Monday, September 21, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: Missed it by a foot

Before we get in to this week's "Mad Men" recap, I'd like to congratulate the entire cast and crew on their second consecutive Emmy win for Best Drama. And what a night to win! Look, we all know the "Mad Men" formula: slow, methodical character development that occasionally leads up to a shocking moment, made all the more stunning by the calm that preceded it. Well, last night contained one of those moments and, by my count, might be the first one to contain actual bloodshed. Yeesh.
Spoilers ahead.
Let's start with that bloodshed, shall we? This week's episode followed this dramatic template, once famously described by Chekhov: If you introduce a riding mower in the first act, then you must show a pompous Brit getting his foot chewed up by said mower by the last. I'm paraphrasing of course. But that's exactly what happened here. Near the start of the episode, co-head of accounts Ken Cosgrove tootles in on a lawn tractor, given to him by clients at John Deere. He's feeling chuffed, but sobering news is on the way. The British are coming. Specifically, the higher ups at Ster/Coop's new owners, Putnam, Powell and Lowe, are on their way in for an inspection.
Their visit also coincides with Joan's last day at Ster/Coop. She's expecting Worthless Greg to be made chief resident, so she can start a life of leisure as a doctor's wife.
In Bert's office, Coop and Roger muse over what the British visit will be like. Coop thinks they're interested in something big for Don, possibly in London. Alas, it's not to be. The British come and the only person they're interested in relocating is Mr. Pryce, whom they want to send to the PPL Bombay office. Mr. Pryce is sad, but stoic. Less stoic are the Ster/Coop peeps, who participate in a presentation about PPL's new plan for the agency. According to a chart, Don and Bert will share managing duties with a PPL rising star named Guy. There's, of course, an important name left off the chart: Roger's. When our favorite silver fox points out this fact, a flustered Guy claims it's an oversight, but fails to mention exactly what Roger's role is. Roger isn't pleased. In fact, no one is pleased, except Harry -- the only one to get a promotion under the new setup.
Just as Don learns, to his disappointment, that he won't be moving to London, Joan learns, to her disappointment, that Worthless Greg won't be made chief resident. He's still a doctor, he explains, but not a surgeon. After a lot of hemming and hawing, he reveals that he's only got one year left in his residency, and they can't afford for Joan to leave her job. But that's done, she says. Find a new one, he replies.
At work the next day, Joan is greeted with a nice sendoff from the bosses...then promptly bursts into tears. However, she gathers herself well enough to make the rounds of the office and have a heart-to-heart with Peggy, who awkwardly tries to explain how much Joan has meant to her. It's a nice moment...until the riding mower makes its reappearance.
As Joan and Peggy talk, Smitty is riding the tractor around the office with various secretaries. Ken seems mildly worried, but not enough to actually do anything. Then Smitty makes the mistake of allowing the massively incompetent Lois to ride the mower. She loses control of it and: MOWS RIGHT OVER GUY'S FOOT! Oh my God! I knew something bad would happen as soon as Lois took the mower controls, but I wasn't prepared for the sight of Guy's blood splattered all over Harry, Paul and others like melon at a Gallagher show. Unbelievable!
Joan, being the super-competent star she is, immediately takes over, staunching the bleeding of Guy's foot, and getting him off to the hospital.
As all this is happening, Don is taking a surprise meeting with hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, whose office seemingly calls him out of the blue. Turns out, the man in the white dinner jacket Don made a drink for a Roger's derby party was Conrad himself (kudos to those sharp-eyed viewers who immediately knew who he was). Conrad asks Don's advice on a set of ads featuring a mouse showing off Hilton hotels. Don, as usual, is pointed and practical: no one wants to think about a mouse in their hotel. Conrad agrees, and wants to hear Don's ideas. Don suggests Hilton hires Ster/Coop to create a new campaign. And, like that, a chance encounter at a party leads to a new relationship. Booze is good, people!
