Mad Men Season 7 Episode 5 recap

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

Episode title: “Runaways” – The Stephanie and Sally/Bobby stories seem to fit.
Date of episode: The only clue I could pick up was a reference to Eiesnhower’s funeral which was on 3/31/1969. But… We knew last week’s episode was after April 18th, so, not super helpful.

This was my favorite episode of this short half season. A lot happened, and there was a vintage Don power pitch.

Despite a two year contract, Lou’s got his dreams of comic stardom, despite his comic being a rip off of Beatle Bailey. The gang finds his drafts, and, since they don’t respect him, they… are disrespectful. “You know who had a ridiculous dream and people laughed at him?” “You?” Some on the team think Lou wanted them to see the comic. It’s possible. The relationship between Don and Lou is toxic. Lou is so threatened by Don, he doesn’t take kindly to any of Don’s attempts at making the best of it. Don really does seem to be trying, but Lou is too insecure to do his part. “I’m not taking management advice from Don Draper.”

Anna Draper’s niece calls Don from the shadow of the Capitol Records building, pregnant, with nowhere to go. Don wants to help and sends her to Megan’s to wait for him. Initially, Megan is happy to help, calling to mind how good she is with Don’s kids. Then there’s a big change when Stephanie says she know’s all Don’s secrets. “I know all of his secrets.” “But you don’t know him very well.” It’s possible there was an underlying tone to Don and Stephanie’s call, and when Megan told Don she didn’t stay, Megan made a comment about how “she got to the money quickly” (did I make this up?). This didn’t seem to surprise Don at all. That said, I didn’t really feel like Stephanie was only after money. Also, was Stephanie’s headband was another reference to Sharon Tate, or are the Mad Men/Manson Murder conspirarists crazy?

Don and Megan seem to be better than before, don’t they? When Don calls her, Megan is happy to hear from him, and she happily agrees to help out his beautiful, pregnant niece. This, before jealously freaking out and paying her off to leave. As mentioned in the paragraph above, Megan appears to flip out when she realizes Stephanie knows Don’s secrets, too. I know Megan knew some/all of the Don/Dick Whitman story, but I don’t remember if we knew how much she knew. And I can’t remember if we knew she had Anna’s ring. Megan bringing her friend into the bed struck me as trying to do something, anything to keep/make Don happy. Was this Don’s first threesome? Doubt it.

“Things are falling apart here, too.” Betty is bored and cranky, like a tiny baby. Henry remains too good for her and trapped. Driving all over the state to take care of Sally because her and Betty can’t be within a foot of each other is stepdad of the year material. The fight this time around seems to be about Betty thinking Henry thinking Betty is stupid because she doesn’t quite understand how to be political. The company line was Nixon was looking for a way to get out of Vietnam, but maybe that hadn’t filtered down to the base yet. In any case, Bobby has “a stomach all the time” and remains the sweetest kid. “It’s a nose job, not an abortion.” Betty’s comments about Sally’s injury did sound like she was referencing an illicit abortion. Sally remains pretty disdainful of Betty, essentially saying she’s nothing without her beauty. “Where would mom be without her perfect nose?” It’s possible Betty is showing a shred of maternal concern, misguided as it is: If Sally’s not beautiful, she won’t have any options. Sally doesn’t buy it. Henry’s stuck in the middle. “I’m tired of everyone telling me to shut up. I’m not stupid.” “Let me check the sterno.” One thing I forgot to mention, did you notice how no one bothered to tell Don about Sally’s nose?

“It’s just a computer!” In Greek mythology, Cassandra had the gift of prophecy, but the curse of never being believed. “What am I, Cassandra?” Ginsberg is having a mental breakdown and he’s focusing on the computer as the main driver. The computer is making him gay. Or something. I don’t know, right now, if this was just Ginsberg being Ginsberg, or if there’s deeper meaning to him going crazy. We’ve all seen Seven, so we knew there’d be something in the box we didn’t want to see. Because cutting his own nipple was telegraphed, this wasn’t on the level of British executive getting his toe cut off with a riding lawn mower, but it was still pretty cray. I also liked the subtle hint that Peggy’s Saturday night plans consist of watching tv with her young upstairs neighbor, Julio.

