Mad Men, Season 7, Ep. 2, “A Day’s Work”

(This post contains spoilers).

The depiction of the workplace in a television show has an obvious pitfall – the routine workday is typically a mundane experience. Where a series like Mad Men succeeds is in its depiction of office politics and how adversarial relations and rivalries have intended – and unintended – consequences.

The episode begins with Don at home, sleeping in until after noon, and dressing only because Dawn is coming off to drop off the “office intelligence” she has been leaking to him in his absence (officially, she is meant to be taking care of some of his business). The only company Don has is the television and his customary whiskey bottle. At one point, he sits in a chair eating Ritz crackers from a box and looking a lot like the sad sack he’s threatening to become.

In the office, Peggy continues her descent into becoming Don Mark II. Mistaking her secretary Shirley’s flowers for a bouquet sent to her by Ted, Peggy takes umbrage that Ted would do such a thing – having initially taken liberty to assume that the flowers were even for her. Ultimately, Shirley tells Peggy the flowers were really hers, at which point Peggy throws another strop, culminating in her asking Joan to find another place for Shirley. Joan has already had to reposition Dawn following another strop on the part of Lou and isn’t in the mood for Peggy’s demands. Sensing Joan’s frustration, Jim Cutler – trying to get one over Roger – tells Joan she should take the free account man’s office upstairs and vacate her own. Taking his advice, Joan assigns Dawn her old office. Having begun the episode a seeming victim to Lou’s pathetic behavior and then moved from reception because Bert doesn’t want an African-American to be the first SCP employee visitors see, Dawn succeeds in getting a promotion to the heart of the agency.

Dawn and Shirley’s exchange in the breakroom early in the episode, where they call each other by the other’s name cleverly highlights the racial politics of the SCP office, typified again by their silence when one of the white secretaries enters the room briefly. Teyonah Parris as Dawn is terrific in this episode, especially with the little smile she allows herself as she settles in to her new office. Matthew Weiner has shown that sometimes historical advancement is quite accidental. Dawn was hired initially because Roger Sterling thought it would be funny to place a paper ad mocking another agency’s involvement in a racially related incident and describing SCDP as an equal-opportunities employer, only for a series of prospective African-American employees to file into the agency’s offices, resumes in hand.

Peggy’s behaviour has caused misgivings among some commentators concerned that her failure to balance career with personal life is a slap down of the type of progress seen in respect of gender equality in the ‘60s and that Matthew Weiner should be more careful in how he depicts Peggy.  Mad Men is a show in which the characters can be rather unlikable at times and Peggy as representative of an entire generation is a token, not a character.  In any case, Peggy’s frustration is the result, to a considerable extent, of her being undermined at every turn by men, personally or professionally, and that is more a reflection of them than it is of her. I still hope it all comes good for Peggy, but would I be surprised if it doesn’t? No.

Pete’s relocation to California looks more like a dislocation in this episode. Last week, Ken Cosgrove insisted, referring to the firm, ‘this is a hierarchy,’ but out in the “Wild West,” there is no place for hierarchy among the pioneers, as Pete’s new girlfriend, realtor Bonnie Whiteside reminds him: ‘We’re salesmen, our fortunes are in other people’s hands. We have to take them.’ So Pete’s complaint to Ted – ‘no one feels my existence’ – is less relevant in California than it was back in New York, where logical step followed logical step, as far as Pete was concerned, resulting in him getting his just rewards. In California, Pete’s going to have to make it on his own.

The other major strand of the storyline concerns Don and Sally. Stranded in the city after attending a funeral, Sally visits Don’s office, only to find Lou sitting where Don should be. She makes her way to Don’s apartment and when he does arrive, she allows him to lie to her that he was in work. A phone call from a panicked Dawn tells Don that Sally knows the truth and on the drive back to her school, Miss Porter’s, Sally and Don get in a row in which she references her catching him in flagrante last season.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10154065738180327&set=vb.140731500326&type=2&theater

The scene is just another of those Mad Men scenes that blows the viewer away. Matthew Weiner must not be able to believe his luck that casting Kiernan Shipka has paid such dividends. There is a fissure of energy any time she is on screen and in this episode she is breathtaking in her depiction of a typical teenager, half-articulate, with emotions half-formed and just wanting to shut the conversation down rather than confront her father’s lies until she is left with no choice but to do so. Reconciled to an extent, Don and Sally end the episode with her telling him ‘Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.’ So, someone has told Don they love him – no strings attached – they love him, with all of his flaws.  Don may remain rather glacial but the look on his face suggests the ice is beginning to crack.

