Friday, August 31, 2007

Mad Men: "Red in the Face" - Men without hats

While not advancing much of the over-arching plot, a lot still happened on last night's episode of Mad Men, much of it focusing on the generational differences at Sterling Cooper - essentially the corporate white male of 1960. In the spotlight is Roger Sterling (played by John Slattery in a manner that screams for a 'best supporting actor' nod,) who represents "The Greatest Generation," and all his (and his generation's?) weaknesses are exposed in a vengeful ending.

Parallel, though, to the exploration of these different generations is this week's client, the 1960 presidential campaign of one Richard Nixon. The braintrust from Sterling Cooper discuss strategy, settle that Kennedy will indeed win the nomination. Dismissing the fact that Kennedy was only 4 years younger then Nixon, they think they should attack Kennedy's youth and inexperience.
Roger: "He doesn't even wear a hat."
Pete: "You know who else never wears a hat? Elvis... that's what we're dealing with."
Pete, for all his insecurities and misguided aggression, is spot on here, not with Elvis the person (who would turn out to be more a Nixon man and would be facing the same generational challenges shortly with The Beatles,) but with Elvis the youth icon of the 1950s. The only other person in the room who knows it is probably Don (but he would never side with Pete against the partners.) Kennedy vs Nixon is a metaphor for the generational chasm. In that famous first televised debate that would happen a few short months later, Nixon talked of establishment and wears a gray suit that washes out on television (Roger wears a gray suit.) Meanwhile, Kennedy wore a stylish dark suit and spoke of a new generation and of the future.

Another of the generational differences brought up throughout the series is the wars they fought. Bertram Cooper fought in WWI, Roger in WWII, Don in Korea, while Pete's generation has no war (and no hat.) Bertram derides Roger for being weak with his cigarette smoking (perhaps voicing aloud the audience's concern for the whole series,) and backs it with a Hitler anecdote from WWI (and then calls him 'Peanut,' continuing the belittlement.) Then when Roger tells his war stories, it's obvious that he doesn't think his Navy days in WWII can compare with what his father did in WWI, fighting with a bayonette, but when Don's service is brought up, Roger can barely even acknowledge it's existence. Pete, meanwhile, just has his Boy's Life hunting fantasies, so Roger and Don don't even bother entering him in the equation.

Speaking of Pete's hunting fantasy (hanging the deer, gutting it and slicing off a steak for his woman to cook for him,) it was weird seeing Peggy so turned on by it. So much so that she had to immediately order some meat (ham sandwich) with a side of blood (cherry danish.) Meanwhile, seeing him cradle his rifle under a dim light while his wife chews him out offstage was beautiful film-making.

But back to Roger, after he obliquely apologizes hitting on Don's wife ("we all park in someone else's garage once in a while,") you could see Don already plotting his revenge. Not only did he serve it cold, but with oysters and a multitude of martinis ("the Roger Slattery diet.") Mad Men is great at subtlety, and nowhere is that more evident then how this revenge played out. Don gives money to the elevator operator (Hollis,) but we're all still stuck on the spectacle of warless Pete carrying his rifle into the office ($22 is the same price as Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle, right?) Don then plays to Roger's ego, following his lead (while wearing Roger's uniform - the Nixonian gray suit,) as Roger drinks, smokes So when he and Roger finally make it back from the gut-testing lunch and see the elevator's out, Don's role in it wasn't immediately (bluntly) obvious. However, 23 flights of stairs later, a younger, more fit Don has both proven his generation's worth and killed the unwanted Nixon account with Roger's projectile vomit. As Rosemary Clooney's "Botch-A-Me" starts up, it's the sly smile that Don then gives as he walks away that seals the deal.

Musically, I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight the use of the great Brazilian guitarist Luiz Bonfa, who's take on "Night and Day" played so subtlely in the background. Elvis even sang one of the bossa nova legend's songs ("Almost in Love,") for the 1968 MGM film Live a Little, Love a Little, bringing it full circle. (No word on whether Bonfa wore a hat or not.)

Playlist: Mad Men - Episode 107
1. "There Will Never Be Another You" - Bud Powell
2. "Night and Day" - Luiz Bonfa
3. "Botch-A-Me (Ba-Ba-Baciami Piccina)" - Rosemary Clooney

More: AMC's having a Mad Men marathon on labor day, so here's your chance to catch up, or even rewatch (it's that good.)

Previously: Exile on Canaan Street (Episode 106)

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