I can’t resist opening with Jenny Factor, who met “Mad Men” show-runner Matt Weiner at a Harvard symposium last week. Jenny was armed with a planted question: “Given that Don's real name is Whitman, and that Michael Ginsberg has the same name as Allen, was Matt thinking of Harold Hart Crane when giving a name to media maven Harry Crane?” Matt shook his head no; he wasn’t thinking of poets’ names. He said, “Whitman was quite simply “White Man.” He added: “Don’s fundamental questions are ‘Is this it?’ and ‘What’s wrong with me?’”
Meanwhile, Don Draper’s latest love hails from Racine, Wisconsin – Racine (French for “root”) being the name of one of France’s most honored dramatists. But no doubt this is entirely a coincidence.
To this observer, the abhorrent treatment of Joan at the hands of the McCann Ericson creeps was the dominant note in episode #5. First there’s Dennis, who fails to read the briefs Joan has prepared, interrupts her phone conversation with her client, and offends him, the Atlanta-based Avon man confined to a wheelchair, by suggesting that they play a few rounds of golf at Augusta. Dennis has ruined the telephonic encounter —and then he has the gall to be testy when Joan calls him on it.
So Joan brings her problem to Ferg Donnelly. Bad choice. Ferg is only too happy to get Dennis off the case, but he nominated himself instead and leeringly proposes that the and Joan fly to Atlanta together – to apologize to Avon but also to have a good time and get to know each other better. He doesn’t have to spell it out, the fucker; Joan knows exactly what he means, but is disinclined to play the fuckee.
So now she goes to Jim Hobart, the head of McCann, who cannot be said to be sympathetic and whose most memorable line, in the context of McCann’s clout, is that the New York Times would print Mein Kampf on its front page if McCann ordered it – an interesting figure of speech not only because of what it says about McCann (Hitler Lite!) but because of what it says about the venerable newspaper of record (“comme ils sont putains”). Jim makes it clear that Joan’s accounts are too small for him to care about; that if she expects to succeed at McCann, she had better learn to play ball; and that he’d be happy to be rid of her, and her half a million dollar contract, on a fifty-cent a dollar buyout.
However repugnant, it’s deal she will have to take, although there’s a part of her that would like to fight it out in a court of law, perhaps with a class action lawsuit.
The diaspora of Sterling Cooper personnel is at hand. Goodbye, Joan. Goodbye, Shirley, the second African-American secretary to be employed at Sterling Cooper, who is taking a job in insurance and thanks Roger for being so “amusing.” Of the old standbys, the two who might fit right in at McCann are a beaming Pete (a vice–president) and self-congratulating Harry. Stan is making the transition, but what are his options? Ted -- who now projects defeat and resignation, in stark contrast to the go-get-‘em young man who used to compete so fiercely with Don -- may be able to see the silver lining. At McCann he may be able to relax. Or so he thinks. But the futures of Peggy and Roger and Don are unresolved.
Peggy and Roger are the two of our regulars who are arguably the most deeply affected by the turbulent 60s. The idea of Roger at the player piano (“Hi-Lily, Ho Lo”) while Peggy glides on roller skates in a deserted office with a half-empty bottle of sweet vermouth on the desk makes for a delightfully surreal scene that no one would have imagined back in 1960 or ’62. Things are flying apart; the center cannot hold! It is even more surreal than the sight of Betty reading a Collier paperback edition of Freud’s writings.
And Don, god bless him, pulls an unexpected – and, dare I say it, existential -- stunt in line with going to French movies on company time, reading Frank O’Hara, imprisoning his mistress in a Sherry Netherland hotel suite, etc. At a meeting for a new “diet beer,” a “low-calorie beer” – what we would come to know as Lite Beer from Miller (which occasioned the “Tastes great” versus “Less filling” TV ad campaign of note) – Don looks out the window, sees the Empire State Building, hears a few sentence of the market research about Milwaukee, and decides to check out. We next see him driving west, thinking of Kerouac’s On the Road, listening to the car radio in downtown Cleveland (“Sealed with a Kiss”), and having a conversation with the ghost of Bert Cooper. Longtime admirer of Robert Morse that I am, I welcome his apparition and his wisdom. “You like to play the stranger,” he tells Don – the stranger in the conventional sense and in that favored by Camus (“L’Etranger” the novel) and Baudelaire (“L’Etranger” the prose poem a century before Camus).
I confess to maximum puzzlement over Don’s obsession with Diana, the waitress from Racine, Wisconsin, who ditched him and disappeared. Her ex-husband calls her “a tornado,” who had left “a trail of broken bodies” behind her. I don’t see it. But she is at least a pretext for his driving off into the westward night, and when he picks up a scraggly hitchhiker n his way to St. Paul, that is where Don heads, though it is in the opposite direction from Mad Ave.
What do you make of these developments – and, come to think of it, of Meredith, Don’s secretary, who, having been an army brat, has hidden talents (for interior design), defends the absent Don with a beautiful hilarious ingenuousness when confronted by an exasperated Jim Hobart, and still gets written off as a “moron”?
