even as positive as that: Don’s told that his behaviour has reached the point at which he has to take a leave of absence, with no fixed return date, and then has to suffer the indignity of bumping into Duck bringing his likely replacement into the building. The killer blow is delivered by Bert, who brusquely advises Don that he doesn’t need to defend himself – a verdict has already been reached. We’ve noted before just how ruthless Bert can be, and once again there’s a brutality in the way that he protects his shop.

MM_613_JT_0416_076Which leaves two telling codas: in the first, Peggy disports herself in Don’s office. She might not have everything that she wants, but with Don away and Ted off to California, she’s now effectively the acting creative director of SCP, which isn’t nothing. And Don, out driving with his children, stops in a rundown neighbourhood in order to show them where he grew up, thus shrinking the distance between Don Draper and Dick Whitman once again. (There is, in this sequence, an overhead shot of catch-your-breath beauty, as the shadows of Don and his family cross a dusty road.)

This might not have been the worst place to leave the series, never mind the season, but there’s one more year to go. It’s been an odd season of Mad Men: a slow start and two episodes I didn’t much care for were outweighed by a generally strong midseason, and the three excellent episodes which finished things off. In fact, I’m genuinely intrigued to see where things go from here: Don has lost his job and, quite possibly, his marriage – it’s difficult to see what more there is to be done with Megan, although the experience of season 5 would suggest that a significant someone on the Mad Men writing staff thinks that there are many, many Megan stories to be told – but I can’t believe that we’re done with Don and SCP.

On the other hand, although there’s a potential endgame for Ted Chaough as well, I’d be sorry if that came to pass: Ted was little more than a comic diversion before this season, and could easily have been an insubstantial anti-Don as a full-time character, but Kevin Rahm has turned Ted into a living and breathing good guy with weaknesses, and I’d miss him.

Season 6 was better, in my view, than season 5, if not as good as the first four; and Mad Men showed in the final three episodes of this season that it can still rouse itself to greatness. This episode was perhaps the best of the season, in fact, setting the next and final season up nicely. I do have the feeling, though, that inspiration is starting to run a little dry, and it may be that one more season is as much as we need.

Mad Men s6 ep 12

MM_612_JB_0326_0136Ted and Peggy are giggling at each others’ jokes, disappearing off to the cinema together, touching more than is strictly necessary: perhaps it’s supposed to be irritating, and no doubt it would be were you sharing a workspace with them, but I thought it rather sweet. (Kevin Rahm as Ted, incidentally, is getting better by the week.) They’re infatuated with each other, bless them, and at the start of the episode they’re firing around ideas for Ocean Spray in a way which excludes everyone else in the room. Peggy’s good at her job, for sure, but Ted’s listening only to her, and that’s a potential problem.

And it becomes an actual problem as the episode goes on: Peggy has an idea for another client’s ad campaign which runs about three times over budget. Ted’s fine with that, because the idea’s so damn good! Don correctly thinks that the client might have a different view and flags it up in advance, leading to a meeting with the client. Ted’s attempts to justify the budget don’t work – probably because, as Don will later acidly observe, Ted isn’t thinking with his head. So Don helps out: and just as I was expecting one of his masterpieces of salesmanship we get something else entirely; it kind of works, but verges on the malevolent, which isn’t missed by either Ted or Peggy. Peggy calls him a monster, which I thought an overreaction; mean-spirited he might have been, but Don did have a point.

MM_612_JT_0325_0692Still, Don ends the episode as he started it: huddled in a foetal position, although at the start it’s attributable to a hangover. (And as Megan ministers to him, it prompted the thought that she might well be disliked by a majority of viewers, but she’s arguably a better wife than Don deserves at this stage of the game.)

It’s as action-packed episode as we’ve had all season, though, which means that there’s plenty going on elsewhere, including at least a partial solution to the Bob Benson enigma. This is prompted by the shooting of Ken – played at least partly for laughs, as he goes hunting with Chevy execs and ends up with half a faceful of buckshot. Understandably, Ken doesn’t want to play with the Chevy boys any more, so Pete – selflessly, natch – offers to take over. This, however, means that he’ll be working closely with Bob, and when Pete tries to get rid of him he discovers that whoever “Bob Benson” might be, he certainly isn’t who or what he says he is: it’s not entirely clear that anyone ever actually hired him, to start with.

With the benefit of hindsight, the names – Don Draper, Bob Benson – should probably have tipped us off that we were dealing with someone else who had reinvented himself. Pete, having already been burnt a few seasons ago when he exposed Don to an apathetic reaction from the partners, contents himself on this occasion with telling Bob to keep his distance. Mind you, we get to see Bob sans smile once or twice, and there’s a hint that behind the mask there’s more than a little menace.

And in what I thought was the least successful storyline of the week, Betty takes Sally to a boarding school for a night, to see whether it suits. Sally drinks, smokes, gossips, and invites Glen and his lecherous friend Rollo over to bring additional supplies. However, Rollo makes unwelcome advances towards Sally, obliging Glen to fight him off. Sally looks not unimpressed by this development. I do wonder, though, whether the writers are finding it difficult to come up with scenarios for Sally, compelling character though she is (and portrayed by one of the best young actors on TV, Kiernan Shipka).

Still, ‘The Quality Of Mercy’ was another highpoint for the show, and following on last week’s excellent episode it was further evidence that Mad Men has its head in the game again, in time for the finale.

Mad Men s6 ep 11

MM_611_MY_0320_0090After the last episode, which was just about as disappointing as an episode of Mad Men can be, ‘Favors’ was much more like it, with a sense that many of the plots which have driven the season, sometimes falteringly, are starting to snap into focus in time for the finale. The merger between SCDP and CGC – which seemed at the time like a hasty decision – continues to cause all sorts of problems, with both factions still competing against each other for business; this week, the unlikely casus belli is Ocean Spray (Ted Chaough) vs Sunkist (Don).

