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« Top Ten: The Greatest People/Things Born on June 6th! | Main | How long has it been since you've seen The Matrix? »
Tuesday
Jun052012

Mad Men and The Other Women

* an earlier partial version of this article was accidentally published last night. It's complete now.

Have you wondered what happened to our series Mad Men @ The Movies? Well, Matthew Weiner and his team up and ditched the abundant movie references for most of season 5, leaving me to wish that I hadn't required movie references in order to write about the Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce worker-bees each week. Last week's "The Other Woman", a queasy game changing episode is the instant classic Season Five episode but for our purposes The Other Women this season on Mad Men are TV and Music (particularly the Beatles) which have stolen the pop culture referencing thunder from the movies.

Ratings and cinema references may be down (the former an obvious risk when a series disappears for long stretches) but quality, thankfully, isn't.  Not at all. The finale is next week on June 10th, an exhaustive television evening given that True Blood returns and it also happens to be Tony Awards Night and I also have a birthday party to attend... 

The much despised Betty Draper Francis. Still one of the most fascinating characters on television.

Much to look forward to. Much to write about. So herewith brief notes on the last four episodes... 

Episode 9 "Dark Shadows"
In this episode, Megan (Jessica Pare) continues to pursue her acting dream and we learn that her friend Julia (Meghan Bradley) has won a role on "Dark Shadows". Everyone in the cast is acting out with jealousy winning the sin sweepstakes, hence the title. Betty's Envy Shock upon seeing Mr & New Mrs Draper's glorious rich Manhattan penthouse has her misbehaving almost subsconsciously. She attempts to spoil the newlywed bliss by way of her easiest weapon, daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka). January Jones continues to prove her undervalued misunderstood worth to the show with the funniest sickest Thanksgiving toast since the turkey-lurkey heyday of Christina Ricci in The Ice Storm and Addams Family Values:

I'm thankful that I have everything I want. And that no one else has anything better."

Cultural References: Dark Shadows the soap... not the Tim Burton movie obviously
Episode MVP: Betty (January Jones)
Grade: A

Don Draper: "Frank Sinatra?" | Joan Harris: "Jimmy Durante"Episode 10 "Christmas Waltz"
Lane's money problems have him forging checks. Harry Crane runs into previous regular Paul Kinsey who has joined the Hare Krishna movement. Kinsey's written a terrible "speculative episode of the hit television series 'Star Trek'" which he hopes Harry will sell for him. Some clunky heavy-handed episode called "The Negron Complex". Meanwhile, Roger offers Joan money for their lovechild which she (naturally) refuses... because she is Joan. Don takes her out for driving, drinking, and divorcee dancing advice in a wonderful extended scene that easily outclasses the rest of the somewhat clunky heavy handed episode. Joan and Don will never be a couple --despite some fan wishes --  because this show is always true to its characters.

Cultural References
: Star Trek the series, My Three Sons, Bewitched, Aly Khan international playboy, "America Hurrah!" the play, 
Episode MVP: Don (Jon Hamm)
Grade: B

Episode 11 "The Other Woman"
I couldn't do this utterly spectacular episode justice without a few thousand words. (Sigh). The Mad Men, while competing for the Jaguar account (their first car!), make completely amoral decisions including essentially selling Joan Harris herself. Joan, understandably thrown but ever a mix of pride, sexual confidence, compromised cynicism and business savvy makes a surprising decision. Meanwhile Don takes Peggy for granted for the last time as she announces (gulp) her resignation. Exit Elisabeth Moss (?!?) one of the show's continual MVPs.

"Finally, something beautiful you can own."

