Monday, September 21, 2009

Independence Day (Mad Men 3.06)

While it wobbles a bit with its wild storyline concerning the title character in “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency,” Mad Men episode 3.06, stops just short of going completely over the over the top. Roger’s dryly humorous remark near the end that someone has probably gotten their foot chopped off in an ad agency before is a subtle signal to the audience that plot has pushed the credulity envelop. Gene, the Draper’s newborn, continues to represent the new social environment which has arrived and to which the characters must acclimate themselves (Sally, most notably). The themes of progress and changing relationships are also explored.

Don calms Sally one evening when she can’t sleep. She’s afraid of the dark, she says. "I'm home now," Don says. "Nothing can hurt you."

Don, wearing a gray striped shirt (which could be prison clothes given that MM 3.05, "The Fog," established Don’s entrapment to domesticity) points out that while he isn’t Thomas Edison, he’ll get Sally a night light for her room. Later, one of the PPL executives visiting Sterling-Cooper is introduced as “Harold Ford” -- a variant of Henry Ford. Also, the riding mower Ken Cosgrove rides into the office is referred to as an “iron horse” which was a nickname for the first locomotives. Thus, the idea of progress (locomotives, light bulbs, automobiles) is presented throughout the episode.

The next morning, Lane announces that two executives from London will arrive the following day, coincidentally Joan's last at Sterling Cooper. Everyone will have to work on July 3rd, originally a holiday.

There’s a feeling among Roger and Don that the date of the visit from London was set to deliberately conflict with the Fourth of July. This sets up the idea that the old school “colonial” viewpoint represented by the PPL executives will certainly be challenged by S-C in GWIaAA.

Cooper orders Roger and Don to reconcile immediately with a trip to his barber shop. "Everyone wants Martin and Lewis" back together, he tells them.

While this ostensibly refers to Don and Roger’s strained relationship, the larger issue of leaving behind an established paradigm to move forward in the new one seems to be pointedly highlighted here. Later, when Don meets with Conrad Hilton, he looks at a proposed hotel ad layout featuring Jerry, the cartoon mouse to Tom’s cat, of the famous “Tom and Jerry” animated shorts. Significantly missing from the ad mock-ups (as Roger will be missing from the new S-C org charts) is Tom. This echoes Bert’s reference to the former team of “[Dean] Martin and [Jerry] Lewis.”

Ken roars into the office atop a John Deere riding mower, jubilant because he's just landed the account.

The mower is green. This is significant because the new social order that has arrived in Mad Men’s universe is represented by the color green as well as green landscapes (such as the bushes Sally drops her new Barbie doll into at the end). Ken, clearly ahead of the curve, seems to embrace change more quickly than the other characters by literally riding a symbol of it into the office. Another example of Ken’s adaptability is demonstrated when he is the first of the S-C staff to introduce himself to the PPL execs during their visit the next day.

BTW, Joan is shown on her next to last workday wearing a blue dress. The following day, ostensibly her transition to a “new” life, she’s wearing green.

Betty rests in bed with Gene. Bobby comes in to "pet" his new brother, but Sally refuses to approach the baby.

As stated earlier, Sally who had close ties to her grandfather Gene (the symbol of the old worldview) has trouble with her brother Gene (the new worldview). Also, the stains visible on Bobby’s shirt could prefigure the blood stains on Joan’s green dress seen later. Betty refers to Baby Gene as her "pig in a blanket." This would seem to be a nod to Don's often professed aversion to pork products and his sour relationship with Betty's father.

At Cooper's barbershop, Roger tells Don he doesn't like being judged. "We don't need to talk about this anymore. I promise," Don replies.

Foreshadowing Guy Mac Kendrick’s loss of his foot, Roger’s discusses his father losing an arm in a fatal auto accident. Much is made about the merits of a manicure. Roger even jokes about getting a pedicure further linking the idea of a manicure to Guy’s accident. Note also that one can refer to a lawn being “manicured” by a mower; the central motif in the episode.

That night, Betty tells Don about Sally's hostility toward Gene. Don, a twinkle in his eye, asks Betty if she'd ever want to live in London.

Don eats chicken salad in this scene. He’ll be offered (and refuse) a Waldorf salad during his subsequent meeting with Hilton.

Greg, drunk, wakes Joan when he stumbles into their apartment. He started drinking after being passed over for Chief Resident. Worse yet, "I had no brains in my fingers," Greg confesses.

Just as Don has to console Sally in the dark, Joan has to do the same for Greg. Joan even states that she’s eaten two dinners (or eating for two). This might be taken as a clue to a possible pregnancy. However, it certainly shows here how Greg has become a child relative to the mother figure of Joan. Their demeanor when Joan invites Greg to sit down and later offers to disrobe him has more in common with the dynamic of a parent and child than that of a married couple.

Also important is Greg telling Joan that poor surgery skills were his undoing. Later Joan will exhibit her own strong aptitude for medicine when she administers first aid to Guy after the mower accident.

