Tuesday, May 14th 2013
I need you, and nothing else will do.
When chaos overwhelms a part of your life that you usually dominate, like Don does his workspace, a natural urge to control something, anything, takes over. When my life becomes chaotic, I crawl inside myself and make strange lists, like Ted admits with his Gilligan’s Island-margarine pairings. During the darkest times in my past, my house was impeccably clean because, while I couldn’t control what was happening to me, I could absolutely control the space around me.
Taking control over another person is tricky. It can be an exciting, freeing experience for both, or it can be a warning of potential abuse; control must be given as freely as it is taken, and trust must exist on both ends. For Don and Sylvia, their short game of dominance and control was exciting and cathartic, but ultimately, with too much time for Sylvia to consider the truth of their play, an ending.
What a gift though, to read another person well enough, like Don did Sylvia, to know that she needed, for a spell, to lose control; to not know what was going to happen next, but trust that she was going to enjoy it. Don, in turn, was able to know with complete certainty, that while his work was muddled and confused with new people and change and challenges, there was something beautiful waiting for him, something even more beautiful than Megan because Sylvia was waiting on Don’s order. She existed only for him.
We’ve seen Don’s dominance take over with nearly all his relationships. We’ve heard him tell more than one woman to stop talking. We’ve seen his need to control take an abusive turn with Betty, and a filthy worded role play scene with Megan. What we ultimately see with Don though, with the women he cares about – Betty; Megan; Sylvia – is a boyish need to keep things as they are, even if the woman is miserable. “Please,” Don begs Sylvia as she calmly explains to him that their relationship is damaged and doomed. Don doesn’t want to stop playing; he doesn’t want the beautiful, smart, lovely woman to leave him.
After shaming, ignoring, shoving and calling Betty a whore, when she finally tells him it’s over, he lowers his head in a darkened room and weeps. A strong shouldered man, broken because the beautiful woman he loved tells him he’s not good enough. When he and Megan fight at the HoJo after she turns down his delicious orange sherbet offer, he violently kicks in a door, chases her while she grips her hairbrush, like an angered father attempting to control his defiant daughter. When they fall together, and Megan holds an aching limb and cries, Don’s face looks terrified and exhausted. She stands, proud and frightened, and he crawls to her, clutches her, and suddenly, he’s the frightened child.
Every woman Don chooses ends up finding a voice that says, “I don’t need you”, and it terrifies him. For Don, there is nothing more frightening than being insignificant; unneeded; unwanted. He keeps a loose hold on one woman while wrapping himself around another, and when one fails, he grips the one that’s still there, hoping that she doesn’t go away, hoping that he can always return to her and find her, sweetly waiting for him. The foreshadowing image at the end of the episode, while Megan sits on the end of the bed and cries watching the footage of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, and Don sits near her, facing away, looking shame faced and tired, is a glimpse of what it would look like if Don lost Megan too – just a sad lonely man, filled with remorse.
Tuesday, April 30th 2013
Then one day, they get older and you see them do something, and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have. And it feels like your heart is going to explode.
Sharing grief with an entire nation of people is a surreal, sensitive experience. In 2001, three days before September 11th, SB’s Great Grandmother died. SB told me that she felt as if the whole world was grieving alongside her. The world was not aware of her, or her loss, but everyone was experiencing the shock and terror of grief.
On Sunday night’s episode of Mad Men we observed everyone’s reactions to losing a leader, a real father, and a symbolic father to his followers, and everyone released their fear and sadness in different ways. Betty, who saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot on live television, forbid the children from the TV and squirreled them all away in one room before sending them to their father where she could have the TV on while she waited alone, just in case. Megan readjusted her fear at living high and enclosed but still amongst the sound of angry reaction by tumbling all her emotions onto her father and his uncouth words. Henry and Abe, who would strangely benefit from the event, reacted with a heart palpating excitement. Joan doled out hugs amidst tears. Dawn, eyes wide in shock, ached for her routine, something normal amongst the chaos.
Pete misdirected all his anger and fear and loneliness onto Harry, who exists only on the surface. Such an easy target, someone who says exactly what they’re thinking when they’re thinking, even if what they’re thinking is selfish or unnecessary. Pete, who tried throughout the entire experience to reach out and could find no one, finally found a passionate interaction with the office buffoon. We watched him wait frantically to make a call right after hearing the news; we watched his awkward interaction with Trudy, who, though gentle, had no interest in comforting or seeking comfort with Pete. And finally, in Pete’s last scene, we watch him in that sad lonely apartment attempt to talk to a delivery person who either didn’t, or pretended not to understand him. And there Pete stood, alone, with no words to share or recall except an impassioned speech to a person he doesn’t even care about or respect.
