Monday, October 26, 2015

The Last Word Emailer

The Last Word Emailer. You know them; hell you might be one. Everyone knows at least one of them and they are So. Fucking. Annoying. The moniker says it all; they have to, absolutely HAVE to, have the last word in an email thread. No matter how short, how final, how conversation fucking ending your email is, the LWE has to have, well, the last word. To wit: LWE: That was a very nice gesture; made my day! You: Cool; glad I could be of assistance. LWE: If there’s anything you need just let me know. You: Will do. LWE: OK OK? Really, LWE? Was that even meaningful? Sometimes it’s just an emoji, if even they are forced to admit that they’ve run out of words to use in the endless continuation of the email thread. LWE: Good to hear from you! Have a nice day! You: Same here; you too! LWE: :-) It’s a sickness, folks; a need to get the last word in no matter how ridiculous, desperate and batshit crazy it makes them look. In my daily dealings I’ve learned who the LWEs are in my world and, I’m not proud to admit this, folks, but I’ve been known to fuck with them every now and then. Yeah, not proud but boy does it feel good when it goes right! Me: Hey thanks for the info; I’ll keep that in mind when I write the paper. LWE: Excellent! Let me know how it goes! Me: Will do; I’ll keep you right in the loop! Have a good one! (BIG HINT: For a normal person this would be the concluding transmission) LWE: You, too! Me: Thanks! LWE: No problem! Me: Here either! :-) (Here I upped the ante with MY OWN smiley face emoji - HAH! At this point I can almost hear them sweating as they, beginning to be panic-stricken, cast about for something else to say. Here’s where it gets fun.) LWE: OK then, later gator! (The lame attempt at levity can’t begin to hide their growing confusion - WHO IS THIS FUCKER - they think) Me: Later! (The tension is palpable; the LWE is almost crazed with the need to FUCKING CONCLUDE THIS CHARADE! I AM THE EMAIL ENDER! WHO IS THIS INTERLOPER!?) LWE: ;-) (A WINKY FACE?! HAH! Pathetic. I declare victory and let them off the hook just because I’m getting bored with this game.) No response forthcoming from me, the LWE’s breathing begins to return to normal and the flop sweat my outstanding challenge created drips onto their still steaming keyboard. I, on the other hand, relax at my end with a delicious chocolate bar as reward for giving that annoying asshole a reminder that sometimes, not always, but sometimes, the last word isn’t what it seems. I give it a few minutes of false relief and then, wait for it...wait for it...


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Please Listen Carefully As Our Menu Options Have Recently Changed

Liar, liar pants on fire!  How many times have you heard that insipid recorded directive?  Conservatively I've heard it about a billion times.  OK, slight hyperbole; conservatively, about 900 million times.  Regardless of how many times I've heard it (seriously, at least 50 million times) it's always a baldfaced LIE!  Because you know what?  The fucking menu options NEVER change...ever.  I've been calling service provider numbers for years, YEARS people, and every time I have to wait through that fucking command, telling me that their menu of options, so dynamically changeable, has in fact, recently changed and well, hell, you wouldn't want to assume that customer service is option 7, as it has been for eternity, and push it before hearing all the other six fucking options and end up in , godforbid, Billing.  So here you go, listening to the droning, recorded voice slowly step through all the fucking options, beginning with what language you want to be served this pointless drudgery in, saving, OF COURSE, Customer Service as the last option.

So you wait, and listen and frankly, I, being The ABIB, boil because well, that flat, metallic voice  has not changed her tune in minimum, MINIMUM, five years.  Don't know about you but I've tried to scream through the wait:

To receive this message in English, press 1
Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.
For Billing, press 2
To hear the last five charges on your account, press 3
For technical assistance, press 4
ME, pressing frantically, 77777777777
For account balance information, press 5
For claims, press 6
For customer service, say or press 7

I don't know which is worse, the aggregious waste of my time, since I knew way back at selecting English, that I wanted option 7, that I've ALWAYS wanted option 7, and that I've been SELECTING option 7 every time I have called in for the last FIVE FUCKING YEARS.  So, yeah, the recorded slow talking annoyance is wasting my time in a big way.  But maybe I'm equally pissed off at the whole "recorded disembodied voice telling me what to do" agita. Because, really, this robotic presence is, for the time that I'm stuck on this call, contolling my life.  She's the keeper of the end game, she's got the goods waiting for me at option 7, and still I have to listen through all six previous options because, well, that's the way she wants it.  I think that, as we approach The Singularity, this is one among many ways that our future robotic overlords are paving the way for our emerging status as patient supplicants, doing as we're told, waiting for the sake of waiting, even though our human brains KNOW that the goods await behind option 7, we wait because we have to in order to learn our new status.  Yeah, that's it!  They're slowly cowing us into submission with the forced passivity of waiting until we're told to press the button.  Come to think of it, maybe the insipid lie of a warning that HOLD UP MOTHERFUCKER: THIS MENU HAS CHANGED, when it really hasn't, is just their way of turning the screws a little more.  Yeah, THEY know that WE know that the fucking menu hasn't changed since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.  Anyway, it's their game, people, because when you need option 7, there ain't nothing to do but wait.  The question is: what will it mean when the menu options DO actually change? Mindfuck.  Skynet: I'm onto you.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Owner of Olive Garden Endless Pasta Bowl Pass Now Addicted to Andes Candies

