Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Mad Men Night to Remember

MANHATTAN, New York September 15, 2008 >> mad men virtuality ©ML Duby

Revelations abound of what is known but concealed in fears. Certain truths are openly expressed on the Mad Men episode ‘A Night to Remember.’ Don, Betty, Peggy and Joan must answer their impulse to openly put the truth on the table and examine what they recognize. Self scrutiny is almost always forced on us in real life (as opposed to TV dramatic series) as well. Confessions and truth await our characters but, even at the episode’s conclusion, we do not know whether or how each will answer going forward.

The recap below contains plot spoilers about Episode 8: "A Night to Remember." If you haven't seen episode 8, check out the Mad Men Schedule to see when we're airing encore presentations or download it on iTunes.

There are numerous instances of someone convincing another to perform as they need or want. The “other” is recruited by the manipulator. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) uses a dinner party prepared by Betty Draper (January Jones) to create an impression for a client. Betty expressed outrage at being embarrassed at the dinner party about Don knowing the beer she would buy but the underlying boil of anger is from knowing that Don has been cheating on her with Bobbie Barrett (Melinda McGraw). Betty really needs space and sincerely does not want to see him. His fa├žade has been cracked and Betty does not like what she sees about Don’s interior and also despises herself for what it shows her to be – perfect hostess, perfect wife, perfect fool to Don’s infidelity. The other affairs weigh as well on the scale of her outrage and need to separate.

Don remains in denial and cannot speak the truth to his wife. That’s the bottom line. He has reinvented himself so many times and in the present ‘Mad Men’ circumstance, he “does not want to lose all this,” i.e., Betty and the kids. There were many mirrors in the most recent episodes; now the slice of events concludes with him alone in the Sterling Cooper office kitchen nursing a Heineken.

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss ["shout out to Atlantic Theater Company"]) learns from Father Gill (Colin Hanks) that he knows about her child born out of wedlock. The hoo-hoo about the CYO dance committee is a brilliant dramatic device to carry the essential message of Peggy needing to accept some overdue spiritual truths about her process. Peggy openly admonishes Father Gill that his job is to tell the committee to trust her with her promotional ideas and execution.

When he picks up the final materials at her office, Father Gill reverses that into a message communicated as a leading question to Peggy: “Do you have something you need to talk about? I notice you don’t take communion.” Peggy naturally doesn’t want to talk about it as there are painful truths in her psych even deeper than the out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Father Gill asks, “Why are you pushing everyone away? Do you feel you don’t deserve His love?” Peggy ignores him directly and formally puts his promo materials in a box. Peggy commiserating and pondering in the bathtub at the close is a classic visual of character reflecting their impending fate.

By the way, I totally caught hell when I refused communion as a protest against the hypocrisy of the Vietnam War. Parents and authority functionaries lamented and went ballistic but… Nobody asked me anything! (When is it reality reflecting art and when is it the reverse?)

As for the highly sympathetic Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks), she contains and hides her disappointment at losing the broadcast operations script reader position. We all see how clueless the Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) character is as he smims around his fishbowl life. This woman represents so many millions who were about to burn their bras, drop acid and get downright feminista on some deserving asshole “good-ole-boys”! Excuse me, but 46 years on, we still have significant portions of this society resistant to women deserving Equal Pay for Equal Work. There is an extremely well constructed pathos in the scene of Joan promptly and subserviently sashaying to get her doctor his glass of water.

On Madison Avenue of 1962, you can’t just “whack” somebody like they do on The Sopranos. Yet death and pain come in a thousand cuts. The cracks in the glass ceiling and walls are hammered a thousand times. The reality of sexism’s deeper psychological costs on woman’s physical and mental health is being dramatically revealed as well as ever done on television. We end the episode with a looming and foreboding sense of the knowing and the unknown mixed in a mist of dread and doubt. They just don’t write Medieval Morality Plays like that anymore –except for the brain trust at Mad Men, of course. //

Thursday, September 11, 2008

FIVE EARTHQUAKES

NEW YORK, New York (September 11, 2008)
Five earthquakes (measuring 6.0 and higher magnitude on the Richter scale) occurred in sequence "yesterday" depending on your relativity to the time zone line.

The Southern Iran event on the fragile northern edge of the Arabian Plate was apparently first.

The larger Oriental "slippages" were large, loud and deep: first at the southern "node" of the Philippine Plate near a convergence point of three small sub-plates and followed minutes later at the Hokkaido southern tip of the North American Plate. There was also a large Chilean event and a fifth in the Central Atlantic Ridge (time unknown to me at this post).

