The Mad Men Project: Week 2

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

Why, hello to you, Mr. Michael Ginsburg. Hello to you, Mrs. Betty Francis. And hello to you, Dawn The Secretary. 

Week two saw a lot of new and very little old (sort of a theme this season, isn’t it?). There was no mention or appearance of Joan (thus Ms. Pomeroy’s absence from the submissions below) and we all held our breath to see if Mick or Keith might actually brown-bag it on cable television with what would have been an undoubtedly awkward cameo (of course, they didn’t).

Maybe I’m out on a ledge here — and as you’ll see below, our resident Betty Francis follower completely disagrees with me — but I found the Betty-Is-Fat storyline to be brilliant. Yes. Brilliant. We all knew January Jones became pregnant in the off-season and after noticing that she didn’t appear once in either of the first two episodes, you had to wonder how the writers were going to play this one. Instead of taking the easy way out and suggesting she is carrying Henry’s baby (or, maybe even easier for a show such as this, someone else’s baby), the minds behind “Mad Men” decided to simply make her fat (note how the one time she was seen “smoking,” she was merely seen putting the cigarette out, never taking a puff. Yes, this is a very different current-day world when compared with the world this show is actually trying to portray). This just has to open up about 5,093 doors that will certainly be explored this season, and of all the twists and turns this show has ever provided, I can’t over-state exactly how smart and intriguing I think this particular move is. 

But, as always, enough about me. Let’s see what our board of experts had to say …

Adam Campbell (Blog) – Roger Sterling

“Tea Leaves” was an apt moniker for the second episode, as Roger Sterling catches an unsightly glimpse into the not-too-distant future of the advertising agency he’s known his entire life — a future that will likely have no place for him, and sooner rather than later.

Roger’s stake in the future of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce continues to be thwarted by Pete Campbell’s restless ambition. The power struggle between them picks right up in the first scene, as Roger refuses to go to Pete’s office for a meeting regarding Mohawk Airlines. There is good news to celebrate, though, as Roger’s client-winning rapport based around liquor and wartime nostalgia has brought the regional airline back to SCDP. Pete acknowledges Roger’s role in landing the account and asks him to handle the day-to-day work. While Pete suggests Roger hire a simple retail copywriter for basic airfare ads, Roger has other ideas and wants to give Mohawk “a good looking version of Don.” Though Peggy is a qualified in-house candidate for such work, Roger is concerned that the traditionalists at Mohawk would prefer “someone with a penis” to write their copy. Peggy is then given the task of hiring a new copywriter with grand ideas (and proper anatomic orientation).

While Peggy fears that iconoclastic young copy writer Michael Ginsburg will clash with the prevailing austerity of Roger and Don, both men are impressed upon meeting and urge her to hire him. However, Roger’s motives are based more on insensitive opportunism than talent, as he feels having “a Jew” on board would make the agency seem more “modern” and impress Mohawk. He chalks up Peggy’s misgivings about Ginsburg to feelings of job insecurity and assures her that no one will replace her.

Roger is forced to reevaluate this position, however, when Pete gathers the entire staff together to announce the acquisition of Mohawk. In Machiavellian fashion, Pete seizes the moment to cement his prestige in the eyes of agency by declaring to everyone that he’s signed the airline himself, giving no due credit to Roger. While Roger is certainly receiving his comeuppance for trying to poach Pete’s accounts in episode one, he is understandably furious and warns Peggy to forget what he’s told her about Ginsburg and job security, as we learn Pete was the last person Roger hired (and according to Roger, was something of a protege). Roger then storms back to an office to liquor his wounds with Don following behind.

As Roger and Don share a moment of closeness that hasn’t been seen in a little while, the notion of mortality looms large, albeit in different senses. Don is concerned about Betty’s possible terminal illness and  acknowledges how her death would change his life (with Roger callously quipping that Betty’s death would “solve everything”). While the ever-jaded Roger has given up on actual life and death, he is forced to confront his own mortality within the agency, expressing resignation over having to prove his worth and being “exhausted from hanging onto the ledge having some kid’s foot on my fingertips.” Roger has certainly been outmaneuvered by Pete, but his predicament is equally his own fault.