Anne-Marie Remington of Naperville, IL purchased an all-you-can-eat Endless Pasta Bowl pass to her local Olive Garden with an eye toward sampling all conceivable combinations of the Olive Garden pasta menu.
“The endless soup and salad are really just a tease for me, you know, to get me in the door. What I’m totally fixated on is the crazy selection of Olive Garden pasta dishes. That’s why I bought the pass; just thought I’d dive in head first. I mean, with the Cucina Mia Create Your Own Pasta Bowl it’s pretty much sky’s the limit!
What Anne-Marie didn’t expect was to find herself growing addicted to another Olive Garden enticement, something so easily forgettable; an afterthought. She found herself getting hooked on the little Andies Candies mint and chocolate treats that Olive Garden slips into the leatherette case that holds the bill.
“I guess you could say it took me by surprise. I always fancied myself a carboholic, bread, cereal, chips…pasta, obviously. But after about a half dozen visits to The Garden I realized that I was just mindlessly chowing through the endless pasta bowls to get to the check. And those little, green foil wrapped bites of heaven. I began to ritualize eating them, slowly unwrapping that perfectly folded little envelope, revealing the rectangular brown and green vision inside. The snap of that first bite, and then it was all over; I just wolfed the rest. I found myself asking for seconds…and thirds. I knew I had a problem.
Soon she was at her local Naperville Olive Garden in the Fox Valley Mall seven nights a week. The wait staff even held a table for her and the seating hostess made a little folded name card that said “Reserved for Anne-Marie Remington – Endless Pasta Bowl Awesome Customer”.
“Of course I was gaining tons of weight, but I didn’t care, I really didn’t care. It got so bad at one point that I found myself standing in the local Staples Office Supply staring at a 250 count jar of Andes Candies meant for like, someone’s desk or something. When I came to and realized I was still standing there, just staring, an employee was asking me if I needed help. I didn’t know how long I had been standing there like that. I just whispered, “Yes, I need help” and ran out. I could see his red employee shirt out of the corner of my eye as he followed me out of the store asking what I was looking for, his little name tag “Friendly Staples Associate Mitch How Can I Help You?” bouncing on his shirt. I just kept running. I had hit rock bottom. I was so ashamed.”
It’s been six months since Marie has been inside of either an Olive Garden or a Staples Office Supply store and with the help of “Overeaters Anonymous” she is beginning to gain some perspective, and new friends.
“I found like five other “Endless Pasta Bowl Pass” owners at my meeting and we’ve pretty much bonded together as a group of survivors. Survivors of the most delicious and insidious festival of gluttony since Potbelly’s A Wreck.”
One thing Anne-Marie has kept to herself, however, is that her particular fixation wasn’t on the Bucatini and Five Cheese Marinara or the Giant Rigatoni with Spicy Three Meat or even the Whole Wheat Linguini with Asiago Alfredo but the little addiction bombs wrapped in green foil like some kind of a pre-Christmas gift from food addiction hell.
“Yeah. Everyone else in my little OGOEA crew, that’s Olive Garden Overeaters Anonymous, by the way, is hooked on one of the dishes from their menu and I front that my addiction is to the Cavatappi with Creamy Bacon and Sun Dried Tomato. I don’t want them to feel like I don’t, you know, belong so I keep the Andies Candies part private. I’ve made tons of progress; I basically won’t go within five miles of The Garden and that’s been super helpful. And the thought of a Staples Office Supply literally gives me the shakes.
Anne-Marie grows contemplative, her face taking on a dreamy, slightly troubled look.“I still dream about them, you know. In one I was actually inside that desktop jar of all those little green monsters and I was swimming and yelling and just as I was about to unwrap one I woke up. That night I didn’t get back to sleep. But I won’t give up…I won’t give up. It’s a journey.”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mad Men Recap: Hello, I'm Don Draper With McCann-Erickson

