“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: (1.07) “Red in the Face”

 

“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: (1.07) “Red in the Face”

Due to some sense of nostalgia, I decided to break out my “MAD MEN” Season One DVD set and watch an episode. The episode in question turned out to be the seventh one, (1.07) “Red in the Face”

After watching “Red in the Face”, it occurred to me that its main theme centered around some of the main characters’ childish behavior. I say “some of the characters”, because only a few managed to refrain from such behavior – Sterling Cooper’s co-owner Bert Cooper; Office Manager Joan Holloway; and Helen Bishop, a divorcée that happens to be a neighbor of the Drapers. I do not recall Cooper behaving childishly during the series’ last four seasons. Helen Bishop merely reacted as any neighbor would when faced with a situation regarding her nine year-old son and a neighbor. As for Joan, she had displayed her own brand of childishness (of the vindictive nature) in episodes before and after “Red in the Face”. But in this episode, she managed to refrain herself.

I cannot deny that I found this episode entertaining. And I believe it was mainly due John Slattery’s performance as Roger Sterling, Sterling-Cooper’s other owner. In scene after scene, Slattery conveyed Roger’s penchant for childishness – proposing an illicit weekend to Joan, resentment toward the female attention that Don Draper managed to attract at a Manhattan bar, making snipes at the younger man’s background during an impromptu dinner with the Drapers, making sexual advances at Betty Draper, and gorging on a very unhealthy lunch. That is a lot for one episode. Roger’s behavior served to convey a middle-aged man stuck in personal stagnation. Even worse, he has remained in this situation up to the latest season. And Slattery managed to convey these tragic aspects of Roger’s character with his usual fine skills.

Jon Hamm fared just as well with another first-rate performance as the series’ protagonist, Don Draper. In “Red in the Face”, Hamm revealed Don’s immature and bullying nature behind his usual smooth, charismatic and secretive personality. This was especially apparent in a scene that Hamm shared with January Jones, in which Don accused his wife Betty of flirting with Roger. And Don’s less admirable nature was also apparent in the joke that he pulled on Roger in the episode’s final scenes. Speaking of Betty, January Jones also did a top-notch job in those scenes with Hamm. She also gave an excellent performance in Betty’s confrontation with Don, following the dinner with Roger; and her conversation with neighbor Francine about her desire to attract attention. I have noticed that most of the series’ fans seemed to regard Betty as a child in a woman’s body. Granted, Betty had her childish moments in the episode – especially during her confrontation with neighbor Helen Bishop at a local grocery store. But I have always harbored the opinion that she is no more or less childish than the other main characters. This episode seemed to prove it. One last performance that stood out came from Vincent Kartheiser as the young Accounts executive Pete Campbell. To this day, I do not understand why he is the only major cast member who has never received an acting nomination for an Emmy or Golden Globe. Because Kartheiser does such a terrific job as the ambiguous Pete. His complexity seemed apparent in “Red in the Face”. In one scene, he tried to exchange a rather ugly wedding gift for something more dear to his heart – a rifle. His attempt to exchange the gift seemed to feature Pete as his most childish. Yet, he also seemed to be the only Sterling Cooper executive who understood the advertising value of John F. Kennedy’s youthful persona during the 1960 Presidential election.

Earlier, I had commented on how screenwriter Bridget Bedard’s use of childish behavior by some of the main characters as a major theme for “Red in the Face”. I have noticed that once this behavior is apparent; Roger, Don, Betty and Pete are left humiliated or “red in the face” after being exposed. Betty’s decision to give a lock of hair to Helen Bishop’s nine year-old son in (1.04) “New Amsterdam” led to a confrontation between the two women at a grocery store and a slap delivered by Betty after being humiliated by Helen. If I had been Betty, I would have admitted that giving young Glen a lock of her hair was a mistake, before pointing out Glen’s habit of entering a private bathroom already in use. And Pete’s decision to trade the ugly-looking chip-and-dip for a rifle led to being berated over the telephone by his new wife, Trudy. Only a conversation with Peggy Olson, Don’s secretary, about his fantasies as a hunter could alleviate his humiliation. During the Drapers’ dinner party with Roger, the latter noted that Don’s habit of slipping his “Gs” indicated a rural upbringing – a revelation that left Don feeling slightly humiliated. And after accusing Betty of flirting with Roger, she retaliated with a snide comment about his masculinity. Don tried to retaliate by calling her a child, but Betty’s stoic lack of response only fed his humiliation even more. However, he did get even with Roger by setting up the latter with a cruel practical joke that involved a falsely inoperative elevator and a heavy lunch that included oysters and cheesecake. Although the joke left Don feeling smug and vindicated, I was left more convinced than ever of his penchant for childish behavior. Aside from feeling humiliated by a pair of young females’ attention toward Don, Roger managed to coast through most of the episode without paying a price for his behavior. In the end, he suffered the biggest humiliation via his reaction to Don’s joke – by vomiting in front of prospective clients.

