Monday, July 28, 2008

mad men, second season opener review: guest post

once again, i'm so happy to have another of pat's reviews to post. this one, especially since she is a big fan of the series mad men (and i guess now we should slip in women? thanks to peggy's modest promotion? - but i'll leave the commentary to her). she actually watched the preview of this episode last month, but was under strict orders not to give away any details until it actually aired last night! in the meantime, she wrote up a brief summary of season one, which is now part one of this post!

so for mad men fanatics, head straight over to part two! otherwise, sit back and enjoy a great read - even if i do say so myself!


The Beginning of Mad Men's Second Season


Okay, so I'm addicted to Mad Men. Everyone gets addicted to something, even a little bit. Even if it's a mild, or short-lived, or harmless addiction, it's still something that you put aside everything else to do. I have to admit, though, that I did not expect to get addicted to it, back four or five years ago, when my college roommate Linda told me, over a lingering lunch in lower Manhattan, about what her husband Matt was working on. I was a history major in college and am a huge JFK fan, so the concept of setting a television show back in the 1960s appealed to me. And I vividly remember seeing and hearing how excited Linda was about it, so I figured it had to be good. I just wasn't sure that I would care too much about a bunch of ad executives who drank too much, had affairs and were always making sexist comments (that's all I remember about the basic concept back then).

So here I am now, enthralled with the show. I am going to try to make this short (or at least short-ish) and punchy. Here goes!

Part One - A look back at the first season

Below is a little synopsis of what you need to know about Mad Men, in broad strokes, without the finesse and polish with which Matt tells the story. Bear in mind that I am writing this off the top of my head, so some of the details might be a little off. Still, it's just to give you the gist of the story. Anyway…

Don Draper, our "hero," sort of, is a 36-year-old guy who had a rotten childhood. He was born "Dick Whitman," the son of a prostitute and a married man. The prostitute died during Dick's birth, so the boy was taken in by his father and the father's wife. When Dick was young (maybe 6 or 8?), his dad died and his dad's wife got remarried to a nasty man. Don was raised as the son of these two "sorry" people but treated really badly. Dick's younger brother worshipped him (I think). When he was a young man, maybe 18 or 20, Dick joined the army and was sent to Korea. There, he was sent on a mission with a commanding officer named Don Draper, who was killed right near Dick and was badly burned. Dick watched the man die and switched dog tags. Voila, he is now Don Draper, and the dead man is Dick Whitman.

Don is assigned to deliver the dead body of "Dick Whitman" to Don/Dick's family. Don does not want his family to know he is alive, so he allows another officer to speak to his sort-of mother and father while Don stays back inside a train car, watching the scene. Don's little brother looks up into the car and, seeing Don, yells, "I see Dick! I see Dick!" The little boy's parents don't see Don and so assure the little boy that Dick is dead, in the casket.

At some point, probably in about 1952 or so, Don meets Betty, who is a model in NYC. Don is doing advertising for a fur company and woos Betty by giving her a fur coat. In a New York minute, Betty is pregnant and Don proposes (or maybe it was the other way around). They end up having two kids, first a girl (is it Janie?), who is about 8 years old during the first season, which is set in 1960, and then a boy, who is about 5 years old.

In Season One, Don is balancing his career as an ad executive at Sterling Cooper and his love life, which consists of two affairs and his relationship with Better. Don is initially cheating on Betty with a woman who is a free spirit, sort of a beatnik, or a beatnik-to-be. Don is not in love with her, but enjoys her company until he realizes that she is actually in love with a younger guy she is spending a lot of time with. Don soon moves on to a businesswoman who owns a department store and is a client of Sterling Cooper. Don is supposed to charm her to get her business, but they end up connecting emotionally and he opens up to her, telling her about his childhood and contemplating a life with her, somehow.

Meanwhile, over the course of Season One, Betty comes to realize that Don is cheating on her. She seems to be pretty clueless until the last episode, when her best friend cries on her should about how her husband is cheating on her. Betty finally puts it all together and realizes what Don is up to.

Back at the office, Don's boss, Roger Sterling, who is married and has one teenage daughter from whom he feels estranged, is having an affair with Joan, the head secretary. When Joan goes away for the long Labor Day weekend, Roger and Don pick up two women who were auditioning for a job at the agency and Roger fools around with her in the office, late at night. While having sex with her, Roger has a heart attack and almost dies. Almost immediately, he has some sort of epiphany - - that he loves his wife - - and, a few weeks later, breaks it off with Joan. (Joan, by the way, spend Labor Day with her roommate, who confesses her love for Joan in a ladies' room. Joan coolly ignores this major revelation and goes on with her life as if the roommate had never said a word about it.)

If Don is our male hero, then Peggy Olson is our female hero. She starts out Season One as Don's new secretary from Bay Ridge. She is quite prim and proper. Or so we think. On her first day - - or at some point during her first week - - she has a back-and-forth with slimy Pete, a young ad man who is obnoxious and sexist and about to get married. On the night before his wedding, he goes out to a bar with his work pals and is rebuffed by a woman in the bar. Drunk, he shows up at Peggy's apartment and she invites him in. The next thing we know, the office receives a postcard from him, recounting the fun he's having on his honeymoon in Niagara Falls. As the show progresses, Pete sends mixed signals to Peggy. Early one morning at the office, Peggy and Pete have sex. After that, Pete treats Peggy like it never happened, and she somehow has to get through the day, seeing him everywhere.

