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Thursday
May152014

Mad Men @ the Movies: Mutilations, Model Shop, and Mojo

Don't open the box, Peggy, don't open the box! DON'T OPE

Too late. With so much time, cameras and distance between us Peggy didn't hear the shouting from my apartment. Yeah, I was actually shouting. I am generally as quiet with the TV as I am in movie theaters... unless the show calls for raucous participation like, oh, Election Night or Drag Race. And though Mad Men invites gasping and laughter and speculation and veritably lives to provoke responses those responses are generally of the sort that take time to unpack. 

Which is, perhaps, why I never write about the show. Or at least not weekly as intended. I'm always still unpacking; the show seems denser than ever what with its ever expanding universe (now bicoastal and double-floored in NYC) and ever growing cast of characters to populate the agency which has tripled (at least) in size since Season 1. That's a lot of baggage to unpack. And not just of the personal damage variety... though there's always been plenty of that in Matthew Weiner's masterwork.

A trip to the movies, intruding showbiz, and a couple of stray observations after the jump...

This seventh season hasn't had much in the way of movie references - the Vietnam war is raging and this world is too unsettled for showbiz. Oddly, the actual fictional presence of showbiz in the series (Megan's career as a rising waiting actress) seems to have also dampened the show's interest in actual showbiz as light touch historical atmosphere. But we did get a shot of Don Draper in a movie theater which hasn't happened since he took his son to The Planet of the Apes last year.

The movie he was watching was the only American feature by French auteur Jacques Demy (of Umbrellas of Cherbourg fame) called Model Shop (1969) and since Don has already been established as a fan of French cinema and Deneuve this connection/trip makes total sense. I had actually never heard of this movie though (oops) so if you'd like to read about it, check out these articles at Gothamist or Film School Rejects

Stray Observations on the Last Few...
The decision to split this final season into two parts -- the new craze in Hollywood, also famously poisoning the narrative flow of multiple movies -- may well prove destructive. In the past this acclaimed drama has had a very similar trajectory each season. People always seem to grouse about how "slow" it is and how it's lost its mojo for the first few episodes and then somewhere in the middle of the season (or sooner) something clicks into place, the long game revealing itself if you will, and then everyone is excited again. And then the season ends with everyone excited for what's to come. This year that pattern will be cut right in the redemptive middle and my guess is that's going to be way more annoying than stimulating/hype-driving. 

Shirley (left) and Dawn (right). Also known as Dawn (left) & Shirley (right) in one of Mad Men's best jokes

Report Card
"A DAY'S WORK" A
MVP(s): Dawn & Shirley (Teyonnah Paris & Sola Bamis). This episode, involving a misunderstanding about Valentines Day flowers, is my favorite of Season Seven. It was played largely as farce and though Elisabeth Moss did her usual great work as the  increasingly lonely and myopic Peggy, there's a reason the internet was demanding a 70s era spinoff sitcom: Dawn & Shirley for the win. And what a masterstroke for the writers to push Joan to see the potential in Dawn as the new Joan. 



"FIELD TRIP" A-
MVP: Betty (January Jones) for Mother of the Year again on an unexpected field trip with Bobby where she actually drinks milk direct from a cow's udder instead of liquour. So many many great lines from this eternally unhappy/misunderstood/hilarious bitch-goddess. If only this episode had aired on Mother's Day! I will never in a million years understand why people find it so hard to deal with this character or this actress. She's so crucial to the gallows humor and broken children profundity of this show.

"THE MONOLITH" B
MVP: Roger Sterling (John Slattery). And it's still an embarrassing blight on the Emmys that he's never won gold for this richly layered performance of a character whose charismatic surface would have been so easy to coast on for seven years.

"THE RUNAWAYS" B+
MVP: Don Draper (Jon Hamm). And what I said about Roger/Slattery above, repeat. People grew vastly tired of Don Draper in Season Six [Tangent: It's so weird that my two favorite shows of all time, the other being Buffy The Vampire Slayer, involve a lead character who alienates most of the series fans in an undervalued sixth season with her/his existential suicidal moping and a loss of confidence and drive.]. I for one feel surprised by Don this season. He doesn't seem to be continuing his downward spiral in the expected ways. Don seems, if anything, to be regaining his mojo -- or at least is shown as wanting it back, which is possibly the first step. Comebacks are not the free 'you deserve another shot' lucky gifts they appear to be in our collective mythologies but usually the result of pain, renewed focus and work, work, work.

gif via styleite.com

Anyway I loved the finale cool of Don helping two men (Lou & Jim) who despise him into a taxi while pretending their insults are compliments. He knows he's (possibly brilliantly) spoiled their secretive execution plans by offering himself up as a martyr for the guillotine.

