Paris Review interview with Matthew Weiner

Here’s a long interview from the Paris Review with Matthew Weiner. Pretty interesting. I liked this answer below, sorry for the long excerpt.

INTERVIEWER

You worked on three seasons of The Sopranos before you went back to your Mad Men pilot. Did that change your conception of your show?

WEINER

Mad Men would have been some sort of crisp, soapy version of The West Wing if not for The Sopranos. Peggy would have been a climber. All the things that people thought were going to happen would have happened. Even though the pilot itself has a dark, strange quality, I didn’t know that that was what was good about it. I just wanted an excuse to exorcise my demons, to write a story about somebody who’s thirty-five years old, who has everything, and who is miserable.

The important thing, for me, was hearing the way David Chase indulged the subconscious. I learned not to question its communicative power. When you see somebody walking down a dark hallway, you know that they’re scared. We don’t have to explain that it’s scary. Why is this person walking down a dark hallway when he’s on his way to his kids’ school? Because he’s scared about someone telling him something bad about his kids. He’s worried about hearing something that will reflect badly on the way he’s raised his kids, which goes back to his own childhood. All that explanatory stuff, we never even talked about it. And I try not to talk about it here. Why did that happen? Why do you think? You can’t cheat and tell people what’s going on, because then they won’t enjoy it, even if they say they want it that way.

You know how sometimes I give you a note that says, Why don’t you do X? and you say, That’s the thing I wanted to do? That’s what I learned at The Sopranos. That’s the note I try to give to everyone who writes here. Take the risk of doing the extreme thing, the embarrassing thing, the thing that’s in your subconscious. Before The Sopranos, when someone said, Make it deeper, I didn’t know what they meant. Or really, I knew in my gut—but I also knew that it was the one thing that crossed my mind that I wasn’t going to do. To have Peggy come into Don’s office after he’s had the baby and ask for a raise and be rejected, and look at the baby presents, so we know she’s thinking about her own baby that she gave away, and then to have her tell Don, “You have everything and so much of it.” There is something embarrassing about that. A scene that was really just about her getting turned down for a raise became a scene about her whole life. That was the sort of thing I learned from working with David Chase.

Another thing that happened when I began writing on The Sopranos was I noticed that people were always telling me anecdotes. They would throw out a line of dialogue they’d heard somebody say or that someone had said to them—and that was the story. I did not know how important that shit was. There’s an episode where Beansie and Paulie are reminiscing and Tony dismissively says, “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.” And it’s devastating. David Chase had witnessed that actual statement. Now I have a ton of stuff like that I’ve saved, things people have said to me that are concise and devastating and sum up some moment in their lives. When I’m talking to some woman on an airplane, and she says, I like being bad and going home and being good, that is very useful.

Paris Review interview with Matthew Weiner

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 3

Mad Men Art
Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates a moment from the episode and I write up a recap.

Episode title “Field Trip.” This refers to Don’s trip to LA, Betty’s trip to the farm, and sort of Don’s trip back to the office.

I missed any clues to the date of the episode, though Betty and Bobby went to a farm on what looked like a warm summer day and it was dark in NYC at 7:10 PM. The last two episodes were about two weeks apart, but that farm day couldn’t have been earlier than mid-April.

The episode starts with Don in a theater watching Model Shop (via Hypable). The first line of the summary of the movie on Google sounds somewhat familiar: “George (Gary Lockwood) is a disillusioned 26-year-old who has just quit his stifling job. He lives in Los Angeles with an aspiring young actress named Gloria (Alexandra Hay), who is none too pleased with his recent unemployment.”

Don hears from Megan’s agent that Megan is crumbling and acting (get it?) erratically. He’s got nothing going on so he decides to visit, and it goes… poorly. They fight, and Don tells her the truth about work. “I’ve been good. I haven’t even been drinking that much.” Megan feels betrayed and sends Don home. “This is the way it ends.” Getting kicked out, combined with Model Shop, makes Don rethink his current situation and pursue an opportunity with another firm. (More on this later).

Betty is back and as childish as ever. Her lunch with Francine was so uncomfortable. I don’t remember her being so weird. The conversation between them was stilted, almost as if between two people who didn’t know each other at all. Betty hardly seemed to understand what Francine was saying. The ‘women in the workforce’ theme has been covered a bit (Joan, Peggy, Dawn to name a few), but I’m not sure that’s really what this scene was about. It was more about the world moving on from Betty’s idea of what life is supposed to be like. (“Maybe I’m old fashioned.”) After the lunch, Betty decides she needs something to do, so she agrees to go on a field trip with Bobby. I’d like to imagine it was never OK to smoke on a school bus full of children, but Betty does what she wants around here. I’m not really sure why the teacher’s boobs were part of the show (“Yes, well that blouse says she likes everyone.” and “Farmer’s daughter needs a bra.”), but maybe it will come up at a later date.

