MAD MEN, SEASON SIX/EPISODE 4: SOME KETCHUP WITH YOUR BOREDOM?

by Claire Moshenberg on April 26, 2013

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You deserve an introduction, but I’m so tired I’m practically cross-eyed. So before we get into the nitty-gritty, here’s the most basic summary of this episode: Don is boring and it’s obnoxious, because unlike Matthew Weiner, I’m not super-fond of making the exact same point every week. (Ba-zing.)

Let’s get started!

MY FAVORITES, JOAN AND DAWN: Joan is having a combination of two classic terrible days – -a demeaning, grueling work day mashed up with the kind of touristy, nauseating, nostalgia-laced day that you can only have with a visitor from your past. There’s not a lot she can do to fix the work day: her commands are ignored, her character is questioned, and she purses her lips and carries on. But she takes the fun route with her old friend — who drags her to a soda shop that “feels like high school” — and leans into it. She flirts and figures and helps facilitate the marital escape her friend needs, while Joan takes a night off from her real life. There’s a kissing competition in the backseat of a taxi, and a .gif-ready eye roll and slug from a cheap flask by Joan as her friend hooks up with a young waiter. Then a Day-Glo nightclub, all flashing pastel lights and crisp white couches, Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot crooning in the background. If you’ve ever accidentally ended up in a college bar after age 23, you recognize the look on Joan’s face, a perfect combination of “I’m way too old to be here” and “I can’t drink this fast enough.” But she likes it when the cute young guy tells her he wants her; she kisses him hard and wakes up the next morning in all of her clothes and makeup, hung over and giggling with her friend like temporary teenagers.

I liked this brief return to Season One Joan. Imagine some of that wildness and carefree attitude towards sex without the burden of hunting for a husband, with the wisdom and security that the past several years have earned her. Joan squares her shoulders and holds her head up high so often that it makes you forget the effort of that kind of dignity. It’s a wearing, tedious thing, being relentlessly well-behaved.

If anyone understands that, it’s Dawn, who feels the constant sting and fear of being a stranger in a strange land at Sterling/Cooper/Draper/Price. But her good behavior almost ends her career when she gets caught punching a coworker’s time card. “They’re not your friends,” her friend tells her at dinner that night, and feigns disgust at the requirements of Dawn’s job — namely, keeping her head down as a way to keep her job. “I wouldn’t do that,” her friend says, to which Dawn snaps, “Well, you don’t have to. You’re getting married.” Later, she apologizes to Joan and shows that she’s the only person who understands the value of Joan’s respect, which, of course, makes her my favorite character ever.

Fifty percent of this episode was about Don, which is a shame, because it was like watching a watered-down rerun. And it’s a rerun we don’t have to watch when there are compelling characters like Dawn, who can provide us with new story lines, new secondary characters, and new workplace dynamics. Its been pointed out time and again how poorly this series handles race, and I’m with those critics 100%. The argument in the first few seasons was always that segregation would have clearly prevented African-American characters from being a part of the office — but this is TV, and this isn’t an office comedy. All sorts of clients and spouses and friends get story lines, but African-American characters are limited to a scene here and there, then written off (see Carla, Paul’s girlfriend, and Lane’s girlfriend). They introduced Dawn at the beginning of last season, and this is only the second time she’s ever been allowed to utter anything more than secretarial jargon. I hope she gets more space and more of a story line this season. She’s endearing and interesting, and that’s far more than you can say about most of the characters on the show at this point.

NO NEWS IS NO NEWS: So Don is a hypocrite — I don’t even know how I’m supposed to react to this anymore. WE KNOW. We know. See Don accuse Betty of flirting with Jimmy while he was bedding the guy’s wife. See Don rush to Joan’s apartment to tell her not to prostitute herself to Jaguar — Don, who gave his sweet young secretary a Christmas card full of cash the morning after he had drunken sex with her. See Don criticize Roger’s quickie wedding to a secretary, then have one himself. I could write this list for the next few hours, which is why watching him berate Megan for kissing her costar in a scripted scene, then heading home to bed his neighbor/mistress, isn’t interesting television. And the Catholicism bit? Oof. We get it. What do we think the setup is here? I’m guessing unexpected pregnancy, affair reveal, and a whole lotta Jesus.

