Last night's repeat win at the Emmy Awards further enshrined Mad Men as television's best series on a night when it aired a consequential new episode.
Before getting to the review of "Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency" -- a very ironic title, as it happens -- replete with the usual spoilers, a few thoughts about Mad Men as the new Sopranos.
Here's a recap of Episode 5.
While it will never have the populist appeal of a well-written show about angst-ridden mobsters, Mad Men is something I find even more interesting. It's a highly cinematic time tunnel from a fascinating period, the early 1960s, to the present. It's a show about the American Dream, about aspiration and identity and value, revolving around some very intriguing characters in perhaps the most quintessential of American businesses. Advertising defines the American Dream and reflects it, all in an endless loop of desire and dissatisfaction, ever adjusting to change and co-opting it. For one purpose: To convince you that you need what it's selling.
The essentially cut-throat nature of the business comes very much to the fore in this episode. The domestic drama that threatened at times to overwhelm the show early in the season is at a relative minimum.
The essential milieu of Mad Men is not all that admirable.
After learning that Don Draper isn't the only one in the Draper household who doesn't like that the new baby is named for his late father-in-law, the action shifts swiftly to Sterling Cooper. There we learn that a surprise farewell party is in the works for Joan Holloway, er, Mrs. Harris, who has uncharacteristically foolishly given notice in advance of her fan-detested husband becoming chief resident at his hospital. And that the agency is about to have the corporate equivalent of a state visit.
The chairman of Putnam, Powell, and Lowe, the urbane St. John Powell, accompanied by his cold-ass managing director, is about to arrive from London to check out things at their New York acquisition.
Hints that this is not entirely a friendly visit come with the overly courteous attitudes of the Brits already at Sterling Coo. Oh, and the date. It seems it completely slipped the notice of the big brains over near Big Ben that the 4th of July is some American holiday or another. What was that Declaration of Independence matter about, anyway?
A quick recap of Episode 4.
Bert Cooper gathers Roger Sterling and Draper into his lair to discuss what it means. His theory? The Brits want Don Draper for a big role in PPL, overseeing creative in London, New York, and other global cities. They've been carefully studying the Don Draper magic, Cooper reports, trying to figure out how he does what he does. Not surprisingly, Don likes that idea.
Cooper also tells Sterling and Draper it's time to stop the chilly sniping between them, setting up a male bonding experience over shaves and manicures. "Everybody wants Martin and Lewis back together," he says, drawing a parallel with the fractured comedy duo of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. And we do want this Martin and Lewis back together. The Draper-Sterling byplay has been one of the most entertaining, and frequently telling, things in the show. So Don relents on his resentment of Roger for setting in motion the sale of Sterling Cooper to the Brits in the first place. Which resulted, as you'll recall, from the very costly divorce caused by Roger not only bedding but marrying Don's foxy 20-year old secretary.
Before getting to Bert Cooper's decidedly faulty analysis of corporate politics, let's deal with Joan's situation. One obvious logical flaw in this episode is the question of why Joan, one of the savviest of characters, would quit her job at Sterling Cooper before knowing that the hubster has his medical promotion locked down. After all, we've already seen her have to salvage her dinner party with the docs when it came out that hubby screwed up an operation.
Anyway, I doubt many viewers are surprised to learn that he did not get the chief resident job she'd been counting on to lift her into a life of, if not luxury, at least non-work.
And it's actually a little worse than that, because his supposed mentor has told him he "doesn't have brains in his fingers." In other words, he'll never be a surgeon in New York. And yes, he's one of these macho doctors who insists on being a surgeon. Of course, he can still be a surgeon somewhere else. Like, say, Alabama. Considering that Joan absolutely adores Manhattan, I'm quite sure that she has no intention of trading it for Montgomery.
This British Invasion has not yet reached Mad Men, or America. The Beatles, already the biggest thing in Britain, play "She Loves You" to a frantic audience.
Now back to the British Invasion. Incidentally, the popular "British Invasion" of the time won't begin until the end of the year, when Beatlemania begins to take hold in America. Though the Beatles are a sensation in Britain in July 1963, they've made no impact at all in the States. Because Capitol Records, the American subsidiary of Britain's EMI, refuses to release Beatles music in America.
