Friday, October 31, 2008

We Interrupt This Carnage

Granted, the special effects are dated and the sequels kinda sucked, but for my money, this plausible "explanation" scene of an implausibly hellish situation from Night of the Living Dead, using news broadcasts, is still one of the best.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008


I found Barack Obama's multimillion television event quite interesting. I didn't realize that he could hold two times his own weight in water.

Oh wait, that was the ShamWow infommerical.  My bad.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In the Red

Much like the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis which serves as the connecting motif running through Mad Men’s finale, Meditations in an Emergency, the second season of the Emmy winning show ended with a whimper, not a bang. As opposed to an explosive, crash and burn cliff-hanger type finale, three distinct "emergencies" were presented in an episode that provided the audience with a soft landing from the previous outings. These emergencies included: the aforementioned Cuban Missile Crisis, the takeover at Sterling Cooper by British ad agency, Putnam, Powell and Lowell, and Betty discovering that she’s pregnant while still trying to sort out her marital woes with Don.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, Mad Men deliberately uses color to delineate the feelings and motivations of cast members at a given point in the story. Red seems to be particularly significant in denoting when someone is experiencing a strong yearning to fulfil some unrequited need. Black, on the other hand, would seem to indicate a pragmatic resignation by a character, consciously or not, that some aspirations just aren't attainable. This is consistent with the show’s logo in which the word "Mad" is in red, while "Men" is black. By implication, the "madness" that afflicts different characters at times, is an outgrowth of some deeply felt internal void and made manifest for the audience by the prominent display of the color red. Whereas black often indicates the other side of that continuum.

An example would be the two gift boxes presented in The Mountain King. In a flashback from a previous Christmas at Anna's house, Don excitedly tells her about meeting Betty. In the background can be seen a gift box decorated in red ribbon. At the end of that same episode, Betty, who is now suffering over martial woes with Don, gives her daughter a gift that's curiously wrapped in black ribbon. It's also at this point where we get the first hint about Betty's pregnancy.

In the very first scene of Meditations in an Emergency, on a wall at the office of Betty’s doctor we see a painting depicting a fawn and it's mother (an analogy for Betty's situation). The exam room Betty sits in is dominated by black colors. She clearly doesn't want this baby. Betty and the doctor talk in code about other "options." However, the doctor, holding her hand, unconvincingly tries to dissuade Betty from pursuing these options just yet.

After his three-week disappearance, Don reunites with Betty at her riding club. Wearing black, she seems to be inviting a miscarriage by deliberately disobeying her doctor's orders about equestrian sports. Don confesses to his infidelity. Betty's ironic reply, "At least I'm not crazy," doesn't completely jibe with her behavior in past episodes. And certainly not what she will do in this one.

Back at SC, Pete, still showing signs of the newfound courage he displayed in The Mountain King, and after some encouragement from Peggy, admits to Duck's about losing the Clearasil account. Duck, who is wearing a red tie, seems to be falling in lockstep with the culture of the new British owners by using terms like "sticky wicket" to describe Pete's situation with his father-in-law. Luckily, the Clearasil account would be in conflict with one of PP&L's current clients. So, it's loss turns out to be a moot point. Duck expresses approval of Pete's “loyalty.”

Don watches a televised speech by John F. Kennedy that introduces the Cuban Missile Crisis into the storyline. The next morning, Don returns to the office in a wet overcoat. While this is ostensibly due to having just come in from a thunderstorm outside, it also could refer on a symbolic level to the global storm they all face or Don's baptism in the ocean at the end of The Mountain King wear he is reborn as Don Draper. Now consigned to an existence he had contemplated abandoning, Don, in contrast with Duck, is wearing a black tie. Peggy, who confides to Pete later in the episode that she has realized the costs associated with success, is wearing a black and gray outfit that conspicuously matches Don's.

Pete goes into Don's office and complains about being abandoned in California. Don, still a good pitch man, congratulates Pete for passing his "test." On a shelf behind Don is a globe. This is a new addition to his office decor. Later, when Don goes to Roger's office to discuss the merger, a cross is visible through Roger's window. Both of these touches reinforce the issues of worldly and supernatural concerns that underscore the major themes presented in Meditations in an Emergency.

Regarding the tension in Cuba, Don tells Roger, "We don't know what's going on." The junior executives at SC act out their own panic but seem more concerned over the implications of the merger than they do about the Russian threat. At one point, Ken, Sal and Paul are trying to watch a news broadcast but, ironically, can’t get the television in Harry's office to work. After hearing that the Soviets had fired on U.S. ships, Ken, pounds on the television exclaiming "Fix it!" Ken is referring to the poor reception, but his statement has a double meaning that also reflects his exasperation over the global situation. There's a nice moment when we see that SC’s “head" of television can’t fix his own. Just as world operates in the dark regarding Cuba, so are SC employees groping about for answers concerning their professional fate. They get Lois the switchboard operator to admit to hearing about "redundancies,” an English term for layoffs, in phone conversations among top brass.

Panic over the Cuban Missile Crisis is also on display when Betty visits her hairdresser. In curlers and wearing a blue smock salon, she lights up a cigarette as she waits her turn. The sight of an expectant woman smoking was a common thing in the 1960s, but has a somewhat jarring affect on our current sensibilities and reinforces the idea of Betty wanting to end the pregnancy.

Betty drops the kids off at Don’s hotel room for a visit with their father. As she drops them off, it’s notable that the daughter is wearing a black hat and a grey sweater. This seems to suggest Betty’s emotional downturn. The son, a stand in for Don who hopes to reunite with his family, is wearing a bright red sweater.