OK, first things first because Mad Men NEVER does this, but in last night’s episode, Lost Horizon, they engaged in a little fan service. At one point, in his new digs at McCann, Don leans toward one of the large plate glass windows lining one wall of his office and tentatively tests the security of said window. SHOUT OUT to those of us who have been watching him fall through the air in the graphic at the beginning of every episode for the last seven seasons. Later, we watch Don gaze out of the McCann conference room window, watching a jet trail the skies past the Empire State Building in an homage to one popular end game theory, namely that Don is the mysterious DB Cooper. We get it; you’re paying attention to us. Thanks?
Anyway, for me Lost Horizon was the episode that really began to get things into high gear and with two episodes left in the show’s run that’s a good thing. The SC&P offices in the Time/Life building are nearly empty, save for Harry’s precious computer which is being loaded out of its private room and, according to Harry, retired for good as McCann’s got an entire staff devoted to research. A few eps back I officially named Harry “the worst” for his sleazy hit on Megan and tonight’s colors are no better on him. Harry’s exchange with Roger is smarmy and superior, now that he has nothing left to fear from the newly defanged old lion. Roger has always despised Harry and has never tried to hide it. This last exchange, highlighting the newly upended power dynamics, only serves to make Harry look, if not worse, certainly no better. Since I’m pretty sure this might his final bow, it looks like Harry’s going to go out a douchebag. Bye, Felicia!
One of the themes of this episode was the bright line dividing those who would find a way to fit in at McCann (hello, Ted, Harry and Pete) versus those who, for various reasons would not (hello Don, Joan, Roger, Shirley “advertising is not a comfortable place for everyone”). So where’s Peggy in this line up? Well, Pegster’s making do at the increasingly creepy empty ex office of SC&P, trying to be productive in spite of her previously-on-assignment staffer making calls all day to what sounds like Russia and basically not giving a shit when she tells him he’s still employed by her. Even Peggy knows that’s weak tea and finally bids him farewell with a promise to call when she gets settled at McCann. Peggy is stuck at the old building because the knuckleheads at McCann, seeing her name, just assumed (of course they did) that she’s a secretary and don’t quite have an office ready for her. Wankers. No matter, Peggy is nothing if not resilient, so she comes to work each day, dressed and coiffed and refusing to occupy any temporary work space at McCann (that secretarial pool was actually suggested) until her office is ready. You go, girl.
Sadly Joan is not faring so well. Keeping her chin up Joan receives the McCann welcome wagon, a small group of fellow women workers who bring her a plant and an invite to join them at the Oyster Bar where it’s promised just to be fun “absolutely only consciousness lowering”. When next we see her Joan is on a call with her client at Avon and is stuck with junior account rep Dennis, one of the McCann Neanderthals who, in a previous meeting, suggested that Joan should sell bras. Anyway, the call goes disastrously as Dennis blunders his way through with Joan frantically trying to mend each fence that he breaks. With the tone deaf bluster of a drunken frat boy, Dennis suggests that, when they are next in the client’s hometown of Atlanta, that they get together for a friendly nine holes at Augusta. Do you like golf? Dennis asks. The client delivers an icy “No” and the call ends. A furious
Joan informs Dennis that the Avon client is confined to a wheelchair and demands to know why he didn’t bother to read the brief that she had spent the entire previous night preparing for him. They argue and Dennis storms out, finding a way to pin the blame for the disastrous call on Joan. So now we see, as does Joan, that this is the way it’s going to be for her at McCann. Nicht git. She appeals to Jim Hobart’s second in command, Ferg Donnelly, asking him to set Dennis, as a junior account man, straight and ensure that he gets an attitude adjustment. Ferg, more oily and less obvious, but just as odious, as Dennis, instead informs Joan that he’s going to partner with her himself and insists that their first order of business should be a trip, just the two of them, down to visit the client in Atlanta. Ferg says it will give them a chance to get to know one another better. He follows up, the next day, with flowers whose card reads: Pick Any Weekend, Ferg. Oh, Joanie, your collective fan base is so sorry that after all you’ve been through, the thanks you get is to end up with these human turds.
But Joan is not one to give up and raises the stakes by approaching Jim Hobart himself. Jim, the outwardly hospitable, oozing-bonhomie McCann dream-crusher-in-charge, tries to initially placate Joan by slow talking to her as if she were a child, giving her the new lay of the land, as it were. Basically, Joan, you’re fucked here at McCann, we don’t particularly give a shit who or what you were at SC&P, you don’t work there anymore and our plan doesn’t include you, at least not in the way you seem to be expecting it to. “Besides”, Hobart says, “you can’t expect Dennis to work for a girl.” This will be a scene that will launch 1,000 GIFs, as well it should; Joan, not one to be intimidated, meets Hobart without fear or apology, informing him that she will bring the righteous rage of the nascent feminist/EEOC/ Betty Friedan tornado of hurt upon McCann. We finally then see the real Jim Hobart, as he demonstrates that the misogynistic tone at McCann begins at the top. He tries to threaten Joan and shame her but our girl does not back down.
Finally he offers her fifty cents on the dollar to buy her out of her half-million partner’s stake to get rid of her. Joan stands firm and Hobart sneers that he’ll ruin her and then orders her from his office, demanding, like some kind of ancient Pharaoh, that he’ll not see her face again. This was one scene among a few where I actually cheered at the TV. In the year 2015 it’s probably hard for younger viewers to believe that such an exchange would have actually taken place, but Mad Men is nothing if not period true; Jim Hobarts were, sadly, among the dominant majority. At the end, Hobart dispatches Roger to deliver the news to Joan that the half price sell-out is all he’s offering. Roger tells her: “He’s not afraid of you.” To which Joan replies: “Then why did he send you?” Burn! In the end, though, Joan decides to accept Hobart’s offer. She takes her photo of Kevin and her Rolodex and leaves McCann. Fuckers.
Back to Peggy at the old digs. As she tries (and fails) to make herself a cup of instant coffee, she hears noises coming from another part of the deserted office space. Mad Men playfully adds an old timey, scary movie organ soundtrack to accompany Peggy as she warily walks through the empty space, calling out “Is someone there?” Someone is indeed there, and it’s Roger, playing an organ. HAH! The scene that unfolds between the two of them is among the more sentimental and affecting we’ve seen this season. Roger tells Peggy an old story from his days in the Navy and, as he scans the empty space around them, announces that SC&P was a good, old boat. Cue the waterworks, as this exchange between Roger and Peggy, steeped as it is in nostalgia for the old days, works on three levels, one of which is directed at viewers as a kind of reminder to and for us, that the show we’ve been devoted to for these seven seasons, has been, as Roger says, a good, old boat that will be missed by the actors, their fictional counterparts, and us.
The two of them drink Vermouth, the only bottle left in the deserted office, and Roger gives Peggy one of Cooper’s paintings, a 150-year-old Japanese work depicting a woman being sexually pleasured by an octopus. Peggy worries that, should she hang it in her office at McCann, the men she works with will get the wrong idea about her and it will undermine her credibility. In one of the sweetest exchanges of the series, Roger kindly assures Peggy that she doesn’t have to worry about how she acts while working with men. He might as well have said, Kid, don’t worry; you’ve got the chops, go out and do good work. As the scene ends, a drunken Roger is playing the organ and a drunker Peggy is roller skating through the empty SC&P hallways, a delightful visual. When last we see Peggy it’s the next day and, wearing dark hangover glasses and with a cigarette sticking out her mouth (ala Betty as she shoots the neighbor’s pigeons in Season 1), she’s walking through the gray halls of McCann to her now ready new office, her belongings in one arm and Cooper’s painting under the other. The camera shot is in slow motion as Peggy struts down the hallway, cutting a swath through the men of McCann who scurry to either side of her as she mows through them like a hot knife through butter. I want to believe that good things are in store for Peggy and that last scene makes me smile. For the second time in the hour I tell her out loud: You go, girl!
Finally there’s Don. He gamely arrives at his new office and, as mentioned above, peers out the window and tests the strength of the glass. He is welcomed by Jim Hobart and Ferg Donnelly, who upon Hobart’s insistence, does a very bad impression of Don. Apparently Ferg is McCann’s resident impressionist. Douchebag. Jim Hobart reminds Don (and us) that it’s been 10 long years that he’s been trying to get Don over to McCann. “You’re my white whale, Don.” Jim tells him, then reveals that he wants Don on a new account with Miller beer, something about a diet beer. As Don opens the door to leave Jim’s office, Jim prompts him, insisting really, that Don say his new tagline. Don obliges, and like a well-trained animal says: “I’m Don Draper with McCannErickson”. He looked like he wanted to take a shower and frankly we all did, too.
The next day as he enters the Miller meeting, Don is surprised to see a conference room filled with all of McCann’s creative directors, uniformly clad in white shirtsleeves and dark ties, each one grasping his roast beef sandwich box lunch. Don sees Ted who has saved him a box and everyone sits down and is introduced to Bill Phillips, the McCann head of research. As everyone sits around the conference table, pens poised over notebooks to capture what Bill is about to say, Don finds himself, again, the odd man out. Dressed out of uniform, in a blue suit, Don is shocked to find out that the Miller diet beer account isn’t truly his at all, he’s just part of a much larger team who have been brought together to collectively sell Miller’s new drink. As Bill Phillips begins to address the group of men, weaving the story of who, according to his research, their target customer is, (the kind of thing we’ve seen Don himself do many, many times before) Don’s attention drifts, gazing out the window at the aforementioned jet cruising past the Empire State Building. A few moments into Phillips’ pitch Don gets up and leaves the room. He heads over to the Francis house, ready to pick up Sally and deliver her back to school, only to find Betty there alone, reading Freud. Betty tells Don that Sally has already left, having gotten a ride from her friend. At first miffed that nobody thought to tell him, and after learning that his sons won’t be back for several hours, Don leaves, but not before offering Betty a genuine wish of good luck in her new studies (Bertie, you knock ‘em dead) and a quick shoulder rub.
We see Don in his big boat of a Cadillac take an exit west off of some freeway and we know that Don is pulling a Don and heading out to points unknown. Of course, where he’s headed is to Racine, Wisconsin, in search of the mysterious Diana. As he drives, late at night, he’s joined by Bert Cooper, in the shotgun seat, telling Don that chasing after mysterious, troubled women is not what he should be doing. Thanks, Bert, but you know he will anyway. Daylight finds Don in front of the home of the former Diana Bauer. He knocks on the front door and it’s answered by a woman in an apron, clearly not Diana. Don identifies himself as Bill Phillips and that he’s there to deliver a prize to one Diana Bauer, a new refrigerator full of Miller beer. The woman, somewhat confused, tells Don that he should really speak with her husband and invites him in to wait. Once inside Don is approached by a dark-haired girl, clearly Diana’s surviving child, who tells Don that if her mother won a prize that it should rightfully go to her. Don sadly agrees and then the girl walks out.

