All posts by Sarah M. Turner

About Sarah M. Turner

Television has been a big part of my life ever since I made a three hour, multi-channel television schedule down to the minute when I was eight beginning with Cyberchase and ending with Scooby-Doo. I feel the need to tell people what I'm watching and why, the only difference is that now I do it with Popinsomniac instead of AIM when my mom isn't on the phone. TITLE

‘The Bling Ring’ is a 2008 Period Piece – In the Very Best Way

I could think of no one better suited to direct a film about affluent, glamor-obsessed, Los Angeles teens than Sofia Coppola. Her heightened focus on aesthetics over conventional character development, in films like Marie Antoinette and adaptation The Virgin Suicides, is perfectly geared towards the similarly superficial Bling Ring members. The girls’ Uggs, giant sunglasses and even the A-List theft victims who’ve since faded into obscurity, capture Los Angeles in 2008 so well the film could be seen as a period piece of the not-so-distant past. The focus is not so much on the characters, but rather on a cultural landscape where The Hills’ Audrina Patridge was relevant and any song off Kanye West’s Dark Twisted Fantasy is perfect for wealthy teens to blast in their cars.

The movie starts off with quietly depressed new kid, Marc Hall (Israel Broussard), getting sent to Indian Hills High School – apparently the designated place for the troubled youths of Calabasas.  He almost immediately gets sucked into future ringleader, Rebecca Ahn’s (Katie Chang) toxic group of friends. They’re all wealthy: Marc’s dad manages a studio’s foreign film distribution for example and Rebecca traipses around in harem pants and high heeled boots at 15, but they still exist on the periphery of cool. Catching a Kirsten Dunst sighting at the club is what truly allows these kids to transcend high school cool for Hollywood cool by proxy. That explains why Marc, Rebecca, Chloe Trainer (Claire Julien) and adopted sisters Nicki Moore (Emma Watson) and Sam Moore (Taissa Farmiga) appear to spend 75-90% of their time partying or preparing their minds and bodies to party.

The real life Bling Ringers
The real life Bling Ringers

In a series of poorly integrated interviews, Marc offers a dab of awareness as to the moral implications of their lifestyle, but the desire to fit in quickly silences him. He idolizes Rebecca, who herself idolizes the celebrities whose homes they break into. When at a third of the way through the film Chloe Trainer gets in a drunk driving accident and then the next day brags, “my level was off the charts. It was crazy,” we see in this world a DUI is a badge of honor. Their actions are reprehensible, yet we can all identify with lusting for popularity in high school and for rich, LA teens the stakes seem to be much higher.

The main characters are constantly searching for ways to reach the next high. After snorting coke with twentysomething men has become pedestrian, it makes sense that Rebecca encourages Marc to break into sports cars in search of money for a Rodeo Drive shopping spree. The jump from breaking into sports cars to breaking into million dollar homes happens without a clear logical motivation, but teenage decisions are notoriously lacking in logical motivation. When Rebecca shows off a Paris Hilton bracelet and Marc reveals they “walked right in. It was so fucking chill,” it becomes clear that this will be their new high.

Not even halfway through the film when all the friends have joined Rebecca on her conquest of stars’ homes, Coppola throws in a whopper of a metaphor. At another star’s house, Sam finds a loaded gun and plays with it, pointing it at her friends and spinning it around. Without an ounce of self awareness, Sam calls attention to the massive loaded gun they’re all playing with: repeatedly breaking into wealthy celebrities’ homes and then posting about it on Facebook. Beautifully shot by the late Harris Savides, from hundreds of feet away we watch the Bling Ring members scurry around Audrina Patridge’s home like dolls unknowingly becoming the spectacles they always wanted to be.

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We get a few minutes at the end of the kids being taken to court and handed out punishments, but the severity gets minimized with the levity of Emma Watson’s spot-on Nicki still focused on finding appropriate clothes to wear to court. Really the best part of the last third of the film was the different characters all getting found out by the police because it provides a counterweight to the series of highs that characterized this film. All of these teens were just searching for their next high, going farther and farther to get the feeling back. The characters are pretty depthless and so are the specifics of the plot, but each visually intense scene scored to fun, bass-heavy beats compels you on because we get a glimpse into these kids’ lives – and it’s kind of exhilarating.

