Monthly Archives: August 2014

Ghost Carrie and Fred from episode 1

“Sharing Finances” Portlandia S4 E1 Review

Portlandia’s fourth season opened up to a weak start due to a series of creatively competent sketches that never really climaxed. There were no major indications that the show looks flat for the upcoming season because these sketches were moderately funny, but none stuck out in my mind as among the best.

Often the famous guest stars bring baggage from prior projects or are give a role that plays to their strengths that helps them garner extra laughs, but in this case I felt Kirsten Dunst was miscast in the show’s cold open. The sketch featured Dunst as a young woman house sitting for her aunt who ultimately dies after the house’s prior residents, played by Armisen and Fisher, haunt her with contradicting “facts” from various periodicals. In the tradition of the horror heroine, the part calls for someone – like Jamie Lee Curtis inHalloween – who is naive that the audience can quickly identify with. Dunst has hit home roles of more detached and unlikable characters in recent films such as Melancholia and Bachelorette so quickly empathetic isn’t quite in her roadhouse. If that were the only problem then I think the sketch could’ve coasted by, but I also found it to be underwritten. The headline in the newspaper describing the couple’s death says they died of “confusion,” which was just short of an astute observation to be funny.

Date Fact-Checking Hits the Mark

I found that dating fact-checking sketch the most consistently funny, maybe because I have much more experience with dating than joint checking accounts. This sketch was the only one that developed the jokes to completion, including references perfect for its demographic i.e. Juno, TV on the Radio, and Breaking Bad. The post-date interview between Armisen and Kumail Nanjiani, who if you recall is the same energy associate from the Blackout finale, played well off each other. Armisen plays inept everyman roles well while Nanjiani excels as playing the everyman’s rival, irritating customer service representatives.

Best Humor is the Meanest

The throughline sketch where Claire (Fisher) proposed joining bank accounts with her slacker boyfriend Doug (Armisen) had about one funny joke per segment, but I don’t believe it was one of the stronger narrative sketches. The middle segment where Doug and Claire inquire to the bank clerk works the best because the humor is visceral – the bank clerk has contempt for the couple, Claire has contempt for the intractable bank clerk and Doug is still trying to understand how bank accounts work. Claire tears down the bank clerk, played by Vanessa Bayer of SNL fame, for being single and not understanding the significance of joining bank accounts.

The other two segments would’ve worked better if Armisen and Fisher could’ve exploited some under-the-surface tension regarding the couple’s unequal contribution to their relationship that they’re trying to solve with joining bank accounts. Resentment works great in short sketches because jabs of anger can be thrown out, usually resulting in some great one-liners. The final segment of the joint accounts sketch where Doug bought a hot tub with Claire’s money seemed more like a How I Met Your Mother plotline than a well thought out Portlandia sketch, but I think they redeemed themselves with the biggest laugh of the episode where the maybe-insane, elderly hot tub salesman tells Claire that “recent studies have shown that ancient studies have been confirmed that hot tubs can significantly increase your income.”

The sketch about the difficulty of finding reasonably-priced downtown parking resulted in some mild laughs, because that’s a struggle everyone can relate to these days, but just like the computer-written, inspirational quotes sketch, I didn’t remember them until I sat down to write this review. Obviously since this show is written and acted by such talented people, the problem isn’t normally with the sketches being unfunny but rather them being ultimately forgettable.

 

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How Dawson’s Creek Lost Its Groove (And Never Got it Back Like Stella)

The first season of Kevin Williamson’s teen soap Dawson’s Creek made me the show’s biggest supporter… in modern times. Although the show ended before I entered teendom and despite Katie Holmes’ stock of horrendous hats, I found that at its core the show understood what it meant to be a confused, emotional teenager. The show’s main characters: Dawson (James Van Der Beek), Joey (Katie Holmes), Jen (Michelle Williams) and Pacey (Joshua Jackson) all had distinct goals and personalities that felt more fleshed out than any run of the mill teen soap like Melrose Place, for example, that seemed to have every relationship permutation with little regard to consistency .

