“Tomorrowland”

Mad Men season 4 draws to a close and so does Angry Fellas. Join us next season for more nostalgic isolation!

Zoe

Here is the story Mad Men has been leading up to all along: the story of two women who smoke together in an office, who after years of bitterness share a laugh, a bit of frustration over the utter bullshit of their daily lives. Mad Men isn’t the story about how the world changed or even how the past is the same as the present. Mad Men is the story of how people connect in moments over time and how those moments and stories change.

Consider Betty and Henry Francis. And while I can not explain Betty better than Sady Doyle does here, please consider Betty. She believed, like Don did, in fresh starts. That if you keep shoving the past behind you long enough, maybe it will change. Maybe it will disappear. But the past with her first husband kept happening, and so going on moments, on someone looking at her pregnant belly and giving her a caring glance, she tried a new future. It has worked wonderfully in some ways, but it’s not been what she imagined in those tiny spaces of time.

Consider Don, a man who lives his life outside of moments, too busy worrying about when the show might drop, when he might fail to be what he thinks he’s supposed to be. Consider how he falls into a million moments this episode in ways we never would have dreamed of a year ago. His literal falling into the bed, into the pool, in love. They won’t last, but maybe they’ll be enough to build something on, a connection. His moments with Peggy have yielded that much–maybe it will be the same with Megan. But, it seems more likely, it’ll fade. Faye, completely screwed in the end, is right about one thing: he loves beginnings.

Consider Peggy and Joan, two women who don’t have much reason to talk to each other much. They can now smoke and laugh and have fun, because it’s that time for them. Consider Joan’s moments this season: the half second it took for her to decide to sleep with Roger and the time it took for her to keep his baby. Consider how Peggy’s savvy is shown–she can now take full advantage of a word, a mention of an event, and use it to start to pull the company back together.

Mad Men is a story about the way time cycles, but it’s so much smaller than we think. It’s not about the fact that friends and I have the same “can you believe this shit?” conversation 50 years later (albeit without the smoking), it’s the way that Don and Betty’s impulsive marriages mirror each other. It’s the way that fresh starts don’t stay fresh for long. All our moments come back, again and again. That’s what we build our lives on.

Dennis

Ah, Mad Men. Why do you ever have to end? While this season finale wasn’t quite as game-changing as “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” last year, it was still as amazing (and on par with most of the rest of this new season). No one’s life hangs in the balance or any other such cliffhanger contrivances, but this episode certainly left us to prepare for a bunch of things, including Don and Megan’s upcoming nuptials, Roger’s baby Joan appears to be passing off as Greg’s, and the possibility of a season without Carla (seriously, Weiner!? You wrote off the only regularly recurring black person on this show?).

There were some great scenes in this finale: There was Betty (amping up her ice queen persona to an even frostier tier), getting chewed out by both poor Carla (who finally pointed out she’s more of a mother to the Draper kids than Betty) and then Henry Francis, finally growing some balls and really letting his wife have it for her reckless choices. Yet I most enjoyed the scene of Peggy and Joan, commiserating in Joan’s office over Don’s sudden engagement to his secretary. Can’t we just have an hour of these two ladies hanging out? Hell, I’d settle for an hour of Peggy saying the word “bullshit” over and over again while Joan laughs. Speaking of bullshit, have I mentioned how sad I am that I have to wait until Summer 2011 for another season of this? This might just be the nonstop Walking Dead promos I was subjected to during this episode talking, but I anticipate for the next almost year I’ll just be walking around just a mere Mad Men-deprived zombie.

Scott

Mad Men‘s fourth season is definitely its most divisive, in that it’s the only one that has only received constant glowing praise as opposed to a church choir singing “Hallelujah” every Sunday night at 10 PM. Often, that’s a good thing: Lost‘s later seasons angered fans but shifted its storytelling in fascinating ways, and The Shield shed viewers as it morphed from a fairly standard cop procedural into a densely serialized contender for best TV series ever. But the problems with Mad Men‘s season 4 are more about wheel-spinning than artistic integrity. Readers of these recaps know that I’ve been turned off by the sleaze that infected Don’s storylines this year, but it’s more troubling that the only character growth we saw this year was from the show’s secondary characters: Peggy as a secure young creative, Pete as a determined career man and new father, Roger as a sad sack, Sally as an emerging adolescent. Its core was stagnant at best and rotten at worst.

I am slightly encouraged by the addition of Jessica Pare’s Megan to the cast. Her slow and steady character development this season has revealed a genuinely kind person with the potential to vastly improve the lives of Don and Sally. Given the psychological torture to which Mad Men subjects its characters, she may end up nutty as a fruitcake, but for now I’m hoping for something different.

And really, something different is what I’m looking for, and I’m not just talking about a set change or a random people being written out. Obviously, Mad Men is head and shoulders above almost everything else on TV right now, but — and I know how ridiculously selfish this sounds from me as a TV viewer — that’s not good enough anymore. At its best, this show takes its medium to new levels of character exploration and emotional resonance, and this season often felt like a retread of themes we’ve seen it do better dozens of times before. Honestly, if Mad Men season 5 is still going to be about Don as a self-loathing philanderer terrified that someone will find out his secret that no one cares about and Betty as an angry and hateful child whose character is written just a few degrees away from Snidely Whiplash, I’m not interested in watching it.