Outside, Betty passes by a department store display window. We see her visage reflected between two mannequins. One is wearing a red outfit and the other blue. At this moment, she is being given a choice between the pursuit of her urges (the red outfit) or to stay within her life of suburban domesticity (as represented by the blue outfit that’s similar in color to the blue smocks worn at the beauty salon).

Deciding on the former, Betty enters an upscale cocktail lounge and sits at the bar. It's not long before she is approached by a handsome stranger. Like Betty's nails and lipstick, his drink is red. The two end up having sex on a plush leather sofa in a back office of the lounge. The use of the couch, another familiar device on Mad Men (and referenced in the opening credits), suggests that the tryst is an emotional nadir for Betty. This also can be juxtaposed with the couch at Betty’s psychiatrist's office in Season One where she underwent a more traditional form of "therapy." After the encounter, probably intended by Betty as a form of penance for Don, her usually vivid red lipstick is all but rubbed off.

Peggy and Father Gill (wearing a black jacket) discuss nuclear war and god. Gill threatens Peggy with the possibility of damnation if she doesn't confess her sin. While he's severe and dogmatically correct, Gill isn’t portrayed as the stereotypical raving theist. Nonetheless, as she has all season in these matters, Peggy politely puts him off.

Back at their apartment, Pete watches Trudy packing as she readies to go stay with her parents until the Cuban situation blows over. A more hard-boiled Pete, who, educated about missiles from his trip to California, doesn't see any point in running.

Back at SC, Ken, Sal, Paul and Pete once again discuss the impending merger. Pete, not divulging the news of his promotion, is warned by one of the other execs about the hanging of "loyalists" by the "new regime."

Inspired by this, Pete tries to form an alliance with Don by telling him about merger (which Don doesn't let on to already knowing about). Referring to the missile crisis, Pete offhandedly comments that because the U.S. took a stand, the Soviets seemed to have backed down. Now Don is the one who is inspired as he takes a stand during his first meeting with PP&L. Duck, Roger and Bert are also there.

Duck, feigns surprise at his promotion. He outlines a bold new vision for SC that's rooted in selling media time not creative strategies. Don balks and threatens to quit. Duck informs Don that he'll held to the terms of his "contract." To Duck's surprise, Don reveals that he doesn't have a contract. Looking like an angry Nikita Khrushchev at the United Nations beating his shoe on a desk, Duck has a temper tantrum and pounds his hand on the conference room table before storming out himself. While neither Don nor Duck are wearing red ties in this scene, one of the PP&L representatives sitting between them is prominently wearing a red bow tie.

Heading back to his office, Joan tells Don that Betty has called for him to come home due to an emergency. He pointedly leaves his briefcase behind. This suggests his true desire to focus on his family rather then the work persona he’s created.

Pete and Peggy have a heart to heart. Pete declares his love for Peggy (a red picture is visible above her shoulder from Pete's viewpoint). Though it’s not exactly what he had in mind, Peggy honors Father Gill’s request by confessing to Pete that she had his child and “gave it away.” She tries to lighten the blow by pointing out that, as the mother of his child, she could have trapped Pete “forever.” This further links the Don and Peggy characters in that Don uses the word “forever” in a letter to Betty apologizing for his indiscretions. In both cases, the term is used to describe their ideal view of relationships. As mentioned above, Peggy also admits that “wanting” her career hasn’t proved nearly as satisfying now that she has achieved it.

The last shot of Pete shows him in his darkened office holding a rifle as if he were standing guard against the world outside. With Trudy, he seemed resigned to whatever fate had in store for him. However, it’s now as if he’s found something to live for.

Don returns home with little fanfare. He sits quietly with the family watching television. Later, referring to the kids going to bed, a helpful Don tells Betty that they "finally went down." On the radio, we hear signs that the Cuban crisis is subsiding (the Russians have backed down). Betty informs Don of her pregnancy. Both their reactions are complicated. While it’s an emotional moment, neither seem overly excited nor saddened. Not unlike the first scene in the doctor's office, Don, resigned to the reality of the situation, finally reaches out to hold Betty’s hand.

Fade to black.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

To "B" or Not To "B"

The moral of the story:
If you look into a mirror to carve a letter in your face, do an "O," so it won't turn out backwards.

From Today's AP:

Police: McCain volunteer made up robbery story

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A McCain campaign volunteer made up a story of being robbed, pinned to the ground and having the letter "B" scratched on her face in a politically inspired attack, police said Friday.

Ashley Todd, 20-year-old college student from College Station, Texas, admitted Friday that the story was false and was being charged with making a false report to police, said Maurita Bryant, the assistant chief of the police department's investigations division. Police doubted her story from the start, Bryant said.

Todd, who is white, told police she was attacked by a 6-foot-4 black man Wednesday night.

She now can't explain why she invented the story, Bryant said. Todd also told police she believes she cut the backward "B" onto her own cheek, but did not provide an explanation of how or why, Bryant said.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gory Gourds

Actual jack-o-lanterns carved by Ray Villafane. It just can't be as easy as it looks:

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Alterman vs. Hitchens

Too bad the presidential debates weren't this interesting:

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Couch Trip

Episode 12 of Mad Men, "The Mountain King," is a not too subtle homage to Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Both Gynt and Don Draper find themselves on frustrating quests in search of their true identities. Gynt compares himself to an onion that has many layers but is ultimately empty. In TMK, Don similarly confesses to being able to see his life, but can’t “get into it.”