Don reacted the way he does best, by not reacting. Whenever grief strikes Don’s life, unless it’s very personal and very solitary, he seems to resemble the calm quiet voice of reason, offering reasonable solutions to problems, conjuring up wise words to steady the breath of someone actually feeling an emotion, but the truth is that Don isn’t feeling anything. We have seen Don feel. We know what it looks like. We saw it at the end of the episode, Don, deep inside a bottle, admitting what many parents never admit, that they go through the motions with their children until their children do something quietly extraordinary.
That afternoon, waiting for the encore of Planet of the Apes, Bobby Draper became a real human person to Don and to us as well. Bobby has become a bit of a joke to fans, hasn’t he? Four Bobbys, each one popping up to annoy Betty or deliver a cheeky one-liner. Nobody has paid much attention to Bobby, but now Bobby says something so decidedly Don that it makes us whimper. Now we know that Bobby frets for Henry. Now we know that Bobby curses. Now we know Bobby needs order and obsessively tears at the wallpaper that doesn’t line up. Now we know Bobby can offer wise advice to a stranger that he, through observation that Don was completely unaware of, knows his father does. Go to the movies when you’re sad. Watch it again if you’re still sad. Escape. It’s one simple, beautiful way to both cope with grief and reveal to a withholding frightened father that loving you will help heal his broken heart.
Friday, April 26th 2013
I don’t care how they make you feel, it’s right in front of you for the taking.
Who is better at keeping it together than Joan? She reacts to everything that happens as if she not only expected it, but planned it – a surprise pregnancy, a failed marriage, a man’s foot being chopped off, all handled (with the exception of a smashed model airplane) with an assured placidity; everything is happened exactly as it should.
It’s why Joan’s private moments of doubt are like watching a statue crumble, and why it rarely happens, because Joan depends on the resolve she has built. Joan accepts all that has happened to break her, all the abuse, and uses it to straighten her spine and calm her face into an expression of quiet confidence. It’s intimidating to people like Harry, whose emotions are incapable of restraint. It’s inspiring to people like Don, whose restraint is similar to Joan’s, but, as a man working in a permissive environment, is allowed to misstep. Joan must always remain on guard, she must always choose her words and her actions wisely, and the best part of watching Joan is watching her whip-smart mind decide what course she’s going to choose.
Watching Joan interact with a friend whose life is so decidedly different than Joan’s reminded me of when Roger took Freddy Rumsen and Don out on an exciting night of forbidden shenanigans that involved passwords and code names. To a woman who sells cosmetics, Joan’s life is like stepping into a novel, and Joan welcomes her friend into the world, opens the door to an exciting, opulent, seedy land where young men clumsily flirt and paw all evening, the only proof of their existence being a torn dress, a rushed morning, and a vague sense of discontent.
This is Joan’s world. Remove the pale bosomy redhead, and it’s a deep immersion inside a man’s world: a partnership; an apartment in the city; strangers tending to physical needs; child usually in the care of another. Joan, using her quiet intelligence, her diligence, and her pale bosoms, climbed the corporate ladder and landed inside a world that, to other women, seems like something only breathlessly heard about, and maybe, if pushed by an impending sense of age or responsibility, for just one night, lived inside. Joan is so brave she lives it, beautifully, courageously, every day. No apologies, no world-weary melancholy, Joan is nothing but quiet intimidation and limitless inspiration.
Tuesday, April 9th 2013
Just be yourself.
My biggest aging fear is not wrinkles, or sagging skin; it’s not memory loss, or finding the music too damned loud. My biggest aging fear is losing myself in a decade. I’m afraid I’ll spend a steady amount of years successful and happy and as the times a’change, I won’t be able to change with them. This decade will define me and I will be old and sad; so profoundly sad. I will hold so tight to the way I looked and behaved during those years that I will forget how to adapt.
It is lovely to hold on to a thing or two from your past. I was in high school during the whole school girl knee-socks & pleated-skirt phenomenon. My Mom hated the look and wouldn’t let me wear it. Now, because I’m eccentric and don’t look my age, I am taking advantage of that lost time and totally wearing a version of the trend. That’s fine! Rock on! Picking and choosing an appealing trend from decades past to repeat is a fantastic fashion choice. What I haven’t done is totally adapt my wardrobe to resemble that of a 17 year old girl in 1995. That would be sad. Not because I committed to a trend. I know plenty of women who commit themselves to dressing in entirely retro clothing and their dedication is an inspiration. However, if I dressed entirely in clothing from my teen years, I wouldn’t be dedicating myself to a look, I would be trapping myself in my past.
