Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mad Men: Six Month Leave

Mad Men took a week off to celebrate their much deserved Emmy wins, but somebody forgot to tell the folks over at ON DEMAND, or at least the Cox Cable people. They kept tonight's "new" Mad Men episode, "Six Month Leave" available for viewing free the entire week. They didn't have the HD version available, however, which for this show is saying something as it sparkles all the more in high def. So for those who couldn't wait until 9pm tonight, there was the opportunity to watch it anytime you wanted the past 7 days. We mentioned that Mad Men has been on an incredible roll this season, and that continues with their latest offering (and if you haven't seen tonight's episode yet, everything following has to be considered spoiler material, but really you should be upset that you could have watched it on your terms anytime over the past week; in fact, it's still available for FREE on demand even now. But again, stop reading now if you haven't watched the episode).

"Six Month Leave" finds Don and Betty dealing with their separation after the fall out that was last week's episode. But more importantly, this episode is about how everyone reacts to two big events: The shocking suicide of Marilyn Monroe and how it affects the female characters; and what happens when a drunken Freddy Rumsen literally pisses his pants at work.

The episode begins with Don, coughing while finishing off the morning's first cigarette, getting the paper outside of his hotel room, reading the headline, "MM: ACCIDENT OR SUICIDE". The parallels between Monroe's demise and Betty's own free fall at home are scary as we cut from that newspaper headline to a disheveled Betty wanting to do anything but find a reason to get out of bed, a far cry from the woman who was so excited to get dressed in the montage from the beginning of an earlier episode this season called "Maidenform". Betty pays no attention to her children, spends her days drinking wine and passing out on the couch, never bothering to make the bed she once shared with Don. She even hears a news report about Marilyn's passing while she wanders about aimlessly and lifeless in her home. Like her friend at the stables told her weeks ago, she's sad, but the first half hour of this episode shows she way past sad, and January Jones plays her with such succinct devastation you can't help but think Monroe's suicide is some sort of red herring.

Peggy's reaction to the Monroe news is what we've come to expect from her as she and Don talk about it in the elevator only as something to just to pass the time. But she impresses Don by saying, "We're lucky Playtex didn't go for that Jackie/Marilyn campaign. We'd have to pull everything indefinitely." Don's facial expression to Peggy shows how impressed he is that she thinks like that, while the other women in the office are in tears over the news. Peggy takes to her career like Don would (he himself had the exact same reaction after the American Airlines crash during the season's 2nd episode, telling Paul to pull all of the Mohawk Airlines ads immediately). Joan keeps her true feelings to herself, lying on Roger's couch when he's supposed to be out for cocktails at 4:30. When Roger walks in on her crying, he can't believe that even "Red" is moved to tears by Monroe's passing ("She was a stranger. Roosevelt...I hated him, but I thought I knew him."), and consoles Joan by telling her in regards to Marilyn Monroe, "You're not like her. Physically, a little bit." No matter, Joan is visibly shaken by the news. "This world destroyed her," she tells Roger sharply, echoing her own feelings of sadness after being passed over for the television department position in last week's episode. "Someday you'll lose somebody...and realize how painful it is." Many female fans have been worried about Joan's character ever since "A Night To Remember", some even wondering about the Marilyn Monroe comparisons before this episode.

But the real life-changing moment for Sterling Cooper happens during what's at first one of the funniest scenes in the series' short history. Salvatore, Peggy and Pete (and why is it when those three are together in a scene there are great comedic moments?) go into Freddy's office to prep for a meeting they have with the fine folks at Samsonite. After pouring Sal a glass filled to the absolute rim with whiskey (Bryan Batt's expression while holding the drink and saying, "Thanks Freddy" is priceless), Freddy decides to piss his pants in the middle of show prep. He did at least have the common courtesy to do so with his back to his three colleagues, but each of their reactions tells you everything you need to about each character. Sal finds the whole thing absolutely hilarious, Peggy wants to sweep everything under the rug and move on, while that snake Pete already begins thinking how he can turn this opportunity to his advantage. Freddy goes over to pass out as his desk, and Pete immediately seizes the opportunity. "He can't leave this room," Sal suggests. Peggy says they should tell Don, an idea Pete immediately throws cold water on.

Those in the "Pete Is A Weasel" camp get further confirmation in this episode. Pete finds the one other person who will find Freddy's act "disgusting" in Duck, and they rat poor Freddy out to Roger. Peggy was the only one smart enough to realize they should have let Don know, as we learn from Jon Hamm's frustrated expressions when he gets blindsided by Pete and Duck going to meet with Roger about the pants pissing incident without him. And if you don't think this will further make Duck public enemy number 1 in Don's camp, you haven't been paying attention. Something is slowly brewing between the two, and there may not be enough big accounts around for Duck to bring to the agency to keep him off Don Draper's shitlist. Don also laughs when he hears the Freddy pants pissing incident, and doesn't think it's anything to get worked up about. Roger tells them they need to cut Freddy loose (but "he can still give blood" for Don's blood drive) for "conduct unbefitting". Don wants no part of this, partly out of loyalty to Freddy and knowing how important his job is to his identity, but mostly because Pete and especially Duck are so in favor of gunning for him. "The other agency's will laugh about this," Roger warns, "But the clients, they already think we're all like that." Don agrees to go with Roger to dinner and give Freddy a "six month leave", which everyone knows is a polite way of firing, and provide the guy a proper send-off. And it's not like Betty has opened the door back for Don to come home anytime soon, so he doesn't need to get permission to enjoy a night on the town.