Dawson's Creek Cast Season 1
(Credit to Sony Pictures)

By season four, though, long after showrunner Williamson and producer Mike White (of Enlightened fame) had gone on to other creative projects, I lost the fervor I once had. The writers had maintained Williamson’s penchant for insightful beyond their years teens with angst bursting out of every orifice, but inside the characters, and thus the plots, were now hollow. In an effort to recapture a time when Dawson’s Creek had a strong momentum, the season four final episode entitled, “Coda” was indeed a coda of the season one finale in theme and some Easter Egg lines (Grams in both tells Jen to take her sweater because it’s going to be cold, for example). Unfortunately the show echoes the superficial aspects of the former episode, but forgot many of the structural underpinnings that made that season one finale great.

OMG That Show Has So Much Conflict!

Conflict is an essential ingredient to any good television show. You might not say, “Ah I love that show. So much conflict!” but a show without enough is both easily predictable of an earned, happy ending and unbelievable.  You can suspend your disbelief for imperialism in outer space, just as long as the emotion foundation is still relatable. The season one finale of Dawson’s Creek, and really all of season one in general, is jampacked with well-constructed drama.

In the season one finale, “Decisions”, Joey is drowning in decisions, hence the name, that as a 15 year old she logically doesn’t handle well. Not only does she have to visit her father, who cheated on her cancer-ridden mother and got arrested for trafficking weed, in jail, but she also has to decide whether to ditch her uncertain relationship with Dawson or flee and study abroad in France. Season one made us work for the resolution.

 

The show kept us guessing until the very event. Joey point blank asks Dawson twice what he thinks about her studying in France without receiving a meaningful response, not to mention they actually sleep in a motel bed together. Similarly Joey travels hours on a bus to visit her father in prison and then refuses to engage with him. It’s not until Pacey goes with her a second time that Joey actually throws her dad a bone and give him some vulnerability scored by Sarah McLachlan’s mellifluous voice.

She said, “Restraint made it all worth it.”

The conflict we really care about, the “will they or won’t they”, is sustained until the very last moment because that’s how life works. You don’t have unlimited time to think and talk about potential relationships; sometimes you have to deal with family drama and plans for the future too. The final few minutes is where Dawson finally finds Joey hiding in his closet after the Jen mixup, which still results in Joey almost fleeing through the window and jetting off to France before Dawson stops her with a kiss. Restraint made the whole silhouetted “God Bless the Broken Road” sequence so worth the wait.

 

The season four finale maintained the “will they or won’t they”, but zapped out all the conflict to the point where the ending is evident about five minutes in. In season one, Jen had a crisis of faith upon the death of her comatose grandfather that then prompted her to seek safety in the arms of Mr. Safety himself, Dawson Leery. In season four, however, Jen’s conflict is completely overblown, even by Dawson’s Creek standards where everything is already overblown. The paltry secondary plotlines, Dawson’s dad not wanting Dawson to go away to college and Jen being nostalgic or something, are both solved with minimal confrontation or growth around the halfway point so Dawson and Joey can flap their lips for the remaining 30 minutes.

Along with a lack of conflict, the secondary characters get shafted overall because they don’t overtly contribute to the “will they or won’t they”. Pacey is barely included in the season four finale minus an appearance to inexplicably wish Dawson well at USC, despite the tensions over Joey that were made to see rather important just a few episodes ago. The season one finale at least included an arc about how Pacey’s family contributes to his feelings of inadequacy. The show lost its backbone and simply catered to what the fans wanted to see in the season four finale instead of actually satisfying viewers with a more well-rounded representation.