Which leaves us only with Don. He’s doing the work Freddy told him to do, instead of walking out on Lou, postponing his trip. Peggy is still lording it over him, for some reason, which maybe I’ll have to rematch last season to remember out why. Once he finally shows up in LA, who should he meet but Harry Crane (whose name I’ve probably spelled 15 different ways in these recaps.) Harry’s tune toward Don has changed somewhat since last season, and as Don gets Harry drunk, and flatters him, he finds out Lou and Jim are pursuing a tobacco client… for some reason. What’s unclear is how they’d plan to get rid of Don if they did land the business. You might recall Don’s “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” ad in the NY Times. The Philip Morris team certainly does. Somehow, after landing in NY on Sunday, Don finds out about Jim and Lou’s Monday morning breakfast at the Algonquin. It took me a second time watching that scene through to realize why I liked it so much: It’s the first of Don’t great pitches we’ve seen this season. The pitches have gotten more and more scarce over the last couple years, so when we get a good one… In any case, he was pitching himself this time around, and I think he was successful. Either SCP won’t get the business, and he’ll be fine, or they will get the business and Philip Morris will insist on him being a part of the team. It infuriates Lou and Jim because they know that, too, and part of this gambit was bringing on new business which would force Don out.

Credit music: Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line by Waylon Jennings

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 5 recap

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 4

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

Episode title: “The Monolith.” Monoliths are either large blocks of stone or monuments, or “advanced machines built by an unseen extraterrestrial species” from Space Odyssey. Maybe Don’s the block of stone and the computer is the advanced machine?

Episode date: Around April 18th, 1969. Don was reading a newspaper with a headline alluding to Nixon’s announcement that planes surveilling North Korea would have protection. This, following North Korea shooting down a spy plane on the 15th, killing 31 crewmen. Don’s been back at SCP for 3 weeks making the timing of episode 3 around April 1st or so. I couldn’t find any clues last week. Lastly, the Mets did win the game Don wanted to go to with Freddy.

At the beginning of the episode, Pete runs into a former client/colleague from Vick’s. He found out Trudie’s father had a heart attack, illustrating how out of touch he is with his forner life. He also gets the opportunity to pitch Burger Chefs, a chain founded in the 50s that rose to 1050 locations through the 60s before starting to crumble. Something with a heyday in the 60s not doing so well against new competition? You don’t say.

Harry Crain is getting his computer, but for some reason, it doesn’t make him any less insufferable. I must have missed the episode where he did something remarkable to think so highly of himself. In any case, the computer is taking over the former creative lounge and the creative team is (rightly?) spooked. I’m not sure how a computer is supposed to take over for creative, but try telling Ginsberg that. “The other one’s full of farts.” “They’re trying to erase us.” It’s obvious the computer is a metaphor, there’s even the line of dialogue, “These machines can be a metaphor for whatever’s on people’s minds.” Later on, there’s a conversation where Lloyd is explaining the difference between his company and IBM. It’s dripping with symbolism and references to Don. IBM is selling the always new. Lloyd is more trusting of the older machines, more willing to let them hang around and keeping doing their job. “They have a great product, but they don’t trust it.” SCP used to do things the old way and Don fit in. Now they’re pushing the new, new, new, so maybe there’s no room for him anymore? There was more to the conversations between Lloyd and Don, but there was so much, so fast, it was hard to keep track. It was basically a conversation about human vs machine, art vs science (counting stars), and old vs new. Once drunk Don returns, he tells (paraphrasing) Lloyd his company doesn’t need an ad campaign because he’s got the new, what everyone wants.

Normally, I’d wait until the end to note the song used in the credits, (On a Carousel by The Hollies), but it seems extra important to me. This is the second reference in two weeks to ‘the Carousel scene,’ a Kodak pitch Don crushes. (Last week was Ken Cosgrove telling Don he always thinks of him when they go to the carousel.) I wouldn’t say this was the last time Don was on his game, but he sure was firing on all cylinders then. “Do the work.” Freddy’s pep talk sets Don right. Maybe we’re to see this as him realizing he’s got a long way to go to come back. Maybe I need to watch last season again to see how bad it got for Don and SCP, but it’s hard for me to believe Don would get knocked this far down. They clearly didn’t want him back, but I’m not sure they would have made Lou privy to that. I don’t know. My brain’s a little scrambled on this. And just to give Freddy his due. He recognizes what Don has and that he’s throwing it away. He sees the partners are messing him and he tells Don to mess with them right back by doing the work. Super short, but great scene.