“Blowing Smoke”

Zoe

I think The Wire rewired my brain a little bit, because I now expect so much more from penultimate episodes than I usually get. It’s not that this week’s Mad Men was bad, it’s that it was just sort of there. I’m not sure what new thing we learned–the company is going under, Sally is friends with Glenn, Betty is childish, Don likes doing grand statements, etc, etc. The episode was well played and pace, decently written, and full of lots of Kiernen Shipka, so I should have been more than pleased. And yet…I felt myself wanting more.

Maybe what I wanted isn’t possible from a show like this, that works on the slow, luxurious build. High drama is never going to happen (unlike the The Wire no one is likely to be shot) and so my expectations, slight though they may have been, were dashed. Or maybe it’s that this week’s episode was a bit of a retread, slowly going over existing themes rather than making something of them. I have every hope that it’s building to something great this week, that something momentous–even a small momentous–will happen. Maybe it’s because I just feel like the loose threads are sure to be resolved in expected ways. Don’s ad will help save the company, he probably won’t break up with Faye, and Betty won’t change. Maybe Sally will come to live with him or maybe he’ll save the company at a greater cost than he ever imagined, but the potential for surprise, for changing my expectations, isn’t. That said, one slow episode does not a bad season make and while this week may have been a bit meh for me, so far I haven’t been let down.

Dennis

After almost a season of almost continuous excellence, this wasn’t necessarily my favorite episode. Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce struggles, Betty’s an evil lady-girl hellbent on destroying daughter Sally’s life one way or another, bla bla bla. Still, at least we got to see Rosemarie Dewitt’s Midge, for the first time since season one! I figured Midge probably wouldn’t be sticking around for long (Dewitt is a regular on The United States of Tara last I checked), but wow, life sure does suck for poor Midge these days. Her bohemian lifestyle has quickly devolved into heroin addiction and hitting Don up for money. At least she’s making some cool-looking paintings? Sally Draper should take note: Sure it seems like it’s the end of her world, but it could always be worse. At least she’s not an adult quite yet, addicted to drugs, or laid off like Danny and his fellow fired masses. And hey, with Glen gone, Sally can have all the Fritos she wants!

“Chinese Wall”

Zoe

This episode has more close ups of people’s faces as they said “No” than nay before it. The feminist in me (who was very tired when she watched this episode) wants to read that as some sort of rape statement, but I think that’s me reading current personal events into the whole thing. Yes, people said no, but in doing so they weer asserting what part of themselves they had left in chaotic, messy times. Pete wants the autonomy, independence, and yes, a margin of respect, that he has gained as partner. People keep trying to pull the rug from under him–whether it’s Don’s dressing down, his father-in-law, or his new job offer–but Pete is fighting and saying “no” as hard as he can. Who knows if that no will still be there when the SDCP walls fall down, but for now, he’s a company man (largely because the company is also himself).

Peggy and Joan, meanwhile, use the “no” in a way more like my first reaction. Joan, without a husband, a baby (maybe), and job security is holding onto what she knows of herself and Roger. In some ways, Joan has resigned herself to an unhappy life that looks like a dream for the sake of appearances and making the best with what’s available, which is being the Good Wife. In other ways, she is just a lady who is tired of her ex’s lines and bullshit. Yes, Roger is a charming man, but I think Joan is making the right call. The same with Peggy, who has to put up with make coworkers who revile her almost as much as they’re attracted to her. In every Peggy scene lately I cringe with an inner recognition. It’s a quiet thesis of the show, the similarities between this by-gone era and ours, but it’s never more apparent to me then when I begin making a mental list of past male coworkers.

Of course Faye said “no” and recanted, but the most surprising one of all was Don’s. In some ways, his “no, we can’t do this” was just a line, a way to cover his ass before, uh, uncovering it. In other ways it was him clinging to the bit of the raft he has left for himself: his relationship with Faye, his principles about secretaries, the good man he’s trying to become. And it all goes out the window because. Because his company is failing, because his girlfriend is mad at him, because he hates that he even had to ask for the thing that made his girlfriend mad. He’s just exhausted and fed up and not even drinking heavily anymore. I believe Megan when she said she didn’t care–it’ll be interesting to see if Don’s ego and self-image can take that blow. Still. He said “no”. He tried.