Too Much Talking Makes the Baby Go Blind

There are several distinct moments from the season one finale from Jen acknowledging the role of Christianity in Grams’ life to Dawson finally crystallizing how he feels about Joey while talking to Joey’s dad.  In the fourth season, however, Joey and Dawson’s incessant chatter feels false. I respect and enjoy Joey’s “honesty” monologue in the finale of season one, delineating how being honest about their feelings will irrevocably change the nature of their relationship, but ultimately Dawson answers her questions with the action of a kiss – instead of talking everything into the ground. Conversely in the season four finale, when Joey asks Dawson what his most life changing moment is he says, “the one that’s about to happen right now”. Just let the moment happen, geez! I got a high tolerance for cheese, hell I’ve seen the Notebook four times and cried every single time, but season one Dawson and Joey would’ve derided the sappy leading couple melodrama.

Office Nielsen Ratings
“In 2005, when The Office debuted on NBC, it averaged 5.4 million viewers, good for the 102nd most popular show on television. For the 2012-2013 season, The Office averages 4.2 million viewers and is the highest rated sitcom on NBC.” (Credit to Uproxx)

In season four although everyone talked far more, the dialogue filled time but didn’t advance the story for the most part. I’m guessing Dawson wanted to get back with Joey because he had never gotten over her, even though he was so all over the place in season three it is hard to tell whether that was the case or whether he just wanted someone familiar. Joey’s emotions are even harder to understand because she dropped Pacey like he was hot. It took her like a whole season to get over Dawson, but two half hearted episodes for poor Paceward. The decision to reuse the successful former finale seemed like an easy way to clue the audience into what we should be feeling so the writers didn’t have to do the legwork. They learned the wrong lessons about what makes Dawson’s Creek strong. It’s not the ten-dollar words or oversaturated lighting, but rather the emotional turbulence of being a hormone crazed teenager.

The writers only convey me-want-her and me-want-him instead of a multifaceted portrayal of teenagers. Being a WB network show in those days meant fans had to be watching to yield Nielsen ratings that would blow those of popular shows out of the water. In the absence of a showrunner who might’ve been able to take a stand against the network, the writers distilled the general qualities that people liked about the show (hot lead actors, semi-astute pop culture references and relationship drama) and amplified those while diminishing the stuff that really matters. In trying to please the fans by giving them the couple(s) they want, the writers forgot about what actually makes fans happy in the long-term: conflict, restraint, consistent character development and relatable emotions.

Carrie and Fred worried about the Portlandia blackout

“Sharing Finances” Portlandia S3 Finale Review

Let’s get this out of the way, the plot’s specifics don’t make that much sense because the central government not paying their power would not trigger a city-wide blackout but as is the case with most sketch comedy, Portlandia’s strengths are not in its impeccable plot construction. Instead of really addressing the logistics of the electricity outage, the show riffs on yuppie responses to catastrophe and customer service which is always ripe for humor. The customer service representative explaining that “immediately means six business days later and today means tomorrow” was probably my biggest laugh all episode.

Just like the season’s finale before this one, Portlandia chose to tie the threads from all the season’s episodes together this episode. The show uses the blackout trope, often seen in comedies and dramas alike, to provide a single experience for all the characters we know and love to lampoon. The show knows its strengths, a great ability balance surreal humor with realism as well as Fred Armisen’s expert range, but perhaps the biggest of all is the city of Portland.

Portland: Yuppie or Hipster?

The show brought together its many disparate characters within the theme of hipsterdom all the while combining conventions of sitcoms and dramas. The biggest sitcom-y plot is Carrie and Fred both dating Chloe Sevigny’s bisexual character, turning a tired two people dating the same person trope on its head for laughs. On the other end of the spectrum the birds signaling an impending apocalyptic event is a convention of dramatic films like Signs and is again used to comedic effect with Nance telling Peter how stupid he sounds for describing the barking cat he saw. Mixing all of that could get quite muddled along with combining the many different plotlines, but in this case Portlandia did an amazing job blending the conventions and exploiting the humor inherent even in the drama.