Cultural References: A Hard Day's Night (again)
Episode MVP: (tie) Joan & Peggy (Christina Hendricks & Elisabeth Moss). Hendricks and Moss have been magnificent Emmy worth players for five years and if one of them doesn't win for this series before it wraps, it'll be an eternal blight on the awards. It can't hurt to play such well written characters but year after year they seem to absorb and emanate and sell the show's difficult complex ideas about transitioning femininity between the 50s and the 70s. 
Grade: A+ 

Episode 12 "Comissions and Fees"
This season has been absolutely brutal to some characters and Lane, like Peggy, also tenders a resignation. This one is decidedly more desperate and far less triumphant. Matthew Weiner and his writing staff are malevolent gods. The office will undoubtedly be reeling in the season finale next week. In the episode's sweetest but still mature thread, Sally spends the weekend in Manhattan (with and without adult supervision) and gets her first period. But first she enjoys her first cup of coffee and her choice of movies with Megan and Julia  --  Movie reference time!

the new permissive... and the ongoing British invasion. Manhattan movie choices in early 1967.

Megan: I don't think there's really anything to see. [to waiter] Can I get some coffee.
Sally: [to waiter] I'll have some too.
Julia: He's not going to bring you coffee!
Megan: Ummm.... Georgy Girl, Alfie, Gambit, Night of the Generals, Blow Up?
Julia: Anything without abortions or foreigners in it?
Megan: Let's see. Fistful of Dollars? I think your father would kill me if I saw that without him.

The sneaky wit of the scene is the way it weaves in and out of the new late 60s permissiveness. Sally orders coffee and this seems to shock risque Julia more than a new boyfriend who wants to know if the curtain matches the drapes. The adult girls are having a very adult conversation which doesn't seem to phase Sally -- she claims "it's okay I have a boyfriend"... though she really doesn't -- and the adults forget to remember that it's inappropriate for young Sally... half the time. The other half of the time they're reminding themselves or each other that she's too young. They're clearly not used to a young teenager joining their lunch dates.

Girlwoman's day out.

The punchline of the scene is that the waiter actually brings Sally her coffee. Megan jokes that she should have tried to order a drink. "I don't want a drink," Sally responds as if the suggestion is ridiculous, pouring heaps and heaps of sugar into her coffee. She's not a girl. Not yet a woman. I deeply apologize for the Britney Spears reference. Britney might not understand what's going on in any episode of Mad Men but the writers sure do.

Episode MVP: Sally (Kiernan Shipka)
Grade: A-

Emmy Worthy times a gazillionRecommended Reading on "Dark Shadows"
 
Seven Deadly Shadows via Basket of Kisses | Power Rankings Grantland's always hilarious column -- though Sally Draper is way too low given that she bested both of her parents with her refusal to play along nicely with their secrets and lies.
...on "Christmas Waltz" Tom & Lorenzo on the unique relationship between Joan & Don |  Capital "the spaghetti's on the wall" the discomfort of Megan in Betty's role 
...on "The Other Woman" A terrific multi-epistle conversation at Slate on Peggy & Joan's parallel and divergent journeys. 

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Reader Comments (13)

Will it really be a blight on the Emmy's if neither Moss nor Hendricks wins an award? Going back for the four years the show was in contention neither category has had a truly *bad* winner.

On Jones, what I love most about her performance is the way she (Betty) thinks before she speaks in a way that I'd think another actress might just have her respond more (ostensibly) organic. Like the conversation with Megan in the last episode where she pauses for the slightest bit before she says Sally became a "woman" - I could see all the possible things she could have said to Megan running through her head before she said the truth. (Of course that might have been the direction, but I still like that moment for January.)

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

I never had any intentions of blogging about Mad Men. Then they did The Other Woman and I had to write about it. I just had to. I figure it was a one time thing.

Then they structured Commissions and Fees like a Greek tragedy and I had to write about it again. I swear, if next week is a musical episode, they're intentionally baiting me to write about the show. I'm onto you, AMC.

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I'm so glad that you rate January Jones, who gets an absurd amount of stick simply, it would seem, for playing an unsympathetic character that defies what we expect of a wife/mother role. I think she's fab, and not immune to the occasional humour of the part.

As for "The Other Woman," it doesn't quite hit the heights of "Signal 30" for me, if only because it felt like you could see some of the strings being pulled to get Joan to go there, but everything else about the episode was so impeccable that it was easy to overlook. Christina Hendricks again proved how wonderful she is as Joan. Season 5 has just been outstanding. I can't wait for the finale.

