I love you Mad Men.
I just felt it best to lead this post in the most honest way I know how. This show, while I wasn’t an early adopter, from the first episode has been a barrage of wonderful character drama that under much less watchful eyes could’ve been what The Playboy Club and Pan Am are, just soap operas with a gimmick. However, Matthew Weiner (former writer and producer of numerous episodes of The Sopranos) has given me some of the most rewarding characters to ever grace my DVR.
This week with Scott Hornbacher directs a series of stories all surrounding one peculiar day for three of our main characters in the office, Peggy, Roger and Don. Let us proceed in the order in which we’re given.
After Don jets off for the weekend with his wife, Megan, she’s left to handle the Heinz presentation round two. Once again she delivers an idea worthy of the name on the doors of the office. However, she finds it useless as the client is either perturbed by the fact that the idea came from someone with a pair between their legs or he just needs that person to tell them that this is what they want, because he just doesn’t seem to know what he wants or how to make what they have better.
I’ve spoke before about Peggy and her personal and professional frustrations. She existed, at one point in the show, to be the shining light for the progressive woman coming up in the working world. Now I’m not quite sure exactly what her purpose is other than to be as good as we can get to a mentee of Don. She lives and breathes for his approval but somehow no matter how much the staff of the firm will invest and believe in her skills and talents (as they do with Don) she can never seem to gain the confidence of the clients as effortlessly as the most useless male employee.
So out of her frustration, after having been taken off the Heinz account for being too much, she decides to take the afternoon off and head to the movies. There she lets out some personal frustration as she helps a random man she meets in the theatre “complete”. In the opening of the show we witnessed Peggy and her boyfriend’s issues being vented and work being the biggest problem that separates these two. Should this woman impede her profession in order to keep a relationship going? Obviously no, but then why does Peggy feel so guilty for always putting career ahead of love, and then we end her story with her calling her boyfriend and ending with “I always need you” as if to say something about that career driven lifestyle that’s about to become the most popular thing in the world.
Roger and Jane
With Don skipping out on Roger’s offer to head down to the Howard Johnson’s just opening Roger is forced to actually go to dinner with his wife and her highly educated friends. In the course of the evening, with Roger highly tuned out due to a lack of interest in a conversation that has nothing to do with him or that allows him to pop a one line zinger every three turns in the forum eventually we arrive to the center stage of the evening. That being, this small group of people deciding to get high on LSD. With Roger reluctant at first he eventually (after Jane bats her eyes) he agrees and sets in for an evening of the unknown.
All seems uninteresting, other than one couple crawling on the floor, until Roger meets the singing (I’ll call it singing) vodka bottle. The visual and mental tricks that this trip brings us aren’t that deep but eventually get Roger and Jane in a state where being honest about themselves and their relationship which ends in them agreeing that a divorce is what they both want.
Don and Megan
The story of Don dragging Megan off to this weekend away from work brings up a lot of obvious thoughts about the basis of this relationship. Megan isn’t just Don’s wife but also his underling at work, where Don constantly abuses that relationship in order to go off and have fun with three hour lunches and such.
Megan plays the part of the happy young girlfriend well, but due to that image we never truly take her seriously. So when this thought finally comes to Don’s attention we’re left with a version of Don we know all too well. The man who has everything he thinks he wants but for some reason goes crazy the moment it doesn’t go the way he planned it. Sort of like a child who finds out that his fvourite toy doesn’t bend backwards like he thought, what he does at that moment is to throw a tantrum and break the toy. So after he has this argument with Megan he decides the only course of action is to drive away and leave her hours away from home.
Eventually he realizes he was being an ass for doing that and goes back, only to find she’s not there anymore and worries for the worst. At his wits end his only hope is that she somehow managed to get home and low and behold he finds Megan there, mad at him. After Don breaks down the door and chases her around the apartment we worry. Yes for her safety, which shortly aren’t an issue, but more for this relationship and even more for Don. There was a glimmer that somehow Megan was the key to making Don happy and able to cope with the world around him in a way that obviously Betty couldn’t, but obviously it isn’t so easily fixed and we’re going to have more moments of Don needing to think before he acts on his impulses.
What this episode was able to do with structure of an otherwise tamely presented narrative is akin to what Community does in episodes such as “Remedial Chaos Theory”, “Virtual Systems Analysis”, and “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”. The narrative finds a way to develop numerous characters within the tiny confines of one episode in a way we’ve never seen before and move forward plot while never feeling rushed.