Dennis

In previous seasons, I recall many a “nothing ever happens on this show” lobbed at Mad Men. I never really minded the slow-burning episodes but still, I don’t think that complaint could even/ever be uttered this year. Mad Men‘s just blowing through stories left in right, including this most recent episode, with the Lucky Strike pull-out blowing a crater in the agency, leaving questions aplenty: Will Don tell Fay about falling off the secretary wagon with Megan? Will Pete stay loyal to SDCP? (He did pick a funeral over his family). Is a cigarette-avoiding Joan still pregnant? Are Joan and Roger really donesville? Will Peggy’s new relationship be longer-lasting and functional than her previous ones? Will Stan stick around? (Because, despite him being a jerk, I increasingly enjoy his and Peggy’s interactions). Did this show really like Nickelodeon in the 90s? (First there was Pete’s dad, played by Clarissa Explains It All‘s Joe O’Connor, and now Ken Cosgrove’s fiance is played by Alex Mack herself, Larisa Oleynik). And does Ken Cosgrove know his would-be father-in-law is the devil himself? (Or, he’s just played by Ray Wise, who played the devil on Reaper.)

This was one action-packed episode. I can’t wait until next week, and can’t believe we only have two episodes left. Memo to Matt Weiner: I would like my questions answered… and this continuous flow of awesome.

“Hands And Knees”

The plot thickens as Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is on the verge of losing its meal ticket and “Chocolate Bunny” enters the vernacular.

Zoe

We all though the unifying theme of this season might be holidays, but it turns out its self destructive vomit. If not the extremely literally kind, than the metaphorical word type. The kind that causes you to drop an f bomb at a partners meeting or tell your girlfriend about deserting the army.

But it appears this vomit can be healing too. The Francis marriage, for one, seems safe and healthy and functional at the moment. And Don’s relationship, rather than blowing up in his face when he admits but a tiny bit of a hobo tendencies, becomes closer (at least until the hint of cheating at the end).

Roger is, of course, screwed and takes it out on Pete who, despite being a rapist is full of righteous anger over Don’s lies. And it’s hard to find it in me to find much sympathy for either’s plight, even as SDCP seems unlikely to make it through the year.

No, the real person to pity this episode is Pryce. Too awkward to ever really hang with the cool kids like Don, he tries to impress his dad by showing him the Playboy Club which just seems…poorly chosen. Ah, but his girlfriend (who’s not only a black woman, but is allowed to speak!) works there. And he wants his dad to know this, among many reasons, is why he’s staying in the states. Of course, since he is apparently the inly non-asshole from England, it backfires in his face with fury and abuse. Better luck on the other side of the pond, Pryce.

No matter. Though everything was a bit standstill this week, and while everything seems relatively healthy in most characters lives, I have every bit of faith in the world that it will blow up horribly soon. And, until then, we can all enjoy the image of Sally at the Beatles concert, screaming in front of her proud father.

Dennis

This episode was called “Hands and Knees,” but it may as well have been titled “Secrets, Secrets, Everywhere.” While Mad Men always seems to always be about the secrets we keep, this took that to a whole new level: Don, Betty, Pete, and (eventually) Faye all had to deal with the responsibilities of knowing Don’s real identity. Joan, Roger, and a mighty cranky doctor had to handle Joan’s adulterous accidental pregnancy. Meanwhile, a possibly heart attack-induced Roger also decided to keep the secret of Lucky Strike’s departure (if this doesn’t mean the end of SCDP, I assume this will mean the return of Sal?) from the firm for now. Still, there were some reveals as well, as Don let Faye into his world a heck of a lot faster than Betty, and Lane let his father (and us) know about his new black Playboy bunny ladyfriend (though his father didn’t quite take it as well as hoped).

While I didn’t love this episode as much as recent episodes, since it felt a bit disjointed (by the mid-episode Lucky Strike reveal, I felt as anxious as Roger at the umpteenth reveal) and a bit obvious (again, this episode’s theme: Everyone Has Secrets!), there were some choice moments… It was good to see Pete and Don’s connection revisited. While this was a major season one plot point, I had almost completely forgotten Pete knew of Don’s real identity, so it was good to have Pete tasked with telling more lies to keep Don’s initial one afloat. And speaking of Don’s ever-growing network of liars, Betty got just a tad more sympathetic than she has been this season, as she continued to protect Don (and, she seemed genuinely excited for her daughter to go see the Beatles with her dad). A Betty thaw was probably recommended. Now it’s time to get to more important stuff: a healthier dose of Peggy, and the return of Sal!

“The Beautiful Girls”

The ladies of Mad Men take center stage this week as a wacky death causes problems at the SDCP office and we contemplate whipping up a batch of rum French toast.

Zoe

This week was like a round up of my favorite characters. Sally! Joyce! Faye! I couldn’t be happier, especially since all were perfect in their roles, navigating confusing, limited worlds where what you want and what you have are two very different things. Well, of  them except Joyce, who just shows up to be America’s Favorite Lesbian.

This week was also a great reminder of two things: liberal hipster guys have always been a bit condescending when they want in your pants and as wonderful as Mad Men is on gender, it’s a lot worse on race. I don’t just mean the Fillmore car account–I actually thought that was pretty spot on, for the era and the characters. No, what bothered me more is that one of the only black speaking roles on the show ever went to a mugger. I mean, it might be “accurate”, but it gets my goat. I’m not saying Mad Men has to start taking on the black experience in the 60s as well (though I appreciate that they are moving in to acknowledging it more), but it’d be nice if they didn’t perpetuate the worst stereotypes of the era and ours in the few roles they do have.

