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Every week, Aaron Cohen (@UnlikelyWords) writes a recap of Mad Men for his blog Unlikely Words, and I illustrate something from the episode to go with it. Lately, Aaron’s been doing the recaps as an interview with David Jacobs. Here’s Aaron’s recap for season 6 episode 11: (Some thoughts then a discussion.)
-Did a lot happen in this episode? It seemed like a lot happened.
-Don and Roger were out pitching an OJ company while Pete, Peggy, and Ted were out pitching Ocean Spray. Hard to imagine this happening, but the scene outside the meeting was funny. “Not all surprises are bad.” “It’s all your juice.”
-Peggy and Pete’s mom had a awkward conversation. It’s kind of amazing how often the Pete/Peggy thing comes up, but is never addressed head on. I wonder if Peggy is still blocking out the pregnancy.
-”He can’t spend the rest of his life on the run.” Interesting to see the Don/Dick Whitman storyline pop up finally, though via Mitchell Rosen’s impending draft. It definitely felt like Don was doing what he was doing to help the kid, to keep him out of the war rather than to score points with Sylvia.”He has a couple years before he has decisions to make.”
-Don, very uncharacteristically, stumbled at Dinner when he floated the topic of GM helping get Mitchell off. Also weird, Pete was the one who suggested it. Wouldn’t Pete know how that would go? Or did he not expect Don to flub it so badly?
-On last week’s episode, Bob Benson had an opportunity to deny his homosexuality, but kept silent, this week he hit on Pete. So I guess the Bob/Joan rumblings weren’t anything. Maybe Joan knows? “Bob is a wonderful salesperson.”
-”War is wrong.” Second time in about three weeks Don has vocally opposed the war. It seems like something of a brave or rare position in the corporate world, though it makes sense given his past.
-”Don’t be an asshole, Don.” Awesome.
-I haven’t noticed before, but I think Pete has the same office one floor above Don. The Pete is Don parallels strike again.
-Peggy got a cat to deal with the rodent problem, perfect! A descent into cat ladydom?
-The episode title was favors: Don trying to get Mitchell out of serving, Ted taking care of that, Peggy asking a shirtless Stan to come over (“I’ll make it worth your while.”), some other favors.
-I’m still not buying into Don and Sylvia, despite all evidence to the contrary. I also don’t buy Don getting all torn up by Sally seeing him and Sylvia. It’s a normal human response, but not a normal Don Draper response. Crying in the elevator? Not knowing what to do? And then it seems like Sally just accepts it. But maybe Sylvia and Don are back on again? “Don, I owe you.”
-Were there any indications about when this episode took place?
David: I feel smart for liking this episode, because it was directed by Jennifer Getzinger, who has directed (among others) the Suitcase, which is probably my favorite Mad Men episode.
Aaron: I have a lot of other details in my head so I don’t hardly ever pay attention to that unless it’s Slattery or Draper. In any case, did the episode feel choppy to you? Not negatively choppy, but it felt disjointed to me.
David: I thought it was masterful. This close to the end of the season is very tough – because the plot needs to be moved forward, but you can’t just drop the themes or the historical backdrop in favor of straight character exposition, which the show has been guilty of in the past (especially last season). Tell me more – which scenes felt the most disjointed?
Aaron: Disjointed isn’t the right word. Maybe unsettled. A LOT happened. A lot of awkward happened. But the episode as a whole didn’t feel awkward. I think scenes acted more independently tonight than they normally do. Individual vignettes, like micro-episodes. We can keep talking about it, or I can ask you to give me your best college psychology 101 for what the Peggy/rat storyline represented.
David: One of the themes that’s been most effective this season is that of expansion – as the characters find themselves in new environments, the writers and directors have opportunities to develop the story in new ways. It sounds obvious, but it’s difficult. The merger of CGC into SCDP was a crutch, but a useful one, to put the characters we know best in a new situation without leaving the office. Peggy’s move to the Upper West Side another. For the life of the series, Peggy has been ascendent. She’s been challenged, of course (most notably when she was pregnant), but she always ends ahead. I still think SCDP is on extremely thin ice, but she’s been carrying herself well. At home, though, she’s had new tenants pooping on her porch and last week’s stabbing of her boyfriend. My best college psychology 101 is that the rat showed how vulnerable Peggy really was – even as she’s otherwise successful. I also just loved the way the scene was shot – the lighting, the color, the blood across the floor. It was the rare horror cliche embedded into Mad Men, and it turned into comedy, and then farce, in the space of just a few sentences. Not to sound redundant, but hats off to Getzinger for her direction of that scene.
Aaron: Did the rat have anything to do with her past with Pete? Did it have anything to do with how the firm is operating now? Was it just a chance for her to tease Stan and see him topless?
David: I’m always happy to see Stan! Especially since so many other favorites were missing from the show this week. And I hadn’t made the Pete connection but… yes? Although I think Pete remains more interesting while he’s still exiled from his home with Trudy. I was NOT happy to see that squirrel gun back in the “coming next week” trailer. Do you think that’s a nod to the super-geek fans, or is Pete going to commit suicide (or shoot someone) in the finale?