When the husband gets home Don tries to keep up his ruse but Diana’s ex is having none of it and calls Don on his subterfuge. Flustered, Don apologizes and tries to change his story to one of a humble bill collector, but again, the husband calls bullshit on him. Don retreats back to his car but Diana’s ex follows him out there, leaning in the driver’s side window to continue berating an abashed Don. “Your fine suit, a Cadillac; you’re no bill collector. Do you think you’re the only one that’s come looking for her? She’s a tornado and leaves people in her wake.” Shaken, Don apologizes again and leaves, but not before the ex-husband tells Don: “God took my daughter and the devil took my wife.” He then offers Don salvation in Christ and walks back to the house.As the episode ends Don is still driving, to where we don’t know and likely neither does he. The terrain tells us it’s still the Midwest; flat road with fields as far as the eye can see on either side. As he drives a hitchhiker appears and at first, from our distant vantage point in front of the car, he appears to be a hobo, harking back to Don’s encounter, as a boy, with the hobo at his father’s farm, the hobo who had left a wife, and a job to roam the open road in order to be able to sleep again. As Don slows the car to pick up the hitchhiker we see that he’s a hippie and that he’s headed for St. Paul. Don shrugs and tells him “I can go that way.” David Bowie’s eerie “Space Oddity” plays us out as the car heads off into the distance. Don is unmoored and with two episodes left that’s a fun place for a fan to be. I’m all in.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mad Men Recap: Sit Down, Don

