Thursday, 19 February 2009

MAD MEN 2.2 - "Flight 1"

Thursday, 19 February 2009
Spoilers. On 1 March 1962, American Airlines Flight #1 crashed, killing all 95 passengers. This real life tragedy is folded into this week's episode, as the Sterling Cooper ad execs hear the news of the disaster and immediately start worrying about how it'll effect their campaign for Mohawk Airlines. Various crude and sick-minded jokes are also cracked, not least by Pete (Vincent Karthesier), although the smile is wiped off his face when he discovers his father was aboard Flight 1, and amongst the dead...

Pete's a slippery character to get a grip on, and that's mostly because he's a sketch drawing of a personality -- intentionally so. He comes from good stock, but he's a hollow man who seeks approval, acceptance, guidance and role models from the people he works with -- particularly alpha-male Don (Jon Hamm), whom he turns to following the terrible news, mainly to ask how he should be reacting. Numbed shock is an understandable reaction from anyone, but it's the default setting for the office Pinocchio.

Don's particularly annoyed when his bosses -- Roger (John Slattery), Duck (Mark Moses) and Cooper (Robert Morse) -- decide to ditch representing Mohawk Airlines, in favour of helping American Airlines through their current PR disaster. Don is frustrated that Sterling Cooper are showing no loyalty to a new client, but he's told that the business opportunity with the country's top airline is too juicy to turn down.

For Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), we discover what happened soon after she secretly gave birth 15 months ago; a quick spell in a psychiatric facility, then a decision to continue her flourishing career, and let her mother Anita (Audrey Wasilewski) and sister Katherine (Myra Turley) raise her baby. Peggy is now the visiting "aunt", whose own child cries when places in her arms at church. Note how Peggy isn't given communion -- signaling she hasn't been to confession recently, so isn't in a "state of grace".

It's also enjoyable to see Peg's new attitude at work and in a social context; correcting a friend at Paul's (Michael J. X Gladis) house-party that she works with the high-flying junior execs, not for them. She's also becoming more sexually confident -- willing to turn down the certainty of sex with someone, just because she enjoys the feeling of power after leaving him high-and-dry after a corridor smooch.

Still, Peggy's nowhere near as domineering as office manager Joan (Christina Hendricks) -- who shows a nastier, racist side in this episode: slyly belittling Paul's black girlfriend Sheila (Donielle Artese) at his party ("I didn't think Paul would be so open-minded"), then making cruel remarks to Paul at work about how his interracial relationship only exists to make him appear "interesting". Mild pay-back is delivered by Paul soon after, when Joan catches the workforce giggling at a photocopy of her driver's license pinned to a notice-board -- proving she's in her early-30s. Oh, the horror.

The best moment of this episode come courtesy of Pete, who finds a way to utilize his grief in a constructive yet manipulative way. He agrees to Duck's insensitive plan to meet with the American Airlines representative -- as the airline will be won over by Sterling Cooper if they know someone at their company was personally affected by the Flight 1 crash. Tragically, Pete doesn't have the moral backbone to turn down a lucrative opportunity to help rebuild the public image of the airline that killed his own father.

Overall, "Flight 1" was an intelligent way for the writers to get around Christopher Allport's real-life death -- the actor who appeared in season 1's "New Amsterdam" as Pete's censorious father. The writing is once again perfectly honed, the performances a real delight and the period details amusing (parents in the '60s let their kids mix alcoholic drinks?) I particularly liked trained faker Don temporarily becoming Pete's whiskey-dispensing support, only to revert to his short-tempered self a short time later -- a reversion that sends Pete quietly spinning. I can't wait for the moment when Pete discovers he has a son with Peggy...

17 February 2009
BBC Four, 10pm

Writers: Matthew Weiner & Lisa Albert
Director: Andrew Bernstein

Cast: Jon Hamm (Don), Elisabeth Moss (Peggy), Vincent Kartheiser (Pete), January Jones (Betty), Christina Hendricks (Joan), Bryan Batt (Salvatore), Michael J. X. Gladis (Paul), Aaron Staton (Ken Cosgrove), Rich Sommer (Harry), John Slattery (Roger), Robert Morse (Bert Cooper), Anne Dudek (Francine Hanson), Joel Murray (Freddy Rumsen), Alison Brie (Trudy Campbell), Mark Moses (Herman "Duck" Phillips), Kristoffer Polaha (Carlton), Crista Flanagan (Lois), Sarah Drew (Kitty), Donielle Artese (Sheila), Matt Riedy (Henry Wofford), John Patrick Jordan (Eugene), Vaughn Armstrong (Shel Keneally), Laura Regan (Jennifer Crane), Rich Hutchman (Bud Campbell), Audrey Wasilewski (Anita Olson Respola), Jerry D. O'Donnell (Gerry Respola), Myra Turley (Katherine Olson) & Channing Chase (Dorothy Campbell)