It's worth noting that the actor who plays Freddy, Joel Murray, is the brother of Bill Murray, which explains why Freddy's character has been one of the most beloved on the series. This doesn't make Freddy's exit from Sterling Cooper and the show any easier. Murray and Hamm have a great final scene together, when Freddy says to Don, "I'm not kidding. What am I gonna do...If I don't come into that office everyday...who am I?" Don himself knows the feeling, and as he and Roger continue drinking after sending Freddy home, he finally admits to Roger that he's staying at the Roosevelt, away from Betty and the kids, but hasn't felt sad about it at all. It's one of Draper's most honest moments. Marriage isn't a necessity to him, although he's not as sharp at the office after sleeping at the Roosevelt instead of Betty's bed. Don doesn't realize it at the time, but he's selling Roger on the idea of being happier away from marriage. "Moving forward" is something Don Draper has always been about, and he's taking the same attitude towards his separation. Roger takes the advice to heart while seeing his own escape, and the episode ends with Mona confronting Don about "encouraging" her husband Roger to leave her after 25 years of marriage.

Great moments and Notes:

  • Don telling Peggy she was basically getting Freddy's job after her presentation to Samsonite, but not before reminding her he didn't appreciate being "ambushed" by Pete and Duck. "Don't feel bad for being good at your job," Don tells her after she expresses feeling bad about Freddy. Peggy's becoming a Draper clone in a lot of ways.
  • Don noticing Jimmy Barrett at the underground bar, then giving him that "Archibald Whitman punch" to the face. Jimmy had that coming for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was confirming Don's affair to Betty, but there was justice in him getting clocked in front of Freddy, who was passed out drunk when we first met Jimmy making fat jokes to Mrs. Schilling. Nice touch in having Floyd Patterson in the same bar.
  • "I thought you could talk anyone into anything?" Betty to Don after he suggests he doesn't have the time to fight with her if her mind's made up about him not coming back home. Maybe he really is happy to just live at the hotel.
  • Don Draper about how to explain the separation to the kids. "I'm working on an account and they have to put me in Philadelphia, and I'll be home every weekend." This impressed Betty, somewhat: "Did you just make that up right now?"
  • Great showcase for John Slattery as Roger. One of his best lines, about Freddy pissing his pants: "Can't even tell Cooper about this. You know his whole thing with germs." Roger also knows how to bring levity to something as permanent as a firing. "Freddy, there's a line, and you wet it."
  • Freddy realizing it was Duck behind his dismissal: "He's as dry as a bone, he doesn't understand this business."
  • Just when we start to worry about Betty falling into the same traps that Marilyn Monroe did, she sets up that lunch with Sara Beth and that stable boy Arthur. She totally did this as a way to ruin Sara Beth's "perfect" marriage, as Betts is in no mood to see any married couple be happy.
  • Yes, those extra shirts that Jane bought for Don to have around the office were from Menken's, which explains why he wanted no part of them. Given his current marital woes, he doesn't want to be reminded about his affair with Rachel.
  • One of the great things about Mad Men are the little things that can happen in a small scene like the one with Don, Peggy and the doorman on the elevator. "Suicide is disturbing," says Don about the Marilyn Monroe news. After losing his brother the same way, he would know. Also liked the doorman's "Some people just hide in plain sight" and "I just keep thinking about Joe DiMaggio" lines.
  • Peggy is still calling Don by his first name instead of Mr. Draper, at least at the beginning of the episode.
  • We finally get to see hints of real emotion from Peggy in the office. She feels horrible about Freddy, who was the one who discovered her talent for copy writing in the first place. And she's also livid at Pete for selling Freddy out. Pete settles her down by reminding her they'll both be getting raises, and he doesn't feel bad "at all" by getting ahead by throwing Freddy under the bus.
  • Don is as secretive about his marital spat is he is about his past as Dick Whitman. Jane gets on his bad side by trying to learn more about his personal troubles, which he washes right away. "I'd also avoid giving me concerned looks" he reminds Jane. Betty's the same way towards the separation, spurning offers for help from her house keeper, suggesting she just hasn't been getting enough sleep (Insomnia is something Monroe complained about to her own therapist back in the day, the similarities between the two are downright eerie).
  • Like The Sopranos did with the titles of their episodes, the Mad Men episode names always have more than one meaning. On surface, it would seem that "Six Month Leave" is just the term Roger and Don use to let Freddy go easy. It could also apply to how long Don and Betty remain apart. This is a show that doesn't neatly tie everything together quickly, and tonight's episode is further indication that a lot more will happen before Betty takes Don back in. There are many other ways to take the meaning of the title "Six Month Leave". I think the title reveals the importance of the Freddy incident in how it's the final straw for Don in regards to Duck Phillips. The whole idea regarding the concept of what "Six Month Leave" implies is just how these characters don't want to face the hard core reality. Rather than cutting Freddy completely lose, Roger and Don worded it as something like a vacation, where he can dry, up, come back and have the door completely open. And even Freddy knows it won't be.
  • Roger again: "My podiatrist went to Hazleton, came back with some great stoires. He only drinks beer now."
  • One of the final scenes showed the creative staff presenting new ideas to Duck, with Don Draper no where in the meeting. The smart money is that Don didn't know about this meeting -- something Duck lined up behind Draper's back -- and you know this is very well the final nail in Duck's coffin once Don hears about it. If Peggy truly learned from keeping the Freddy incident from Don, she's certainly going to let him in on this meeting, one where at least nobody pissed their pants. Somebody else green-lighting a creative concept -- especially Duck -- will not play well for one Don Draper.
  • And just so we're clear on Duck being on borrowed time, let's consider all that Don holds him responsible for:
  1. The losing of Mohawk Airlines, when Duck suggested SC had a legitimate shot at landing American Airlines. Something he never had a shot at considering he didn't know the actual decision makers and his lone contact there got fired.
  2. Making Don's creative team come up with an edgier campaign for Playtex. Like Peggy said, even if they went for it, they'd be pulling their ads now.
  3. Calling Don out in front of Betty about the Heineken marketing idea. Betty was going to find something else to serve as the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of confronting Don about Bobbie Barrett, but wasn't it awfully convenient to have Duck Phillips start that fire, right in the Draper house?
  4. Duck's determined insistence on getting rid of Freddy.
  • Speaking of Don exacting on revenge on those he feels wronged him, it isn't just the slow build before Duck's eventually exit from Sterling Cooper. You have to figure Don Draper's got a lot more work in him to destroy Jimmy Barrett than that Archibald Whitman move at that bar. Remember the infamous "I will ruin him" move he pulled on Bobbie Barrett a few episodes ago. When the opportunity presents itself, Don will find a way to kill that TV show "Grin and Barrett" and find a more user-friendly spokesperson for Utz Potato Chips. Even if Don doesn't think he can find happiness in a family life he already had, Jimmy broke two major rules, spreading the gossip to Betty and then confronting Don about it when he least expected it. Betty already freaks out when an Utz commercial with Jimmy as the spokesperson airs on television. How will she react when he's the star of his actual series?
  • Monroe's suicide was August 5, 1962, which means this season has taken us from Valentine's Day, 1962 to Marilyn's shocker in nine episodes. Four more episodes are set for this season. Matthew Weiner has made no secret about how this season has been about dealing with a loss of innocence amongst these characters, and the thinking has to be that the season finale will at least mention the Cuban Missile Crisis. Or if he wanted to bookend the American Airlines crash from earlier in the season, he could bring in a storyline about the November 23, 1962 United Airlines crash.
  • More about Jon Hamm, who's star continues to rise with every episode. We mentioned before he used to be in Fantasy Football leagues with ESPN's Bill Simmons. Rich Eisen also let everyone in on how Hamm used to play poker with their group when he was a struggling actor. Hamm's getting to be such a big deal that he's now slated to host Saturday Night Live on October 25th. But not everything is going Jon Hamm's way: He's a die-hard Kansas City Chiefs fan.


