August 23, 2009

happy birthday dick whitman

Mad Men is back. I watched the first two episodes back to back last night and quickly remembered how amazing this show is. But as much as I do love it, I'm going to get picky about a few things. While the first episode had me wanting much more, the second episode almost had me wanting less. I guess that kind of internal conflict is appropriate - this is the theme that runs through the show. True self vs. public self, two sides of the same coin, conflicting identities... my head is spinning. So, let's get to it.

Judging by Betty's burgeoning belly, the first episode begins about 8 months later. There were so many stories left hanging after the season finale, but I was happy the premiere was primarily Don Draper-centric. He's the pulse of the show, and he really sets the tone for how the other character stories are told. We begin with a memory/dream of Dick Whitman's birth - his horribly abusive father, prostitute mother, and stepmother who took him in as her own. During a moment of indiscretion (shocking) with a flight attendant, Don admits that it's Dick Whitman's birthday, and we understand what prompted those images. Don really does have a habit of making significant disclosures to unimportant women. Freud would have a field day. Of course, Matthew Weiner wraps this theme up nicely with Don getting lost in thought (and grief) while he and Betty recount the tale of their oldest daughter's birth.

The two side stories in the first episode also dealt with this idea of conflicting identities. Poor Salvatore's big moment was interrupted by an unfortunately timed fire alarm, but we all know his secret is safe with Don. If anyone understands the struggle to hide behind a fake facade, it's this man. Then we had Pete and Ken promoted to "heads of accounts" which I personally love and can't wait to see how this plays out. We see how the two opposite personalities dealt with the news of the promotion. Pete pathetically kissing up to the new boss, Mr. Pryce, believing this promotion is owed to him, and immediately seeking approval and praise from his wife and mother. Ken just feeling lucky as hell to still have a job and psyched for the extra money and responsibility. That scene with the two of them in the elevator was priceless. In the end, Pete is whining like a little baby that he has to share the job, and Ken is just happy to be there. Who will win?

One other minor point in the episode that really stuck with me was the very beginning when Betty can't sleep and Don tries telling her a soothing story. She says she wants everything to be perfect, so the new baby will arrive with "our family at its best". What a loaded statement from Betty. Outward image has always been so important to Betty, but the inner conflict and broken marriage nearly tore her apart last season. It's apparent that the two have reconciled after the major rift, but does she still feel broken? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

At the end of the first episode, I was wishing for more Betty, Peggy and Joan. We got that and then some from the second episode, and I was a little overwhelmed. Happy as I was to see them all, covering so many stories and characters left the episode feeling a little disjointed. These were the basic plots...

Peggy and Joan. These two are the epitome of two sides of the same coin. Despite talk that her recent marriage is all a girl could want, Joan is still swimming with envy over Peggy's advanced position at the agency. Meanwhile, Peggy still craves Joan's respect and approval and envies her flirtation skills. Sadly, neither of them are happy where they are - Joan looking down the road at life as an unfulfilled housewife and lonely Peggy who can't seem to make the ad boys understand the female psyche, especially in the face of the all-knowing Don Draper.

Mr. Pryce and the agency. I had some trouble following the different clients during this episode. It's become obvious that Mr. Pryce is calling the shots whether they like it our not. Although he isn't wild about London Fog, they're holding onto it with Don's "modern" approach - meaning naked lady. Madison Square Garden was scrapped even at Don's strong opposition. Penn Station is moving forward as long as that "radical communist" stays off the account. And poor Peggy has to sell a diet drink named after a floor, leaving her believing that she won't get a man unless she acts like a trampy Ann Margaret (sorry).

Sterling. I don't mind Sterling playing opposite Draper, but I'm bored with this story. I really don't care about his new wife and daughter's wedding squabble.

Betty and her father. For me, the most important part of this story was at the end when Don had a don't-mess-with-the-Drapers moment with Betty's brother. Say what you will about his infidelity, but he will protect his wife come hell or highwater - especially when her wishes involve caring for her family. Don has Betty on a pedestal because she is a nurturing mother (unlike his experience with maternal figures). That's why he'll never expose her to the dark side of Dick Whitman and looks for that intimacy elsewhere. That's my current take on the situation anyway. I do wish she would be a little nicer to the kids though, especially the unborn one.

Sally and the May Pole. If he doesn't end up involving himself with that teacher in some, way, shape or form, I will be shocked. But I think that was really just a moment of innocence for Don - he clings to those.

Really, I could go on and on, but I will stop here. Please share your thoughts in comments because I'm sure I missed a lot.


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