May 8, 2013

This episode of Mad Men, “For Immediate Release,” was continuously shocking, and yet I never felt that shocked. It was quick scene after quick scene, just getting us information and moving along. So much happened – tons, really – but it lacked the sort of fanfare that has accompanied these Big Transition episodes in the past.

To start, let’s take a look at the month and year. In May of 1968, there was a bit of a moment of release: the country was recovering from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The cities were still standing, and with Lyndon Johnson out of the presidential race, there was hope that McCarthy or Kennedy would win the election and the war would be over soon. There was some reprieve from all the craziness. (Full disclosure: I watched this episode with my parents, who actually lived through this, and they provided all of the above information. Obviously, I personally was not around to feel a brief release in the spring of 1968).

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In the world of Mad Men, there also seems to be some peace in the beginning of the episode. Trudy is being sort of nice to Pete; Don takes off Megan’s underwear again; Roger is feeling purposeful. Not to mention that SCDP is considering going public, and they’re all going to become millionaires – even Joan is drunk and flushed on the idea of it. Hard work is paying off.

But then, abruptly, the shocks start coming. It’s SO abrupt, so much of it. There’s poop on Peggy’s staircase and Marie Calvet wants to break a wine bottle over Herb’s wife and Gleason has pancreatic cancer and Ted Chaugh kisses Peggy and Pete sees his father-in-law at a whorehouse. And then it keeps coming – Jaguar is lost, Vicks is lost, Chevy is on the table. Joan’s deep anger at Don is abrupt and shocking, and even Megan going down on Don sort of comes out of the blue. The shocks are incessant.

Right up until the end, when Peggy turns a corner and is confronted with Don. Now, she’s in a room with her mentor/father figure AND her boss/potential love interest, and she’s totally freaked out.

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I’m kind of freaked out too. When SC became SCDP, there was that lovely “Happy Christmas” call from Lane (ohhh Laneee) and all of that music and moving and shaking. Last season, when SCDP made it to the second floor, there was more music and an artful fanning of the partners across the floor. But this, which is an equally gigantic change, just happened. Like that. We’re moving. Immediately.

Another theme that played out this week was the idea of “I” versus “We.” Joan accuses Don of thinking only of himself, and it is Ted’s use of “we” that then grabs Don’s attention. Ted – such a “we” guy that he is completely broken by the thought that he might lose his partner – is a great foil for Don. Putting them together is a fascinating choice.

And Joan – oh Joan. It feels good to see her get so mad at Don. Don, who got rid of Jaguar simply because he didn’t like Herb, when it was Joan who SLEPT with him to land the account. Don is entirely thinking of himself – even if his disgust for Herb stems from a desire to protect Joan, his actions are purely selfish. On the other hand, Joan gave herself up completely to win the business that Don so cavalierly throws away. She is completely focused on the “we” of the company and the people she’s built her life around. He doesn’t think about them at all.

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Of course, there are more shocks to come (I’m waiting on the Kennedy assassination episode) and the release will soon be over. Any sense of calm that’s been established is certainly about to be destroyed. The future is something you haven’t even thought of yet.

My final point is that I still don’t know who GODDAMN Bob Benson is. He’s in the most random places! He’s getting ice, he’s with Pete at the whorehouse, he’s just sort of AROUND during Pete’s fight with Don. He seems so very suspicious, but he always looks so friendly. What’s up, Bob? Maybe Bob is going to take over everything? Maybe Bob is really Don’s son? Maybe Bob is a figment of Pete’s imagination, like the roommate in “A Beautiful Mind”? Maybe Bob will somehow marry Joan? WHAT IS GOING ON WITH BOB. He’s making me lose it a little.

Ok, actually, one more point. Dr. Rosen’s future is all he can think about – he’s quit his job because, as he puts it, he has a dead heart. Although his entire business, and his purported goal, is to do something for the collective good of the world, really he is thinking of himself and his personal ambitions. He even blatantly hits on Marie when he stops in to borrow wrapping paper. What about Sylvia? What about his son? What about the real weight of his work? Although he, like CRAZY BOB BENSON, pops in and out a lot, I think he’s an important piece of this season.

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Feel the release again on Portable.

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