The next morning, Londoners Guy MacKendrick, Harold Ford, and Saint-John Powell tour Sterling Cooper. Saint-John touts Guy's education and accomplishments to Don, Roger, and Cooper.

While getting ready for the visit, there’s an exchange between Hooker and Joan where Joan refers to the British Secretary of War having a penchant for prostitutes. John Profumo, the Secretary of War for Britain, resigned in June 1963 because of an affair with an alleged prostitute. This is certainly a jab by Joan at the sycophant “Hooker.” It also underscores the war-like state in existence between the two top “secretaries” at S-C (which is a microcosm for the conflict between S-C and PPL).

Two famous musicals about beggars which start out tragically yet have happy endings are referenced. Joan tells the execs that she has gotten them tickets to see the Broadway musical Oliver. More subtly, John Hooker offers to give the men a “three-penny tour” of the office. This may be referring to Three Penny Opera. While Guy’s accident is "tragic” for him (he'll never be able to walk into an advertising agency in quite the same way ever again), for the S-C employees it is certainly a “happy ending.”

It may also be deliberate that the character who is symbolically "mowed down" by change (the lawn mower) is named "Guy." This is another term for "man."

Harold and Saint-John greet Lane, congratulate him for trimming the fat and increasing billings, and present him with a taxidermied cobra. "For our snake charmer," says Saint-John. Lane is being transferred to Bombay. Guy will take over at Sterling Cooper, Saint-John informs the crestfallen Lane.

Lane makes reference to the PPL takeover at S-C as “Pax Romana” (a peaceful conquest). This was a term first coined in Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” the book which Gene and Sally were reading together. However, the Brits (who still maintain an outdated colonial mindset) will discover that their peaceful conquest of S-C isn’t exactly complete.

The snake Pryce receives as a “gift” relates to Don’s later admission to Conrad Hilton later that like a snake, he doesn’t think beyond his next meal. Pryce’s job indeed seems to be addressing one hot spot at a time. That India is Pryce’s next assignment correlates nicely with Britain’s colonial history.

Meeting with top staffers, Guy unveils a chart detailing the agency's "slight" reorganization. He will head a triumvirate that also includes Don and Cooper. "Mr. Sterling's not on that chart at all," notes Cooper. An oversight, Guy assures everyone.

The overhead projector continues the motif of trying to shine a light on the dark face of change. Again, just as Tom was left off of the “Tom and Jerry” Hilton ad, Roger is omitted from the new org chart. As pointed out by Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, once Don sees the Brit's disappointing new org chart, he doodles an American flag.

At home, Betty gives Sally a Barbie doll -- a present, she explains, from Baby Gene. Her brother wants to be her friend, Betty says. Sally somberly accepts the gift.

Sally clearly does not believe that Baby Gene gave her the Barbie doll. In the context of the story, Sally understands that a baby is not capable of such a feat. However, thematically, Sally grasps that a Barbie doll is more symbolic of an outmoded view of women than the new reality that Baby Gene represents. This doll will come represent something that Sally will, as Bert Cooper advises Roger in a different scene, has to let go of to get what she really wants (equality). Thus, if Sally is to be a female living in the new world, she’ll have to part ways with the old one. However, while this new world has much to offer, the old world, for all of its faults, is more familiar and comfortable. Hence, Sally’s fear of the dark and the light motif carried throughout the episode. It’s noteworthy that during the gift scene, Betty, who has brought change into the Draper home through Baby Gene, is shown wearing a dress adorned with green piping, rather than her usual blue outfit.

Back at Sterling Cooper, Guy offers a champagne toast to Joan, wishing her "caviar and children and all that is good." Joan starts crying, but collects herself. The afternoon is for celebrating Joan, Guy declares.

Again, Joan is wearing green. It’s also pointed out that she’s headed for “greener pastures.” The cake the secretaries get her is blue and decorated with a picture of cruise ship. Reminiscent of Season 2’s “A Night to Remember,” an episode dealing with marital woes, the ship on the cake bears a striking resemblance to the Titanic.

Roger complains to Cooper about being left off the chart. "I'm being punished for making my job look easy," he says. “We took their money,” Cooper says. "We have to do what they say."

Linking nicely with the Olivier and Three Penny Opera references from earlier, Bert could almost be reminding Roger that “beggars can’t be choosers.” There’s a certain logic to depicting Bert, the Ayn “A is A” Rand devotee, as the one more able to come to grips with the reality of the situation.

At Joan's party, a tipsy Smitty takes Ken’s mower for a spin. Lois gets on the mower after him, but has trouble maneuvering. The machine, lurching out of control, runs over Guy's foot and crashes through a wall. Blood splatters everywhere. Joan rushes to the shrieking man and applies a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

Peggy and Joan try to talk, but the roar of the lawn mower obscures their conversation. Their attempts to talk over the noise symbolically reflects that neither of them realizes that a new societal paradigm has arrived. The exhaust from the mower which causes Joan to cough suggests that this paradigm has a more adverse affect on her than Peggy.

Guy’s accident (and subsequent dismissal) assures that S-C somewhat severs the ties with PPL (for now) and allow them to maintain a level of freedom from the British company.