The title, "The Mountain King," refers to a musical number from Peer Gynt, "The Hall of the Mountain King," that accompanies a dream sequence. This parallels Episode 11, “The Jet Set,” which I argued was also a dream. In Gynt’s dream, he meets the Troll King and falsely claims to be royalty in order to win the hand of the king's daughter. After the truth comes out, Gynt escapes. This is not dissimilar from Don’s experience with Count Willy and his daughter Joy (symbols of royalty who accept Don based on the false front he’s presented). In a way, it’s also not all that different from what Don is going through with Betty (who also comes from a more pedigreed background).

TMK's slow, methodical feel plays out in a restrained manner that belies the number of dramatic storylines contained within. Setting the stage for next week’s finale, the centerpiece of the episode, Don’s encounter with the ORIGINAL Mrs. Draper, is revealed both in real-time and through wistful flashbacks.

The episode begins with Betty finding her daughter Sally smoking in the bathroom. Upset, Betty, follows typical child disciplining techniques of the 1960’s, and locks Sally in a closet. As in the Sopranos, the children suffer as much or more of the emotional fallout from their parent’s dysfunctional lives. Sally pleads with Betty to talk to her father while standing next to Don’s suitcase (a commonly used allegory in Mad Men for one’s life) which Betty has left in that same closet (Don's in trouble too, after all).

Inside Peggy’s cramped office, distracted by the noise of the copy machine, Peggy, Sal and Ken discuss strategy for the Popsicle account. They visualize the “ritual” of breaking a pair of frozen Popsicles apart and even compare the act to sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church. Something that must truly hit home for Peggy. It also serves as a metaphor for a number of other “break-ups” taking place in TMK: Don and Peggy, Roger and Mona, Pete and Trudy, Paul and Sheila, Bert Cooper and his company.

Bert Cooper meets with his sister, Alice Cooper (that's right, Alice Cooper), to discuss the sale of SC that Duck Phillips had engineered in “The Jet Set.” Interestingly, Alice, ignoring the ritual of removing her shoes when entering Bert’s office, clearly seems the "boss" in that relationship. She is also more enthusiastic about the sale than Bert. Alice tries to alleviate her brother's concerns by pointing out that he’d be able to do other things such as spend more time at his home in Montana. She jokingly alludes to the fact that Bert “ruined the architect’s life” during its construction. Given that Bert has been established as a devotee of Ayn Rand (in fact there’s even something Randish about Alice), this is almost certainly an homage to Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” about visionary architect Howard Roarke who would not sell out his principles and is “ruined” by media mogul Gail Wynand. Bert makes it clear in this episode that he’s ambivalent about “selling out” his life’s work.

We first see Don (now going by his real name of Dick) getting of a bus. Instead of a fancy suitcase, he carries his belongings in a plain shopping bag. He approaches the house of the person he called at the end of “The Jet Set.” Inside, we can hear “The Hall of the Mountain King” being played inside. We’re then abruptly taken into a flashback that picks up where a previous flashback from "The Golden Violin" had left off. Having confronted Don at the used car dealership where’s he’s a salesman, Anna, the widow of the real Don Draper, gives Dick hell over the theft of her dead husband's identy. She’s disabled and it’s clear that her marriage to the real Don Draper was loveless. He, apparently, preferred her sister. The flashback ends with the two seeming to reach a happy stalemate. From there, we flash forward to Don’s visiting Anna after ditching the aeronautics conference. Anna teaches piano lessons and its one of her students who is playing the Peer Gynt piece, “The Hall of the Mountain King.” Don is clearly showing sings of distress and Anna takes him in.

At this point, it’s worth noting that the color red seems to have special meaning Mad Men’s universe. Red is prominently used in the color scheme of the show’s opening. It’s also the color used for the word “Mad” in the Mad Men logo. Whenever the needs, desires, ambitions, or yearnings of a character are evident, they seem to be accompanied by a red design element. Consider in “The Jet Set” where red flowers were visible behind the bar as Don is approached by Joy. Or the red lamp shades, table clothes, and waiter jackets that surround Duck during the lunch meeting with where he makes his big play to take over SC.

And so it is in TMK. The color red is prominent on the artwork Peggy, Sal and Ken use to pitch their "Take it. Break it. Share it. Love it" campaign for the Popsicle executives. Peggy describes how her mom would break a Popsicle in “equal halves” for her and her sister. This seems an important, if unreal, idea for Peggy, who must feel less favored in her mother's eyes than her sister, Anita. The sister reference also arguably refers to Anna, who doesn't see herself as the equal of her own sister. The client notices something “familiar” in the drawing of the mother in the ad mock up. It seemed to me that the mom looks pregnant.

This would certainly relate to Pete and Trudy’s storyline that depicts the couple’s standoff over the question of adopting a child. Pete has been told by his mother that she would cut him out of the will for “watering down” the Campbell name. Pete and Trudy have particularly raucous argument about it in their apartment, which ends with Pete throwing their chicken dinner over the balcony and onto the street far below. Just as another Pete, Peter Keating, traded in his integrity for success in The Fountainhead, it also the case that Mad Men’s Pete similarly settled by marrying into Trudy’s wealthy family. However, jettisoning the "chicken" may be symbolic of the new found courage Pete displays when he calls the bluff of his meddlesome father-in-law, Tom Vogel, after the latter threatens to cancel the lucrative Clearasil account because Pete won’t acquiesce to Trudy’s demands.

Later, Joan and her young doctor fiancé, Greg Harris, are in bed. Joan initiation of sex angers Harris who is seems intimidated by her wealth of "experience" in such matters. The Day the Earth Stood Still plays on a TV in the background. Part of me wondered if this is a blatant product placement for the remake, that features Jon Hamm, due out in December . However, it’s also worth noting that the scene used shows Patricia Neal who also was the love interest in the film version of The Fountainhead.

