She Did It Her Way
Twinnings: parallel lines that meet somewhere between the cross-country plane and the clouds above. I'll list a few.
Peggy has just turned thirty, and Joan is nearing forty. No fear could quite compare with the fear of becoming an old maid.
On the flight back to LA are Megan and Pete’s fuck-bunny Bonnie, for whom Pete is not quite Clyde enough, and both are disconsolate for one reason or another.
Stephanie Paterik tells me that when Roger and daughter rough it in the Catskills, Dad and offspring adopt identical sleep postures. That was two episodes ago.
And this week, when the episode concludes with Don and Peggy and Pete at a Burger Chain, their formation echoes the visual configuration of Ted, Peggy, and Pete a year earlier at the airport lounge where they sit and everyone but Ted laughs, because everyone but Ted has been drinking whisky sours, and Ted is about to fly them in his little plane and catch hell from his wife -- only in the Ted episode it's a triangle and here it's more like Don and Peggy on one team and Pete on the other.
Prejudices persist. When Bob Benson bails out the handcuffed GM executive who “tried to fellate an undercover police officer,” the cop on duty says, “good night, ladies.” And when Bob – the only character who looks good in a plaid jacket – says he “struck out” yesterday when looking for a suitable present for Joan, her mother pipes up: “The Jews close everything on Saturday.”
This one-time shomer Shabbat yeshiva boy wonders: can the office be as judenrein as it was back in the benighted days of 1960? Gone are Ginsberg, to the loony bin; likewise the secretary who married Roger, took acid with him, won a big divorce settlement, and why can’t I remember her name? And then there's the latter's cousin, the pint-sized copywriter who went west, grew facial hair, went Hollywood, and after enduring one taunt too many, socked Roger in the solar plexus in season six.
Is Megan having an affair? Stacey said so as soon as she heard Don offer to bring a suitcase of her stuff (a fondue maker!) when he visits her next in LA, end of July, to which she replies she’d like them to meet somewhere else – “Not LA, not here, just us.”
The episode centers on Peggy and how she will handle the creative work for the national Burger Chef campaign. Pete imagines he is praising Peggy when he says there isn’t a better woman in the ad business – but she, and we, hear it as a left-handed compliment. Though the presentation gets Lou's approval, she knows there is something wrong with her family-friendly sequence of guilty mom, indulging dad, and hungry kids in the car. So what does she do? Light up a cigarette, have a drink, chew out an associate – just like the master himself.
Everything leads up to the heart-to-heart with Don. “Now I’m one of those women who lie about their age. I hate them.” She wonders, “What did I do wrong?” He answers, “You’re doing great.” In an epiphany that doesn’t quite announce itself as such, she asks, “Does this family exist anymore?” by which she means the family toward which she has pitched her ad – a family that eats as a group rather than watching television alone together. “What if there was a place you could go and there was no TV and you could break bread and anyone you were with was family?” And then on the radio comes the familiar opening chords of Frank Sinatra singing “My Way,” his mega-hit of 1969. “And now the end is near.” And Don and Peggy dance. (Will they end up together? Maybe, said Ron and David. No way, said Yoav and Stacey.) But taking her cue from the familiar voice, she will do the ad her way.
The literary allusion in the last scene is masterly. Pete and Peggy and Don sit at a Burger Chef. In a way each is a loser (and remember, even Sinatra in “My Way” says he is “tired of losing”), they come from very different backgrounds, yet they form a sort of family. She is going to have her ad shot here, because, she tells Pete, it’s “a clean, well-lighted place.” “Okay, Hemingway,” Pete has the wit to reply. In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” one of Hemingway’s finest stories, the setting is a café in Madrid, where men in quiet desperation go to drown their sorrows. They believe in nothing, they do the most drastic things, like trying to take their lives, for nothing, because nothing matters. Nada. In one of Hemingway’s bravura performances, the word “nada” orchestrates a paragraph. In the mind of the waiter closing the café at two in the morning the word “nada” replaces the nouns in the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary. “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada.”
It is the use of one literary allusion to counter another: Lou (who, according to a friend of mine, an advertising veteran, is the most believable character in the whole show) has responded enthusiastically to the original ad Peggy drew up for Burger Chef. “It’s good to see family happiness again,” he says, and the line’s true significance becomes clear when you take it into account that “Family Happiness” is the title of a novella by Tolstoy.
The ironies are multiple. An American fast-food joint takes the place of the Spanish café with the zinc bar and the brandy drinks that sound so exotic in a foreign tongue. Yet the nihilistic desperation is the same, even if Don, Peggy, and Pete smile gamely in the artificial camaraderie of their work.
There's my report, dear Amy. And I never even got around to Joan’s defiant response to Bob Benson’s proposal.
On Fri, May 23, 2014 at 9:17 PM Amy Gerstler wrote:
(You continue to field musical and literary allusions popping up in our favorite show with the alacrity of a legendary outfielder, a Raul Mondesi, or perhaps a Dusty Baker.)