I found the Birdman plotline stick out in my mind with this episode as it incorporates the common trope of a mysterious, outsider who manages to insert himself with the right, obscure knowledge at the right time – think Quint from Jaws. Here though Portlandia combines this with the cocky Crocodile Dundee type Australian man to add to the hyperbole and show him acting like a con artist attempting to bilk Nance and Peter out of a room. Luckily the show never gets carried away with the Birdman character pontificating and instead gets the cocksure Birdman (Bill Hader) and nebbish Peter together and the interplay between the two is hilarious. (“Name the Beatles.” “Neener?”)

Quick and Dirty Sketches

I appreciate the show including the Milk Advisory Board in a quick and dirty sketch about Royce’s girlfriend, Tania. She appears to be a Ring-type otherworldly woman and apparently this blackout doesn’t agree with her sensibilities. The show hits the funny points without stretching on too long, something SNL still struggles with on occasion. The lovely women of Women and Women also make an appearance. Although they play a part in getting the power back on, it’s still short enough that we don’t get tired of them.

My main complaint is that the whole mayor part isn’t as funny as it could be, which is unfortunate because it is sort of the main story. The idea of him in some sort of survivalist cult just harkens back to the previous season’s finale where Fred and Carrie are forced to enter another enclave where Tim Robbins is the leader. The joke is fairly well executed, but comes across as tired and not particularly consistent with the mayor’s character. Overall I would say this is a strong episode, not just for the usual laughs, but also for its ability to craft a story from sketches that don’t always lend themselves so well to narrative.

 

 

Selina in Front of American Flag

“New Hampshire” Veep S3 Finale Review

If you recall, last episode Selina shared a giddy and heartwarming moment with Gary as his nose bled in a single person bathroom. Selina’s pretensions had briefly flown away, but as we see now that the cat is out of the bag about POTUS’s resignation, Selina is more selfish than ever. This episode, while it had its moments, veered far more towards developing the characters in relation to their new jobs rather than making us laugh. As the staff scrambles to adjust to the Veep’s new position, the audience is left wondering if Meyer’s change of title will mean a permanent shift in tone.

Keeping the Veep’s career afloat has never been easy, think of when Selina walked into a glass door a few episodes ago and even her recorded tirade last episode, but it has always been a team effort. Without Gary’s over the shoulder info, who knows where Selina would be now. Even though he worships the ground she walks on, after leaving Gary behind at campaign headquarters, Selina finds a random guy good enough to step in and get her a protein bar. I mean anyone is capable of obtaining a protein bar, but that kind of inconsiderate behavior has been par for the course this episode. As far as she is concerned she should take all the credit for her success and no responsibility for her failures.

Bumble, Bumble

Selina Meyer getting some bad news
(Credit to Veep at HBO)

While much has changed since the penultimate episode, all the characters continue to bumble. Literally the first thing that could go wrong as president, i.e. the swearing in, gets bungled when Mike knocks over a vase causing Selina to miss a line in the oath. Right afterwards Selina accidentally orders the removal of Leslie Kerr, diplomat to Iran, when she meant LeAnn Carr, head of the Department of Energy. Selina blames Kent, who did in fact double-check the name, but the group has consistently had gaffe after gaffe.


 

As far as she is concerned she should take all the credit for her success and no responsibility for her failures.


 

All of these problems could be chalked up to increasing pressure, but as often happens at the end of a bitter campaigning cycle, sentimentality, seen in most run of the mill political shows, has been distinctly missing. Selina is not in politics out of the altruistic desire to help her constituents, but rather out of a biological desire for power. In fact, the C story of this episode where Dan milks Jonah for his uncle’s control of the senior vote, presents old folks as nothing but “a bucket of votes” and “people who can punch holes in cards”. The good jokes in this episode, and most Veep episodes for that matter, come from the juxtaposition of Selina’s false charisma to the cameras and her cold-hearted candor and vitriol to her coworkers.