Are you still tuning in? Do you share my concern that cutting season 7 off in the middle will kill the momentum of this portrait of unravelling America circa 1969?

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Reader Comments (9)

What if I tell you that Model Shop is maybe Demy's best movie?

It is the movie in which he shows without trace of musical comedy the deep sadness of his work. It's raw Demy, improving the already marvelous Lola (it's a sequel) in a very slow and post Antonioni deconstructing.

It's just perfect for this season, since its star also starred in 2001.

And I love the Weiner is always near his favorite directors.

Both Demy and Kubrick are heavily influenced by the work of Max Ophuls.

Lola was dedicated to Ophuls, actually. In his personal top ten, Kubrick inclued a three-way tie in third place, with three movies by Ophuls, including Le Plaisir.

Le Plaisir is a mervelous movie with three stories told with spectacular technique and intersections. Matt Weiner once said Le Plaisir was his inspiration for thar Far Away Places (Roger and LSD, remember?), one of the most daring and greatest Mad Men episodes ever.

May 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I hate that they're splitting the seasons apart. You're absolutely right about the very distinctive season-long rhythms of a Mad Men season. Do I think Weiner can adapt to a shorter format? Sure, and I think this has been an outstanding season so far, but I do worry.

As for season six, I thought it was the weakest of the series on an episode by episode basis, but I have to say that once the trajectory of the season became clear - and that really wasn't until close to the end - the whole thing looked a lot better in retrospect. I still think it's the show's weakest season, but weak Mad Men is still, my god, so much better than most everything else on TV.

And with so many people cooing about Game of Thrones, Hannibal, The Americans (all shows I like, btw) and whatever other flavor of the week has come around, there is something intensely pleasurable about seeing Mad Men, now seven years old, come back and basically show up every other show on TV.

Thanks for identifying the movie Don was watching, too. :)

May 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

This season has been outstanding so far and I completely agree that it's ridiculous they're splitting it up but maybe it will work. We'll see. I do want to talk about one small detail from The Runaways that was just perfect and has stayed with me days after.

SPOILERS

Peggy's expression while Ginsberg was being taken away in the stretcher. Wow. Such a complex mixture of fear, sadness, distress, disgust and disbelief. And then staring at the computer? Elisabeth Moss can kill with one single look can't she?

May 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSeeking Amy

I had never heard of "Model Shop" either. @cal roth's comment makes me want to watch it immediately!

That Dawn & Shirley scene was so good.I'm pretty sure it was intended to hit some of the audience too, right? I watched it alone and laughed my ass off, then I told my mother to watch it and pay attention to that scene. So she saw it and said "yeah, oh, wonderful, it's so nice to see that private moment between those two" and I was like "yeah, but did you see what they did there?!!". She hadn't realised. I'm sure lots of people didn't either.

Though that scene was probably my favorite, I also loved Betty and Bobby 3's little trip to the farm - I've read some comments that Betty's been specially moody because she has a eating disorder and is starving. I don't know about that, but I do think it'd be nice if Weiner didn't just completely forget that storyline. We'll see.

But what had the most impact on me was the Ginsberg-breakdown. That must've happened so many times in history - people being confronted by break-through technology and consequentially feeling their work/life is now somehow irrelevant.
Some people felt it was sudden or not appropriate to the character. I think it was totally appropriate. Michael has his father paranoia. A very jewish new-yorker paranoia, if I may say so. I think Don or someone was reading "Portnoy's Complaint" this season, wasn't him? I don't know about "Portnoy's..", but other Phillip Roth's books definitely come to mind when I think about Ginsberg and his dad's relationship. The father from "Indignation".

The only complaint I have so far about season 7 is: I want more Peggy Olson! But I have a feeling we'll get that soon.
(oh, and I wouldn't mind more Sally "Holden Caulfield" Draper moments either).

May 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterClara

^ aaah, SPOILER!!! (sorry i forgot to write that above)

May 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterClara

OT - Nate when are you going to complete the oscar predictions for actress
& supporting actor? Are you waiting for the Cannes Film Festival to wrap up?

May 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMe

Me - i work as fast as i can but i've been sick for two days so i'm working through half written articles and charts and finishing them as i can.

May 15, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

"this eternally unhappy/misunderstood/hilarious bitch-goddess"

Ha! I love this description. Betty seems to be written a lot better this season.

May 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

(on Oscar predictions: I think it does make sense to wait for Cannes to end. There are some possible players around)

May 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

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