Thursday, August 19

MAD MEN "The Rejected" is not rejected!

They’re back! And I couldn’t be more delighted. Last week’s episode is just a distant nightmare and my Mad Men have returned to the office, to the essence of why I love this show. Thank God and Matt Weiner!

“Previously” recap, as I am sure you noticed, is not like other serial shows, reviewing the episode immediately preceding this one. No, Mad Men gives us snippets from past shows regardless of when they aired and with them a road map to the new: Dr. Faye talking about focus group research, Freddie and Pond’s, Pete telling pony-tailed Peggy his father-in-law the Clearasil client loved his idea, Don telling Pete he’ll make partner if he can deliver accounts to SCDP, “I do want to get married,” says Peggy to Freddie, Joan with rapist/hubby, Allison saying “Don’t” to Don who kisses her. Hmmm! Sit down and keep your hands inside the car! Looks like a fun ride!
The episode is called “The Rejected.” Who or what is rejected?

First we are reminded of the power wielded by bully/client Lee Garner Jr. and that it’s 1965 and the Federal government is getting serious about cigarette ad restrictions: no teens, no famous athletes and no angles that would make the smoker look super-human. Hilarious conference call with Don and Roger telephonically holding Lee’s hand while Allison takes notes while listening in on an extension. Three-phone action and lots of funny lines, Roger’s of course. He suggests that they can still use some sports. Bowling, for example. “Bowling is a sport,” he tells Lee. Or horse racing. “Lee! The jockey smokes the cigarette!” And “I would never buy a sailboat. I don’t want to do things myself. For that price the boat should have a motor.”

Don multi-tasks: he consults with Peggy and Dr. Faye about the hypothesis for a focus group (and agrees to let her borrow some of the women in the office.) He opens a letter—Anna has sent him a photo of the two of them. We see the date: 19th of February, 1965. “Stephanie doesn’t think we look old.”

Pete comes in and is annoyed he wasn’t included on a Lucky Strike call. “Be happy,” says Roger. “I saved you an ass-ache.”

“Oh, my god, there’s some kind of fire!” “Down by Radio City,” adds Roger, immediately jumping on the way to get off the phone.

Wheeee! Roger’s funny and I love how they handle the conference call: passing the ball back and forth. Allison’s tipping Don—“He said ‘Don’” so that Don can put the receiver back to his ear and pretend he’s been listening all along.

Out in the hall, Roger gives Pete the terrible news that Pond’s thinks Clearasil’s a conflict and the account with the lesser billing has to be resigned. Pete must give his father-in-law the bad news. Ah, yes, Clearasil has to be rejected.

And I’m happy to be back in the SCDP offices. I want to see how this “scrappy upstart” is going to navigate the choppy seas of Madison Avenue. And the show is called Mad Men not because they are crazy, although they can be, but because they work on Madison Avenue. It’s the heart of the show and for me, a former Madison Avenue copywriter, it’s a big part of the show’s appeal. I couldn’t be happier.

Except if a favorite character would come back, in this case, it’s Ken! Yes! He’s getting married, announces Harry in Pete’s office (which strangely seems windowless and maybe it’s just the way it was shot, but Pete’s office would have windows) and invites him to tag along at lunch. He does and they make peace. (Ken works at “Geyer.” I don’t remember any agency named Geyer (unlike Grey, McCann, BBDO, Y&R.) I think this is a prelude to Ken’s coming over to SCDP which would set up his rivalry with Pete again. Although my ability to predict where Mad Men storylines go isn’t great (another thing I really like about the show.)

But I did get a gay vibe from Joyce the assistant photo editor of Life magazine whom Peggy meets in the elevator. And later at the downtown party Joyce invites her to my theory is confirmed: while passing a joint, Joyce leans in to Peggy’s ear. Peggy tells her “I have a boyfriend.” (More good news: No Mark Nebbish this week!) “He doesn’t own your vagina,” says Joyce. Wow. That’s a little forward for 1965. “No, but he rents it,”says Peggy and wipes her cheek. Did Joyce lick her face? That’s very freaky. Ugh.