‘Mad Men’ Series Finale: “Person to Person” Suggests Life’s a Cycle – and People Don’t Change

So what’s the moral of Mad Men’s story? Even without some distilled lesson, we should be able to chart a few transformations under the auspice of the American Dream where, at least ostensibly, an individual could start with nothing and grow and improve to become, oh I don’t know, a millionaire ad man. Now how do we rectify that with the show’s creator, as well as this episode’s director and writer, Matthew Weiner’s quote from a recent Rotten Tomatoes interview saying point blank, “people don’t change”? Our beloved characters’ last hurrahs in “Person to Person” might lead you to think that Peggy’s emotional forthrightness with Stan was out of character or that Pete’s recent sincerity towards Trudy and Peggy does not mesh with the Pete we knew season one. Sure Pete’s demeanor and Peggy’s honesty with herself have morphed over the seasons, but overall I contend that the characters’ underlying motivations and selves remain in tact. Let’s first look at Don.

Don’s final destination has been decidedly murky since embarking on his unannounced cross-country road trip over the past few episodes and this instability is definitely nothing new. Mad Men’s compelling pilot introduced us to Don’s double life as a philanderer and later on his more long-term double life as Dick Whitman impersonating Lieutenant Don Draper. Since those earliest moments Don’s story has been a great unraveling of a superficially stable and successful life as a wiz advertising executive living in the suburbs to a thrice divorced ad executive with a giant, empty Manhattan apartment. Don’s increasing instability can be traced to certain aspects of his character that have remained relatively static, i.e. his penchant for deception, his knowledge of people and a difficulty with commitment – which all pan out this episode.

Against all odds and without a car, Don ends up in Utah when Sally calls to inform him of Betty’s lung cancer. A wizened Sally coaches Don on parenthood, a thought echoed by Betty in a stirring phone conversation with Don. Betty uses a surprisingly display of strength to remind Don that his sole consistency has been transience. The early portion of this episode lags under the weight of so many conversations having to tie up seven seasons-long character arcs, but nonetheless both Betty and Sally deliver strong performances reminding Don that even impending death will not fundamentally change him into an honest, committed father. As a result Don moves on from Utah to Stephanie Horton’s house in Los Angeles, thus ending his journey with the closest person to the greatest (platonic) love of his life – Anna Draper. Stephanie drags Don to a hippie retreat in California causing Don to reassess his emotional reclusiveness surrounded by an openness unseen in New York. Don bonds with a staightlaced man named Leonard, who chronicles the depth of his perceived insignificance where nobody in his life would care if he dropped dead. Don firmly embraces Leonard, physically bridging a gap with a show of intimacy heretofore unprecedented from Don in any context. A call with Peggy rushes back to Don because despite his transience and unreliability at least one person sincerely cares about his wellbeing.

The logical conclusion would be on many other shows that Don realizes his self worth and leaves the ad industry to pursue his love of cares falling in step with his blue collar upbringing. However all indications from the perfectly chosen final scene don’t suggest this sort of predictable transformation. Don sits on a promontory meditating with a diverse group of hippies, perhaps the same group he had scoffed at doing tai chi the previous day. Don chants “om” and then a smile curls on his face – before we cut to one of the most memorable commercials of all time featuring a diverse group of young people sing about buying the world a Coke. Sure Don got his mojo back, but just like the first episode where Don comes up with a Lucky Strike pitch from something a waiter mentions, he uses this rambling experience as source material for an ad, a hallmark ad sure, but an ad nonetheless. Don might have changed his approach from drunkenly mining ideas from a dark, dingy bar to a sunlit wellness retreat on the California coast, but through and through Don knows how to manipulate people.