Never mind, for the episode featured must Sally and for that I am grateful. I know many fans hate Betty with the sort of passion usually reserved for politics, but I find her growing on me this season. Finally in a happy marriage with an emotionally available grown-up, she’s found a bit of a backbone and a bit of a move away from the childish behavior she had before. Fans may not like that she tells Don off, but geez, the guy needs it sometimes. Plus, in making Sally his “problem”, she was able to give Sally exactly what Sally wanted.

Unfortunately, Don is less capable of this. He’s a good dad, for the era, and he loves Sally, but he’s clearly a bit out of depth when it comes to dealing with Sally’s confusion and anger over the divorce and, well, her fastly approaching puberty. And so while he can order her the pizza she wants or spend some time at the museum, it’s Megan, a secretary who seems to give Sally what she needed most: some physical comfort, some common ground, and some discussion of emotion. Instead all Don can do is shake his head in confusion and throw his not-girlfriend girlfriend at her, even as Sally is blissfully happy to sleep on his couch.

Oh well. He’ll have plenty more time to try before Sally runs off to become a punk rocker. In the meantime, I’m going to try some rum French toast. It sounds surprisingly delicious.

Scott

After a couple of  episodes that defied Mad Men formula with dark night of the soul minimalism and pervasive voiceover, “The Beautiful Ladies” settled back into the show’s usual groove. That means my mind also settled back into its usual state of thinking Don is a callous, selfish bastard.

This was largely a takin’ care of business episode when compared to the freshness of “The Suitcase” and “The Summer Man”, but its eventful finale pulled me in two wildly divergent directions. When Sally takes a spill after trying in vain to escape from her narcissistic parents, her pain taps into a sixth sense of women protecting one another, and every every woman in the office concernedly gathers around her. It was a moving moment, calming Sally down with some much needed love and attention that she’s not getting at either home.

Then Don, who was MIA through most of the incident that he created by treating his daughter like a problem to be handled, infuriated me by getting all touchy feely with his new girlfriend, holding her tight, ssh-ing her protests, telling her it’s all gonna be alright, and pretty much doing all the coddling that his troubled daughter needed. It’s becoming harder and harder to care about Don as his endless quest to get laid comes at the expense of his children when they need him most.

Dennis

Mad Men‘s been on a particularly female fantastic bender this season, and I’m pleased to see it continue with “The Beautiful Girls” (in case the title didn’t tip everyone off). Sure, Don Draper was in a bunch of this episode, but he still ceded much of the action (and my attention) to the girls around him, whether it be daughter Sally, dearly departed secretary Ida (sniffle), ladyfriend Faye, or coworkers Joan and Peggy (and Peggy’s buddy Joyce).

It was an eventful episode for most everyone (and probably my second favorite of the season after “The Suitcase”). Joan and Roger briefly reunited (due to obvious Mad Men metaphors, as soon as that mugger demanded Roger and Joan’s rings, I knew that meant they were allowed to knock the boots). Meanwhile, Peggy dipped her feet in the being political pool (and I’m hoping this means she might consider hiring a black copywriter to add to this mostly colorless cast). But it was this week’s final moments that really got me. First, there was Sally’s mad dash down the hall of SCDP, which ended in a faceplant while all the ladies of SCDP looked on with sympathetic concern, some of them even following Sally out for her reunion with her mother (hey look, January Jones finally got to share a scene with some of the rest of the cast!). Then, there was Joyce, off to go do that crazy 60s thing her and her friends do, heading into one elevator, and Peggy catching another elevator, glamorously wedged between Joan and Faye as the doors close. Beautiful indeed.

“The Summer Man”

Don starts a diary and Peggy pulls rank this week.

Dennis

I’ve noticed that AMC tends to let its shows do an unconventional episode (see also, Breaking Bad‘s season 3 quality quirkfest “Fly”) a week after a more linear, heavy-hitting episode (in this case, last week’s still beautifully resonating “The Suitcase”). So yeah, this was one of the weirder (even if there were no further reveals about Bert’s balls or Mrs. Blankenship’s sexual prowess), understated episodes.

The pacing was certainly a bit slow, but it made sense, as Drunken Don came back to sober life on Earth. The moments of Don writing, Don swimming (though, let’s face it, this hobby was also probably a ploy to get Jon Hamm shirtless more often), or watching John Francis (I feel like every time the character is mentioned he/everyone else always says his full name, to the point where I often doubt if Francis is his last name or an extension of his first) mowing the lawn, certainly corroborated this theory.

I suppose the most interesting storyline here was Joan and Peggy’s fight for feminism in the office. I’ve always found these two’s interactions intriguing (though not as intriguing as say, Peggy and Don, or Peggy and Pete for that matter) and Joan’s surprising scolding of Peggy in the elevator was probably the episode’s finest point, again stressing that point that the show’s two main women (discounting Betty, sulky as always) are two very different women, with different approaches. Perhaps these two can learn from each other sometimes, but they are on different paths. Still, can’t blame Peggy for wanting Joey out of the office (oh Matt Long, sorry your character couldn’t be less one note). And hey, this allows the revolving door of this season to keep on swinging (goodbye Joey, welcome to season 4, Francine!).

