The Mad Men Project: Week 5

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

Interesting, indeed. At first glance, the fifth week’s installment (or for those who are keeping a steady count, the sixth actual episode) seemed a bit off-putting and, as Courtney (who obviously will not be writing this week, considering Joan never appeared) initially described it to me, “weird.” Friends who watched it before I was able to told me I would hate it. Adam led an email to me this week with the sentence “I have a strong feeling you hated last week’s episode,” and Tyler, who managed to put together an entry on the episode as a whole despite Pete appearing for no longer than four minutes, was sure to tell me earlier this week that none of what happened on Sunday is going to stop him from proceeding with caution. 

Though upon further examination, it’s hard to argue against the suggestions that the occurrences from this particular 47-minute peek into the lives of posh advertising executives offered. Granted, before the final few moments, I was ready to jump the “Mad Men” ship with authority, but considering how that final sequence with Bert and Don played out, I think it’s fair to at least consider the following: Maybe the first six episodes of this season have been aimed at illustrating exactly how much each character depends on Don being Don.

Peggy is so out of character, she has become almost unbearable to watch. Roger is optimistic, single and powerless. And maybe even most importantly, the agency keeps losing customers. Keeping in mind how displeased I’ve been with the beginning of season five, Matthew Weiner and his friends now have an opportunity to make up for it in the coming weeks. If these storylines were all implemented for the sole purpose of proving how essential it is for Don to be a womanizing, work-too-hard-but-play-harder boss rather than a stay-at-home husband who constantly concedes to his annoyingly psychotic wife, then proceed, Mr. Weiner. Bring us back to the world we once thought we knew so well and the characters we have grown to adore so much. 

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

Adam Campbell (Blog) – Roger Sterling

As “Mad Men” is so faithful to its 1960s setting to the point of fetishism, the show would be remiss if it never touched on the psychedelic drug use of the time. In the advertising realm, it made plenty of sense to see younger generation creative types like Peggy and the sadly departed Paul Kinsey experimenting with marijuana as a muse, and it seemed inevitable that “mind expanding” LSD would be utilized for a creative breakthrough in the boardroom. However, instead of witnessing the profound or perhaps unintentionally comic influence of LSD on adventurous copywriters, Matthew Weiner and company decided it would work better on Roger Sterling as a plot device to manufacture his divorce with child-bride Jane Siegel. As if their marriage wasn’t already dissolving like a sugar cube …

Roger becomes the first “Mad Men” character to turn on, tune in and drop out thanks in part to Don. With a potential new client in the Howard Johnson’s hotel chain, Roger proposes that he and Don partake in a weekend fact-finding mission to an upstate location, for reasons having little to do with business and more with acting like “rich, handsome perverts.” Of course, this means the wives stay at home, but newly-chaste Don rebuffs Roger’s debauched scheme in half-hearted favor of a couples weekend with Megan and Jane. Naturally, Roger backs out of the deal, leaving Megan and Don to go upstate while he is forced to go to a dinner engagement with Jane and her snooty friends. There’s a telling scene where Roger catches a glimpse of Don and Megan hand-in-hand as they depart for the sunshine and sherbet of HoJo’s, the look on Roger’s face illustrating his envy for the wedded bliss that he’s never experienced with Jane.

Thankfully, Roger doesn’t have to intentionally mispronounce Frank Lloyd Wright’s name for petty amusement, as Jane’s dinner party gathering of snooty intellectual friends are a merry band of headshrinkers with a serious jones for the teachings of Harvard psychologist-cum-acid guru Timothy Leary. It turns out that Jane’s friend and psychotherapist has invited them to try LSD as a means to discover the “truth.” Roger is nonplussed by the endless psychobabble and references to Tibetan Books of BS and wants to leave after dessert, but Jane guilts him into taking a trip. While Roger is skeptical of the drug’s effects, the requisite sound and sight gags eventually ensue, signalling Roger’s awareness of his situation. As Brian Wilson plaintively emotes “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” ( a very fitting song for Roger’s plight in the office in the last few episodes), Roger is told by a hallucinatory form of Don to go and be alone in the truth with Jane.