Peggy and Joan, our other foci for the episode, have also grown while remaining the same. After Peggy tries to comfort Don, she and Stan finally verbalize the feelings they have both had for some time. In a sputtering reveal, Stan tells Peggy he loves her and Peggy comes to the conclusion she loves him too, which all seems at odds with her singular focus on work that catapulted her from secretary to copy chief. Still the final pan on Peggy starts off with her typing at the typewriter well into night before Stan is revealed behind her massaging her shoulders. Peggy’s passionate pursuit of work achievement is strong as ever, but now she also happens to have a man behind her.

In a seeming role reversal, the less traditionally feminist Joan chooses a budding production company over her new boyfriend Richard. Joan’s arc may have involved the most change from a character largely defined by her relationships and sexuality to one defined by her tenacity to succeed in business. In fact, we are reminded of Joan and Roger’s relationship when he visits to discuss the assets he plans to leave for Kevin in his will. Ultimately when considering the eight year age difference between Joan and Peggy and given Joan’s discomfort in settling for a well off married life with Greg, it is likely that societal pressures more strongly impeded Joan. Joan goes so far as to tell Richard, “I can’t just turn off that part of myself,” suggesting business acumen has always been there and had just to be unearthed.
If there is a moral to the story of Mad Men it’s not some lesson that hard work and grit will get you what you want (see Joan’s firing from McCann). Instead I would argue that the characters never really changed, but rather learned to be more honest with themselves about who they are and what they want. In that way the resolution of Don’s character arc was less of a change and more of an acceptance of who he has always been. Don may truly have benefited from the retreat and yoga, but he wouldn’t be Don if he didn’t use that knowledge to make an ad.

‘Mad Men’ S7 E13 “The Milk and Honey Route” Puts Nails in a Few Coffins

The title of this week’s episode, “The Milk and Honey Route”, has obvious connotations to prosperity from our good ol’ friends Moses and the burning bush. Obviously on a grand scale the Mad Men focuses on the advertising bubble of prosperity often closed to minorities, women and those without privileged backgrounds (unless you lie about it). On an individual level the title also applies. Betty has courted this route only to recently discover it doesn’t always provide happiness, whereas Pete discovered that the milk and honey route could offer more on a personal level than hedonism. Another meaning I came across for ‘milk and honey’ was a horrible ancient Persian method of execution whereby a poor person would be tied down, force fed milk and honey until they got covered in their own diarrhea and attracted bugs. Usually they would die of some combination of dehydration, starvation and septic shock. Talk about too much of a good thing.

Too much money and not quite enough love led Betty to live a life circumscribed by fear. Betty lived most of her life guided by the fear of living outside of societal expectations. Only recently has she been able, with the support of a husband capable of love, to somewhat confidently return to college and pursue psychology despite knowing she would never actually use it for much of anything. Betty is no Peggy, trailblazing in a male- dominated world to make a name for herself, nor is she Joan, formerly accessing power by leveraging her sexuality as the ultimate means of male control. Still we have seen her reach a sort of Zen moment over the course of the past season where she can listen to what she actually wants and enjoy herself. And then we she finds out she has aggressively malignant lung cancer. Betty has achieved all she realistically ever would – a successful family, getting called Mrs. Robinson by a bunch of teenage boys and pursuing a college degree for her own pleasure. The artfully slow zoom onto her face as she hears the news suggests a profound sadness, but not one that would destroy her as I believe it would have season one.

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Henry brings in Sally to convince Betty to seek treatment, but Betty confidently asserts herself to both saying that not fighting cancer is a choice she made out of power over her life – not out of weakness. Betty doesn’t comfort Sally, of course, but in a letter Sally was meant to open after she dies Betty does offer two sentences on her hope for Sally’s future. Don’s prescription that Sally would end up like her parents is probably true, but not entirely in the way he intended. Sally showed Betty’s strength this episode when she instinctually filled the maternal role for her younger siblings when Betty fled the kitchen, but unlike her parents she has the confidence to extend her feelings outward and use Don’s charm to follow her passions. The best thing Matt Weiner has done here was leave Sally’s options open so we know nothing more than that her life will be the “adventure” Betty praises in her letter.