Betty is still an emotionally stunted woman child. She tried the milk to look cool in front of a bunch of 10 year olds. It worked, but why would a grown ass woman need that validation? Sure, Bobby might be a dummy for giving away her sandwich, but he didn’t do it to be mean, he didn’t do it because he doesn’t love her. “It was a perfect day and he ruined it.” Betty is cray. There’s literally a child asleep in her arms and she asks Henry why the kids don’t love her. It’s amazing how nice of a kid Bobby is considering his mother and father (“I wish it was yesterday”).

Ken Cosgrove telling Don carousels always makes him think of Don (which is weird, because Ken wasn’t in that meeting.) All of the Don Returns scenes were great, Don and Lou awkward, Don and the creative team, Peggy being cold to Don, Joan being cold to Don, Don not realizing Dawn was doing different things, etc.

Jim Cutler issues Roger Sterling-quality one liners, but with a different, blunt delivery (“Your self-pity is distasteful”). I wonder if he’ll get more screen time. I’m really, really, still not sure how Harry Crane maintains a position of responsibility. He doesn’t show respect to any of his superiors, “This conversation is over, I’m really not interested.” Roger obviously doesn’t think too highly of him, offering to fire him the instant his name came up. Media buys are starting to become more complicated, and Cutler wants to use what they’re paying Don to buy a computer.

Which brings us to Don coming back to SCP. The scene where he got the offer was interesting, “That’s coy” “No that’s drama.” I’m not sure what the woman in the restaurant was all about, but I liked the juxtaposition of us all thinking he was knocking on her door and it being Roger. (Something about where Don gets his gratification from these days?) “You want to come back, come back. I miss you.” I knew it! The scenes with Roger last week were a set up for this. Roger doesn’t jive with Lou, that much is obvious. By having Don come in, Roger forces the issue of Don’s leave of absence, either purposely or not. The other partners think Roger has made a drunken mistake, but he shows he’s considered all the options by explaining it would take 4 years to buy out Don’s partnership share. So they have a meeting all day (the clock behind Don’s head shows 7:10 PM before he’s called into the conference room (I’m not sure why he stayed)), to figure out what to do about it. Joan, Bert, and Jim all want Don gone, but Roger fights for him, and more importantly, the rest of them see the financial implications of firing him. The solution is an agreement to come back stuffed with poison pills (no drinking in the office, reporting to Lou). Don agreeing to these stipulations was an “Oh, wow” moment for me, probably for you, too. I spent the 15 minutes after the episode trying to wrap my head around the legality of the agreement. Could they really create a situation where Don’s partnership shares would be dissolved? I suppose if they offer him an agreement to come back and he refuses, he’s in breach and SCP has the upper hand again anyway. It just seems odd. Also… I don’t think Lou and Don are going to get along.

And then before this wraps up, Don told Megan, “I know how I want you to see me.” Mad Men is still talking about appearances and perceptions of who people are. This will continue to be a major theme until the end of the series. I’m always fascinated by the lines like this. They pop up quite a bit.

Las song was “If 6 Was 9” by Jimi Henrix.

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 3

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 2 Recap

Mad Men Art

Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates a moment from the episode and I write up a recap.

Episode Title: “A Day’s Work.” Off the top of my head, I can’t remember any episodes taking place all in one day. Or, almost a day. Pete, Bonnie, and Ted had a tryst late on the evening of the 13th.

Timing of the episode: February, 14 1969, only a few weeks from episode 1.

As well as Don looked to be doing last week, this week he was less put together: Unshowered, house a mess, marking off the liquor bottle with a grease pencil to keep track of his drinking. Don only cleans the house and gets dressed when Dawn comes to report on the goings on in the office. Obviously lonely, Don tries to charm Dawn into staying for coffee, but she demurs. When he offers her “car fare,” “There’s something about the money that makes it feel wrong.” THAT’S WHAT THE MONEY IS FOR.

Imagine now there are 400 words on the symbolism of Don seeing a cockroach in his apartment.

Pete also seemed better off last week than this week. Pete still only cares about closing the deal, which he should, because he is selling, but it leads to trouble for him every time. Last week, he was mooning about California’s vibrations, now he doesn’t know if he’s in “heaven or hell or limbo.” Ted remains placid, as ever, “Just cash the checks, you’re gonna die one day.” Pete’s girlfriend seems to know how it all works, “Our fortunes are in other people’s hands and we have to take them,” but I think Pete grew up holding the fortunes maybe?

Joan figured out her Dawn/Lou issue by making Dawn head of personnel, but what does this mean when Don comes back? Last year, there was a similar situation where Joan gave Dawn additional responsibility and intimated she’d need a willingness to be unliked. This came up again when Joan and Culter were discussing what was required of a head of personnel. Most people still want to see Mad Men tackle race, but I don’t think we’re ever going to get it.

When Dawn and Shirley were talking about Shirley’s flowers, they were calling each other each other’s names. Maybe they do that because that’s what happens in the office? Dawn gets called Shirley and vice versa? “Keep pretending, that’s your job.”

There were some interesting examples of embarrassment this week: Ted catching Pete and Bonnie, Sally finding Lou in Don’s office, Peggy thinking Shirley’s flowers were for Peggy, Sally catching Don in a lie, Don getting caught in a lie. Etc. Etc.