Jim Hobart, the chief of McCann Erickson, quietly gives Don Draper this directive just as Don is winding up for one of his patented Hail Mary pitches to save SCDP from oblivion. The look that crosses Don’s face is almost one of confusion, because few, if any, people in the 10 year run of Mad Men has ever addressed him in this openly dismissive manner. But sit down he does, joining the other partners at the McCann conference table to hear of the demise of their company. McCann is absorbing them lock stock and barrel, rewarding each partner (except Joan) with a monster account as compensation. Don’s, is, of course, the jewel in the crown, Coca Cola. Stop struggling, Jim Hobart finishes with, you’ve won.
But this is not a table of winners by the looks on their faces and when next we see them they’re commiserating at a bar, drinking to the Titanic of their company. All of this has been precipitated by the discovery that the lease hasn’t been paid for the SCDP space in the Time-Life building which leads to the back door discovery that Mc Cann hasn’t paid it because they’re going to absorb SCDP within 30 days. Don receives a call from Lou Avery in the SCDP LA office telling him that he’s moving to Tokyo because a Japanese animation company is making a cartoon out of his comic “Scout’s Honor”. Lou calls to gleefully say goodbye to his New York nemesis, ending their relationship with: “Well, sayonara my friend. Enjoy the rest of your miserable life!
After Don hangs up he begins to conceive a plan to save SCDP from McCann’s great sucking machine. Now that the LA outpost will be empty, and with enough in loyal billings to make McCann pay attention, a handful of them can relocate to LA and save the company. It makes sense to Roger and Pete and Joan but Ted has just re-met the love of his life, an old college sweetheart, and she wants to stay in New York. Roger and Pete begin the hard sell with Ken Cosgrove, to get the biggest prize, Dow Chemical, to commit to the move. Armed with Ken’s favorite very expensive wine, Roger and Pete pitch the idea and are shot down in short order by a vengeful Ken who, although he hates McCann, he hates Roger and Pete even more. It’s a big blow to the plan but not a deal breaker, so with just enough in billings to make McCann pay attention, the partners head over to the pitch meeting to sell Jim Hobart on the idea.
Don begins slowly and we’re reminded of his tone in “The Wheel”, but where that story began on a slow note but built to a masterfully emotional crescendo, this one ends shortly after it begins. Jim Hobart tells Don to sit down, it’s over; these guys are going to “advertising heaven”. They are beaten; once chiefs of all they surveyed, they are now just employees and their faces reflect that shocking change. Joan voices her fear that, at McCann she won’t be taken seriously and her fear is justified, since Jim Hobart glossed over her as he named the prestige accounts that will be cherry-picked for the SCDP leadership team. One by one they each leave the bar, everyone having somewhere to be and someone to be with, except Don. Roger is the last to go and finally confesses to Don that he’s been seeing Megan’s mother Marie. At first aghast, “She’s crazy, you know”, Don finally figuratively throws up his hands and, for the second time that day, admits defeat.
There follows a genuinely affecting scene between Roger and Don where Roger tells the younger man, “You’re OK”. These two have always had kind of a big brother/little brother relationship, but with Bert Cooper gone Roger is now the elder statesman of the group and we sense an almost father/son shift in his affection for Don, affection which is clearly sincere on both sides.
Again Don finds himself alone and goes in search of Diana, who has called his service twice but left no message and, in fact, even requested that the operator not tell Don that she has even called. Don heads over to her apartment and finds that Diana is gone, her apartment now occupied by a gay couple who have no idea where she might be. Homeless, alone and now faced with having to relinquish captaincy of his career ship, Don continues to drift, each week losing another mooring that previously anchored his life.
Perhaps the most poignant scene in this week’s episode, however, goes to Peggy and Stan. Peggy slowly reveals to Stan the story of the little boy she carried and gave up for adoption. As I watched Peggy speak of the ache that never really completely disappears I was reminded of what Don told her at her bedside after the baby had been taken away. “You will be surprised at how much this didn’t happen.” Apparently he was very wrong, because, although not driven by the memory and its attendant regret, Peggy tells Stan that, although she hasn’t forgotten about her son, she’s had to build a wall around her feelings out of self-preservation. “I’m here. And he’s with a family, somewhere. I don’t know, but it’s not because I don’t care. I don’t know because you’re not supposed to know, or you can’t go on with your life.” A beautiful piece of writing and an Emmy-worthy reading by Elizabeth Moss. Peggy also intones what may be the first feminist manifesto of the 1970s, wondering aloud why men get to escape unscathed from emotional entanglements and how women should be equally able to get on with the lives in the face of such drama. Peggy is a survivor and someone who has fought for, and earned, every inch of success she has achieved. I hope the Mad Men writers reward Peggy with good stuff before the series ends.The episode closes out the next day as the partners gather the SCDP troops to deliver the news about the McCann merger. In seasons past we’ve seen these kinds of calls to action before and Don always serves as the general mustering the soldiers to fall in behind the leadership line. This time nobody is buying the false patina that Don tries to paint on the news, “This is the beginning of something, not the end,” Don shouts over the growing din created by staff panic. Nobody can hear him and nobody is listening. How the mighty have fallen.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Mad Men Recap: Now We Have To Find A Place For You

Don is drifting.  We've seen him go from sadly dismissive, handing Megan a check for a million dollars to "finally end it", to tonight's closing shot.  As the dolly slowly pans away, Don is left alone, outside of his own apartment, which is being sold as he stands in the hallway and Roberta Flack sings "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", a song that is a coin with two sides, one side a dreamy paen to deep love and memory, the other side deeply sorrowful regret of remembered, but lost, love.  Don looks bereft and again, the lighting around him, so dark and shadowed, only emphasizes that visual cue.  Don is in a dark place and is drfiting farther from the light with each episode of this final seven.  Just that morning his realtor, worrying that she won't be able to sell his apartment, tells him that it "reeks of failure".  Don insists that "alot of wonderful things happened here" and we get the feeling that he's trying more to convince himself than her.  In spite of her pessimistic outlook she manages to convince a young stockbroker and his wife, with a small child and a baby on the way, to start a new life in the ruins of what had been Don's home with Megan.

