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William Bradley

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Mad Men: To The Moon! (And Crashing Back Again)

Posted: 05/ 1/2012 9:28 pm

Somewhere, Conrad Hilton is saying he always thought Don Draper should listen to his wife. He always wanted the Moon, that ultimate symbol of Space Age striving in the '60s, from Don, and he didn't get it, which is why he dumped him at the end of Season 3. But Megan's brainstorm, which merely saves the day with Heinz, all primed to fire the agency after Peggy Olson's gaffes, finally delivers it. For Heinz, though, not Hilton.

"There's something happening here / What it is ain't exactly clear ..."

As always, there be some spoilers ahead. Incidentally, you can see all my Mad Men pieces, going back to 2009, here in The Mad Men File.

Since Don and Megan actually seem to talk -- she knows he is Dick Whitman and isn't thrown in the least by it -- she probably knows about the unrealized Hilton Moon shot ad that eliminated Don's most important client by far.

After a few weeks of episodes dominated by stagey set pieces driven by forced plotting, entertaining though it was, which was perhaps prompted by complaints that not enough happens on the show, Mad Men is back to its more customary approach of organic storytelling.

Three young women, in one case, extremely young, get (most of) what they think they want. But it doesn't suffice. Not by a long shot. Each excitedly sees the stars in this episode, only to be drawn back, as ever, to a dour world view.

Oh, and Don Draper learns about the hypocrisy of big New York corporations. That might be significant, in the early fall of 1966.

Megan saves the day for hubby Don Draper and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, both with a good idea for the Heinz campaign and by sussing out that the executive couple dining with them was on the verge of firing the agency after Peggy Olson's gaffes in the last episode. She and Don make a good team on this, and we see Don do the first excellent sell job he's delivered this season, albeit with Megan's idea. Which he is thrilled to credit her with inside the agency.

But, with her parents visiting and demonstrating the volatility and decay of their long marriage -- now we see where Megan gets the pattern of fighting and making up -- leave it to dear old dad the Marxist academic to put a damper on his daughter's joy.

In essence, he argues, she's cut to the head of the line by marrying the boss, buying into materialism and betraying herself in the process. Though what truer goal she had for herself is left unstated. Is he being a corrosive jerk, or does he have a point?

Of course, the whole baked beans ad campaign bit feels like a slow-burning shaggy dog story on the audience. There is nothing cool, youthful, romantic, or futuristic about baked beans. Unless you want to show the starship troopers of the future grousing about how boring the chow is but they're glad they can count on the calories they need from those damn beans when they're pinned down on Planet P fighting the Bugs.

Peggy's bad pitches weren't to blame in a bogus assignment, though I wonder why she thought that anything would be good.

Back to the soap opera.

Megan's parents are in town around Don's big award from the American Cancer Society. You of course remembered that classic moment the year before last now when, after SCDP was fired by Lucky Strike, Don penned a self-serving ad in the New York Times about being all done with the evil weed. It's a big moment for him and the agency, though not exactly a pure one.

Don's kids are staying, too, after Sally's awful grandmother, walking drunkenly down the hallway, trips over Sally's extended phone cord. Sally, praised for her handling of it all, lies about the actual cause of it. Which makes her the perfect candidate to come to Don's big awards dinner!

Which makes it three generations of women in the family attending, because Megan's tres chic maman is in town as well. Which will soon afford young Sally the opportunity to sing Maman embrasse le Père-Noël. Well, that would be kissing of a sort, of course. And only if one considers the silver fox Roger Sterling a sort of Santa Claus.

Marie Calvet is played by the estimable Julia Ormond, who in the mid-'90s was on the cusp of major movie stardom. She starred with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins in Legends of the Fall, with Sean Connery and Richard Gere in First Knight, and with Harrison Ford in the remake of Sabrina, rather fearlessly playing the Audrey Hepburn role.

As a great fan of Julie Christie -- who earlier this year in the Mad Men universe has won the Best Actress Oscar for playing, in Darling, a beautiful woman in swinging London whose gotten everything she wanted and couldn't be more miserable (hey, she'd fit in right in this show!) -- I've always liked the English rose with thorns. But Ormond didn't seem to have thorns. Yet she is a fine actress, and quite a character actress with the big movie star thing not quite having worked out.

