The ubiquity of drug use has run rampart this season. Sure it relates to its prevalence in America circa 1968, but it also underlines this season’s – and 1968’s – tackling of chaos and waywardness and the futile attempts to manage it. This theme has been well managed by this season, but by its very nature, it leads to episodes and characterisations that don’t really amount to much. Now Mad Men has never focused heavily on driving forward narrative arcs, but by the end of each episode we should get a better sense of these characters, who they are and what they want. What we get in this episode is two very enjoyable story lines that don’t really amount to much and a couple of less interesting side tales of office politics.
I always enjoy Don in California mode; his first trip out there being my favourite. Of course, after Anna’s death, it no longer exists as a place where Don can be Dick Whitman, but it’s still an escape, and escaping is Don’s preferred mode of travel. But what did we really get this time? A trippy out of body experience? Now don’t get me wrong, it was incredibly well shot and choreographed by Slattery and it wasn’t over-symbolic or an empty visual exercise, but by the episode’s end you have to wonder what its purpose was. Does he have a better appreciation of Megan? Maybe but not likely. Did he learn a valuable lesson about swimming while under the influence? I certainly hope so. Anyway if the whole purpose of the trip to California was to see Danny punch Roger in the stomach, then I’m glad we took it.
Now Joan is a character who always seems to be promised with a strong arc and then never really gets it. This season though is doing a solid job at giving the character a strong sense of self-determination. She knows she’s capable, yet she also knows her position as partner ultimately means nothing except more money. She will always be seen as the woman who is partner because she slept with a disgusting man. As indelicate and unthinking as Joan’s actions were in not inviting Pete to the Avon meeting she feels she deserves to run, the motivation has been there since the beginning of the season. Despite Peggy’s initial reluctance it was good to see these occasional adversaries Thelma-and-Louise their way into the Avon account, one just hopes Joan doesn’t drive it off the cliff (Okay, maybe I stretched that analogy too far)
The other main plot, wherein the company name (SC&P) is decided and Jim Cutler gets pissy and loses Roger’s client, seems to exist mostly to set up a division in the company that may very well play out in the coming weeks. The partnering of Bob and Ginsberg seemed like an odd one at first, but really it’s an inspired match: one well-meaning, friendly but possibly not overly capable accounts man and a crazed, dismantling creative type. Ginsberg has been so on edge lately that the season will most likely end with Ginsberg running through an office window into Madison avenue below (not really). But apart from Cutler’s shouting match with Ginsberg, we didn’t even see the client meeting that lost them the work. The storyline just seemed there to move Bob into a position of power and drag him closer to Cutler and Chaough in order to create a rift in the firm, something that Pete is well aware of. It’s Pete’s insights that worry me the most, considering that – for all his failings – his intuition is more often right than wrong.
Overall this was another solid episode of Mad Men that feels more like wheel spinning than any kind of progression. But hey, it’s still Mad Men and it still offer more interesting kernels of character, history and storytelling sophistication than most shows on TV.
What I Likes:
– Like I mentioned in my review of The Crash, Pete could stand to get high. I really hope this turns him into a bi-polar semi-hippie.
– Harry’s suits are pretty amazing. He got California swag down pat.
– Roger had even more zingers than usual this episode. ‘Our biggest challenge will be not getting syphilis’
– Jim calling out Bob’s downstairs presence. ‘WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS DOWN HERE?’
– I appreciate the fact that Danny Strong has been successful enough for me to no longer always relate him to his character Jonathan from Buffy.
– Ginsberg’s hilarious critique of weed. ‘I never touch the stuff, it makes you crazy’
What I Don’t Likes:
– Roger being too much of an asshole to Danny. But Danny can take care of himself.
– Not really related to the episodes but I’ve loved reading people’s theories about Bob Benson. My favourite include him being a time travelling Bobby Draper or Bob from Twin Peaks. Again I’m still not sure about his character. He’s at once seemingly the most adjusted in the firm and yet in this universe, he’s the odd one out.
– Ginsberg calling Cutler a Nazi seems a little too extreme, although if anyone was going to do it, it would be him. I just feel as though we haven’t seen enough of this feud to be dropped into the middle of such potent name-calling.
Overall Grade: 7.5 stoned Pete Campbells