The psychedelic posters that pop up, the Milton Glazer imagery, remind me that I was a confused twenty-year-old that year, clever though naive, easily wounded, stunned by adulthood on the one hand and by the rapidly changing cultural expectations of kids like me, sloganeering to make love not war (whether actually able to do either very well). Gertrude Stein wrote that "in our youth there is nothing we are more intolerant of than our own sins writ large in others." I see the hippies in the commune upstate, where Roger Sterling visits like an alien in a blue blazer, and see myself in both halves of the antithesis -- as one of the bearded granola eaters but also as the silver-haired ne'er-do-well who smokes weed with the young kids but would attend the campfire in a jacket and tie. I see myself in both groups and like myself in neither and the 1960s are coming to an end.
It is, we are reminded insistently, 1969, year of anticipated miracles (the moon landing, Woodstock) and unexpected ones (Chappaquiddick, and the erstwhile hapless New York Mets managed by Gil Hodges will win the World Series). Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint," in its distinctive yellow cover, is the novel of the year and naturally Don Draper is reading it. And as the computer invades the office, I wondered whether the history lesson was getting the better of the fictional energy in the "Mad Men" dialectic.
When Stan tells Ginsberg that the computer, a space-occupying contraption that a bunch of electricians are installing, is or is fated to be "the Mona Lisa," the statement makes a point not only about the coming primacy of the computer but also about the persistence of the "Mona Lisa" as the apotheosis of high art vaulted into highest eminence. You think of how Duchamp put a mustache on the Mona Lisa, that T. S. Eliot said that ""Hamlet" was "the Mona Lia of literature," and you realize the weight the writers are putting on Stan's simple sentence. But maybe you also wonder whether all these historical markers are taking the place of drama.
Has the series lost some of its energy? Let's take a long view. We have a lot of characters and some of them are stagnant. Peggy. downing a shot, has no romantic life to speak of. If Joan does, we don't know it. Megan and Betty are off-stage. Pete, looking creepy in sideburns, has a Betty-type blonde on his arm, his real-estate agent. What does she see in him? I say, shrugging. He is the conduit to a brand-new national campaign for Burger Chef. Yes, the 1970s, decade of hamburger chains, is upon us.
Roger and Mona get back together for a failed mission. They fail to rescue daughter Margaret, who has abandoned husband and daughter to become a communard in the Catskills. Mona thinks Margaret has been "brainwashed" and Margaret insinuates that her mother, to get by, has to lock herself in the bathroom with a pint of gin. Roger is willing to giving it more of a shot. He smokes dope with the kids, sleeps in a sleeping bag outside beside his starry-eyed daughter, but for one night only. "I'm tired of accepting society's definition of me," Margaret says in the showdown scene with her parents, and I flinch. Yes, conversations like that were taking place all over. But there was an intellectual element and often a political one in the rebellion and if it would be unrealistic to expect the fictional Roger and Mona to understand it, you wonder whether viewers are in any better position to do so.
THE SCOTTISH PLAY
(Thank you for teaching me the word “communard!”)
But let’s begin at the beginning. The episode opens with Pete and his sharky blonde bombshell real estate peddling girlfriend (who, as you astutely point out, could be Betty Draper’s sister) eating dinner on a lantern lit restaurant terrace. Bonnie seems poised to play Lady MacBeth to Pete’s MacBeth. She’s all shimmery ambition, greed and goading. “I love watching you work” she purrs when she thinks Pete’s made a cagey business move at the restaurant. (Weirdly, Pete just seems embarrassed and starts stammering. What’s up with that?) In her, Pete has a consort that’s as snaky, maybe even snakier, than he is. I loved his ex wife Trudy and miss her, but she was Pollyanna to his Machiavelli. Pete needs a ruthless babe who can hold her own with him.
