Mad Men Watch: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Mad Men

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Michael Yarish/AMC

Fellow STERLING COOPER & ASSOCIATES,

Well, the art department is still stoned and futzing with the ampersand’s serif, but don’t let’s allow our lack of logo to distract from the pleasure of naming and being named. For we have now erased the living from our business cards; we have become who we are, and we are one.

For now. Loyalties around here are less steady than a pilot who accepts what Roger has Cathy send along. Colleagues come and go—many die; others becaftan themselves and join Hollywood or the Hare Krishnas or the soap-opera set­ or a rival—but even those who tough it out in the SCDP/SCDPCGC/SC&P corridors are actual colleagues. They babysit their addled co-workers or are promoted into their supervisors or made partner, and rarely have partners been less partnered than here. So if we are, in even the smallest sense, who we are in public, then it’s no surprise so many of us here are in angst.

DON

Let’s blaspheme a little: Don is the God of this universe. He is the father (head of creative), the Son (the dashing family man with lovely children and a spectacular, award-filled apartment) and the Holy Ghost (the blank-faced wandering adulterer whose orgasms are mountain ranges where the next one is always higher, the view always better just a ways down the trail).

Well, maybe God is dead. Or dying. All-powerful enough to witness his own death, with a lovely nod to the down-the-drain Sunset Boulevard existentialism yet weak enough to have a sort of psychotic break after a few nipple tugs of hash, Don is increasingly irrelevant to his own life. And not, mind you, in a generational, the-times-are-a-changin’ transference of power but in the irreducible facts of his days. The mother of his children might deign to drag a toe through nostalgia’s pool every now and then, but she’s clearly Henry’s wife. His children barely register. Megan knows he resents her success and also that success might well increase without him; they watch the news together but see different things. He might get it up for a good pitch now and then, but his company just took his name off the door—as a way to distract him. When he’s stoned, his fabled imagination can muster only a pregnant housewife before returning to the wounded. He’s in a dead man’s float, and Roger can come to the rescue only so often.

JOAN

In these offices, Joan and Peggy both have some original sin to reckon with: Joan has the fact of What She Did for Partner, and Peggy has the fiction of What She Did to Don. And so it was glorious to see them face these burdens head on, in the midst of some of the most valiant teamwork imaginable. Oscar Wilde famously said that before women call each other sisters, they must call each other a lot of things first, and so it was this week, in which Joan and Peggy accused each other of industrial espionage, whoring, undermining, you name it. But this was no catfight. Let’s remember that Don ended up in the pool, not these two. This was all business. From Joan’s sincere coquetry at the Avon lunch to Peggy’s surveillance techniques and expert game playing, Joan and Peggy leaned in so hard they threatened to overturn the whole damn office. And from the power radiating out of Joan’s face at the mere consideration of becoming an accounts man, they still just might.

GINSBERG

There’s something about Ginsberg’s ongoing crisis of conscience that feels a little … pat. Maybe it’s just his work this week, full of pompous Bhagavad Gita quotes and Godwin’s-law grandstanding. Or maybe he’s unsettled from his God/Don abandoning him, for he clearly wants (and needs) a mentor. But Ginsberg’s the Enemy Is You and Me epiphany felt awfully forced for a man of such imagination. And if the latter is right, and he does need a guide, how strange for such a cynic to fall for inspirational jive ripped off from a how-to record by man of mystery Bob Benson, whose hands are coffee-free just long enough to grab Ginsberg’s and lift him up.

NEW BUSINESS

  • We need to talk about Pete. Has there ever been a man less suited to Janis Joplin’s strum und drang—and yet when was the last time that old song sounded so ragged?
  • What in the world is behind the strange way Jim Cutler pops that gum in his mouth post-powwow with Bob Benson?
  • How did the Fly Bi Nites record something as magical as “Found Love,” stick it on a B-side, then disappear into record-collector cult status?
  • Will Stan ever find a place to sit in peace, or will he be forced to keep fleeing every room?
  • And why didn’t they just name the firm Carousel?

I’m not sure if this should be groovier or nostalgic; it’s somewhere in between right now. And so until next week …

4 comments
Teetch
Teetch

OH....thank you so much for hooking me up.  That brilliant little psychedelic nugget by the "Fly-Bi Nites" has been my ear worm for the past 24 hours!  Gracious!

gthetree
gthetree

What is the point of this damn article? It just rambles on for no apparent reason. 

JohnGriffin
JohnGriffin like.author.displayName 1 Like

The LA party scene in Mad Men "A Tale of Two Cities," featured in no particular order: a variation on Paul Simon's character (Tony) in Annie Hall, the drug-trippiness of the Hollywood house party in Hal Ashby's "Shampoo." And even though the death-laced vibe of The Beatles' "She Said, She Said"... ("I know what it's like to be dead...") wasn't playing the background, you could feel it. I'm sure the Mad Men producers balked at spending another $250,000 for the rights to use another Beatles song and discovered they could obtain the obscure "Found Love" by the Fly-Bi-Nites for a whole lot less coin. It worked perfectly. And the evening ended even up with a dark homage to the dead-guy floating in the pool from Sunset Boulevard. Trippy man!