Posts tagged ‘Mad Men’

April 25, 2014

What the Accutron Watch Ad in the “Mad Men” Season 7 Premiere is Really About


The final season premiere of Mad Men was a risk, steeped in ambiguity. It either cooled the temperaments of the show’s highly enthusiastic fan base, beginning a cynic’s countdown to an inevitably underwhelming ending, á lá The Sopranos, or wetted appetites by generating anticipation for answers to all the questions “Time Zones” posed, like: Do mad-men-season-7Megan and Don Draper have any shot at complete reconciliation? Can Peggy and Joan stand toe-to-toe with their male counterparts? And what the hell is going on with Roger Sterling? The episode was bookended by appearances from a fringe character, Freddy Rumsen, played by the third-most-recognizable Murray, Joel. He pitches an ad for Accutron watches to Peggy at the beginning, and thanks Don near the end for all the great ideas. Don’s still trying to get his life back in order with seemingly mixed results—he’s not drinking much, if at all, and Megan hasn’t completely given up on him, though he gets very tempted by a lonesome woman on a redeye. However, Don’s ego won’t allow him to completely remove his foot from the door of Sterling Cooper & Partners, at least, not for very long. It’s hard to blame him though, and the Accutron commercial clearly answers the question about the state of Don’s creative prowess. But when one is forced to self-reflect the way Don was by his partners, that alone time can easily provide abundant inspiration.

Through the voice of Freddy, as the ad instructs, Don wants people to “pay attention,” but to Don himself, once again, for the watch commercial is an anonymous plea to SC&P to bring him back. It stars a young Don who has turned back time to his “late twenties,” when he was “shaggy, with a youthful colic.” It’s “the beginning of something”—Don’s early days in the industry—, as he’s vaguely referred to as “a businessman.” The “food in [his] teeth and ashes on [his] tie” joel_murray_as_freddy_rumsen_a_lportray his innocence, and the fact that he has little to contribute to the meeting shows his ignorance. But the hero in the ad is “inter-esting” and has the potential to “improve [his] life,” as evidenced by his fine taste in timepieces. Don stands out to the “contemporary” Steve McQueen figure—a prospective client—and is ultimately able to engage in a “conversation” with him. After all, Don is wearing a Swiss watch that is “accurate [and] the height of design and tech-nology.” We’ve seen from Don, Roger, Pete Campbell, and others that nailing down a client is almost equal parts ability to comm-unicate fresh ideas and simply being likable. (Think about all those meetings over drinks at a restaurant or nightclub.) So, in the ad, young Don proves useful to the “white-haired” and “boring” higher-ups at the firm because McQueen, not only relates to him, but also admires him and his watch. Don desperately wants to return in to SC&P and is aware that, despite his talents, he won’t be accepted until he can be a resourceful asset once again, much like the young Don in the commercial that rocketed to the top of the firm.

The Accutron pitch to Peggy is a timestamp as well. Season 7 opens a few months after Don was forced to take a leave of absence. Megan has been able to establish a residence in Los Angeles, Pete has made up his mind that the West Coast is the best coast, and Lou Avery has made himself comfortable in Don’s office. But, most importantly, the commercial’s content indicates that Don has considered his journey, from his humble beginnings to the destruction brought on by his hubris. The shot of freshly shaven Don on the movable walkway in the airport symbolizes progress. Because Freddy has been in close contact with Don, and has been the beneficiary of Don’s professional, creative renaissance, he can admit that if it were his decision, Don would be in the office once again. This implies Don’s close to getting back in the door at SC&P, but there’s more due time required before the doors of a more personal nature are thrown completely open. For now, he has to settle for access to just his frigid balcony.

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June 25, 2013

The Last Don: On the Season Finale of “Mad Men”


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It’s not easy being Don Draper.  Megan is seemingly about to leave him.  He’s as distant from his kids as ever, to put it lightly.  And the agency that tabbed him as creative director is turning its collective back to him.  Let us not forget though, Don brought this upon himself, committing personal and professional suicide throughout this booze haze season.  His unrelenting efforts to control women and men around him have severely backfired and we’re only left to wonder for at least a year if he can recover.

