Mad World on Kritik: Mad Men Season 5.6
"A Study in Orange"
Guest Writer: Lauren Goodlad

Monday, April 23, 2012

[The fifth in the Unit for Criticism's multi-authored series of posts on Season 5 of AMC's Mad Men, posted prior to the publication of MAD MENMAD WORLD: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s (Duke University Press) Eds. Lauren M. E. Goodlad, Lilya Kaganovsky and Robert A. Rushing]

"A Study in Orange"

Written by Lauren M. E. Goodlad (English/Unit for Criticism)

The title of Mad Men’s sixth episode this season, “Far Away Places,” echoes the 1948 Bing Crosby classic. But insofar as it leads viewers to anticipate the kind of glamorous business trip Don took with Betty in “Souvenir” (Season 3, Episode 8), the song’s yearning for real-life encounters with foreign lands is a feint. Although the episode explores far-off places of sorts, the journeys it takes in this rather complicated segment of Mad Men are more psychic and cultural than geographic. “Far Away Places” does not embark on real trips to Rome, or China, or Spain--though it does take us tripping. And in what has become a veritable leitmotif for Season 5, its most memorable tableaux are illusions.

Last week the show put us squarely in male fantasy terrain when Pete, hard at work with an obliging call girl, chose “You’re my king” over other equally tawdry clichés. Episode 6 opens with Abe’s suggesting that Peggy, nervous about her presentation for Heinz, join him at a showing of The Naked Prey. “You're gonna resist the chance to see Cornel Wilde naked?” he asks. Reviewing the movie in 1967, Roger Ebert called The Naked Prey the kind of “pure fantasy” in which an urbane white man, “set loose naked in the jungle,” discovers to his delight that he can “outrun half a dozen hand-picked African warriors.” Poor Abe. He has taken up Kinsey’s mantle of a white man engaged by the aspirations of the 60s with more humility than the often pompous Paul. Abe is clearly frustrated by Peggy’s distracted focus on work. But does he really want to see this movie?

In a post on “Tomorrowland,” last season’s finale, Rob Rushing and I wrote that Don’s unpremeditated proposal during a trip to California signaled a kind of repetition compulsion. In works like his famous essay on the “pleasure principle,” Sigmund Freud contemplated the strange human compulsion to repeat disturbing experiences so as to create the illusion of mastery. Don’s sudden decision to marry his secretary, Rob and I noted, was marked as repetitious first by Roger (who applauded Don’s following in his own footsteps) and then by Joan who mused, “It happens all the time.”  Viewers who had warmed to the maturity of Dr. Faye Miller rolled their eyes as Don tethered himself to yet another gorgeous projection of the idealized mother he never had.  Would Megan turn out to be a crafty “actress” who had played her boss? 

As yet, the answer seems to be no. Instead of a Don/Roger dyad, Season 5 has focused on aligning Pete Campbell with the Don of yore. As Eleanor Courtemanche noted in her great post on last week’s episode, Pete has become the star of a suburban saga: an unhappy commuter with all of Don’s former wonderlust and little of his charm. By contrast, Megan, whose supposed love of children has vanished without a trace, is hardly eager to make babies in “the country.” In fact, unlike consummate trophy wife Jane Sterling, Megan is genuinely invested in work. More like Ken and Cynthia than Roger and Jane, the New Drapers could relate to one another as fellow professionals as well as husband and wife. Could, that is, if Don truly considered Megan a colleague like Peggy. But does he?

The question is part of the sustained meditation on upper-middle-class life which the season has so far dwelled on. Upping that ante, “Far Away Places” experiments with narrative techniques for depicting what the anthropologist Benedict Anderson calls simultaneity—the way that multiplot novels (and now serial television) engage modern time by creating “a complex gloss on meanwhile.” Juxtaposing three different couples—the Sterling/Draper doublet and the unmarried pair of Peggy and Abe-- the episode shows each twosome occupying the same slice of time. In a structure that could be called “Todayland,” time is rehearsed through the device of two literal “meanwhiles” to give us three different versions of the same roughly 24-hour period. The first is a scene of Don calling the office that only makes sense when we see it from his, not Peggy’s, perspective; the repetition of a second scene in which Don tells his secretary that he is away through the weekend, signals the shift from Sterling to Draper versions of the day.