Don arrives back at the apartment just as the deal is closing and catches a glimpse of the young couple, the wife clearly pregnant, before being quickly ushered out into that dark hallway by his realtor, as if his presence will somehow spook the couple and screw the deal.  As he stands, hat in hand alone shut out of his home, he is clearly reminded of the new beginnings represented by the young couple, which stands in stark contrast to his growing despair.  I'm sure it was no coincidence that the casting director chose a brunette actor and blonde actress, so like Don and Betty, adding to his sad regret for things lost and years of his life that are gone

At the top of the hour Roger gives Don an assignment: to write his "Gettysburg Address" for Roger to deliver at an upcoming McCann retreat in the Bahamas.  Don needs to write 2500 words on the future of Sterling Cooper, an assignment that the old Don would have slapped out with ease and panache.  Struggling, we see Don scanning popular magazines of the day for clues of what other visionaries see for the coming decade.  He tries to sneak some assistance from Ted Chaugh, who is quick to realize what Don's real mission is and calls him on it, telling Don that Roger had already tried to get Ted to write the speech but that he told Roger he was too busy with staff reviews.  Plus, Ted tells Don, "you're way better at this kind of stuff anyway."  Indeed.  Peggy comes into Don's office asking him to review her past year's work and Don sees an opportunity to pump another unsuspecting staffer for the inspiration for his assignment.  Under the guise of questioning her about her performance, Don begins to ask Peggy guided questions to lead her to ostensibly think about her future, trying to get Peggy's fresh take on what the future holds.  With each wide-ranging question such as, what do you see in the future (Peggy wants to be the first woman creative director in the agency), Don seems more and more derisive of her answers, as if he's trying to warn her that his growing hopelessness is a signpost to her, warning of the ultimate emptiness of goals based in achievement at work.  Peggy becomes increasingly annoyed as Don continues to ask:  "then what?" until she erupts with, "why don't you tell me your dreams and I'll shit all over them!" and storms out of his office.  We see him speaking to a dictaphone, prone on his office couch, telling no-one in particular, "it's supposed to get better."  Don is drifting downward.

When Mathis, a copywriter on Peggy's team, following up on Don's alpha male advice on how to fix the fallout of an outburst in a client meeting fails miserably, (Don tells him the story of how he verbally battered Lucky Strike scion  Lee Garner Jr only to have Garner Jr apologize to him) he furiously accuses Don and his poor advice of being the cause of his removal from the account (we see the squirm enducing scene wherein Mathis tries and fails to "pull a Don Draper" telling the Peter Pan cients: "I'm surprised you had the balls to show back up here").  An angry exchage ensues with Don firing Mathis.  However, not before Mathis tells Don that Roger also regales people with the same story Don told him, only in Roger's telling, Lee Garner Jr played along with Don because he was fantasizing of engaging in gay sex with Don.  "You only get away with things because you're handsome!" Mathis shouts before storming out of Don's office, leaving him looking oddly chagrined.  This is Don getting some serious comeuppance from those close to him as well as the Mathis' in his life.

A quick check in with Joan finds her enjoying a business trip to the Sterling Cooper LA outpost, staying at the Beverly Wilshire and ordering room service.  Clearly Joan, as Account Executive and Partner, has reached her career goal and is reveling in her new-found status.  Through a mix-up at the office she meets a man in the suite looking for his optometrist.  Older, divorced, with grown children, and a lucrative building empire, Richard is exactly the kind of man that Joan finds attractive and they immediately begin sleeping together.  She tells him that she is not married but withholds information about her son Kevin.  When Joan receives a call back in the New York office she is delighted to hear that Richard is in New York and they plan to meet for dinner that night.  Dinner goes well and Richard presses Joan again about being married since she insisted on meeting him at the restaurant.  Joan confesses that she is not married but that she does have a four-year-old son.  Back in Richard's suite he confesses, somewhat angrily, that he can't have a relationship with the mother of a young child, telling Joan that he's already raised his kids and can't do it again; that he wants to be free to go at a moment's notice.  Joan leaves, telling Richard that he's "such a disappointment".  The next day, as she hurries to leave for work, late because the babysitter arrives late, Joan shouts at her and Kevin, "you're ruining my life!"  Later that day a contrite Richard shows up at Sterling Cooper, flowers in hand, and apologizes to Joan, telling her that he's going to invest in property in New York and that he wants a relationship with Joan and her son.  When he asks if he can call her Joan says "yes".

The episode revisits the Sally/Betty/Glen triangle, bringing Glen back to tell them that he's decided to enlist in the Army and is shipping out to Vietnam.  A furious Sally demands to know why, considering how committed Glen had been to the antiwar movement.  He makes up a reason, but reveals later to Betty (in an uncomfortable reminder of that icky relationship) that the true reason is that he was flunking out of college and enlisted in order to avoid his stepfather's ire and disappoinment.  Betty bids him farewell and we see a tearful Sally leaving a sad message for Glen before she leaves on a 12 state 12 day trip for school.  I have a feeling that's the last we'll see of Glen Bishop, which, frankly, for this recapper is for the best.