Peggy had a fun time today, alone again. “Enjoy your flowers, boss.” She knows she’s acting crazy, but she can’t help it. Ted has moved on from her, even if she doesn’t want to admit that. The scenes with Shirley’s flowers were gold, just gold. My favorite of this young season. Not sure what Ginsberg has against her, though. “February 14th: Masturbate gloomily.”

I can’t really understand why Roger had a problem with asking Detroit about the Chevy dealerships. I got to thinking it might have something to do with Don not being around (and Lou in his place, “Strangest things happen to you.”), but there’s not much evidence for that. He’s bored at SCP, that’s for sure. Also, anti-semitism is alive and well in 1969, NYC.

Racism, too. Thanks, Bert Cooper. He’s not saying Dawn shouldn’t be at the front desk, he’s just saying.

Sally is back, and I don’t remember her eyebrows being so eyebrowy. “I’d stay here until 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground.” Sally is the perfectly cynical boarding school teenager, a funeral is a good excuse for a shopping spree until losing her purse. Upon discovering Lou Avery in her dad’s office, she was upset, showing as much as she’s tried to grow up, she’s still a little girl. The wall comes up again upon catching Don in a lie. She wants to love her dad, but he makes it almost impossible. By insisting on trying to be the perfect man, Sally is repulsed and reminded of Don’s failings. What goes on the note? “Just tell the truth.” It’s only when he comes clean about being asked to leave SCP Sally warms to him again. “I told the truth about myself.” “Nothing you don’t already know.” While the Shirley/Peggy scenes were great, the Don/Sally scenes were probably the most important scenes so far. Don will continue wanting to treat Sally as a child, but as she says, “I’m so many people.” She’s got it tough.

This Will Be Our Year by The Zombies played out over the credits.

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 2 Recap

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 1 Recap

Mad Men Art

Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates a moment from the episode and I write up a recap. First some quick thoughts:

This was a long weekend for me with one event in DC and one event in Philadelphia, and Chris came with me, so I’m not totally sure how coherent this will be. Additionally, it usually takes a few episodes into the season for me to remember how to recap a television show. In any case…

Episode Title: “Time Zones” obviously refers to Ted, Pete, and Megan in California, Bob in Detroit, and everyone else in New York. But also, different times in their life, relationships, work.

Timing of the episode: January, 1969 as evidenced by Richard Nixon’s inauguration. The Super Bowl Freddy mentioned was Super Bowl III. It featured Joe Namath and the Jets, and was played a week earlier.

Overall, everyone seemed unhappy. Roger’s unhappy, Don’s unhappy, Megan’s unhappy, Pete seems happier than we’ve ever seen him (but Ted says he’s unhappy), Peggy’s unhappy, Ken’s unhappy, Joan’s unhappy, and nobody else cares about anything.

Considering how often the opening scene of last season was referenced during the season, we should pay special attention to Freddy’s opener. “It’s not a time piece, it’s a conversation piece.” We’ve heard, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation” a couple times on the show, and the two quotes are stuck together in my head right now. Maybe the passage of time will be a key theme this season, maybe I’m too tired to make sense of anything? It was 8 minutes until Don’s first scene (a musical montage!), which likely didn’t mean anything thematically.

I kept trying to count the number of the passed out women in Roger’s first scene. At least 5.

Don’s replacement, Lou, is like the kindly, but surly, grandpa of SC&P. He says such shitty, mean stuff, but without any emotion behind it. “I think you’re trying to put me in a position of saying ‘I don’t care what you think’.” Peggy is bristling at the new dynamic, and, as it turns out the work being produced. I loved this, “Well, I’m tired of fighting for everything to be better. You’re all a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with shit. Nobody cares about anything. No one wants things to be better? I got it, I’ll just stand out here all by myself.” That’s a very, very, Don Draper thing to say. Peggy breaking down at the end was her feeling totally alone, probably about as much on a personal level as a professional level. Ted was professional and personal and he left, and Don was professional and he’s not around.

It’s been two months since the end of last season, and Don hasn’t told Megan about getting the boot from SC&P. He’s going to have to work on that relationship. The morning after Don gets to California, Megan drops a Playboy on his chest. I wondered if she was sending a hint she didn’t want to be intimate.

Ken pulls Joan into a meeting with a 14 year-old shoe executive who wants to fire SC&P. Joan goes to speak with a business school professor for ammunition on how to respond. I got the sense she’s done this before, but not with this professor. I wonder if Joan will step more into an account executive role. Remember last season when Joan was managing a client a bit?

Pete Campbell is going bananas in California. “The city’s flat and ugly, and the air is brown, but I love the vibrations.” This should be a lot of fun.

Both Roger and his daughter appear to be going on the same journey of exploration, but they’re taking different paths. The scene with Roger coming home drunk to his new lover felt very important. He’s tired, exhausted of this life. I wasn’t sure if he was tired of the bohemian lifestyle, or of life in general.