Here’s Don, it’s almost 1968, and aside from the clothing Megan dresses him in during their vacation, he looks like an older version of Don circa 1960. Last season Don turned off a psychedelic Beatles album after a short listen, was hurt when Megan rejected his favourite iced dessert, and furrowed his brow disapprovingly at a young girl backstage at a Rolling Stones concert. Don will smoke weed because he’s down for whatever, but would never seek out the current era’s drug of choice. Don is sleeping with a woman whose kid is in college. Don looks like the Ken doll Sally played with back when she was Thally Draper.
Even Don’s idea of the profundity of love is somehow antiquated. He is starwort, verbose only when overwhelmed with his distaste at the way the world around him is moving. When on a decadent Hawaiian vacation he won’t even speak unless he finds someone who wants him to reminisce and treat him like a wise older man. When he discovers later, that the man he shared a spontaneous and profound experience with had a youthful catchy phrase engraved on the lighter that Don accidentally ended up with, Don rejected the experience, discarded it, refused the connection. The first 10 minutes of the sixth season premiere reveal Don in various scenes looking bewildered and bemused. His slight brow furrow, his small tight smile hiding, what we see as the episode progresses, a deep sadness; a death wish; a curiosity about our inevitable end. It feels as if he just wants it to be over.
There’s such a disconnect between Don and everyone around him. He can exchange words, laugh at a joke, make love to his wife, make love to another man’s wife, but everything is on the surface, and he’s just waiting for the ocean to swallow him whole. The only thought that seems to consume him is whether he’ll let the ocean find him, or if he’ll shed all the various skins he’s cloaked himself in and wander into the abyss himself, leave everything behind without anyone ever really knowing who lived at his center. All we’ll know is that Don felt safe in the glamour he wore in 1960.
Sunday, June 17th 2012
Mad Men, episode 513: The Phantom
I think the biggest message we can take away from the season finale of Mad Men is that every decision we make and everything that happens in the space we occupy all informs our next decision. We will always wonder if we made the right choice, what we could have done different, if we could have avoided being haunted by the events the led us to where we are now.
But we can’t, can we? Even the most enchanted of us are haunted.
Saturday, June 9th 2012
There’s a lot of responsiblities, but that’s what being a woman is. And when it happens every month, even though it’s unpleasant, it means everything’s working. It means everything’s ready for a baby when you want one, and maybe you’ll have a beautiful girl and you can tell her all this.
- Mad Men, episode 512: Commissions and Fees
Betty has made plenty of parenting mistakes, but in this moment she was a wonderful mother. Her calm practicality lent itself perfectly to the situation, and the tenderness that she added was moving. The connection between mother and daughter is so strong in that moment when a girl reveals that she has started her period, it’s as much an experience for the mother as it is the girl, and it’s easy for the mother to lose herself in that moment; to become overwhelmed with sentiment and embarrass her daughter, whose own emotions are terribly tender. Betty behaved so beautifully. She was proud, moved, wise, happy & content; just as a mother should be.
Tuesday, June 5th 2012
My best friend in elementary school had divorced parents. She visited her Dad every other weekend. Like Sally, Jessica lived in a dark house with her sullen Mom and distant step-Dad through the week and visited her Dad and step-Mom’s bright, clean home on weekends. Her step-Mom was younger, too, at least she seemed so, and she always had sugar cereal and pop. Her Mom’s house seemed to only ever have hot-dogs that Jessica would eat cold as a snack after school.
Sometimes I would stay the weekend at Jessica’s Dad’s house with her. The bedroom that she shared with her sister was clean and sparse, like a hotel. It had matching twin beds and pretty blue coverlets and sheets decorated with butterflies with a pale blue blanket tucked between the sheet and coverlet. The sheets were terribly scratchy and worn though, and I would always sleep on the top sheet.
I remember reading about Elizabeth Wakefield breaking up with Jeffrey while lying in that bed one Saturday night. I remember us watching Debbie Gibson’s Foolish Beat video late one night on MTV and agreeing to love Debbie, even though we had once sworn to devote ourselves solely to Tiffany. I remember catching Jessica’s sister kissing her boyfriend by his truck outside; he saw us peeking and waggled his finger at us without breaking the kiss. We ducked under the window and giggled manically. Jessica’s father would watch race car driving on Sundays and would periodically remind us not to drink the soda out of his glass because it was “grown-up pop”. My parents didn’t drink and I had no idea what that meant, only that his rum-laced drink smelled sweet and inviting.