Pete of all people seems to also have grasped how to access his emotions capping off a months long reconciliation with Trudy this episode. For much of the season Pete has been on the backburner due to his complete comfort with transition from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to McCann. His confidence in himself stands in contrast to most of the other characters on the show and as a result he seems to have finally internalized that he doesn’t have to indulge in adultery and alcoholism to be in advertising. He now has consideration for his family that startles in its sincere intent, if not its successful execution. When Tammy gets a bug bite this episode he tenderly puts toothpaste on it, finally showing his commitment to his family instead of just spewing hollow words. His personal journey came to a head this week when he turned up at Trudy’s at 4 AM and pulled out moves no one thought he had, wooing her into reuniting with him for life in Wichita. Sure Trudy likely desired a return to good standing among the upper crust by unifying a broken home, but their kiss this episode was, ahem, something.

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Beginning in “Lost Horizon”, Don ventured away from the milk and honey of advertising to the point where when asked what he did this episode he responded, “I was in the advertising business.” Don ends up in a rural motel after driving west seemingly without a destination in mind, and news of Don’s financial success spreads quickly among the residents. After donating $40 ($249.13 today?!) at a fundraiser, Don gets framed for stealing $500 ($3,114.21!!) because town residents think he would only have donated so much if he knew he would be getting it back. Talk about too much of a good thing.

Red herrings were strewn about this episode about what, if anything might pull Don out of his existential funk such as his skill at fixing various things around the motel which could reconnect him with his blue collar roots. But the real focus was on Don admonishing the real thief of the fundraiser money, a young man who worked at the motel cleaning rooms. Don corrects the kid’s grammar and advises him against the hustler life because, as Don knows well, once you start the con game it can set the tone for the rest of your life. By the end Don leaves the young man with his car and everything in the glove compartment, which the young man accepts without looking back. The final shot of the episode leaves Don at a rural bus stop with nothing more than a plastic bag and a casual flannel outfit in lieu of his trademark suit. With one episode left and Don hell-bent on minimalism and fleeing his past, in the final episode Don is bound to be either naked on a commune or dead. My advice for anxious viewers is hope for the best – but expect the worst.

‘Mad Men’ S7.5 E5 “Lost Horizon” Unhinges the SC&P Partners in the Wake of a Bumpy McCann Transition

Last week Don had to step in and comfort an office on the verge of mutiny after the McCann acquisition announcement, but this week I don’t think there is anyone optimistic enough to even offer platitudes. Wires hang from the ceiling, Shirley quits in (rightful) anticipation of racial discrimination and all that remains in the office are yesterday’s designs taped onto office windows. Only the most corporate minded folks like Harry and Pete have adjusted to the claustrophobic, grey hallways at McCann, but “Lost Horizons” isn’t about those two. Roger assures Peggy that his dealings with McCann were purely business, i.e. a powerful company offered big money for their small agency, but somehow he forget that the small agency culture allowed for the growth and innovation McCann-Erickson can ignore with the inertia of already held accounts and name recognition.

Last week Joan picked up on the distinctly not progressive McCann’s plans for her when Jim Hobart promised juicy accounts to all the partners – except her and this week we see she was right to be concerned. Although Peggy has always been the most outspoken beacon of feminism on the show, Joan has recently suffered the most at the hands of the ignorant men of McCann. After a disastrous transition meeting bringing on McCann’s Dennis to the Topaz account, Joan’s pursuit of fair treatment yields an unrelenting string of opposition to a female account executive despite her clear commitment and intelligence. She goes up the chain of command first to Ferguson Donnelly, who unabashedly agrees to help her if he can sleep with her, and finally to Jim Hobart who point black informs her neither Joan nor Peggy will keep their accounts intact after the transition. Early on Joan’s confidence and belief in the reason that secured her a partnership back at SC&P and causes her to turn down her new boyfriend’s willingness to support her should she quit. But unfortunately life isn’t always like an uplifting TV show.