“Blame Madison Avenue for that.” This was the second or third subtle to not-so-subtle dig at advertising in the episode.

“She knows I’m a terrible husband.” “Well if she doesn’t know, you should keep it that way. That’s what people do.” “Have I broken the vessel?” “What can you do about it, it’s done.” Don flew home from California with the ghost of Don Drapers past. It looked like Don was going to go home with the mysterious airplane beauty, but he had to work.

At first you think Don’s lying to himself AND Megan, until Freddy comes over with sandwiches and it becomes clear Don’s been sending Freddy around with Don’s pitches. For me, it completely changed how I saw Don in this episode. Less pathetic, more driven, producing work again, good work. I wonder how long he’ll be in the shadows for. “I been there, you don’t want to be damaged goods.” Maybe he’s less unhappy than I thought.

Final song: You Keep Me Hangin’ On – Vanilla Fudge

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 1 Recap

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 13 Recap

Mad Men Art

Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates a moment from the episode and I write up a recap. Lately, I’ve been doing the recaps as a Q&A with David Jacobs right after the episode. First some quick thoughts:

-Thank you so much for reading along this season. Hope you enjoyed!
-This is going to be a hard recap because along with recapping the episode, we have to recap the season, too. Click the links, they’re pretty instructive.
-Here’s a crappy picture off the TV of the new Sterling Cooper & Partners logo. SC&P also have new coffee mugs (to replace the SCDP mugs) and we got to see those, too.
-Stan combs his hair and pitches Don on the idea of starting SC&P’s west coast branch. Don dismisses it before quickly taking the idea from himself. “It’s like Detroit with palm trees.”
-The episode title was “In Care Of,” which literally refers to the telegrams Don and Pete got at different points. Can’t come up with other thematic tie ins.
-It sounds like Chevy likes Bob Benson so much they gave him a car. This made it a little tough for Pete to exert pressure on Bob once they got to Detroit. “How’re you doing?” “NOT SO GREAT, BOB!” I thought it was a little weird Bob pushed back so hard in light of what Pete knows, but… “Ignorance will not be a very good defense.”
-The conversation between Roger and Bob was interesting, too. Joan doesn’t seem to want anything to do with Roger (until she here’s he doesn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving). That said, is the implication that Bob is interested in Joan as a beard? Maybe Bob’s bisexual.
-The pace at the beginning of the show felt super fast, and the fact that AMC still controls where commercials go is ridiculous. It’s better than last year, but not much.
-“Can you keep it down? I’m trying to drink.” it’s the new “THAT’S WHAT THE MONEY IS FOR.”
-“Well I wouldn’t want to do anything immoral..why don’t you tell them what I saw?” Sally’s showing some claws. This impacted Don enough that he got wasted and punched a minister. Something about how the cop said, “You punched a minister, you’re lucky you’re not in Rikers.” reminded me of “You punch a cop, you’re going in.” from Good Will Hunting.
-Mad Men does gallows humor/death scenes really subtly. You don’t expect them, and then someone’s dead. (Same with the near death’s like Kenny getting shot and the British exec getting his foot run over.)
-Pete seemed to take the death of his mother pretty well. His anger at Bob seemed more about the principle of the thing, or that people shouldn’t be able to get away with disrespecting him. Later on in the episode, Megan said “We’re all in the same boat” in reference to the Draper kids. Very heavy. Taking this a step further, being associated with Don is like being on a boat and according to this episode, people on boats die!
-Peggy sassed it up with Chanel No. 5 and a tight dress and it did the trick to get Ted interested. For a night. “Because I don’t want everyone else to have you.” Kind of a jerk, Ted. You shouldn’t have kissed her a few weeks ago.
-The Don Hershey presentation was a great contrast to the Carasoul scene in the first season. A scene I go back to often in these recaps. I think that scene is Mad Men to me, so you can imagine my disappointment every week when we don’t get something like that. It was Don using deeply personal feelings to sell a client on an idea. This time however, he faked it, then came clean. He had the client in the palm of his hand before telling them he didn’t think they should advertise at all. This backs up something David’s been talking about a while, about how Don doesn’t really believe in the products he’s selling anymore, doesn’t believe in anything. It’s why a couple of his pitches didn’t even include the products this year. Kind of the culmination of it. And that leads to him…
-Being fired/suspended. I’d say he doesn’t go back to SC&P, but I’m not sure how that reconciles with the stories of all the other characters.
-Why is Pete going to LA? Trudy said, you’re “Free of her, free of them.” And then he wasn’t at the partners meeting. Is he done, too?
-So, maybe you got the “Going down?” elevator reference as a reference to hell. Did you also catch the tie in to the first episode of the season?
-Don takes his kids to the house he grew up in and Sally gives him a look, like maybe she understands him a bit more? At the beginning of Season 5 there was a quick hint that Megan knew at least something about his past. I wonder if something similar will happen with at least Sally next season.
-I’ve been saying a while that Pete is Don. But maybe Peggy is?

Aaron: So that happened. Quick question. Did you like the episode? Did you like the season?