I have no memory of whether or not Jessica’s step-Mom and Dad were good parents. All I recall is their novelty. He worked with tractors and let me drive one once. I almost crashed it, and the dreamy boy that worked for him helped me control the machine. The place he worked at had a coke machine, a candy machine and an old fashioned coffee/hot cocoa machine; one that dispensed the drink in a paper cup that the employees would keep encased in a brown plastic cover. In the neon bright 80s and early 90s everything that was brown, orange or green seemed old fashioned. I can’t remember if he owned the building I attempted to drive the tractor into or just worked there. I know he had an office. They lived on the outskirts of town, which meant they had more money than us. They had an extremely old cat that I adored. I think her step-Mom’s name was Kim? I’m not sure. All I’m sure of is how much fun I had on those butterfly sheets, pretending like Jessica and I were on vacation together, watching cable TV, reading important Sweet Valley moments and catching teenagers kissing.
Monday, May 21st 2012
Mad Men, episode 510: Christmas Waltz
Poor Joanie. She works so hard to be in control, sure, confident, calm. It takes so much to break her, for even a moment. She & Don are so similar - I’m glad he was the only one who saw her briefly crack. She trusts him, they understand each other.
Don said everything Joan needed to hear: how hard things have to get before a divorce happens, reminding her that separating from Greg is a good thing; how pretty she looked standing next to the jukebox; how the pleasurable excitement & release of sex happens before the talks about children & the past; how he delivered the most sincere, respectful flirtation I’ve ever had the fist biting pleasure to behold. He built her up, reminded her that she’s beautiful, fun, intimidating & smart. Don gave Joan the words he needed so much when he was lost & lonely.
They’re such a gorgeous duo - two alphas, so hyper-aware of their own & each other’s magnetism. It was a delight to watch them be coquettish & devilish together. And I swear on all that is holy, when Don said to the Jaguar salesman, “She really wants me to take her for a ride,” I was all, “ZOOBIE WHO?” I love Don & Megan together, their relationship thrills me, but when I see two virile people standing next to each other who are so physically perfect that they look like cartoon drawings of an airplane pilot (copyright Liz Lemon) & Tex Avery’s Little Red Riding Hood, I cannot think about things like marriage & fidelity. All I can think is, “Make love in the sexy car, you glorious robust creatures! Do it! Now!”
Mad Men, episode 510: Christmas Waltz review
Mad Men does such a wonderful job of challenging our perception of art. Don Draper’s job description features the word creative, but throughout the entire series, from Midge’s beatnik cronies to Megan’s theatre friends, his role as an artist is challenged. He’s told that, because what he creates is made solely to sell products, that his work doesn’t deserve the title ‘art’. But isn’t it? He, Peggy, Stan, Ginsberg - they all use their clever imaginations to create. Stan draws their ideas, they cast & create commercials, Don & Peggy use pretty words to take us to an ideal world. They take a product & make it perfect, make it beautiful, make us want it. They seduce us. They’re tricking us, artists say, making us victims of senseless consumerism, selling their product to/for ‘the man’. But if Megan or one of her friends land a role on television, they are a part of the advertising machine. They’re selling ad space by filling the time in between commercials. If Midge sells a painting, it can be used however its buyer pleases. She doesn’t hold on to the rights of use, she collects money in exchange for art, as does Don.
Don knows what he’s doing though. Don understands that what he creates is being used to sell. Is Don ok with that? It seems so, but he also bristles when challenged. Is it because he’s weary of defending himself, or because he sees some truth in the accusations?
This conflict isn’t unique; the concept of ‘selling out’; the artists’ struggle over ownership; the need to feel as if what you create means something. Does Don’s art mean something because it sells? It works. He has an idea, people respond positively to the idea, and the proof is that the subject/product he presents sells. If we argue that Don isn’t a real artist because he’s fitting a product into his art, can we also argue that once Megan begins to make money in theatre or film, that she’s also no longer a ‘true’ artist? Then are the only ‘true’ artists those who fail or never seek recognition or monetary gain?
Is Don looking at Midge’s painting/watching Megan’s friends’ play with curiosity? Envy? Understanding? Annoyance? Everything merges. A print ad for Jaguar, a heroin addict’s painting, a commercial for Reddi-wip, a guest-spot on Dark Shadows, a spec-script for Star Trek. What combines all these creative endeavours? Are any superior? Most important: does Megan agree with her friends, or with Don?
Mad Men, episode 510: Christmas Waltz
Of course Kinsey joined the Hare Krishnas! Paul’s strength was always his open minded nature. His weakness seemed to be his dreamy dedication to failed ventures, but what better way to live life than to remain constantly sure that there’s something big out there waiting for you & trying in every way possible to live a bit of your dream? Keep on searching; keep on dreaming big; continue tossing your whole self into new adventures; keep trying; don’t stop failing. Be Paul Kinsey.
Tuesday, May 15th 2012
Just want to take a moment to endorse the benefits of talk therapy. A couple of years later, Betty is finally thawing a little of that WASP perma-freeze with some fearless moral inventory! One day at a time, Birdie!
I think an important lesson we learned this week is that, if you have dark rich lush shiny hair, you will inflict deep wounds that can only be healed with a sundae made of unveiled secrets, midnight steak talks & whipped cream straight from the can. Enjoy that single bite of Thanksgiving stuffing, Bets! You worked hard this week, you maintained, you deserve it!
Saturday, April 28th 2012
Mad Men, episode 506: Far Away Places review
Of course Don is Roger’s spirit guide. Roger Sterling is wealthy, charming, attractive and clever, so much come to him so easily; yet he looks at Don in wide-eyed wonder. What does he see? He sees a man who is always in the place that he once was, never nipping at Roger’s heels, always immersed, in apparent bliss, in the space Roger once inhabited. Roger observed Don make himself a name and felt responsible, but not acknowledged. Roger watches Don and his new young wife and feels envy, even though Roger lived a similar reality not so long ago.
Roger, who has never had to bear the weight Don has, enjoys the world with a childlike joy - it’s what attracts Don to him; he lightens Don. Don, however, shadows Roger. He’s a statement friend, someone smart and attractive to wear on his arm, but he also challenges Roger, lives inside the part of Roger’s mind that doubts his carefree demeanour. Don is also, in the part of Roger’s mind that opened after that laced sugar cube melted on his experimenting tongue, the voice of reason. “Look at me. Everything’s ok. You are ok.” Don assures Roger in that assured Draper tone. And he is.
There is little struggle presented to Roger, little reason for him to be more than a spoiled child, which he is, but there’s depth. It’s why we’re drawn to Roger, why we chuckle at but support his book endeavour, why we want him to be happy, even though he often behaves like a greedy baby. Roger is quick and wise; he’s just not where he’s supposed to be. What’s a comfort to know is that Roger won’t allow his age or the changing times to deter him. Roger is in an eternal search for bliss, he won’t allow himself to live inside a negative world, and though sometimes he’ll feel very sad, he’ll fight his way out of the grey and into a sweet sunny place. And while Don is there to keep Roger grounded, Roger will be there for Don to proclaim with complete certainty: It’s going to be a beautiful day.
Wednesday, April 18th 2012
Mad Men Questions & Observations!
Do you think Don & Zoobie are laughing at us because they’re so beautiful & we’re not?
Don is wearing the hell out of that sports jacket! Draper looks good in plaid. Well, as good as anyone can look in plaid.
Megan looks like the head cheerleader in that dress! There must be some Drapers in the atmosphere!
Pete Campbell reminds me of a boy I knew in high school. He was the richest kid in our class. He lived in a large white house on a hill and it was rumoured that the house had two tanning beds and an indoor pool. I was always suspect of these claims because sometimes, on weekends, I would see the boy mowing the expansive front lawn. “They can afford an indoor pool but not a gardener?” I scoffed, before speeding by and returning home to watch horror videos with my Mom. I could never understand why the boy was popular. He was cruel, unattractive, and not especially smart. I liked being relatively unpopular and obscure. Observing my beautiful blessed classmates was exciting, and I resented his face getting in the way of all the pretty girls who looked like Seventeen models and attractive boys who were so endowed with good looks and smarts that they left us perimeter kids alone.
Pete is like that boy, but because we’re not in high school anymore, we’re allowed to dig inside Pete and discover his motivations. Why is Pete the way he is? Why is he so awkward, so sharp tongued, so eager to please and equally eager to upset?
The easiest answer to these questions is that Pete made choices he felt he was supposed to make, instead of those he wanted. Pete found a pretty girl, put a baby inside her, worked his way up at a well-paying prestigious job in Manhattan, bought some land and a home in Connecticut; he’s barely 30 and he has it all. This is what Pete is supposed to want, this is what Pete sometimes thinks he wants, yet he still longs for the busy noisy landscape of Manhattan. The sound of a quietly dripping drain in his country home is deafening. Pete is supposed to be happy though, so he puffs out his chest and pretends.
Mad Men, episode 505: Signal 30
Before I even begin to review Sunday night’s Mad Men episode, I need us all to reflect on this cap while I exclaim, “What is this? A Tom Ford movie?” Holy hell, Slattery! Does that man ever know how to direct! The entire episode was filmed with such attention to Mad Men’s dreamy detail. The cuts were gorgeous. There were some scenes that actually looked like they were filmed in the 60s. I was swept away.