As he has for the past number of episodes, Don is shown lying on a couch. This extends the imagery from the opening credits of a falling figure who, in the end, turns out to be sitting on a couch. Anna awakens Don with new clothes (also in a shopping bag). Don flashes back to a "divorce" discussion, he had with Anna after he first met Betty. Apparently, after the incident at the used car lot, Anna and Don had struck up a friendship. The exact nature of this relationship is unclear, but given Don’s personality, I can only assume that there was a sexual component. In order for him to marry Betty, Don has to end his paper marriage to Anna. Anna accepts the news surprisingly well. She’s used to being second choice and Betty will be, in a manner of speaking, her new sister. As stated earlier, Don’s recognition that Betty comes from a wealthy family harkens back to the engagement of Peer Gynt to the Troll King’s daughter under false pretenses.

A snarky copy machine serviceman inadvertently inspires Peggy to ask Roger for Freddy Rumsen’s old office. She is successful. Later, Peggy, alone in the office, sneaks a cigarette from someone's desk. I can't help but link it to Sally's smoking at the start of the episode. Both are, as the song said, "smoking in the boys room."

Joan brings Harris into the office, ostensibly to show off, and introduces him to Roger and Peggy. Always a sucker for the “wrong boy,” Peggy is impressed. Roger makes familiar small talk with Joan that the doctor picks up on. Outside of Don’s office, Harris indicates that he too wants to pretend to be Don Draper. What starts out as a flirtatious moment between them in Draper’s office turns ugly when it becomes clear that Greg has some definite issues with women. While being raped by Harris, a shocked Joan looks blankly away and in the direction of Don’s couch. Afterward, as they exit the office for their “date,” Joan conspicuously leaves behind her red bouquet of flowers. As is often the case in Mad Men, the transition to a subsequent scene relates to the action that has just occurred in the previous one. The very next shot after the rape is a sidewalk’s eye view that looks up the side of the office building. Metaphorically, this is what Joan would have seen after a fall, like Don in the opening credits, from a skyscraper.

The SC partners hold their meeting, without Don. All, including a reluctant Bert Cooper, approve the sale. The last shot of Cooper sitting alone, is reminiscent The Fountainhead where Gail Wynand, who after having selling out to keep his empire alive, spiritually dies (he actually commits suicide at his desk in the film version).

Later, walking back to Anna’s, Don is impressed by the sight of a couple of red sports cars. The men working on them offer to customize a car for Don that would look just like him. This refers to the scene from "The Golden Violin," where a Cadillac salesman comments that Don would be as comfortable in a Coupe de Ville (with red interior) as he is in his own skin. That Don is carrying a shopping bag, the symbol for his current life, suggests thats he's searching for some new purpose.

Peggy proudly moves into her new office. Prominently visible in a box she’s using to carry her things is a red thermos. A parallel between Peggy and Don is clearly being made. Her first act is to have the name changed on her office door. One of the jealous junior executives tells her that she should get a new couch. While this is meant to be a joke about Freddy’s bladder control problem, the symbolic implication of the remark is that the former copywriter’s metaphorical fall has damaged the couch. Interestingly, Joan seems sincere in her deference to Peggy’s new found authority.

Betty tries to make amends with Sally by giving her a present. Opening an unusually morbid and funereal looking box that's conspicuously decorated with black (not red) trim, Sally finds riding boots, the same as Betty wears. Betty then abruptly tells the excited Sally about her and Don’s marital woes. The young girl seems to recover a little too fast. At the end of the scene, Sally notices that Betty is bleeding. Presumably her menstrual cycle. However, sneaking a peek at the web teaser for next week’s finale, I read “Betty learns some disconcerting news.” That, coupled with the color scheme of the gift box and the fact that the last episode is titled “Meditations in an Emergency,” makes me wonder if this portents something more serious for Betty.

Of course, as Don says about Anna’s tarot cards immediately afterward, one can see what one wants to in “ink blots.” I found that an interesting choice of words given what the audience has just observed happening with Betty. The final scene has Anna reading Don's future as he fixes a chair. By mending a chair, an act that relates to Betty’s breaking of the dining room chair after learning of Don’s infidelity in “A Night to Remember,” seems to hint that Don plans to return home. It's also here that Don sees the book "Meditations in an Emergency" on Anna's shelf. Could this be another aspect of Anna's ability to see predict the future?

Anna interprets the tarot cards she's dealt for Don as judgement and resurrection. Anna tells Don that he feels alone because that’s what how he sees himself. His resolution corresponds to the one Peer Gynt arrived at regarding his own identify crisis. To find himself, Gynt needed to "to overcome" himself.

It’s fitting then that the song “Cup of Loneliness” plays in the background as Don walks into the ocean. His ritualistic baptism is accompanied by lyrics: “I see Christian pilgrims so redeemed from sin, called out of darkness a new life to begin.” This idea of “resurrection” was teased earlier with the aforementioned clip from The Day The Earth Stood Still, a film where, at the end, the lead character literally is resurrected.

As discussed above, I have my theories on what will happen next week. But there's still enough loose ends to keep me sitting on the end of my couch for next week's finale.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

You've Got to be KIDDING

I refuse to let the results of The New Yorker "Contest #164" get my goat!

I'll admit my entry was a bit weird:
Stay and I promise I'll control this feta, er, I mean fetish.

But the winners didn't exactly knock me down:
  • Come sweater season, you'll be back. - has me knitting my brow

  • You're the one who left your fertility drugs on the counter. - no weirder than mine, but not funny.