The Politics of Insincerity

Perhaps the most crystal clear example is when Selina puts on the charm for her tour of the factory that makes fireproof jackets for firemen, but when Ben pulls her aside to discuss the Leslie Kerr snafu and how she technically isn’t president, there are enough shits and fucks to make it an episode of Sons of Anarchy. To be honest, I’d think an average episode of Veep has more fucks than an episode of Sons of Anarchy.

Selina and Amy
(Credit to nyulocal.com)

While the show’s philosophy of brutal transparency in the not-so-transparent field of politics shown through splendidly, I do think the writers failed to weave their usual offbeat sense of humor into the plot. There were funny moments, I mean the squeaky shoe walk of shame was so simple but brilliantly executed and provided the lovely line, “take these fucking shoes and shoot them… In the fucking head”. Unfortunately, for the most part the humor gets lost in the tension of the scene instead of walking the line the show normally does so well. The scene where Ben grudgingly accepts the position of Chief of Staff didn’t work, partially because I had no idea what his job was before, and neither did Kent fighting with Gary over the tiny office. The Dan and Jonah scenes, as well as the ones with the hapless interns, were competent but without a home run plotline to carry them along, the episode overall loped to a finish much like Selina’s elections results. If the show does indeed continue this tonal shift in the fourth seasons, maybe I’ll reconsider my stance, but as is it now, Veep hasn’t entirely succeeded as Prez.

 

Amy hiding under bed to avoid hookup

“Slut-Shaming” Inside Amy Schumer S2 Finale Recap

Comedy Central has sketch comedy out the wazoo and in my opinion there’s none better than Inside Amy Schumer, which finished its second season on June 3rd and is already renewed. Stand up comedienne (or has that word gone the way of poetess?) Amy Schumer’s show features five sketches punctuated by on-the-street interviews and bits of her stand up. The stand-up comic transitioning into television is nothing new, see Seinfeld and now Louie over on FX, but she walks a thin line as a female comedian who plays up her explicit, alcohol-soaked lifestyle just as well as sending the perfect sext.

Amy Schumer Season 2
(Credit to Comedy Central)

Schumer doesn’t come across as some feminine paragon trying to make her way in the predominantly masculine world of sketch comedy, but she is also not cornered into some butch caricature just because she wears sweatpants outside. Inside Amy Schumer showcases a feminist approach to comedy and that’s refreshing for any viewer looking for a tiebreaker among many brilliant sketch options.

This episode doesn’t send the season out with a bang, but rather stays on even kilter with the rest of the season. Still in the grand scope of television, it’s top-notch comedy. The first sketch is like a combination of Sex and the City and 24 where Amy fights the clock detoxing and waxing to get ready for a nighttime booty call. A glossy, spot-on spoof relates a truth about Amy’s ludicrous drinking habits and really that of any woman taking on a Friday night. Unlike the tweens on all those carbon copy CW shows that wear four-inch heels to middle school, Amy lounges in pajamas without a bra on but pulls it together when necessary – and that’s OK.

Equal Opportunity Offender

Next is a sketch that challenges Amy and a male opponent to see who can go without contacting their ex the longest on a cruel game show only inches away from GSN’s Thursday night lineup. The utter lack of dignity of all the characters, male and female, illustrates the brutal awkwardness that makes show like Louie shine, are not at all lacking on this show because Amy’s a woman – not that anyone is thinking about all this so directly but gender politics are a subtle game.


Schumer walks a thin line as a female comedian who plays up her explicit, alcohol-soaked lifestyle just as well as sending the perfect sext


 

Shifting the tone to slightly surreal, Amy spends the next sketch goading her boyfriend into acknowledging the attractiveness of men reaching a delightfully cringeworthy climax. Schumer’s brand of feminism is not the preachy kind people like Shailene Woodly shun, but rather a feminism of a subtler variety that shows it is alright for women to be tough as well as vulnerable and the same goes for men.

