Monday, August 17, 2009

At the Mountains of Madness- Part One: "Out of Town"

Editor's note: As part of our aforementioned retooling, Charge Shot!!! is doing some experimentation with non game-related posts. What follows is the first part of a new weekly feature in which the erstwhile Alex Boivin reviews the week's episode of AMC's Mad Men. Enjoy, and definitely let us know in the comments if you think this is a good direction for Charge Shot!!! to take.

First things first, for those of you looking for our weekly feature on eldritch horror, you're out of luck. That doesn't exist yet.

Hello, fellow Charge Shooters!!! As we make our transition towards "a new millennium culture blog" (Craig and Andrew's words, not mine) I thought this a great opportunity to indulge in one of my long-held desire: blogging about the Great American Television Drama- Mad Men. This is going to be a weekly feature, every Monday you'll get a post from me about the developments of the previous night's episode, analysis, and general fanboy ravings from myself regarding the new season of the AMC series.

Of course, these posts will be spoileriffic for those who haven't seen this week's episode as well as the two seasons previous, so don't voyage any further if you don't desire to have a whole lot of plot points ruined for you. In a series where so much of the appeal revolves around uncovering the characters' secrets, you might want to tread carefully around the blogosphere. And if you haven't started watching/are behind, what the hell is wrong with you?

Here goes nothing! Crack open a roll of John Ham and let's descend into the depths of otherworldly insanity and terror that is Sterling Cooper! Cthulhu be praised!

First of all, let's recap where we left off at the end of Mad Men Season 2. Betty's pregnant with lil' Draper #3, bringing her and Don's on the rocks (no pun intended) marriage back together. Don had spent the latter quarter of the season on the lam in California, hanging out with eccentric European gazillionaires, sleeping with jailbait, and getting back in touch with the real Don Draper's widow. When he returned to the Empire State he arrived smack dab in the middle of a merger between Sterling Cooper and British advertising juggernaut Putnam, Powell, & Lowe, all part of a power play orchestrated by off the wagon Head of Accounts, Duck Phillips. However, Don was able to outmaneuver his rival due to his lack of contract, resulting in Duck's departure from the agency, but not the termination of the merger: the British are coming to Madison Avenue. Newly anointed junior copywriter Peggy revealed the existence of her and Pete's lovechild, furthering complicating his and Trudy's conception woes. Roger left his wife for 20-year-old secretary Jane (note the resemblance to Sterling's former mistress, Joan). Speaking of Joan, her doctor fiancee (now husband?) raped her in Don's office while he was AWOL in SoCal, expect for that to come back this season. With the junior execs, Paul's black girlfriend dumped him in Mississippi, Harry became head of the new TV department, and Sal's got a crush on boy wonder Kenny Cosgrove.

Sunday's episode opened with some good ol' fashioned Dick Whitman flashbacks. Don reminisced about the circumstances of his conception and birth, being of course the happy accident of a one time encounter between a drunk and a prostitute. The flashback revealed that Don's very existence can be owed to the fact that his dad was too cheap to buy a condom (or "sheath" as they called them back in the Roaring '20s, which is what "vagina" means in Latin, interestingly enough) and that Don's birth name "Dick" has it's origins to his mother's threat to "cut [his dad's] dick off and boil it in pig fat". I think the phrase "cut your dick off and boil it in pig fat" is uttered at least 4 or 5 times in the span of 30 seconds in this episode, all by the same character. Being named after the male member is for me both a cheap joke on the part of the writers as well as being an incredibly deep insight into Don's character at the same time. This show works on so many levels, right? The trouble with all this is of course that it would be impossible for Don to recall any of this, since he was just an unintended glint in his father's eye at the time. It's a stretch for him to even remember his mother's death immediately after his birth, but for him to remember the liaison that produced him is of course, a matter of complete absurdity, unless of course Don is the Kwisatz Haderach, which honestly wouldn't surprise me at this point.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Don's got a mysterious past, we all know that. Now begins the season in earnest. The British takeover (invasion? har dee har har) of Sterling Cooper is in full swing. The new redcoat president, a dry, dry fellow by the name of Lane Pryce, fires the old Head of Accounts, resulting in some freakouts and ruined office furnishings. His secretary (or "right hand" as he prefers to call himself) has some beef with Joan in regards to his status- he wants an office but she insists that he take a desk like all the other girls in the steno pool. This results in one of my favorite bits of the show thus far, that is the British male secretary apparently is called "Moneypenny" by the girls in the office, including Peggy. I demand at least one Bond reference per episode this season.

The rest of the office seems to be settling into the equilibrium well enough, but Bert Cooper seems pretty downtrodden about this whole endeavor, he was never aboard 100% with the merger in the first place, I guess. He's been appearing in much more promotional material than usual this season (see the cast photo above) which I hope is an indicator of a bigger role. He traditionally has been confined to dropping in and making some eccentric comment about Japanese philosophy or Ayn Rand but now he swoops by Don's office for a drink, brandy specifically. We also finally get an acknowledgment of his pornographic Japanese print, "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife". As I heard someone say regarding the episode: "One episode into the third season and we already have tentacle porn." Here's hoping we see much more of Cooper as things go on; I love him to death.

In terms of more goings on at Sterling Cooper, we are introduced to a new subplot about Pete and Ken's promotion to Head of Accounts(!). We all know Pete's been after the position since day one, and his reaction to the news of his promotion is one for the TV history books. It's almost heartbreaking to see Pete dance like that and just five minutes later see him get the news that he'll be sharing his position with Ken is borderline heartbreaking. Look forward for this subplot to continue to cement Pete's position as one of the more ambiguous (in terms of likeability) characters on a very ambiguous show. And as long as we're on the subject, when is Ken going to get his own subplot? The closest thing we've had to one is his achievements in the world of short story writing, but that's more focused on the rest of the junior execs' frustration (or in Sal's case, infatuation) with Ken's success. I think it's about time we got to know a little more about young Mr. Cosgrove.

Also, Trudy Campbell continues to be cute beyond belief. I don't care if her womb is as barren as Death Valley, Pete needs to start being nicer to her.

The main thrust of the episode concerns Don and Sal taking a business trip to Baltimore to meet with the head honchos of raincoat manufacturer London Fog (whose name is becoming a metaphor for the series as a whole). While there, they masquerade as G-men, pick up some stewardesses, and philander like there's no tomorrow. A drunken Sal goes back to his room to find the air conditioning busted, and when the bellboy comes up to fix it the two of them end up with their tongues in each others' mouths. Those of you who have been watching the series for a long time should be standing up and cheering at this point: Sal is neck-and-neck with Sally Draper for most tragic character of the series (the man is a walking, talking Morrissey song for chrissakes) and his tryst with the bellboy represents the first time his feelings for men have reached anything near consummation (as far as we the viewers know). Unfortunately for Big Gay Sal, a fire alarm clears the building and we're treated to a spectacularly awkward moment where the two men are treated to a view of each other's respective things on the side, it being more awkward for one than the other. On the flight back to New York, Don makes it clear that Sal's secret is safe with him, which I hope leads to Sal becoming Don's Gay Best Friend.

Well, so far, so good. It looks like lots of action is heating up at the offices of Sterling Cooper. I can't wait to see what happens next! I hope it involves Roger and Paul teaming up to save Joan from her rapist husband ala Chief Tyrol and Helo coming to Athena's rescue in Battlestar Galactica season two! Drop by next Monday for "Love Among the Ruins".