  • Could you bring me back a goat? - baaaaad

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

October Surprise

My reaction to the third presidential debate and McCain's scary performance in The House Next Door.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Factor for Kids

This is hilarious. Okay, the real O'Reilly interview with Barney Franks wasn't so homophobic or anti-Semitic and Franks' fingerprints are all over the Fannie Mae/Mac crisis. But the kid has O'Reilly's rantings down perfect. (h/t Feinsodville)

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Say It Isn't So, Joe

From the Toledo Blade:
'Joe the plumber' isn’t licensed
"Joe the Plumber" isn’t a plumber — at least not a licensed one, or a registered one. A check of state and local licensing agencies in Ohio and Michigan shows no plumbing licenses under Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher’s name, or even misspellings of his name

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nuclear Option

As usual, the Mad Men writers threw in a huge clue as to what the motif for Episode 11, "The Jet Set," was going to be during the very first scene. We find Roger and Jane sharing a bed in the swanky Sherry-Netherland Hotel. Jane is writing a poem about Roger that concludes: "You make me new with laughter. You make me old with wisdom.” After upwardly correcting Jane about the difference in their ages, Roger comments that he regrets their relationship has had the effect of making her “older.” She breathily replies that their souls are the same age. Chomping at the bit, Roger responds by proposing marriage. It’s unclear exactly when this conversation occurred because Jane’s reaction after the final scene in Don’s office with Mona and Roger from “Six Month Leave,” would seem to indicate that she knew about Roger’s intentions.

In any event, Jane accepts the proposal and remarks how the experience is like a “mushroom” induced dream from which she expects to abruptly wake up.

Both the mushroom and dream references seem to invoke imagery from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a story that itself turns out to be a dream the title character has while sleeping next to a river bank. In Chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar,” Alice is asked by a hookah smoking Caterpillar sitting on a mushroom who she is. Alice replies, “I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” This answer is a longer version of the same one that Don Draper will give when similarly questioned later.

The Caterpillar has Alice recite "You are old, Father William,” which contains the verse:

You are old, Father William,' the young man said,
And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head
Do you think, at your age, it is right?
Alice ends up eating some of the mushroom and grows to immense size. This tracks with the hotel room discussion regarding Jane growing older emotionally to catch up with Roger. The scene also foreshadows a similar dream-like relationship that is paralleled in Don’s storyline involving a different “Father William.” In addition to Alice in Wonderland, "The Jet Set" also makes a pointed reference to The Sound and The Fury, written by another “William,” William Faulkner.

The SC creative team, sans Don who’s in California with Pete for an aeronautics convention, lack focus as it meets to ostensibly discuss the Right Guard account. Ken cites statistics on Right Guard users (90 percent engage in sports) while the still closeted Sal, reading a copy of Playboy, chats about the previous night’s episode of Loretta Young with Harry. Taking charge, Peggy adjourns the meeting by stating that the Right Guard approach, “men being men,” is fine until the deodorant manufacturer decides to market a women’s product. On their way out of the conference room, Kurt, one of the two new creative guys (Smitty being the other) asks Peggy to join him for a Bob Dylan concert in Greenwich Village.

We first see Don and Pete by the hotel pool in California. The airline has misplaced Don’s luggage. This reintroduces the metaphor started in “Six Month Leave” comparing one’s life to a suitcase. From that standpoint, Don’s luggage being lost has both real and symbolic meaning. Pete clearly wants to goof off in the pool. But Don sternly tells him that there will be no swimming this trip (a pledge he himself will break). Don is reminded of his marital woes when he later sees what like looks like Betty sitting at a bar with a brunette (continuing the “Jackie/Marilyn” construct from “Six Month Leave"). It becomes clear, however, that the blond only resembles Betty after both women get up to leave. Interestingly, in a few key shots, the illusion is maintained by having January Jones, the real Betty, play her own “look-alike.”

It’s after this eerie encounter that Don is approached by a well-heeled sophisticate named Willy (the same name from the Alice in Wonderland verse) who asks Don if he's an actor or an astronaut. This turns out to be a ruse by the white haired gentleman (whose also has the title of "count") to introduce Don to a younger woman who will later play Jane to his Roger Sterling. She is not so subtly named “Joy.” After initially declining their invitation to dinner, Don, who orders an “old fashioned,” joins Pete at the bar where the junior executive begins to drone on about scientifically engineering man for space flight. This corresponds to Alice’s experience in Wonderland with the shape-shifting effects of the mushroom and a later attempt by a “jet setter” to inject Don with something after he passes out by their pool.

Back in New York, Roger has a distressing discussion with a lawyer about his upcoming divorce and impending marriage. Not soon after, Duck enters his office with a different proposal for Roger to consider. Duck thinks it’s time for him to be made a partner at SC. Roger questions Duck’s actual contributions to the firm and suggests that until he shows more profitable results, such a marriage is impossible.

Mad Men correctly shows how the space program’s altruistic goal to “land a man on the moon,” was inexorably tied to the nuclear arms race. At the aeronautics convention, Pete and Don attend a presentation by a firm that markets “multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles” (MIRVs). Launched from a single rocket, the MIRV releases a number of warheads that can strike several different targets. The slideshow includes a map of the USSR that depicts a number of cities being struck by a MIRV launch. Don's eyes glaze over as he focuses in on an image of a MIRV rocketing upward. It’s at this point where I’d argue that the rest of his encounter with the "jet setters" actually occurs in his mind. After the presentation, Don runs into Joy and, with a little coaxing, impulsively drives away with her to Palm Springs leaving Pete to fend for himself. She’s wearing a scarf with feathers that further suggests the idea of flight.