This changes only after the managing director of EMI travels to New York to inform the head of Capitol Records that they will release Beatles records in America or else. But that's later in 1963. At this particular moment, the Beatles are touring and doing some work on their second album. Which will be released in the UK on November 22, 1963.
End of parallel.
Here's a recap of Episode 3.
So when the Brits arrive for their supposed inspection tour, on the day of her farewell party, Joan puts on her bravest face, as she is leaving with nowhere to go. But wait, it's not just the expected two big shots from London, there's a young guy with them, and he acts like he's the boss.
This fellow's name is Guy McKendrick (see the episode title), and he immediately brings to mind the villain in the last Pierce Brosnan Bond film, Die Another Day. Very high-energy, handsome, charming, and glib.
After sweeping through the office, with Guy in the lead, glad-handing everyone in sight -- and leading me to briefly think that he might be the new chairman of Putnam, Powell, and Lowe -- they hold a brief and baffling meeting with Draper, Sterling and Cooper. Then Guy's two bosses peal off for a chat with their existing overseer of Sterling Cooper, Lane Pryce.
This is a great scene, in which the Brit execs reveal that, beneath the polish, they're quite unpleasant customers. They so love what Lane has done with the place. In just nine months, chopping staff by a third, cutting expenses, bolstering accounts, and all while quelling protest from either Sterling Cooper's ranks or its former owners.
A quick recap of Episode 2.
As a token of their gratitude toward their "snake charmer," they have a horrible gift for him. It's a dead cobra. Which is especially fitting for his next assignment, in Bombay, India. (Bombay, incidentally, is now Mumbai, India's commercial capital and site of a bloody jihadist terrorist siege last Thanksgiving.)
Needless to say, Lane -- who likes to think of himself as something more than a corporate shock doctrine artist -- is not pleased with the trade of New York for Bombay, not to mention a fresh dislocation for his wife and son, nor with seeing clearly how they really view him. But he's reminded that, as he's always prospered by doing as he's told, it's best to regard this as a promotion.
Lane is being replaced by Guy. Who in another chilly scene addressing the Sterling Cooper executive staff has everyone reporting to a new triumvirate of himself, Don, and Bert Cooper ("our chairman emeritus"). Notable by his complete absence from the new flow chart is Roger Sterling, which Guy smoothly attributes to an oversight when it's called to his attention.
Having established this new order -- in which Ken Cosgrove, who's just scored a major coup bringing in John Deere, and Pete Campbell are still locked in competition as co-heads of accounts and Harry Crane heads a new TV-media department -- Prince Guy declares a fete for the whole office in honor of the departing Joan, who still hasn't mentioned that her rich doctor's wife scenario is no longer operative. He offers her champagne wishes and caviar dreams and, as neither are in the offing, Joan uncharacteristically bursts into tears.
Don, having found his own newly kindled dream of being an ocean-hopping advertising guru brought down to the reality of having to share power with yet another Brit overseer, finds that his own champagne has gone flat. So he's pleased to not only take a call from the office of legendary hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, but to take a meeting with him "immediately."
Arriving in the presidential suite of the Waldorf Astoria, Don quickly tumbles to the fact that he has met Conrad Hilton before. For Hilton is Connie, the older, plain-spoken Westerner Don befriended by chance in the season's third episode while getting a drink and needed respite from Roger Sterling's Derby Day party (and blackface vocal stylings) at a Long Island country club.
I wrote at the time that Connie, who expressed the same sort of fundamental outsider feelings as Don, was almost certainly actually the richest person on the grounds. But I didn't know he was Conrad Hilton.
Connie Hilton, who is about to appear on the cover of Time magazine, has gone to some trouble to find Don. He wants some advertising help, and probably a buddy as well. But Don is all business, which looks to me like a mistake, insisting that he doesn't work for free. After giving Connie some pretty obvious free advice about mice in hotels, he essentially clams up. Connie is willing to do business, if a little disappointed in how Don plays it.