Several hallucinations later and back at home, Roger and Jane finally discover the painfully obvious truth of their wedded misery, with Jane confiding that her therapist was waiting for her or Roger to end the marriage. Other “truths”: Jane’s attraction to older men isn’t exclusive to Roger and she almost had an affair; Roger never really loved Jane, but “used to like her” (read: “stopped caring after the sex became routine”).  After the acid wears off in the morning, shrewd opportunist Roger declares to Jane that the marriage is over, framing the LSD trip as a “beautiful” moment of mutual agreement to part ways without the lawyers and acrimony. While Jane is hurt but relieved, she warns Roger that “it’s going to be very expensive.”

Roger married Jane in a (horn)dogged pursuit of midlife happiness. Now that he is free from her, will he finally be able to unite with recently divorced paramour and baby mama Joan? It’s easy to assume this will happen, but “Mad Men” isn’t a show known for predictable plots.

Julie Ciaramella (TwitterBlog) – Megan Draper

On the drive to Howard Johnson’s, Megan’s mind is on work as she talks about abandoning the team before their big pitch to Heinz. Don can’t grasp Megan’s guilt: “You feel bad because you got to take off and they had to work? I don’t. There has to be some advantage to being my wife.” But Megan doesn’t want to use being Don’s wife to her advantage; she wants to contribute and have her co-workers see her as helpful and capable.

As they start to fight at the restaurant after Megan doesn’t like the sherbet Don orders for her, this is going to a bad place. “I don’t know. Maybe you can make up a little schedule so I’ll know when I’m working and when I’m your wife,” Megan snaps. Don shoots back that Megan should just call her mother and complain.

“Why don’t you call your mother?” Megan says, and she must know — considering she knows about Dick Whitman and even Don’s past affairs — that Don doesn’t have a mother to call. He’s upset and takes off. When he returns a few hours later, the waitress says Megan left with three men. So Don spends the next few hours searching for her, even desperately phoning Megan’s mother and Peggy. When he makes it back to Manhattan, he looks wrecked, and he’s locked out of their apartment. He kicks in the door, yelling at Megan, proclaiming “I thought you were dead!” and asking her why she didn’t answer the phone. She replies that she spent six and a half hours on a bus.

While Megan isn’t blameless, Don’s leaving her behind and the moments of terror when he’s chasing her around their apartment are inexcusable. He tackles her to the floor and they fall together. Megan cries and asks him, “How could you do that to me?” about leaving her behind. She tells him that every time they fight, “it just diminishes this a little bit.” He reaches for her when she stands up, wrapping his arms around her waist, saying that he thought he’d lost her. But it’s not enough.

Don and Megan go to the office, their public, happy facades hiding the terrible weekend they’ve just had. In “Mad Men’s” world, it’s all about that separation of public versus private selves, of holding your secrets and your feelings in until everything falls apart. In the flashback to their post-Disneyland car ride, when Don starts humming “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” they seem like different people. The scene illustrates just how much has changed. As the newness of their marriage wears off, Don and Megan are revealing other sides of themselves and letting out all the things they’ve held back.

Mark Zeltner (TwitterBlog and Blog) – Don Draper

It’s the little things in life that grind down and destroy most marriages. Affairs, substance abuse, compulsive gambling and any number of other betrayals are par for the course for lifelong commitments and can in time, be forgiven, if not forgotten. But rejecting a man’s favorite orange sherbet is the kind of sin that opens fissures, not cracks, in a fragile marriage. Don Draper knows whereof I speak.

And to think that all Don wanted was a nice paid weekend away at a not-too-distant Howard Johnson’s with its family-friendly atmosphere, 28 flavors of ice cream and famous sweet clam strips. (If you are too young to remember Howard Johnson’s clam strips, I am here to tell you they were heavenly.) For a boy from the Midwest like Draper (and me) the clam strips from Howard Johnson’s are the height of seafood sophistication.

But Megan, in all her youthful ignorance, seems unmoved by her clam strip experience. To make matters worse she rejects Don’s much ballyhooed orange sherbet. To him this appears to be the ultimate betrayal — surely a way of seeking revenge for his rejection of her half-hearted attempt to steer the trip into Canada to see her parents. Megan’s childish behavior in gulping down sherbet in response to Draper’s annoyed reaction only escalates the situation. Her caustic retort about Don’s mother seals her fate. The argument quickly devolves into the fundamental turning point of every marriage when one person looks at their spouse and says “What’s wrong with you?” The implied corollary to that statement is always “and why did I legally attach myself to you forever?”