I'm glad you brought up Meredith, Don's sunny dispositioned secretary, who likes to dress in buttercup colors. Perky, efficient Meredith, with the voice of a kindergarten teacher, is running Don's life now, it seems, at least organizationally: which includes decorating his new apartment for him. While Don is simply running away. AWOL and headed vaguely west. Is Meredith on a trajectory out of the advertising business (too?) Ready to jump ship so she doesn't have to endure the work environment at the misogynist, high stakes torture machine known as McCann Erickson? If there's a villain in this show, it's McCann Erickson. Is there a soul working there who doesn't have the ethics of piranha? Will Meredith reinvent herself as a zany, eccentric Manhattan interior decorator, wearing crazy paisley pant suits, elephant bell bottoms, mod print dresses and knee high lace up boots? She jokes with Don about his having to brave "the hardships of the Plaza" (hotel) while he waits for his new digs to be ready.
But will he ever actually live in this apartment now that he's hit the road with no apparent destination? Has he become the proverbial wanderer, albeit one who makes Cary Grant look scruffy and is traveling not in some funky, breakdown prone jalopy but an expensive, elegant set of wheels? Any bets? I wondered briefly if the title of this episode, "Lost Horizon," referencing the utopian novel by James Hilton and movie based upon it, could be a hint that Don will end up renouncing the world and becoming a dropout /devotee of some sort...1970s style. Maybe he'll end up at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, or at its satellite location in San Francisco (which didn't last.) He could hang out with Alan Watts, Carl Rogers, Timothy Leary, BF Skinner. I can see him holding his own with that crowd of cutting edge thinkers, philosophers, life style experimenters, psychologists; Advertising is pure projective psychology, isn't it? And though he looks like a poster dude for "straight square man/establishment guy" he is anything but. What do you think of Don as groovy, 1970s itinerant monk? At least until the wandering bug bites him again and he performs another self-reinvention. Will he become some version of the hitchhiking uber hippie he picks up at the end of the show? How would he look with super long hair? Oh, Photoshop, you must help me envision Don with hair down to his shoulders, arrayed in talismanic necklaces.
I love the Hokusai print that Peggy "inherits" from Bert Cooper, via Roger, as the old office is emptied and possessions are boxed up or thrown away, and Roger unearths it from a closet. My brilliant friend Brian Tucker knew the title of the print: (though it seems to have several names, actually, just like Don Draper himself) "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife." This piece of Japanese erotic art, which Peggy initially recoils from when Roger urges it on her as a gift, is eventually accepted. It travels with her to her new office, when the goons at McCann Erickson finally figure out that she's not a secretary and rustle her up an office. The shot of Peggy sauntering at last into McCann Erickson, walking sassily down the corridor with some of her office belongings, ready to move in, drunk on Vermouth (that being the only imbibe-able left in the cleaned out Sterling Cooper offices in the previous scene with Roger), dark glasses having just slightly slipped down her nose, cigarette dangling louche/sexy from her mouth, octopus-sex print tucked under her arm, is delightful. That femme bravado will last, how long do you think, David? Maybe 6 minutes at most at McCann Erickson? Hokusai lived from 1760-1849, the ever-wise Internet tells me. The print depicts, as Roger neatly puts it "an octopus pleasuring a woman." It prefigures a category of porn erotica in Japan that's currently classified as "tentacle sex" or "tentacle erotica." I leave it up to your imagination what that entails. (I learned the term "tentacle sex" a few weeks ago, listening to a radio show on the erotic manga industry in Japan.) Actually, Roger probably hasn't had time to properly study the print, or he would have said "two octopi pleasuring a woman." The print features not only a huge octopus paying attention to a certain part of the woman's anatomy, but also a much smaller octopus lurking up by her head, (one text I skimmed on the subject said this little guy was the larger octopus' son!!??*&%$!) tentacle tip neatly wrapped around her nipple.
A little hard to watch Joan get pushed around and treated like trash by every man she tries to work with in good faith, going up and up the ladder of command, trying to get a modicum of respect or redress from SOMEONE in charge. When she finally arrives at the top of the sleaze ball food chain with her simple request to be treated like a human being and allowed to do her work properly, she has the dignified, controlled fury of a wounded warrior queen in her stand-off with the evil Jim Hobart in his office. She is an AMAZON! In getting her to accept a 50 cents on the dollar buyout and leave the bubbling cauldron of oppression that is McCann Erickson, is Roger, her old flame, a savior or a betrayer?
Speaking of old flames, there's a tender scene between Don and Betty, I liked, when he comes to pick up the already departed Sally. Betty is reading Freud's An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, a bit nervous about being back in school. Her figure is a bit softer, more matronly now. They tease each other a little about getting older. A sort of easy, nostalgic, wistful intimacy filled the room like a mist, a feeling I'd not seen between them. I can't remember a scene between the two when one of them wasn't angry or desperate or humiliated. So are we to get the message Don has made his peace with Betty? She has a new family, a new direction, stability, and seems content. Sally "found a ride" to wherever Don was supposed to drive her. So she doesn't seem to need him anymore, either. And we fans (sniff! sob!) are going to have to learn to do without him too, soon enough.
I am so sad that Mad Men is ending!!! Guess I'll have to drown my sorrow in a Lite beer. (McCann Erikson creep "When we talk about a low calorie beer, we become feminine.") I didn't know that low calorie beer was full of estrogen, but now I do!