The pair end up at the swanky house of one of Joy’s friends. As they enter, Don is carrying Joy’s luggage. Returning to what suitcases stand for in Mad Men's universe, this suggests that Don is trying out Joy's lifestyle. Of her European friends, Joy tells Don that they’re "nomads" who, for tax reasons, are constantly on the move. It may be more than coincidence that in the late fifties and early sixties one of early liquid fueled rockets was named “Nomad.” I would argue that a deliberate comparison is being made between these "jet setters" and the MIRV jet propelled device which had mesmerised Don earlier. For example, Willy carries the title of "count" (countdown?) while his lady friend is named Rocci (rocket?).

Memories of Tony Soprano's spells come to mind when Don faints from heat exhaustion while talking to Joy by the pool. Reinforcing the notion that this is part of an elaborate daydream, the shot that follows Don's fall to the ground is angled in a manner that makes him appear to still be upright. This is also reminiscent of Mad Men's opening credits image showing a falling man whose turns out to be sitting on a couch. Don wakes up with a crowd around him. As mentioned earlier, a doctor named Klaus attempts to give Don an injection which he refuses. Thematically, this suggests that Don is not ready to be "reeingineered."

At dinner, Mexican food is served. While Don’s implausible claim to never have eaten Mexican food before is intended to set him up as an outsider, it’s clear that he has an affinity for these people. One of the dinner guests complains that she’d rather eat French cuisine because of a distaste for pig. This almost certainly refers to Don’s younger self as presented in “The Inheritance” who informs Betty that he “hates ham.” Conversely, at another point in the conversation, there’s a reference to the fact that, except for Don, the men in at the table don’t conform to Right Guard’s target audience of 90 percent who engage in sports.

The group is definitely fascinated by Don. It’s jokingly suggested that they thought he was a spy until a search of his wallet proved he was in advertising. Don laughs and replies with an irony that only he'd appreciate that his wallet may only prove him to be a good spy. This exchange struck me as a subtle homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. In that film, another ad man with an identity crisis, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), is mistaken for a spy named George Kaplan. As a result, he's kidnapped by enemy agents James Mason and Martin Landau. Trying to save his life by showing that he really isn’t Kaplan, Thornhill takes out his wallet and points to various pieces of identification. Unconvinced, Landau dismisses the documents and coyly replies that “they provide you with such good ones.” Indeed, much of the Palm Springs sequence and Don’s encounter with the nomads has a James Bond feel about it. Don is a well dressed intruder who's style and charm captivates his otherwise antisocial hosts.

The use of the MIRV imagery as a symbolic represention of the well to do jet setters noted above is further developed when they play a game called “places.” The point of the game is for each player to in turn quickly name a world city that starts with the last letter of a city named by the previous player. The list they shout out harkens back to the map of USSR targets that Don saw during the MIRV presentation. In fact, Odessa is both named during the game and visible on the MIRV slideshow map.

At SC, while Joan, Harry, Ken, Sal, Smitty, Kurt and Sal enjoy a delivery of doughnuts from a new client, Kurt reminds Peggy of their “date.” After some ribbing from the group, Kurt clarifies that he is a “homosexual.” This revelation surprises everyone. Especially Peggy in a classic double take. The team chuckles at the thought of Peggy in Greenwich Village amongst the “lions, and tigers, and bears,” invoking another “dream” story, The Wizard of Oz. This leads to a round of "homo" jokes, which, by locker room standards, is pretty tame, but nonetheless cut deeply into Sal. Bryan Batt's expression perfectly conveys his inner turmoil as the gay remarks are bandied about.

Duck has a lunch with two acquaintances from a British ad agency to inquire about possible job opportunities. The meeting isn’t going very well until Duck falls off the wagon and has a drink. Like Bryan Batt, the look of internal struggle that's visible on Duck’s face as he contemplates the cocktail glass is well portrayed by Mark Moses. The martini seems to get Duck back on his game and he proposes that the British firm should take over SC to get a foot in the door of the U.S. market. Duck points out that SC, rich in clients, is ripe for the taking. All they’d have to do is “change the welcome mat.” For brokering the deal, Duck wants a finder’s fee, the title of “President,” and having “creative” report to him. The meeting concludes with a toast to “old friends,” which has a dual meaning for Duck who’s dry spell has just ended.

In a scene that echoes the first one between Roger and Jane, Don, still in Palm Springs, awakes to find Joy reading William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. The novel, set just after the Civil War, follows the sufferings of a wealthy Southern family that can’t cope with the new moral order that replaces their once familiar world. Willy walks in on them. This is unusual enough for Don. But his discomfort is increased when it’s revealed that Willy is Joy’s father. Again, note the connection to the poem “Father William” recited in the mushroom scene from Alice in Wonderland.

Later, showing none of the self-confidence about men displayed at the Right Guard meeting, Peggy confides to Kurt that, like Judy Garland, her Wizard of Oz counterpart, she always seems to pick the wrong “boy.” Kurt feels that it’s a matter of style and offers to “fix” her. He starts the makeover by proceeding to cut off Peggy’s pigtail.

That night, in the pool, Joy makes Don an incredible offer. She and her father, who unlike Betty’s dad, likes him very much, will “take care” of Don by letting him into their exotic world of wealth, privilege, tuxedos, and dropping in on cities at a moment's notice. Joy sweetens the deal by suggesting that she won’t require Don’s fidelity (also unlike Betty). Don seems almost sold until another member of the group, Christian, who, like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, arrives late. With him are his children from a recently dissolved marriage. The sight of Christian and the children, along with the discussion of Christian's divorce proceedings, seem to remind Don of his own real situation and starts to snap him out of his dream. Referring to Don’s earlier drink choice, there might also be an element of "old fashioned" religious guilt involved by naming the late arriving parent “Christian.” Don's contemplation of his glass at the end of the scene reminded me of a similar moment from Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger where Bond likewise evaluates the pros and cons of his chosen lifestyle over a drink in the opening chapter titled “Reflections In A Double Bourbon.”