“Let the man be a man.” Lou gives Peggy a raise and then makes her deal with Don. This gave us a chance to see the unlovable Peggy, the one who forgets what Don did for her. I guess she doesn’t owe him anything, but would it have killed her to be less smarmy? I don’t recall Don being unfair with her (too often anyway), so I’m not sure why she handled it the way she did. Especially because, as she discussed with Joan at the end of the episode, she clearly knew they were trying to make her deal with Don because they couldn’t. “They” being the partners in this situation. Joan’s probably right, though, in thinking the partners probably didn’t think about it at all. That said, Lou definitely did. Don’s death stare when Peggy gave him the assignment to come up with 25 tags was amazing with a capital ah.

Don finds the pennant Lane bought for his son (I think) during a visit at some point. As Bert Cooper gleefully points out, Don is back and in a dead man’s old office. Lane’s a ghost, and they expect Don to be one soon. It’s pretty messed up! Bert wants him gone so badly he’s not even interested in the opportunity of the new business Don developed. I’m still confused about the implications of Don’s partnership status and the new stipulations. Not confused, more like concerned. I know Don will be OK, it just seems crazy it would be so easy for the partners to kick him out. I shouldn’t feel sorry for him.

Lastly, Roger, Mona, and Margaret. I’m sorry, Marigold. Margaret has run off to a hippie commune. For years, we all thought it’d be Sally experiencing the late 60s for the sake of the show, but instead, it’s Margaret. She runs off to a commune leaving her son behind. It’s an interesting juxtaposition because Roger’s been expanding his own mind lately. Something flips for Roger when Margaret sneaks off in the middle of the night. Not sure exactly what the trigger was, but he tells her she needs to come home, and she says I learned it from watching you, dad, I learned it from watching you. There was something funny about the car ride with Roger and Mona where Roger mentions the last time he saw Margaret she was cruel, serene, a little bit philosophical, and Mona seems to agree, “I thought she was happy.”

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 4

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 3

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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

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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

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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 1 and Episode 2 recap

Don Draper astronaut by chris piascik

Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates a moment from the episode and I write up a recap. This season should be an interesting one for the flash recaps as my wife and I are expecting our first child to be born sometime between now and Episode 3. There will still be illustrated recaps on a weekly basis, but from time to time, they may be written by someone other than me.

-That was a startling fade in. Who did you think it was going to be getting resuscitated? I thought it was clumsy how they eventually came back around to that scene, maybe too quick of a cut from present to flashback. Almost certainly on purpose as they do. Jonesy the door guy had a heart attack or something and after being resuscitated by Arnold Rosen, was back at work when Don and Megan returned home. Rosen asks, “Jesus, what’s his real name?” and maybe Don imagines himself dying without anyone knowing who he is.

-Before the premier, there had been plenty of speculation about when this penultimate season would take place. There is every year Part of the speculation is because people want to know how far the show will get into the 70’s. Part of the speculation is because Matthew Weiner guards the timeline of the season so jealously. So everyone was right. We’re about to be in 1968. (The first heart transplant, joked about on the Tonight Show, was in October 1967.) You get your Summer of Love, the assassinations of MLK and RFK, and coming up at the end of January, the Tet Offensive. At least ONE of those things will be featured this season.

-Just a quick catch up on where everybody is at the moment. Don and Megan are a few more months into their marriage, and Megan is a regular on a show called To Have and To Hold. Betty is a little heavy, though not as heavy as last year, and her and Henry have taken in a ward of some sort. Sally’s 14, and has a deeper voice. Bobby is, again, played by a new actor. Roger (sideburns!) seems smitten with a 29 year old, and Peggy is busy putting out fires. We didn’t get an update on Pete (except for his sideburns and continued hairline recession) or Joan.