Anyway, Don gets a call from Joan while at Hilton's office and rushes to the hospital, where the blood-soaked departing secretary sits waiting for word. They have a tender moment together where Don says he'll miss her, and Joan looks grateful for his sincere admiration. The Brits arrive, and thank Joan for her quick thinking. But they also reveal that they have to dump Guy: He can't run an ad agency without a foot! How will he play golf? The logic is bizarre, but maybe it was par for the course at the time. Clearly, people with disabilities were treated much differently in the 1960s than they are now. A missing foot might have been viewed as a severe obstacle to success in a way that it wouldn't today. However, I can't help but wonder if Mr. Pryce wasn't at least a little responsible for pushing his bosses in this direction. Because, as soon as guy is out the door, Pryce is back in.
Here are some more thoughts on "Guy walks into an advertising agency" (by the way, I think this is my favorite episode title to date!):
* I've skipped over the entire subplot involving Sally and baby Gene, but let's sum it up here: little Sally has suddenly become afraid of the dark. Don solves this by buying a night light. But something's still wrong. She won't go near baby Gene not even after Betty, in a rare show of something resembling parenting, buys her a new Barbie, saying it's from the bambino. Sally later tells Don that she's terrified that Gene is her grandfather, reincarnated. He has his name, she explains. He sleeps in his room. He looks just like Grandpa Gene. Don consoles her, tells her the baby is just and baby, and even gets her to hold the child. It's a poignant subplot, because it reminds us yet again that Don is a good dad -- when he's around. He's much better at handling these little kid issues than Betty is, and he does love his children. I'm not sure how he's going to do with Gene, though. Like his daughter, Don seems disturbed by the fact that the child is named for his hated father-in-law. This could cause problems along the way.
* OK -- let's discuss the foot scene again. Has this show ever had such a gory moment? There's been pain and violence -- Betty shooting the pigeons, Peggy's sudden labor, Roger's heart attacks -- but nothing quite so, well, gross. The image of the cleaning staff mopping up Guy's blood in the wake of the debacle is at once comical and horrifying, as is Roger's assertion that, in some office, somewhere, this has happened before. Speaking of Roger, the foot incident gives him possibly his best line to date. When Paul mentions that the ambitious Guy lost his foot, the acerbic Roger replies "Just when he got it in the door." Zing!
* When Guy gets mowed down Peggy, in a rare show of feminine delicacy, faints -- and Pete catches her. Aw. So maybe he doesn't completely hate her.
* Joan once again shows that she's simply awesome, rushing to Guy's side and using basic First Aid to help him when everyone else is freaking out. Yet she seems so convinced that her job is lost to her forever. I just can't believe that. First, they're replacing her with Mr. Hooker, who isn't even a tenth as competent as Joan. Second, she's so well-liked and well-thought of. I'm sure they'd thrill to have her back. Plus they can afford it, as I'm sure they'll finally be firing Lois for good now that she's maimed someone.
* When it's announced the British are on their way, Bert demands that Roger and Don make amends -- and compares them to Martin and Lewis. I think we can all agree that Roger is Jerry Lewis in this scenario, correct?
* Must mention Roger's pointed line about being left off the Putnam, Powell and Low chart of power: "I'm being punished for making my job look easy." I wonder if John Slattery, who plays Roger, had the same reaction upon losing his second consecutive best supporting actor Emmy.
* Do you think there's anything to the tenderness between Don and Joan in the hospital, particularly her decision to kiss him on the cheek before leaving? I know some people might try to make something off it, but I found it to be perfectly sweet and innocent -- an honest exchange between two people who like and respect each other. I hope that's all it is.


Bill said...

I thought that Jared Harris and Christina Hendricks stole the episode with the tiny moments they were given to convey a wealth of emotion -- another hallmark of this series. The stoic Pryce confessed to not liking the sound of his eulogy, a deeply-felt admission from a good soldier. Joan bit her lip and was stoic as well, accepting the cake and Don's gratitude in a very believable way.

Ever notice how Hendricks modulates her voice an octave up or down depending on who she's sharing the scene with? I was wishing last night more than ever that they had cast her at Betty Draper instead of January Jones, an actor who doesn't do half as much with twice the screen time.

Lee Steele said...

The blood scene was probably Mad Men's first Soprano's moment. The show's bloodline, as it were, was evident.