Anonymous said...

phenomenal analysis. thanks for doing this every week - always a pleasure to read!

Will said...

excellent write up of a great episode.

Juanita's Journal said...

This article sounds like an "Ode to Don Draper". What is he? Some white knight out to slay his dragons - namely Duck Phillips and Jimmy Barrett?

Don is not some hero we're expected to cheer. This is a seriously screwed up man, who is incapable of facing the consequences of his actions.

Why should any of us cheer Don for punching Jimmy Barrett? All the comedian did was expose Don's affair with Bobbie. Don committed the bigger sin. He fucked Jimmy's wife over a two-to-three month period and lacked the guts to admit it, when confronted by Betty. Don's attack on Jimmy only confirmed what I've always suspected - he is a rather childish man. In some ways, he is more childish than most of the other characters.

And why are you so hot on the idea of Don giving Duck Phillips his comeuppance? Duck's reputation had already suffered over the American Airline fiasco. Duck was not responsible for Betty's reaction over the Heineken account. How was he to know that Betty was in the dark over the whole matter?

I'm sorry, but I cannot buy this portrayal of Don as some business version of James Bond. He's fucked up. It's that apparent.

Dirtylaundry said...

My idea of Duck is he's a convenient excuse for Don's problems. Don knows that Duck has his own demons, and he's ultimately going to expose them for his own benefit. Don is the most flawed of anyone, and he knows it.

Juanita's Journal said...

I think you're right about Duck being an excuse for Don's problems. In the end, he seemed more upset that Peggy had failed to tell him what happened with Freddy, than over the latter's dismissal from the firm.

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