Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mad Men: The Mountain King

Spoilers regarding tonight's pertinent "The Mountain King" episode of Mad Men. But first to address those wanting to get into Mad Men for the first time. We've been asked a lot, "Which episode should I start with?" You can't just pick up somewhere in the middle (like, I don't know, say tonight's episode). Creator Matthew Weiner set up season 2 of Mad Men where you didn't have know everything from season 1 to get into the show, but you do have to watch from the season's first episode to enjoy and appreciate each episode. Weiner goes for character before plot, but he winds up balancing both impressively. So if you're new, start from the beginning -- hell, go back and start with Season 1 and then find time to let all of this season envelop you.

Mad Men has always been about identity, or in a lot of cases, lack thereof. It was summed up perfectly in the episode "Six Month Leave" by Freddy Rumsen, after he was fired from Sterling Cooper: "If I don't go into that office everyday, who am I?". Nothing spoke to this idea more tonight than Bert Cooper, and his reluctance to go along with the merger with those "Brits" Duck fell off the wagon with in last week's episode. Cooper wants no part of this change, but the money behind a lot of his success (his sister, appropriately enough named Alice Cooper) and a rather devil-may-care Roger convince him it's the only thing to do. But it makes Bert fear losing his own identity. Sure it's a nice payday for everyone, but like Freddy, if Bert Cooper doesn't come into that office everyday, even if for nothing other than to confuse a baby shower with a birthday party, what else is there?

Pete's clearly been looking to form his own identity from day one. He used the one trump card he had (his father-in-law's executive status with Clearasil) to land a big account. But tonight he was pushed further into adopting "someone else's child" by his wife. If Pete knew of the merger meetings going on behind closed doors, there's no doubt he wouldn't have stood up to his father-in-law's threat to "review" Clearasil. But looking to make his own mark, and not wanting "someone else's" child, Pete makes a critical error. The merger going through will leave somebody like Pete "up for review" as I'm sure we'll see next week, and just losing the only real account he's brought to Sterling Cooper can't bode well. Then again, Pete's an asshole, considering that it's a major miracle that he hasn't been spreading gossip about Don's absence since the California trip (of course, Peggy gave Pete the idea to not bring up such talk).

Betty's still looking for her own identity since she tossed Don to the curb. She even perfectly forges Don's name to endorse his checks. Betty's initial reaction to catching her 8-year old daughter smoking in the bathroom is, "You'll burn the house down!" Like everyone else, Betty doesn't know where Don is, or if he's coming back. But she did get her own sense of satisfaction as her planned meeting between Sara Beth and Arthur worked out exactly as she planned. You could tell Betty was just waiting to use the line, "There's a difference between wanting and having" when she got the chance with Sara Beth. Betty's reward to daughter Sally for smoking -- actually it was for becoming a "young lady", but a lot of it was guilt over how bad of a parent she's been -- is the pair of horse riding boots she's been wanting since episode one of this season. Sara Beth is a wreck, and Betty's still not sure what will happen with Don. But Betty will now parade Sally around when she sees her at the stables, just to rub it in as much as she can to Sara Beth.

Joan's situation is the worst, and easily the most unsettling. Her fiance Greg shows no interest in her sexually (and remember, this is JOAN we're talking about). Not until they can sneak into her boss's office. Joan's been at Sterling Cooper for 9 years, she knows how that place runs. Even the thought of having sex in Don Draper's office is forbidden. But it's the only way Greg thinks of her. He sees how well Roger knows Joan, and assumes she's tossed around the office. Greg raping Joan on the floor of Don's office is one of the most disturbing things we've seen on Mad Men. Since this is AMC and not HBO, it's not as graphic as the Dr. Melfi rape scene from the Sopranos, but there is a stunning close-up of Joan's face as she's raped, while she stares off at Don's coffee table and couch. Joan's not as young as Jane, at least not young enough to make Roger Sterling leave his wife Mona. Getting older meant she had to get married, and notice how even after that wretched scene she still brings up all of his "Doctorly" wonders. Joan isn't the marrying kind, she's certainly not one to put-up with someone like Greg. The fact that she was violated, especially in the work place where she's considered the Queen of the Castle, is something Joan Hollaway can't keep tucked away, Peggy style.

We've said all along that Peggy Olson has been Don Draper's hand picked successor. In a way, Don's been cloning himself through Peggy, personally and professionally. While Don continues his trip, Peggy gets her chance to be Don Draper. Everything she does to land the Pop Sicle account is vintage Draper. The way she describes how "Everyone cuts Popsicles in half, all year round" and likening it to "Christianity, behavior, not religion" sounded like something right after Don Draper's playbook. Peggy is as savvy as Don is business-wise. The night before the pitch to Pop Sicle, she walks around the darkened Sterling Cooper offices, smoking away. And after she lands the account "all by herself", she realizes her growing identity should be rewarded with the ultimate prize at that agency: Her own office (Freddy Rumsen's no less).