Five large earthquakes in such a tight sequence are rare. Global seismologists are quite active discerning what tectonic vibratory and deep frequency factors are at work.

For the superstitiously nervous, tsunami alerts have been canceled, so sing along at the beach with "Fun, fun, fun 'til tsunami took my T-Bird away" or Carole King's "I Felt the Earth Move." Don't forget to meditate. //

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

‘The Gold Violin’ Plays Mad Men

MANHATTAN, New York (September 8, 2008) >> mad men virtuality

‘The Gold Violin’ is a story authored by Sterling Cooper staffer Ken Cosgrove (within the episode of the same name) that was inspired by a painting and “was perfect in every way except it couldn't make music." Like the Taoist peeling of an onion's skin, we explore new layers on ‘Mad Men.’ Certain individuals, especially Don Draper, begin to learn deeper relational and hierarchical truths they might prefer not to know. Moral consequences – past and future – are revealed in a mosaic of exterior/interior tensions laid out in layers of both subtle contained strokes and loud colors of emotion.

DISCLAIMER: The essay below contains plot spoilers about Season 2, Episode 7: ‘The Gold Violin.’ If you haven't seen that episode, check out the Mad Men schedule on amctv.com to see when encore presentations are airing or download it from iTunes.

There is a delicious mixture of senses and revelations in ‘The Gold Violin’ episode. Our characters act out vignettes inside a larger collage of immense emotional and dimensional depth "like looking into something very deep - like you could fall in.” The ‘Mad Men’ series reveals itself once more to be a contemporary version of the Medieval Morality Play. Simply put, “morality plays have a protagonist who represents either humanity as a whole, i.e., Everyman, or an entire social class (e.g., Don Draper). Antagonists and supporting characters are not individuals per se, but rather personifications of abstract virtues or vices.” (Source: Wikipedia)

The new Coupe de Ville Cadillac announces the arrival of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) as a made man. In addition, Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse) reveals to him that it’s “time for the horse to catch the carrot.” Cooper piles up the frosting on the cake: “You’re going to be wearing a tuxedo a lot more. You’ve been invited to see how things work.” Don is climbing into a new stratum of what Vance Packard defines in “The Status Seekers” (1959) as the Upper Middle Class.
Don’s status points include the new Caddie, the senior executive and partner rank at Sterling Cooper, the picture book family of college-educated Betty and the kids, the house in the suburbs, etc. Name your own points: ______.

The irony is that Don (wearing a tux) is soon confronted by Jimmy Barrett’s (Patrick Fischler) angry accusation that he has been sexing it up with his wife Bobbie. Jimmy drags Betty Draper (January Jones) into the fray forcing her to see what’s going on, “Oh come on. Look at them.” Jimmy doubles down and calls out Don to his face, “You know what I like about you? Nothing. And what did you get? Bobbie. Lots of people had that. I go home at night and I laugh at you. You don't screw another man's wife. You’re garbage. And you know it.” Jimmy closes, “It’s been a gas.”

Betty Draper transitions from being thrilled at the new Cadillac (“gorgeous -- like a jet”). She strokes Don’s ego: “You work so hard, you deserve it." She enjoys life as their whole family shares a sunny picnic together. At the Stork Club, Jimmy forces her to see Don and Bobbie as mutual spousal cheaters until it makes Betty sick in the fresh car (with an assist from too much champagne).

Salvatore Romano’s (Bryan Batt) marital relationship with his wife Kitty (Sarah Drew) is the simplest version of everything’s perfect but it won’t play music. Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) seems to be putting himself into a situation in which sexual seduction (with flattery) by Sal might naturally flow going forward.

Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) discovers that her presumed authority as office manager has been quickly trumped by Jane Seigel’s (Payton List) attractiveness. Roger Sterling (John Slattery) weighs in as the arbiter and master of the realm to Joan’s chagrin. Sleazy business awaits. As we expect events to further unfold for that troika… each of us run has permission for our imaginations to run wild and ragged.

Two pieces of art (the painting and the metaphoric violin) provided the anchors for this episode in which we see and hear dimensional depth of the characters emerge. More specifically, depth is intentionally referenced twice. First, Smitty (Patrick Cavanaugh) remarks on the 60-page Students for Democratic Society screed – it’s a generational thing so you have to be into it to get it. Second, the abstract expressionism of the Rothco painting creates a visual illusion that makes you look into it. An additional reinforcement is that the Sterling Cooper staffers have to sneak into the sanctum of Cooper’s office to see this hidden art object.

