Mad Men, Season 4

The Poetry of Roger Sterling
Talking television.
Aug. 2 2010 3:39 PM

Mad Men, Season 4

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The Poetry of Roger Sterling

Still from Mad Men. Click image to expand.
John Slattery as Roger Sterling in Mad Men

I'm glad you mentioned Lee Garner Jr.'s accent, Michael. The wonderful power play between Lee and Roger over the Santa suit was made that much more delightful by his tobacco twang.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

Lee [playful]: "Pood it own, Roger."
Roger: "Come on."
Lee [dead serious]: "Pood it own."

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One more point about adults acting like children in this episode. Time's James Poniewozik makes the smart observation that Don likes his sex with a side of mothering:

He initially responds coldly to his neighbor Phoebe, the St. Vincent's nurse, upon meeting her in the hallway, but—when she puts him to bed drunk and takes off his shoes—he's suddenly aroused and makes a pass at her. When Allison brings him his keys and he finds himself in a similar situation—a woman in his apartment, ministering to him—he again makes a move, and this time finds her receptive.

There was also something very childlike about Don's behavior in both scenes. The exuberant "good night!" he yells to Phoebe as she departs his apartment sounded like it was coming from an 8-year-old calling after his mother. Don's post-coital moment with Allison was similarly boyish—"My goodness," he says, as if he's never had one of those before. The next day, he arrives at the office, sees Allison at the end of the corridor, and heads in the other direction, like a high-schooler afraid to face the girl he made out with at last night's mixer.

Michael, I love your athlete-returning-from-an-injury metaphor for Don. Last week I had the impression he'd tweaked a hammy in the off-season; this week it looks more as if he's back from an ACL reconstruction. We've seen Don in some pretty low places over the years—in a car wreck with Bobbie Barrett; KO'd by some draft-dodging grifters—but at least those were adventures gone bad. There's something newly pathetic—to borrow Joey's word—about Don's current state, in which the mundane task of getting past his apartment's deadbolt has become an almost insurmountable obstacle. Logan Hill at Vulture puts it nicely: "Don's not just getting Roger Drunk, he's getting Freddy Rumsen Drunk."

We'd be remiss if we didn't pause and tip our fedoras to the Mad Men writers for the beautiful little poem they gave Roger to recite:

I was just saying that this is the office
And that's life.
And this is good.
And that's life.

Readers, post your exegeses in the comments section. My take: Roger's saying he still thinks about Joan's hillsides, but he knows his days of roaming them are passed. SCDP needs her, and he won't ruin a good thing by trying to win her back. Or, at least, he won't try too hard. I loved the shot that closed this scene, the camera pulling away as Roger, perched on his Saarinen table, admired Joan returning to her station to order the Chinese and deli. Joan's husband, by the way, still seems to be in the picture—or at least that's the appearance she's keeping up at the office.

I loved that poor Lane was called both Olivier and Jeeves in this episode. Any predictions for next week? Sherlock?

Finally, Michael and Julia, what did you make of Katie Roiphe's essay in the New York Times? She argues that, in 2010, "our vices are minor and controlled" and thus we're attracted to the "large-scale messiness" of Mad Men's "recreational alcoholism" and "casual adultery." I see what Roiphe's getting at, and think there's something to it, but it's an observation that rings truer when applied to the show's first few seasons. The allure of recreational alcoholism and casual adultery was nowhere to be found in this episode—Don's treatment of Allison wasn't exhilarating or cathartic; it was just painful. The show, it seems to me, is now exploring the consequences of the madness that looked so glamorous in seasons past—divorce, AA, going stag to the office Christmas party.

See you in Acapulco.

John

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