But the big story, as it always is with Mad Men, remains: Where the hell is Don Draper? He didn't go off with his Jet Set friends from last week, realizing that a life free of any obligations was too boring for him. He goes to the one person in this world he can be completely open and honest with. It's the woman he called last week from Joy's house, the woman we got to see briefly in a flashback from "The Gold Violin" episode. Her name is Anna Draper, the widow of the original Don Draper. She tracked Dick Whitman/Don Draper down by finding the person using her husband's social security card to get a driver's license. She's been on Don's payroll since she first tracked him down, to the point where we learn he even asks Anna for a "divorce" when we flashback to him telling Anna about meeting "Elizabeth" and how great her laugh is. Dick/Don goes to Anna because he's so lost. Lost from the unfulfilled promises he thought he'd get from the Jet Set. He can tell Anna things he could never tell Betty. But mostly, he needs help in finding his way. "I have been watching my life," Dick tells Anna. "I keep scratching at it, trying to get into it. I can't."

But Dick Whitman/Don Draper can actually drop any facade when he's around Anna. He fixes a chair of hers, something that would have come in handy at the Draper residence a few episodes ago. He can go out and talk to people without having to give them some life lesson pitch. He can stare in wonder as mechanics merge "two Buick's and a Pontiac." He even introduces himself as "Dick". And he sure loves the ocean. Anna Draper gets all of this from Dick Whitman because she's the only one who truly knows his secret. He can let his guard down to somebody. Anna even suggests he can have a life with Betty and the kids. "People don't change," he says back to her, in a moment that was both honest and Don Draper-esque. "I always felt that we met so both our lives could be better," says Anna. As "The Mountain King" ends, we can see Dick Whitman AND Don Draper allow their sins to be washed away.

Other Highlights from "The Mountain King":

  • We know we make the comparisons to The Sopranos a lot with Mad Men, but damn if Anna Draper didn't look and even walk like Svetlana, the one-legged Russian who was the straw that broke the back in getting Carmela to throw Tony out of the house. Like Dick/Don does with Anna, Tony certainly thought highly of Svetlana. And who else was reminded of Janice Soprano when Betty was on the phone with Sara Beth, taking such odd delight in her sadness?
  • "Let me tell you something," Peggy tells Ken and Sal when coming up with their Pop Sicle idea. "The Catholic Church knows how to sell things."
  • Yes, that was The Day The Earth Stood Still on television when Joan first initiated sex with Greg, the very same movie that's coming out as a re-make co-starring none other than Jon Hamm.
  • Bert looking for any sort of way to stop the merger: "You can't trust the Brits."
  • Peggy is so comfortable in her new office she explains how she got it to Pete: "I'm sleeping with Don. It's really working out."
  • Paul made it back from his trip in one piece, but got dumped by Shelia. He sees Peggy taking advantage of the opportunity in having Don away: "Why don't you just put on Draper's pants while you're at it?"
  • Roger really doesn't care what happens. Whoever asks about Freddy's office first gets it. Just get this little merger over with so he can move along with this life and not be late for dinner with Jane.

  • Alice telling Roger he has "two children to look out for." We learned tonight that it was Bert's widow who introduced Roger and Mona. So there are many reasons none of this sits well with Cooper.
  • Peggy had to pour Sal & Ken scotch into those cheap plastic cups, then endured the wrath of that bastard of a copy repairman. No wonder she wanted her office so badly.
  • No Duck Phillips tonight, even though his merger idea is in full swing. You can never predict what will happen on next week's season finale. This isn't the type of show that will neatly tie everything up, have Don come home to Betty and the kids with open arms, and make the world right again. Don isn't even shown in any of the preview's for next week's finale. We know we have a third season already ordered for this series. But what the identity of this show will be after next week is anyone's guess. And a big reason why we won't stop watching.

    K. said...

    Who is the actress playing Alice Cooper? Neither IMDB nor the Mad Men web site are any help.

    Dirtylaundry said...

    Her name is Melinda Page Hamilton, I'd never seen her before:

    K. said...

    Thanks! She has a vague resemblance to Betty White.

    Nikki Stafford said...

    Brilliant rundown! I actually found your site while googling whether or not Anna Draper was being played by the same woman who played Svetlana. (I've had it on my PVR for a couple of weeks and have been catching up on the series.) Thanks for the insight! Loved it.

    Sonia said...

    While searching this show I found this blog. Its really a nice one. I love to watch Mad men TV Show and I saw all episodes online for free.

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