Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mad Men at the Movies: 'Adieu, Adieu, To You and You and You-ooo'

Previously on MM@M: 4.1 Live From Times Square 4.2 Sixties Sweethearts 4.3 Catherine Deneuve & Gamera, 4.4 Jean Seberg, 4.5 Hayley Mills & David McCallum, 4.6 Chaplin the Sad Clown 4.7 "No Bad Seats" 4.8 Peyton Place 4.9 "The Beautiful Girls"

In Mad Men at the Movies we investigate the cinematic references in the Emmy winning drama Mad Men. Though we accidentally took a one month hiatus from this series (due to a paucity of movie references) we shouldn't have. The series is mainly an excuse to talk about the show.  It's the best on television. In fact, I haven't loved a show as much as Mad Men since the heyday of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (circa 1998/1999)... inbetween those two titans only Battlestar Galactica and Once & Again got to me in similarly seismic ways. Which is to say, I love it madly. If I were to coincidentally receive an old engagement ring right before watching an episode, I would undoubtedly impulsively propose to it.

 "Mad Men, you make me very happy. Will you marry me?"

4.13 "Tomorrowland"
Season 4 has seen Don Draper (Jon Hamm) survive a tumultuous year filled with career highs intermingled with scary career scares but emotionally he's been hovering at the edge of the abyss for the entirety of 1965. In the season capper, he takes his kids to Disneyland (hence the title... and a sly one, too). He's already slept with his secretary Megan (Jessica Paré) in a previous episode but he invites her along as replacement babysitter since the ex Mrs. Draper has impulsively fired the children's life long nanny Carla. Don can't be expected to change diapers!

Though Don's sudden marriage proposal to Megan played like a shock -- I watched the episode at a party thrown by the Lipp Sisters and the room went audibly gaspy -- it shouldn't have; the whole season has been leading here.

Don has been flailing without a wife all season and, as Michael C at Serious Film brilliantly notes, Sally (Keirnan Shipka) already made the choice for Don in an incisive bit of foreshadowing in a previous episode.

Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono) may be exactly what Don needed as a human being but his very opening up to her spelled her doom; she got way too close to the real Don a.ka. Dick Whitman. "Don Draper," using the original Don Draper's engagement ring, is trying to reboot just like Betty did. This is not personal growth. His parts were fusing but there's safety in starting the charade all over again, marrying another woman he barely knows and who barely knows him and stealing Don's identity all over again albeit in miniature circular form. It's the circle of his life.

Not that Megan is a terrible choice per se. He seems genuinely moved and surprised that she's so warm and relaxed around the kids (the anti-Betty?) and he clearly needs a wife/maid/babysitter. The Sound of Music reference, when Megan teaches the kids a French song to sing to their daddy is pure bliss.

You said you had no experience but you're like Maria Von Trapp!

A captain with seven children. What's so fe ♪ ♫ An admen with three children. What's so fearsome about that? I half expected Megan to bust out into song as she exited. "I Have Confidence" indeed. She's a sly one and I expect we'll get to know how sly when we return to her in 1966 or 1967... whenever Season 5 takes place.

The mammoth movie. The rich baron and his young bride.

The Sound of Music opened in 1965 (the year this season took place) and was an immediate sensation, becoming the highest grossing film of all time (at the time). What's extra fun about the reference is that it's a spoken reference to an actual movie scene so Don is being clever and self aware to a point. He knows he's the Captain Von Trapp of this mirror scene but he hasn't grasped that he's just hired this young girl to be his governess and he's fallen for her while ostensibly in a serious relationship with a older woman who isn't fond of children but who is unquestionably more of a social equal.

Sound familiar? We've got Captain Von Draper (a man who loves his children but has trouble being present with them), the singing Megan a la Maria (the children take to her and she, in turn, enjoys them and is in awe of their sophisticated rich important father) and Faye is... The Baroness. It might sound cruel to Faye -- and Don is -- but it's important to remember that The Baroness is not a villain even in The Sound of Music. She's just a little frosty and not naturally maternal. But in the end you have sympathy for The Baroness... or maybe for Eleanor Parker because she's a damn fine actress.

Season 4 ends not with the Von Trapp duet "Something Good" but with Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe" over the closing credits. Cher & Sonny were divorced by 1975.

Best Moment: Joanie & Peggy's sympatico giggle at their shared career-woman persona.
Second Best Moment: Betty Vs. Carla. Wow, was that intense. Deborah Lacey has been a huge quiet assett to the show as thoroughly observant maid/nanny Carla. So sad that we're now losing her but this series is not for people who need their favorite shows to regurgitate the same episode for years on end. Mad Men has never been content to stay the same or reboot to repeat itself. It just keeps barrelling forward. "There is no fresh start! Lives carry on." Henry Francis shouts. He's a smart man.
Third Best Moment: Megan realizing she still needs to answer Don's phone, post-engagement.
Fourth Best Moment: "I hope you have all the happiness that Peggy and I had signing this account." -Ken Cosgrove you delight me. I am so glad they brought Mr Cosgrove back. He's such a great "light" counterpoint to all of the crazy masculine angst in SCDP. He's the only man who understands work/life balance and not every character in a drama should be hopelessly f***ed up.
Low Key Pitch Perfect Moment: Don & Betty & the bottle.
Season 4 RIPs: Alison, Carla, Miss Blankenship.
Season 5 Question Marks: Faye? Cooper? Francine?
Sympathy For The Devil: I know I'm alone in this but Betty Draper continues to be one of the most fascinating characters and January Jones continues to be a fearless actress in exploring her, totally unconcerned with being loved (the great bane of so many actresses in sculpting complex characters). Betty really can't help herself. She's miserable but continually perplexed by her own misery, unable to see her own culpability in it.

 Goodbye Ossining.

How was Season 4 for you? Any favorite moments, developments, new characters or disappointments?

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