Of course, Roger’s original plan was a different kind of pairing. On the morning of Peggy’s Heinz presentation, he proposes the kind of “completely debauched...‘fact-finding’ boondoggle” which (as Don reminds him) once landed him in the hospital after playing with twins (“Long Weekend,” Season 2, Episode 10). Entreating Don to join him on a road trip to Plattsburgh—home of the Howard Johnson’s “flagship”—Roger imagines a decadent escapade for “a couple of rich, handsome perverts.” But Don, who as Bert says is still on “love leave,” has a different idea of “playing hooky”--not an upstate hook-up but a Long Weekend with his wife. He leaves Roger both mocking and pining for his partner’s uxorious passion.

As Roger then rendezvouses with his own Mrs. in a marriage long past the honeymoon stage, he braces himself for dinner with her “snooty friends”—an evening that turns out to include existential philosophy, psychoanalysis, and LSD. Shaping Mad Men’s perspective on the budding trend for “turning on” and “tuning in,” Jane looks more like a Star Trek Goddess from Planet Up-Do than a hippychick at a Human Be-in. (All of these references are slightly ahead of the show’s current date, signaling, perhaps, that time is speeding up pace the teenager in Pete’s class in last week’s episode). At dinner, Jane’s shrink raises the compulsion to repeat: “I have patients who spend years reasoning out their motivation for a mistake and when they find it out they think they’ve found the truth.” Yet, they “go and make the same mistake.” As Rob and I noted, this same repetition compulsion underlies advertising’s hidden persuasion. By offering us empty illusions of having our cake and eating it too (like the ludicrous idea that eating beans makes us “included”), advertising invites us to hunker down with our neuroses.

Still, dropping acid turns out to have a bigger impact on the Sterlings than any canned commodity could. After first writing off Dr. Leary’s invention as another boring “product,” Roger disregards his host’s advice, “Don’t look in the mirror.” The result is a series of hallucinations which culminates in Don’s ordering him to go to his wife “because she wants to be alone in the truth with you.” Having earlier received a kind of message in a bottle—“I’m Roger Sterling…PLEASE HELP ME”—Roger is ready to face the music even if “the truth” and “the good” are not the same thing. As they lie on the floor, gazing up into space, Mad Men captures the Sterlings’ truthiness through a  languorous crane shot. When they wake up the next morning, we worry for a moment that the acid was talking, not Jane herself--until she concludes that “It’s going to be very expensive.” Free at last (in an episode in which Joan, tellingly, makes no appearance), Roger is more than ready to embrace another costly divorce. If he is no better than the man who left Mona in Season 2, neither is he very much worse.

"Meanwhile," the Sterlings’ denouement coincides with a conjugal road trip that has Don almost panting for the excitement he felt at Disneyland.  When Megan worries about Peggy and Heinz, Don cajoles, “Remember California?” When she continues to demur, Don pulls rank: “I’m the boss. I’m ordering you” he says with a poke. Always ready to have his cake and eat it too, Don anticipates a “love leave” with a little labor on the side. But just as Peggy frustrated Abe with her focus on work, so Megan resists Don’s vacation vibe.  When she expresses her guilty sense of letting down coworkers, Don speaks to her straight from the phallus: “There has to be some advantage to being my wife.”

The road trip in other words, is saturated with signals of impending failure—my favorite of which is the way it harks back to the fabulous trip to Rome in “Souvenir”, including Don’s buying actual souvenirs for his kids. When Don says to Megan, “I got something for you” and then holds up a plastic back scratcher, can anyone miss how the man who took his first wife to the Hilton in Rome now expects his new wife to feel the magic of a HoJo’s in Plattsburgh?  (The contrast between Conrad Hilton and Dale Vanderwort is almost too cruel to emphasize.) Too late Megan’s mother reminds Don that his wife is allergic to gold alloy.

