Tuesday, July 27, 2010

At the Mountains of Madness- Part One: "Public Relations"

Welcome back, fellow Mad Meniacs (don’t worry, I’ll never call you that again)! Season Four of Mad Men has begun! For this year’s outing, I’m joined by my distinguished colleague Jordan Pedersen for a discussion of the comings and goings of everyone’s favorite AMC program (or maybe second favorite if you like Breaking Bad or continuous showings of Dragonheart and Lethal Weapon 4)! Let’s get right into things, shall we? Spoilers ahoy!

Boivin: First off, I loved the opening to this episode with Don being interviewed by Advertising Age. With a first line like “Who is Donald Draper?”, how can one go wrong? I also, think it sets up a good theme of Don being outside his comfort zone. He’s the new face of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce; he’s used to be being the main draw at the agency but now that his name’s on the wall he’s become something of a celebrity or at least a public persona. Also, one-legged man. Twin Peaks, anyone?

Jordan: I didn’t necessarily dislike it, but it felt a tad obvious to me. I mean, the show’s been asking that question since it premiered in 2007, even if nobody said it out loud (until now I guess). And, for the most part, that’s how I felt about the whole episode. Mad Men has made its name as a studied, deliberately-paced character drama. “Public Relations,” on the other hand, was a zippy, quick-witted almost-dramedy. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t always sure what show I was watching.

Boivin: Frankly, the show has needed a shot in the arm like this episode. Think about last season: what happened? Don and Betty got a divorce, and the core players jumped ship and started their own agency. That was about it. Don hasn’t changed that much over the series. Sure, he’s had his moments of resolving to be a better husband and father but it usually just ends with him diddling some broad. I think putting everyone in this new situation, Betty and the kids included, is making for some great stuff.

Jordan: I think those are two fairly monumental changes that took place, actually. But what’s important is that they took place in the last episode of the season. Creator Matt Weiner is definitely trying to distribute plot development more evenly this time around, and I’m, by and large, fine with that. He’s even gone a more conventional route with B-plotting. Mad Men has always had a central (A) plot and a side (B) plot, but Pete and Peggy’s P.R. stunt felt almost zany, like something Tracy and Jenna would do on 30 Rock. I do give the show credit for handling a new thematic thread pretty elegantly, though.

Boivin: I think Vincent Kartheiser should just start reading Tracy Jordan lines instead of Pete's. "I am a Jedi! I AM A JEDI!"

I agree with you on the Pete and Peggy thing. I didn’t really get what purpose it served other than perhaps showing that Peggy is trying to blaze her own trail at the agency without Don’s paternalism. Beyond that, I don’t suspect the ham fight will come up in a big way, so this was sort a one note plot. Don didn’t really seem offended by the stunt, just annoyed, which I guess is his default emotion around Peggy.

How do we feel about the situation at home, both Betty’s and Don’s?

Jordan: Don’s paying a hooker to slap him! Sweet! Yeah, Betty’s even more of a shrill bitch than she was before, and Henry’s still the likable guy who you hate because he’s not Don. And Sally Draper remains the show’s secret weapon, even though she’s lost that inimitable lisp.

Boivin: I myself have always hated Henry Francis, though now he seems downright sympathetic. I’m sure marrying Betty Draper seems like a great idea when you start out but after eight months or so...yeesh. I think thousands of boyfriends around our great nation asked their significant others to slap them around during sex on Sunday night in an effort to be more like Don Draper.

Jordan: Yeah, it’ll be cool to see the shoe on the other foot, as far as being the dominant one in the relationship is concerned. And Don’s not just playing the sub in bed; his new girl Bethany (played by some chick from True Blood, apparently) won’t even screw him on the first date. To me, that was the most shocking depiction of submission in this episode.

Boivin: My faith was utterly shaken. If Don can’t even bed a girl fresh out of college, and a friend of Jane’s at that, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life anymore. Don’s always gone for much more assertive, dare I say interesting women. You have the free-spirited beatnik Midge, the intelligent and independent Rachel, the aggressive Bobbie, and Suzanne who wants to have her fourth graders listen to Martin Luther King’s speeches. I don’t think we’ll be seeing too much of Don’s date.

Before we finish, can we talk about how awesome the ownage of the prudish swimsuit guys was? Because I think they now know how Bobbie Barrett felt in that powder room in Season Two.

Jordan: Couldn’t disagree more on the date. First, because Don seemed as utterly charmed by her as she apparently was by him, and, second, because I’ve seen production stills with her in a different location. So there.

Don pwned the swimdorks, for sure. My feelings on that scene echo my feelings about the whole show: I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t sure it felt like Mad Men. But maybe that’s a good thing.

Boivin: This isn’t your daddy’s Mad Men, where every episode ends with a pan out of Don looking sad! This is X-TREME SEASON FOUR MAD MEN! We end on high notes with sweet British Invasion tunes!

That’s all for this week, Charge Shooters!!! Come back next week as our sherpas continue to scale the Mountains of Madness!