As mentioned above, Joan displays medical skills in contrast to her husband.

At the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Don greets Conrad Hilton -- the "Connie" he met at Roger and Jane's country club party. Connie shows Don a Country Mouse/City Mouse ad layout for Hilton Hotels and asks what he thinks. "I think you wouldn't be in the presidential suite right now if you worked for free," Don responds.

Prodded to give Connie "one for free," Don questions associating mice and hotels and makes a pitch for the Hilton account. Connie chides Don for not setting his sights even higher when "somebody like me" gives him an opening. "One opportunity at a time," says Don.

Like a snake that has already fed, Don, who in a previous scene has eaten chicken salad, turns down Hilton’s offer of a Waldorf salad. It being a “chicken salad” may also suggest that Don, despite his air of confidence, is afraid of changing situations. S-C is still more familar and comfortable for him. Hilton scolds Don for not seeing the bigger picture.

One of the hotel ad mock ups shows Jerry with luggage. Suitcases/briefcases are often used in Mad Men to represent a person’s life. It could be that the image of Jerry without Tom relates to the difficulty Don has in maintaining close relationships. This could also be a clue that, given Hilton's advice to "think bigger," Don may leave S-C. for a job with the hotel giant.

This may be too fine a reading, but its worth pointing out that Don’s approach to business, which he describes to Hilton as seeking “one opportunity at a time” (like a snake) is an outdated “transactional” strategy as compared with the “relationship” marketing approach that would become popular in the 70's and 80's.

From Organization Transformation:

Traditional marketing strategies focused on attracting consumers. The goal was to identify prospects, convert them to customers, and complete sales transactions.

The concept, called relationship marketing, refers to the development, growth, and maintenance of long-term, cost-effective exchange relationships with individual customers, suppliers, employees, and other partners for mutual benefits.
Connie's secretary interrupts the tête-à-tête. Don has an emergency call.

Don always seemed to be pulled away from important meetings with emergency calls from outside (such as with Sal in “Out of Town”).

At the hospital, Saint-John, Harold, and Lane arrive, thank Joan for her quick actions, and tell her and Don that after losing a foot Guy's career is "all over.” Lane will remain at Sterling Cooper.

Joan significantly buys a Dr. Pepper from one of the vending machines for ten cents. This, no doubt, highlights the choice she made in selecting “Dr. Harris” as her husband. That decision seems to have lost its value. Pointing to Guy’s blood on her green dress, she remarks that “it’s ruined.” Symbolically, this refers to Joan’s realization that the new world she had hoped to enter is no longer there.

Outside his front door that night, Don finds Sally's Barbie doll in the bushes. He puts it back in her bedroom. Moments later, Sally screams. Don comforts her, but she screams again when Betty walks in holding Gene.

Sally drops the Barbie (an old female construct) into green shrubbery. Sally would seem to be trying to let go of something to move forward and get what she wants.

Sally apologizes for waking Gene. Don lifts Gene out of his crib and cradles him. "He's only a baby," Don tells her. "We don't know who he is yet or who he's going to be. And that is a wonderful thing."

In the dark, Don seems to help Sally come to terms with Baby Gene and in effect embrace the change she has resisted throughout the episode. This would seem to be a positive step in her journey out from under social tyranny. However, when the original colonies won their independence from Britain, Benjamin Franklin was supposedly asked if they had formed a “Republic or a Monarchy.” His reply (which could apply to Sally OR the people at Sterling-Cooper): “A Republic, if you can keep it.”


RC said...

what a great episode - my favorite of the season so far!

Matt Maul said...

Episode 1 and Don's reaction to the Maypole dance that set the stage for the "green" motif is still my favorite. But this one is right up there.

BTW, I don't know if you saw this, but Basket of Kisses has a link to a great post by Amanda Marcotte where she compares lawn mower mishap to the Zapruder film of JFK's assassination. I TOTALLY missed the connection. But it's there. There's even a Jackie look-a-like in pink riding with Ken and waving to the crowd just before the accident.

Tom Drinane said...

Love your commentary.

I noticed, when Betty gave the Barbie to Sally, she had wrapped it in newsprint - specifically the Sunday comics section. I have done this, and seen it done (I remember Pete Seeger in a holiday special on PBS decorating regular newsprint with poster paints & using that as wrapping), but this does not seem to be Betty's style. Perhaps something left from Grandpa Gene (with whom she did not get along)? Just thought it interesting that someone clearly made the decision that Barbie would not be presented in store bought wrapping paper.

Matt Maul said...

Thanks for feedback Tom.

Yes, I did notice the comic strip wrapping paper. Because it's Mad Men we just KNOW it can't be accidental. Ostensibly it may be because Betty didn't have a chance to get wrapping paper AND a new Barbie. Or she wanted to continue the fiction that it was from Baby Gene. Thematically though, it struck me as Betty trying to keep Sally childlike (as in "read the comics instead of watching TV news broadcasts of monks in Vietnam setting themselves on fire").