When Roger leaves Don’s office, he innocently asks “When is anything going to get back to normal?” For Roger, posing this question is a delicious slice of irony. Of course Roger was referring to the power struggles in the SCDP offices, but the seismic social and cultural shifts to come in the late 1960s (and their resulting effects on the advertising world) will undoubtedly turn the WASPy privileged profession Roger inherited into something unrecognizable. Whether or not Pete pushes him out, Roger will face the unpleasant reality of his own obsolescence.

Bombs away.

Julie Ciaramella (TwitterBlog) – Betty Francis

Betty Francis was never “Mad Men”‘s most sympathetic character. She’s petty, damaged, and, as we’ve seen in the past, she can be mean to her children. When we see her this week, it appears that Betty has gained weight since we last saw her, and a lot of it. (While January Jones was pregnant during filming, it looks like she’s wearing makeup and there may be some extra padding to make her look heavier.)

“I don’t see it,” her husband, Henry, says, which is unbelievable. Betty was approximately a size zero last season, but now she can’t get her zippers up and she’s stuck in that massive castle of a house wearing a bathrobe and eating Bugles on the couch. It’s depressing for the audience, and it’s clearly depressing for Betty, a woman who was once a model, whose looks were her career. And long after her modeling days were over, her beauty was something she could always fall back on; she could use it as leverage. But this weight gain may be more serious than just putting on some extra pounds due to laziness and junk food when we see Betty go to the doctor — seeking a prescription for diet pills — and walks away with the knowledge that she may have cancer.

At times in this episode, there seemed to be some true growth for Betty, but then she’d take a step back. “I have the only kind (of cancer) that makes you fatter,” she says to her friend Joyce as they sit down for lunch and  Betty just has tea. Joyce has cancer, and she’s living with the day-to-day realities of the disease. Basically, Betty, in her natural brattiness, is saying, “I may be sick, but my condition is worse because it made me fat!” Ah, there’s the Betty we know and love. When the psychic comes by the table and reads Betty’s tea leaves, telling her she’s a rock, that she’s a great soul who gives so much to those around her, it’s ridiculous. Although Betty begins to cry, even she knows the words aren’t true. Mrs. Francis has never given much to anyone but herself.

While it was good to see Betty get some screen time, there are a lot of problems with her storyline. It seems like it was created to elicit sympathy for Betty, or it was Matthew Weiner’s desire to do something terrible to the character. Does this show even know what to do with Betty anymore? Aside from being Don’s ex-wife and the mother of his children, Betty doesn’t really have a place in the “Mad Men” universe. However, it was good to see Don and Betty speaking again, to see Don’s worry and his tenderness with her. “Say what you always say,” Betty tells Don on the phone, and he responds, “Everything’s going to be OK.” For the briefest moment, we believe it will be.

Mark Zeltner (TwitterBlog and Blog) – Don Draper

“Time is on my side, yes it is.”

In this episode the youth culture of the ’60s continues to close in on Don Draper as he confronts his age and mortality and increasingly realizes that time is indeed, not on his side. The intrusion of youth is initially apparent in the quickly rotting decay of Don and Megan’s new marriage. The marriage that was designed to open up a new chapter in Don’s life is already showing signs of strain on a personal level and is even proving to be a professional handicap.

“He was divorced,” Megan blurts out at a dinner with a Heinz executive when his wife asks how she and her new husband met (as if that was the question in the first place). Draper can barely contain his disgust. But at least she knows the proper words to the Rolling Stones song that Don is instructed to commandeer for a proposed Heinz jingle. “Time is on my side,” she says. Yes, it is.

The generation gap widens even more as Don and Harry wait outside the Rolling Stones’ dressing room to get their permission to co-opt their youth anthem to advertise baked beans. A young girl strikes up a conversation with Don just to verify that he isn’t a narc. He engages in a dialogue with her that is part focus group, part slightly smarmy pick-up small talk (it seems that Draper can never completely quell his inner id).

By the end of the evening Harry has signed the wrong band and eats 20 White Castle hamburgers in Don’s car while declaring “eat first” before your hungry kids can steal your food. This seems to be the overriding theme of the entire episode as we see multiple instances of youth pushing aging relics out of their way (Pete and Roger e.g.) and metaphorically eating their food.