Meanwhile, Peggy's career is skyrocketing. She and the other secretaries all participate in some in-house testing of many lipsticks for "Belle Jolie," but Peggy does not try any lipsticks. When she notes that the wastebasket filled with lipstick-smeared tissues looks like a "basket of kisses," her phrase is picked up by some mid-level ad men, who realize that she has an ear for good advertising writing. When Don learns about Betty's idea, he lets her write the copy for the Belle Jolie account. The next assignment Don gives her is to come up with a campaign for a weight-loss product that is actually a vibrating belt. (That is one of my favorite episodes! Both she and Betty have "highly stimulating" moments! As time goes on, though, Peggy is gaining weight and the "boys" in the office make fun of her. Pete, who still seems to like Peggy but does not show her, gets angry at a male colleague when he jokes about Peggy's weight.

Don, meanwhile, is flailing around in her personal life. His younger brother tracks him down in NYC, but Don tells him that he wants nothing to do with him. Don gives the brother a ton of money, and then the brother mails Don a package. Unfortunately, Pete gets the box instead, opens it, and seeing tons of photos of Don as "Dick," with his family (and the brother). Pete confronts Don with this information and accuses him of being a war deserter and switching identities with another man. Pete tries to blackmail Don by threatening to go to the head of the agency, Cooper, with his information. Don calls his bluff and goes to Cooper's office to inform him that he (Don) has chosen another person - - not Pete - - for an opening as Don's right-hand man (the guy they hire is someone named Duck). (Actually, this could be a little off… anyway…). So Pete tells Cooper about Don's true identity and Cooper has an unexpected reaction. "Who cares?" he says. And Cooper honestly doesn't care who Don really is, as long as he does his job.

The final episode of the season ends with, among other things, Peggy feeling sick at the office, going to the doctor, and being told she is pregnant. When she has the baby - - apparently within hours (or days?) - - she refuses to hold it.

By the way, Matt and Linda's son Marten has a role as Glenn, the little boy of Betty's neighbor. I love the last episode, where Betty pours her heart out to Glenn, who can't really understand why Betty is sad, but offers her his little hand, in a cute mitten, in sympathy.

Well, I have gotten off track here.

Part Two - The second season opener

Now, …. Finally…. Here's a little about the first episode of Season Two, which aired last night at 10:00:

All the women are more confident and feisty. Betty goes horseback riding while Peggy, who was made a copy writer at the end of Season One, is talking back to Don in such a way as to prompt one of the art directors to exclaim, "Peggy!" to keep her from getting in trouble. Don likes Peggy, though, and appreciates her ideas. Joan is "over" Roger and has moved on to another man.

Don and Betty's marriage is on the rocks. In fact, Betty does a lot of lying in this episode. When she and Don meet for drinks at a hotel lobby on the night of Valentine's Day, the viewer doesn't really know if she and Don still live together or are meeting for a date. In the lobby, Betty doesn't realize that an old college roommate that she sees there and speaks to is a call girl until Don points it out to her. But the next day, she tells her friend Francine about the incident and implies that "Don agreed with her" when she noticed that the woman was a call girl. Also, after seeing the call girl, Betty and Don go up to the room and begin to fool around. Betty announces that she has "come prepared," and, while she is changing her clothes, talks about how she didn't expect her ex-roommate to be a prostitute. Somehow, all her talking seems to ruin the mood for Don, for even though Betty is wearing sexy lingerie, Don can't "perform." She tells him it's okay, that they have all night, but then it becomes clear that they are just going to order up food from room service. Rather than allow Don to order a BLT for her, she takes the phone from him and orders a petit filet mignon. Treating herself, I guess, since Don can't. Then she and Don watch Jackie Kennedy on television, giving a tour of the White House. The next day, talking to Francine, Betty says that she didn't see Mrs. Kennedy's tour because she and Don were too "busy" (in bed). A few days later, Betty's car breaks down and she is rescued by a tow truck operator, who will fix the car's fan belt for $9.00. Betty doesn't have enough money to pay for it and refuses to allow the man to put the charge "on account" because she doesn't want Don to find out about the repair. Betty then begins to flirt with the mechanic and makes a "bargain" with him, seemingly implying that she will give him some sort of sexual favor if he fixes her car for just $3.00. When he fixes her car, she hands him the money and he grabs her hand and holds it tight. She pulls it away and makes it clear that nothing more is going to happen. He walks away, realizing that there will be nothing else from her. When Betty arrives home, she lies to Don about why she is late.

The biggest surprise of the episode, though, is that Peggy comes back to the office and no one knows that she has had a baby. The viewer has no idea what happened to the baby. All we know is that Peggy seems to be hardened. Now that she is one of the boys, and not a secretary, she has a gained a lot of confidence, and a bit of arrogance. When asking Don's secretary if she knows where Don is, Peggy is initially nice enough, but then turns around is quite mean to the secretary. Presumably, she is teaching the secretary the same lesson that Joan taught her - - never reveal any personal information about Don to anyone - - but Peggy does it in a way that we later learn has driven the secretary to tears.

Enough about the plot! The mood and music and feeling of this first episode is incredible. No one is relaxed or comfortable. Change is coming to the ad agency in the form of younger men to draw in youthful customers. Don doesn't seem happy at all, and seems to be searching for something or someone. He is not really connecting to his family or his work. At one point, he makes a typical pitch and says "Blah, blah, blah," as if he himself knows that is all baloney. Pete can't get his wife pregnant and doesn't seem to be very interested in her sexually (at this point, anyway). The fact that Joan is with another guy has made Roger jealous, but Joan doesn't seem to care. Peggy seems on edge and cool to everyone.

So, what can I say? I loved this episode! I can't wait for more! It's on AMC, Sunday nights at 10:00! Watch with me!

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