Monday, April 16, 2012

YOU'RE THE KING:  “Power resides where men believe it resides,” Varys explains to us on Game of Thrones this week. “It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall.” It is the ability to send men places they would rather not go; it is the ability to have them batter each other bloody for your amusement.

So, of course, I'm talking about this week's Mad Men. Below the fold, for the spoiler-unaware ...

First off, the animated GIF of Pete Campbell getting decked. It does not get old.  But as amusing as that was, and as many characters who said that they were waiting for such a moment (as was the audience), let's remember that it only happened at all because the first three names on the door let it happen, with Roger in particular chuckling before it even starts.

Yet to the two combatants it isn't sport, but a serious question of honor, and it's between the last name on the door and the man whose desperate ambition leads him to keep asking to have his name added to the title -- but as this week proved, merely adding one's name to the door doesn't actually give you more power. Lane Pryce still can't close a business deal on his own, still has an unhappy wife who schleps him to events he'd rather not attend (and, note that Lane wasn't invited to the Campbell party), and still can't close the deal with a now-single Joan.

There's a lot one can say about Pete, and it's all pretty sad. His old-world money and status -- the section at the botanical gardens -- don't impress anyone, and even his hard work at SCDP doesn't get him the respect and friendships he thinks he deserves. And on this, Sepinwall nails something fundamental:
While Pete and [The Office's Michael Scott] aren't exactly cross-decade counterparts for one another, there's a sense with both that they were never properly taught how human beings interact with one another, and have been faking their way through it as adults. They just take their cues from different sources, with Pete copying more successful men, while Michael borrows everything from pop culture.
Speaking of those more successful men, Don's as happy as we've seen him in quite some time, and some of that is by willingly ceding some power to Megan in yielding to her desire to go to the Campbell party. And it's a level of self-control we've never seen before -- Don Draper, in a brothel, finally learning to say no to temptation? Maybe last week's nightmare really stuck with him -- and I do have to wonder, is was he serious when he drunkenly asked Megan about making babies? Because that's not something I recall her mentioning before.

And Roger, so beaten down since the the Lucky Strike catastrophe, still knows how to act like a man with power. He's the one to whom Lane turns for account advice; he's the one who knows where the nearest brothel is; he's the one who forces Ken to give up his science fiction pursuits. Except he doesn't, really; Ken just picks up with another pen name, and keeps writing. Maybe Roger's not as powerful as he thinks he is.

Also, chewing gum on his pubis.  And Charles Widmore?  Did I hear that right?


  1. christy in nyc9:25 AM

    My closed captioning picked it up as Charles Whitmore, but still.

  2. It was Whitmore, as much as I'd love the Lost crossover. Charles Whitmore was the guy who shot up the Texas campus from a belltower, which Pete's high school crush talked about during the driver's ed break. 

  3. Actually, that was Charles Whitman. :)

  4. Watts9:37 AM

    Because it's been stuck in MY head since last night:

    Oh-me, oh-my, oh-you
    Whatever shall I do
    Hallelujah, the question is peculiar
    I'd give a lot of dough
    If only I could know
    The answer to my question
    Is it yes or is it no

    Does your chewing gum lose its flavour
    On the pubis overnight
    If your mother says don't chew it
    Do you swallow it in spite
    Can you catch it on your tonsils
    Can you heave it left and right
    Does your chewing gum lose its flavour
    On the pubis overnight

  5. Yup, typing too fast for my thoughts to catch up with me this Monday morning.

  6. Perhaps it's because of all the Caro profiles last week, but what comes to mind is that Sunday night TV has become all about power and power struggles, be they political (Good Wife), medieval (Game of Thrones), professional (Mad Men), sexual (Girls, which I haven't watched yet), or comic (Veep). 

  7. We also need to consider appropriate Fist Names for both Lane and Pete.  (Marquis and Queensbury for Lane?)

  8. It was such a pleasure to see Roger, in his advice-giving scene with Lane, show the competence and skill that he's acquired over years of wining and dining clients. It's been a while since we've seen Roger in his element, and it's where I like him best.

  9. This was a dayenu episode for me. First Roger Sterling mocking soccer. Then Peggy and Ken. Then Trudy shutting down Don. Then the dinner jackets (oh God, the dinner jackets). And it just kept getting better and better. Really fun stuff all around.