Feminism Works in Mysterious Ways

The View/ The Talk spoof The Gab features the hosts lambasting a mutual friend, instead of an unfortunate celebrity, milking mundanity in the style of the Onion. The next and final sketch might not be the funniest, but definitely makes the show come together in terms of understanding Schumer’s style. Senator Schumer delivers a press conference addressing a series of senate sex scandals that are like Weiner times ten. If the sketch featured a man in the same position I doubt it would be as funny, but the fact that it is a woman makes it seem so bizarre it elicits a few more ha’s. The sketch brings up the point that there are far fewer high powered women in politics than men and none in recent memory have come forward with a sex scandal, which all seems sort of weird since that means 100% of sex scandals are being done by 50% of people.

Amy Schumer Season 2 Finale
Amy cleaning up before her hookup partner arrives.

I doubt here is a feminist television theorist that sits in the show’s writing room offering constructive criticism, but I do think Amy Schumer is certainly aware of these factors. See for yourself, though I would not recommend either of the season finales because in both Schumer brings on her high shock, low substance mentor Bridget Everett to close out the show in lieu of the hilarious interviews with low-profile people she normally does. At ten episodes a season, you can marathon both in the time it takes to get through like ¾ of a Game of Thrones season so check it out on Amazon Prime.

Mad Men Season 7 paisely

Mad Men Second Half of Season 7 Predictions

Predicting what the future of Mad Men will hold is all but impossible (except for that time Peggy had the surprised baby, which I totally called). Overall I’m paradoxically expecting surprised I couldn’t have fathomed, but I don’t see the show deviating too far from the world of realism where people’s lives move glacially.

I think our main man Don Draper is mostly on the right track. Yes he saw Bert’s ghost sing “The Best Things in Life are Free” but I’m going to chalk that up to withdrawal symptoms from being an alcoholic for at least seven years, and a super alcoholic for about two and Don looking to find personal fulfillment outside of the Time Life Building. This is the first time the show has deviated greatly from reality so I believe Weiner wouldn’t do that unless he had a darn good reason. I do believe Don will reconsider making a living at peddling half-truths now that he has come clean about himself. Of course he has swankified Manhattan apartment, alimony and maybe Megan to pay so he probably won’t quit his day job just yet but I think he’s going to start investing time in an activity that will help him better understand who he is and what he wants. If the Sopranos is any indication, due to Weiner’s writing for that show, I would think the final episode will indicate he has taken the first step to recover from alcoholism and his former life but he has no illusions about the temptations he will face along the way.

As Don’s protégé, Peggy has already learned a lot of the business from him, but I also see her learning from his personal foibles as well such as the time she had to take care of him like a drunk college student. Additionally I think she already had her low point that Don is currently wallowing in, during the season one finale where he she had Pete Jr. and wouldn’t even look at the little guy. She was also rebuffed by Pete, which must be embarrassing but thank goodness. Since then she has had to prove herself again and again as a woman in creative. Through this process I think she has got a better understanding of herself in the world, and specifically her strengths and weaknesses. I think she has come to the realization in her pursuit of a career, she neglected an interest in family that hit her like a speeding baby carriage, so I think she’s going to amass a community of proverbial Julios, maybe by developing her relationship with Stan or patching things up with Ted, so that she doesn’t end up alone like Don.

Joan’s had her fair share of hard knocks in the show, and more than I think she deserved even in her bitchier days deriving her sense of self worth from making people below her feel bad about themselves. She has made the biggest transformation in the series because after the disaster that was her marriage to Greg, she started demanding more for herself. She could’ve easily settled down with Bob Benson who would’ve bent over backwards to keep her happy and his secret safe, but she rebuffed him. She has a baby now and she’s getting on in years, so sadly I think she might end up alone, but she can at least take solace in her newfound self respect when she thinks about crying over Marilyn Monroe’s death, seeing her own future in her sad end.