Vanderwort’s desire to roll out the “orange carpet” as muzak fills the air opens a scene that would be a surreal Study in Orange were Don himself not so tragically impervious to the irony. It is as though Don is reliving a childhood memory that neither we nor Megan can see (just as Jane can’t see Roger’s hallucination of a fondly remembered world series). When Don tells Megan with the straightest of faces, “The colors are bright and cheerful, the kids have candy, full bar for Mom and Dad: would you say it’s a delightful destination?”, it is momentarily unclear whether Don has simply collapsed the boundary of work and play or whether it isn’t after all him, not Roger, who’s been drinking the electric kool-aid—orange of course.  "It's not a destination," Megan tells him "it's on the way to someplace."

By now, we can see it coming: “You like to work, but I can’t like to work,” Megan reasonably complains. If he has so far been lightly insufferable that is nothing to how Don behaves when told he’s been inconsiderate. And what perfect timing! The giant serving of orange sherbet he insisted on ordering arrives just in time to become the edible emblem for every infantile wish he has sunk into this bad trip. Predictably, Megan (despite her chic coral dress) does not like orange sherbet which tastes fake, “like perfume.” The waitress, (knowing the actual value of a Ho Jo’s) takes it in perfect stride. But as Megan orders chocolate, Don visibly experiences himself as a rejected flavor of frozen dessert, accusing her of embarrassing him. When Megan shows us that she really is a good actress, shoveling sherbet in her mouth in a performance that unnervingly recalls the fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally we know that it is far too late to settle on another flavor. (This would be true even if Megan had not stumbled over the dreaded “m”-word asking Don about his [dead, prostitute] mother.)

What is clear long before the spat in the tangerine glow of a flagship motel is that Don’s fantasy of a wife at work has, for some time, conflicted with Megan’s desire for a genuine career. While he does not expect her to tell him “You’re my king,” Don craves her proximity as though she were his talisman--a living, breathing version of the good luck fetish that Peggy sees in the violet candies Don gave her before a winning pitch. When Megan calls Don “master” and reproaches him for making his every wish her command, she brings to mind the very archetype of 60s fantasy wives. “Far Away Places” thus leaves us wondering if Megan can make Don happy while freeing herself from the day-glo decanter he expects her to enter on demand. Does their relationship represent the enduring “love” that may be a real “cure for neuroses”? Or will some future episode find them alone in the truth together?

In making Don’s story a Study in Orange, Mad Men builds a not-so-subtle bridge between the kind of psychedelia for which one needs an actual sugar cube, and the dreams and illusions that come to us courtesy of an emotional world.  At some level we know that Don’s boorishness and foolery are all about guarding the fleeting happiness Roger has already lost.  Like his daughter Sally, this forty-year old man does not want his “vacation to end.”

But the episode is not only a test case for psychoanalysis and psychotropia. As we have said many times on Kritik, Mad Men has never truly been about the early 60s. The show’s first three seasons told a story in which the pre-counterculture 60s became a powerful metaphor for the post-counterculture era of today. Viewers have always known that those 1960s would come sooner or later; that even Mad Men's milieu of white middle-class privilege would eventually feel their impact. In this sense, “Far Away Places” is to some degree about the sublimation of a culture, not an individual psyche. That is to say, by lining up the drug culture of “turning on” and “tuning in” with the psychedelic kitsch of a world in which even state troopers wear ultra-violet accessories, Mad Men is leaping ahead to the story that Thomas Frank tells in The Conquest of Cool. This is the story of how 60s counterculture, for all its rebellious promise, was not only co-opted but co-opted precisely by hipster ad men (including quasi-outsider Jews like Mad Men’s new copywriter “from Mars”). As advertisers fell over themselves to market the same old products to youth-oriented consumers, the counterculture, like love, become another way of selling nylons.  