And Marie Calvet, like husband Emile, is quite a character. Now with thorns. Her marriage having congealed into resentful banter with a pretentious academic husband who's into cheating with coeds, she's somewhat competitive with her daughter, somewhat flirtatious with Don, and somewhat, ah, more with someone else.

Sally gets to be with the grown-ups in this episode, even more than she'd hoped. In a Megan-bought silver dress, but absent the go-go boots and make-up at Don's insistence, she provides a glimpse of the fetching woman she will be. She even has a date to the ball, in the form of Roger, who proves equally adept at chatting up the tweener as he is her step-grandmother. And everyone else, for that matter.

Sally is underwhelmed by the food and especially the setting of the American Cancer Society do, it seems there is no grand staircase, but happy to hold on to the business cards that Roger -- perked up after a good meeting with ex-wife Mona, who is heartened to understand that he didn't divorce her because she got old but because he did -- is collecting in his newfound lease on business life. He's just full of clarity after dropping acid and ending his second marriage.

But Sally gets more than she bargained for when she blunders upon her glamorous step-granny kissing Santa Roger decidedly under the mistletoe.

While chastened, is she scarred for life? Let's not go overboard. This kid is a smart cookie who's been taking it all in ever since she was left by her parents to be raised by the TV during the tumultuous events that have already taken place in the '60s. Somehow, I think she'll survive.

Peggy, who is happy for Megan's success in saving the Heinz account, has her own revolution of rising expectations, only to have to settle for something more prosaic than she'd hoped. Summoned to dinner by her clingy boyfriend Abe, who seems a little too concerned by Peggy's joshingly familiar relationship with male co-workers, our workaholic young heroine at first worries that he's going to break up with her, only to be convinced by Joan that he probably wants to propose.

Well, he does have a proposition in mind. It's a bit sad to see Peggy, who's dolled herself up in a new dress for the occasion, have to deal with the idea of the two of them moving in together instead. Which Peggy's ever grating mom manages to sully further, telling her she'll be used for "practice" before Abe marries someone else.

Well, if so, so what? She's young. Doesn't Mrs. Olson know the divorce rate in this country?

While Megan, Sally, and Peggy each get less of an award than they expect in this episode, Don does get his big award from the American Cancer Society. And finds that it is not made of the expected gold.

Kenny Cosgrove's father-in-law, played by the very well-known character actor Ray Wise, decides to clue Don in after a few drinks. The corporate big shots who make up the board, and whom SCDP hope to court as clients, love Don's work. But they don't love him. In fact, they really don't like him. Because he "bit the hand that fed him."

Perhaps they worry that, while they don't make cigarettes, for which they pat themselves on the back, they make other products that might not play so well, either. And that someone like Don just might point that out at some point.

Ray Wise has made a notable career playing characters who are decidedly untrustworthy, and not infrequently unhinged. That he should be telling Don that the big corporate leaders won't hire him because they don't trust him after he bit the hand that fed him in the form of Lucky Strike is rich in irony.

As is the smoking American Cancer Society, for that matter.

The corporate leaders in this big philanthropic venture don't seem to believe in their ostensible message. They certainly don't believe that Don is a hero, even though they are feting him as one.

That Lucky Strike was a bad actor with a deadly product, run by an evil guy -- the odious Lee Garner, Jr., having shown himself to be a despicable bully in his personal life as well as a purveyor of cancer -- seems not to bother the big execs draping themselves in philanthropy and the promotion of public health.

Meanwhile, the two most prominent young women of Mad Men both have men of the left playing big roles in their lives, who do not value the struggle of the women to fit into corporate Americana.

Somehow, I think there's something happening here. Even if what it is ain't exactly clear. Just yet, that is.

If this is September 1966 in Mad Men land, then For What It's Worth, written by Stephen Stills, will be recorded by the Buffalo Springfield in just about two months.


You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.


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