Many critics pointed to Don’s Royal Hawaiian campaign as a foreshadowing of Don’s self-inflicted demise.  He’s still breathing, but the Don we’ve come to know and hate-to-love has, at least for the moment, ceased to exist.  Don couldn’t ascertain what the shortcomings of his dreamt up Royal Hawaiian ad were.  “Always make the client feel good,” they say, and Don failed, er, royally at that by using such morbid death imagery that proved to be prophetic.  It was the beginning of the end.  Don couldn’t see what was coming: a de-tenuring of his continuous, masterful grip on those around him and the makings of a real-life personal hell for the man.

The symbolism of Don’s reading of “The Inferno” has come full circle upon the season’s closing episode, exhibited most conspicuously when he’s asked if he is “Going down?” by fill-ins Duck and Lou Avery.  Don’s been doing just that over the course of 1968 (along with the rest of the country).  His levels of descension have been marked by the loss of control he has had over others.  First it was Sylvia, just as he thought he had optimum jurisdiction over her body.  He gave in to Betty’s yearning for attention by sleeping with her.  Then Sally saw the kind of man he really is and she wrestled free, at least as much as a burgeoning teen girl could.  At work, Don fought an underhanded war with Ted, one in which Don was clearly the villain.  Don surrendered there, but that was only a preview of the blows that were about to reign on him from the other partners in retaliation for his perceived disinterest and more recent implosion witnessed by potential top-notch clientele.  And after flip-flopping on California and thus Megan’s immediate career path, an act that established new heights of selfishness, Don hit rock bottom when Megan couldn’t stand his gall any longer and walked out of their condo.  The Betty Case aside, which was already a broken relationship, all of these instances feature Don ceaselessly taking advantage of the blind trust people had for him.  They’ve all broken Don’s sleeper hold now.

The very last scene when Don takes his three young ones to the site where he grew up is a symbol of hope though.  He’s been at rock bottom before, and on more than one occasion.  The barely-standing childhood abode before them on a sunny day is proof of that.  The look on Sally’s face when Don tells her what they’re standing in front of reads of a reluctant admiration for her father’s resiliency.  It’s going to be hard for her to complain about much from here on out, so that was an easy first victory for Don on his road back to being in the driver’s seat.  He’s looking to sober up and everyone at the firm respects Don’s talents far too greatly for them to completely give up on him yet.  Don may have lost Megan, but he once lost Betty too.  The question is not whether Don will find another woman or not, it’s if he can be with one for the right reasons and not treat her like a child’s plaything.  That would indicate he actually learned a thing or two from his season-long personal realization of Dante’s classic.

April 8, 2013

Why Don Draper of “Mad Men” Can’t Stop Cheating


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At the close of last night’s Mad Men Season 6 premiere, Don Draper reveals his New Year’s resolution to his latest mistress, saying “I want to stop doing this.”  Sylvia, Dr. Rosen’s wife, says she knew that to be the case.  However, Don’s use of pronouns, and absence of therapy sessions, paves the way for fun viewer speculation as to what exactly it is he wants to stop doing.  Better still, there can be discussion about why he, apparently, lowers himself, and periodically feels twinges of guilt.

Taking a Freudian approach, delving into Don’s sketchy, but unfortunately turbulent backstory is a necessity.  The women in Don’s life have been disappointing him, literally, throughout his entire life.  His mother, a prostitute, died while giving birth to him.  It’s difficult then to lay blame for Don’s issues at his mother’s feet because she certainly didn’t choose to abandon him; however, it was repeated to him on many occasions throughout his childhood that he was a “whore child,” so, even from beyond the grave, his mother’s character was a nuisance to him.  Abigail, Don’s stepmother, must not have been so wonderful to Don either because when Don is informed of her death from stomach cancer, he says to his half brother, the bearer of that news, “Good.”  Therefore, by the time he was a teenager and joined the army, Don’s positive experiences with women were likely minimal, if there were any at all.