Or so says Thomas Frank. And perhaps also Mad Men. Toward the end of “Far Away Places” Don and Megan occupy the same position as Roger and Jane—only the camera leaves them before making any grand gesture of ascent. Megan says, “Every time we fight it just diminishes us a little bit.” When she gets up and tells him they have to go to work, they do. (Whereupon Bert’s call for a moratorium on the “love leave” may be all to the good and Roger, the only happy man in the episode, gets the last word).

But I prefer to end at the beginning with Peggy’s story: a “meanwhile” cordoned off from the rest by being told first. Peggy celebrates the defeat of failing with Heinz by taking herself to the movies: not The Naked Prey but Born Free, another 1966 film, but one more suitably centered on the return to the wild of a hitherto domesticated lioness. If this feels too neat, who knows exactly what Peggy is thinking when she makes friends at the movies. (I won't tell if you don't.) Peggy’s effort to be Don (playing his game of browbeating the client) doesn’t work because the “little girl” Don has running his office can’t embody what Don does when he pulls off that kind of stunt (see, for example, “The Hobo Code” Season 1, Episode 8, in which Don turns the act of pressuring a client into a full-blown sadomasochistic affair). 

It is a lesson learned for Peggy who, while she hasn’t yet mastered the difficult art of being a woman in a world made by and for men, has at least no special compulsion to repeat her mistakes. Abe, we hope, will stop congratulating himself for not being a “pig” or Peggy will, perhaps, fly solo again. If the counterculture comes to mean something at all for Mad Men, one suspects that she will be on its front lines. 

At any rate, that genie is out of the bottle.


Make A Comment


Anonymous said...

Wonderful examination of this complex episode. Thank you. Each episode of this series feels different from the others while continuing to look at the MM themes. The increase in complexity seems to match the increased speed of change. I noticed, I think (only one viewing so far) a difference between the men and women: Peg and Megan want to work but their men don't want them to. Jane wants to go to a party with her friends and take LSD but Roger doesn't. The men want things to be as they used to be, the women want to move with the times.

lilya said...

Looking over the pictures, it's amazing how well Megan fits into her surroundings at HoJo's--she is entirely orange to go with the turquoise & orange color scheme.

This time, the color matching of this episode is basically directly on the surface--as so many things this season, subtext becomes text--but the point is well taken, it's about fitting in, having a place (or perhaps, knowing your place, as in the case of Peggy). Here the orange dress and coat are meant to show the way Megan does *not* in fact fit into to the role Don is trying so hard to put her in, despite looking the part. I think it's important that the next time we see her, she is wearing black & white: again, things are a little more clear now, a little more stark.

Nabokov once wrote that the color combination of pink and blue for him signified "poshlost'"--something at the same time vulgar and banal--I think after this episode, it's turquoise and orange together, or maybe, just the orange sherbet.

Roger's LSD trip is one of the more awesome pieces of this series so far: since the episode is all about revelations (the truth of people), Roger's trip is not about snakes or multicolored lights, but about stepping outside himself. Thus the message to self: help me! Again, the letter arrives at its destination.

I loved that the hallucinations are done entirely via sound--in particular, the full jazz orchestra in the vodka bottle and the cigarette as a sax. Like Lacanian psychoanalysis, the point here is entirely about hearing--you can only hear yourself when your own words are repeated by someone else.

Unit for Criticism said...

Anonymous, thank you for comment and welcome to Kritik. We welcome anonymous posting but as you please to choose initials or name you make up. That way we don't have a number of different anonymous commentators on the same thread.

Stephanie said...

Great job, Lauren. Loved this episode...can't wait to watch it again. I'm enjoying the appropriately paced new episodes.


Jez B. said...

Very good blog and episode. But what about Peggy at the movies. I know you said don't tell but what is that about?

Lily said...