-The problem with titling an episode ‘Doorways’ is that every single doorway in the episode takes on monumental importance. On the other hand windows, doorways, elevators have always had lots of importance on Mad Men. Here are a couple of the more memorable doorways: Betty tearing her coat on a hook in the doorway of the house at St Marks, Don and Megan coming in after vacation, Jonesy coming out of a doorway, Sally closes the door on Betty.

-Don was reading Dante’s Inferno on the beach in Hawaii. Dante, you may recall, passes through the Gate of Hell (a doorway), which has the inscription, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Heaven and Hell, or fire and ice, were referenced several other times in the show: Hawaii is like Heaven, Jonesy “checking the steam,” Betty getting pulled over because it was so icy, Roger’s daughter wanting him to invest in refrigerated trucks, “Heaven’s a little morbid” during the pitch.

-Don’s watch didn’t work when they were on the beach because time literally stands still in Hawaii. If you want to be like Don and Megan, you too can stay at the Royal Hawaiian.

-Don met a PFC Dinkins on R&R from Vietnam who was in Hawaii to get married. “You some kind of astronaut?” “One day I’ll be the man who can’t sleep and talks to strangers.” Somehow Don ends up giving the bride away, and they exchanged lighters it’s revealed during a scene where Don was peeved at being photographed. The lighter had the inscription, “In life we have to do things that are just not our bag,” which has actually never applied to Don. Exchanging the lighters really shook Don, as if the two of them had exchanged lives. The photographer says, “I want you to be yourself,” and obviously this is difficult for Don. (Eugene Dinkin was a PFC stationed in France. He went AWOL in Nov 1963 and showed up in Geneva talking about a plot against JFK. Just an aside.) In 2003, Phil Kline researched the poems GIs inscribed into their Zippos and included the ‘not our bag’ quote above. That phrase wasn’t on the internet anywhere else until last night.

-The Francis house is always, always so dark, and all the scenes from this week were no exception. I guess it would be dark if you had to live with Betty. I’ve been writing this next sentence for 15 minutes and I am moving on. While, Betty graphically details a rape she encourages Henry to commit of a 15 year old girl staying with them her eyes have this crazy look. The look says, “I’m kidding, but not really, Henry, I’m jealous of this violin player, don’t don’t get any ideas and I don’t know how inappropriate talking like this is because I’m a sociopath.” But then also, “It makes me feel so much.”

-Roger’s in therapy this year, which replaces dictating his book as the device to just let him expound on everything and anything. He mentions the doors and paths and windows and gates, but says they’re all the same, and they all close behind you. He hardly reacted to his mother’s death, but sobbed when he found out about the shoe shiner. Sort of a cliche, but I’m OK with it for the glimpse into the real Roger. “Talk to Joan, she’ll know what to do.”

-“I smell creativity.” Stan and Ginsberg are still there, along with another dude and another woman.

-Glad to see Peggy playing a big part. She’s pitching clients (or calming them down in emergencies), and still coming up with good copy. “You’re good in a crisis.” We already knew that, Ted. One thing I noticed was both Abe (he’s been around a while now) and Ted subtly mentioned Peggy’s management style. Abe said she shouldn’t be so mean, and Ted said she should have let people go home. I can’t decide if this was done to show that Peggy’s over her head (unlikely), or to show she’s sort of clueless about how other people work. She works tirelessly and expects her bosses not to sugarcoat things, so why doesn’t everyone? I like how her and Stan still work late together over the phone.

-“This is my funeral.” It was as if Roger was throwing a party, not a funeral. I’m don’t know why Don got so drunk at the funeral, but he started to lose it it when Roger’s aunt emphasized the word “Wit” and “Man” in her eulogy. “Roger Sterling, no matter what you do, everyone loves you.” Roger thought it was hilarious his mother left all her money to the Zoo and someone else can leave a comment below about the significance of the jar River Jordan water.

-“So, you’ll still love me if I’m a lying cheating whore?” Don’s cheating. Again. This time with the (older?) wife of his new friend, Arnold Rosen. (Did you see the look on his secretary’s face when Don introduce him as a friend? Like, “Uh, you don’t have friends.”) Don feels bad about the cheating, but it hasn’t stopped him yet. The two men, Draper and Rosen, are fascinated with each other’s professions. Rosen said something like, you get paid to think about the stuff people don’t want to talk about, and I get paid to not think about it. “Please don’t compare what I do with what you do.” Rosen made several comments comparing their two professions and Don kept avoiding it. People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety.

