Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mad Men: 5G (1.5)

5G brilliantly exposes the uncomfortable merging of the life you lead in public and the secret life you try so hard to keep from those around you. Everybody has that, to a certain extent, but this episode explores that theme from an aggressively masculine corner, the men at Sterling Cooper all hiding secrets and hoping that somebody else will somehow pick up the pieces when the inevitable fallout occurs. Naturally, all of that is symbolized by this week's ad campaign, a bank seeking promotional materials about their new private account service, specifically marketed to men eager to keep certain financial areas to themselves. Hilariously, this isn't a modern invention -- they're merely cashing in on a market that is already there. And 5G goes out of its way to prove it.

Don's affair with Midge and his marriage to Betty intersect awkwardly this week, Peggy accidentally overhearing a heated phone-call between Don and his lover, followed by her nervous first interaction with Betty, who comes to the office with her kids in tow. It's a horrible smash-cut of two vastly different worlds, one so outwardly perfect yet harboring so many secrets and betrayals. Still so wide-eyed, Peggy struggles to handle the pressure, terrified that she could out her boss and wind up tearing apart a family. Or at least that's how she sees it. There's also an element of disappointment there, too, Peggy having assumed that Don was one of the good ones, only for it all to come crashing down with that devastating realization that he's just as sleazy as the other men she works with -- he's just a lot better at covering it up.

Male insecurities are explored, too, Ken's success as a published author turning the Sterling Cooper offices into the locale for a macho pissing contest instigated by Paul and Pete, both eager to prove their own talents as a result. But it's quickly a story about ego and aggression, Paul being positive and supportive to Ken's face yet desperate to one-up him behind the scenes. When that falters, he instead decides to literally destroy Ken's work, tearing up his copy of the Atlantic in front of a crowd of secretaries listening to Ken describe his work. It's ridiculously hostile, speaking volumes about Paul's own lack of confidence and the ways he tries to overcompensate for it.

Pete is just as tragic, but his story takes on an underhand, more sinister quality when he pushes Trudy into reuniting with an old flame who works in publishing and convincing him to run her hubbies' work in one of his magazines. I love that this guy doesn't even have a problem with throwing his new wife into the arms of the man who took her virginity and is likely still holding a candle for her, and that his attention is entirely reserved for proving his own writing ability. Even worse, when Trudy's refusal to sleep with the man results in Pete's work getting published in a lesser magazine, Pete only sees it as a slight against him, something that means Trudy doesn't want him to be happy. This story is batshit, Pete coming off like a raging sociopath... more than normal, anyway.

But the darkest story here is the achingly sad reunion between Don and his long-lost brother Adam. While at this point we're still in the dark about the explicit circumstances that led Don to assume his new identity, Adam is constantly distracted by a lack of understanding -- Don taking off by faking his death and abandoning a clearly vulnerable member of his family, leaving him with parents who it appears aren't all that great. What works so successfully here is that Adam isn't angry or hostile. He's so desperately in need of some kind of friendship or familial connection that he doesn't even consider Don's betrayal a horrible act. He doesn't understand it, but refuses to let it consume him. He's just happy that he finally has that connection.

Only Don stops it in its tracks, coldly paying Adam off to stay away from him. This is the most heartless move imaginable, signalling Don as a character not entirely worthy of our support and making your heart break for how lost it makes Adam. His life isn't great, he works a dead-end job as a cleaner and his one chance of acceptance and bonding is torn apart as quickly as it started to come together.

Yet it's just another secret that can be filed away. Don removes the human individual from Adam, merely making him an annoying reminder of a past he had hoped was forgotten. Just like Pete's treatment of his wife, or Peggy feeling she needs to cover up her boss's misdeeds, there's this general belief that someone else will pick up the pieces or figure things out -- these men, with their money and their power, continuing to do whatever they want at the cost of the innocents around them. It's a horrible realization, but a shockingly well-observed take on gender politics of the time, 5G winding up Mad Men's first real classic. A+


- "Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning". That's a fantastic title, Kenny.

- Betty thinks Sally looks fat in their family portrait. Because of course.


Ken: I have two novels.
Paul: Novels? About what?
Ken: One is about a rough-neck on an oil rig who has to move to Manhattan because his wife's mother is sick, and the other one is, well -- a woman who's a widow, she's kind of got stuck with this family farm and no one will help her except this boy.
Paul: Those don't even sound stupid.

Paul: I've this story about this crazy night I had where I ended up in Jersey City with all these negros, and we all got along. Can you imagine how good that story is?
Harry: No.
Paul: It is.

Adam: Donald Draper? What kind of name is that?

Betty: I really expect the royal treatment when I go to Don's office, and I seldom get it. It's like walking into another country where I don't speak the language.
Francine: At Carlton's I feel like I'm stupid. All that Manhattan talk.
Betty: Our husbands. They are better out here, aren't they?
Francine: Infinitely.

Joan: You need to relax. I have never come over here and not seen you with a look on your face that said, "I need a drink".
Peggy: This job is odd.
Joan: But it's the best.

Guest stars
Rosemarie DeWitt (Midge Daniels); John Slattery (Roger Sterling)
Writer Matthew Weiner Director Lesli Linka Glatter

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