THE FAMILY EPISODE:
(could this theme have been writ any larger?)
We began this episode with Peggy and cute, nerdy male office minion doing market research in the Burger Chef parking lot after sundown. The scene looked very B movie-- shadowy, streetlit. A beleaguered mom with kids roiling in back seat of her car hurriedly answers Peggy’s queries about her family’s fast food habits, eyes glued to the ten dollar bill she’s been promised. The birth of the focus group? Oh, America, whither thou goest?! So Peggy starts on the outside, standing uncomfortably, peering into a car in a dark, trying to keep her voice smiley and bright whilst gripping her clipboard, straining to get the data she needs. As you point out, by episode’s end she has moved into the light, sitting in the blindingly over-lit Burger Chef interior, in a booth with a pair of key members of her work “family.” The man who she lost her virginity to, whose baby she bore and gave away (Pete) and the man who has been her symbolic father, her mentor, who she desperately wants to be (Don.) Don’s small, wordless motion to Pete in the last moment of that scene, indicating to that egotistical blockhead (Vincent Kartheiser is soooo brilliant at playing narcissism) that he has a smear of catsup on his upper lip, is beautiful. It’s familial, intimate, and at the same time a bit condescending and smirky.
Speaking of family, Joan bravely fends off a marriage proposal from a gay colleague, Bob Benson, who wants her to be his “beard.” His offer to make a kind of alternative family with her, and be a father to her tiny son, while allowing both adults to pursue separate sex lives, doesn’t appeal to her. “We could comfort each other through an uncertain world,” Bob says, coaxingly. He even offers her a ring, a sort of image rhyme with the notorious scene in last week’s episode, in which poor demented Ginsberg, now in the loony bin, offers Peggy his lopped off nipple in a little jeweler’s box. Bob’s proposal quickly turns to a less-than-kind hard sell when Joan balks. “I am offering you,” Bob says rather loftily, “more than anyone else ever will.” I found Joan noble in this scene. “No, you’re not,” she demures, “because I want love, and you should, too.” Joan’s hard-won dignity is a radiant element of her considerable beauty.
Speaking of the varieties of love (or high altitude lust): Pete and his paramor Bonnie’s retreat into an airport bathroom at 30,000 feet for a quickie put me in mind of a paperback that was in heavy rotation amongst Junior High school girls I knew back in 1969, the year this season of Mad Men takes place. The book, which came out in 1967, is Coffee, Tea or Me. It purported to be a memoir chronicling the sexual adventures of a pair of randy young stewardesses. Later, the “memoir” was revealed to be the concoction of a PR dude called Donald Bain. Predictably, we pre-teen and teenage girls were ravenous all during secondary school to get our hands on any book that mentioned sex. The Happy Hooker (1971), The Godfather (1969, I forget which specific chapter, none of us read any other parts of the book, I’m afraid) and The Harrad Experiment (1962) were a few of the extracurricular titles that joined the immortal Coffee, Tea or Me on our secret mandatory reading list. I do have a growing fear that someone in this series is going to die in plane crash. Sometimes I read the gorgeous opening/credits sequence, where Don is falling, falling, falling, that way. I hope I am wrong.
Stan is wearing love beads to the office! I still think he has a yen for Peggy. They seem to understand each other on deep levels, and perhaps it’s symbolic that during a phone conversation about work Stan is eating a banana and his shirt is open to his navel. I know everyone and their cousin thinks that Peggy is going to sleep with Don. Maybe she will. I think she should sleep with Stan. There. I’ve said it. If only Stan could have been a fly on the wall, an invisible witness to the scene in which Peggy, unable to sleep because she knows she has to totally rework the Burger Chef pitch, does a sexy little jog across the room when she gets up in her semi transparent nightie, he might not be able to hold back any longer.
Later in the show, Pete grumbles, “I hate the word family.” Well may he say so. He has been absent from his little daughter Tammy’s short life so long she doesn’t recognize him. When he comes to visit, she refuses to come out from behind her nanny’s skirts, and is frightened of him as she might be of an intruder. Pete waits around after his paternal visit, after putting his daughter to bed, for ex-wife Trudy to come back from a date, getting smashed on her booze. He confronts her drunkenly and is so belligerent she eventually says, “You’re not a part of this family anymore.”
Footnote one: Correspondent Benjamin Weissman informs interested viewers that actor John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling, looks buff in his steam room scene this episode because he’s a real life surfer. For his own safety, we hope Mr. Slattery wears more than a gym towel when riding the big waves (there are SHARKS out there, John!) Speaking of sharks, the dialogue in that steam room is pretty vicious, quite biting.
Footnote two, in closing speaking again of family: My mother in law as absolutely swooning over the scene where Don and Peggy slow dance. OOOOh, she sighed. He was so tender with her. She seemed so overcome that I ran to the medicine cabinet for the smelling salts, in case they were needed, but that wonderful lady kept her head.
That’s all till next week.