Zoe

I’m not sure if Don’s keeping a diary for therapeutic reasons or because Roger inspired him to start a memoir (first and foremost: which flavor of ice cream did your mom give you, Don?) but the voice-over narrative was a bit jarring tonight.

But enough of that: I want to talk about swimming. As someone who has picked up the sport myself this summer, I immediately understood the pleasure Don got from it. Unlike running or biking or other sports, you get to end a swimming workout fresh and clean (if a little chlorinated) and exhausted. In an episode that seems to be about incremental growth, incremental change, and incremental acceptance, swimming makes perfect sense. As adults, we’re rarely swimming in races, except the mini-race Don creates at the end. Instead we’re just trying to out do ourselves, go an extra lap, swim a little faster. Absolutely no one else notices or cares. It’s an intensely personal, narcissistic sport on some levels and in an episode about self-examination, well, it fits right in.

But beyond the characters who had to fast awkward truths about themselves this week, there are those who probably never will. By which I mean Joey. Of course Mad Men‘s appeal comes from it’s resonance even now, but the Joey and the Chipmunks plot hit especially hard for me, as there is still a Joey in every office. As much as Mad Men shows us how the structural dynamics of the workplace have changed, the social measures are still very much intact. And then you’re left between a Peggy and a Joan–be seen as a humorless bitch or as undeserving of your status? It’s a no-win scenario for women while the Joey’s of the world get to feel smug and superior, even as they’re fired.

No matter, I suppose, because at the end of the day those of us who face the harder truths might get rewarded. If not with respect, then perhaps with a giant purple elephant and then unabashed love of a father.

Scott

I’m happy and surprised that A) this episode continues Season 4′s winning streak after a divisive start (I clearly wasn’t crazy about it), and B) that it seems most everyone here and elsewhere on the net really liked it. I’m a little more surprised at B; Mad Men fans are fanatical about the show’s subtlety, as if any moment that feels too on-the-nose is a giant gong breaking their concentration on its deliberate pacing and meditative tone. “The Summer Man” was full of gongs — the textbook sexual harassment plot, the textbook newly divorced parents clash over the kids plot, and most of all, DEAR GOD… Don Draper voiceover providing insight into his stoic, impenetrable image!

For me though, Mad Men often feels so icy and cerebral that being able to learn a little about our protagonist in his own words four years in was a welcome development. Don’s diary didn’t really tell us anything new about him besides the fact that he likes to sleep like a skydiver. He sees himself as a man alone whose flaws and inability to see past the flaws in others will always keep him at a distance. He’s not really into Bethany. He drinks too much and knows it. But it does give us a mental image of Don’s headspace that I didn’t have before. His mind is like a dark, minimalist Scandinavian art film. It’s not a happy place to be, but he seems to be gaining a self awareness, or at least a desire to acquire some self awareness, that he didn’t have before. You’e also gotta love the music break set to “Satisfaction” (really nice touch to include the verse about the man who tells Mick about white shirts and cigarette brand loyalty) that basically doubles as a commercial for sunglasses and smoking. And his honest (and modest) exchanges with Faye actually made a date with Don scene interesting for maybe the first time since Rachel Menken was in the picture.

“The Summer Man” also has the most unexpectedly hopeful ending of a Mad Men episode since Season 3′s finale “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”. The sexually-harrassing jerk doesn’t get away with it (although his firing comes with a venomous rebuke from Joan). Betty seems to have matured a bit. Don steps into an uncomfortable situation to be an actual father. This optimistic note will probably give way to more existential angst next week, but it’s a fine way to prime us for Season 4′s home stretch (only five episodes left this year).

“The Suitcase”

Mad Men saved one of its best episodes ever for the Labor Day weekend.

Zoe

In all the watching and thinking I have done about TV over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the best, deepest, most memorable relationships are nearly always friendships. Even those that trip the line into sexual (a Jim and Pam, say) the deep abiding friendship stands out more than the kissing. We don’t want Fox and Mulder to be married (and, having seen the second X-Files movie: trust me, we don’t want that) what we want is some sort of firm assurance that their deep caring and love for each other will last.

But, of course, nothing can be so easily assured. Friends wax and wane and consummated relationships end and everything muddles on. As Don and Peggy lamented at their Greek diner–of only everything could be as easy as picking the good idea from the bad idea. If only we could know which relationships would be worth it when we saw them, rather than having to deal with the trail and error of getting to know someone.

And, of course, illustrating this beautiful as the episode centerpiece is Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss just absolutely killing it. The stages they go through–from angry to resentful from friends on a drunken bender to friend dealing with the results of a drunken bender–is absolutely pitch perfect. And while Peggy, for all her insecurities and worries, seems to be growing more confident and self-assured, Don is a mess. He’s an angry asshole, than a jerk, then a guy with vomit on his shirt.