    And I do think Pete Campbell has at least one redeeming quality: He's the least racist (perhpas tied with Don) of the bunch, highlighted by his disgust during "My Old Kentucky Home." He also seems to be really good at his job. However, cheating on Alison Brie is a crime punishable by Lane Pryce's fists, and hopefully something worse.

  10. isaac_spaceman11:11 AM

    A few things re Don this week.  First, I read him at the hooker apartment not as strong and proud in the face of temptation but ashamed that he is the kind of man who ends up at a place like that.  Not that he has put it behind him (that he has "pulled his pants up," as Pete wrongly puts it), but that he now recognizes it as a character flaw of his and is deeply troubled by it.  Second, I predict that Tom and Lorenzo will read his plaid coat at Pete's house as more evidence of what you mention -- him ceding control to Megan, and actually liking it.  Third, as more evidence that he is evolving out of mid-period Donald Draper, he is opening up a bit more.  Telling the dinner party about growing up in the country and having to walk to the outhouse, telling the madam that he grew up in a whorehouse -- those are things he wouldn't have let slip except under the most unusual of circumstances.  He still seems profoundly unhappy and ashamed of who he is and what he's done, but he seems to be doing little things that could be moves in the right direction.  And fourth, an episode finds SCDP men doing spectacularly ill-advised things (fistfights, prostitutes), and Don is involved in none of it. 

    Re Pete:  Weiner is really going to put Chekov's (literal) gun to the test, isn't he?  Okay, we've seen the gun on the wall in Act 1. 

    Re the show in general:  funnier this season so far than in any four-episode stretch in a prior season. 

  11. Joseph J. Finn11:18 AM

    Can I also just mention the sight of all four men in lobster bibs?

    And as a reader of Golden Age science fiction, the two descriptions of Ken's stories were perfectly in line with that era, especially since the New Wave is about to break. (Dangerous Visions, the first New Wave anthology, comes out next year in 1967.)

  12. isaac_spaceman11:49 AM

    Sure, he's a sexual predator who targets teenaged girls, but Pete Campbell is no racist!  Gonna put that on my list of ringing endorsements. 

  13. kd bart1:55 PM

    At what point in this season does Don discover that a young Megan , when she first arrived in Manhattan and was a struggling actress, worked at the whorehouse that he visited in last night's episode in order to make rent?

  14. isaac_spaceman2:00 PM

    If you were here in my office, I would take off my glasses, roll up my sleeves, assume a John L. Sullivan boxing stance, and strongly suggest that you and I settle that insult to my beloved Megan.  Once my hands are up, it will be too late to run!

  15. kd bart2:13 PM

    I'm also going with the theory that it was Peggy that dropped the dime on Ken and his writing because of the pact they share.  Afraid if he becomes a successful writer, he'll leave her behind.

  16. Are you sure?  He's only been sexually predatory towards white women.  Remember the au pair down the hall?

  17. I thought the same thing. I don't think we've ever really seen him competent at his job, so it was a nice reminder to see Roger mentoring Lane.

  18. Professor Jeff3:13 PM

    Of course, it was Don who interrupted with the correct name -- "Whitman," said with a subtle, ironic sigh over sharing a (secret) last name with a mass murderer.

  19. isaac_spaceman3:17 PM

    It occurred to me after posting that I should have phrased it like this:  "Sure, he's a sexual predator who targets teenaged girls, but he's not the most racist guy in his office!" 

    And yes, I remember the au pair (my recollection is that that was just straight-up rape), plus the girl who brought him home to the apartment with the mom yelling from the other room, plus Wonder Years this episode, plus maybe we can even count Season 1 Peggy, who was not quite as young but who more or less fits the profile. 

  20. isaac_spaceman3:19 PM

    Or maybe she just sold it to Roger for however much he had in his pocket at the time (Roger's going rate for everything). 

  21. Duvall3:52 PM

    Did Peggy find out that What's-her-name had told Don, Pete and Megan about Ken's writing?  If not, wouldn't she assume that Ken would blame her for telling Roger and stay quiet?

  22. So we're all agreeing he doesn't have every terrible quality, just most of them? Excellent.

  23. Eric J.6:29 PM

    I thought that too, about Ken. I also wonder if Star Trek premiering in a month is going to push him back towards Science Fiction.

  24. isaac_spaceman11:19 AM

    Ken doesn't have as much money in his pocket as Roger does; ergo, who cares?