-But anyway, Don’s cheating again. He does his best work when he’s brimming with self-loathing, so that’s good for Sheraton, I guess. I can’t imagine we’re back to self-destructive Don, since we’ve already seen that, or maybe I just hope we’re not back there. I guess more on this next week.

-The part where Don asked Stan if the ad made him think of suicide and Stan saying that’s why he liked it.

-A brief mention of Bob Benson, a new ass kissing character to keep an eye on.

-There were a lot of different references to photographs/pictures this week: The slide show of Hawaii (itself a reference the carousel of the first season), Rosen came to get a camera, the firm’s partners being photographed, Betty showing a picture of the missing girl.

It did snow in NYC on 12/31/1967.

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 1 and Episode 2 recap

Game of Thrones stretching television’s story telling ability.

Television critics have discussed how cable shows like The Wire and The Sopranos showed how television could be like books in the storytelling and character development. Scott Meslow joins Alyssa Rosenberg to discuss how Game of Thrones might be pushing the envelope on the novelization of television, or how, at least, Game of Thrones might be too much book to effectively transfer to television. I just finished book 3 and 4 of the GoT series, and… There are a lot of new characters and stories. Where as the story of the Starks and Lannisters might be enough to fill several seasons of television on their own, the GoT series actually contains at least 6 or 8 other stories going on by the end of book 4. I really liked this thought: “Sprawl, for good and ill, is a characteristic of books in a way that it never can be of television.”

Now, obviously Martin’s books have been released on a cycle that by the standards of television look leisurely. But they’re also able to give much more space to each character—sometimes for good, sometimes for ill—unconstrained by the production budgets, writing, production, and editing cycles, and standard length of a television episode that inevitably provide structure to the show. That means he writes a fair amount of digression and worldbuilding into the books, but also that he’s not bound by anything except how many pages his publishers can bind into a single volume, and even then, if he’s got to spill over into more volumes, they’re going to be nothing but happy. And those digressions, and the amount of time it takes to read the books, just give readers more hooks into the stories, the characters, and the settings. Sprawl, for good and ill, is a characteristic of books in a way that it never can be of television. I’m not saying that means the books are better than the show. But I do think that they expose some of the irreducible differences between reading and watching television once you reach a certain scope.

Via @tcarmody

Game of Thrones stretching television’s story telling ability.

All the 30 Rock #longreads

I loved 30 Rock, so I’m sorry to see it go. I had forgotten NBC launched both 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip at the same time, which definitely couldn’t have helped either show. This fact was brought up in almost all the articles below. I really enjoyed reading through these articles.

Wesley Morris on identity politics:

TV became overwhelmingly white, again. Mostly black shows, like 227 and Amen, were largely stressless havens, free of racial and social upheaval. That comfort continued to swell in the 1990s with shows like Living Single, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Family Matters. (Fox had the blue-collar black family on Roc, but it might have been too real; it lasted only three seasons.) Most of these shows took the wrong lessons from The Cosby Show and its black-college spin-off, A Different World, the two most important shows about black life in the history of television. The former took lavish pride in blackness and the black middle class. The latter offered an absorbing survey of the many ways to be black. But each show could also be watched, respectively, as a universal half-hour about a large, loving family and as a resonant dramedy about the ups and downs of higher education. Not seeing blackness in either show meant the writing was generous enough to permit you to see past it. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Family Matters were more insipid shows that nonetheless managed to further normalize a black middle class, while characters like Carlton Banks and Steve Urkel followed the cool nerdiness of A Different World’s Dwayne Wayne and further expanded the parameters of who else a black male could be.

But the problems of race and racism were shuttled off to cop procedurals and courtroom dramas or were being fought on nascent daytime talk shows and reality stunts like the alarming first two seasons of The Real World. 30 Rock turned a sharp corner on the depiction of those conversations. It’s useful to remember that the show debuted in the fall of 2006, right before the cancellation of Aaron Sorkin’s terrible Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, whose setting was a sketch comedy show that was too proud of all the positions it took to be funny. That show resulted in nearly two dozen episodes of awkward self-misunderstanding. It was like watching a horse try to ride a man.