In Betty, he found someone as childish as she is beautiful and, for a time at least, he could control her.  After years of infidelity, Don finally proves to be untrustworthy when Betty learns of Don’s prior identity as Dick Whitman.  The staggering truth that Don is a man Betty doesn’t know-a reality that any woman only minutely more aware than Betty is would have seen years prior-is finally too much for her to bear, and she files for divorce.  Rapidly, in Don’s eyes, the best thing about Betty, her immaturity, becomes the most infuriating aspect of her personality as he tries to navigate his new life as a single father.  Betty uses their children to control Don, making it increasingly difficult for him to be an effective, even loving parent.  In short, Betty becomes an incredible irritant to Don, just like his mother and stepmother.

Don tells Peggy towards the close of Season 5, “You help people, and then they move on.”  This was soon after Peggy had left Don’s firm where, under his tutelage, she’d learned all her advertising trade tricks, but, at that point, Don was really referencing his wife, Megan, and not really trying to impose guilt upon Peggy.  He checks himself and quickly insists to Peggy that he is indeed proud of her achievements.  In the case of Megan, Don was feeling duped because in his former secretary, he thought he’d found another woman he could control.  But when she gets the acting bug in her, he’s combative and tries to restrict her pursuits.  Turning over a new leaf, Don gives in, hopeful that he can still find comfort in someone so independent, and he lands her the gig in a commercial that his very own firm was producing.

mad-men-jessica-pare-jon-hamm-season-6-premiere-amcTo Megan’s credit, she looks intent on balancing her career commitments with those that come with being in a marriage.  For instance, she appears genuinely upset that she can’t attend Roger’s mother’s funeral, an event that Don, as a partner of Roger’s, would most certainly have to attend.  Don says he doesn’t mind, which also comes after he seemingly restrains some internal frustration at her newfound notoriety during their Hawaiian trip.  So, despite Megan’s best efforts to be a good wife, Don’s anxious anyway.

Don cheats on Megan because he expected her to be a disappointment to him.  Now, because she is doing her own thing as opposed to sitting at home waiting for him to arrive for dinner, Don’s bailing.  His current swing into infidelity is the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  All of the women in his life, his mother, step mother, Betty, and, though they weren’t a couple, even Peggy, have been a source of some varying degree of angst for Don.  It’s virtually impossible then for Megan to keep Don close, for Don’s just been waiting for a reason to leave her all along.

Don’s “first wife,” Anna, is the lone exception.  They had “an understanding” and “it wasn’t romantic,” he tells Sally in Season 5.  Anna was nice enough to allow Dick Whitman to go on living as Donald Draper and, when he asked her, nice enough to divorce him too.  Don struggled with her untimely death and now only speaks fondly of her whenever he must to the few people, all women, in his life who even know of Anna’s existence.  Anna could be an illustration that there is a section of Don’s character willing to turn itself completely over to one woman.  However, it might already be occupied by Anna, a dead woman whose entire presence in Don’s life, as someone who allowed Don to do whatever the hell he wanted, was a positive one.

So, as Don reads Dante’s book about “you know where,” to quote Roger, he’s pausing to actually reflect on his sinful actions.  Don doesn’t just want to stop sleeping around, he wants to thwart his reemerging tendency to sabotage relationships with women.  Perhaps it’s because Megan is proving to be simply a better woman than Betty  as she makes a concerted effort to not let Don down, despite wanting to achieve her own personal goals.  Or it could be that Don has matured and finally grown tired of the intensity that comes with cheating, the very thing that for years could have provided him with a thrilling rush of excitement.  Whatever the reason for Don’s potential enlightenment, the root cause of his behavior goes back quite a ways, and it’s a bit unsettling to think Megan, through no fault of her own, could experience some painful days if Don can’t figure this all out.        

