Monday, May 5, 2014

Mad Men S7E4 - The Monolith

When the chairman of Madison Square Garden approached Sterling Cooper to spearhead the ad campaign that would result in the destruction of the original Penn Station, Don Draper observed that "change is neither good nor bad, it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy, a tantrum that says 'I want it the way it was,' or a dance that says, 'Look, something new!'" [1]

The Monolith, the room-sized computer that those of us in 2014 snicker at while tweeting from smart phones that have more computing capacity than was used to put a man on the moon in 1969, is met with consternation from the creatives whose bullpen is torn down to make room for this latest technology, but as with most things produced on Mad Men, it's a handy metaphor for what is going on inside our fictional advertising agency. Where once there was simple novelty at the appearance of a Xerox copy machine, [2] now copywriters sulk that their hangout is being destroyed and fear that their jobs might be next. 

But Don, as he usually does, has it right - change is agnostic, it is how we react to it that matters. Adults once took for granted that their word would be heeded, unquestioned, and final. But the "grown ups" are discovering that their children were not as clueless as they assumed. Sally's eyes were opened to the seedier side of adulthood long ago, [3] but now as a teen, she is unafraid to challenge her father and call him out on his lies. [4] 

So too is Roger and Mona's daughter Margaret, who has gone full native and shacked up with some hippies in upstate New York, shirking her responsibilities as mother and wife to lead a pastoral existence where there are no rules. When her parents try to bring her back, she cuts down her mother by reminding her that she spent most of Margaret's childhood nursing a bottle of gin. Roger, more simpatico with the live-and-let-live vibe, turns on his daughter when she sneaks off in the middle of the night to shack up with one of men at the commune, [5] only to be dismissed when he tries to forcibly remove Margaret. She calls him out as an absentee father who was never there for her when he tries to underscore her responsibility to her son Ellery. Roger may have a rotating cast of long hairs coming in and out of his suite at The Algonquin, and he's more than happy to dose and stand naked in front of the window, [6] but his conservative view of parenting runs smack dab into the counter culture and the result is a muddy suit. 

Don's problem is quite the opposite. He is the one being treated as a child. He can't even reel in a small-time account without Bert tsk-tsking him and leaning into the fact Don was placed in a dead man's office. His former protégé is now his boss, directing him to turn in tag lines for a new client like he is some sort of junior copywriter and being summoned to her office for meetings. His reaction is predictable - he has a temper tantrum, reflexively reaching for a bottle of alcohol to drown his sorrows and stumbling out of the office in the middle of the day like the swinging dick he once was. It is not until the following morning when Freddy gives him the kick in the ass he needs. "What do you want?" Freddy asks. "I want my job back." Don retorts. And while Freddy's response, "Do the work, Don," may not be what he wants to hear, it is what Don needs to hear, because Freddy basically tells him the world has changed and if you want to get your job back, stop feeling sorry for yourself and go back and get it.

On the other hand, change has given Peggy more power but she is not mature enough to wield it properly. Having Don foisted on her Burger Chef account would lead a more experienced person to tap into Don's deep reservoir of talent and skill and treat him decently and humanely; but instead, Peggy's instinct is to humiliate and belittle him. Perhaps it is just desserts for the years of suffering she experienced, but having been handed an opportunity to take on a new, and high profile client, she is ill-prepared for how to respond - indeed, she views it as a suicide mission handed to her by higher ups waiting for either she or Don to crash, instead of a chance to shine. Lost in all of this conduct is the nuanced and complex relationship she and Don share. Perhaps she has taken to heart Don's long-ago admonition to forget about her childbirth and move on, [7] erased the night of Anna's death, [8] or just simply can't let go of the fact that she thinks Don destroyed Ted, [9] but instead of rising to the occasion, she has a tantrum of her own. 

Of course, age is not determinative of a person's capacity for reacting well to change. Lou is no more mature than Peggy when it comes to Don's return. He feels threatened and is looking for any opportunity to kick Don while he's down. The rest of the agency seems to simply want to move on, with Joan dismissing Don's presence like that of an annoying gal in the steno pool, Bert telling Don the firm worked perfectly well in his absence, and the copywriters Don used to make shudder now conscripting him to move furniture with them. So it is not surprising that Don spent weeks sheltered in his office reading Phillip Roth and hanging that Mets pennant on the wall as a small reminder of Lane. No one likes to be treated like a child, but when Freddy tells Don to snap out of it and stop sulking, he is telling Don to forget the fact that his co-workers are treating him like shit, that Bert Cooper is pretending he didn't build this new agency, that Lou Avery would sooner pour gasoline than water on him if he was on fire, that his former secretary is now his boss, or that Joan, who he once counseled not to sleep with Herb from Jaguar, [10] treats him like a stranger. Do your fucking job. Be an adult. Embrace change. Do not be a monolith. We shall see how long this lasts. 