To start with it looks as if no-one will be budging, but then the late 60s politics which have been an ever-present background noise this season move front and centre, as Mitchell, the son of Don’s mistress Sylvia, is trying to avoid the draft without doing anything which will ruin his life, as it must have looked then. Don reaches out to Pete, and even to a client with connections, without luck – the latter provoking Ted’s ire, understandably. Bt when Ted finds out what’s happening he offers to make a call to someone who might be able to offer Mitchell a route out of going to Vietnam; Don, reciprocally, drops his interest in Sunkist. The question of whether Don is doing this because of his antiwar feelings, his own wartime experiences, his relationship with Mitchell’s parents, or simply a desire to rekindle his affair with Sylvia, is never entirely answered; perhaps it’s all of them, although if it’s the latter then it certainly works, as he and Sylvia hook up again.

MM_611_JT_0314_0239And this, in a development as meticulously plotted as a farce – and I mean that as a compliment – provides a plot twist which might yet bring Don’s house of cards down. Earlier in the episode, there’s an engaging but apparently irrelevant storyline with Mitchell, Sally, and Sally’s friend Julie, and a seemingly unrelated incident in which Sally manages to get hold of the passkeys belonging to the doorman of Don’s building. This all comes together when Julie – frankly, a pain in the ass – takes a list of Mitchell’s best qualities which the girls wrote together, signs Sally’s name on it, and slips it under Mitchell’s door. In order to retrieve it, Sally has to come up with a plausible excuse to borrow the passkeys again, and enter the Rosens’ apartment uninvited, unexpectedly, and at the precise moment when her father is eliciting yelps of pleasure from Sylvia.

Don later comes up with a kind of explanation, and the extent to which Sally buys it is unclear; it’s not the first time she’s witnessed infidelity, and on a rational level she might well calculate that the consequences of telling on Don aren’t worth it, even if her rage can’t easily be suppressed. For Don, though, it’s yet another chink in his armour, and it’s one which can be exploited at any time by his own daughter. I can’t imagine he’ll sleep too well knowing that.

In an episode with much to love about it, though, two scenes stood out. The first, of course, was the one in which Bob Benson and Pete faced off about the way in which Pete’s mother is possibly being “looked after” by her assistant Manolo, and it has to be said that James Wolk as Bob was quite magnificent in it: switching from direct – telling Pete to sit down and calm down – to flirtatious, as he nudged his knee against Pete’s in an unmistakeable statement of interest. Why Pete, though? I’m not making any great claims – any claims at all, in truth – for my gaydar, but I wouldn’t have thought Pete to be the obvious choice. Of course, there’s still plenty which is a mystery about Bob, so perhaps there’s another agenda at work, or perhaps the heart wants what the heart wants.

The other was scarcely a scene at all: immediately after being discovered in bed with Sylvia by Sally, Don chases Sally down to the lobby of their building, and then almost literally runs around in circles, wondering what the hell to do. Don depends on being in control – understandable if your whole existence is, on a fundamental level, a deception – and although we’ve seen the mask slip before, we’ve rarely seen him quite so panicky, so adrift. In what has been an up-and-down season it was a salutary reminder that Jon Hamm can still bring it when the show needs him to, and the whole thing was a reminder that Mad Men is still alive and kicking.

Mad Men s6 ep 10

MM_610_JA_0305_0476-1An odd episode, this one. (Not because of the subject-matter, although there is another hallucination scene, of which more later.) It started like many of the great Mad Men episodes, which often have ten or fifteen minutes of apparently inconsequential shadow-boxing, followed by the landing of some heavy dramatic blows. This time, the show never really got past the shadow-boxing stage, with the result that the episode felt like a letdown.

By far the best storyline of the week belonged to Joan and Peggy, whose relationship has always been one of the most intriguing and nuanced in the show: often rivalrous, sometimes supportive, never comfortable. This week Joan goes on what she thinks is a blind date, but it turns out that her dining partner works for Avon, and might be able to shift their advertising business the way of SCDPCGC, or whatever they’re calling themselves that day.

Joan is, of course, unable to forget how she obtained her partnership at the firm, largely because no-one at the firm (including Peggy) will let her forget, so is keen to prove her worth by being the account person for Avon; Pete, however, muscles in at Ted’s invitation, to which Joan responds with subterfuge. By the end, with the relationship between SCDP and CGC still in a state of flux, it starts to look as if Joan’s future might depend on her landing the business. One of the cleverest things about this storyline was that while we all know that Joanie’s amazing and Pete’s horrible, it was nonetheless hard to escape the feeling that Pete had a point.

MM_610_JA_0305_0737v1Meantime Don, Roger (John Slattery directing) and Harry are in Los Angeles – episode title, ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’ – to pitch for Carnation’s business. They’ve been let down before by New York companies – “We’re sorry your last girlfriend hurt you, but we’re here now”, soothes Roger – and need someone to sell their unpleasant-sounding powdered breakfasts. It isn’t a successful meeting, and the guys then head off to a hippyish party in the Hills, at which Don smokes some pot, hallucinates a little, then ends up face-down in a swimming pool. How he got there we don’t find out, although unsatisfactorily it’s the previouslies, rather than the episode itself, which hint at the possibility of a suicide attempt.

The generally disappointing nature of the episode meant that minor arcs, which so often provide disproportionate entertainment on Mad Men, failed to engage: Ginsberg’s meltdown, for example, felt pointless, and the writers now really need to put or shut up with Bob Benson. I’m hoping that, with just three episodes to go in the season, this episode will come to be seen as setting up the remainder of the run, or it’ll be difficult even for Mad Men devotees like me to defend it.