Joan threatens Hobart with ACLU retaliation and that does get Hobart to sit back down on even kilter after standing over her threateningly, but he does is offer her 50 cents on the dollar of her acquisition money if she leaves immediately. The next day Joan tellingly takes a picture of her son and bids adieu to Roger, who in this new regime can’t save her. While we all appreciate the efforts of the Gloria Steinems and the Betty Freidans, a prolonged legal battle with the high probability of seeing a net loss just isn’t possible for Joan, a middle aged single mom at this point. The hardest scenes on Mad Men are the ones where we get reminded that the 60’s, and now the 70’s, was more than just day drinking and swanky suits. In fact it included quite a lot of hardcore sexism, racism and homophobia built into the infrastructure of American society. Joan’s symbolic departure dredged up some strong anger personally and yet her confrontational last episode (maybe?) draws a stark contrast with Peggy’s alternative mode of feminist defiance, thus offering hope that at least one SC&P female executive will defy the idiots at McCann.

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Fans got a rare Roger and Peggy scene this week that along with Bert’s mystical appearance in Don’s passenger seat added a surreal tone to this week’s episode. Of course, McCann has been dragging their feet on getting Peggy over to the office by not having her office ready and screwing up all the other arrangements, but as a result she wanders into Roger playing the organ at the old SC&P office. Apart from the clear funerary dirge for the agency, Redditor gr8ver proposed a Phantom of the Opera comparison with Roger playing the role of the unloved Erik and Peggy being Christina. Don has been grooming Peggy to replace him since season one, but as Roger relays through a good ol’ World War II story, he is going to give her the final push. Roger offers her Bert’s somewhat inexplicable painting of “an octopus pleasuring a woman” which she tries to deflect telling him, “you know I need to make men feel at ease,” but we all know that tack won’t work at McCann. At first Peggy sits rigidly in her chair listening to Roger talk at her, but a few vermouths later she rollerskates around the office to the tune of Roger’s organ. In Peggy’s final scene of the episode, she walks down the hallways of McCann cigarette in mouth, raybans on eyes and a tentacle porn painting by her side, all of which suggests the confidence Don has so obviously lost is hers for the taking.

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Although Meredith has been gradually taking up the mantle of best secretary ever, the inkling last week that Don lost his mojo has come to startling fruition in “Lost Horizon”. At the beginning of the episode Jim Hobart tells Don he is the key to ratcheting up McCann’s game and of course Don warms to the praise until he makes it to the Miller Beer meeting where a dashing, younger man delivers a golden era Don pitch. The noticeably unnamed man paints a picture of the company’s target audience with the same zeal and confidence (or maybe more) that Don used to have. Without anything like a support network or a strong sense of self, Don gazes out the window at the Empire State Building stewing on the potential of self destruction – and then actualizing it! What I mean by that is that Don drives to Racine in effort to catch the flighty Diana and falls into default mode putting on two different personas in an effort to extract information on her whereabouts from her ex-husband. In a final blow, Don doesn’t even manage to fool the ex because apparently random men turn up all the time looking for Diana. This week’s song choice, David Bowie’s 1969 “Space Oddity” underscores and perhaps foretells Don’s journey. By all accounts Don has finally snapped just like the song’s protagonist Major Tom he’s hurtling into orbit/ driving aimlessly towards St. Paul.

“Though I’m past
one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go”

‘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.

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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.

‘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.

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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.

‘Girls’ S4E10 Review: “Home Birth” Show Us Toning Down the Crazy Doesn’t Mean Selling Out

A mature fourth season brings us a deceptively simple finale that doesn’t try to wow us with anything too crazy (I mean we all should’ve expected Caroline’s delivery to be a little bumpy), but instead underscore the main characters’ growth over the course of the season. In season one Shosh does crack, in season two Hannah has sex with Jessa’s teenage step brother but the season four finale is the result of a two season long cool down where consequences and realizations are catching up with the girls and guys we know so well. Certain television tropes stick out in this episode where moments get tied up too neatly with a set up we have seen before, yet elements of the show’s disjointed style remain to ensure this episode doesn’t feel too sugarcoated. This week’s “Home Birth” shows a marked change from last season’s finale with botched assisted suicides and the beginning of the Marnie/Desi affair but as Hannah has shown us this season change doesn’t always have to mean selling out.

