Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Mad Men - ' The Rejected' and ' The Chrysanthemum And The Sword' - I've Got A Hate In Me

An uncharacteristically busy week lead to me not finding the time to recap Mad Men last week, so I'll do slightly abbreviated recaps of both that episode and the latest one. I read an interesting piece in the AV Club's review of the chrysanthemum and the sword, saying that this season of Mad Men has divided critics, but not in the conventional way. Here there is a lot of disparity in regards to what people think its doing wrong and what people think its doing right. My personal season favorite is probably 'The Good News', with the strong character work of Don's trip to California and the poignant hilariousness of his New York odyssey with Lane Pryce. But to many others it stands as the weakest moment. I don't get that, but there you go. Perhaps the show itself is to blame for this, in its insistence to try and do just about everything a drama can do, from character drama, to capturing and dissecting a societal era, to exploring the complexities of family, to the complexities of business and advertising and many more topics of discussion.

The problem being that each critic or fan of the show has a particular aspect that they prefer and want the show to give itself to. Personally I'd love for it to be a more focused character study of Don Draper, and perhaps a little less of the capturing a period in time stuff, particularly as we venture further into the sixties and to a time more commonly explored. But Mad Men is determined to be the king of all trades, so to speak, meaning that everybody has something to be frustrated about, even if that something is different. This ambition has looked a bit worn in these last couple of episodes, coming across a little more meandering and less well-constructed then usual. Not bad by any means, but Mad Men sets a very high standard for itself, so...

The Rejected

- I'm not the biggest fan of the Pete stories these days, and kind of feel like Vincent Kartheiser works best for this show in a supporting role. This one felt a little serviceable then inspired. Forced to tell his father-in-law they're ditching his Clearasil account, whilst also discovering his wife is with child, its a further demonstration of how these days Pete seems to be the Mad Men character who has most got his shit together, pretty much happily married, pretty much emotionally stable and perhaps aside from Don seems to be the most valuable asset the agency has, all of which doesn't make him the most intriguing character on the show right now. Still Kartheiser does a solid job.

- Seeing Alison Brie as Pete's wife is such a culture shock these days now that I'm used to seeing her on Community. Can't get over it. Never will.

- As for Peggy's tentative steps into the world of the hippie storyline, I think it was more hit then miss, not the strongest subplot ever but Elisabeth Moss brings such an irresistible likeability to Peggy, watching her in any circumstance is entertaining. I thought the douchebag hippy photographer was a bit on the nose though, as was the police breaking up the underground hippie party. That scene has been exhausted by bad 70's movies.

- Loved the Peggy's head peeking over the door sight gag though. This show is a lot funnier then I remember it being

- The strongest moment of the episode is probably the resolution of the Allison the secretary subplot from a couple of episodes ago. Seeing Don's inability to deal with any human being exhibiting emotion is always good value, and seeing how he pretty much annihilated Allison's self-respect, it was good to see her leave in a moment of semi-strength.

- " I don't say this easily, but you are not a good person."

- Generally a good episode, nothing was bad, but not enough was very good for my liking. That last shot of the suits and the youth separated by the glass and Peggy's lingering look at Pete was pretty awesome though.

Rating: 7/10

The Chrysanthemum and The Sword

- Yikes. Fans of January Jones can't be liking this series do far. Betty Francis is venturing in dangerous territory, going from flawed but intriguing character to a pretty unsympathetic villain in a dark domestic drama, and may be doing damage to poor Sally Draper that can't be undone. Betty was never the greatest parent, but her wrongdoings were always framed in the context of Don's douchebaggery. Now that she's free and perhaps more importantly, contrasted with her saintly new partner Henry Francis, she just comes off a little bit monstrous.

- Betty lands yet another slap to her ten year old's face in sword, believing that the complexities of a child in anguish can only be solved with force, a lesson learned from her own strict childhood no doubt, and even makes Don look a good parent in comparison. I don't know if Betty's going down this road is a thing of permanence or a slight in a grander plan, but she's veering pretty close to mother-from-hell territory. With not all that much ambiguity to be honest.

" You're right. Because it doesn't do anything!"

- Having said that, Sally did masturbate in front of another child, so not currently the most adjusted girl in the world. Although the girl does seem to be pulling away from Betty and her belief set, what with the short hair and the uncouth behavior.

- I did appreciate Betty's scene with the psychiatrist at the end though, implying that something is happening with this character rather then just demonization. It's a little too simplistic for her to go full tilt toward Livia Soprano territory, so I assume something is in the works.

- The Honda contract played out a little like a caper plot, which was kind of cool. Seeing the gang come together to pull a fast one on a rival, up and coming ad agency was yet another example of the show flexing its tonal muscles. It was kind of ruined though, by the tacked on and rather gormless Roger Sterling plot of anti-Japanese fervor. I get that this character might not be the most likely person to forgive and forget, but it was handled all a bit one-note and I didn't really think it added anything.

- Still Pete handing him his ass in the next scene was worth the false-note.

- The conclusion of the caper plot was nifty though, with Don not getting the account but through his ingenuity bankrupting his closest opposition, and always Jon Hamm nailed the final scene with the Japanese clients. I used to think this show was a fairly even ensemble, but Hamm stands out from the pack more and more these days.

- Second great Peggy sight gag in two weeks, this time biking around an empty studio.

- Two OK episodes in a row Mad Men, which would be fine I guess if you were Lost , but I want a frickin good one next week. And perhaps some nuance in regards to Betty Draper being the mother from another planet. She's certainly the weakest thing about this season thus far, so no doubt an episode heavy on her is going to suffer. Having said that, I think the Sally aspect is being handled very well.

Rating: 7/10

1 comment:

The Rush Blog said...

Matthew Weiner's handling of Betty's character has really pissed me off, this season. He took a complex character and transformed her into a one-note Mommie Dearest.