Grimy little pimp adventures


I keeping meaning to write about Mad Men, if only to remark on how unexpectedly good it’s been since I began following it in real-time. Normally what happens is that I begin watching a long-running show just in time for it to take a turn for the worse; I caught up with Alias three episodes before its rocky finale, and its sequel Lost a mere two episodes before its much-reviled conclusion. But Mad Men this season — despite a slightly odd start — is every bit as good as ever. In fact, the most recent two episodes rank among the best in the entire series.

Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, both episodes have followed the thematic layered structure that seems to define the series’ most memorable installments. Last week keep circling back to the vulnerability and dangers facing women and minorities alike in the mid-’60s, while this most recent airing was basically built around the systematic emasculation of one of its central characters, Pete Campbell. It’s a testament to the strength of the series’ characterization that while Campbell richly deserved every humiliation visited upon him, you can’t help but feel bad for him. Childish and arrogant as he may be, the guy is never treated as an equal despite his accomplishments… and yet, he’s so obnoxious about expressing his frustration that you have trouble truly sympathizing. There are no heroes or villains in Mad Men, only people who do both good and bad things, and who are dealt good and bad luck in varying measures.

It’s also a testament to Mad Men’s writing that a lot of the thematic contrivances employed in this episode would feel grating and artificial in a lesser show, yet here they evolved naturally from long-brewing storylines. Campbell’s dust-up with Lane Pryce was practically inevitable; his wandering eye has been built up as a certainty; and the powerful final framing device of Ken Cosgrove’s introspective prose analysis of Pete’s misery (and Pete’s off-camera attempt to quash Cosgrove’s fiction out of resentment and jealousy) is a call back to the second season. You don’t see shows like this offer such rich payoff very often, which makes the collision of so many disparate-yet-related plot lines and developments all the more remarkable.

I hope someday to write half as well.

12 thoughts on “Grimy little pimp adventures

  1. Yeah, I love when Mad Men pulls out the ‘thematic short story’ episodes, and I appreciate that the show’s creators only try to do this a few times each season rather than swinging for the fences with every episode.

    Anyway, surface-level stuff: does Lane have any kind of a chance with Joan?

    • Also, Don being the only one at the dinner table to correctly remember the UT shooter’s last name – Whitman – was a nice touch.

      • Wow, I totally missed that.

        I don’t think Lane is enough of a jerk for Joan’s tastes. She has very self-destructive taste in men and he would treat her too well. (I don’t think you can treat the miserable state of his current marriage as a proper indication of his behavior, since his wife wanted a separation and he was literally pummeled into repairing it by his father. Plus, she embodies everything repressive and stuffy about upper-class British society that he longs to get away from in America.) The moment where she quietly responded to his advances by opening the door and deflecting his apology said it all: She has tremendous respect for and rapport with him, but there’s no real attraction.

      • Yeah, it’s the white knight in me that would love to see Lane and Joan hit it off, even if that would never happen in a million years within the reality of that show.

        Kudos to the writers again for dodging the cliche train by not only having her fiance not exit the story by getting wiped out in Vietnam, but also giving Joan enough steel to boot his ass out the door.

  2. I don’t recall you ever writing about the Lost finale…

    jeez, probably better for none of us to get started on that…

  3. Are we sure Pete is the little birdy who tattled on Ken to Roger? Peggy’s in a weird place right now too, uncertain with her career and lifestyle (if her talk with Dawn was really a case of “in vino vertitas”), jealous of the brash new copywriter. If Ken & her have some kind of pact to leave SCDP together, maybe she thought taking his writing away from him would hasten the process. Pete doesn’t have the same seething bitterness towards Ken as he has towards pretty much everyone else, anyway. That’s just a theory.

    • Pete was bitterly jealous of Ken’s success with writing (especially since his own talking bear story only made it into Boys Life, even with his wife going to bat for him). He’s attempted to rat out Don. He’s petty and self-absorbed and deeply resentful of Ken, who was made head of accounts at Sterling Cooper over him. He made it clear when Ken came aboard at SCDP that Pete was the big dog in the relationship, and he’s hardly above sabotage to undermine a rival’s chances at ascension.

      Peggy is earnest, works well with Ken (they landed SCDP’s first-ever new client together), and sincerely regrets her occasional thoughtless impulses. When has Peggy ever connived or backstabbed? It’s not her way.

      I can’t imagine how anyone could think that Peggy was the snitch in an episode where Pete, who has every motive and a demonstrated predisposition to tattle, was being a lowball slime bag at every turn. Mad Men doesn’t really do “gotcha.” Every sign points to Pete. It was surely Pete.

      • As someone who watches Fringe and loves the series to death, I approve of your chosen picture for this writing.

        I should get around to seeing Mad Men one of these days.

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