Mad Men, Season 4

Week 4: Group Therapy
Talking television.
Aug. 16 2010 1:17 AM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 4: Group Therapy

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

John, Julia:

Was that our first nudity warning? I think so. Despite that novelty, I thought tonight was classic Mad Men, with lots of sublimated conflict spilling out into the open in subtle and unexpected ways.

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The show began with a period conference call to Lee at Lucky Strike. Allison is ably performing her secretarial duties, but she's a bomb about to go off. Dr. Faye Miller is setting up a focus group for the newly landed Pond's account, which means that Clearasil has been "conflicted out," and Pete has to deliver the unwelcome news to his father-in law. Roger tells him to "throw himself on the grenade," thus allowing Mad Men, for a brief moment, to cross paths in the zeitgeist with Jersey Shore.

Faye proves masterful at ingratiating herself with the 18-25-year-old "girls," and soon tears are flowing in the conference room. There are two sharp moments here: Peggy trying on Faye's wedding ring and Don lighting cigarettes when it appears that Allison might expose him. Instead, she opts to leave the room, and we have the great scene where Peggy tries to comfort Allison, who replies: "Would you stop it? I realize you must have gone through everything I've gone through."

But, of course, Peggy hasn't, and she replies: "Your problem is not my problem." How do the two of you read this scene? Was Peggy upset because Allison just assumed that Peggy had slept with Don, or was Peggy upset because Don had never made a move on her? It seems like more of a compliment if Don doesn't hit on you, as that must mean you're useful to him in a different and more long-term way.

The focus group itself provided enough fodder for both a Naomi Wolf book and the orientation session for new employees at a day spa. What to do, indeed, with the boyfriend who stares at other women all the time? Should a woman try to improve her beauty, or is it true that "You can only do your best with what God gave you"? My favorite was the advice from the secretary of French extraction, which should keep cosmetic barons up at night: Use water but nothing else. Pat your cheeks with your fingertips. When Don was disparaging Faye's work later in the episode, I could see his point. What separates a focus group from group therapy? I like the moments where Don lunges to protect his creative judgment.

Next, there was Peggy's elevator ride with Joyce. An assistant photo editor at Life, Joyce shows Peggy some arty nudes and then checks her out as she exits. Did you two immediately pick that up as a Sapphic leer? Joyce turns out to be Peggy's entrée into the bohemian scene down near Washington market. At a loft party with Velvet Underground-esque music blaring, she hands Peggy a joint and then makes a move. Peggy slightly recoils: "I have a boyfriend." Joyce: "He doesn't own your vagina." Peggy's rejoinder: "No, but he's renting it." Me, I found that exchange too reminiscent of a Sarah Silverman gag.

Peggy's reply was the only suave thing she did at the party. She numbly offers the artist-photographer-filmmaker the opportunity to work in advertising, and he replies with some silliness about Warhol. And she doesn't know what to say when black-leather-jacketed Abe asks: "What do you write?" Correct answer: not copywriting. (I'm sure we'll be seeing more of Abe, who looks likely to give Mr. Swedish Love some trouble and to challenge Peggy's notions of comfort, marriage, and careerism.)

Fellow clubbers, it seems that we should be careful what we wish for: Mad Men is giving us fuller immersion into the bohemian world, but the scenes are underbaked. They feel dropped into place and lack the believable details that grace other facets of the show. Any ideas of how to fix? Part of the problem is contrast, as the show is so sure-footed and clever at SCDP. I especially liked the shot of Peggy spying on Don through the glass dividing their offices.

Onward: Pete's going to be a father! I think Vincent Kartheiser is the best actor on the show. His joy at fatherhood comes off as genuine, yet all the while he moves with a perfect skeezy awkwardness. As a character, Pete confuses me. I just don't understand his ambition. In this episode, he achieves détente with Cosgrove (more of a bitter man than I remembered—so much for tapping maples) and then puts the screws into his father-in-law in the midst of a pregnancy celebration. Is this all for the love of Don and Roger? I love them too, but ... . And was that regret in his eye when he sees Peggy stepping out for lunch with her new circle?

Finally, I don't think she got the pears. Bad for the digestion!

Not afraid of the subway,

Agger

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Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.

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