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBen

"The Other Woman" is the definition of great tv, Hendricks and Moss were fantastic and the best in that episode, but I realize that everyone understood how amazing was the script, and everyone brought their A-game.

In a side note... I've been fan of the girl who plays Sally since season 3, when the character begun to morphed into Betty. Joan, Peggy and Betty deserve nominations, but Megan and Sally are building a case for their noms, too.

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLuiserghio

I also give props to January...every time she's been on screen this season, she has killed it. I also give her points for being willing to go in any direction Matt takes her in, from not being the best mother to having to wear a fat suit. For someone who is celebrated for her looks, she sure takes a lot of risks with her image on this show that other actresses might pause at.

P.S. I hope the ladies went to see Blow Up!!

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBia

BIA --- your P.S. is made of win.

June 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Hey Nathaniel this is kind of related but somewhat off-tangent question: Have you seen Claire Danes in Homeland? I hear a lot of pundits predicting her to take the Emmy come September. Which is a shame since I personally think Elisabeth Moss AND Jessica Pare are deserving of Emmys here. Speaking of which, Jessica Pare isn't getting enough praise as the other girls, I think. She has such a tough role considering many people hated her at the end of last season for being the girl that Don impulsively proposed to. But this season, I thought she did a bang-up job with Megan--confident about her sexuality, knows how to get a reaction and control Don, and seems to define what I feel will be the new sexual openness that will arrive in the late 60s. I think she's amazing.

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClarence

"the other woman" stirred some controversy (the joan storyline), but although I didn't necessarily liked what the writers did to joan (what they made her do), I though it was brilliant that they went there.
and I really liked my sister's reasoning for joan's acceptance: she may have thought that the guys at the office already think really low of her, to the point that they (pete, ok) actually offered her THAT, than why not do it? if she has 'made' her bed, why not lie in it?
(christina hendricks must submit this episode for emmy consideration no?)

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

(Off-topic: Has The Film Experience weighed in on the teaser trailer for PT Anderson's THE MASTER? http://www.themasterfilm.com/ Joaquin Phoenix looks like he's pulling a Daniel Plainview.)

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterColin

The last two episodes have been way too much for my heart. When Don kissed Peggy's hand? oh man. I would've said "you know what? fuck it. i can stay for a couple more years. want some coffee?" But Peggy had to go. I'm just hoping that when they write her back in (because this CAN'T the last we've seen of Peggy/Elisabeth) we get Sterling Cooper Draper OLSON.

When it comes to Emmy though, i want Hendricks to get it. She's been killing it the whole season. When she threw out her husband, "THERE'S AN AIRPLANE HERE TO SEE YOU!", how endlessly charming she was in that bar scene with Don and the consistent devastation in her eyes through that whole Jaguar incident. I need her to have that Emmy.

Like Peggy, Lane's time was up too. He increasingly became more superfluous (even if i did like Jared Harris and the character) as time went on, plus, it seems as if the entire season was leading to that moment for him. Sidenote: Jared Harris is some sort of chameleon. I've seen him in several different roles since i've known him from Mad Men and he always looks totally different.

I really wish we could've had more Betty this season because i do find her (and especially January Jones) to be endlessly fascinating. I'm just glad that Betty has at least one moment in this entire season where she's not being completely awful (her handling of Sally's first time of the month). But i do think it has gotten to the point where Betty's awfulness has become pretty amusing. Her conversation with Don about strangling Sally was golden.

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

Do you think it's possible that the mention of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was a rare mistake by the MAD MEN writing staff since FISTFUL came out in 1964 and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY came out in 1966?

June 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristy

Christy -- i'm not sure but back in the day movies DID get rereleases occassionally since there was no home video. But it does sound like they were talking about new movies.

June 6, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Right. I assumed it was supposed to be a new release since Don would want to see it with Megan. But, it could be a re-release. Also, I rolled the idea by a friend and he suggested that I was using the Italian release dates and not the US release dates. But, I'm not sure about that either. I'll just pretend I caught a goof and make myself feel good for a day. BTW - love the blog.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristy
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