David: I was just comparing it (in my head) to Game of Thrones. Certainly satisfying at the end, but certainly not worth the investment. Having said that, in for a dime in for a dollar, and I’m excited for season 7. You?

Aaron: I was trying to make myself feel better about devoting so much time to it, but I think that’s as good an answer as any. I don’t want to overstate my unenjoyment or anything. It was fine. It’s better than 99% of media you can consume. Maybe we’re spoiled and things can never be as good as they were in the past. People don’t like watching Arrested Development anymore either.

David: I’ve actually not seen Arrested Development.

Aaron: I’m looking forward to you watching the four seasons of AD all together. You can do it in a weekend.

David: We’ve made the Sopranos comparison a few times this year, and there’s been a lot of attention to this for obvious sad reasons this week, but Sopranos was head and shoulders above the rest. And I’m just now making the connection that in the hour before Mad Men, I was watching James Gandolfini’s Inside the Actor’s Studio appearance and this must have been churning through my head.

Recently I’ve been making the case that binge TV-watching is bad for the soul. I may be wrong! But back to Mad Men. One thing that really struck with me was the moment Don looked down at his shaking hands during the Hershey’s pitch meeting. Especially this season, we’ve really been treated to miserable, unlikable Don. So that emotional payoff, and especially that moment, was quite rewarding for me. Were there any scenes or moments in this episode that stuck with you?

Aaron: I’m not sure if anything will stick with me from this episode. Right now, an hour after watching it… there were a lot of great scenes actually. Don showing his kids where he grew up, obviously. The shaking hands. The guy Duck brought in to replace Don pushing the elevator down (to Hell) for Don. Peggy saying, “Well, aren’t you lucky, to have decisions.” I hope I remember, “Can you keep it down? I’m trying to drink.” because that’s a great line. What will be memorable to you about this season and to that end, do you remember stuff from every season? LIke, what was your take away from season 2?

David: Does Duck lock his dog outside in season 2?

Aaron: I don’t know, maybe, but thanks for reminding me, because is there any way SC&P would retain Duck as their headhunter? And I don’t think there’s anyway they could find a suitable replacement for Don Draper the night before Thanksgiving (assuming the Hershey’s meeting was on the Wednesday before). Especially without the internet! For this season, I think I’ll remember Don falling into the pool, and I should say the merger, but as I’ve mentioned, I don’t think that had as much an impact on the show as we all expected. Maybe what was memorable about it was how it came together in the hotel bar the episode before.

David: I bet they could call Duck on the eve of Thanksgiving and he’d have someone. I didn’t find that incredible. But I take Weiner at his word when he says that each season is a self-contained story. Last year, obviously, Peggy left the firm, and then they wrote her right back into the show. But I also think he’s got a plan for season seven, especially since this is the first time he went into a season with a guarantee lined up for the season after.

Aaron: I guess I never heard Weiner say that about the self-contained story. It’s interesting to think about it in that context, though, because for myself, an I think a lot of people, the show is still about this guy who is not who he says he is. I think the first 4 seasons were about the tension of Don getting found out as Dick. It certainly didn’t come up as a major theme this year, though the idea of being yourself or not being who you say you are came up in dialogue a lot. Is the Don/Dick thing not an important part of the story to you? Did you miss that?

David: I think Don’s identity is still the central tension of the show. The stress of living the lie was grinding him down, and I think that’s why he was so low. And this finale was all about Don finally coming clean, or perhaps as clean as he could, which offers us a little bit of optimism heading into the season 7. And so I guess I like feeling optimistic. Do you know what I mean? Do you feel optimistic?

Aaron: I like optimism, and I like the idea that Season 7 will be about Don tying himself together with his past somehow. I don’t like lending the show the credit to say the identity tension was a big part of the last two seasons. That said, there were OTHER people acting like other people this season, so maybe in retrospect they are foil for Don? The burglar, Bob Benson, and, OH SNAP, Sally Draper made a fake ID to buy beer. Did I miss anyone?

David: Betty missed being Betty Draper, albeit briefly, and perhaps more strongly when Sally was in trouble. Manolo was a minor character, but he certainly had a slippery personality. The firm itself had a bit of an identity crisis, both before & after the merger.

Aaron: Identity crisis is totally different than pretending to be someone you are not, though. I never got the sense Don was having an identity crisis except to the extent he would have been in crisis if someone found out his real identity.

David: I disagree! The show is all about America’s identity crisis in the 60s and 70s, and every character’s own crisis (or comfort) with their identity is just an ingredient in that mix. Don was definitely having an identity crisis during that Hershey’s meeting. His gut has gotten this far, for a decade (or more), but something changed in him in this week’s episode and he just couldn’t do it anymore, even after all but winning the work. I know you hate these kinds of theories. I have to say, the rest of the episode didn’t leave me with many questions. I was satisfied with the Ted/Peggy resolution, and it feels like Pete is beginning to come to terms with the mistakes he’s made. Every episode is better with Trudy. Do you think Bob Benson is having a loving relationship with Joan? I think I do.