Aaron: Is next week the finale? F. Two more episodes.This has been the season of jaw droppers, so maybe. I doubt it, though. Who would Pete shoot? His mother? Manolo the nurse? Bob Benson? Someone else? I THINK they’ve committed too much time to developing his character this season to kill him off by either having him shoot someone else or shoot himself. Pete is a mess right now, begging Peggy not to pity him is pretty pitiful. “At least one of us ended up important. Please tell me you don’t pity me, because you really know me.” I think more likely is Trudy takes him back. Also, I use Trudie and Trudy interchangeably. EVERYONE gets down on Pete, so I think I must be the only one sympathetic to him. “You’ve always been unlovable.” Am I a monster? I must be a monster.
David: The actor playing Pete’s mother did an amazing job of using Trudy’s mannerisms tonight. It’s as if she was an older Trudy! But think Pete will shoot Roger, who’s been holding oranges for three weeks running! (Remember – everything on this show goes back to the Sopranos or Twin Peaks). Before we leave the theme of people being where they’re not (Pete in NYC instead of the suburbs, Don in Betsy’s bed, Peggy’s gentrification challenges, &c), I also want to remark upon the reveal of Sally walking in on Don and Sylvia. If Pete is the least sympathetic character in the show, Sally is perhaps the most sympathetic. So the setup of Pete complaining for 30 minutes about the thought of his Mom having sex, followed by Sally actually seeing her Dad having sex, was a wonderful conceit. I am excited to see how this changes their relationship (she also so Roger and Megan’s mother having sex, right?) It is interesting to me that Ted is ostensibly a good guy, but the fact that he whines to Don so much makes “the internet” dislike him. I think he’s believable, he doesn’t bother me as much as some others do. How about you?
Aaron: Ted doesn’t bother me at all. He seems like the overachiever that may have gotten picked on in high school, but has come into his own. The internet gets annoyed by him because the internet is high school. Ted finally got Don where he wants him. In the same way Pete has something on Don, now Ted does, too. Great point on the Pete/Sally contrast, and the fact Sally has now seen a lot of adults being unfaithful. It’s AMAZING she hasn’t run away yet. I really used to hate Sally, but I am not a monster anymore.
Aaron: Is it me, or has Don’s past not been as huge a factor this season? I remember it being a major theme in the past, but it’s been almost non-existent as a form of danger to Don’s lifestyle. Maybe that ended in the beginning of last season when it was clear Megan knew SOME of the secret at least, but I keep expecting it to come up again because it’s, uh, a defining theme of the show. You’re going to bring up Rosen’s kid tonight as a reference, but it’s not the same thing. Somewhat connected, in year’s past we would have seen and would be able to feel Don’s deep connection to Sylvia. It’s completely unbelievable to me, but yet it’s a consistent theme. Why would be so shaken by Sally seeing them (I mean, duh, he’d be shaken), the Don Draper of year’s past would have instantly been able to control the situation.
David: Well, it was just below the surface this entire episode. As you ask the question about Don’s service, I’m realizing that my own feeling that none of the characters are quite right starts with Dick Whitman – who is the foundational “person in a place he is not supposed to be” in the whole show. You mentioned before the show to me that perhaps Pete’s mother’s nurse would have known Don from the war, but the topic of “service” kept coming up repeatedly, not just Mitchell Rosen, but also Pete’s palpable resent at the favor he had to pull with the Department of Defense (was that three seasons ago?) and the uncharacteristic behavior with GM. I was surprised that it’s taken this long for Don/Dick to come out so steadfastly against the war, but I was pleased to see it in my own “I’m really trying to find ways to relate to this miserable human being of a character” way. And your point about Sally is also a good one – he literally retreated to a bar! In the past, we perhaps wouldn’t have even acknowledged it. But perhaps that shows growth – he’s truly beginning to love his children, and the bind that Mitchell is in reinforces that love.
Aaron: I really felt Don helped Mitchell out more because of his own service, not because of his love for Sylvia… I just don’t want to accept that relationship as a driving part of Don’s character. Maybe it’s a mental block for me, but to me it felt like Don was trying to keep a kid out of the war, a decent action he could likely achieve. The way the show is going, it seems like I’m supposed to believe he did it for Sylvia. Am I way off?
David: I think you are spot on! I really enjoy the conspiracy theories, but I do feel like Matt Weiner is trying to build a show about the time period – not about the individual characters. In a lot of ways Don’s affair with Sylvia is completely immaterial – this was a vehicle for him to be assertively anti-war, and it was conspicuously connected to his past. Again, great direction. No sound effects, flash backs or voiceovers – but when Don paused briefly in the conversation with Dr. Rosen in that diner, I thought for a second he was going to reveal everything. That would have been something! I feel like there’s a little bit left to Dr. Rosen’s story – somehow the Leica will come back. Look at me, getting right back to conspiracy theories!
Aaron: Sally seeing Don and Sylvia, the merger, to a certain extent Bob Benson hitting on Pete, and any number of other seriously shocking scenes, have happened this season, and almost without fail, they’re no longer mentioned after the next commercial break. Why is that happening? Is it happening?
David: Well, as with the constant mentions of the war, I think those scenes are moving forward a mood as much as the plot itself. And we did get a Don/Sally confrontation, albeit through a closed door. I think they’ll be tied up, though. Something big has to happen to Sally – next season or in the next two weeks. She’s the link to the present.
Aaron: I think that’s going to be it, though! Sally accepted it and moved on.