Meanwhile, Pete meets Tom Vogel, client and dad-in-law, in a very smoky bar reminding me that up until not that long ago that’s how bars and restaurants were, especially back then when the majority smoked.

As Pete beats around the conflict bush, Tom blurts out that he “knows.” But what he knows turns out to be good news: Trudy is pregnant and Pete didn’t know! And then he passes up the perfect opportunity to resign the account but wimps out. We also get treated to the matter-of-fact sexism of the day: Tom offers him $1000 for a boy and only half that for a girl. Boys are so much more valuable than girls. That was the common wisdom, folks.

Trudy and Pete are happy in their mid-century Park Avenue co-op. She even offers to break the bad news to her father. “He already feels so guilty [about spilling the beans] he’ll never feel the knife going in.” But Pete can’t let her do that.

Later we get to see Peggy’s reaction to the news. She bangs her head on her desk and lies down on her couch, a little reminiscent of Don in the first episode. But then she congratulates Pete and doesn’t remind him that this first child actually is his second.

We also get to see how SCDP handles focus groups: in-house. The conference room adjoins Joan’s office which doubles as a viewing room. Dr. Faye dresses down for the “girls” and hands her rings over to Peggy for safekeeping. So Dr. Faye is married? Makes me think all the more that she and Don will get it on eventually. And it will be a reverse of Don’s previous affairs in which he was the married one. Perhaps Don will fall for her and she will break his heart.

All the focus groups I ever saw the leader never pretended to be one of the participants. She always was the leader. This is weird. Especially considering that Faye is clearly the leader and acts like one despite dressing-down and removing her rings.

The Pond’s focus group devolves into group therapy. I’ve seen this happen, although not to the emotional pitch this one descends to. Allison starts to break down and rushes out of the room, followed by Peggy who tries to reassure her. But from what Allison says we infer that she thinks Peggy had an affair with Don! Well, she’s not the only one, is she? I mean, how can any woman get ahead in the early 60s except on her knees, eh? Peggy gets it and gets indignant. Her attempt at kind understanding has been rejected. “Your problem is not my problem and honestly, you should just get over it.” Peggy, who knew about Midge, is not shocked that Don might have had a thing with Allison.

And beyond that, the focus group did not bear out Peggy’s hypothesis about the benefits of “ritual” face-cleansing. That is rejected. Instead Dr. Faye tells Don that despite her efforts to lead the group, the benefit they want from cold cream is matrimony--- Freddie’s concept. But Don rejects it even though out of the corner of his eye he caught Peggy trying Dr. Faye’s rings on her left ring finger during the focus group viewing. And she’s wearing the hairdo I did in my yearbook picture. That should have been rejected.

Allison is embarrassed, she tells Don. But not about crying. “That really happened.” And we know what “that” is. And she offers to quit. Nowadays she’d sue. Don tries to be a gentleman and when she asks for a good letter of recommendation. He tells her to write it – whatever she wants—and he’ll sign it. She throws a chotchke across the room in Don’s direction, smashing glass. Don’s “kind” offer has been rejected.

At the downtown art scene, Joyce Ramsey’s been rejected by Peggy. And the artist, Davey Kellogg, rejects Peggy’s suggestion that SCDP needs photographers.

And we get to see some interesting soundless vignettes: Peggy’s peeking through the glass on the top of the wall between her office and Don’s when Allison had her snit. And the one I found so amusing: shoeless Bert Cooper seated in the reception area, reading a magazine and eating an apple.

One vignette with dialog flummoxed me: the last one—“Did you get pears?” “We’ll discuss it inside.” What the hell was that about? Don’s alone and living across the hall from a decrepit couple.

Pete uses the Clearasil conflict to pitch a larger piece of Vicks pie. That would mean Pond’s would have to be resigned and bye-bye Freddy.

The coming attractions sizzle and include a return of an irate Betty. I hope for more episodes as well-done as this one. (I rejected last week’s “Good news.” Meh.) Will we see more of Abe the writer Peggy met and kissed at the party? (I hope so. Mark will be rejected.) And let's hope Miss Blankenship continues to be Don's "girl." Great comic relief. More!

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