Loose notes:

  • ‘Keep pretending, that’s your job’ – Dawn to Shirley
  • Clearly, sunny California does not equate to Sunny Ted.  In response to Pete’s protests over his treatment at the hands of New York, Ted says ‘Just cash the checks. You’re going to die someday’
  • Bonnie Whiteside’s career focus unsettles Pete.  Can he keep up and learn to accept a woman as his equal?

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture

Eleanor Roosevelt

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

494px-Eleanor_Roosevelt_portrait_1933

This work is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1963 and although there may or may not have been a copyright notice, the copyright was not renewed.

“We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Uncategorized

True Detective

Season 1 of True Detective has to be one of the most disappointing endings to a series I have seen.

Writer Nic Pizzolatto would want to brush up on Chekhov’s gun before he finishes Season 2 of the HBO show. As the great Russian dramatist and author wrote: “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” In the case of True Detective, a wider conspiracy, not to mention a mythology, that was more than hinted at came largely to nothing in the end. If someone is going to throw a red herring into the mix, then it better be subtler than the “Yellow King” and “Carcosa.”

Pizzolatto has suggested that he wanted to write a story that could be enjoyed and interpreted as a plain old crime drama or as something with deeper meaning and the first few episodes were sumptuously laden with Southern Gothic, with added menace.  But the plain old crime drama – with all the clichés of the genre – took over.

There’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned crime drama, but hinting at something deeper and then having such a lack of follow-through seems nonsensical, in the mind of this viewer at least.  Pizzolatto acted as showrunner for the series and he could do with studying how the likes of David Chase, Matthew Weiner, Vince Gilligan and Alan Ball have done it.  I’m willing to think he might have overstretched himself and assumed too many duties.  I’m also willing to think Pizzolatto, as a first-time writer for television, was hesitant to point the show in the directions it hinted at.

It’s disappointing that the final two episodes of True Detective were so poor.  Using Townes Van Zandt’s “Lungs” over the closing credits of Episode 7 was a plus (the use of Townes Van Zandt is always a plus) but the music choice is hardly sufficient to rescue an episode.  The dark versus light conflict that ran throughout the eight episodes descended into cheap sentiment at the end of episode 8.   In some ways, the series had a lot going for it. Director Cary Fukunaga brought a real vision to his direction, adding to his reputation (his version of Jane Eyre is stunning). As the leads, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey were terrific.  But, ultimately, a lack of conviction in the writing let it down, badly.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Culture

Henry David Thoreau

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

435px-Henry_David_Thoreau_1862

This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Personal

Mad Men, Season 7, Ep. 1, “Time Zones”

(This post contains spoilers).

‘Do you have time to improve your life?’ asks Freddy Rumsen, speaking directly to camera as Episode 1 of Season 7 of Mad Men begins.

Season 7 opens in January 1969, two months after Season 6 ended, and poses a familiar question “time may change but can people too?”  The opening scene sees the welcome return of Joel Murray as Freddie Rumsen, pitching a brilliant idea for Accutron Watches to Peggy. Freddie’s eyes give it away as his gaze nervously switches from the camera, but it’s only later that we discover the work isn’t his – it’s Don’s. Worryingly, for Peggy, she changes Don’s slogan to sooth her own ego. It’s worrying because Peggy is being undermined at work by Don’s replacement, the dull and by-the-numbers Lou Avery, and her confidence is shot to pieces as a result. Don, and subsequently Ted Chaough, may have made life very difficult for Peggy at various times, but they at least believed in her.

Where is Don at? Still lying, apparently, to others and to himself. He flies to Los Angeles to visit Megan, who has moved there without him, and we quickly learn he hasn’t told her he’s on leave from work. So Dick Whitman in his role as Don Draper is using the identity (and person) of Freddy Rumsen to hawk freelance work to ad agencies, including his own, while at the same time lying to his wife about ever having been suspended from work. In Season 6, Ep., 7, “Man With A Plan,” Ted told his dying business partner Frank Gleason what he thought about Don – ‘He’s mysterious and I can’t tell if he’s putting it on.’ Well, the mystery part has all but evaporated following his big reveal in the Hershey’s pitch, but Don is still putting it on.