What about the theme of sex as power? Peggy didn't let her new "friend" kiss her but what she does could be seen as a form of agression/retribution toward men after having her passionate advocacy of her ad dismissed as inapppropriate by her male clients and colleagues. I loved the way she literally washes her hands of him! And Don once again physically pursues Megan and throws her to the ground (like he did in the lingerie scene) which In some ways establishes his dominance but also "reduces them" as she astutely points out.

Mrs. Harris said...

Grand merci for re-grouping and dissecting the psychedelic and all over the place episode! I also like very much your title for it “a study in orange” because it refers back to the mysterious M. Rothko’s painting in Bert’s office, which is as a Chekhovian rifle is now shooting… with its color…

A question: Do you think are Mike Gainsbourg (Ginsburg?) and Jane Sterling of the same age? Is there any connection between Jane’s otherworldly attire and his confession to Peg of his “marcian origin” ?

Mrs. Harris said...

thank you, Lauren, in advance .

Helena said...

Lily, I agree with you about Peggy and the movie guy. I felt she was taking control of him and the situation having lost control at work and been thrown off the beans account which in typical MM style was phrased oddly, 'you're off the business'. She'd been told off by Raymond from Heinz as tho she was a little girl. So, having been jerked around by men she decided to jerk around a stranger. At that moment, we hear Virginia McKenna in the movie say it's like watching our daughter on her first date and the scene climaxes, as it were, with a lion's roar. Which, now I think about it, was rather like one of the sound effects in Roger's trip.

Eleanor said...

I found Roger's LSD scene the most moving, as it modulated from surreal comedy through thoughtfulness and then a surprisingly tender breakup. (Though Jane only remembers it as trauma, something she'd forgotten and then has to try hard to remember.)

The episode suggests that sleep can help cure neurosis, almost as well as love. Peggy sleeps sweetly, alone on the couch, and when she wakes up her rage is gone. Roger & Jane fall asleep together & when they wake up they can move forward emotionally. But Don and Megan don't get any sleep, so you don't believe they've healed, although they look unbelievably rested when they show up for work the next day.

zina said...

MM functions constantly on parallelisms, mirror images, and echo effects. This episode struck me as doing that even more than the usual: the parallel between the two couples (Roger-Jane, and Don-Megan) have been underlined arguably since the announcement of the engagement in S4, and this season has been even clearer.

Characters constantly mirror each other at different times of their trajectory (Pete-in-the-suburbs as Don from S 1-3; Peggy-on-the-job-drinking-and-having-illicit-sex as the other Don from S1-3).

This episode, as you show Lauren, also quotes explicitly other episodes: "Souvenir", in a "second time as farce" sort of way; the events of "Long Week End" are mentioned by Don; Don wants to repeat the exhilaration of "Tomorrowland".

I would add a couple more : when Roger and Jane dance, it reminded me of "My Old Kentucky Home", when they dance together very tenderly at the end of the party, enviously watched by Don - this image brings together the beginning and the end of the romance. When Peggy washes her hands in the bathroom, it is the same image and she wears the same coat as in the Suitcase: she was there to help Don through his breakdown, but now she goes through her own alone (although, contrary to the Suitcase, she does not break up with her boyfriend).

This hall of mirrors quality of MM forces us as viewers to interpret and decide which parallel is the more telling and the more significant. As attentive viewers we have to make decisions constantly as to the importance of some elements (images, phrasings, colors), not in themselves but in relation to other parts of the show (present or past). I think that this choice on the part of the show adds considerable depth to the psychology of the characters, or adds "subtext".

But this subtext is to some extent undecided, or, to be clearer, we have to make decisions about its content; that may help explain the very animated, and sometimes heated, online conversations about the psychology, sometimes the pathology of the characters, their moral responsibility, etc. (I wonder if any other show generates so much discussion).

I think that we invest a lot in these melodramatic elements because we have to work and to invest time and energy to understand them. I wonder if the formal elements (parallelism and echo effects in episodes, and across episodes and seasons), by taunting us and tempting us to decipher them, are not an essential element of the cathexis of the show, that seems to me to be unusually strong.