The beauty of course, is not that Don and Peggy–both to the point kind of folk–spend endless time talking about their feelings or the changes in their relationship or what to do about. The beauty is that they stay. The best friendships aren’t always the most showy, or the most emotional, or the most talkative. Sometimes they best friendship are simply the ones where you can count on that other person to be there when you need them to be there. And while Don bullies Peggy into helping him handle Anna’s death at first, she sticks it out into the messy, crying, end without even needing to know why.

Of course, I doubt this will change much. Life doesn’t work like that, with having a moment and the everything is different. Don will continue to be harder on Peggy than anyone and Peggy will continue to resent him for his many faults. But at the end (as at the beginning), one of them will risk something to squeeze a hand, to let the other know it was worth it.

Dennis

Glory be, it’s a holiday! No not Memorial Day, important as that is. Rather, it’s the birthday of our lord, our savior, Peggy Olson, Holy Mother of Fantastic. Naturally, in honor of Peg’s birthday she gets a whole episode to herself. Sure there are other players in this episode: Don. Duck. Trudie. Mark. Simon. Garfunkel. Cassius Clay. But they’re all here for The Peggy Show. And what a show it is!

And while I enjoyed the conversation between pregnant Trudy and “witty” Peggy in the ladies room (and Pete’s frightened look as they walked out), it’s “The Peggy Show, With Special Guest Star Don” that was my favorite part to watch. Anytime these two get a solid moment together, it’s an exciting time. Tears are shed by all, passions flare (Peggy is upset Don got the credit and the Clio for her idea!), secrets get discussed (Peggy’s pregnancy, Don’s parents, Peggy and Duck’s relationship, Don’s dalliance with Allison). But it’s the little (and yet, paradoxically, still big) bits that always get me, from Peggy assuring Don after the death of Anna that she wasn’t the only person who knew the The Real Him, to that hand grasp in Don’s office at the end. I’m sure there will be a lot written in regards to will-they-or-won’t-they speculation, but The Nanny this is not. Whether Don and Peggy ever do the deed is inconsequential (and I’m sure if it does happen, it’ll happen, pardon the cliche, organically), they already have always had a special connection. No one else gets these two creative, conflicted people like they do one another, and I’m always happy when we get to witness those moments where their minds meld.

“Waldorf Stories”

This week’s episode competed against the Emmys and revolved around an awards show. Oh Mad Men, you’re so clever!

Scott

Knowing that most discerning TV viewers were probably tuned in to the Emmys for no good reason, Mad Men took the liberty of becoming Lost for a week and engaging in some fun but unnecessary character moments through the extensive use of flashbacks. I think most of us always wondered how Don transformed from a lowly car/fur salesman to a God Among Men, and “Waldorf Stories” handled the task well by juxtaposing plucky upstart Don begging snooty upscale drunk Roger for a shot and getting it begrudgingly because of drunken confusion with plucky upstart Danny begging snooty upscale drunk Don for a shot and getting it begrudgingly because of drunken confusion, with lonely drunk Duck in the background as a cautionary tale.  And Don is definitely seeming more like Duck every day. He’s a loser really, an alcoholic who isolates himself from everyone, including his children, and makes lewd comments to nearly every woman he sees (I didn’t like his hand-holding with Joan one bit). If the guy I just described didn’t have a chiseled jaw and a hell of a haircut, nobody would have anything to do with him.

Dennis

Thanks to AMC for re-airing Mad Men at 11 so that I could see the end of the Emmys (where the show won for a third consecutive time) and then switch directly over to watch Don win a Clio. What’s that? The Emmys and Mad Men‘s foray into an awards show are the same night? Coincidence? This is Mad Men and Matt Weiner we’re talking about, so probably not. Either way, I’m happy we got the Clios, as it brought us a few interesting gifts: John Aniston (yep, Jen’s dad, and a Days of Our Lives mainstay) showed up as the presenter. Duck returned, and while he’s never been my favorite character, this was a nice little cameo, still tragically off the wagon before being escorted off the show yet again. And most importantly, we got to see thankless Roger flashback to that time he hired Don (or didn’t hire, but was too drunk to remember).

I liked the parallel between the early days of Roger/Don to Don hiring Danny (who I believe was played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum and a TV movie writing Emmy winner himself, Danny Strong, after his own alcoholic blunder. Yet, my favorite storyline of the week was brought to us by Peggy Olson, ever increasingly the show’s envelope pusher. While Joan gets all the credit for being the walking sex symbol of the show, it was nice to see Peggy get her chance to shine (or strip) here and really bust Stan Rizzo’s obscured (in a sight gag worthy of Austin Powers) balls. While the aging Don and Roger might get increasingly drunk and depressing, at least we have Peggy to keep bringing a little modern 60s flair to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Zoe

Sure, Don deserves a lot of accolades for his Clio, but if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to be at the other end of the stage, congratulating Peggy for her “Smuggest Bitch in the World” award. Her winning entry was nothing more than amazing.

