All words: Alan Zilberman and Peter Mergenthaler
Good morning, and welcome to BYT’s weekly MAD MEN hangover! In lieu of a traditional recap, I instead offer a somewhat edited, highly spirited debate between myself and a fellow TV junkie. Joining me is Pete, my old roommate who helped jumpstart my obsession with serialized TV dramas. Without further ado, let’s get into what’s new at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce!
Before we get into the scattershot commentary, let’s highlight a few important plot points:
- Trudy is with child, and Peter must break the news to his father-in-law that SCDP will drop the Clearsil account.
- After Faye cannily manipulates young woman on behalf of the Pond’s account, Don’s secretary Allison responds emotionally. She lashes out at Don, who feels almost contrite about his behavior.
- Peggy hangs out with some fucking hipsters.
Pete: In my futile attempt to be as bright and young as Alan, I solo’ed a bottle of riesling before tonight’s Mad Men. I’m ready to discuss stuff!
Alan: And I’m a few fingers deep into a bottle of bourbon. Let’s start with the biggest piece of news: Pete is going to have a child. The good news is coupled with an awkward professional/personal conflict regarding his father-in-law. You know, whenever I see that actor I always think of him as the dad from Clarissa Explains it All.
Pete: What ideas does Pete as a father conjure in your heart? I’d like to think he’s made some sort of interpersonal progress since we first met him, but watching him deal with the Clearasil problem worries me.
Alan: I think he’ll say unknowingly terrible things to his child, but I think he’ll love him/her to pieces. Watching the episode, I found myself wondering what Pete’s kid must be like today. He’d be 45 or so – I assume a gay rank-and-file businessman.
Pete: The other half of the Pete’s child storyline tonight was Peggy’s reaction to it. She doesn’t take the news terribly well. My memory is foggy here — does Pete know that he knocked Peggy up in 1960?
Alan: Yes. There was a scene in the second season, during the Christmas party I believe, where Peggy says, “I had your baby, and give it away.”
Pete: Right, right, right. Brutal. So, he didn’t love THAT baby to pieces. But you’re sure he’ll take to Trudy’s?
Alan: Pete strikes me as someone who is eager to please. A child fits into his success narrative, so I can see him doting. On the other hand, he’s never handled stress well, and a baby brings inconveniences he’s hardly mature enough to grasp.
Pete: Yes, and this is stuff I could relate to. Commitments and inconveniences closing around you more quickly than you can process them. There were a few instances of people banging their heads against hard things tonight, literally and otherwise. Harry “Comic Relief” Crane’s observations about people being “comers” who “came up together” — that stuff seems to put him on a different page. The idea that the job and the success narrative are portable, and that they’re meant to be that way. Pete seems both committed to SDCP and frustrated to feel that way. Harry sees it as a launchpad, or the best thing available at the moment. In the meantime, don’t burn any bridges, and be nice to Cosgrove. That’s why I fear for baby Campbell.
Alan: Interesting you mention that. I wonder how much this distinction is a function of their respective roles. As the TV man, Harry is the more innovative member of the SCDP team, whereas Pete’s position has been a mainstay of advertising. Pete’s conservative professional loyalty could certainly spill into his personal life, and at the very least, I worry he won’t teach Baby Campbell about backbone.
Pete: Precisely. And Trudy has never been a proactive force in this relationship, though that might have something to do with the actress. Do you find Alison Brie’s performance kinda … I don’t know, affected? Or maybe it’s trying to mentally juggle this performance with her character in Community.
Alan: Yes, but I always felt her affectations were by design. Trudy always struck me as a woman who plays the role she feels she must, but is trembling on the inside.
Pete: That definitely could be, but tonight, her doting and excitement felt a little too postcard-perfect. That definitely wasn’t the case with Peggy, who continues to be the most infuriating and endearing character on the show.
Alan: Peggy had an interesting arc this episode. I like her willingness to try new experiences, and how they conflict wiith her rigid, relatively traditional upbringing. Her contradictions make her fascinating, particularly in her gruff scene with Don’s secretary.
Pete: That’s exactly what I wrote about that scene in my notes.
Alan: YOU TAKE NOTES?
Pete: Duh. I kept thinking, “What the hell does Peggy want?” And it seems pretty clear by the end of the episode that she wants her cake and to roll it into a joint and smoke it, too. Her experiments with hipsterism genuinely excite her, but she’ll never be one of them.
