For an exceedingly shocking episode, this week's Mad Men felt a bit stunted and frustrated. Or at least brought frustration for the viewer. I feel as if we're still waiting, and hoping desperately for some development in a positive direction from, well, anyone really, but that carrot just keeps dangling in front of us.
If last week's episode was an ode to the time's a-changin while characters remain in stasis, or a circular pattern of non-development, this week took that to a further level of revealing that even though we've watched these characters over years, they do not so much change as become more like themselves.
Let's start with Megan. Oh, why oh why did Megan have to remain in this season?! I'm really over her and feel as if she's most definitely not adding anything interesting to the dynamic. People complain about Betty all the time, but I feel that she's a compelling character in that she is so vigorously superficial, but also so firmly planted in a reality completely of her own making in which everyone revolves that it's entertaining to see how people collide with her understanding of the world. Megan on the other hand we know everything about: she's manipulative in a cutting, intelligent, emotional manner and has really always been looking out for herself in everything she's touched along the way. To see her move to California and loose her grip over Don isn't a surprise but an inevitability. She claims to be independent but depends upon being able to maneuver those around her like chess pieces for her own comfort.
Enter Anna Draper's knocked-up niece Stephanie who calls Don for help. Megan appears at first welcoming and benevolent but prickles as soon as Stephanie references her relationship and knowledge of Don. Not only does this hit all the insecurity buttons, but Megan is also taken aback by Stephanie's maternity. I'm sure no secular tv critic would ever acknowledge the fact that Megan sees motherhood and maternity as the one thing she has no control over, especially after her pregnancy loss of last season, and why it could be a serious factor in her insecurities, but let's think about it for a moment. Megan is supposed to be the quintessential "modern" woman who steers her own career and life, she didn't want her pregnancy last season but was shaken at her miscarriage, now to be confronted with the beauty of motherhood in the face of her increasingly shallow, Californian image of selfish female ambition she is challenged. Megan doesn't usually respond badly, she usually takes an apt temperature of those she encounters to determine how to deal with them, but here Megan wanted to be rid of Stephanie as soon as possible. It's the impact and encounter with motherhood that has Megan reeling. Megan continues to respond badly to the pressure she feels in being unable to rekindle intimacy with Don; drugs and a threesome happen. It's all a desperate attempt and use of sexuality to somehow create a rise or any spark of interest from Don. An attempt that appears fruitless as Don won't even spend the next day with her.
I'm not quite sure if Don's attempt at a coup with Lou and Jim with Commander Cigarettes will pay off. He seems willing to change his previous alliances to not deal with tobacco, so to gain an upper hand over the partners who have cuck-holded him. Lou was especially slimy this episode, with his dreams to become a famous cartoonist discovered and made office fodder, power tripping by not letting anyone go home Friday night, and meeting clandestinely with Jim in the air conditioned computer room on Saturday.
Which brings us to poor Ginsberg. His mental illness was something that fit in, or at least be tolerated, with the rest of the crazy that is the office of SC&P. Stan seemed aware that it was more serious than simple ranting and raving, and Peggy had glimpses of it as well. His increased paranoia of the last episode where he claimed that the computer would destroy them all was foreboding as it's the sound of the air conditioning which cools the giant computer that drives him over the edge. His going to Peggy's apartment was at first strange, then touching, then really awkward. Peggy reading the situation completely wrong of course, thinks Ginsberg has romantic feelings for her so when he comes into her office to apologize everything seems much more normal. Maybe Ginsberg has turned it around? But no, Peggy opens the small box he hands her to see - his nipple in a box. I think this may have been the most shocking moment in Mad Men history, and there have been a few doozies. It was heartbreaking seeing Peggy's reaction as she calls for help, and the men in white haul him away on a gurney.
The general theme of runaways - be it Don from Megan, Stephanie living on the streets, even Bobby wanting to leave the Francis haunted house, comes full circle in Ginsberg. You can't runaway from facets of yourself, especially mental illness. We can change or not change as the world around us shifts at varying speeds but is there really any running away from who we really are?
Case in point, Betty. She's basically the cover girl of "I'm Never Changing Magazine". She collides with Henry at a dinner party over talking politics. He's outraged that she dared voice an opinion, especially one contrary to his pro-Nixon stance. I was just pleased she was making connections between events at a federal level and the kids writing graffiti in the neighbourhood! She responds in her trademark childish retaliation just like during her marriage with Don as soon as the men in her life denigrate her to the point where she's not allowed opinions or information. All of which is fairly awful, maybe we wouldn't respond quite so off the handle as Betty, but her relationships don't allow much growth as a woman, or really any intellectual life as her own person. When Henry made the remark that she should run for office to be able to express her opinion I thought "Yes!" she is the perfect politico! Hard outer shell that reveals nothing, yet exudes perfection and beauty, killer instincts to take no prisoners as she's only out for herself -- basically Betty is Hilary Clinton's role model.
Some short tidbits:
- Harry Crane....I guess I should sorta almost kinda like him for this episode and his spilling the beans about Commander, but it's just. so. hard.
- Sally broke her nose! Boy, I find her scenes with Betty to be beyond entertaining. They're both so heated and perfectly matched in their passion although from completely contrary views. I'm glad that Dr. could see her on a Saturday!
- Peggy and Julio and Ginsberg was almost my favourite scene all year. But how cute/pathetic is it to see Peggy spending her Saturday nights watching tv with the boy from upstairs?
- I liked the juxtaposition of the two parties in this episode. One; the suburban, white collar, conservative, wealthy party with silver and cocktail wieners, the other a bombastic, hippy bash with weed and a jazz clarinet! The fashion for both was fun to watch, and to compare hemlines!
- That Amy woman. Anyone else think she's the one who'll end up murdered and not Megan like all the speculation from last season??
I know I'm forgetting things, so what did you think? And remember, I gave you that nose!
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