The very next scene, in fact, the very next line of dialogue, has Joan entering Duck’s office and, referring to his secretary (whose also named Joy), saying with multiple meanings that “Joy seems to have stepped away.”

Duck, clearly drinking again, pops a Certs in his mouth before approaching Roger and Bert Cooper about the proposed buyout. Duck, not repeating his remark about changing the welcome mats, frames it as a merger, NOT a takeover to the very receptive owners.

In another meeting room, Pete joins the gang as they watch a TV news report of civil unrest in Mississippi. This, incidentally, is where Paul Kinsey went with his girlfriend to register African American voters. The SC staff seem blissfully unaware of the fact that the world inside and out of their office is changing. Pete has brought with him a bag of oranges from California, which, as established in the Godfather films, conveys a sense of doom.

For the last time in this episode, Don wakes up. As with Alice, there's a body of water nearby. However, neither Joy nor the other jet setters are anywhere in sight. Don makes a phone call to someone from his previous life as Dick Whitman. After identifying himself as Whitman, he sets up a meeting. Don/Dick literally and figuratively borrows a page from The Sound and The Fury when he tears out the last page of that book to write down the address of the person he plans to visit.

The final page of The Sound and the Fury describes how one of the main characters, revolting against a world that, for him, has been turned on its ear, is calmed down by the illusion of a perceived return to normality. The last shot of "The Jet Set" shot shows Don’s suitcase being left at his front door. He is not there with it nor does Betty open the door to take it in.

Don/Dick's next journey would seem an attempt on his part to return to normality. However, unlike the title of the Faulkner book, and, with apologies to yet another William, William Shakespeare, from whose Macbeth that book's title is taken, this journey may signify a great deal.

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Monday, October 13, 2008


Google, always the iconoclastic poseur, chooses to ignore Columbus Day and recognize the 50th birthday of Paddington Bear. Yes, that was certainly an earth shattering event.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Secret Ballots?

Contributors to PostSecret chime in on the '08 election:

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

A REAL Change Candidate

After watching the two candidates all year, here's the guy I'm supporting.

Check out the video and don't forget to vote in November.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

A Thousand Words?

I get impatient when people constantly whine about bias in the MSM ("main stream media").

But, Newsweek's extreme, unairbrushed close-up cover of Sarah Palin, especially after a soft-focused one of Barack Obama (with halo, no less), does give one pause.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Wooden Carts and Candiates

My reaction to the second presidential debate and the moment I knew McCain was going to The House Next Door.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pop Goes the Weasel

The Smoking Gun had this report on the guy who hacked into Sarah Palin’s email account:

OCTOBER 8--A Tennessee man has been indicted for hacking into the e-mail account of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. David Kernell, 20, was charged with illegally accessing Palin's Yahoo! account "by researching and correctly answering a series of personal security questions," according to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. A copy of the indictment can be found below. After accessing Palin's account, Kernell, pictured at right, allegedly changed its password to "popcorn" and made
screenshots of the account's directory as well as certain messages, photos, and "other personal information."
Am I the only one who thinks it's hysterically funny that a guy named “Kernell” would use “popcorn” for his password?

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Trouble with Betty

My last post on Mad Men’s Episode 9, “Six Month Leave,” noted in passing that the two male-defined roles for women in that universe consisted of “Jackie” the stable homemaker, and “Marilyn,” the fun loving party girl, corresponded to a similar model, as represented by Annie Hathaway and Melanie Daniels, from Hitchcock’s 1963 film, The Birds. A similar Hitchcockian connection happens early in Episode 10, “The Inheritance.”

Realizing that their late family fortune has been squandered, Pete makes an offhand joke to his brother Bud about doing away with their mother. In doing so, he references Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope. Based on the real life Leopold and Leob murder case, the film follows a couple of college geniuses who, for kicks, carryout the perfect murder. Though Pete probably didn’t catch the implied homosexuality of Rope’s main characters, the fact that he compares them to he and his brother conjures up the first of what will be a few squeamish images in TI. This interesting and unsettling episode follows the further deterioration of the Draper marriage by exploring the theme of childhood regression and freely alluding to both Alfred Hitchcock films and comic book heroes.

The cartoon element is subtly introduced in the beginning when Pete reads to Don, Peggy, Sal and Paul a list of companies vying for aerospace contracts to meet Kennedy’s challenge of landing on the moon by the end of the decade. SC is sending Pete and Paul to a West Coast convention to meet with potential accounts and sell them on the firm’s ability to help them win NASA contracts. Paul comments that it’s always been his dream to fly in space. Which Don dismisses as “science fiction.”

Later, Betty informs Don, still barred from the house, that her father Gene has had a stroke. Betty mentions that she’s been dreaming of a suitcase. This evokes the image of the empty Samsonite (life) luggage from “Six Month Leave.” Betty and Don reconcile long enough to drive out to Betty’s childhood home. Gene, recently widowed, now lives with his new wife, Gloria. The memory of Betty’s deceased mom hangs in the air and haunts her as did two other dead Hitchcock heroines who tasked their respective male leads; Rebecca from the film of the same name and Vertigo’s Madeline. We also see that Betty has issues with her new stepmother, Gloria.

