Posted on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 by Hunter Stephenson
As the acclaim, status, and ratings coalesce for Mad Men, the series’ ambitious characters continue to encounter myriad divides—cultural, familial, and geographic—that attempt to emotionally pull them apart bit by bit. On Sunday, the AMC original series put two W’s on the board at The Emmys, for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Writing – Drama, in addition to 16 noms. Sunday also marked the airing of the third season’s sixth episode, which in retrospect is wittily entitled, “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.” Previous eps this season were noted for subtle tributes to Stanley Kubrick—in particular a dream-like scene at an empty bar that recalled the The Shining––and with “Guy” the season finally unleashed a geyser of completely unexpected and genuine horror.
It made for a fantastic if high-wire jolt courtesy of creator/writer Matthew Weiner and Co. In an ep that featured recurring, symbolic imagery of lamps and lights being turned on and off, the showmmakers chose to leave them on near the end, better for viewers to bask in collective shock. The mouths of characters and audiences simultaneously agape, in an instant Sterling Cooper’s offices seemed different but the same; viewers watched on as the company’s shark-like Manhattanites lobbed dark, telling jokes about the incident. So aggressive was the ep’s horrific flourish that I almost interpreted it as an Emmy-primed challenge to any would-be competitors come next year. Let’s take a look at where a few of Mad Men‘s characters stand in the messy aftermath and where they might be headed. Spoilers and a spoiler-tastic GIF to follow…
Lane Pryce: In three words: The Brits’ bitch. A new addition to the series in season three, we never really knew the extent of Pryce’s role as a Yes-Man for Putman, Powell, & Lowe (PPL) until this episode. Pryce’s business persona, equals parts smarmy and immaculate, has reminded me this season of Smithers on The Simpsons. When the Brits arrive in “Guy” without giving Sterling Cooper much prep-time, Pryce is quick to organize his office, prepare tea, and prepare for a gloating pat on the back. And he does indeed receive this from his British higher-ups. And then he opens PPL’s token of appreciation, a gift so effed, mean, and macho it might as well come from the forefathers of Cobra Kai: it’s a taxidermic snake, once a snake charmer’s, and it’s their fraternal way of saying, “You have done us well in Manhattan, Lane. Now let’s ship you, your wife, and kid off to oblivion via Bombay. Snap Snap! Chin up, lad!” Wankers.
Rather than suffer a stroke and fall down and search for his balls, Pryce regains composure and maintains a quiet dignity at a conference meeting—forever a brown nose—to the indifferent surprise of Sterling Cooper’s creatives. Of course, as it ironically turns out, John Deere comes to Pryce’s rescue right in time for the Fourth of July. And the cruel impulse and measure of fate in the form of British suits has no doubt left a mark on Pryce’s undying loyalty. As Pryce himself says, he experienced his funeral today, and it didn’t sit well. At the expense of emasculation, Pryce finally seems human to viewers.
The Drapers: I might be alone in this sentiment, but I really hope that Betty Draper slits her wrists already—no icy bath tub needed—so that Don Draper can proceed to: grow out his sideburns, put on some rock records, and be a loving, stern, and swinging dad to Sally, Bobby, and The Ghost of Gene. Bertram Cooper, who might as well slip on a kimono and become an interior decorator, sets up Don with plush dreams of an oncoming promotion via PPL and a crib in London. Draper, who usually avoids the jinx, even hints at the possibility to Betty with excited, fulfilled reservation. Betty is stoked for her own reasons (finally, a real nanny). Roger Sterling, teetering on the brink of a professional-identity crisis, and hilariously so, also informs Don that “glory” might finally be arriving to match his wealth.
Before PPL arrives, Don and Roger smooth-over any leftover dissonance resulting from Roger’s not-so-funny blackface party by enjoying a comp’d close shave at Bert’s request. It’s a smart decision on Bert’s part, because PPL is quick to inform that no promotion or perks are currently in store for Don. Sterling isn’t even on the goddamn hierarchy flowchart. He tips his cigarette and sighs. Actually, no one is getting a promotion at SC sans a too-quick-to-applaud Harry. Instead, PPL appearsmore interested in studying Don’s All-American M.O. and success and putting their findings into action across the pond. This isn’t lost on Don. Not much is. And it’s cool to see many employees at Sterling Cooper stare down their pompous Brit owners. Turns out, New York Life carves the sharper, savvier tack.
While taking a moderately awkward, impromptu, if epic, meeting with “Connie” Hilton at the Waldorf Astoria, Don is informed of an emergency. “At home or at the office?” he inquires. To me, the question signifies that Don knows his wife is at home and becoming increasingly unstable. Even for Dear Betts. With the death of Gene and the birth of Gene, Betty is at once mourning and celebrating, and the outside world, which includes her two children, is not invited to either.