Nonetheless, work matters to Don. It also matters to Peggy. Work also increasingly matters to Ken Cosgrove – the all-American writer-in-waiting is now overwhelmed with accounts.  And it also matters to Joan, whose ability to turn bad into good is nicely showcased in this episode when she appears to rescue the Butlers Shoes account, at least for the time being, having been dispatched by Ken (even though she is the partner) to meet Butler Shoes’ new marketing manager because such a move would be beneath Ken – ‘this is a hierarchy.’  Joan knows exactly how she is viewed by men, yet her persistence in rising above the fray is beginning to pay off.  Peggy is far more frustrated with work, though, and winds up yelling at Stan ‘You’re all a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with shit. Nobody cares about anything.’  She could almost be Don!

In the episode’s final scenes, Don watches Richard Nixon’s inauguration speech with its lines ‘We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit… We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfilment.’ That’s about as good a summary as is possible of the lives of some of Mad Men’s pivotal characters as the final season begins to unfold.

Loose notes:

  • Roger really is the ‘gif that keeps on giving’ – this time using the telephone as a fig leaf
  • Pete may be acting like a hippy, according to Don,  but he is still a square.  Don, with his 1960-style suit, is hardly one to judge who and who isn’t a hippy
  • Ken still has the eye patch he acquired after being  accidentally shot by trigger-happy GM executives in Season 6
  • As Tom and Lorenzo point out in their excellent Mad Style review, Peggy’s navy-blue dress, featuring a row of military-style buttons, evokes Mary Richards.  There the comparison ends, for now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture

Soulmates

I came across the following lines in a book, Be Happy: 170 Ways to Transform Your Day, by Patrick Lindsay, and although I’m not generally one for sentiment, the lines struck me as being something more genuine than that, not least because they do not overlook the hard, but rewarding, work that goes into making a relationship work:

“To have a soulmate, you must be one.  It’s usually a natural selection: soulmates find each other. But you must be receptive.  It’s a beautiful, rewarding friendship, with a strong spiritual element.  It can’t be manufactured or forced. To find yours you must look outwards, not inwards.”

The lines also reminded me of something I read in another book, Thanks For The Tea, Mrs. Browne, a memoir published in 1998 by the late Phyllis Browne, whose husband, Noël, the one-time health minister, did much to reduce the threat from tuberculosis in Ireland and was behind the controversial Mother and Child scheme that effectively brought down the inter-party government in 1951.   Writing of her relationship with Noël, she says:

“I believe that just because you are married, you do not own your partner.  We did not believe that either of us had to change our ways to please one another; we were both free souls, yet fortunately wholly dependent one another.  What one lacked, the other supplied. We thrived like plants in each other’s garden.”

2 Comments

Filed under Personal

Great Pop Songs: Sabotage

Sabotage was the first single taken from the Beastie Boys’ 1994 album Ill Communication.  A rapcore number – combining traditional rock instruments with turntable scratches and fuzz-bass guitar – the song is perhaps best remembered for its accompanying homage video, directed by Spike Jonze.  Rolling Stone ranked the song #480 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and it features a notable scream out of its breakdown from Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, who at that time felt deep frustration with the behaviour of paparazzi.   There is a driving force, a relentlessness, about the song, matched by rather than overshadowed by Jonze’s adrenaline-filled video.  At college, no one had a clue how to dance to it, but Sabotage was a floor-filler every time.

Beastie Boys were white rappers for sure, but they weren’t trying to pretend to be black.  Instead, they brought their own punk sensibilities – having started as a hardcore punk band – to bear on hip-hop, for which they had a profound respect and of which they had deep knowledge. I remember (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!), from debut album Licensed to Ill (1986), being the only record of my youth that my parents expressed absolute disgust at, which, of course, made it all the more exciting. Paul’s Boutique, the 1988 follow-up to Licensed to Ill, was not particularly well-received in commercial terms on release, but is seen in retrospect as a seminal hip-hop album, owing to its heavy use of sampling and intricate multi-layering.   The band was to the fore in the development of digital sampling in rap.

The band’s long-term future remains uncertain following the death in May 2012 of Adam Yauch, who used the stage name MCA.  The other surviving member of The Beastie Boys, with Horovitz, is Michael Diamond (Mike D).

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture