Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mad Men: Long Weekend (1.10)

Without trying to sound too much like Jerry Seinfeld, who decided that television needs to be about anything? Every episode of Mad Men feels propulsive in one way or another, that's a given. Just here we have childhood revelations, medical emergencies and romantic consummation. But there's also a real feeling in Mad Men of nothingness, that all these instances have just fallen into place rather than methodically planned. It's a rewarding by-product of this kind of storytelling, and just like Red in the Face a couple of weeks ago, Long Weekend jumps from one experience to the next, every character merely existing within a certain moment, conversing or performing a generic routine, and unexpectedly stumbling into new corners of their lives.

There is a lot of discussion about mortality this week, or at least the implication of it. It's something presented without a ton of subtlety via Roger's heart attack, but can also be seen during Don's encounter with one of the auditioning actresses. While Roger practically assaults this poor girl looking for her big break, Don can only see her twin sister as a young girl, still unsure of her own sexuality and assuming that she needs to do certain things to appear sexy and available. On the other hand, he's older and in a position of power that grants him easy access to sex and vulnerable young women. Don recognizes how sleazy it all is, and quietly rejects her. But Roger's heart attack also brings to mind his own fears, his realization that time is slipping through his fingers and that he's stuck in a repetitive pattern.

Afterwards, Don heads to Rachel's, where he exposes parts of his character never glimpsed before, discusses his childhood and seems open and relaxed. They sleep together soon after. All of this is more insight into Don's complex morality. We've seen him cheat and use those around him, as well as be harsh and cruel in a far more arrogant manner. But there are also lines he refuses to cross, and he seems genuinely in love with Rachel. There's a connection between them, at least, that seems to run far deeper than anybody else in his life, including Betty.

While Don witnesses his own mortality and decides to act on his instincts, it sort of backfires with Joan's roommate Carol, who finally confesses her long-held feelings for Joan, only for Joan to calmly dismiss it as a product of Carol's recent stress. Like Sal in The Hobo Code, it's another example of the era's disorienting treatment of homosexuality and the long-term effects of repression and flat-out denial. Carol pours her heart out, and Joan allows it to just wash over her. Even worse, Carol turns to self-abuse soon after, allowing one of the men she and Joan pick up at a bar "do whatever [he wants]" to her. While Joan sees that whole situation as a kind of feminist victory, using and abusing wealthy men out on the town for their money and their attention, Carol uses it as a form of escape, becoming the woman she believes she's supposed to be, rather than the woman she so desperately wants to be.

Joan's proto-feminism is in full force here. She still openly resents Roger's shabby treatment of her, again turning down an intimate invitation for the weekend, and talks about The Apartment and how the male characters in the film passed Shirley Maclaine's character around like a tray of canapes. She's such a strong character, knowing and smart and refusing to entirely be that woman, but still finds herself struck down by the natural patriarchy of the era. In a wonderful twist, she effectively becomes Shirley Maclaine's character in the end, called into work after hours to clean up Roger's mess and briefly assuming the role of Bertram Cooper's elevator operator. There's so much potential with Joan, but it just keeps getting suffocated by the world she lives in.

All of this is shown in among a variety of even shorter scenes, ones that return to Pete and Peggy's awkward relationship around the office, to the continuing disarray over the Nixon campaign. So it's not like nothing actually happens here, but there's a degree of intimacy to a lot of the storylines this week that gives this irresistible illusion of nothingness. This isn't a series that opens up a story at the top of an episode, moves from point A to point B and then resolves it all by the time the credits roll. Instead it's a momentary snap-shot of a day in the lives of a group of individuals, and it's impressive that a series with such a showy, retro premise can alternatively be so small in scale. A


- Betty is infuriated by her visiting father's new girlfriend, but seems blind to the irony that he just seems happy and in love. She spends so much time fixated on this separate relationship, and remains ignorant to the major cracks in her own marriage.

- It's interesting to hear Don's perspective on Kennedy vs Nixon, describing how somebody like Nixon, who worked his way to the top from humble beginnings, resonates more with him than somebody born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Regardless of their politics, it's funny to see how the media manipulates certain angles to sell somebody to the public, particularly when Nixon's back-story is far more impressive from an aspirational stand-point.


Joan: How about a movie? Have you seen The Apartment?
Roger: I went last week with Mona and Margaret.
Joan: I hear Shirley Maclaine is good.
Roger: Oh, please. A white elevator operator, and a girl at that? I want to work at that place.

Roger: Remember Don -- when God closes a door, he opens a dress.

Joan: I feel like I'm stuck somewhere between Doris Day in Pillow Talk and Midnight Lace, when what I need to be is Kim Novak in just about anything.

Eleanor: Tell me what to do, and I'll do it.
Don: Maybe it's this office, but you're selling too hard.

Guest stars
Robert Morse (Bertram Cooper); John Slattery (Roger Sterling)
Writers Bridget Bedard, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Matthew Weiner Director Tim Hunter

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