Mad Men 4.4 – “I’m going to need a new secretary.”

This week’s “Mad Men” blog starts off in much the same way as this week’s “True Blood” blog: with a thank-you to the gentleman who so capably filled my shoes while I was at the TCA press tour. Kudos to Bob Westal, who – unlike the Beverly Hilton – actually gets AMC, thereby putting him in a far better position than myself to write up last week’s episode. Fortunately, I had the chance to watch the episode when I got home, but I also read Bob’s blog, which should ostensibly mean that I’m doubly prepared this week.

Rarely does a basic cable program which opens with the words “the following program contains brief nudity” ever disappoint me, so I was glad to see that particular phrase gracing the beginning of tonight’s episode. Based on Bryan Cranston’s comments about how he hates to direct episodes of “Breaking Bad” without having as much lead time to prepare for them as possible (to date, he’s only helmed season openers), I presumed that seeing John Slattery’s name in the directorial slot meant that we’d see little in the way of Roger Sterling, but damned if he wasn’t the second person to show onscreen. John, don’t work yourself so hard!

The national crackdown on smoking advertisements would seem to be cutting into what SCD&P can accomplish, but, of course, Roger’s telling everyone that “Don doesn’t think there’s a problem.” Meanwhile, there’s clearly a problem with Don, who picks up an empty bottle of Scotch, only to be informed that the reason it’s empty is because he drank it all. The “ladies” are looking for him to make business decisions, but he’s just looking for ice. The poor bastard: with everything going on in his personal life, he’s clearly hovering in the vicinity of a nervous breakdown, but he’s stuck having to be the big man on campus with the new firm. The moment he pulled out the photo out of the letter, there was no question in my mind that it would, by episode’s end, prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it was only cemented by the bug-eyed look Don gave Allison when she saw the photo and asked if it was from the letter from California.

Pete’s in a grouchy mood from the moment he turns up this week, bitching about not being included in the Lucky Strike call, and things only get worse when Roger tells him that SCD&P is going to have to kick Clearasil to the curb. Lane attempts his version of putting salve on the wound by explaining the mathematics behind the decision, leaving Pete even more upset, but Roger tells him to throw himself on the grenade, as it were, for the good of the company. “This evening, if you can,” adds Lane. What a guy. “I hate this office,” says Pete, as he storms into his office, where he finds…Harry Crane? Yep, dude’s just hanging out, having a snack, and waiting to cheer down Pete even more with the news that his old nemesis, Ken Cosgrove, is marrying the daughter of the CFO of Corning. When Harry says that he’s going to the opera with Ken because they’re friends, Pete sneers, “Friends? Why are you always looking for a job?” Oh, Pete, you’re such an unlikeable little shit. If we’re supposed to feel sorry for him…well, sorry, but I don’t. With an attitude like that, you reap what you sow. But with that said, I did have to smile at his excitement at learning that he was going to be a father, and the scene with him and Trudy was genuinely touching.

After Lane battled back from being a British Businessman to offer Pete legitimate congratulations on his impending child, it seemed as though all was right in Pete’s world, so much so that he even agreed to join Harry for a lunch with Ken. Still, I sensed that something would go wrong at the luncheon. I just didn’t expect that, as soon as Harry went to take a phone call, Ken would be the one who came roaring out of the gate, pissed off at Pete. Not a surprise: Pete flailing to avoid being seen as guilty. Less expected: offering an apology that sounded at least 10% sincere. (I was only expecting 3% sincerity, tops.) Fast forward to Pete’s dinner with the in-laws. The kid’s clearly gotten his second wind with this kid coming, giving Trudy’s dad the smackdown. Calling him a son of a bitch was probably more polite than I would’ve been.

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Mad Men 4.3 – We’re Going to Have to Smoke the Dress

Howdy Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce-heads. Will Harris, your usual “Mad Men” blogger, has found himself here in beautiful Southern California and ensconced at the Beverly Hilton, where — as you may have noticed from his numerous posts — he has been covering the twice-annual conclave of the Television Critics Association (TCA). Ironically, especially considering last year’s Conrad Hilton storyline, the beautiful and very pricey Beverly Hilton does not, in fact, carry AMC and so the job has been left to yours truly.

Now, for some reason, whenever I sit in for Will on one of these posts, there’s always something stressing me out. Tonight it’s these weird twinges in my upper right teeth that I’m hoping are somehow normally associated with the new nightguard I’ve been trying out from the dentist and not an early warning sign of a toothy catastrophe of some sort. However, as Don Draper would no doubt remark over an Old Fashioned, we’ve all got our problems And so it is in spades for pretty much all the featured characters on tonight’s episode, which takes place around the New Year’s holiday of 1964-65.

As we begin, Joan Harris is visiting her affable gynecologist, who is concerned that she’ll be able to have a baby when her and Dr. Greg are finally ready. The doctor is wondering what Joan is waiting for as most newlywed females as positively ancient as Joan is would be desperate to have a baby yesterday, or so it seems to the kindly doc. There is also the obliquely referred to issue of not one but two abortions. One of the procedures was apparently performed by doc, though abortion would remain illegal in New York until 1970. An earlier procedure was performed by a woman who claimed to be a midwife. This isn’t great, but Joan got pregnant (and unpregnant) after that and besides, there’s always the wise words of songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans: “whatever will be, will be.” (I need to remember that about my teeth.)

Then it’s off to offices of SCDP where Don is planning a New Year’s get away to Acapulco, which always seemed to be swinging bachelor destination of choice on sixties sitcoms. Speaking of said sitcoms, Harry Crane, now quite the show biz insider, notes a 24 hour L.A. lay over in Don’s itinerary. Why not hang out at the legendary Brown Derby with Harry’s new acquaintance, producer Bill Asher? It’s not mentioned, but William Asher’s new program in ’64 was a sitcom called “Bewitched” starring Asher’s then spouse, the highly underrated Elizabeth Montgomery, as a witch whose magic powers were often employed in helping her advertising executive husband land and retain new clients. Occasionally “Mad Men” has what I sometimes call “McMahon &  Tate moments” after the firm on the show — usually when someone saves a presentation at the last second with a sudden inspiration. Don, naturally, will blow off that Asher meeting. This trip is all about freedom, after all.

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