Lauren said...

Thanks for these great comments and kind words. It was fun to write on this episode and reading these comments have made it more so.

Anonymous: yes, I think you're exactly right about the men; they don't have much to gain from change - this crosses over to one of Lilya's great comments - about the music - I had wanted to say some things about the music (a topic that often interests me) - one the songs that Jane and Roger dance to was all about being wrong for the times which I thought was ironic since I'm not sure that the mismatch between R & J had much to do with their age difference so that both in a way seem wrong for the times (she seems premature middle aged I guess which I suppose could be the effect of fast-moving times despite her "kinda-now-kinda-wow" clothes. Does that make sense?

Lilya: love the letter arriving at its destination!

Stephanie: Welcome (back?) to Kritik and thanks. I always liked Mad Men's slow pace but I agree that this season is stronger so far than some of last. What's working esp. well for me is something interesting going on with characters that enables the episodes to be quite moving--as I think the last two especially both were. I gather though that people have been writing about more happening in each episode and happening more quickly? (I haven't had much time to read anyone else's blogs - very busy semester!)

Jez B. you've gotten some great answers already - I'd like to continue hear what others think on the topic - I do have some thoughts but I liked hearing Lily's and Helena's more. what do you think btw?

Mrs. Harris: De Rien (Is your name perchance a reference to Joan's ex-mother-in-law btw?) I would say that Jane was quite young when she and Roger met in S2. So I think it likely that both she and Ginsberg are supposed to be in mid to late 20s. I suppose he might be a couple of yrs. older. I would not have put the two together had you not mentioned it but one thing that has always interested me about MM in general is the many characters who you're just supposed to know are Jewish. There have been two explicitly Jewish characters (Rachel and now Ginsberg) but many more whom you're supposed to guess or "know" are Jewish (according to Matthew Weiner that is in an interview I read in the NYT). I found that very interesting with Bobbie and Faye but less so with Jane whose original name (Siegel) was supposed to be the giveaway I guess (again referring to the NYT piece). And in this episode she thinks she must have been speaking Yiddish. So one thing she (apparently) shares with MG is Jewishness. Though he seems to want to distance himself from that ethnicity and perhaps even with being human. I suspect this will become more developed as these Jewish themes often do (most esp. in the great season 1 episode "Babylon"). Not sure if that is the kind of tie you meant though. Her Star Trek like 60s styling really was something though; and so different from Megan's chic clothes (the two different orange dresses and then the black one she changes into) from the same period.

I'll check back tomorrow for other comments and also zina... thanks again.

Sandy said...

An article about Howard Johnson's in the 1960s that might interest you:

cindy said...

One of the prevailing themes in Mad Men continues to relate to the show's title. The men are mad. Their madness takes the form of being chronically unable to be satisfied. In their desperate longing to be loved, have their masculinity validated and to find meaning to their life they reach out to women. The women are meant to complete them and assign value to them. Of course they cannot. In the end the women disappoint.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the serial marriages that Roger engages in. He can admire his second wife's beauty as she sleeps in their bed and simultaneously know he must leave. Whatever hope he had that she could "light up his life" rescue him from his emptiness has somehow gone which transforms the marriage into a trap he must escape.
Pete, too, is feeling trapped in his Cos Cob home. His wife now drives him to the station in a bathrobe and wears rollers to bed. Where in this is the message he needs from the prostitute "you are the king." Now he has a child, who also appears to offer him no solace. Another mad man.
Don appears to be in love with Megan. But his narcissism forces him to ignore the fact that she might want anything in her life beyond him. He needs her to lose her commitment to the team, deny her own ambition and get lost in his HoJo fantasy weekend. And he wants to make a baby with her. Yes, it will assure him of ownership and remove the problem he has with her love for work competing with her love for him. Ah, but then out come the rollers and the bathrobes and the neediness and gone is the independent and elusive trophy wife. No,he tried that with Betty and we saw how that worked out.
I do not overlook the plight of the women but the name of the show is after all not Mad Women.