October 28, 2010

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner to Narrate “Mad Men”…


***Spoiler Alert for those who have not seen Seasons 3 and 4 of Mad Men***

Mad Men has built up quite a following over the course of its first four seasons.  And why shouldn’t it?  It’s about the drama that permeates the private lives of the rich and absurdly attractive.  (Sound familiar?) We love the stories with the backdrop of the 60s – a racy, yet somehow simpler time.  We follow the characters – devilish or not, they’re hot.  But the critical acclaim that the show gets is a byproduct of its depth of themes, and it’s as much about the ascension of African Americans as anything else.  Who better to tell that story than Blacks themselves?

Now, I must apologize, dear reader, for having to focus a lot of my attention on Season 2 and on the character who was in the running for “Biggest Douche on the Show,” Paul Kinsey, because he, in exercising his exceptional talents for douchebaggery (Yeah, you can use that), spends the bulk of his bearded face time in that season with Sheila, his black girlfriend.  Kinsey’s body is such a safe haven for douche that when the partners ditch the Brit-owned office at the end of Season 3, Draper and Co. leave him behind.  Shit, they even bring Pete “I Knock Chicks Who Aren’t My Wife Up” Campbell with them!

But I digress.

One of the opening scenes of the Season 2 premiere quickly establishes African Americans as potential narrators, sympathetic figures, even voices of reason.  Joan is trying to decide where in the office to put the tremendous new copy machine.  In front of the black delivery guys, she seeks the counsel of the girls, with Kinsey, shoehorning himself into the conversation as well.  After Paul humanely exits the shot, Joan turns her attention to one of the men charged with setting up the monstrosity.  He kindly, sincerely says, propelling blacks into a positive light, “I’ll try as many places as you want.” And throughout the series, African Americans like him are looming in the background, performing their service work without any complaints or grudge.

We see maids, floor buffers, and, quite prominently, elevator operators.  In the same episode, Don Draper is in an elevator with the operator and two other white guys from some other office, who are having a nasty talk about recent female conquests.  They continue even when an older woman gets on, but Don breaks it up by telling one of the jerks to take his hat off.  The elevator operator certainly couldn’t stand up to the white men due to his status, so Don’s the hero here; however, the black man has born witness to the impure side of the white, dominant race.  Much of the same occurs at the 30-minute mark of Episode 6 when Pete Campbell, while riding an elevator with his wedding band prominently displayed, irrefutably hits on a blond model who was at Sterling/Cooper, hoping to get ad work.  Half of the operator’s body is in the shot, as if to point out that blacks are always present, but not entirely noticed – nor appreciated.  As Pete and the blond leave, the operator is back in the shot, eyeballing each.  The next scene is of Pete laying the girl, taking advantage of the notion that he could get her a job.  Again, we have been privy to what a black man has seen and we don’t like it.

Sigh.

Kinsey, the Douche of Montclair throws a house-warming party for himself in the opening scene of Episode 2.  (On the way in, Campbell’s wife gives an example of her likability when she says to Pete, “I have no problem with Negroes, I’m just worried about the car.”  M-hm.)  In a desperate ploy to sell to his own friends and coworkers the façade of someone with stellar depth of character, Kinsey has moved outside of Manhattan, grown a new beard, and has taken up smoking a pipe.  Worst of all, we see him simply use Sheila as a billboard for his apparent counterculture affiliation.  In introducing her to Joan, Paul calls her his “baby,” and I do believe I heard an ever-so-slight hint of a put on “black-cent” there too.  To prove her worthwhile of his time, this monger of douche is compelled to promote the fact that Sheila is “saving for school” while working as a grocery-store checkout girl.  Joan offends Sheila by saying that she was surprised that Paul was so “open-minded,” but in another example of self-restraint, the black woman only retorts with a compliment of Joan’s purse.

