Monthly Archives: April 2015

‘Mad Men’ S7.5 E4 “Time & Life” is a Meditation on Transitions

Last night’s episode “Time & Life” lies squarely in the middle of the second half the seventh season, which might be one reason it orients itself around the concept of “transitions”. In fact, McCann-Erickson surreptitiously did not renew Sterling Cooper and Pryce’s lease meaning the agency will literally be transitioning to a new home base. The final three episode will no doubt tell the story of this transition within a show also in transition (to not existing) but if The Sopranos is any indication of Matt Weiner’s sensibilities, I doubt we will receive anything like closure on the series finale. Anyway, along with overarching transition happening this episode comes but the success and failures that led the characters of Mad Men to this point.

After the partners get notified in a backhanded fashion about McCann’s decision to absorb SC&P, Don characteristically leads the charge to try and remain independent by staking a claim to all of their conflicting accounts (say McCann’s Coca-Cola versus SC&P’s Sunkist). Don’s the idea guy and as we have seen time and time again he has the gift of gab, with a history of hitting home pitches no one else could have secured. Yet when Don launches into his presentation for McCann he gets interrupted (gasp) and dispatched with a couple of amused, “Don’s” (double gasp). Don’s identity crisis last week brought on by Mathis suggesting he might be more charm and good looks echoes here where a Don pep talk is not enough to save the company. Luckily for the partners McCann reframes the move in their minds from dissolving the agency to rewarding each partner on success since the merger.

The partners subsequently go out to a bar to celebrate and one by one they all leave to do things with family and friends. Eventually Don and Roger are the only ones left, and even Roger leaves – to meet up with Marie Calvet no less. A sloppy drunk Don so desperately searches for connection that he heads over to Diana’s gross old apartment only to find a gay couple. Even gay men a year after Stonewall are capable of an intimate relationship, while Don can’t even find the trainwreck that is Diana. Even Meredith stands up to Don this episode for being the last to know about the whole McCann situation and she tells him that in a few months he won’t have either an apartment or an office. He has lost his mojo and these past few episodes have illustrated that his transition into self awareness has brought him from bad to worse.

An artful zoom in to the faces of the partners on one side of a conference table mirrors a later zoom out at the end of the episode as they lose control when telling the office what they thought to be good news. Platitudes from the upper echelon don’t drown out the dissenting chatter, highlighting the privileged view both the partners have that insulates them from fear among the many lower level employees who won’t make it to the new office. Don tells them, “this is the beginning of something; not the end.” Well not according to Matt Weiner and again Don fails at keeping the calm with his trademark charisma. Transitions mean different things to different people, and this transition to McCann means even the partners will become cogs in a larger machine.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.44.37 AM

Peggy particularly understands her status as a cog this episode after hiring a headhunter who informs her a job at McCann offers both the highest salary and prestige across the board. She probably has her last sexist encounter with the McCann guys looming in her mind because as she mentions later in the episode, she wishes she could succeed just like a man does. From this stems another important development where Peggy conducts a focus group with children that highlights the transitional stage Peggy is in biologically. Her attempts at relating to the children are laughable and the focus group can only proceed when Stan intervenes and gets the ball rolling, in this case literally. In a touching moment later in the episode Peggy mentions that men have the luxury of ignorance, whether it be of how to play with children or even if they have children. She tells Stan she chooses to not know where her and Pete’s son is because it would hurt too much to know, and implicitly she might keep herself ignorant of children as a method of distancing herself from the family she has had to forego in order to succeed.

Save Don, nonromantic relationships get a boon this episode to the point where even Pete patches things up with Trudy. A slightly absurd storyline has Pete questioning the headmaster of Greenwich Country Day for placing dear Tammy on the waitlist, only to find out it’s due to a longstanding MacDonald-Campbell feud in which the headmaster and Pete are opposed. More to the point, he offers compassion to Trudy even though she was at fault for applying to no other schools. Don may have started out the show on top with a wife, kids and a debonair attitude that helped him score accounts and women on the side, but Pete in at least being up front about the kind of person he is and has been able to meaningfully grow into someone increasingly likeable.

Advertisements

‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ Official Trailer Released Two Days After Leak

The trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was released yesterday for the film that will premiere in a little under a year on March 25, 2016.

Given Sony’s unprecedented deal with Marvel to release four films through 2019, costly superhero films must truly break the mold in order to gain traction in what is quickly becoming an oversaturated market. Batman v. Superman, at least at first glance, certainly seems to break the mold with an apparently villainous Batman (Ben Affleck) taking on Superman (Henry Cavill). This is Batman in Superman’s world located in Chicago, so we will also see Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) as well as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) all making appearances in crossover film.

The tone of trailer dedicates a lot of time to presenting intensely negative media reactions to Superman’s alien powers which suggests an especially dark and gritty tone in line with recent trends, such as the new Netflix series Daredevil. Certain critics question this move towards “realism” as a means of differentiating this DC movie from its Marvel counterparts. Still Director Zack Snyder and Warner Brothers are likely trying to correct for the first film in the Superman saga, 2013’s Man of Steel, which was deemed lacking in character development and story.