The Alec Baldwin moments in this Rolling Stone look back are great, but also:

For Fey, the biggest triumph of 30 Rock is its very survival: the unlikely persistence of a show sufficiently unhinged to use blackface on three occasions; to have Jane Krakowski’s monstrously narcissistic Jenna Maroney consummate her self-adoration by marrying her own male impersonator; to have Elizabeth Banks’ Avery Jessup kidnapped by Kim Jong-Il as an unfortunate consequence of NBC’s “Hot Blondes in Weird Places” initiative. “I feel like we made a lot of good episodes of the kind of show that usually gets canceled,” says Fey. “The kind where there’s 20 episodes and ‘only me and my hipster friends know about it.’ That part’s still true. But we made 140 of them!”

What’s really crazy about 30 Rock is its sheer verbal velocity – punch lines go by so fast that even smart people may need to rewind (an industrious blogger calculated that a 2010 episode averaged 9.57 jokes per minute). “It requires you to pay attention in a way that you don’t always want to at the end of a long day,” says Fey, “and I get that. I’m a professional comedy worker, and there would be days when I’m like, ‘I love Arrested Development, but I don’t want to watch it right now.’?

The NY Times on Tina Fey:

“30 Rock” was modeled on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in many important ways, except for its heroine. Liz was not a goody-goody perfectionist like Mary Richards, or, by her own admission, Ms. Fey herself. Disciplined, ambitious type-A’s can be comical, as Ms. Moore, and later Candice Bergen, the star of “Murphy Brown,” proved. But Ms. Fey, who was the first female head writer of “Saturday Night Live,” chose as her alter ego a dumpy sad sack who just happened to be the head writer of a late-night sketch comedy show.

She created deliciously absurd characters like the silkily self-possessed network executive Jack Donaghy, played brilliantly by Alec Baldwin, and the insane comedian Tracy Jordan, played by Tracy Morgan, by grafting familiar show-business phenotypes onto those actors’ inner nuttiness. Ms. Fey borrows shamelessly from real life, except when it comes to her own success. It may be that she plays against type because she is uncomfortable with the deadly earnest role of trailblazer. But she is one.

Alan Sepinwall calls 30 Rock “one of the best comedies ever on television, about television.”

Where “Studio 60” struggled in part because it kept failing to convince us that its own fake “SNL” was a dazzling work of satire, “30 Rock” very quickly abandoned any pretense that “TGS” was supposed to be good — or interest in “TGS,” period — and (to paraphrase one of Liz Lemon’s favorite works of literature) in so doing, became a more powerful satire than we could have possibly imagined. It was a show about television, but by ceasing to be about a specific television show, it gained license to be about everything.

“30 Rock” could be wince-inducingly precise in its take on racism and white liberal guilt (in one episode, Liz mistakenly assumes Tracy is illiterate; in another, she struggles to break up with a boorish guy because he’s black). Through Jack Donaghy, the show ruthlessly lampooned the excesses of corporate America and our nation’s deeply dysfunctional political system. And through Liz, time and time again, “30 Rock” smartly — and always in a humorous context, so it never felt like a lecture — analyzed the struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated profession, and world. (Even last week, the show was still finding new jokes on the subject: Jack starts listing trailblazing women through history like Amelia Earhart, Joan of Arc and Diane Fossey, then stops to observe, “Boy, women who try to do things sure get killed a lot.”

How 30 Rock lasted 7 seasons from Deadline.

Carlock was referring to the DVR audience not watching the show live and NBC including the data in the overall sample. “If you look at us solely in terms of traditional measurement, no way do we stay on for seven years without something else going on,” he believes. “That overnight number clearly isn’t almighty. If it were, it makes no sense that a show that’s as expensive as we were would stick around as long as we did. We had to be making people some money.” Indeed, some years it seemed 30 Rock and The Office were the only things keeping the lights on at NBCUniversal, given the creative and viewership quagmire in which the network found itself. “We were either the wrecking ball or the repair crew,” Carlock surmises. It’s also noteworthy that the series grew to become a reflection of NBC’s woes in more ways than one, with its spoofing of the real-life NBC merger with Comcast in the fictitious acquisition on 30 Rock of NBC from GE by Kabletown. So not only did the show survive; it did so while chowing down on the network hand that fed it.