It is worth noting for regular readers that the ‘Mad Men Virtuality’ essays are primarily focused on the psychological dynamics and dramatic tensions and resolutions rather than the “look” or culture referencing of the show. As Bertran Cooper cautions, "Don't concern yourself with aesthetics. You'll get a headache.” c2008 by M.L.Duby ///

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

'Maidenform' Reveals Mad Men Double Standards

MANHATTAN, New York (September 1, 2008) >> mad men virtuality >>
"Nothing fits both sides of a woman better than Playtex." Mad Men's 'Maidenform' episode is a view into the substrata of the prevailing social rules of the early-60's sexual double standard. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) maneuvers between the compartments of the complicated world he has chosen to create for himself. The pressures of reality on his walls of separation are mounting.

DISCLAIMER: The essay below contains plot spoilers about Season 2, Episode 6: "Maidenform." If you haven't seen that episode, check out the Mad Men schedule on amctv.com to see when encore presentations are airing or download it from iTunes.

Women dressed like code for men in 1962: Shoes, stockings, skirts, dress straps, bras, accessories, etc. Clothes reveal how "men want to see them" according to Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss). Women's fashion of the era featured appropriate outfits for every occasion. Yves Saint Laurent had yet to score the knock-out blows against the established order with pant suits, safari wear and revamped color motifs.

Before the shakeup of the Sixties, privileged white males (like our Mad Men boys club) flaunted and exploited their positions of presumed authority over all women due to their gender. That perspective demanded uniforms of domestic, office and provocative attire from women. Men objectified and divided women into functional roles and sexual types (e.g., good girl versus bad girl). The Sterling Cooper self-ordained review committee typed the photo shoot bra models into two roles. As Don put it to the Playtex clients: "Two sides of one woman - Jackie (Kennedy) by day or Marilyn (Monroe) by night."

Peggy Olson did not fit at all and was laughed at as a Gertrude Stein or Irene Dunn (who won numerous Oscar awards for her acting). As Peggy put it, "Women expect to be as "men want to see them." When she is not included in activities related to her own account, she joins the after-hours mens' party dresses as the Devil in a Blue Dress to go to the strip club.

In the mind set of the time, it's acceptable to ogle swimsuit models at the golf club fashion show with families and kids but not OK for wife Betty Draper (January Jones) to wear a sexy bikini beach outfit in the privacy of her own kitchen. Don is merely reflecting the social onto his personal in ways that he increasingly cannot control. Don lives between his functions as a successful advertising executive and the difficulties of dealing with the psychological issues and processes of his marriage partner and children.

On a side note, an approaching series plot arc is foreshadowed as Duck Philips undergoes a series of self doubts. First, Duck cannot connect with his divorced family. Then, Duck must admit, "You have an 'I told you so; I hurt the company'," to Don about the American Airlines account fiasco. Finally, Duck confronts the urge to drink and releases the last link to his family - his dog Chauncy - onto the streets to fend for himself.

Mirrors Mirror
The thematic focus on the double standard is reinforced in the Maidenform episode by both the cinematic tools of mirrors and the reflection of the downside effect on our characters -- how they respond to one another and who they become. (That evidence will be explored in more detail as the season and accompanying commentary continues.)

The mirrored images are as obvious as Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) gazing at himself with smugness after his couch romp with the brassiere model. The day/night photo for the Jackie-by-day/Marilyn-by-night Sterling Cooper campaign pitch is visually representing a deeper level for our gazing or gawking at the social sexual double standard.

Don Draper and Bobbi Barrett (Melinda McGraw) watch themselves in the mirror in a stimulating and intoxicating turn-on. Then, Don suddenly senses and understands that Bobbie derives pleasure from him being her behavioral counter-party in a twisted pool of murky yin-yang S&M. Don Draper asks Bobbi as he is tying her wrists: "Does it make you feel better to think that I'm like you?"

Don also has two very different and awkward images of himself in his daughter Sally's eyes. First, she beams at him when he stands as one of the veterans at the country club. Then she comes into the bathroom to sit and watch her daddy shave in front of the mirror. The admiring look repeats the sequence and Sally's comment that "I'm not going to talk; I don't want you to hurt yourself," echoes and ricochets Bobbi's remarks in her bedroom. Don becomes very uncomfortable and sends Sally out. Don sits on the toilet seat reflected in yet another mirror at the close -- Narcissus incarnate darkly gazing into the lake of experiential realization. ///
c2008 by M.L.Duby // 'Maidenform' - Season 2, Episode 6 //