Thursday, 6 June 2013

MAD MEN, 6.9 & 6.10 – 'The Better Half' & 'A Tale of Two Cities'

Thursday, 6 June 2013
Below is a double-bill review of the last two episodes of MAD MEN, to prevent me falling behind on AMC's broadcast. They're a little briefer than usual, forgive me.

written by Erin Levy & Matthew Weiner | directed by Phil Abraham

"The Better Half" was a great episode about the duality of people, which was very apropos seeing as Megan (Jessica Paré) is struggling to convincingly play twins on her TV show. It was occasionally a little oddball, but in a more measured and entertaining way than the episode that preceded it. I particularly enjoyed seeing Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) accidentally stab boyfriend Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) in the stomach with a makeshift spear, which led to him taking the opportunity to dump her.

As always with Mad Men, there was a great deal to savour and chew on regarding everyone's behaviour and various symbolic events and incidents. It was great to see Betty (January Jones), now physically returned to her blonde bombshell heyday, essentially having a one-night stand with her ex, Don (Jon Hamm), who's top dog when it comes to extra-marital affairs. It made me pine for the earlier seasons when those two were a couple, because I think Jones works much better in Hamm's company. They just work together, in a way Hamm and Pare don't quite manage to.

As I said, this was an episode about duality, but also about how people are perceived in various circumstances. Bob Benson (James Wolk) is rapidly becoming a great comedic character, and I'm so glad he's hooked up with Joan (Christina Hendricks), even if later events when he recommended a doctor to treat Pete's (Vincent Karthesier) mother made it abundantly clear he's 'a new and improved version of selfish conman Pete Campbell'. After all, Bob told Ken his father was dead in the season 6 premiere, but in that scene he told Pete his father had been nursed back to full health.

Meanwhile, Roger (John Slattery) was trying to ape Don, no pun intended, by taking his four-year-old grandson to see Planet of the Apes, after hearing Don's son Bobby (Mason Vale Cotton) loved it so much, but that misstep didn't go down very well with his daughter.

Peggy also had a nice closing moment, after breaking up with her boyfriend and returning to the office, only to find literal closed doors from the two mentors in her life: Don (the better adman, but the lesser man, who doesn't love her), and Ted (the better man, but the lesser adman, who does love her). You have to feel sorry for Peggy that her work life's become so complicated by this merger, regarding her split loyalties, and now her love life's crumbled. Mind you, I'm rather glad Abe's out of the picture at last.

Overall, "The Better Half" made for a very entertaining episode with some fun ways to promote the idea of duality in many of the characters. January Jones was a particular stand-out in this episode, which I'm very pleased about, because my opinion of her as an actress tends to change with every episode. I think there are certain aspects of Betty that she handles very well, like whenever she's confident and exhibiting smarts. Her line about Megan to Don ("That poor girl. She doesn't know that loving you is the worst way to get to you") was right on the money.

written by Janet Leahy & Matthew Weiner | directed by John Slattery

As the literary title suggests, the action in "A Tale of Two Cities" was split between NYC and L.A. Don, Roger and Harry (Rich Somner) flew to California for meetings with Sunkist, Carnation and "the Avocado people", leaving everyone else in the Big Apple. It also featured plenty of revolutions, both large and small, which befits the Charles Dickens novel it takes its title from.

In the real world, the 1968 Democratic National Convention inspired clashes between anti-war protesters and the Chicago police department, but in the offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners (as the merged company was finally christened) we also saw various clashes of ideals and a fight for respect. Ginsberg made an enemy of his new boss Cutler (Harry Hamlin) after claiming he's a Fascist; while Joan found herself having dinner with the head of marketing at Avon Cosmetics, and decided to break corporate rules by refusing to let Pete take charge (and the bulk of the glory) thereafter.

One of my favourites scenes was when Joan had to explain her disobedience in front of Pete and Ted (Kevin Rahm), with Peggy listening in using next-door's intercom and helping her by pulling her out of the meeting with a falsified phone call from Avon. Peggy and Joan have an unusual working history as the two key women of the company, who have reached their respective peaks in very different ways. There's friction and enmity still bubbling away, but also sisterly solidarity at times.

This was also an episode that continued the irregular tradition of Mad Men doing a story set somewhere else in the country, so it was great fun seeing Don, Roger and Harry soaking in the Californian sun. Their trip to a L.A pool party was very entertaining; meeting up with ex-employee Danny Siegel (Danny Strong), the cousin of Roger's ex-wife, and with Don smoking hashish and hallucinating Megan's presence as a hippie while, before finding himself almost drowning in the pool and having to be rescued by Roger. Mad Men seems to really enjoy doing peculiar scenes, inspired by drug-taking, and I also found it amusing that Danny's involved in making Alice in Wonderland for a major studio—given that story's obvious drug references. Also fun to see PFC Dinkins (Patrick Mapel) return from season 6's premiere (the soldier in the Hawaiian bar who reminded Don of himself), who in hallucination now has an arm missing and claims to be dead.

Overall, "A Tale of Two Cities" was another very good episode from Mad Men, which is certainly having a better second-half this year. I'm also really enjoying Bob Benson, who's either one of the nicest people in the world, or projects that image so brilliantly to ultimately climb the corporate ladder amidst the thankful. I loved his pep talk with Ginsberg, who was having a meltdown in his office, and the fact he listens to self-help tapes to motivate himself before important meetings. It seems Cutler had taken him under his wing, so I'm interested to see what happens next with him in SC&P—after all, last time, Roger didn't even know Bob's name!

26 May & 2 June 2013 / AMC