The AV Club also notes the Mary Tyler Moore similarity:

So is it the best final season of an American sitcom ever? Not entirely, but the fact that it’s even in the conversation—and after seeing tonight’s excellent finale, I’d easily put it somewhere in the top 10—is a mark of how far Fey and her writing staff have brought the show from its darkest days, back in season four, when it occasionally seemed like the series had lost the plot entirely. What’s been so great about this final season of 30 Rock is that the show has now lasted long enough to pull off something that hasn’t been done in TV in a long time, mostly because TV comedy has been in such dire straits this last decade: It’s deliberately constructing the “end” of a sitcom story, a final season that closes a bunch of storylines fans didn’t even realize they were invested in, pulling back in loose ends from the whole run of the show. And when looking back at the history of that particular TV phenomenon, it’s useful to go all the way back to a show 30 Rock has often been in conversation with: The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

A love letter from Gawker.

The central concern of 30 Rock is this: People don’t understand each other. That’s the basic structure of jokes—person one says something, and person two hears something different—but it’s also a philosophical problem. Two people, both speaking English, supplemented by body language, converse, yet their actual meanings remain inaccessible to one another. Over the course of the show, Liz Lemon gradually realizes that almost no one around her comprehends her. There is an irreducible distance between her and everyone else. (Writers may sense this problem more acutely than other people do.)

Vulture collects all the 30 Rock listicles. All of them.

All the 30 Rock #longreads

Mad Men Season 5 Episode 6 recap

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

Well, shoot. If there were any date related references in tonight’s episode, I missed them. Did you see any? This was a weird, weird, weird episode. I’m still trying to work everything out. Two of the scenes (Roger and Jane, Don and Megan) in the episode lasted way longer than the series’ scenes normally do, or rather the story lines weren’t interspersed with other story lines like normal. Additionally, chronology of the episode was jumbled. Coupled with the variation of shots last week, I can only come to one conclusion: They’re messing with us! I don’t know if the way the story is told is supposed to be instructive, but there are definitely changes to how the show is presented this year. Have you noticed any other stylistic changes?

-The episode titles are now a crutch for me, so let’s just get it over with. “Far Away Places.” Everyone is traveling somewhere, and even Roger and Jane are tripping. Just a literal list of pieces from this episode that refer to the title, Don and Megan going away, Roger and Jane tripping, Cooper saying, “Everyone has somewhere to go today,” Ginsburg talking about being from Mars, the way Abe and Peggy talked about the literal distance between their homes (‘Come all the way up here to make love’) instead of just come over, Megan talking about Howard Johnson’s “It’s not a destination, it’s on the way to someplace,” taking a bus back after the fight, and Don being on ‘Love Leave.’ To a certain extent, the theme of Heinz pitch was a trip, kids off somewhere else. More abstract, Peggy is far away from where she wants to be professionally. I’m getting the feeling that everyone in 1966 was terminally unhappy because clearly, they all want to be somewhere else. Pretty sure that the movie Peggy went to see was Born Free, a film about a British couple who raise a lioness in captivity and return her happily to the wild. I bet I could write only about how the movie relates to Mad Men, but I’m not gonna! I will say that the lioness could refer to 3 or 4 characters on the show.

-Oh, Peggy. Her and Abe are fighting because she’s distant, working too hard, trying to be Don (professionally at least). “You sound like my dad.” Abe compares Peggy to his dad and it’s interesting because Peggy is striving toward being accepted in the world of men, but Abe has pretty much given up on it already. I don’t know if I was supposed to take that as seriously as I did, but it struck me. She goes into the pitch prepared, and somewhat confident. Stan calls Don blowing off the meeting a vote of confidence, and it is. I read somewhere that Don’s unique ability is being able to sell his ideas to clients. The ideas are good to great, but his ability to make the client think they’re great is what sets him apart. Tonight was Peggy’s Kodak Carousel moment, using nostalgia and fond memories to sell a product. But the angle doesn’t fit perfectly with a can of beans. It seemed the client was on the fence, and instead of guiding him over, Peggy knocked him down the wrong side. “And your words are always, “I don’t like it.” And then she was off the business. She celebrates by going to the movie theater, smoking dope, and jerking a dude off. Oh, Peggy.