Aaron: “Well, aren’t you lucky, to have decisions.” Peggy said that to Ted after he told her he’d decided to stay with his family and move with them to California (to get away from Peggy). The night after they slept together the first time (right?). I need to unpack this a little more, but I thought it was a powerful sentiment. It had more to do with Peggy’s career and personal life and gender(?) than just the relationship with Ted.Again, it felt like a big thematic statement, in an episode that full of them, but I need to think it over more. Do you have any thoughts? Any examples where Peggy hasn’t had the option to make a decision? I think you might be getting sucked into the Pete Campbell Sympathy Trap, a trap I fall into every three episodes. But it did seem like that scene with Trudy was a closure of some sort. Why was he going to LA? I could buy Bob Benson marrying Joan.

David: I have trouble feeling sorry for Peggy. She had the big miss on the Rosemary’s Baby campaign, and it was just sad to see her appealing to Ted that way. But at the end of the day she’s the new Don Draper, spiritually even if Duck’s sidekick gets Don’s title. I don’t know why Pete was going to LA. Maybe the cruise ship was docking there? I’m not sure.

Aaron: I thought it was less about Ted, than her frustration with it all. All of it. “The only unpardonable sin is to believe God cannot forgive you.” Is Don starting to forgive himself or something? Or at least come to peace with who he is.

David: I hadn’t thought of that. But certainly that was a fairly low point! And it gave Megan a chance to assert herself, if ineffectually. I am excited to watch this episode again, and that hasn’t been the case with any other episodes this season, for what it’s worth.

Aaron: “The good is not beating the bad.” but also “Well I wouldn’t want to do anything immoral..why don’t you tell them what I saw?” Sally is turning into a little Don, I guess? Did you see the look she gave him after he showed them the house he grew up in? Was it knowing? Forgiving? Is the bad beating the good? Doesn’t it seem like at the very end, the good might be staging a comeback.

David: Yeah, I missed those comments, but that theme was certainly there. I loved that look. Although the little boy eating the popsicle was a funny signifier of “poverty.”

Aaron: Remember it’s Thanksgiving morning, too.

David: Good point, and the calendar is similar to that of Season 1.

Aaron: You want the last word?

David: You should take the last word – because my take is quite pedestrian. We got a classic Mad Men season – slow start, big twist, thick moods that inspire us to care about otherwise unsympathetic characters. I am excited for season 7, and I feel happy for Dick Whitman. You take the last word!

Aaron: Everyone spent the season, and last season, waiting for someone to die, and it didn’t happen. It’s just not how the show rolls. Sure, Pete’s mom, but she was essentially on the show this season so she could die in this episode. I don’t know. Chris and I are both glad these recaps are over for the year, and thanks to David for helping out the last several weeks.

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 13 Recap

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 12 Recap

Mad Men Art

Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates a moment from the episode and I write up a recap. Lately, I’ve been doing the recaps as a Q&A with David Jacobs right after the episode. First some quick thoughts:

-I don’t want it to get buried, but Adriana pointed out the song at the end of the episode was the Monkee’s ‘Porpoise Song.’ Watch the video and let me know of which TV show opening it reminds you.
-“Pretend it’s Ralph Nader.” Nader was already an enemy of the auto industry in 1968.
-“Oh my God, you killed Kenny! You bastard!” Oh, just shot in the face? That’s OK, then.
-“What do you want me to do about it?” I wish someone would make a super cut of Don saying something along the lines of this. It happens a lot, though not as often this season.
-Peggy and Ted were hotter and heavier this episode than any in the past. Like high school kids, actually.
-Like a hooker that accepts Traveler’s checks.
-Don and Megan see Ted and Peggy at Rosemary’s Baby, which is making it’s millionth appearance this season.
-I noticed a few different scenes where the characters went from dark into light. In the movie theater and when Don and Megan got home are two.
-Don flipped on Ted regarding Sunkist/Ocean Spray. I thought it was one of the more interesting moments of the season because of all that went into it. 1) Don and Ted are battling it out for sort of control of the agency. 2) Don is super protective/possessive of Peggy even if he doesn’t himself know why. 3) We got to see super salesy Don again. Nice of him to make an appearance.
-“That’s a dumb idea.” No one likes Pete.
-Roger was really being a jerk about Ken. Seemed a little out of character because while Roger will snip at people he doesn’t like, comment after comment, he doesn’t have an issue with Ken.
-“Thank you, all of you, for having this trust in me.” No one likes Pete.
-“You should watch what you say to people.” Bob gets aggressive.
-Interesting move by Pete to try to get Bob a job and then push him out.
-I guess Bob Benson speaks Spanish pretty well.
-Glen Bishop is a hunk now, I guess. Did you catch Sally’s smile when Glen went after RoLo?
-It wasn’t clear to me, but although I’ve been commenting on the similarities to Pete and Don, Bob Benson is pretty Donish, too.
-“You like trouble don’t you.” Boarding school can’t handle Sally.
-“Your judgement is impaired.” It really was, Ted.
-“You don’t respond well to gratitude.” No one likes Pete.
-“My father’s never given me anything.”
-“He’s not that virtuous, he’s just in love with you.”
-“You’re a monster.”
1969 St. Joseph’s ad.