Fat Betty’s frantic phone call to tell Don about the lump in her neck is a reminder to him of the fragile nature of life and of his own mortality. He doesn’t mention anything to Megan about the situation until he wants to avoid a trip to Fire Island to see her friends. She reminds him that just because she is 26, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know about death. But of course, that is easy to say when you are 26.

Interestingly, he seems intent on making Betty’s condition seem worse than it is. He even announces to Roger that she has cancer. His concern for her is so great he ventures a call to her house which only results in an awkward conversation with her second husband. In the end, despite their divorce, “Bets” remains the woman that shapes Don’s perspective on life and eventually death.

Tyler Hannah – Pete Campbell

Let us hop a flight. Mohawk Airlines from JFK (née Idlewild Airport) to where? Saranac Lake, Poughkeepsie, or perhaps Ithaca?

Our flying companion, Pete Campbell, has taken off with his new acquisition. Pete’s destination, however, is not a mid-sized city in upstate New York but rather a corner office in either Sterling Cooper Draper Price or another ad agency that will bow to his groveling. No matter how critical a person may be of Peter Campbell, he admittedly has many admirable qualities: Enthusiasm, spirit, gumption and drive.

Once Pete reached cruising altitude in his new office in episode three, he boldly called a meeting. The only attendee? Lane. Pete was informed that he would have to ascend to first class in order to attend the meeting that was called in Roger’s office instead. The conniving in the first two episodes landed him his bigger office, though it did not land him the power such an office denotes.

As Pete taxied to the gate with his new client, it was unfortunate that only a few minutes’ worth of airtime was given to the celebration of Mohawk’s return to SCDP. Triumphantly, Pete popped the champagne at the culmination of his announcement to the office and unofficially demoted Roger by saying that Roger would handle Mohawk’s “day-to-day business.”  Lacking the knack for pulling off a five-martini lunch, Pete must admit to himself that he is not good at schmoozing big clients.

Predictably, Pete Campbell will stick to what he knows best. Having thwarted Roger in a small battle, he will now set his sights on new prey.  Brash and bold, Michael Ginsberg will likely be in Pete’s crosshairs. In the interim, Pete will use Mohawk as a sword around the office, a crowning example of his executive prowess, and, not to be outdone, he will strive for bigger clients. Let us now depart with Captain Campbell for grander destinations, i.e. Oldsmobile, Big Tobacco, or U.S. Steel.

Cristina Moreno (TwitterTumblrWebsite) – Peggy Olson

Peggy Olson is a lot of things. She’s clever. She’s efficient. She’s dedicated, funny and delightfully neurotic. Sadly, she’s lacking one minor appendage that seems to determine ultimate success in the corporate world — a penis. Not that this is news to her. When Don and Roger explain that the folks at Mohawk Airlines will probably prefer a dedicated male copywriter, Peggy takes it in stride. She’s dealt with this before and she’ll deal with it again, if only because she loves the job and, as Stan pointed out, she’s competitive as hell. It’s why we love her so much.

It’s interesting that the boys of SCDP are more concerned about how this will affect Peggy’s job than she is. Stan is convinced that the new hire will swoop in and steal her spotlight and Roger assures her that she won’t be replaced. They’re each looking out for her in their own way and it’s great to see some of that camaraderie in play. Peggy, meanwhile, doesn’t appear worried that she’ll lose her job, but does realize that her reputation is on the line. The person she brings in needs to be brilliant, not only because of how he’ll affect the account, but because of how he’ll reflect her ability to lead. Don and Roger clearly trust her to get the job done, but Peggy still feels like she has something to prove.

Who does Peggy hire? A creative, high-strung writer with a healthy dose of awkwardness. Sound familiar? The parallels between Peggy and Michael Ginsberg are clear — from the slightly embarrassing family life, right down to the poorly fitted clothing — and it will be nice to see this relationship develop. They both dazzle in their own ways, but despite their brilliance, there’s always going to be something about them that keeps them from fitting in completely. Will this unite them as quirky allies or create a healthy competition between the pair?

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