Alan: I wouldn’t pass so much judgment. I appreciate her ability to roll with the punches. She’s still figuring out her place, and is able to enjoy a number of situations. Sure, she’ll never be “one of them,” but her commonsense interaction to the fucking hipster’s rejection of advertising is informative. She’s true to herself, whereas the hatred of conformity is an affectation.
Pete: I’m judging her, yes, but I think it’s definitely to her credit! She’s so much more interesting than any of the people she hung out with at hipster buddy Joyce’s hipster party. When she’s trying to recruit Pretentious Filmmaker / Photographer for some work at SDCP, and he rebuffs her on account of Warhol changing the universe, I wanted to punch the guy right in his douchenozzle. But maybe that says more about me than it does about Peggy.
Alan: You and me both, buddy. To the credit of Elizabeth Moss, I think her reaction to the Warhol line was an interesting combination of disappointment and mild disgust.
Pete: Which is why she’ll never be as static and boring as those people, even if hanging out with them does make her feel better about herself. I’ll allow her that much. Also tonight, Alison did what we thought she’d do last week. Or at the end of the episode from the week before.
Pete: You mentioned during the Christmas Party episode how fabulous Alexa Alemanni was as Alison. She was frickin dazzling tonight.
Alan: Yes. In a panel discussion where young women discussed beauty and relationships frankly, she got emotional because of her one night stand with Don. It was interesting to see how Peggy and Don reacted – the former with empathy and then harshness, the latter with halfhearted contrition.
Pete: How do you account for Peggy blowing up at her, and then peeking in at Don?
Alan: Peggy resented the implication she got to her position by sleeping with her superior. She EARNED the office, and Allison’s insinuation undermined that. As for peeking into Don’s office, well, who wouldn’t be curious? The guy is a mystery, and it’s not every day knickknacks get hurled in anger.
Pete: But they could have had anyone peek in. I thought she was set off by the implication that Peggy had any unprofessional interest in Don whatsoever. The jury’s out on that one. But you’re right — Don’s weird as shit, and I know I’d peek if my office were next to his.
Alan: Don reminds me of a friend who I’ll never totally understand, yet whose approval I’ll always crave. What did you think of of Allison’s calling him a drunk, as well as his apology letter draft? For such a strong writer, I was surprised he’d use the word “very” in both sentences.
Pete: I thought the same thing! And he began his second sentence with a time element, which is something really terrible writers do (“Lately my life has been very” something). I wonder what kind of drunk Don would make in the era of text messages.
Alan: Ah. I think Don would do well with text messages. He probably wouldn’t respond to any, which would infuriate/seduce the women who craved his attention.
Pete: Except on the nights when he’s wasted and sad. He would have texted the shit out of Alison tonight.
Alan: She would have fallen for it, too. Tonight’s episode was directed by John Slattery aka Roger Sterling. Can we talk about how great a job he did?
Pete: Definitely. AMC showrunners should turn direction over to actors more often. Bryan Cranston has been responsible for some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad, and Slattery’s episode tonight was gorgeous. And TV direction (from what little I understand) isn’t like writing, where everybody collaborates and one person’s name is put on the final product. Directing is said to be grueling and carries a lot of responsibility. In other words, you’ve got to know what you’re doing.
Alan: We both noticed the magnificent shot of Don in his apartment, sitting between two lamps. I loved how only one of them was on, and its off-kilter effect on its composition.
Pete: And for as dark as that bit was, the colors really popped. And that hasn’t been unique to this episode — you mentioned Don in the phone booth recently, and a few other really striking images from earlier in the season.
Alan: Weiner and his directors are really channeling Edward Hopper this season, and I’m hardly one to complain.
Pete: For as long as the show’s been around, we’ve been told that the period-piece element is secondary to the characters themselves, but I love that they’re indulging themselves a little more this year. The music is played way up, for instance.
Alan: Yes, though I couldn’t place the song the background song at the fucking hipster party. Perhaps BYT readers might know its source?
Pete: I wouldn’t dare presume. Parting observations?
Alan: This was a great drinking episode. Don, Pete, and Roger were always filling their glass.
Pete: Not to mention Don’s incredulity that his bottle was empty. Loved Ken’s crack about retards at the state hospital, despite myself.
Alan: Even in a show as sophisticated as Mad Men, there is always room for mocking the mentally handicapped. And with that, let’s call it a night. I hope your hangover isn’t too bad tomorrow.
Pete: I don’t work Mondays, so it’s immaterial. Cheers!