-I thought the scene with Don and Peggy on the phone was a dream, and there have been a few other scenes like that this season (to say nothing of Roger and Jane tripping). And it was here where the chronology gets a little screwy. I didn’t take great notes on the chronology, because I didn’t expect to be watching Madmento (Madmento!!!! I slay!), but until I realized what was happening, and after the LSD party scene, I thought Don’s call meant something had happened to Roger. So we see Don take Megan. Peggy pitches and goes to HJ Cinemas, falls asleep on the couch, wakes to Don’s frantic call, Roger and Jane go to the party and trip… Then after that I can’t remember. In any case, they showed Don taking Megan at least twice. WHY! Why would they do this? What does the disrupted chronology mean to the storyline? Simple answer is everyone’s life is always getting disrupted.

-Ginsburg is from Mars. He claims the man he lives with is not his father. At first I thought this might be true, but the more he kept hitting the alien thing, I think he was being figurative. Peggy doesn’t think it would be possible for him to have been born in a concentration camp, but at least chronologically, it’s possible. Peggy caught him twice having a conversation with his father, first on the phone, and then when as the father wanted to use the photocopier for his “case.” Is he a crackpot? Peggy was high during the ‘alien’ conversation, probably taking it more seriously than she would have normally. “Are there others like you? I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find any.”

-1966 ritzy New York LSD party! Woo. A study of things that are true and not true and on and on. “It’s a myth that tracing logic all the way down to the truth is a cure of neurosis.” Who is normally trying to trace logic? Who is neurotic? It doesn’t sound like this profound bit of dialogue refers to any of the characters, but maybe it’s instructive in the sense that figuring out who all these characters really are will result in any understanding of their actions. This was a funny scene. “Dr Leary, I find your product boring.” Roger not feeling anything until hearing music when opening the vodka bottle, and then imagining he was at the 1919 Black Sox World Series (frauds like him). Roger and Jane’s breakup was remarkable in it’s peacefulness. I wouldn’t have expected him to give up knowing how much it was going to cost him “It’s going to be expensive”, so either he’s been supremely inspired by Don’s happiness, and/or business has been improving. “Are you leaving me?” “We’re leaving each other.” “I don’t know German.”

-“Dawn I need you to get me out of everything.” I don’t know much what to say about Don and Megan’s fight except the trip started off on the wrong foot. Megan is trying to establish herself professionally and Don’s not honoring that. I don’t think he minds her working, but I think he didn’t really expect her to want to work. She’s only 5-10 years younger than Betty, but she’s got a completely different mindset, at least at the moment. Also, there’s no way this scene would have worked if everyone had a cellphone. Eventually she would have picked up. The flashback to coming home from last September’s California trip, when they were happiest, to them lying on the floor after a semi-physical fight, paraphrasing, “Every fight we have diminishes this a little bit.” Megan is going to keep pushing back, and it’ll interesting to see how Don reacts. At least tonight he was contrite.

-The fight also gave us an opportunity to see the layout of their apartment, which is huge.

-“I have an announcement to make. Today is going to be a great day.” It seems like people on the show are constantly making announcements. I think Pete’s used the phrase at least twice. Don and Megan at the end of last season. Lane last week.

-Bert Cooper tells it like it is, Don has been shirking work to hang with Megan, and I’m curious to see what the result of this conversation is. I still wonder what Bert’s role in the office is besides talking about the oncoming scourge of socialism. And he still doesn’t have an office. Maybe this is it. Keeping all the others in line. Was he a creative before turning into management? I don’t think I can see that.

-And no Betty again. Or Lane. Or Joan. Or Pete past that line. Joan and Betty at least were more central characters last season, but they’ve been somewhat replaced by Megan. On the other hand, they’ve both had shows where their storyline was primary.

What did I miss?

Mad Men Season 5 Episode 6 recap