Mad Men staircase
(Credit to Independent UK)

I’m not going to address Betty because she’s awful and will continue to be awful until she dies. Sally, on the other hand has just begun to shine. She is in a sweet spot where she is strong willed, especially against Betty, but not entirely committed to being rebellious to her detriment, something she illustrated by choosing the earnest boy her age over the dumb jock staying with them. The next few episodes I believe are going to set her up as an optimistic, confident girl trying to figure out where her values are and where she stands, i.g. being the prototypical Baby Boomer. Maybe she’ll sneak out with Glenn to catch a Jefferson Airplane concert or do shrooms with Glenn and follow the path from On the Road (you can see I’m pulling for Glenn to come back) but all I know fore sure is there’s no way she’s going to be an Italian speaking debutante like Betty.

Now Roger I think is going to quietly acquiesce on the Marigold front, but I don’t think he can quite admit to himself yet that she’s right. He isn’t personally strong enough, nor do I think he has any desire to change his hedonist life. I think he’s going to continue on his depraved path, maybe not forever with the hippies but in the same vein for the foreseeable future. Megan never needed Don, in fact I think he was holding her back, so I think that now that she is free she is going to become a 70’s sex symbol. Who knows, maybe she’ll make gap teeth a thing before Madonna gets on the scene.

I Love the 70s
(Credit to kyweathercenter.com)

Pete is one I truly can’t figure out because he has been sitting on the backburner so far this season so there must be some sort of big bang coming up. I could see the McCann acquisition totally violating his autonomy in LA to the point where he might even have to move back to New York which would remind him of all the problems he ran away from. Maybe it’s just my personal prejudice, but I think losing Bonnie and realizing both his daughter and his wife have moved on was only just the beginning of something worse that lies on the horizon.

Overall the technology that has been slowly creeping in this season will start flying in like a spaceship in the last seven episodes. The computer project is going to expand in scope and cost until everyone accepts that computers and technology are here to stay. At the agency the collective fear will either have reached a fever pitch or as is more likely for the adaptable humans we are, will be replaced with acceptance of the inevitable. The underlying emotions and scenarios these characters have always connected with us viewers, but I think the technology component is going to bridge the end of the show with now. Predictions are a tricky thing, but let me know in the comments where you disagree.

Mad Men First Half of Season 7 Recap

Don Draper hit rock bottom this season. Don’s daily use of deception to cover up affairs, alcoholism and most recently losing his job were all unraveled in the season six. After all his lies were forcibly uncovered by other characters, Don finally made the decision to rip off the Don Draper bandaid himself and let loose about his childhood – during a Hershey pitch meeting in last season’s finale. Come dawn of season seven, Don is jobless, temporarily wifeless (and looking like it might become permanent) and getting covert SC&P intel from his former secretary Dawn. Don hit rock bottom. Don has finally acknowledged he is on the way out as evidenced by his tutelage of Peggy to take over the Burger Chef pitch, but Don is still damaged goods. This mid-season is about he, and everyone else, getting a handle on the rapidly changing America they live in and attempting to find their places in it.

Self Realization: Don, Roger and Pete

In one last cashing in of Don’s charms in episode four, “The Monolith”, the partners allow Don to return to SC&P – as Peggy’s underling. Don gets (dead) Lane’s old office, moves a couch and is generally treated like a second-class citizen. He gets drunk on Scotch hidden in a Coke bottle and Freddy Rumsen ushers him out, note Freddy is the one who drunkenly peed his pants a couple season ago. Don finally acknowledges he no longer has the upper hand and attempts to trudge his way through demotion as per Freddy’s advice to “do the work.”