Later in the season, the 9-minute mark of Episode 10 to be exact, Kinsey tells Sheila in the middle of the office that he is going to put off going to Mississippi to register new, black voters with her because he has to go to Los Angeles for a “convention,” saying that he’d rather be “yelled at and maybe shot at” after he goes to California.  In trying to smooth things over, Paul walks Sheila into the famous elevator and is greeted by the black operator with: “Hello, Mr. Kinsey.”  Without skipping a beat and in quite an earnest tone, El Douché de Leche says, “Hollis, please; it’s Paul,” as if he’s told him a thousand fucking times.  Then, Paul goes out of his way to introduce Sheila as his “girlfriend” to Hollis.  Hollis has never heard Mr. Kinsey, or anyone else for that matter, implore him to use a first name in addressing a passenger.  But he graciously nods his head and smiles, going along with the rouse.  Then, Hollis is lucky enough to hear Sheila give it back to Kinsey a bit by asking him: “Did you ever really plan on going down south?”  His phoniness shines here because Kinsey’s response (“Why can’t it wait?”) is coupled with him pointing out that Sheila can get a job at any supermarket, any time, but he, of course, “can’t just walk into an ad agency.”  So, clearly, there is little genuine interest on Paul’s part in taking the trip.

Wonderfully enough though, Draper declares that he is traveling to California in Kinsey’s place.  After a fair amount of pouting, Paul gives in and, while on a bus jammed with black protesters, we marvel as he audaciously proclaims that in advertising, “the consumer has no color.”  Upon his return to Sterling/Cooper, Kinsey says, “I think we really made a difference.  And it was the adventure of a lifetime.”  Quickly, Krane highlights that Sheila dumped him three days into the trip.  Unfortunately, but understandably so, it took heading to the deep South and a few moments of black pride to have Sheila realize Paul’s disingenuous motives and cut ties with the underhanded bigot.  She is able to provide for us viewers a righteous perspective on those whites who were “involved” in the civil rights movement really for personal gain only.

Mad Men jockeys its attention between the Draper household and the Draper workplace.  The black elevator operators, among others (i.e. the waiter, Cleveland, who is “trustworthy” and actually in the room with Cooper and his sister while they are discussing the sale of Sterling/Cooper to the British in Episode 12 and, much later, the gorgeous black cocktail waitress that Lane, in charge of accounting, declares his very requited love for in this last season, while the new office is going through gigantic financial woes) successfully eavesdrop and can account for all the goings-on with the two Draper offices throughout the series.  This leaves Don’s personal life up for grabs.  But that’s an easy one: Carla.  At the end of Season Four, Betty fires the nanny of the Draper children, who has been in that position since “their birth.”  That line says it all.  Carla has been in the house constantly and has witnessed and heard everything.  Sure she doesn’t stay with the newly single Don when he’s living in the East Village, but it doesn’t take a genius to fill in those blanks.  (He was getting laid…a lot.)  Carla is also the epitome of the strength of character of these black narrators in that she knows she must put up with a lot before the fast-approaching horizon of equal rights creates a wave of change in America.  In other words, she minds her business, but quietly observes all of the Draper shortcomings and internal family conflicts: the drinking, the cheating, the lying, the need for psychological treatment, the pain of the divorce, and the like.

When put in the context of the 21st century, we easily grasp the irony in having a show about the coarseness of the whitewashed ad business and the lack of family values in wealthy homes being narrated by African Americans – the “have-nots” shining a grim spotlight on those who “have it all.”  However, outsiders have the best perspective for judgment.  Blacks weren’t second-class citizens at that time; they were third, as made evident by the obnoxious treatment of white women in the show as well.  Because, to some extent, in the workplace, blacks were ignored, they could then become convenient observers of the corrupt, prevailing race.

Plenty of African Americans then were spending much of their time protesting in the streets of hypocrisy and generating momentum that would lead to the Civil Rights Bill being passed.  I’d suppose that about all of them had jobs, many like those on Mad Men, and surely couldn’t constantly demonstrate.  Blacks knew though that their time, the time of Martin Luther King, Jr., John and Robert F. Kennedy, and Muhammad Ali, and of equality, was upon them.  So, when they had to, they bit their tongues and waited patiently for guys like Paul Kinsey to find the road to irrelevancy.

***Special thanks to Stephen and Kim for helping me make this post possible.***