Mrs. Harris (the mother) said...

this is a little off flight :
since you are all referring to the "Souvenir" episode, I wish Betty stayed in Italy and worked as an interpreter/translator or as a flight-attendant...she would have had her own life finally...

apologize for my pedestrian "womanly" comment

Eleanor said...

This very interesting discussion makes me realise that Ginsberg's Jewish = Martian comment is echoed in Jane's star-trekky = Martian get-up.

Jez B. said...

I liked the comments that Helena and Lily made too but want to hear what you think anyway (if you can). Good comments from a lot of people on this blog.

PA said...

Great article. Don't quote me on this, but I think the colour orange is also associated with gluttony. (If that is correct...) how perfect is it that Megan would shovel the orange sherbet down her throat? Which physicalizes Don's gluttonous appetite for her/to dominate her. Even to the point where he won't let her go and see her family (which I found so interesting as they made a point of mentioning twice that the HoJo was only 1 hour away from her parents house).

I didn't know that Jane was Jewish until this episode. What a great point of the parallel between the Star-Trek outfit and Ginsberg's Martian identity!! Much more astute than my original thought on seeing her (Liz Taylor in Cleopatra).

Rob Rushing said...

I don't have a complete thought here, but I was struck by Michael's "martian" comments, mostly because he presents them not as an allegory, but as the literal truth. The overall effect is that there is something quite literally "other worldly" about his comments—they come from a "far away place" and take Peggy to another far away place. We know that he is not a "real Martian," of course, but I think in many respects he understands himself as a "stranger in a strange land," to cite the title Heinlein's hugely influential 1961 science fiction novel about Valentine Michael Smith, a human who is raised by Martians and returns to Earth to discover how very different he is. (One might also think about My Favorite Martian (1963-66), or even where Roger and Jane end up—namely, Lost in Space (1965-68), the many shows that sketched out our futures in the 1960s, including the big one about "far away places" that should be appearing soon, Star Trek.) The show has always had a curious "science fiction" element to it, from the "Tomorrowland" that closes last season, to Ken Cosgrove's otherworldly parables, to Jane's galactic garments. If the common mistake about Mad Men is to think that it's a show about the past when it's really speaking about the present, perhaps one should stop and consider how much time it invests in thinking about the future. You grok?

Helena said...

PA : Agent Orange!

John M said...

Hello. I think we also knew Jane was Jewish, or probably Jewish, because of her diminutive cousin (I've forgotten his name) who worked at SCDP as a copywriter last season. In The Suitcase, Harry chides him for complaining about paying for tickets he himself got free, 'You're such a Jew.' to which the cousin replies, 'You're the Jew.'

Someone upthread, or perhaps it's the main article, mentioned that Don and Roger both live out childhood memories in different ways here. The Heinz man does too: 'I have that memory,' he says about Peggy's beans beach party concept, 'That's for me, that's not for young people.' Peggy's maybe reliving something as well: 'Young people have memories too. In fact, she and Abe, with whom she's just had an argument, got together after a trip to the beach.

Lauren said...

Sorry took so long - a v. busy weekend.

Eleanor 4/24 (I think we may have two Eleanors posting); I like your thoughts on sleep, esp. re Peggy who less haunted by sleep than the more "guilty"

I'm also intrigued by your finding the breakup of Roger/Jane moving. I think I dislike Roger more than many viewers do. I find him sadistic as well as selfish and narcissistic (the usual Mad Men profile as Cindy's remarks emphasize). Though it clearly was moving for him it felt to me like two empty people growing weary of no longer enjoying their arrangement of using each other with him (because he's the meaner one) positively elevated by the chance to move on and her (because she's the less mean but somehow shallower one) assenting so long as the money is there. But I guess that is a fairly limited view of Roger and I know that some people really value his dapper style and sharp sense of humor. He clearly matters to the show's creators as he is hardly ever not in an episode.