“Red in the Face” featured many scenes that I found entertaining – especially the impromptu dinner party given by the Drapers for Roger Sterling. But if I must be honest, I did not find it particularly impressive. Although “Red in the Face” offered viewers a negative aspects of four of the main characters, I do not believe it did nothing to advance any of the stories that began at the beginning of the season. I must also add that Betty’s confrontation with Helen Bishop seemed out of place in this episode. While watching it, I had the distinct impression that this scene, along with Betty and Francine’s conversation, should have been added near the end of “New Amsterdam”. By including it in “Red in the Face”, it almost seemed out of place.

I could never regard “Red in the Face” as one of the best episodes of Season One or the series. But I cannot deny that thanks to performances by John Slattery, Jon Hamm, January Jones and Vincent Kartheiser, I found it entertaining.

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Matthew Weiner, “MAD MEN” and Issues

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MATTHEW WEINER, “MAD MEN” AND ISSUES

Ever since the characters Roger Sterling and Joan Harris were mugged by an African-American man in the Season Four episode of “MAD MEN”(4.09) “The Beautiful Girls”, the topic of race in the series reared its head again. The ironic thing is that many of the series’ fans and the media still refuse to criticize the series’ creator, Matthew Weiner, for the series’ minimal exploration of race. Instead, they believe that Weiner will gradually get into the issue by the time the series focuses upon the late 1960s. 

Matthew Weiner reminds me a lot of the creator of “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”, Joss Whedon. Whedon had engaged in a good deal of in-depth exploration of feminine issues, yet barely touched upon race issues. And I see the same in Matthew Weiner’s handling of “MAD MEN”.

He tried to deal with the race issue with the character of Shelia White back in Season 2. Sheila was the girlfriend of Sterling Cooper copywriter Paul Kinsey. But eight episodes following her first appearance, Sheila’s character ended up being dropped in a very unsatisfying manner. Instead of showing the audience the circumstances that led to her and Paul’s breakup, Weiner merely had Paul reveal the news to his fellow co-workers, upon his return from a trip to Mississippi.

Weiner portrayed Carla, the Drapers’ maid, as the wise and dignified “Negro” – someone who turned out to be not very interesting. Poor Carla became one of those cliches that have permeated Hollywood for so many decades. In her case, she became the “dignified Negro”.  The firing of Carla at the end of Season Four has never sat well with me. I found it manipulative and a cheat. Weiner gave viewers (especially those from the white middle and upper classes) a chance to express sympathy toward a character, whose actions rightly led her to be fired. Betty had right to fire Carla.  The latter had no business allowing young Glen into the house, especially on the heel of his vandalism of the Francis household.  But since Betty was an unpopular character, and Carla was popular due to being a bland and non-threatening minority character, Weiner gave audiences a chance to congratulate themselves on being so tolerant and sympathetic toward a minority character.

I really do not see why Weiner could have approached the issue of race from a perspective not shown before – an African-American character that also happened to be an advertising executive. Most people do not realize this, but African-Americans began being employed by advertising agencies as far back as the mid or late 1950s . . . and not as service employees. Weiner had plenty of opportunity to approach this topic in the past two to three seasons. There is no need for him to wait until the series is set in the late 1960s.

Just recently, Weiner included a new addition to the cast – a thirty-something African-American woman named Dawn Chambers.  The character had been hired in the Season Five episode, (5.03) “Tea Leaves”.  Since then, Dawn has been featured in one major scene in which she sought refuge at Peggy Olson’s apartment in the wake of racial violence in Harlem.  But instead of audiences getting to know more about Dawn, the sequence centered around Peggy.  I found this very disappointing.  Since then, Dawn has been treated as background or a minor character with a few lines.

I can recall one particular critic, who has expressed contempt at Weiner’s handling of racial issues.  This critic pointed out that the FOX series, “24” had an African-American character as President of the United States . . . six years before Barack Obama became the first person of African descent to be elected to that office. If the producers of “24” (who were known for harboring conservative political beliefs) could do this, what had prevented Weiner from including a major African-American character as an employee of Sterling-Cooper after four seasons? Especially since there had been a small number of Black Americans who worked in advertising.

I also thought Weiner would deal with gay issues with the character of Sal Romano over the series. In the end, Weiner backed away from that subject, as well. Some claim that Sal’s story had simply ran its course. I disagree. Weiner had plenty of opportunity to continue Sal’s story. He had barely touched upon the issue of Sal’s marriage to Kitty, before he had Sal’s character removed from the series in the Season 3 episode, (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”. I found this decision to get rid of Sal very disappointing.  I later learn that actor Bryan Batt had left the series, due to personal reasons.  But Weiner never bothered to broach the subject of gay issues since Sal’s departure.