Sitcoms and dramas alike often use births as ‘coming together’ episodes because they illustrate how a show’s various characters react to an array of emotions from surprise, fear, stress all the way to joy. It is rarely about the actual mother and father who often remain pretty focused on the actual birthing process, but rather the surrounding characters and that remains true for this episode. Gaby Hoffmann really delivers on Caroline’s paranoid fear of the “birth industrial complex” that she thinks will drug up her and the baby as does Jon Glaser as the cowardly Laird who refuses to overcome his fear and convince Caroline to see a doctor for her premature breech birth. Still Caroline and Laird mainly set the stage for Adam, Hannah and Jessa who all respond rather characteristically to this impending disaster.

I have loved watching Jessa’s progression this season most of all and the finale did justice to the character we have probably seen change the most over the course of Girls. Unlike Adam and Hannah who scream and whine, respectively, during labor Jessa keeps calm, sticks her head in Caroline’s bathtub to look at her uterus and finally orders everyone else to contribute to the situation instead of panic. Jessa’s normal detachment and lack of responsiveness to others’ emotions works as a boon here, resulting in the crew carrying a wriggling Caroline through Manhattan to the hospital. When Jessa ultimately decides she wants to be a psychologist at the end of the episode one could certainly read that as abrupt with no previous mention of a career idea much less one requiring 8 years of college, but here Jessa’s impulsiveness fits completely within her character as someone who completely commits to what she wants as soon – as she figures it out.

Adam and Hannah more or less keep it together while Caroline is in labor, but Adam’s longing for Hannah at the end of the previous episode has grown stronger after Mimi Rose out of the blue dumped him for Ace! There is a wonderfully directed scene where Adam reaches his hand over baby Jessa-Hannah’s incubator telling her all the things the break up-er tells the break up-ee when the break up-er discovers his mistake. To Adam’s string of apologies and please, Hannah responds with sage advice on getting over Mimi Rose clearly drawn from her tough recovery post-Adam but she does not grab Adam’s hand despite how easy it would be. Season one Hannah would’ve run back to him in a second, but season four Hannah has more considerate fish to fry namely Fran who has inexplicably gotten over his belief in Hannah’s penchant for drama. The episode begins with Hannah recovering from a not-quite panic attack with Fran comforting her, and one fatal flaw of this episode is not hinting at how Fran reversed his opinion on Hannah after the art show or the Cleo debacle for a relationship going strong in a six month time jump at the end of the episode.

Meanwhile Shosh, Ray and Marnie operate in a pseudo-love triangle where no one loves Ray but he still plays an important role in both their trajectories. Ray gives Desi the lowdown on all the reasons he is folksy trash prompting him to skip a show Desi and Marnie have for a big-time record exec and some bloggers. Marnie’s one-liner driven self-empowerment felt off to me, but still her decision at Ray’s behest to sing solo feels satisfying even if the lead up is kind of hokey. Shosh gets offered a job at Abigail, an orderly international clothing store (I think), bedecked in pink and perfect for her – except it’s located in Japan her Madame Tinsley’s soup guy boyfriend promises he will probably love her soon in hopes she will stay. She isn’t even worthy of Ray’s attention as he is preoccupied with Marnie, but Shosh finally stands up for herself and her needs and chooses to take the job. As perhaps the least fleshed out of the girls, her story arc this season has been streamlined, simplified and rushed including this episode, but she still seems to have changed over the course of this season approaching her Abigail interview sooo much differently than the Madame Tinsley’s or Ann Taylor Loft interviews of yore.

It turns out ratings dropped from this finale to the last and I think it’s because Girls is in no uncertain terms taking a turn for maturity and consistency rather than the frantic desperation of these girls trying to figure out their twenties. The episode surely was sedate but I am chalking that up to a more sedate season on the whole, though only next season will prove if the show is capable of carrying on a tonally transformed show without feeling quite so sedate. I don’t want season four to be the beginning of the end so instead I will consider this the end of the beginning, or the end of their elongated childhood as self-centered girls, hopefully paving the way for the beginning of their adulthood.

‘Tank Girl’ Review: To Camp or Not to Camp?