As Sally and her friends prepare to board the Greyhound for their trip Don treats them all to a Chinese dinner,  He asks the girls what they want to do with their lives and two of them give an appropriately lofty answer: senator, UN translator.  He advises them that, whatever they dream of doing they should write it down as they might forget as they get older.  Again, a pretty clear hint as to what's preying on Don's mind these days.  One of the girls begins to openly flirt with Don, calling him by his first hame and asking for a cigarette and where he lives.  Sally is clearly angry with her father as she perceives that Don is responding inappropriately to the girl's clumsy flirtation.  As she prepares to board the bus Sally confronts Don, telling him "you just can't help yourselves, you and Mom.  Whenever anyone pays attention to you, and they always do, you just ooze everywhere."  Pretty acid stuff, but it's something that Sally, now a teenager, has been observing her whole life and is now finally able to put words to.  Don responds angrily, telling Sally that she's just like her parents, "you're a very beautiful girl, you can do more with your life."  Sally looks at her father for a few moments and then boards the bus, leaving Don standing alone, offering a wan wave as the bus doors close, his expression distressed.  It's the second time in the episode that Don has been presented with an ugly truth about himself and whereas the old Don would have shaken off such truth arrows with nary a blink, this Don is clearly now suffering the wounds of those arrows, the troubled pain clear on his face.

Which brings us back to the beginning of this post, as Don retreats back to his apartment which is no longer his home, to a giddy realtor who, as she adjusts his tie, tells Don: "now we have to find a place for you."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mad Men Recap: A Twinge in the Heart