In this episode, we see a continuation of the bond between Sally Draper and Don, and it’s cool to see Don’s parenting methods written with so much recognition for Sally’s precociousness; he speaks to her like a favorite confidant, which is a high compliment. As Connie tells him, he’s not known for having long talks. Don assures her that ghosts don’t exist, and it’s obvious which parent Sally will remember fondly when she’s an adult. However, I wonder if either parent will have a more lasting impact on Sally than the iconic image of a monk setting himself on fire in protest during a prior episode. Seeing such a powerful image and act a young age often equals the birth of idealism and a premature introduction to chaos. That can be dangerous. With Sally being shaded in gradually, I look forward to similar character development for the still innocent Bobby Draper.
Also of note: When meeting with Connie, Don’s semi-ridiculous, Confucious-like allegory about a hungry snake mirrors the preceding snake imagery with Pryce. Mad Men is full of such mirrors and connections, which brings us to…
Joan Halloway/Harris: “What do you think is going to happen to Joan?” is the trending question of the week. It needs to be asked with puffy-lipped sympathy and followed by a quaint smirk. Everyone is concerned but everyone knows that Joan is going to be fine. Right? For one thing, her resignation party celebrating her husband/rapist’s ascent as a surgeon ended up being overshadowed by The New York Lawnmower Massacre. And if there’s one thing everyone in the office remembers—Americans, Brits, and secretaries alike—besides a Plainview-like spattering of blood, it’s the image of Joan saving the Guy‘s life. Roger later compares the non-crime scene to Iwo Jima; Joan was on the battlefield and applied a tourniquetet with the professionalism, calm, and tenderness of an army nurse. It’s a task Don would have done without thinking or blinking; but Don’s not there, and the scene reemphasizes that Joan is Don’s complex equal sans the white-collar power but with the best ivory tittage currently in Hollywood.
When Joan kisses Don goodbye on the cheek—omg, forever?—in the hospital near ep’s end, some viewers have noted an attraction. And, sure, Don gives her candy apple bottom a prolonged look as she exits. He’s Don Draper, after all. But to me, the scene sealed a relationship between Don and Joan, a mutual respect, game recognize game etc. With the addition of sex, this relationship would almost seem taboo—ratings bonanza aside—if not incestual. You get the feeling that Don would definitely invite Joan to a new start-up. Employees seem to fall in and out of his view, but when he figures out where a person fits on Team Draper, it’s a long term thing.
After her affair with Roger, Joan seems to have set her siren-sights on younger dudes, including her semi-lamed husband who lacks “brains in his hands.” Her husband remains one of the least relatable and least likable characters on the show, and while Joan surely saw him, at one point, as a source of financial security, she now remains attracted to him due to the maternal aspect of their relationship. This was expressed in spades on the office floor (the foot, not the rape)…
And here’s a prediction: Joan was clearly attracted to the now foot-less Brit hotshot, Guy MacKendrick, who arrived at Sterling Cooper with bright-eyed admiration for Don Draper—down to his walk, notice that?—and Pete Campbell. The Brits, horrible pricks that they are, sorry /Film’s Brendon, notified Don at the hospital that Guy will no longer be part of PPL since he won’t be able to…play golf. It’s unlikely that we’ve seen the last of MacKendrick. I can’t recall another character directly involved in the show’s office environments that appeared for only one episode (example: the unexpected return this season of Herman “Duck” Phillips). Might Don, who appeared both curious and mildly suspect about MacKendrick’s young blood compliments, invite MacKendrick into the fold? Still far more likely is that MacKendrick will invite Joan for an in-person to thank her for saving his life. Maybe Sterling Cooper rewards him with a fat check for his loss, with the bonus of living out a Joan night nurse fantasy.
Paul Kinsey: Sterling Cooper’s resident counter culture-warrior in waiting, Paul reveals just how much contempt and insecurity some of SC’s employees have for PPL by snapping back at a Brit’s request to shave his beard. It’s a joke. But when you consider that it was demanded of Pryce by PPL to remove his “spectacles,” not so much. Later we see Paul strumming a fucking guitar inside his office as PPL looks in on their tour. Territorial pissings for a new generation. And of course, as witnessed in the GIF above (h/t Vulture), Paul gets a bit of foot in his mouth.
Pete Campbell and Peggy Olson: Pete catches Peggy, after she faints like a ’50s starlet at the sight of blood. A storybook moment for the girls, carnage for the guys.
Ken Cosgrove: The show’s cult favorite continues to rack up cool points by introducing the John Deere mower to the office, and yet he’s not complicit in the ensuing tragedy. This is the type of story and event that makes a guy a legend. Also, not mentioned thus far by other critics is the symbolism in introducing alien farm equipment (and manual labor) to an office of classy drones, and the result.
What did you think of “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”? What are your predictions and opinions on Mad Men‘s third season thus far?
Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila/gmail and on twitter.