Monday, April 15, 2013

Mad Men recap: In which all the men on this show gross me out

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 titled "The Collaborators," but it might as well have been called "Men are Pigs," as nearly every single man on this show (with the possible of exceptions of Roger and Stan) proceeded to thoroughly gross me out with their boorish behavior.

You had Don continuing to mack on Lindsay from "Freaks and Geeks," Pete finally pissing off the incredibly patient Trudy by bringing his dirty laundry home and, of course, the return of the disgusting guy from the Jaguar dealership who shows up to leer at Joan and bully Don and Pete. To a much lesser extent, we also had Teddy Chugga-Chugga forcing Peggy to choose between her career and her friendship with Stan, but at least his behavior is understandable. I mean, as Kenny put it, Heinz ketchup is the Coca-Cola of condiments! He couldn't just let Stan's tip go, and it was weird that Peggy would expect him to. But I digress.

As with last week's episode, the shadow of Vietnam hangs heavy over the "Mad Men" universe this week, with coverage of the Tet Offensive playing on nearly every TV and radio (and even cutting into Pete's viewing of "The Tonight Show").  And just as the U.S. didn't see the attacks of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong coming, so, too, are many of the characters on this show taken aback by assaults and betrayals in their personal lives. Megan, at this point, remains unaware (if not blissfully) of her husband's infidelity and even confides her miscarriage to her husband's mistress. God, how brutal was it when Don and Megan shared what she thinks is a heart to heart about her miscarriage and their future, when we know that Don has just come from an assignation with Lindsay (sorry -- SYLVIA)? And how gross was it to watch Don slink back to his lover's door the next morning, mere hours after he comforted and consoled his grieving and guilt-ridden wife? Sigh. Don is gross.

Of course, his own nasty tendencies don't keep Don from feeling he has the right to judge Greasy Jaguar Man. Well, I can't blame him. Even in the "Mad Men" universe, Greasy Jaguar Man is particularly odious -- in fact, he's so cartoonishly evil that his scenes threaten to tip over into eyeroll territory. Yes, as I've just explained, "Mad Men" is full of gross men who do gross things. But they're three-dimensional gross men. Roger is a pig, but he's witty and stylish and loved his mom. Don is a pig, but he's also the kind of guy who will turn down Heinz ketchup because it would devastate the bean man and "you dance with the one who brought you." Even Pete (whose hilariously failed piggy-ness I'll get to in a minute) is good at his job. And, of course, we know that Pete, Don, and Roger all had complicated relationships with their families that turned them into the broken messes they are now. We even get a further glimpse this episode into Don's dark childhood, and see that, not only was Dick Whitman's mother a prostitute, but his stepmother apparently gave herself to creepy Uncle Mack in exchange for room and board at a whorehouse.

But Jaguar Man is just nasty. He has no redeeming qualities. He has no backstory. And it doesn't help that actor Gary Basaraba's performance is just a collection of Tony Soprano-aping mannerisms. I actually don't remember it being that broad in his episode last season. Certainly, his leering requisition of Joan was repulsive, but I felt that he at least tried to bring some shading to the character before. Now, it's clear that Jaguar Man is simply a villain whom we're meant to hate. And that, even though Don's crafty subversion of JM's instructions to pitch a greater emphasis on local marketing were cruel, it's hard not to be on Don's side in this instance.

Anyway, as much as I'm bothered by Jaguar Man, he's (hopefully) a minor character whose boorishness I (hopefully) don't have witness multiple times a season. Unlike Pete. Ah, Pete. You are such a gobsmacking nitwit. Don't you know that having an apartment in the city means you're supposed to find a mistress who LIVES IN THE CITY? But no, you completely miss the point, and instead of conducting a discreet affair with a random Gothamite, you seduce a neighbor lady, inevitably setting up the moment where she shows up at your house after her cuckolded spouse has learned of her infidelity and roughed her up. I must say, I was a little surprised (and relieved) to find out that Trudy knew EXACTLY why her husband wanted an apartment in the city, and isn't a gullible, trusting moron. In fact, the scene where Trudy drops the mask and rips into Pete for failing to play by her rules might be Alison Brie's finest moment on this show. So now, Pete is pretty much living in his office, and having a weird bonding moment with Bob, a.k.a. the Ghost of Pete Past.

Now, I'm not sure if this week's Peggy plot is another case of a betrayal by a man, or Peggy is the betrayer. Certainly, as I mentioned before, it's bananas for her to think she can tell Teddy about Stan's Heinz story and not expect him to go after the account. And I don't totally buy that Peggy wouldn't know to be discreet about something like that. It's either poor writing or (and this is possibly) maybe Peggy subconsciously wants to go after Heinz, but doesn't want to openly betray Stan, so she "accidentally" drops the ketchup tip to Teddy. Or maybe the stress of being hated by her staff is getting to Peggy and causing her to make stupid decisions (I hope that's not the case. I do so love it when Peggy is competent and awesome).

At any rate, I think Teddy makes the only choice he can make in this situation. And really, is it a betrayal? I mean, Don has turned down the ketchup account, so it seems to be up for grabs (unless he's overruled by someone else in the firm). But, if Teddy is going after the whole Heinz account, and not just ketchup, that would be a conflict. However, Raymond J. Beans wouldn't leave Don to work with Peggy again. So it would have to just be the ketchup account, right? I'm so confused.

Anyway, here are some more thoughts on "The Collaborators":

  • This is the second episode directed by Jon Hamm, the first being last season's "Tea Leaves," an episode that introduced us to Fat Betty and was roundly hated by most fans. I liked it better than most people, but found this a much better episode. And I'm not sure if it was Hamm's choice to inter-cut his aggressive monologue to Sylvia with scenes of their lovemaking, but that seemed like an overt homage to one of my favorite movies, "Out of Sight," with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. So I approve.
  • OK, that gawky Alfred E. Newman kid who plays young Dick Whitman in no way resembles someone who would grow up to be Jon Hamm. I could not get past that.
  • "I will have your wig ready then, ma'am." I'm starting to love Stan a little. I don't forgive him for not being Sal, or for that crazy beard. But he is just the tiniest bit awesome, and I'm not looking forward to how hurt he'll be that Peggy is using his affection against him.
  • Pete's mistress is played by Collette Wolfe, whom has, in various movies, been slobbered on by Rob Cordry  Seth Rogen and Danny McBride. Now the poor woman has to endure Pete Campbell? That girl needs a hug!
  • Alison Brie is great in this episode, but so is Jessica Pare, in a storyline that takes at least a few steps toward developing Megan as a whole person, and not just a human symbol of how all Don's fantasies break. She has real, complicated feelings about that miscarriage. She has real, complicated feelings about motherhood and her career. We don't see as much of that as we'd like, but Pare does a pretty good job of conveying the depth under Megan's perky outer layer.
  • Another episode with almost no Joan. Waaaaaahhhh!!!!!
What did everyone else think?

1 comment:

Bill Scurry said...

I found the moral discussion between Sylvia and Megan interesting, because this show hasn't dipped its toe into Catholic guilt re adultery and pregnancy, and it stands to reason someone would be bumping up against some good old fashioned damnation. I feel like Weiner is building up to a reckoning on that score.

Also, can someone please tell me what Bob Benson is doing scurrying™ around the periphery of SCDP? This is clearly going to add up to something, but I have no idea what!