I suspect that like Whedon, Weiner will eventually approach the topic of race . . . but at the last minute. Hopefully, there will be a television series or movie that will be brave enough to give equal time to the topic of gender, race and gay issues.

A Few Observations of “MAD MEN”: (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”

After viewing the latest episode of ”MAD MEN” called (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”, I came up with the following episodes: 

A Few Observations of “MAD MEN”: (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”

*I think that from the moment Lee Garner Jr. tried and failed to seduce Sal Romano, the latter was screwed no matter what. Even if Harry Crane had immediately informed Roger or Don about Garner’s demand; or if Sal had acted professionally and told not only Don, but Roger on what happened, he was screwed. The client came first. Especially clients like Lee Garner and Conrad Hilton, who were too powerful to ignore. As I recall that back in Season One, even Don had to apologize to Rachel Menken for his outburst, despite the fact that she had yet to become an official client.

*I have read a few posts on Betty’s aborted affair with Henry Francis. I find it interesting that so many are disappointed that she did not go ahead with the affair. In fact, they have harshly criticized her for not going through with the affair . . . which I found rather odd. Even more interesting is that some of the fans are demanding to know what she really wanted. Henry also seemed to be wondering. Judging from her disappointment with her marriage to Don and the realization that Henry simple wants an affair, I am beginning to suspect that what Betty really wants is a meaningful relationship with someone. She wants a meaningful relationship with someone. That would explain the letters she exchanged with Henry, her anger at Don for keeping her in the dark about his contract problems, and her tears following the dinner with the Barretts in “The Benefactor”. And when she visited Henry’s office, she realized that she was not going to receive one from him, anymore than she was ever going to receive one from Don.

*Despite Betty’s remark about civil rights, Carla is one lucky woman. She could have easily found herself in the same situation as Sal ended up by the episode’s end. All Betty had to do was fire her and lie to Don about her reasons for firing Carla. Unless she feared that Carla would retaliate by telling Don about Betty’s meeting with Henry Francis. That is the only reason I could find why Carla remained employed.

*I also find it interesting that criticisms are being lobbied at Betty for her remark about the Civil Rights Movement. I found it interesting and a little hypocritical. One, of course Betty would make such a remark. She is a white female from a privileged background. And she is also a conservative, although a moderate one. She had called Carla ”girl” when referring to the latter during a phone call with Henry. What did these fans expect? Yet, many fans made excuse after excuse for Joan’s unnecessary and racist remarks to Sheila White back in Season Two.

*Is it just me or did Peggy look slightly smug after Connie Hilton made it clear that he disapproved of Don’s presentation? Mind you, I was not that impressed by it, either. It seemed a bit too simple and infantile to me. And it failed to invoke the glamour of travel, while maintaining the message of American values. At least to me.

*How many times has Don assumed an aggressive stand when a client fails to be impressed by his work? Why does he do this? Is this Don’s way of intimidating a client into accepting his work? I can recall him pulling this stunt with Rachel Menken, which angered her in the process. He also pulled this stunt with the client from Belle Jolie and succeeded. Then he tried it with Conrad Hilton and failed. Again, the fans’ reaction to this latest incident seemed to be anger toward Hilton. I found myself feeling slightly sympathetic toward him. After all, he is the client. If he did not like Don’s presentation, he did not like it. Don’s slight temper tantrum seemed a bit uncalled for.

*Pete hacking up a storm after taking a puff on a Lucky Strikes cigarette struck me as hysterical. So did the scene in which Betty threw the money box at Henry.

*Is Roger still a force at Sterling Cooper? Judging from the scenes in this episode, he seemed to be. But considering how the British regard him, I wonder how long this will last.

*Don and Suzanne. I failed to see the chemistry. In fact, Miss Farrell seemed like a second-rate version of Rachel Mencken, but with a less stable personality. I realize that Don also wants a meaningful relationship in his life . . . but Suzanne Farrell? I think he could have done better than her. Especially someone who had recently been his daughter’s teacher. What makes Don’s affair with Suzanne even more troubling is that he is using her as some kind of drug. He had suffered rejection from a man he was beginning to view as a parent figure and he turned to Suzanne for comfort. Unfortunately, I suspect that Suzanne might view him as something more . . . and both will end up encountering an unpleasant surprise.

*This episode also spelled the end of Sal Romano on ”MAD MEN”.   So far.  Joan Harris née Holloway returned to Sterling Cooper. But will Sal ever return? Or is he never destined to return to the series, even as a recurring guest character like Duck Phillips?