In other news, we get a bit of Roger/Don flashbacking this episode and we see what brought them together–and why Roger’s insistence on Don noting he couldn’t have done it without Roger it both true and not true (given the nature of Roger’s gift, all credit clearly goes to Joan). In any case, this flashback is given to parallel the experiences of the welcomed sight of Danny Strong as the teeny cousin of Jane and Don’s experiences trying to get a job with Sterling and Cooper back in the day.

This device mostly works and it’s always nice to see Don back before he was the slick drunk we know him as, back when he was a bit of an eager beaver with poor taste in ties. An earnest (but hungry!) guy like that and you can see why he got the job and why Betty agreed to marry him, not realizing it’d lead to misery.

Speaking of Betty, though the fanbase seems to want to paint her as History’s Greatest Monster, and while I’m not fan of her as a person, it’s worth noting that her anger was beyond justified here. For all the grief Betty gets from viewers, Don is well on his way to being a total deadbeat dad. In fact, one of the reasons Peggy deserves her award if for the “fix it” speech she gave Don. It was just about the job, but it was so clearly about the terrible, bleary mess his life has become. And I sure hoped he was listening.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

As Mad Men nears the midpoint of its fourth season, SCDP  considers its first Japanese client and Betty gets meaner than ever.

Zoe

If you were to poll the viewers of Mad Men, I think most of them would pick Betty to be a monster greater than the Japanese businessmen we saw today. And while I don’t disagree that Betty has many, many flaws, I appreciate the way this episode let both Henry Francis (and later Don himself) talk about Don’s flaws as a parent. Sure, he loves his kids, and sure, he’s less inclined to hit them than Betty, but he’s just as inattentive as she can be. He sees them a few days a month, and yet chooses to go on a date (to Benihana, which I was mildly amused to find out existed back then). He simply doesn’t know what to do with his kids when there’s not someone else to help them. Which us unfortunate, as Bobby and Sally both clearly need a lot more positive attention in their lives, and Sally especially desperately wants that from her father. Betty is a bad, childish mother, but Don is bad and childish in his own ways and, as always, we need to remember that.

Speaking of memory: on the one hand, Roger’s outburst was cruel and rude and detrimental. On the other hand it was funny and, well, understandable. I have to wonder if he would be as opposed to the firm working with a German company–if some of his vehement disagreement just comes from the fact that the Japanese are not white–but it also makes sense for a Pacific veteran to hate the idea of working with the people he spent years trying to kill. It has been twenty years, as many people rightfully point out, but serving was, in a lot of ways, the best, most honorable, most important thing Roger has done. It also something that he made for himself, unlike the companies he has worked at since the war. Roger is a fun-loving, tipsy, trust fund kid. But he’s also one that fought and dealt with the realities of war. Maybe it’s time for him to let that go (especially considering how important Honda cars will end up being to the company) but, given how little he’s accomplished since the war, I can see why it remains the focal point of his identity.

Scott

A show like Mad Men is so richly textured and complex that people watch it for completely different reasons. Clearly, we here at Angry Fellas love material about Sally, but I know some people who could care less about her and just want the whole show to be Don. Others find Pete an annoying rich kid, while I think he’s a clearly flawed but ultimately sympathetic young man trying to make his own way in the world. I find it hard to believe, though, that anyone watching the show at this point cares about Don’s romantic life. It’s sort of excruciating watching him go on dates with prim and proper Bethany, invite Nurse Phoebe into his very brown home and flirt with psychiatrist Mrs. Fay Miss Fay like this is some sort of LBJ-era Grey’s Anatomy. TV is very driven by soap opera-esque notions of who’s going to end up with who; it’s hard to think of a single series without some kind of romantic tension (intentional or imagined), even on shows like 30 Rock where — despite Tina Fey’s claims to the contrary — half of the people who watch it are sure that Liz and Jack will get married someday. But Mad Men is better than that, and Don’s slow march toward self-discovery is so much more interesting than his casual flings with underwritten characters.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed watching this episode even though in retrospect it was a mixed bag. Roger’s WWII-spawned racism was handled with the perfect blend of shock (his raging boardroom invasion) and nuance (his sincere devotion to the men he served with). The elaborate con game to drive Ted Shaw’s agency into bankruptcy using his own arrogance was fun and pretty ingenious even by Don’s standards, though I would love it if Don had some actual competition instead of a weaselly nerd who is vanquished in a single episode (Shaw felt a lot like the hapless, departed Duck). And poor Sally. Despite the writers laying it on too thick with Betty, who basically turned into Cruella de Vil this week what with the slapping and her venomous delivery of the word “masturbation”, Sally’s shame-filled introduction to the birds and the bees was as sad and agonizing as anything I’ve ever seen. The anxious final shot of the young Miss Draper waiting outside the psychiatrist’s office with Carla, the only real mother she’s ever known, was heartbreaking.