The climax of the fight results in Don driving away, leaving Megan abandoned in a Howard Johnson’s parking lot. Of course he soon regrets his heated overreaction and returns to rescue his wife only to find that she is gone. After a night of searching and cryptic phone calls to Megan’s mother and Peggy (from something called a phone booth) Don finally decides to drive home. During the drive we are offered a brief flashback sequence to the happiness they shared on their return from Florida. When Don arrives home he finds Meghan already there and after kicking down the door and chasing her through the apartment they collapse in a pile on the living room floor. In the end, Draper is reduced to clinging to Megan for dear life.

The next day they go back to work. The cracks in the relationship have been plastered over for public consumption but that doesn’t mean the cracks aren’t there. This won’t be the first marriage during which its demise begins over something as simple as an orange sherbet.

Tyler Hannah – Pete Campbell

Before experimenting with LSD, Roger reads the note that was provided to him by the host of the LSD party. The note, which ends with the words “HELP ME,” is symbolic of this season’s prognosis. To this point, the episodes have been small vignettes of each character, narrowing the focus to the exclusion of the other characters. For example, “Far Away Places” showcases Pete Campbell saying only one line worth of dialogue.

These vignettes, however, have centered on each character’s respective self destruction. Last week Pete attempted to reach rock bottom. This week, Peggy, Roger, and Don attempt missions impossible. Peggy unsuccessfully plays the role of Don before the Heinz people, which ultimately leads her to impromptu drug use and a sexual encounter in a movie theater. Roger trips on LSD while he and Jane mutually realize their marriage is a farce. And, Don, who tries his old stunts of running away from a problem, is confronted with the fear that Megan is lost and may not return.

We are to assume that Matthew Weiner is setting plot lines episodes in advance, so where does Roger go from here? Ideally, he and Joan will live happily ever after. There are some of us out there that hoped Don’s fight with Megan, as they both lay on the floor, would end in the same result as Roger and Jane’s conversation while lying on the floor — divorce. We do not want to see Peggy being Don; we want to see Don being Don. And we do not want to see Roger with Jane; we want to see Roger with Joan.

Alas, for any respite loyal viewers must turn to the venerable Bert Cooper for guidance. Who better a character to steer the series back on course than one who seemingly works out of the lobby and contributes to the firm observational one-liners and crossword puzzles. If Bert has the power to humble Don, then let us leave it to Bert to answer the plea, “HELP ME.”

Cristina Moreno (TwitterTumblrWebsite) – Peggy Olson

We’re halfway through the season and things are beginning to unravel for the folks on “Mad Men.” Little tears and snags are making their presence known and it’s just a matter of time before everything falls apart. Peggy’s workaholic tendencies are creating strain in her relationship and things at work aren’t getting any better. She’s stuck.

Peggy is unnerved and anxious as she gets ready for the Heinz executives, desperately searching for a package of candy that she uses as a good luck charm. When Abe starts voicing his complaints about her long hours and inability to make space in her life for him (an argument they’ve clearly had before), she abruptly asks if he wants to break up. Her willingness to jump to that as a solution could be due to the ongoing challenges in her work life, but it may also indicate that she’s over their relationship.

At work things go from bad to worse. She serves up another pitch to the Heinz executives, but once again, they decide that her ideas aren’t what they want. Peggy’s impassioned, no-nonsense speech about how fantastic their concept is (“It’s young and it’s beautiful and no one else is going to figure out how to say that about beans”) backfires and she soon finds herself off the account. Once again, it’s given to the boys. It’s probably exhausting to read this every week and it’s a little tiring writing about it, but it doesn’t compare to how disappointing it must be to live through this day after day. Don has given that speech a thousand times, but when Peggy went for it, it was seen as an act of defiance and something offensive. How frustrating it must be to know that however good you are, you will never be good enough.

So what does Peggy do? She blows off work to watch “Born Free,” gets high with a stranger, and then engages in a particularly jarring sexual act in the darkened theater. The scene was baffling, for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it’s not something we’re used to seeing from Peggy. Whether it was about letting go or power dynamics or just because it was something she felt like doing, you can’t help but wonder what the heck is going on in that head of hers.

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