PS - Pete adapts to change with lightening speed. He went from feeling remorse that his ex-father-in-law had a heart attack to glee over being able to "kill" him by signing Burger Chef, in a nanosecond. 

END NOTES

1. Love Among The Ruins, Season 3, Episode 2. 
2. For Those Who Think Young, Season 2, Episode 1.
3. See, e.g., Mystery Date, Season 5, Episode 4, At The Codfish Ball, Season 5, Episode 7.
4. A Day's Work, Season 7, Episode 2. 
5. The rank hypocrisy regarding infidelity on the show is not limited to Roger. Don would not accept that Megan so much as kissed a man on her soap opera (To Have and To Hold, Season 6, Episode 4) and he shut down Betty's nascent attempt at re-entering the world of modeling (Shoot, Season 1, Episode 9).  
6. The Phantom, Season 5, Episode 13. 
7. The New Girl, Season 2, Episode 5. 
8. The Suitcase, Season 4, Episode 7. 
9. The Quality of Mercy, Season 6, Episode 12. 

10. The Other Woman, Season 5, Episode 11. 

16 comments:

  1. Another great recap - found you via Basket of Kisses and now you are on my regular Monday morning MM reading list!

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  2. How come everybody appeared so petty and childish in this episode???

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    1. As compared to how they've acted in the other 75 episodes :) ... Seriously though, it feels like chickens coming home to roost. Don treated people shabbily for so long that they're exacting their pound of flesh, or maybe they feel that the ship of state is running well without him (Bert). Lou's peevishness is more transparent - having jumped from Dancer to SC&P, he wants his contract honored while he blithely ignores the creative talent sitting down the hall. Peggy's crestfallen at losing Ted and frustrated that her title is not accorded more respect and so I think Don becomes a convenient vessel in which everyone else is pouring their frustrations.

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    2. Don even brought in new business and it was dissmissed just because it came from him?? That is not just childish, it is plain stupid. I am happy he has one alley though, even it is just Meredith.

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    3. When Freddy says "do the work" I think he is also saying that Don needs to do the work of quitting drinking, as in AA, atone for the wrongs of his life, etc. Or is that too much a this-century interpretation of the phrase? It struck me this way that that is what Don REALLY needs to do, whether Freddy meant it this way or not. And I, too, was wondering, does Don have a friend? In this case, thank goodness it was Freddy, who knows too well what Don is risking.

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    4. I'm enjoying the Don/Frebby bromance. Again, the show mines its archive. Don stood up for Freddy after he peed himself and was made fun of by Ken, Harry, et al ("It's just a man's reputation") took him out for a final go 'round (Six Month Leave S3E9) and then threw him freelance work in Season 4. I think Freddy is Don's only friend, maybe Roger too, but there's a tenderness between them that I like.

      I do agree with you that we may view do "the work" on both the professional AND personal, but I think Freddy's was strictly work-related (his references to his own stagnant career didn't include any mention of his home life). Of course, when Faye suggestedthat Don work on his personal issues in Season 4, Don's immediate reaction was to run into the arms of a woman who did not ask him to do any of that.

      I think the jury is still out on whether the Hershey's pitch was an epiphany that leads Don to a better tomorrow, or something he simply tries to forget. His behavior thus far suggests the latter, which would be consistent with the show's overarching theme that people don't change, but we shall see ...

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    5. I think Freddys talk made Don understand that he actually needs to work to get back what he had.

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    6. Did Dr. Cardiac Surgeon end up moving to Houston - to become a Bernard wannabe? I recall that he got a ration from Sylvia within Don's earshot from the elevator. He was a potential friend.

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    7. We haven't seen the Rosens this season. Though judging from the roaches in Don's pad, I'm guessing he isn't getting a lot of visitors, regardless.

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  3. Maybe it was me but I really am having a hard time buying the "anger' issues everyone at SCDP has against Don.... Yes, he probably deserves a bunch of it, but the notion that he messed up in front of Hershey's and now everyone looks at him like he has the plague? This isn't the first client that he or anyone else for that matter has lost.... He is clearly the creative star of this company (which does not look it is doing well at all... total lack of communication and differing agendas abound) and very much responsible for its creation and was single-handily responsible for the CGC merger and now he is being treated like an bad intern?? Sure Joan is upset at him for dumping Jaguar after what she went through but Bert turning down new business?? Ayn Rand would be turning over in her grave!!! Now he's The Morals Police?? I liked the Freddie/Don interaction but the rest just seems like bad scripting..... Either take a partnership buy-out or move to/start another agency. What's the point in staying there??