Anticipation for this sequel is high considering the media storm surrounding a leaked version of the trailer with Portuguese subtitles just a few days before the trailer’s intended April 20th official release. Little of the plot has been released, but Snyder’s decision to use “v” in the title instead of “vs.” in order to “to keep it from being a straight ‘versus’ movie, even in the most subtle way” suggests the crew is trying to differentiate this sequel from all crossover film predecessors. Whether the film will live up to the director’s lofty ideas, however, is anyone’s guess through response has been mixed.

‘Mad Men’ S7.5 E2 “New Business” Brings Parallels, Mirrors and Foils to Add Past and Future Character Perspectives

I have to say reviewing Mad Men is pretty difficult because I assume even the lackluster parts of each episode weave into the larger tapestry Weiner wants to weave for us. Still the absurd amount of sex and propositioning this episode contains outdoes even its own high standards, in my opinion, and at points certain hookups like Prima with both Stan and an attempt at Peggy in addition to Don’s sexin’, Megan’s Mom with Roger and Harry’s come on to Megan it just feel like drama being orchestrated to suit certain themes or ensure certain arcs take shape. That said Weiner will never be in the same boat as Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk who frequently jam in so many plot points into their shows they feel more like a series of high octane events rather than a story, but for Weiner this week’s “New Business” came across as a tad disjointed among the many different story arcs.

Each story arc jived for me individually, however, and specifically for Don his brief tryst with the formerly mysterious waitress Diana did him no favors. Don has been more or less stalking Diana since the last episode, finally coercing her into giving him a ring for a late night booty call. Don and Diana have a lot more in common than a penchant for late night drunk sex with strangers, it turns out. Peggy has oft been presented as Don’s protégé and mirror with shared closeted, working class backgrounds and stellar instincts for creative. Now with Diane we see Don’s romantic protégé, i.e. someone just as emotionally damaged who applies many of the same tactics Don has so deftly employed in seasons past.

After their first hook up, Diane mentions that she is running from the death of her daughter and then just a bit later she adds she that she was lying before and that she left another alive daughter with her father to flee the pain. Not only does Diane lie about her past, but she also continually deflects personal questions and uses both sex and alcohol as a refuge. Sound familiar? Don finds his female counterpart yet as implied by Megan later on who accuses Don of being a liar who ruined her life, at least Diane comes clean about her true nature within about week of their meeting. Don took three children to only partially admit his past to Betty only because she had already discovered it on her own.

mad-men-season-7-episode-9-elisabeth-moss

Interestingly Prima, an photographer this week, plays as a potential future Peggy, albeit far more comfortable in her sexuality. Prima solicits both Stan and Peggy, but offhandedly mentions she has never married or had children and instead has achieved great professional success as a photographer. The parallels are not quite as clear with Prima and Peggy as with Don and Diana, but that’s all for the best otherwise the episode would have felt even more outlandish with two sets of doppelgangers. Season seven on the whole has time and again highlighted Peggy’s anxieties about relationships and starting a family with the touching Julio arc as well as the more on-the-nose Burger Chef pitch about families-by-any-other-name. Furthermore the last episode where Scottie momentarily swept Peggy off her feet only for her to turn back to work in the morning suggests Peggy will make some sort of decision about the juncture of her personal life and her work life by the end of the show and that could be anywhere from work-focused, personally lacking Prima/ Don to the other end of the spectrum. Also Prima Don(na).

After not appearing in the premiere, Megan returns in spades to the second episode to finalize her divorce from Don and get her furniture out of their apartment. In a very un-Mad Men ­fashion her tone and outlook changes over the course of just this episode. She begins upbeat and hopeful about starting fresh post-Don with all the acting prospects she had when she acted in New York, but her unsupportive family make Harry’s shameless propositioning feel like a much bigger to blow to the future of her career than it might otherwise have been. She mentioned how excited she was to be free of Don, but in a bittersweet fashion Harry reminds her that with that freedom comes a lack of financial support and no more access to Don’s wealthy bank of connections. At the same time her pious sister and bitter mother illustrate what can happen to women once they stay in toxic lives for too long – their anger damages them and those around them. Megan has always appeared to be the most emotionally stable and well adjusted of the cast so I believe her sadness by the end of the episode if a momentary setback instead of the beginning of a long decline.

In other news Betty wants to be a psychologist. I guess as long as she isn’t sharing her opinion on the Vietnam War, Francis will indulge her crazy, crazy whims. I certainly hope that this was not Megan’s last episode, but leaving with all of Don’s furniture and $1 million would be fitting given her enterprising character arc. Chaotic episodes such as these will likely be par for the course for the remaining episodes in order to tie up loose ends but hopefully each arc will intersect in a more fluid manner in upcoming episodes.

