April 16, 2012
Real (Mad) Men and Don Draper the plumber
One problem I've had with the last season or two of Mad Men is that a lot of episodes went by when nothing happened. That's not the case with Season 5 so far--I think it's been really good, lots of things happening, lots of character development, and LOTS (too many?) of Roger Sterling one-liners.
Last night's episode focused on Pete Campbell, still one of the show's most interesting characters. As much as Pete is a pompous jerk that everyone sort of hates, he's become a jerk with so many complex, glaring insecurities and personality flaws that it's fascinating to watch him fail to do the right thing or be content with his very nice life, again and again, in ever-changing ways. If the theme of this episode was "what it means to be a man", Pete gets it spectacularly wrong at pretty much every opportunity. What's impressive about the show, and especially Vincent Kartheiser's acting, is how compelling the character is when he's such a loathsome jackass.
Apart from the chronicle of Pete Campbell, failure of masculinity, I liked the new aspects of Don's development this episode. He gives in to both Megan and Trudy (wearing a hideous plaid jacket Megan bought for him to a party he doesn't want to go to) with conciliatory grace, but can still take off his shirt and get under the sink to fix the kitchen faucet, which turns on his wife enough to pull over on the Hutch and get busy on the ride home. (Despite all that, Don still seems resolutely unhappy and potentially suicidal.)
The worst part of the show was Pete's conversation with the high school girl during the driver's ed class break. Her dialogue was so clunky and stiff, it sounded like the director told the actress to just ad lib about the tumultuous 60's and she came out with something that literally sounded like, "We're living through a truly fascinating period of cultural transition here in 1966 American society, that's as anxiety-provoking as it is thrilling. The times they are a-changin'!"
What was up with that?! It was almost as bad as the scene a few episodes ago with Don talking to a teenage girl backstage at the Rolling Stones show, when she says something about how her character symbolizes the alluring vitality of youth and freedom, and pretty much uses those words. They need to get a lot better with this generation gap dialogue.
The board room fistfight and Bert Cooper's "reschedule the meeting" line were almost as shockingly hilarious as the lawnmower foot-severing. Any episode with office bloodshed is a good one. John Slattery directed this one.
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