Monday, September 7, 2009

At the Mountains of Madness- Part Four: "The Arrangements"

It's June 1963 and things are spiraling out of control for our favorite team of advertising execs and their families. There's an overly enthusiastic jai alai fan trying to get Sterling Cooper's support behind the doomed sport, a young Norwegian-American girl named Margaret is looking for a roommate in Manhattan, an aging patriarch is doling out a Prussian helmet to his grandson, and on the other side of the world a Buddhist monk is engaging in some self-immolation.

The fissures that have been appearing in the relationships throughout the early stages of this season are becoming more and more apparent. The new Sterling Cooper is seemingly losing its steady hand, being forced to follow the quixotic ambitions of a sport that is best remembered as being the funky game that Jeff Bridges has to play in Tron; you know, the one that didn't involve Light Cycles. The Ann-Margaret-inspired ad that Pepsi demanded from S-C turned out just as ordered under neophyte director Sal's guidance and yet it isn't up to the clients' standards, proving Peggy's hypothesis that the customers aren't always right. Speaking of Ms. Olson, her dreams of moving to the City and being one of "those girls" are at odds with her still-in-mourning-over-the-death-of-John XXIII mother who insists she's going to be raped by those libidinous Manhattaners. And perhaps most importantly, the Gene Hofstadt subplot reaches its inevitable conclusion as Sally Draper's character continues to rise in importance.

The departure of a major supporting character is certainly going to shake things up on the show in the future, but let's focus on the actual goings on of this week, shall we?

The office plot this week concerned a college buddy of "Humps" Campbell (still a great nickname, I wish it would get used more) pushing Sterling Cooper to help him, nay ASSUME COMPLETE RESPONSIBILITY for the development and promotion of a professional jai alai league. The Creative guys can't seem to wrap their head around this "Polish handball", Paul in particular seems barely able to contain his contempt. Pay attention to that: more and more time is being spent focusing on Kinsey's inability to stand the clients' banal demands. He and Peggy seem to be forming a loose consensus that clients don't always know what's best for them and their products. Perhaps an alliance is in the making? The jai alai guy, "Ho Ho" has a boatload of money and some choice family connections to Bert Cooper in particular (though Coop himself seems pretty dismissive of the guy) and therefore the Accounts department isn't too jazzed about turning him down. Lane is ready to go through with Ho Ho's plans and Pete needs an edge on Ken Cosgrove in their unspoken battle for the title of sole Head of Accounts. Don seems none to happy about this stupid, stupid plan concerning a stupid, stupid sport and even Ho Ho's father, Horace Sr. admits that his son is off his rocker, but it looks like Sterling Coo's stuck behind "America's new pastime" whether they like it or not.

I also really like this week's Sal plot. As S-C's focus moves further away from print, Sal has to adapt to the changing times and take up a new skill in commercial directing. His first project, the Bye Bye Birdie Patio ad, is rejected, even though it's what the clients asked for, but Straight Best Friend Don tells Sal not to lose hope, because he's shown promise in his new field. The scene with Kitty was just painful to watch. When Sal's secret finally gets brought to the surface, I think I'm going to lose it.

Also did anyone catch Roger's brief appearance this episode? His role around the office seems to be diminishing while he's in the throes of newlywed bliss and his cold treatment of Don is continuing after their spat at the end of last week's episode. I'm trying to think of a nautical metaphor but I'm at a loss at the moment.

Margaret "Peggy" Olson is looking for a roommate! I always assumed that Peggy was short for something, like Pegela maybe. Also, she's Norwegian! I'm not Norwegian myself, but as a Minnesotan I see all Scandinavian-Americans as fellow travelers of sorts, so that got me pretty excited. Her square attempts to secure a companion in Manhattan living are at first mocked by her co-workers but soon Joan offers Peggy some help in sounding like a fun-loving girl who We've seen in the past weeks that Peggy can indeed have a good time, what with the casual fornication and recreational drug use and all, but she still seems so uptight to all her associates. Are we going to witness true transformation of our good Catholic girl into "one of those girls" or is she going to remain her earnest self? Peggy's character has been all about the evolution of the naive Brooklyn girl into a female version of the "Mad Men" she works with; wIll we see her become "Donna Draper" by the season's close? At any rate: skol, Peggy Olson!

Grandpa dies this week. While his co-habitation with his daughter's family has been wrecking havoc on Betty and Don, Sally and Bobby have been having a great time. He lets them drive the car, eat ice cream before dinner, and regales them with stories and souvenirs from World War I! What more could a child ask for? Almost as if he knows his time is almost up, Gene shares his funeral arrangements (get it?) with Betty, which of course upsets her, but just in time, right? His sudden death comes as almost a relief to Don, but Betty of course is shaken up terribly. Taking it worst of all is little Sally who yells at her parents and uncle for having a laugh when they should be crying like she is. The site of her sound asleep clutching a copy of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire could drive a serial killer to tears.

It should be noted of course that this week had the first mention of a little southeast Asian nation called Vietnam. Juxtapose this with Gene discussing the Great War with young Bobby, who will still be too young to be drafted btw, and you have what we in the amateur television criticism business call "foreshadowing".