Tuesday, September 28, 2010

At the Mountains of Madness- Part Ten: "Hands and Knees"

Do you want to read some spoilers?
Do you promise not to tell?, whoa oh, oh

Boivin: And everything was going so well! The last three weeks of Mad Men seemed to be about the closest thing to an upward trajectory the oftentimes superserious drama about the lies people tell has had in its history. Don was getting his self-destructive downward spiral sorted out and had turned the tragedy of losing Anna into a deepening of his relationship with Peggy. He had also started dating Dr. Faye and had actually started treating her like a lady, unlike most of his other mistresses. Also, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce seemed to be doing alright on the business front.

But now the shit has hit the fan. Big time.

Jordan: Word. A potential contract with North American Aviation initiates a background check by the Department of Defense into none other than Mr. Dick Whitman, uh, I mean, Donald Draper. G-Men (and yes, Vulture, it was wonderful to hear Don say it) show up at the Francis home, demanding (nicely) to speak with Betty about Don’s loyalty to the United States. For reasons that aren’t yet entirely clear, Betty covers for him. Also drawn into Don’s web is Bitchface Campbell, who stumbled onto Don’s “secret identity” during the first season and tried to blackmail him. This time around, Pete stands tall.

Boivin: I sort of missed the Don/Pete rivalry that was such a highlight during the turbulent period of the show’s ascendancy. Pete has certainly matured and isn’t quite as much a spoiled brat trying to get to the top of the agency’s pyramid by any means necessary; his storylines have focused much more on his personal life and his immense loathing for Ken Cosgrove since the attempted blackmailing in Season One. But I’m not so sure he’s above holding this over Don quite yet. Pete’s friend at the DoD was able to ascertain just how far along the investigation is, but Don demands that Pete drop the account before anything serious starts. As Pete makes clear, he’s spent the better part of three years putting this multi-million dollar deal together, and Don’s inability to have the normal personal history of a Manhattan blueblood has torpedoed it. Don’t expect Pete to let that go. And considering Lucky Strike is jumping ship, this is, to quote our current vice president, "a big (conspicuously bleeped out) deal".

Jordan: I think, considering the narrow scope of the FBI’s questions (“Are you a Communist?” “Are you Russian?” “Do you like the color red?”), Don could have gotten away with it even if the investigation had gone forward. But that might have provoked more of the flop-sweat-covered, panic-attacky Don that we got in this episode. Weiner has really let Jon Hamm go all out this season in terms of “acting setpieces” (if that’s a thing): first Fiery Don Draper, as provoked by the swimsuit people; then the infamous Sad Don Draper; and now Panic Attack Don Draper. They should make action figures.

Boivin: Speaking of action, Lane took a beating this week, and from the most unlikely (or was it?) of sources. The token Brit’s plots are usually few and far between, given that he’s only been on the show for a season and a half but this one really took the viewing audience places we weren’t expecting. Instead of Lane’s son coming from London for a visit, who of all people but his own father Robert show up. Lane and Don take the elder Pryce out to the Playboy Club where Lane not so subtly tries to introduce his dad to his new black girlfriend, more likely than not to annoy/impress the old timer. Robert doesn’t really seem to care and beats him with a cane and forces him to come back to London and “get his house in order”. The Big American Party might be over for Lane.

Jordan: Don’t forget how Lane’s father made Lane address him: “Yes, sir.” I don’t think there have been two more chilling words all season. I really like the time spent on Lane this year; a character who, to me, seemed rather incidental and eventually just unnecessary has actually emerged as one of my favorites. Lane’s British-ness could have been stifling, and the writing staff could have painted him as the stentorian, fatherly presence in the office. Instead, he’s emerged as something strikingly similar to his associates: underneath his impressive facade, he’s an insecure whelp. But he is dating a girl from 3LW.

Boivin: I don’t know, Lane still seems like the junior member of the SCDP gang: he always seems to be clamoring to be more involved. His Dudes’ Night Out with Don way back when seemed to be the highlight of his life and it doesn’t seem like he’s more than the English dude who bitches about spending too much money, which makes his defeat at the hands of his own father that much more brutal.

Speaking of brutality: poor, poor Joan and Roger. I felt a wave of happiness wash over me when they hooked up last week, as if my entire life of pain and suffering had finally been justified in this one moment of desperate affection. But then the show had to get all post-war kitchen sink melodrama on us and now Joan’s going in for abortion number three. I am sad, so very, very sad.

Jordan: Really? You cheered when they hooked up? Ugh. I know Roger’s basically the class clown of the show, but the goofy guy at my school didn’t knock up women and dump his wife for a twenty-year-old. Joan’s haplessness continues in earnest this week, but I might have spotted an out for her. Though she says she had the abortion, we don’t actually see her go in to the doctor’s office to have the abortion. So did she keep the kid? Maybe she did, and she’ll decide to raise a righteous middle finger to her rape-y, lecherous suitors and raise the thing on her own. That’d be a way to go out.

A question before we go: The A.V. Club mentioned that fans have been loving this season, despite its general lack of plot movement. Do you agree with that?

Boivin: Yes, I did cheer, because they seem to be the only people who can make each other genuinely happy. Roger spends most of the first two seasons complaining about his home life and most of the third trying to compensate for Jane’s immaturity. Joan’s post-Roger life hasn’t been exactly, um, sterling. Of all the show’s many romantic pairings, I don’t think I’ve ever seen two people more compatible and genuinely fulfilled than the two of them in their doomed forbidden romance (which according to the recent flashback, has lasted longer than the Drapers' marriage). So maybe she had the abortion, maybe she’s made up her mind and she’s keeping her baby, we’ll see.

I think the show has had about thirty total minutes of real plot movement over four seasons, and I’m totally okay with that. The show has a quality to it, almost like reading a giant multi-volume Proustian work. It’s like the Leo Tolstoy to network TV’s Robert Ludlum.

Jordan: I don’t think, especially for a show like Mad Men, that there’s a clear delineation between “plot development” and “character development.” I think too much plot development might actually take away from the satisfying incrementalism that defines the show. Mad Men says, in addition to a whole lot else, that there’s as much to be revealed by the little stuff as the big. Just as the space between two points on a number line is actually infinitely large, the tiniest change on Mad Men can illuminate a world of truth. Here’s to glaciers.

Boivin: But hey, at least Don got those Beatles tickets for Sally! You see? Everything worked out in the end!