‘Mad Men’ S7.5 E1 “Severance” Sets Up Its Central focus for the Episode and Series: Identity

Last night’s “Severance” brought a focused return to the second half of Mad Men’s seventh and final season. The episode only delved into the lives of our dapper protagonist Don Draper and his coworkers, leaving Megan, Betty, Sally and co. for later in the season. By not addressing the family, the Matt Weiner-penned episode could explore how the employees of SC&P relate to their identity, as constructed from the workplace and otherwise. This rather melancholy episode starts off with what may be the show’s central focus: identity. Each character’s understanding of their identity is seen conflicting with their hopes, desires and even reality with characters like Ken and Peggy worried about falling into an inertia that come so easily in adulthood, particularly in the sixties. With the show wrapping up, notions of the past and future also get subtly intertwined into all this identity business, illustrating where identity inertia can lead 45 years down the road.

Don is back to his womanizing ways with alcohol close behind, yet his relationship with drinking, at least for now, seems a lot more healthy than when had to be escorted out of the office by Freddy Rumsen. On one hand he has accepted his impoverished past, telling the women he and Roger bring to a diner an elaborate story about his stepmom’s toaster in their boarding house, yet Don now wields his real past like a sword for slaying the ladies that doesn’t quite match up with the bleak flashbacks. Don still seems incapable of allowing others to delve into his past and understand his true identity, and that same issue with intimacy permeates the entire episode. In a telling moment Don walks into his apartment and turns on the lights to gaze upon his lavish, but completely empty, apartment which prompts him to turn the lights off again and check in with his secretary on how many women have called asking for him (3). Don barrels through these nameless sexy women, but a dream he has of Rachel Katz that sends him searching for the one woman who prompted him to truly open up about his troubled childhood years before he did so to anyone else. He discovers she died just one week before, sending him to where her family is sitting shiva. He he looks over at all the mourners, suggesting a longing not only for Rachel but also for an intimate community that would be there to proverbially sit shiva for him when the time comes. Perhaps this loss sends him trying to pursue Diana, an employee at a diner, where he tries starting with sex and then unsuccessfully following up with romance.

Don’s protégé Peggy is not quite as aware of her identity and how to manipulate it as Don is, but she definitely has a certain idea of how she should behave. Peggy’s employee Johnny Mathis sets her up on a date with his brother-in-law and after a few drinks she almost flies to Paris with the guy! Peggy is often seen as a parallel to Don by critics and that certainly fits with their guarded nature and keen eyes for creative, but a fundamental difference between the two gets squarely addressed this episode. While Don has sex with that Diana in an alley without saying more than a few words beforehand, Peggy insists that her date Stevie wait to have sex with her since she believes in their potential as a couple. She wakes up the next morning regretting being emotionally indulgent enough to almost fly to Europe, but we see that she still has access to her emotions and, at least while drunk, craves intimacy over sex. Don acts on drunk autopilot much of the time and seems to have lost hope of actually allowing access to his real emotions. Mad Men is a cynical show so there’s no saying Peggy will build on this momentary emotional fragility but there is a hope in her I’m not sure Don has at this point.

Peggy’s role as a woman in the male-dominated SC&P also comes into play in contrast to Joan who we may remember from earlier seasons consciously throwing around sexuality to get what she wants out of the men at the office. Since then Joan has matured and refocused her attention now as partner, but sexist McCann employees harass Joan and then Peggy unintentionally underscores the issue by mentioning how rich Joan is from becoming partner she doesn’t need to really work. That lucrative partnership wouldn’t have happened if Joan hadn’t slept with Herb Rennet in order to get the Jaguar account. Joan comes back the next day wearing a buttoned up, puke green shirt and librarian-esque glasses. After getting a call from one of the sexist McCann employees Joan finishes off the day with some designer retail therapy. Peggy has largely ignored the issue of sexism by focusing almost singly on the word, but Joan’s relationship with sexism suggests confusion in how her identity previously hinging on attractiveness will play out now that she manages accounts.

An interesting addition to this week’s episode is Ken Cosgrove who debates with his wife about whether he should continue along his lucrative trajectory in advertising or opt for his dream job as a writer. His wife’s dad brings into stark contrast what it meant to be a man in his generation versus Ken’s when he brags about cooking a Poptart. Likely puttering around Ken’s mind is the thought of being less of a man by pursuing his dream of being a writer in a world where men were so alienated from the domestic life that his wife’s dad found making a Poptart a commendable task. By the end of the episode Ken continues along in his role in advertising, relocating to Dow Chemical out of spite after he is unceremoniously fired from SC&P. I think the American model is often one of redemption because every soul has a bit of good in ‘em, but not so for Mad Men. Every character has seen significant changes since season one, but I wouldn’t say they are changing. This show has always been conscious of its temporal relation to the now being set in the sixties, but that focus is even more relevant now that the show is on the cusp of the seventies. We can all theoretically understand what identity is, but as the character have shown this episode abstract knowledge can often be at odds with real experience.