Monday, August 16, 2010

"Mad Men" recap: Good news, bad news

Spoilers for this week's "Mad Men" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

This week's episode of "Mad Men" was called "The Rejected," and it wasn't one of the series' more cryptic titles. Nearly every character either delivered a rejection or felt rejected in some way (in Peggy's case, it was both).
We had the literal rejection letter being delivered by Peggy's new buddy Joyce by Life magazine to her artsy photographer friend. We then later saw Peggy tactfully rejecting Joyce's advances at the party, inspiring one of the best "Mad Men" exchanges of all time (more on that later).  We saw Pete finally tell his father-in-law that the Clearasil account was being closed out in favor of the Pond's account, then turn that rejection into a (seemingly successful) attempt to land all of Vick's. We saw poor Allison, feeling so rejected by Don that she bursts out of the focus group in tears and leaves her job (but not without tossing some pointed remarks and a paperweight Don's way).
Of course, before Allison's spectacular confrontation with Don, Allison also faces a rejection of sorts from Peggy. Believing Peggy had the same sort of relationship with Don that she did, Allison confides in her, and a horrified Peggy shuts her down completely. We saw a few seasons ago, with Lois, that, despite her history, Peggy doesn't like the secretaries treating her like one of them. She especially wouldn't like the insinuation that she had an inappropriate relationship with Don (remember, in the pilot, she briefly tried to seduce him, because she thought he wanted her too, and he gently told her no). So of course she lashes out at Alison telling her "Your problem is NOT my problem." Yikes.
However, Peggy faced her own rejections in this episode. First, Faye Miller rejects her concept for the Pond's campaign after the focus group meeting. Even worse, Faye's research -- gasp! -- supports Freddy's idea that girls just want to get married. Don seems inclined to go with Peggy's idea anyway, but whether that's due to belief in Peggy's concept or misplace anger toward Faye for indirectly setting off the Allison incident is anyone's guess.
However, Peggy probably would have accepted Faye's idea, due to her respect for the researcher. But she does seem stung when she learns Trudy is pregnant. To me, that was one of the more poignant rejections in this episode. We all know that she probably made the right decision in giving her and Pete's baby away. Her career was too important to her at that point, and Pete always would have resented her for dragging him away from Trudy.
Yet it's impossible to imagine that the idea of Pete and Trudy having a child wouldn't affect Peggy (or Pete) and stir up snippets of their painful past.
Peggy, of course, tries to be a friend to Pete, congratulating him. In true Pete fashion, of course, he initially thinks he's being congratulated on the Vick's account. Once he realizes what Peggy's true meaning is, the moment grows sad and more than a little awkward. And there's no mistaking that exchange of sad glances as Peggy walks out of the office near the episode's end. Unlike Don's callous reaction to his one-night stand with Allison, neither Pete nor Peggy can pretend that nothing happened between them. It might be over for good (though, after that stare-down in the hallway, I'm not sure it is), but there's no denying their history.
Anyway, here are some more thoughts on "The Rejected."
* The episode even opens with a scene that, in a way, is about rejection. Society is slowly starting to reject the idea of glamorizing cigarette smoking, meaning there are all these rules about how cigarettes can be portrayed in advertising. Hence, Roger and Don's frantic conversation with the odious Lee Garner, Jr., who needs to be persuaded that the new guidelines won't adversely affect him. The call even ends with a rejection, when Don pretends there's a fire so he and Roger can skip off the phone.
* Some really nice bits by Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss this episode. First, there was that great moment when Don spies Peggy trying on Faye Miller's engagement ring, and is quietly amused. Then, there was that great shot of Peggy peering over the divider between her and Don's offices in the midst of the Allison scene.
* Vincent Kartheiser, on the sidelines in the first three episodes of the season, finally got a showcase, and, as usual, was excellent. His stunned joy at Trudy's pregnancy was truly lovely, but his shining moment came in the scene when he manipulated his father-in-law into giving him the Vick's account. Kartheiser's resigned shrug when he's called a "son of bitch" was perfect, and a sign that Pete has matured to the point where he's willing to admit when he's acting like a jerk, even if he doesn't plan to back down.
* Jared Harris, after last week's showcase, moved to the background again this episode. However, there was that nice moment when Pete tells Lane about Trudy's pregnancy, and Lane is at first dismissive. Then, he catches himself and offers sincere congratulations. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but Lane is quickly becoming one of the few "Mad Men" I would actually consider a nice man.
* Don's mask of suavity continued to slide this episode, as he found himself completely unable to control -- or console -- Allison. He seems completely incapable of giving her the slightest validation. He won't even write the girl a recommendation letter! No wonder she flings that paperweight at his head!
* I also liked Allison's choice of words in scolding Don: "You're not a good person." Notice she doesn't say he's a bad person. Don, after all, isn't bad. He can, however, be weak, cowardly and insanely insensitive -- not qualities you'd find in a "good person."
* I've said it before -- Joan may seem sweet, but don't cross her, or you'll end up with doddering Miss Blankenship manning your desk.
* This episode helped confirm Peggy's path to becoming a truly modern woman. She's no longer the awkward girl of the first season, and fits in beautifully with Joyce's funky friends. She handles Joyce's pass with grace, and doesn't even seem that put out when the snotty photographer sneers at her job. She is, to quote Joyce, "swellegant."
* Plus, hands down, she got the best zinger of the season in her tactful rebuff of Joyce. When she tells Joyce she has a boyfriend, Joyce coyly responds "He doesn't own your vagina," to which Peggy coolly retorts "No, but he's renting it." Bam!
* Fun fact: Peggy's glam secretary Meagan is played by Jessica Pare, who was on the short-lived show "Jack & Bobby." On that show, her love interest was played by Matt Long, who plays Peggy's writing partner Joey. Another fun fact? Pare's dad on "J&B" was played by none other than Roger Sterling himself, John Slattery.
* By the way, Slattery was the director of the episode, and did a perfectly swellegant job, if I may say so.
* I would be strongly remiss if I didn't mention the return of formerly bouncy account exec Kenny Cosgrove, who turns up at lunch with Pete and Harry a new man. Unlike with Pete, Kenny hasn't changed for the better. Kenny used to be one of the show's few happy-go-lucky characters. Now he has more responsibilities and more worries. Because this is "Mad Men," and no one gets out of this world unscathed.


Bill Scurry said...

I loved the cheeky meta-commentary in the opening frames regarding the new restrictions on cigarette advertising, just as the show's camera adopts a mighty up-angle shot of cool Don Draper, man of action, chain smoking away at Lucky Strikes whilst taking care of business.

I'm glad the directorial credit was mentioned, because other than a few moments in ep one and the Christmas Party, Roger/Slattery has been largely AWOL. I guess a little goes a long way?

IScreen said...

I wouldn't read too much into Roger's relative absence. Weiner's M.O. is to sideline some supporting characters and highlight others in each episode. This week, we had our first Pete showcase of the season. I'm sure Roger will get some meaty episodes down the line.
Other writers have mentioned the playful camera angle in the opening scene, which is clever not just for poking sideways fun at the cigarette advertising restrictions, but also because it runs counter to the Don we're seeing this season.
Don Draper, Larger than Life Figure is slowly unraveling before our eyes, turning into Don Draper, Alcoholic Divorced Guy Whose Sexual Advances Are Increasingly Resistible.

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