This episode seemed like the RED episode to me. I feel I am just waking up out of some dizzy, plot obsessed stupor to the amazing uses of color in Mad Men (the word “MAD” in the logo always appearing in that arresting red.) The same RED or thereabouts is the splashy color, only a little faded, of the New York Mets pennant Don finds under the desk and hangs on the wall in his new office, which is Layne’s old office (and Layne hung himself there.) The red couch that Ginsberg wants to salvage at all costs from the repurposed “creative lounge” where the huge new computer is being housed is a symbolic point of contention in this episode. The main figure in the Milton Glazer poster you noticed is red. Roger’s grandson Ellery (visiting the office because his mother has run off to a rural commune upstate, hence the term “communard” deftly lobbed by you, professor) is clad in bright red overalls. On the famous Portnoy’s Complaint book cover you cited, author Phillip Roth’s name appears in Mad Men red. Burt has a huge red Mark Rothko painting in his office. Etc. Etc. No doubt I am one of the last Mad Men obsessives to be jolted by this assaultive repetitive red. Or maybe they are all utterly different reds my TV screen homogenizes to seem like the same shade?
The only false note in this episode for me is when Burt angrily blows off Don’s suggestion that the Lease Tech dude installing the block long computer in the office (Lloyd) is ripe for a pitch...so someone should pitch him. The guy wants to start advertising his growing-like-wildfire business. I can readily believe that Burt is so furious with Don for past fuckups that he would rebuke Don at first blush, saying that he’s on probation and isn’t allowed to bring in new clients. What I had a hard time swallowing is that Burt would go further: refusing Don’s subsequent suggestion to go ahead and allow someone else to try to land Lease Tech, if Don’s banned from trying to reel in new biz. Instead, Burt acts like he doesn’t care about a fig the prospect of landing this potential client, like he’s offended by the very idea. That doesn’t seem like Burt at all: ignoring a lucrative account begging to be snagged. But I have infinite faith in Matt Weiner. Perhaps Burt is only waiting to spring this idea at the next partner’s meeting, leaving Don out of it entirely, further humiliating Don and taking all credit for himself?
I LOVE FREDDIE
Will he drag Don off to Alcoholics Anonymous? To what effect? Great acting job, full of rumpled heart and slightly fumbly subtlety, by Joel Murray. I love that this reformed alcoholic character is named Freddie Rumsen. (RUM- SIN)
RURAL RUMINATIONS AND DADDY’S GIRLS
The farm visited on a school field trip in a previous episode seems to have paved the way (or smoothed the dirt road) for the rural commune in this one, complete with soft chicken cluckings on the sound track. And yes, one theme of the episode currently under discussion, if this isn’t too heavy handed an observation, mon professor, is The Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost. Don is being made to pay handsomely for previous sins, again and again. It seems everyone at the office is against him. Roger: heedless hedonist, profligate, selfish, famished to taste all of life’s experiences, has sired a daughter who’s a chip off the old block, and he doesn’t like it one bit when she start to emulate him. She’s very much daddy’s girl, as Sally Draper, Don’s daughter is also her father’s daughter, bold, perceptive, intelligent, headstrong, capable of canny deception or searing honesty, intensely independent, etc. And Peggy seems as though she is trying to BE Don, her erstwhile mentor, god help her, so I count her as another form of daddy’s girl in the series. Peggy’s hitting the bottle at work, Don-style. She’s enjoying lording over her former boss (sadly, many a daddy’s girl has taken this attitude toward a formerly domineering daddy laid low.) I could stretch this idea even thinner and say that there are ways in which Joan, arguably Roger’s protégé, is another breed of daddy’s girl. She has some of Roger’s objectivity, and has maybe even improved upon it. Roger, after all, is not only Joan’s former mentor but the real daddy of her son.
Parenthetically: The actress who plays Roger’s runaway daughter Margaret (communard name: Marigold) is wonderful, don’t you think, professor? This episode is just about first time we’ve seen this character smile! She seems utterly transformed, pretty hair flowing down her back. Gone are the uptight bun, the designer clothes. She looks and sounds and moves like a completely different person from the sourpuss pill box hat wearing debutante we’d known.
Is anything more horrid than the patronizing way Lew addresses girls and women as “sweetheart?” And he has inflicted Don and Peggy on each other hoping that they will both “implode.” Chained them together like Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in “The Defiant Ones.” Lew’s a great villain. I can barely look at him.
Au revoir, and Until Sunday,