In absolute terms Tank Girl is not a good movie. In fact I think it would be very hard to translate the absurdist, nonlinear British comic into a big budget film catered to a mainstream audience. The 1995 adaptation could, however, be considered a good camp movie. Camp for the uninitiated encompasses a wide array of films and meanings, but simply put it’s a genre with a consistently exaggerated tone in acting, writing, music or anything else you see in the movie. Rocky Horror Picture Show might be the prototypical camp film and for our purposes will serve as one end of our de-luxe movie spectrum.

Rachel Talalay’s Tank Girl certainly registers as camp on the movie spectrum by including an exotic dance club madam forced to sing Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It” and so-bad-they’re-good zingers like “Look, it’s been swell, but the swelling’s gone down.” Still heavy studio interference impeded a full commitment to camp. The comic creator’s Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett (also of Gorillaz fame) complained that their voices were unceremoniously silenced in an effort to develop a film deemed more palatable for the general American audience. As a result Tank Girl spews references to topical cultural phenomena like Baywatch that are halfbaked in execution and hardly make sense in 2033. If either poles had won out over the other, i.e. a confidently surrealist and explicit cinematic translation of the comic or a straightened out, highly-produced big budget film, I think Tank Girl could have been the exemplar adaption movie for more complex source material than Superman. As it is the film shuffles all over the spectrum resulting in a film unsatisfying from all sides.

Even summarizing Tank Girl’s plot is difficult because a linear storyline has been grafted onto the nonlinear source material, ultimately falling into a pit of cliches. The main character, Rebecca Buck or Tank Girl, starts out the film dropping us some exposition by quickly outlining the three factions in a post-apocalyptic, water starved world: the Water and Power corporation that hoards water with an iron fist, Tank Girl’s commune that illegally siphons off water and the mysterious and dangerous marauding Rippers.

The ensuing narrative about W&P capturing the defiant Tank Girl and her young friend Sam is hardly the point, having overall lost much of its luster in the Hollywood whitewashing process, more compelling rather are the film’s moments. The Tank Girl comics are well known for their strong visual aesthetic seen here in Tank Girl’s many androgynous outfits and the overall rendering of a post-apocalyptic Australia. As one of Tank Girl’s 18 costume changes, her missile shaped bra highlights the striking aesthetic that all too often got papered over in this film. Vivid scenes grace the film such as Tank Girl’s cutting of her stockings in the mode of a strip tease set to one of the delightful 90’s alt rock songs curated by Hole frontwoman Courtney Love. Almost incongruous scenes like this do nothing to progress the awkward plot forward, but Talalay’s smart directorial decision to focus on Lori Petty’s pitch perfect acting are when the movie and the audience has the most fun.


missile bra

A mismatch occurs from the humor and tone of the original British comic set in Australia to the ambiguous locale in the film that houses mostly Americans along with a few unexplained Brits like Naomi Watts’ character Jet Girl and the evil leader of W&P Malcolm McDowell’s Kesslee. Threats of rape on Jet Girl in prison and Tank Girl twice before she even makes it to prison are mined for laughs, but often violent retaliation by spurned men connotes a confusingly vicious edge. The comics contain plenty of violence and far more lewd sex, but the tonal variance make the same kind of themes and plot points overly dark and uncomfortable in the film adaptation. Without Lori Petty playing Tank Girl to irreverent perfection, this film would be an unmitigated disaster, but she manages to stabilize scenes that would have floundered without her comedic timing.

By the end of the film, despite certain humorous highlights, the wavering between almost acknowledged camp and Hollywood drivel makes the film feel overwhelmingly disjointed. This comic probably shouldn’t have been made into a live action movie with its science fiction adaptations of the comic, like the mutant kangaroos and a hologram head, coming across as far more silly than cool. Luckily interspersed animated sequences done by Steve Evangelatos although irregularly incorporated in the film fit much more in line with the edgy comic’s intent. Adapted films rarely capture the essence of its source material, especially when its source material is as nuanced and complex as the Tank Girl comics, so my advice is if you’re interested in Tank Girl read the comics and skip the movie.