Mad Men, Season 5
Roger's handing out greenbacks because he's got no juice.
Hey Julia, hey John:
Big things often happen off screen in Mad Men, and when Roger roused himself from his Le Corbusier fainting couch partway through last night’s episode to offer Peggy a cash bribe, it occurred to me that he might have spent the gap between seasons robbing banks. I figured the $1,100 he paid Harry Crane to switch offices would have wiped him out. But here he is, inducing Peggy—who never needed much in the way of arm-twisting to stay late at the office—with an additional $400 that just happened to be burning a hole in his pocket. How much cash does this guy carry?
I’m going on record: If the similarly liquid Mr. Polito returns to the office at some point later this season and he and Roger share a pregnant beat of unspoken recognition, you heard it here first.
Perhaps Roger just packs extra greenbacks each day in humble recognition that money is the only way to compensate for his increasingly glaring deficit of juice. Having your name on the building just doesn’t convey the same prerogatives that it did a few seasons ago. It’s not just that Roger must resort to trickery if he’s going to compete with kids like Pete; he’s become such a sad sack afterthought at SCDP that he’s openly dissed by his subordinates. Peggy can’t be bothered to take her feet off the desk when Roger walks into the room, and Stan—Stan, of all people—blows off Roger’s order to locate Ginsburg with a sarcastic dismissal. When Stan mobilizes against you in a battle of the wits, you know you’ve become a decidedly easy target.
I was half-fooled by Don’s torrid dream, Julia, and I think that’s a promising sign. Mad Men’s dream sequences, like its flashbacks, tend to be so congested with portent that they take me out of the moment. It’s generally obvious that you’re in a dream the moment it starts, whereas, for me at least, part of the magic of actual dreams is that their micro-departures from real life are often so plausible that you believe they’re real. So while I will share your disappointment if Don confines his philandering henceforth to a series of fantasies, I do think greater realism in dream sequences would be a good thing for the show.
My question is: When precisely did that assignation by the loading docks go down? You called Andrea an “old” paramour, Julia. But her behavior in the elevator struck me as pretty familiar for a years-old flame. I wonder whether in her fever dream visitation, she’s supposed to be a phantasm of Don’s general guilt (“You loved it, and you’ll love it again, because you’re sick”), or of a guilt that is more recent, and specific. “Remember that night at Lincoln Center,” she says. “Your wife was waiting inside.” It’s not clear to me that the wife she’s referring to is Betty. We didn’t get to witness Don and Megan’s wedding, after all. Who’s to say we didn’t also miss the night Megan surprised her new husband with tickets to Don Giovanni?
But my favorite aspect of Don’s dream (and the moment I realized it was a dream) was the appearance of that single red shoe—courtesy of boy wonder Michael Ginsberg! Pete Campbell may be wresting control of the firm through his cunning and exertion, but Ginsberg’s got something we haven’t seen since Don—the easy, unalloyed genius of a showhorse. He conjures a pitch for pantyhose that earns an easy “Sold,” only to perform an extemporaneous Freudian riff on the Cinderella story, just because he can. The whole sequence is classic Don: It draws on a flash of insight Ginsberg had earlier, listening to his colleagues talk about the “sex murders” in Chicago. “You’re excited by it,” he says to Megan. Ginsberg alone is sharp enough to articulate the uncomfortable double helix of sex and danger that threads through the whole episode. And if you were troubled by the rape fantasy overtone of the scenario he describes, think about his suggestion that Cinderella “wants to get caught,” and how well that same diagnosis might apply to Don himself, and the pathologies he exhibits later in the episode.
Speaking of rape fantasies, how about that Grandma Pauline? I confess, I was completely charmed by her. I remember being bored stiff during long summers as a kid, and wondering at the way certain under-occupied adults in the pre-Internet era would turn to the telephone as a kind of low-intensity recreational sport. If only someone had taught me how to take a pill. Pauline proves impervious to Sally’s child psych interrogatories (“How old are you? Was your mom strict?”) And when she finally gives in and narrates the Speck murders—“All those young, innocent nurses in their short uniforms, stirring his desire”—her rendition is deliciously Fifty Shades of Grey. As a child of the 1980s, I was also struck, naturally, by Grandma Pauline’s passing resemblance to Mamma Fratelli, the indelible evil matriarch from The Goonies. No wonder Sally hid under the couch.
John, I’ll leave it to you to dissect Peggy’s drunken efforts to find common cause with Dawn. They may be protesting in Chicago, but in midtown, Peggy’s protesting a bit much. I loved the moment when, after Peggy’s umpteenth assurance that “You can talk to me,” Dawn replied, with enviable restraint, “I’m trying to.” We should also unpack what Peggy said just before the line you quoted, Julia. She was talking generally about the job, of course, but she also wondered if Dawn thinks she acts like a man.
Finish that sandwich. Crusts and all,
Julia Turner will be chatting with readers about this week’s episode of Mad Men on Facebook today at noon.
Patrick Radden Keefe is is a fellow at the Century Foundation and the author of The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream.