Monday, May 6, 2013

Mad Men: For Immediate Release








Last week, I was reading some of the comments on the Mad Men threat at the Goldderby forums (for those who don't know Goldderby is a website dedicated to award shows speculation), where one of the editors said he had gotten inside word that Kevin Rahm (who plays Ted Chaough) was about to have a big storyline. One forum reader replied that that info meant that either there was going to be a merger between Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Cutler Gleason and Chaough or that Ted and Peggy were going to hook up. He then went on to say that if either of those happened it was indicative that Matthew Weiner had run out of ideas and he had officially jumped the shark. I guess that reader must've not been very happy with last night episode of Mad Men, where both of his nightmare scenarios came true. 

And still, with all these comments about how this is shaping out to be a disappointing season, I just don't get it. The negativity has to come (at least in part) from the position of success Matt Weiner (with the help of critics and the Emmys) have put the show into. Are people sitting back with their arms crossed waiting to be wowed by Mad Men? And if so, how could they have not been wowed by what we saw last night?

Sterling Cooper Draper Cutnam Gleason Chaough and Pryce
The biggest development of the episode is undoubtedly the merger of SCDP and CGC, decided by Don and Ted when they realize they'll never get an account as big as Chevy if they little agencies don't have enough manpower to compete with the big guys. This development could be seen as an excuse to get Peggy back into the office so that she can interact with the other characters once again. It might seem weak and easy to reverse Peggy's independence from Don after such a big deal was made about it at the end of season five (more on that later). But even if you don't like the idea of bringing Peggy back, how could you not enjoy this episode?

One of my favorite Mad Men episodes is 'Shut the Door, Have a Seat', in which Don comes up with a little caper to start a new agency and avoid being bought by McCann. 'For Immediate Relase' is an obvious descendant of that episode and an example of one of the narrative styles that the show does best. There's no other program on right now that is better than Mad Men at building up a sense of imminent disaster, where everything makes it seem like doom is imminent and then reverse it by having Don come up with a brilliant idea. The whole idea of coming up with ad campaigns relies on this dynamic, but in episodes like 'For Immediate Release', it is taken to extreme levels that make the final outcome all the more gratifying. That moment when Peggy walks into Ted's office to have Don tell they got Chevy? My smile couldn't have been bigger. 

Don yet again has an idea to save the agency when he proposes pitching a campaign together to Teddy. And while that was his idea and the agency wouldn't have gotten the account if he hadn't come up with it, he is awfully lucky to even be in that meeting*. Pete is right to point out that Don has too many times affected the agency tremendously by acting out of pure impulse. This is one of Don's more singular traits and the way it was handled was one of the reasons I liked this episode so much. He is almost animalistic in the way he lets  his survival instinct and his creativity get him out of trouble. It always results on something he thinks is better for himself, but sometimes it results in a new agency or a new, huge client and sometimes he clashes with Herb, loses Jaguar, puts the agency in huge jeopardy and hurts Joan in a deep and personal way. Don Draper has hurt many people and is bound to hurt many more. After all, the earliest (and most significant) example of this is when he let the original Don Draper die so he wouldn't have to be Dick Whitman. After so many developments relying on Don's impulsiveness, the table has been set for this aspect of the character to pay off in a big way in these last two seasons.

*That, of course, was only made possible thanks to Roger's new unorthodox method of getting new business by using his young flight attendant girlfriend to tell him when a big executive and potential client is going to be in one of her flights. A business-model that is delightfully fitting with Roger Sterling's character. 

Peggy's Coming Back
It was apparent to me from last week that Peggy and Ted were going to hook up. Ted is so inherently different to Don Draper in his treatment of Peggy that she just couldn't resist to her boss. And just when Peggy is fantasizing about starting a romantic relationship with Ted, she is confronted with the fact that she'll be working again with Don. It's no coincidence that this episode undermined two big developments that took place in same episode back in season five. Last season's "The Other Woman" was the episode in which both Joan slept with Herb in order to get the Jaguar account and Peggy decided to leave Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. It's also no coincidence that it is Don Draper's impulsive behavior that reverses both those decisions. Suddenly Peggy is back working for him and Joan's sacrifice is in vain. This is the kind of meticulous plotting and thematic roundness that it's impossible not to love and that makes me think we're in for a very interesting second half of the season.      


Mutually Assured Destruction 
It was a rough week for Pete. He can't get his wife back so he goes to a whorehouse where he inconveniently meets his father-in-law. Ken tells him there's nothing that could develop out of that encounter because it's a lose-lose situation for both Pete and Trudy's dad, but the father-in-law does act and so Pete not only loses Vick's Chemicals account, but also his wife when he goes in to confront her about her father. And just as Pete's world is crumbling down and he has lost his biggest client, Roger Sterling ups his power in the agency by bringing in Chevy. We didn't see Pete's reaction to the merger, and considering all that's happened to him and how hard he was pushing for the agency going public, I'm curious to see where he stands next week.

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