Don Draper drinking
(Credit amctv.com)

Don keeps cropping up in relation to many of the secondary characters not only because he is the protagonist, but also because many of the other characters are positioned in relation to him. Roger too has been forced into self-revelation after descending into a hedonistic, polygamous relationship with a bunch of hippie twentysomethings, echoing a lifelong struggle with consideration for his family. His daughter Margaret undergoes a zen transition this season beginning with with an apology to her father in episode one and ends with her moving to a commune and changing her name to Marigold in episode four. Roger considers Marigold’s abandonment of her child and husband as distinctly different from his long-term familial neglect, but seems to at least briefly understand because he doesn’t forcibly remove her from the commune. Roger’s parental rock bottom doesn’t result in a personal change, but does prompt him to take control of business and broker a deal for McCann Erickson to buy SC&P.

Pete lingers even farther back than Roger in self-realization as his relocation to Los Angeles resulted in nothing more than superficial changes of acquiring a girlfriend and learning about new sandwiches. Pete’s return to New York in episode six, “The Strategy”, causes his own family problems to resurface upon visiting Tammy, his daughter, who quakes in his presence. Where Roger at least took note of Marigold’s criticism before ignoring it, Pete ignores his problems entirely by extricating himself from New York.

The Feminine Spectrum from Megan to Betty

Over the course of the show, feminism has emerged in SC&P and this half season has highlighted this point more than ever. Megan, who never really seemed shackled to Don or men in general, leverages her bohemian independence by alternately using her sexuality to try and keep Don in episode five, “The Runaways”, and later in the midseason finale by denying Don’s plans to support her after the divorce. Even Betty, the least socially engaged of all the women in the show, asserts her opinion on the Vietnam War in opposition to her husband’s at a house party in episode five.

Betty, Joan, Peggy Mad Men
(Credit semiurban.com)

Joan’s negative experience with the Butler Shoe representative who won’t even meet with her in episode one, “Time Zones”, most clearly show that her sixteen years of employment still don’t equal Ken or Harry’s less time and higher position. Ultimately she manages to show her experience, the last few with two different jobs, do indeed stack up against an MBA she could neither have afforded nor likely been allowed to take. By directly affecting 50% of the population, feminism crops up again and again on the show, while civil rights has been understandably stifled by the wealthy, white men of SC&P who have nothing to gain from it. Still the movement has appeared this season when Bert objects to Dawn sitting at the front desk and due to their feminine connection or perhaps out of logistical necessity, Joan bumps Dawn up to her old job, Head of Personnel. Maybe Dawn will be able to leverage her advanced experience in aid of the underdog one of these days too.

Don 2.0

Peggy, arguably the other protagonist of Mad Men, has been pretty clearly set up in the past seven episodes as Don 2.0. Ever since her accidental pitch so many seasons ago she has shot up the SC&P ladder in spite of being a poor girl from Brooklyn, echoing Don’s humble beginnings. Peggy gets punished for being a woman, but in episode six she sees herself at 30 and her most maternal connection is with Julio from upstairs and even he’s moving to New Jersey. She sacrificed a family for her job and in her loneliness she finds a companion in Don who ultimately coaches her to a stellar Burger Chef presentation in the season finale.


 

Don hit rock bottom.


Another hallmark of this season is the IBM computer that Cutler and Harry tout as SC&P’s saving grace for the upcoming years. While most of the characters react to the invasive, incomprehensible IBM computer with subtle fear, the more extensive feat of technology, the lunar landing, unites the characters in a way only something that spectacular could do. The computer appears like some kind of villain that no one understands and even though a thousand IBM computers were probably involved in the trip to the moon it just feels different. Everyone from Betty and her family to the de facto creative family in Indiana cluster around the television. No one at the agency, except for perhaps Cutler and Harry, see the connection between the clunky computer in their office and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. But they will.

Mad Men’s first seven episodes so a sensational job of tying up a lot of loose ends from the first six seasons, while still indicating a final phase of the tumult that was the sixties. New episodes won’t be airing until 2015 so my advice would be to do some rewatching and stay tuned for my upcoming predictions for the last last season.