Aaron:The title of the episode tonight was “Quality of Mercy” and sometimes I lean on the titles as a crutch, often, in fact, so just go with it. Don showed “mercy” on Ted and Peggy during the St. Joseph’s pitch, and Pete showed “mercy” on Bob Benson after finding out he was actually The Talented Mr. Benson. Essentially the show is saying mercy is selfish. Don schooled Ted and Peggy to get hand back, and Pete mercied Bob to keep him close and use him for something. Did I miss any mercy? We’ll get back to both of these, maybe, but basically, the quality of mercy is pretty fucked up right now. I’m having trouble not seeing both these situations as sending the same message: Save people so you can save yourself.

David: This is an echo, of course, of Don taking mercy on Pete in season 1. Now Pete’s doing the same for Bob. Did the boarding school girls take mercy on Sally? Were they the Sisters of Mercy?

Aaron: Maybe. And they were being selfish, too. It makes sense why Pete was protecting Ted and Peggy. Or “protecting.” What are you thinking for Pete’s motives with Bob?

David: You called the Don/Pete parallel all season, by the way, so good on you! Immediately, I was wondering if Pete was laying a trap for Don – but I think it’s nothing so intricate (like the Sopranos, and this episode was directed by another Sopranos alum), the plot points rarely run tricky. Pete could not trust anyone anymore (just Joan?), but now he has Bob. I’m not excited for Pete to travel to Detroit. What will we do without him? He’s our moral compass. I wonder if he’s going to die next episode, or if Weiner was just teasing us with the gun.

Aaron: Pete won’t be missing for long. He’ll go to Detroit on the days the show isn’t taking place. Ken might be the closest you’re going to get to someone dying. You’ve been saying it was going to happen for almost two seasons now. Obviously, I like how Pete played Bob because it was how Don did it when he had the chance. That was a little different because Pete knew Don’s secret and it was more mutual mercy, but Pete’s really having a rough go of it at SCDP these days. Nothing is going his way. Having Bob under his control will allow him to build consensus for his ideas etc.

David: How soon you forget, Lane did die! And there’s just no way you can avoid the death symbolism. It may be the laying-it-on-thickest red herring in history, but it’s there. The closing song, “The Porpoise Song” by the Monkees, is about the band not knowing their place in the world. From Wikipedia: “In the Monkees’ 1968 feature film Head, the song appears at the beginning and the end of the production, when the group’s members jump from a bridge as a means to permanently escape their lives.”

Adriana notes that the Monkees, because they were assembled to consumed as a pop group (which of course is common now), were constantly trying to stretch their careers and performances to appear “real.” And now we know that in addition to Don’s great charade, Bob is doing the same. So I think Pete and Don are both headed for a fall. And of course we’ve discussed before, the Chevy car (probably the Vega) is a bomb, the instant cereal campaign results in a lawsuit, and Mohawk Airlines has an infamous crash in 1969. I was looking for some sort of crisis around St. Joseph’s Aspirin as well but I can’t find one. It’s out there!

Aaron: I guess this is as good a time as any for this question, but don’t you think analysis of the careers of the musicians playing the songs that end the episodes as thematic to the episode isn’t just a little too much? How do you know which performers’ careers have meaning to the theme of the show? The first sentence in this paragraph is horribly worded, so let me rephrase it: Come the fuck on. It’s an interesting connection, but I think the internet isn’t big enough –

David: Stop what you’re doing and watch the video. It’s clearly the inspiration for the opening credits. (I’ll wait.)

Aaron: Fuck. OK. You win this round. But don’t you guys dare do this again.

David: I loved it when Duck said Bob’s resume “might as well be written in steam.” What a wonderful turn of phrase. Does he get the best writing because the writers love him?

Aaron: I loved it when Duck said, ‘So you need an account man?’ and Pete cut him off.

David: Now THAT would have been too far – and they would have figured out how to bring Sal back too, right? Speaking of pleasant surprises, I was so happy to see Glenn. And just as I am annoyed at the idea of Pete & Bob being exiled to Detroit, so I am with Sally being sent to boarding school. It was nice to see Sally and Betty finally connect, after a season of frustrating exchanges. And Betty was play acting a bit in the interview, but he is clearly proud and loving towards Sally in this episode.

Aaron: I really miss Sal, and I honestly keep expecting him to at least make a cameo. I think he did make one at some point after leaving the regular cast, remember that pay phone scene? Or was that in the same episode? Anyway, not that Sal and Bob are the only two gay men in NY, but maybe Bob sticking around makes a Sal appearance more likely. Is that insensitive? Glenn has really improved as an actor and we can finally see how Weiner convinced his son to play a creep for 4 seasons. “Son, son, just listen. You will be reviled for 4 years, but I have an arc that will clear all that up in Season 6.”