Oh, and did you know that Don is threatened by young women? Probably, unless this is the first episode of Mad Men you’ve ever seen. His reaction to Peggy becoming his competition on the Heinz campaign was the same as all of his previous reactions to Peggy. Sure, he’s a mentor. He’s that kind of mentor though: the “I’ll shame you and steal your ideas and hold you back” kind of mentor. No one can be surprised that he didn’t wrap his arms around her and say, “Atta girl!” when she perfectly executed a Don Draper-style ad pitch. (Also, his walk-off after listening in on Peggy’s pitch was handled with the subtlety of the “SHE’S BETTER!” scene in Anchorman.) His reaction to Megan’s promotion and love scene on her soap opera was the same as his reaction to Season Two Betty when she came downstairs in a bikini, all flushed and pretty, and he pulled her into the hallway to explain to her what a raving whore she was, how she would attract the stares of dirty old men and how that was probably her angle anyway. “You kiss people for money,” he sneers at Megan. “You know who does that?”

. . . YOUR MOM, DON DRAPER. (It’s been a long week, guys.)

The only difference in this diatribe is who’s on the receiving end, and Megan’s reaction reminds us of the best part of Megan’s character: that she’s not Betty. She’s not particularly endearing or compelling, but she’s also not a pushover or a blank wall for Don to bounce his aggression off of as she cowers.

DESPICABLE HAIRCUT: It’s a shame about Harry. I don’t think the show really requires two Petes, and I like him much more as a bumbling punchline (hamburger car ride: NEVER FORGET) than someone truly despicable. And that’s what he is here. It doesn’t matter how you feel about Joan’s actions — marching into a board room and rubbing them in her face several months later, simply because she fired your secretary in a situation where anyone would have fired your secretary, is despicable. Making it sound like she only earned her place at the table because of one night with the Jaguar guy is despicable. That haircut is despicable. Bert Cooper steals the episode: “I was nothing like you in every possible way.” You know a way not to get a partnership? Petulant, raving douchebaggery. Only one guy can get away with that, and they let him get punched in the face while they all watched.

MORE THAN KETCHUP, THERE MUST BE SOMETHING MORE THAN KETCHUP: Don pitches his posters of hotdogs, juicy and awaiting a squiggle of ketchup, with the line, “The greatest thing you have working for you is the imagination of the consumer.” I’m glad that pitch didn’t land, and I think the show could take a lesson from its own words. The greatest thing Mad Men has working for it is the blind loyalty of its fan base. I’m so exhausted by this overwhelming focus on tired Don Draper story lines, so sick of new bit characters who appear for an episode and aren’t used again until next season (please, please, please don’t do that to Dawn again), so irritated by the staleness of this season so far. But even if I weren’t writing about this series, I would watch it again next week. Just in case, with fingers crossed; just in case all that bated breath was for something special. It’s a nasty game though — and as a loyal and abundant TV consumer, one I’ve played before — and there is an end point where I stop coming back. There’s only one more season. We’ll see . . .

QUICK HITS:

·      “If he wants people to stop hating him, he should stop dropping napalm on CHILDREN.” I’m starting a petition for more Ken Cosgrove, and come on, bring back Alex Mack while you’re at it.

·       Stan and Don holed up in a little room smoking weed and wanting to order lunch was delightful — and Stan’s hearty laugh during that scene was so real.

·      Boring episode; GREAT WARDROBE. Much love to Sylvia’s matching fur hat and collar, Joan’s bell-sleeved silky blue dress, and Megan’s and her costar’s eyesore gold dresses at dinner.

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Claire Moshenberg is a San Francisco-based author, activist, and new-media consultant. She is co-proprietor of the web site Charm City Jukebox and a contributing editor of The Spleen.

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