Mad Men, Season 3

Week 12: Workhorses and Show Horses
Talking television.
Nov. 9 2009 1:46 AM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 12: Workhorses and Show Horses

Still from Mad Men. Click image to expand.
Mad Men

Thanks, Julia. That experience of wanting characters on a TV show to get together is the sort of thing I'd expect the Germans to have a single word for, but once again, the Internet has the Germans beat. It should be no surprise to readers of this dialogue that I big-time ship Roger and Joan. I suppose I occasionally share your shipping of Don and Betty, too. But when it comes to Betty and Henry Francis, really, who gives a ship?

The trick of creating exceptional television and films often seems to come down not to plotting or dialogue or characterization—but to casting. If you don't believe me, take a second to imagine The Godfather with the studio's first choice, Robert Redford, as Michael Corleone. I wonder whether it's frustrating for Weiner and his writers that John Slattery and Christina Hendricks positively crackle with electricity every time they share a frame; that all the elegant plotting and the saucy dialogue of every other character notwithstanding, the sheer force of the on-screen chemistry between these two actors generates more light and heat than any other pairing on the show?

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Not that their repartee hurts, either. Like you, John, I loved, "So, what's new?" But my favorite line in the episode came when Roger shouted, "Will somebody get that?!" while the phone rang right beside him.

I'm not sure I share your optimism on Don and Betty, Julia. I think she confesses that she doesn't love him because she doesn't. This isn't to suggest that they can't muddle through in the interest of keeping the marriage intact, sustained by their respective flings and the occasional old-time's-sake interlude of marital affection (a la Roma). But the only way Betty will fall in love with her husband is if he changes, shedding his skin once again and emerging not as Dick Whitman or as Don Draper but something new altogether, a kind of man we haven't seen him be. And hey, if anyone can swing that kind of comprehensive reinvention, it's probably D-Squared.

One other reflection on Pete Campbell. What did you make of Pete's bad-mouthing Harry Crane and his other colleagues, implying—erroneously, I think—that they were dancing on Kennedy's grave? What is the real source of Campbell's bitterness?

"You did everything they asked you to do," Trudy tells him. "But you don't owe them anything." One persistent theme in Mad Men, which we haven't yet discussed, is the distinction between workhorses and show horses. Pete is a consummate workhorse: He labors away at Sterling Cooper, always angling for the next rung in the ladder, his ambition (and his sweat) right there on his sleeve. Cosgrove, by contrast, is an easygoing golden boy, "a haircut," who manages to ascend the corporate org chart and make it look easy (while publishing short stories in the Atlantic, to boot). Cosgrove is amiable and relatively egalitarian. He's not fixated on hierarchy the way Pete is: Notice him under a desk fiddling with a secretary's space heater after Campbell gets the news. (Though, of course, there may be more than egalitarianism at play there; Cosgrove is also a stud horse.)

Paul Kinsey resents Cosgrove as well, and he resents Peggy for similar reasons—because she seems to have a set of instincts that allow her to dream up copy in a couple of seconds that is more inspired than the clunkers Kinsey spends whole weekends concocting. Of course, Peggy does put in the hours, if only to get out of Karen's write-letters-to-Jackie party at her apartment. She's sort of a workhorse masquerading as a show horse. But her idol, Draper, is the ultimate show horse. He sleeps in his office and comes and goes as he pleases, because Roger and Bert, and even the tweedy overlords of PPL, know that when the time comes, Draper will breeze in, looking like a million bucks, and deliver the goods.

There's been a lot of great discussion on the Fray recently, but the most intriguing entry is this suggestion, from scottfield, that the episode we all watched Sunday night may have been the finale. Some cable services carried a promotional summary for Episode 12 that seemed a little off: "Don has a special meeting with an impressive candidate for the company; Peggy begins to question what she really looks for in a man; Pete finds himself in a tough dilemma when he is forced to make important career decisions."

That last bit about Pete could describe his subplot in this episode, but the Don and Peggy stories didn't happen. What's more, in a brief exchange that seemed like a non sequitur, Pryce said he couldn't hire Don's candidate for art director because he was too expensive.

So here's the theory put forward by scottfield: Sunday's episode was supposed to be the finale. There was a missing episode—the episode described in the promo copy—and Weiner elected either to switch the two episodes (unlikely) or to shoot a new finale and turn the old Episode 13 into Episode 12. Of course, there are problems with this theory, chief among them AMC's reputation for penny-pinching, which might make the network reluctant to scrap a $2 million episode. But there was something undeniably valedictory about the proceedings the other night.

Put away your wallet, Swans. If scottfield's right, you may be the winner after all.

TODAY IN SLATE

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