Zina - thanks as always for your illuminating thoughts. I like and agree with what you say about the cathexis. I'd add that there can't be too much melodrama (or at least not for me) because it's also important that these characters were first rendered in realist terms and continue to be realist characters even as the narrative gets more experimental in certain ways. Too much melodrama, I think, and you end up with the later seasons of Big Love (a show I liked more at the beginning but have by now seen almost through the end of the final season). At that point if you're still cathected its to what's going to happen and how that will feel rather than (also) what impact will those events have on this character on behalf of whom you are vicariously experience these events. Does that seem right to you.

Sandy - thanks for great HoJo link. It made me realize (as I think our own captures did as well) that there is a real residue of modernist elegance to this psychedelic kitsch moment as well--whatever that structure is, it's not a big box!

Lauren said...

Jez B. you started such an interesting conversation on Peggy at the movies - I'm not sure my "theory," such as it is works as well as the ones already suggested by Helena and Lily. But here it is for what it's worth: I am tempted to see it in terms of Freud's theory of the fetish (alluded to very obliquely in the post) which is one of the things I most value in psychoanalysis (because I think it's entirely true). Freud makes the fetish about disavowing the possibility of loss. The thing you fetishize makes you feel like you can have it all because it stands for (by blocking out through the particular defense of disavowal) all the things that might possibly be lost. For Peggy the violet candies stand for the power (borrowing from Lacan we might call it phallic power) that Don persuasively wields when he's in the situation of the pitch. After she fails to impersonate him with Heinz even despite having her violet candies nearby the reality that sinks in is a certain kind of loss that is to with her gendered situation (this is a lesson she learns many times over the course of the show--her version you might sight of the repetition compulsion). The guy at the movies finds her attractive and finds the situation exciting and makes a move. But she doesn't want a full-blown sexual affair. I think she is coming to terms in her own with the loss of the phallus - and as the Born Free dialogue says, "it's going to be okay."

PA/Helena - gluttony - agent orange indeed!

John M. you are talking about Danny Siegel (also Jane's name before marriage). And yes absolutely about the Heinz guy - I would have liked to have said more about how his own identification with the proposed ad mapped on to what I was trying to say about advertisers falling over themselves (in a purely instrumental way) to appeal to the youth market. It's almost as though because the ad makes _him_ feel something (which according to Don is what makes good advertising sell products) he suspects that this can't possibly be capturing the youth zeitgeist. He says something like: Stop giving me what I ask for and give me what I want!

Thanks again everyone for kind words and great comments.

Jez B. said...

Interesting. Thanks.

Helena said...

Lauren, very interesting. I was wondering whether the mentions of ok-ness was a reference to transactional analysis? I'm ok, you're ok was published in 1967 but perhaps it was being discussed a little earlier?

Raymond's cry to Peggy to give him what he wants not what he asks for reflects many characters' complaints to their partners. Many of them want to be heard: how could Roger not hear an invitation to take LSD? Michael wants to find others like him while his father says 'I see you' and 'I'm the original'. It's also a spin on a theme last season about the conflict between what we want and what others think we should do/be, especially for the women.

Lauren said...

Thanks, Jez B. and thanks Helena. Funnily enough I made mistake in what I typed above: not a Freudian but a Lacanian slip! I had intended to say that Peggy is "coming to terms in her way with the loss of the fetish"--by which I meant that she realized her fetish didn't work and was moving on (perhaps to work toward that effective way of being a working woman that she's been striving to find all along. If you're a real Lacanian then the phallus and the fetish are the same thing but I didn't intend to write that she was "coming to terms...with the loss of the phallus" simply because it feels too close to me to what is most dated in Freud: his belief that all loss goes back to castration anxiety. In any case, thanks for liking this theory nevertheless!

I agree that the conversation between Michael and his father was v.interesting. My chapter in our book is about these themes of exile and strangeness in a strange land and I think this element of S5's storylines may entail an interesting twist on or revisiting of these themes.

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