But just as Connie and Don are adjusting their dynamic, there's an emergency call. Something's gone wrong.
You can say that again. Showing off his big new account, Ken Cosgrove had driven a big John Deere lawn mower, which looks more like a small tractor, into the office. Which of course he left around as a prop to impress the visiting Brits. With the liquor flowing, hapless Lois -- so amusingly fired as Don's secretary after he tells her: "You do not 'cover for me,' you manage people's expectations" -- hops on for a wild and wildly inept ride through the office.
And drives right over Guy's foot, spattering his blood across the office and half the staff before crashing through a wall. Peggy Olsen, who earlier had a fine moment telling Joan she always listened to her advice even when she didn't take it, faints dead away at the site of it, with Pete catching her.
It's a shocking moment, as Guy is not merely hurt -- he's in real danger. Joan saves the day, and probably his life, by swiftly making a tourniquet and issuing timely orders.
With Guy off in the hospital, Roger Sterling arrives with some well-timed wisecracks about this sudden turn for the guy who left his name off the organizational chart.
"It looks like Iwo Jima in here," he notes, as the carpet is torn up and a maintenance worker cleans Guy's blood off the walls and a big internal office window. "Just when he was getting his foot in the door," Sterling quips to his junior execs. As they moan about the situation, he assures them that the same thing has undoubtedly happened at another agency.
Not bloody likely, needless to say.
Here's a recap of the season opener.
When Don arrives at the hospital, he finds Joan waiting there. It was she who called him out of his meeting with Hilton, fearful that Guy would die. He won't, but he will lose his foot.
Don doesn't think it's the end of the world for him, but the big Brit bosses do. They're already speaking of this "great accounts man" in the past tense. After all, he'll never play golf again.
After this sly joke, which got a big laugh here, it's time for departures. The Londoners, after noting that Lane Pryce will obviously remain in place, go first, followed by Joan, who plays a great scene with Don into which all manner of things can be read. Intriguingly, she still hasn't mentioned that she needs the job she's giving up with such fanfare even as her value is shown all the more.
Have Don and Joan been lovers? Are they friends? Do they see each other as too natural a partner to contemplate? Is there regret at what might have been? Or do they merely respect one another a great deal?
Somewhat surprisingly, these two have played very few scenes together in this show, even though, if I were making up an advertising agency out of these characters, Don and Joan are the two I would place in charge.
And so with Joan having departed for her holiday evening with her screw-up hubster, Don is left with Lane Pryce, who demonstrates again that he aspires to something more than highly skilled corporate hackery.
Noting that he's taken to reading classic American literature, he says he's just read Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer." And does not at all like the eulogy he's just heard at his own funeral.
While the Beatles, unlike Bond, have yet to make an impression in the world of Mad Men, Bob Dylan has already featured prominently. And does again at the end of this episode.
Sally Draper, as I mentioned early on, has a problem with her new baby brother that goes beyond sibling rivalry. He's named for her beloved late Grandpa Gene and lives in what she came to think of as his room, so she is very spooked by him. After she rejects Betty's perfunctory attempt to placate her with a Barbie doll supposedly from the baby, she wakes up the household screaming. This presents Don with the opportunity to tell Betty how much he really dislikes having his new son named after a man with whom he shared a mutual hatred society before comforting Sally, taking her to see the baby, and telling her he really is only a baby and they don't know who he will be yet.
And the episode goes out on Dylan's "Song to Woody."
Hey, hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
'Bout a funny ol' world that's a-comin' along.
Seems sick an' it's hungry, it's tired an' it's torn,
It looks like it's a-dyin' an' it's hardly been born.
As pollster Paul Maslin pointed out in an e-mail last night, Dylan, not unlike Don Draper/Dick Whitman, was also a man of mutating identity. And in this lyric, Dylan sums up much of the milieu of Mad Men itself.
Despite a lapse here and there, this was a strong episode that likely will become a signature episode of the show. Fitting that it debuted on the night that Mad Men won the Emmy for best dramatic series for the second year in a row.
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