Make Mine a Double
Life happened, so here's a jam packed double post. It's only appropriate seeing as the first episode "Better Half" is filled with imagery and references to couples and doubles. Just as I got done complaining about the heavy handed symbolism, Mad Men gave me an episode packed with meaning but in a much more subtle way.
The Better Half
Don has struggled with his double life for years. It's pretty much the premise of the show- who are we really? There's the Don Draper side of ourselves we present to the world, and the inner Dick Whitman we are loathe to show. And sometimes it's not that straightforward.
All the characters seem to be dealing with this some version of this. Peggy is caught between her former mentor Don and her new crush/boss Ted. How fun for her to constantly play peacekeeper between the two. Don's always caught between everything, but this week it's between the life he once had and destoyed (Hot blonde Betty is back) and his new one that has lost its luster. Abe is caught between his relationship with Peggy and his contempt for her work.
The character who seems to rise above this is Betty, who had a pretty amazing episode and definitely wins this week's power ranking. Betty has been playing roles all her life- dutiful daughter, perfect trophy housewife, "loving" mother. It's clear which one she feels comfortable with. Hot limo sex with Henry after being hit on at his fundraiser, being ogled by gas station attendants, having a fling with her ex, Betty's has her cake and is definitely eating it too. For someone whose self worth is wrapped in other people's approval and desire, Betty got quite the ego boost.
And losing this week's power ranking is indubitably Peggy. Torn between two egos at work, dealing with her shitty/stabby neighbors, and then getting dumped in the ambulance after stabbing her boyfriend, girl can't catch a break. To me, Peggy's always been a representation of second wave feminism. Today, earnest Atlantic articles would be written about her. However, I don't think she sees herself as a pioneer in any way, and Peggy can be quite prudish and traditional (she's a recovering Catholic, after all). Is a feminist still a feminist if she doesn't burn her bra? I don't know what Matthew Weiner is doing to our poor gal, but I'm sure she'll bounce back soon enough. Otherwise, we'll finally have our response to the age old question, "Can we have it all?"
Speculation Time! An eagle-eyed viewer of the show noticed Megan's Tshirt bearing more than a slight resemble to the one worn by Sharon Tate in Esquire. The AV Club does a much better job explaining the latest fan theory so head over there and check it out. I don't think Megan is in for a brutal fate though, especially not after the next episode. Janie Bryant, the show's costume director told the Daily Beast "in terms of the t-shirt, Matthew Weiner had just said, 'It would be great to have something political.' I had done so much research of different political t-shirts, and found a picture of Sharon Tate from Esquire magazine. It’s the Vietnam star. We saw a little bit of how Megan was so upset after Bobby Kennedy was shot, it really is so much a part of the turmoil happening during that period—really this is the time filled with civil unrest. [And New York] was really a decaying city.”
Considering that the scenes of Megan came immediately with Abe's stabbing, and that the star on her T-shirt references the wound in the same place on Abe's chest, Megan seems to be standing in for the escalating violence and tension in the United States. Abe's shocking injury is clearly the "Vietnam" reference in the episode, and Megan is his US counterpart. Yes, yes, I know she's Canadian, but she's clearly invested in current events, even more than Don and a lot of his SCDPCCG colleagues whose entire universe is marketing and commercialism. As Don and Megan speak on the balcony, sirens punctuate their conversation, almost drowning them out. Ominous to say the least. The 70's are almost here, and they're bringing riots, mountains of coke/heroin, punk rock, prostitutes, and so much more.
A Tale of Two Cities
Picking up right where we left off, more dichotomies are set up.The "us vs them" mentality really starts to permeate the social consciousness in the 60's. That's another reason our invasion of Vietnam was so different that the wars that precedded it. Who's the us? Who's the them? Without clear distinction (Nazis, communists etc), the whole thing becomes an exercise in violence and brutality but with no point. The rules are changing, and rapidly.
"Go for a swim. It always makes you feel better". Mmmm maybe NOT Megan had in mind, Don. Don is usually refreshed after his visits to California, but I guess almost drowning takes a lot out of the man. Another vision into the insight of the mysterious Don Draper, this time in the form of his wife. Is Megan going to get pregnant to save their marriage? She didn't seem too happy the last time she was with child.
"What we have here is the fundamental breach of the rules of this business." Joan gets set up by her friend at Avon on what she thought was a date, but turns out to be "so much better"; new business. Excited about the possibility of reeling in a prospective client, she calls on Peggy to set up a meeting. Peggy as she does, takes this to Ted, who puts Pete on it. Joan understandably feels betrayed, but circumvents the normal chain of command to get the account for herself after watching brutal (actual) footage of the riots at the Democratic National Convention (presumably one of the reasons Nixon won in the fall).
Joan has always had to fend for herself, she's been the lone soldier, bearing her burden. At least she's always felt that way. Although people also assume Peggy slept with Don to get ahead, Peggy has the luxury to show off her creative work and have it speak for itself. What is Joan's position? I honestly don't know. And that's the problem. When Pete sneers "I bet you're making him happy", he's not far from the mark. Joan DID use her sexuality to advance her career, even if she felt she had no choice but to do so. Now Joan has to deal with people constantly assuming she is using alternate methods to service her clients. And she has- by breaking the rules entirely.
I also enjoyed seeing the women's perspective on Avon. With more working women and dirty hippies, makeup isn't really selling in the same way. Having Joan and Peggy at the table to suggest the idea of bringing Avon ladies into work showed their valuable insight and worth as active, engaged consumers. So many boardrooms and production studios are still run by old white men named Jack (a 30 Rock reference maybe?).
"Now I've become become death, destroyer of worlds". Oppenheimer said these same words(from the Bhagavad Gita) when describing the aftermath of the testing of the atomic bomb in Alameda, New Mexico. Ginsberg touches a nerve when he says "I'm not scared, I'm a THUG, a PIG, I'm part of the problem". As 200 bodybags pile up every week, selling Manischewitz wine and Carnation powdered milk seems offensive. And Gisnberg seems to be the only one who notices.
The episode was directed by John Slattery, who directed one of my favorite episodes of Mad Men ever, last season's "Signal 30". Slattery is a deft director, and handles the party/hashish scenes nicely without overstating how jarring the experience was. The differences in the colorful, sepia toned California scenes and the greyer, more artifically light New York scenes were a nice touch as well. How amazing was the last scene with Pete on the couch smoking a blunt as Janis Joplin's "Piece of Heart" playing? The world is moving brightly, quickly around Pete even as he clings to his old way of doing business.
Crazy Speculation time! This time, courtesy of Dustin Rowles, speculates that Megan is already dead and the party in LA was some sort of Lost-style afterlife scenario. Read it and decide.
Bits and Pieces: We get to see Danny but not Sal? RUDE, Weiner. Not cool at all. We also get a lot more of Bob Benson this week! I'll save my thoughts for his very own special post. WHO IS HE? Let's find out.