Mother problems are a staple element in a number of Hitchcock films as varied as Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie. At one point Betty stands in the library staring at a painting of her mother (not unlike a similar scene in Vertigo), when her brother William inexplicably enters the room through a rear window.

Gene clearly is not himself following his stroke. While Don, Betty, William (a childhood picture of him visible just behind his head), and Gloria make small talk in the living room, Gene continuously bounces in and out of dementia. At one point, Gene and Don work on a jigsaw puzzle. Ironically, Gene’s mental condition seems to help him solve part of the puzzle that is Don Draper. He correctly accuses his son-in-law of having “no people.” And in a particularly unsettling moment, Gene mistakes Betty for his late wife, and makes a pass at her by fondling her breast.

Later William and Betty discuss what needs to be done with him. In a remark that will prove significant later on, William cynically suggests that Don and Betty could afford to build a house for him in their backyard. Still putting on a show for the sake of her family, Betty and Don retire to Betty’s old room. He sleeps on the floor. In the middle of the night, Betty crawls off the bed to and initiates a sexual encounter. The next morning, Don, still on the floor (as Betty hasn’t yet taken him back into her bed emotionally), awakens to find his wife’s suitcase (a Samsonite perhaps?) fully packed.

Hitchcockian mother issues again rear up in the aforementioned plot involving the Campbell brothers, Pete and Bud. The two meet with their mother, Dorothy, to cosign some estate paperwork. Pete had mentioned to Bud earlier that, given the trouble he and Trudy were having conceiving, they had considered adoption. This isn’t entirely true, as Pete had only given it tepid agreement to heroically placate Trudy. Somehow, Bud leaked this news to Dorothy, who, not excited at the prospect of diluting the Campbell bloodline, threatens to write Pete out of the will.

Pete angrily gets up and leaves the table. The rough manner in which he puts the chair back is reminiscent of Betty smashing her dining room furniture in “A Night to Remember.” However, Pete chooses to smash his mother instead by informing her that her husband has spent the family fortune.

A subplot involves Paul Kinsey and his African American girlfriend, Sheila. Always the showman, Paul makes a display out of having Sheila visit him at work and even kisses her right in the middle of the office. During her visit, it’s revealed that Sheila plans for her and Paul to go to Mississippi and take part in an effort to register minority voters. Clearly disinterested, Paul uses the California trip as an excuse to put it off. Later, when Don decides at the last minute to make the West Coast trip himself, he instructs Joan to send Paul a memo telling him he’s not going.

At that moment, the SC office is having a “baby shower” for Harry Crane. The idea of childhood regression is further reinforced by the sight of Harry decked out in an over sized baby bonnet. Joan, who was clearly shown witnessing Paul and Sheila kiss and whom I suspect is angry because of that conspicuous display of interracial affection, embarasses Paul by breaking the news about his canceled trip to California in front of everyone rather than by memo. The last shot of Paul and Sheila is of the two of them making their way to Mississippi on a bus with other African Americans. Paul, in a hilarious display of White guilt, is shown defending the integrity of the advertising industry with the ridiculous argument that it’s basically a “Marxist,” and therefore color-blind, profession.

It’s worth noting that Mad Men’s producers must have close ties with NBC. Just as a number of Law and Order regulars showed up in Sopranos episodes, so has the cast of Mad Men and some NBC sit-coms cross pollinated each other. Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) played a potential love interest for Jill on The Office. And Aloma Wright, Laverne Roberts on Scrubs, appears in this episode as the old family maid who consoles Betty.

Finally, there’s a reappearance of Glenn, that weird kid from down the street, whose crush on Betty is more creepy than cute. After he's run away from home, Betty discovers him in the backyard playhouse. Because Glenn is wearing a Pan Am fight bag (Don is about to take airplane ride) and is later dressed up in Don’s clothes, one is lead to believe that he is meant to symbolize Don. But, I would also argue that Glenn could also be seen as a stand in for Betty's regressed father.

Besides the similarity of their names (Gene/Glenn), I go back to William's snide remarke that Don and Betty should build a house in their backyard for Gene. That is indeed where Glenn is found (a child's playhouse, but a house nonetheless). The scene with Glenn seems to suggest that Betty had seen in Don what she had hoped would be a younger version of her father. In the third, and most, awkward moment of this episode for me, Betty and Glenn watch television on the couch and hold hands. Glenn inexplicably tells Betty that he “doesn’t like ham.” This seems like a non sequitor. But from a symbolic standpoint, it could be Betty’s dad telling her that he doesn’t like Don who is played by Jon HAMM.

On the other hand, it's been brought to my attention that in a previous episode Don tells Bobbie that his father's favorite food was ham (h/t Feindosville). This would support the argument that Glenn could also be a younger version of Don who is trying to distinguish himself from his not so loving father.

Betty later flips through the comic books that Glenn has brought with him. On one of the covers we see Superman flying Lois Lane to safety. It’s almost as if Betty has been given a male's view of what a husband is supposed to be. Betty later has a conversation with Glenn’s mother where she reveals the facts about her and Don's separation. Betty states that she’d “float away” if Don wasn’t holding her down.

The last scene shows Pete and Don flying to California (Strangers on a Train).

Pete is wearing a sleeping mask. If the traditional husband's role in Mad Men’s universe is to be a sort of superhero for their spouse, then Pete’s mask certainly takes on a different meaning. The final shot of Don shows him looking out the airplane’s window as sunlight from outside works it’s way up his face. This suggests that his mask is one that he wears all the time.

While Don may indeed be a superhero, that doesn't seem to be what Betty is looking for. Perhaps she has chosen the wrong man.

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