Dennis

Well, we saw another familiar face this week. It was uh, that guy who wasn’t Kurt. (Speaking of which, where is Kurt? No Sal, no Kurt. If it weren’t for Peggy’s new lesbian friend I’d wonder if Weiner had de-gayed the whole show). But more importantly, Sally Draper’s back, and the kid is probably not all right. She’s taken to impromptu haircuts and (gasp) sleepover masturbation. What are we going to do with you, Sally? Answer: send her to therapy, though as always, it’s child-trapped-in-an-adult’s-body Betty that needs it more.

Between the increased dosage of Sally (now with stylish new haircut), Don’s always delightful elderly secretary, some solid Roger moments, and a new rival for Don (as played by Desperate Housewives‘ Kevin Rahm), I was more pleased with this episode than last. Still, I’m already getting bored with Don’s myriad of love interests. Will he choose his nurse neighbor, with her weirdly intermittent Southern accent? Or the Betty doppleganger Bethany? Or how about his hard-to-get coworker Faye? (Because, let’s face it, as Miss Farrell can attest, no one stays impervious to Don’s charms for long). Someone earlier in the season told Don he’d be married again within the year. Can’t happen soon enough, I say. I’m starting to get dizzy on Don’s lady merry-go-round.

“The Rejected”

Lots of differing views from our panel this week as Pete, Peggy and Allison move into the spotlight.

Ellen

Nothing good can last forever. Every week can’t be Get Drunk with Don and Lane and Watch Gamera Week, and this week’s episode “The Rejected” was, despite starring turns for Pete and Peggy, definitely the weakest of the season so far. I’m not much of a Pete fan, so I relished seeing him squirm around having to drop the Clearasil account he had worked so hard for, then the suspicion that Trudy was keeping her pregnancy from him. (His bitchy little shrug after challenging his father-in-law was, sigh, earned.) And “Peggy gets in a situation over her head” is a plotline with a good amount of mileage on it, this week including both artists and possibly the show’s first lesbian. (Played by Zosia Mamet, daughter of David. Can’t make it up!) But then we had to endure Allison’s resignation and Don’s cliched “What? We’re all adults” moment. Other stops at Obvioustown that came into play: Trudy asking Pete how he would know what being a father was like, and Don’s halting in the middle of the hallway to watch the crotchety old couple, painful symbols of the life he gave up. Pete and Peggy’s long moment through the glass front of SCDP, though: that was perfect.

Scott

I’m a tad shocked by the reactions here and elsewhere to “The Rejected” since, for my money, it’s my favorite season 4 episode so far by a mile. When the pre-show warning about brief nudity came up, I was prepared for more of Don’s tawdry whoremongering. Thankfully, we got a much-needed break from  sleaze, along with a generous side helping of Don’s shitty treatment of women being thrown back in his face for all to see. While it’s rare that a Mad Men episode isn’t filled with snappy comic moments, “The Rejected” was chock full of particularly good ones: Miss Blankenship’s redubbing the agency “Draper, Pryce, Sterling, Campbell… Misters”, Peggy’s curious head peeking into Don’s office and withdrawing at the very last second, Roger and Don getting out of a conference call with “Oh my God, there’s a fire,” Peggy’s discovery of Malcolm X a week after his assassination, much to Joey’s bemusement. Perhaps the tone was set by the direction of Mr. Sterling himself, John Slattery, whose tremendous debut behind the camera gave us not only a great episode overall, but also defining images of the gulf between Pete and Peggy (one a conformist suit and the other a blossoming bohemian) and Don’s urban isolation (a gorgeous wide shot of our hero [?] as a lonely figure dwarfed by the New York skyline, and an almost Lynchian final scene where he begins rethinking the bliss of solitude).  It’s hard to know what next week’s cryptically-titled “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” holds, but for the first time this season I’m not approaching it with dread.

Dennis

Behold, Ken Cosgrove is back! OK, so Ken Cosgrove was never my favorite character (really Matt Weiner, between him and Sal, this is the guy you thought we urgently needed to see?), but it’s another float from the Parade of Familiar Faces from Yesterseasons nonetheless. And most of the episode was spent with Don, Pete, and Peggy. It was good to see Allison finally flip out on Don, and Don try to type up an apology (see, he’s almost a good person) to her. I bet Alexa Alemanni was bummed that they brought her to the new agency only to turn around and have her leave the company a few episodes later. But hey, at least she got to make sweet sweet drunk not-love to Don Draper!

And speaking of non-love, it was nice to see Pete and Peggy have their little moments in the face of Trudy’s surprise pregnancy. I wonder how their secret kid is doing? Though, their final moment toward the end of the episode, with Pete planning to go to a fancy business lunch and Peggy dashing off with her new beatnik friends was a surprisingly blatant parallel for a show that usually relies so heavily on subtlety and subtext. At least the episode didn’t end with that moment. Instead we got the show’s coolest characters (especially since Bobby “There’s an Egg in My Bed” Draper was again missing from this episode), the old couple that live down the hall from Don. Don’t keep us in suspense. I want to know if she got the peaches!