David: It’s not insensitive, because Weiner certainly hasn’t shown the same sensitivity around race that we mysteriously have come to expect around gender. But it’s possible that Bob isn’t even gay, he just thought Pete was, and he was playing eager to please? Glenn turned down the role of King Joffrey to be in Mad Men.

Aaron: I’m getting behind. WHAT on Joffrey. I wish he had done it. That would have been two terrible roles by his 16th birthday. Also, he turned down a starring role to be a creep a couple times a season? Also, and this is what I wanted to get to. It’s funny you referred to Betty and Sally as connecting because my note for that scene was about how Betty was completely unable to relate to Sally on any level. Betty is mean and vindictive and Sally is just so over it. She wants to hurt Sally, but can’t resist expressing how excited she is that Sally performed well at the school, and then she offered her a cigarette.

David: Don’t forget that January Jones’ other prominent role of late is the one where she was literally a diamond. So it could be that she all of a sudden became an amazing actress, or that she didn’t obviously relate to Sally because she doesn’t relate to anyone (not even Harry), which is more or less consistent with the last six years of the show.

Aaron: Right, right. Another topic. Don was toeing the Ocean Spray/Sunkist line until he saw Ted and Peggy at the movie. What about that caused him to flip? He’s protective of Peggy, but more of like a platonic daughter, if that makes any sense. I see some similarities to Mrs. Whitman in California. Someone who knew him plain, but was able to see something in him anyway. Peggy doesn’t know about everything, but has seen him low down enough times he doesn’t really need to pretend anymore. That’s why I think Don went after Ted. You?

David: I think he just flipped on Ted at that moment. Peggy had sold Don on Ted as “the better man,” and after Ted saved little Rosen from the war, Don was ready to believe it. But then he saw them, clearly behaving like lovers, not co-workers, and playing hooky from work (again with people being in the wrong place at the wrong time!), he realized that Ted was no better, and that the biggest dollar amount should decide which account they kept. I really do think Don was acting motivated by what he sees as what’s best for the agency.

Aaron: No, you’re incorrect. You’re wrong. This was about Peggy.

David: Tell me more, I am open to this.

Aaron: Don doesn’t care about the business. Doesn’t care about anything. He just wants to win. He was fine letting Ted get his way, until it involved Peggy and then he needed to put Ted in his place and he did it in the most excruciating way he could think of. He’ll make noise about trying to protect Peggy from herself, but I think he selfishly wants to keep his sister-daughter to himself. (Obviously more nuanced.)

David: I can see it, but I’m not sold! I think Don was only thinking about Sally, and that’s why he was a little distanced. But the whole Peggy plot was a little off to me. I don’t buy that Peggy would go after this bad ad. She must know it was over-budget, and not a great idea. And she was going on dates, etc., so she is clearly over the stabby hippy.

Aaron: That’s another thing that bothers me. Since when did he start caring about what Sally thinks? You think that’s why he’s so low down at the beginning and end of the episode? Agreed also on Peggy knowing enough to know the ad would be over budget.

David: I do. Because you can’t hide from what Sally saw – remember, his kids don’t know his true identity. To them, he was still the straight man (in his mind, obviously Sally has seen hints of bad behavior before). But now she’s caught him in a big lie, and he did his best to talk his way out of it, and he couldn’t. I can imagine that being devastating!

Aaron: Before Pete found out Bob was a fraud, Bob got up in his face about leaving him alone. Any idea where that came from? Caged rat?

David: Yeah, no idea. I’m not sure how thought out all those little details are. It could have just been his reflex, a way to show a hint of his true self?

Aaron: Yeah, I wish stuff like this didn’t happen. Over and over this season, hints like this happen in the same episode for which they’re useful. In season’s past, I feel like this type of detail would have come out 5 episodes ago, and then again last episode. Same with how we’re supposed to believe Don is madly in love with Sylvia. Some viewers more careful than I have noticed some inconsistencies in Bob’s life story all season, but he’s never gotten aggressive.

David: We talk about this pretty often. And often you’ll say, “It was just a setup episode,” or “they’re going to get back to this,” or “maybe they didn’t get to finish this idea.” Maybe this is a setup season? We know there will be season 7, and we (Mad Men fans) all think that the Summer of Love is going to be huge for the Draper clans. It could be Weiner knew he wasn’t going to be canceled mid-stream (a la the Killing) so he just decided to do 26 episodes as one thematic arc. And by that account, we’ve seen quite a lot.

Aaron: That could be, I guess. Well, actually. It doesn’t address my point at all, but I agree with what you’re saying. If they want to hint Bob isn’t for real, they can’t hint it 15 minutes before they reveal he’s not real. It’s too convenient. That’s what happens on ER. I expect more from Mad Men.

David We’ll find out next week? Well, all of these brief glimpses of emotion (like Bob’s aggressive streak, Joan’s resentment towards Don, Sterling’s consideration of his own mortality) could be setups for next year. Well, they did hint at Bob’s plot, since as you note some of the facts he had shared about his life were inconsistent.

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 12 Recap