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    1. Treating him like a pariah over Hershey's does seem over the top, but if we are to buy this collective shunning, it must be viewed through the lens of Don's entire career - where there was one set of rules for him and another set for everyone else. When he shitcanned Jaguar, the other partners were looking to go public. Merging with CGC got them Chevy, but created a bureaucratic headache where everyone is still kind of pissy and competitive - plus, Ted's been shunted off to California, angering Jim (no doubt) and leaving Peggy oh so conflicted. Joan's anger is most curious - she and Don were generally on good terms pre-firing Jaguar. I think she's ever-skittish over her place in the firm but also has many years of taking shit from others that she's no longer interested in doing.

      As for why should he stay - it's got to be a valuable partnership (monetarily - not that Don's been that concerned - though the divorce from Megan might be pricey!) and being kicked out of a firm that he put so much effort into building would be a bitter pill, but I agree, in the real world, there would be a negotiated settlement and he would leave.

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  4. The Apple is right there on the table...

    Dons divination was divine there.

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  5. For a show that is so smart about so many things, Mad Men is pretty bad about plot and especially over the long-term. This is made doubly frustrating by the fact that the show is so smart about its big ensemble cast and their complicated history.

    Joan is the classic example. Everybody loves Joan, but she is on the wrong side of history. At 40 with an administrative skill set and a log-term career strategy 'marriage' that backfired, Joanie should be our most interesting character with the Dawn of the Computer Age. The people that these big machines are replacing are the ones who reported to her and, therefore, gave her some power.

    Instead, she got a fan service-y via high prostitution and got moved into a sales through a chance encounter with a non-recurring character. Now, she is forced to wear an unbecoming Black Hat in Don's journey to where the other half lives.

    On the flip side is Meagan. Love her or hate her, she was throughly fleshed out over S5. We got to know her very, very well, but ultimately none of that had much of an effect on the story of either Don or Peggy (aka our two leads). Meagan quit before she could threaten Peggy's role at the firm. Don selected his next mistress seemingly at random. Then, Meagan disappeared to the West Coast. Her creative talents, her relationship with Don's kids, her Marxist father, her orally servicing mother .... none of it seemed to have mattered very much.

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    1. I think Joan *is* an interesting character - that this particular aspect of her personality (shunning Don) is at the forefront right now does not take away from the fact that there was a direct cause-effect between that failed marriage and the indecent proposal. Say what you will, but she made an informed choice based on her need to be a self-sustaining single parent - a rather forward thinking view for a woman in 1967 (when the dirty deed took place).

      Her interest in something other than being a person who thinks of things before other know they need them (as she described herself to the Avon guy) is long-standing. She was reviewing soap scripts for Harry back in Season 2 and jumped at the chance to ditch her department store job when SCDP was formed but was always envious that Peggy made the cross-over to creative.

      Megan decided to marry a man she didn't actually know and then turned her back on a career that left her unsatisfied. The tipping point was her ask of Don to basically move her career along b/c it wasn't working on her own - THAT was the break that led Don to cheat - he realized Megan was just somebody else with her hand out asking for his help after turning her back on SCDP - it didn't have anything to do with Peggy.

      Of course, characters like Megan are moved through the show to advance other people's story lines, not their own. I believe it was Joan who observed that Don thought he was the first man to ever marry his secretary, but in the end, that stereotype just means her value to the show is less consequential.

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    2. I agree with you about Megan--I think the shine wore off her the moment he kissed her goodbye on that set at the end of season five. As for Joan, obviously she's angry because of the Jaguar situation, but also think she's wary of Don because his previously private "bad behavior" became so glaringly public. Her night of prostitution of aside, Joan is the queen of being discreet, of leaving the personal BS at the door, (remember the withering, "really?" looks she gave Peggy and Ted when they were acting like Bella and Edward in the office?), so I think the fact Don's meltdown took place in the office really rankled her and shook her faith in him. Someone over at Tim Goodman's (who posts excellent recaps) blog commented the reason why the partners, or the older generation in particular, is so angry/dismissive of Don at the moment is because he sold himself as the mysterious, all-American alpha male, and they bought into it. But in the Hershey he irrevocably lifted the veil on himself and exploded their fantasies, and I think that would include Joan.

      On another note, I know you hate Bob Benson Scarylawyerguy, but I'd like to see him come back, if only because there aren't many gay characters on the show. Sal is long gone, and as a gay man myself, I wanna see what MW does with Stonewall dammit:). Or at least more Shirley and Dawn.

      My take:

      http://butlerway.com/2014/05/mad-men-season-7-ep-4-recap-the-monolith-by-kevin-clarkston.html

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