So I’m saying it right up front: I’m going to miss Megan. She of the much maligned lovely and abundant mouth full of teeth and crazy-ass mane of black hair (doesn’t anyone remember the chic, shoulder length bob that she wore?). She embodied an innocent yearning to stand alone, outside of Don’s enormous shadow, and be someone. I’m going to miss her because I liked the character of Megan, in spite of the fact that she was not all that well defined by the Mad Men writers, especially in comparison to other women on the series (I’m thinking of you Peggy and Joanie). I think the character was the only genuine, good person on the show and, not unlike in real life, she got eaten alive for it. Megan was trusting and loyal and devoted to her husband and, at least from what little we saw, a good friend to her fellow fledgling actresses.
In this respect I am in a very small community amongst Mad Men viewers. Week after week Megan was excoriated in discussion forums and even in editorial recaps. But I liked her because she was wholesome and radiated optimism in a dark cynical world. So, now that I’ve outed myself as a Megan Calvet-Draper Booster, let’s move on to this week’s episode: “New Business”. Don is now officially stalking the waitress who we learn is named Diana, employing a PI with a long Greek name, mangled by Don’s secretary as she delivers the message of his return call. He’s got the PI working the case because Diana has left the Twilight Zone diner and moved on to a slightly less seedy (but no less dark) Bavarian-themed restaurant. Don appears at her table one evening and wants to know when she gets off of work; he wants to buy her a drink. When next we see Don he’s fast asleep and his bedside phone is ringing…loudly. As a child of the sixties so much of Mad Men is one big trip down memory lane for me, and that screaming, jangling phone ringer, so unlike our quiet digital versions of today, reminded me of the particular startle reaction of having one ring in the middle of the night. Don, however, casually answers and its Diana, she’s off work and already kinda drunk, wanting to know what he wants. What he wants is what Don always wants: to sleep with her, so he invites her over…at three in the morning…for a drink and even more bizarrely, answers the door…at three in the morning…in a full suit and white shirt and tie ensemble. She asks him if he sleeps like that and he responds: “No, just vain.” They almost immediately hit the bed and for some reason, we are treated to another view of the wine stain on Don’s bedroom carpet. Now I know that Mad Men loves its symbolism, but other than the obvious comparison to blood I think that this wine stain schtick might be a, pardon the pun, red herring ala Megan’s red star T-shirt. We’ll see; but if it is some kind of foreshadowing it’s awfully heavy-handed for a show as sly as Mad Men.
Post sex Diana can’t sleep but doesn’t want to leave, either, so they just lay in the dark and as Don buries his face in her hair, commenting on its wonderful fragrance, she tells him it’s just shampoo, from Avon, that she bought in the living room of her ranch house with the two car garage and Diana’s backstory begins to emerge. Later, as Don is coming out of his morning shower, Diana has found her way into the room that Bobby and Gene share every other weekend when they visit, Sally being away at boarding school. Diana is creeping into the room in kind of a dazed state and as Don finds her there and inquires if she’s all right, she sits down on one of the twin beds and tells Don her lost soul story. Apparently she had a daughter who died and she left, unable to bear the pain of life in Racine, Wisconsin in the aforementioned ranch house that she shared with her husband and daughter. She refers to the pain of the loss as a lingering twinge in her heart, a term that any true Mad Men fan recalls as Don’s touch phrase in his pitch to the Kodak people in the iconic episode “The Wheel”. Don, being a fellow traveler along the lost souls road, and at least sometimes, a demonstrably devoted father, offers Diana words of both sympathy and empathy, and he sounds truly sorrowful on her behalf. Diana tells Don that being with him brings her relief from that twinge and we’re meant to believe that’s a good thing. They part, as Megan is due to appear that day with the movers to recover her furniture, and agree to meet again that night but this time at Diana’s place.
One flaw in this episode was that it seemed to be somewhat disjointed, the editing was choppy and we are jarred from one unconnected thread of story to another. Also, and this is something that many other recappers have noted, it’s kind of late in the game to be introducing new characters, is it not? The Mad Men universe is already chock full of interesting people. With only a handful of episodes left in the series, why take us down this rabbit hole with Diana now? Haven’t we seen Don with a few other Dianas already? And lots of the episodes real estate was used on the Don/Diana storyline. At this point I’ve grown to trust the Mad Men writers room and Mr. Weiner’s sensibilities, but I sure hope they’re going somewhere meaningful with this. Anyway, we get a peek at some SCDP drama with the insertion of yet another new character, a photographer named Pima, who has been hired by Peggy to shoot the stills for a Cinzano spread. Stan, as the SCDP art director and a photographer, is miffed but finds himself wanting Pima’s approval in spite of himself. Turns out Pima is a bit of a sexual chameleon, one who challenges people with direct, oddly personal turns of phrase. She tells Stan: “I can feel your desire for my approval.” Whatever; it works, and she and Stan have sex in the SCDP darkroom. Later she approaches Peggy in her office, choosing which shot to use for the print ad and tries to ply Peggy the same way, with a frankly sexual advance which Peggy, being Peggy, rebuffs. Later, as Stan is boasting of the connection he had with Pima, Peggy bursts the bubble of his male ego by reporting that Pima tried the same stunt with her but that it didn’t work because Peggy saw Pima for what she is: a hustler. Which is why Peggy won’t be hiring her for any more SCDP work. Chagrined, Stan slinks out for home. I’ve read many Mad Men fans want Stan and Peggy to connect on a relationship level before the series ends and I could not agree LESS. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if the Mad Men writers bring Peggy and Stan together as a couple I will be very disappointed. They’re friends and colleagues and should stay that way.
I also felt that the Mad Men team spent way too much time this week on the Calvet women. Marie, who we’ve met before, and a sister of Megan’s, also named Marie-France. I may be an inattentive viewer but I never knew until now that Megan even had a sister. Again, new characters; why? Anyway, Marie and Marie-France are in a state over Megan’s divorce. Being Catholics they are opposed to divorce and Marie worries over what Don “has done to our family.” We know from previous exposure to Megan’s parents that they are most unhappily married and both engaged in sexual liaisons outside of their union. Megan has a lunch meeting with Harry Crane to seek his advice on getting a new agent since she’s been without work in LA for several months. As she leaves the two Maries in Don’s apartment to deal with the movers she instructs them as to which pieces of furniture she’s interested in taking back to California. Marie, angry at Don’s treatment of her daughter, instructs the movers to load ALL of the furniture into the truck, something that she is told will cost her more than the agreed-upon price. With Megan gone, and no money of her own, Marie calls Roger, pleading with him to come over and bring the needed cash. He does as requested and pays the movers. Marie, now alone as Marie-France returned to the hotel where the three women are staying, throws herself at Roger who weakly protests but quickly responds to her advance.
Megan and Harry are at a hotel restaurant with a bottle of wine and Harry is telling Megan that “she is every man’s fantasy” and that he can’t believe that “Don threw her away.” He also tells Megan that he’s got a room upstairs and they could retire there and he could “make a few calls.” Megan, immediately understanding Harry’s intention, pulls away and angrily prepares to leave the table. A rebuffed Harry chides her as she gathers her things, his advice being that if she were more open to these “kinds of discussions” perhaps she would be having more success at casting calls in LA. And with that Harry Crane officially becomes the worst.
Megan and Don meet at the attorney’s office to sign the papers and finalize their divorce. As they wait for the attorney to arrive Megan bitterly calls Don out for ruining her chance at a career, since it was at Don’s insistence that she leave her role in a New York produced soap opera and head with him to California. Megan has been badly used by Don and, again, I feel all the feels for Megan because she trusted a snake and got badly bitten as a result. She bitterly calls him “an aging, sloppy, selfish liar” and who could disagree with her, really? Don then writes Megan a check for a million dollars, telling her: “I want you to have the life you deserve.” Megan takes the check and leaves her diamond engagement ring on the table and exits. Again, I felt bad for Megan because she trusted the wrong person and who among us has not felt that regret, even once? I do think that “New Business” may be Megan’s (and Jessica Pare’s) swan song and, if so, I will miss her.
The final two threads of story for this week were a glimpse of Don making Bobby and Gene chocolate milkshakes at Betty and Henry’s house, since the diner (was it the Twilight Zone diner and had he been looking for Diana there before hiring the PI?) was not open. As Don is serving the boys their milkshakes Betty and Henry come back dressed to the nines and Betty tells Don that she’s going back for her master’s degree in…wait for it…PSYCHOLOGY! I cannot imagine a worse choice and woe to the poor, confused souls who end up on her therapy couch. As Don leaves, oddly after Henry insists that he doesn’t have to rush off, he takes one last look at the boys with Betty and Henry and his face is filled with regret, this was one of the lives that Dick Whitman/Don Draper threw away. Regret for the path not taken is emerging as a powerful theme so far this last half of the end of the series.Our final curtain call in “New Business” is devoted to Don and Diana. He shows up at her shabby one room apartment, as arranged, with a gift in hand. Having heard Diana complain that she still doesn’t know her way around New York, Don brings her a New York travel guide. Diana offers him vodka as thanks. She then tells him that she didn’t just leave her husband in Racine but that she had a second daughter and left that child behind, as well. The twinge in her heart is something that she needs to go on feeling and since being with Don gives her some relief from that pain she wants no more of him. This self-flagellation has become her ongoing penance, which makes Diana one of the saddest characters yet on this Mad Men journey. Choosing pain over comfort, choosing alienation over connection, so far these are the themes that are driving this end of series Mad Men train. At episode’s end we see Don return to his now empty apartment and again we are reminded of “The Wheel”, when he returned to his empty house on Thanksgiving. How much more stripped down can the Mad Men team make Don Draper before there’s nothing left at all? As I wrote last week I have been hopeful for Don’s ultimate redemption but now I worry if we, and Don, are going to get that.