Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Mad Men 4.8 'The Summer Man'

“The power of the poontang…” – Stan

Any episode of any TV show that opens with a Rolling Stones song is always going to have me on side from the start and ‘The Summer Man’ was no exception to that rule. That said, this episode was great for a myriad of other reasons than its brilliant use of one of the most iconic songs from the greatest band to have ever existed.

It was good to finally see the Draper of old start to reappear after the sad-sack Don we’d spent much of the season pitying. What sparked Don’s decision to pull himself up out of the doldrums is unclear but through journal writing he seemed to have discovered a means of cleansing his soul without the need to actually reveal parts of himself to another human being, which we know is something he is almost incapable of doing.

Thus we had his journal entries as narration to the episode as they were used to voiceover certain parts of the episode; Don may still be unable to open up to a person but as viewers we got the first real window into his soul that wasn’t part of a flashback.

The voiceover device was one of a few out of the norm devices used in the episode that temporarily took us out of reality for a brief moment. There was also the quite hypnotic moment of Don sinking deeper under the water at the pool – it was unclear whether that was actually happening, was a dream or was just part of a very clever visual metaphor and there was the moment in Don’s office when Ken, Peggy and Stan were all drinking and the sound cut out as Don sat vacantly staring at the glass.

It was unusual to see devices like this used in Mad Men but I thought it worked quite well within the context of the episode.

Don’s assessment of his drinking - “when you need to cut down on your drinking, you have a drink problem” – at the beginning of the episode seemed to signal that Draper was going to really cut-back and whilst he far from became teetotal, there was visibly less drinking from him in this episode.

And the cut-back in alcohol intake seemed to agree with Don – the contrast between the out of shape Draper we saw in the pool in that opening scene, struggling to swim a length without coughing and spluttering; and the Draper in that closing scene, out-swimming the younger, fitter looking guy in the lane next to him proved as much. These contrasting scenes book ended the episode nicely, showing the improvement Don had made and signalling what appeared to be the return of Draper classic.

If out of shape Don was the Don Draper we’ve seen all season then the Don Draper that won the swim sprint could be the new Don we will see for the remainder of season 4, and I for one would far rather see that Don Draper than rock-bottom Don.

Don Draper will always be battling his inner demons but I’d much prefer to see him doing it with the uncompromising front we’ve become accustomed to.

I got a kick out of seeing Betty acting like a petulant child yet again, as she and Henry encountered Don out to dinner with Bethany – her reaction further proving she has the emotional maturity of a teenage girl.

The cracks in Betty and Henry’s relationship are all too evident and Don’s previous comment about the situation being “temporary” clearly still grates on Mr. Francis. It must be killing him to live in the former Draper marital home and be faced with constant reminders of the man whose shoes he so quickly filled, hence his reaction to the boxes in the garage.

I loved Don’s keeping up appearances act of coming to collect the items only to throw them all into a dumpster; Don Draper is clearly turning over a new leaf and that starts with breaking away from the past.

Henry and Betty don’t spoil a pair though – both more concerned with Don Draper than they will actually ever bring themselves to admit and both more miserable than they could also ever confess. It must be a rude awakening for Betty to still not be happy with her lot, as she always had Don to blame for her unhappiness; with Don out of the picture the only person she can blame now is herself.

Although, like Don, by the episode’s end it seemed as though a new Betty may have emerged from her heart to heart with Francine, as she acted like the reasonable one in her relationship when Don showed up at Gene’s birthday party.

Betty’s “we have everything” comment didn’t wholly convince me in its sincerity and the look she gave Don as he played with Gene suggested that beneath the surface of hate there is still deep affection there.

Elsewhere the majority of the non-Draper portion of this episode revolved around Joan. After talking to the freelance creatives like they were children, Joan got some sass from Joey – this exchange soon taking a darker turn as Joey commented that Joan walked around the office like she was “trying to get raped”.

Not a nice thing to say at the best of times, but knowing what we know about what Greg, her own husband, did to her on the floor of Don’s office back in season 2, this comment cut like a knife into the normally unflappable Joan, even if she tried not to let on.

Joan is not normally one to let personal issues get in the way of work, but she seemed intent on getting payback on Joey – possibly vicariously as a way of getting back at Greg – by trying to get Don to not make him permanent.

The normally distinct lines between home and work were seemingly blurred even further for Joan after she discovered the cartoon Joey drew of Lane and Joan, commenting about how she would love to see Joey and the other members of the office boy’s club shipped off to Vietnam. Joan clearly believes that these sexist pigs would be more deserving of trekking round a jungle being shot at than her beloved Greg.

In truth though no one is more deserving of staring down the barrel of a VC rifle than the husband who forced himself on her; but Joan, who has always just wanted to play happy families, seemingly can’t bring herself to admit that her perfect home life is far from perfect, or maybe she’s just tried so hard to forget that office party that she’s actually succeeded in blacking out that awful memory completely.

Peggy may now be an integral cog at SCDP but her desire to impress Joan remains as ferocious as back when she was a lowly secretary at the start of the series.

Joan’s spot-on observation of why Peggy fired Joey and the fact it had done more damage to both their images than good, missed only the point that Peggy did it to try and win Joan’s respect and friendship. Peggy’s plan backfiring spectacularly by driving a greater wedge between her and the woman she strives so hard to be just a little bit like.

The change from the look of pride on Peggy’s face as she entered that elevator with Joan to the look of dismay as Joan laid out for her what her actions had actually achieved was almost as brilliant a contrast as the two aforementioned Draper swimming scenes.

Christina Hendricks was fantastic in this episode, getting to show a fragile and vulnerable side of Joan we rarely get to see as she sashays round the office. It’s been great to see Hendricks given something weighty to get involved in this season after being absent for so much of last year.

I said in my Emmy nominations piece from earlier in the year that Hendricks was undeserving of her nomination for having so little to do last season but that certainly will not be the case this time around – if she misses out on a nod this year it will be another feather in the Emmy’s cap of lunacy.

Bullet Points:

- Don Draper certainly has some interesting taxi rides, first he had Bethany seemingly going down on him in the back of the taxi after their date and then Dr. Faye practically throwing herself at him after their romantic dinner – his taxi drivers must save a fortune on porn.

Just touching on the Dr. Faye incident – if further evidence was needed that Don Draper was going through some serious rehabilitation then him turning down a sure thing with a woman he’s been actively pursuing for months has to be the most damning.

- In his brief scene with Joey (in which Joey brilliantly and quite rightly suspected he was being hit on) Harry was bragging about his television connections yet again.

Am I the only one who thinks that he is being set up for a massive fall down the line?

- Don’s critique of Joey’s cartoon about Joan and Lane made me laugh – “narrative, point of view – are you sure Joey did this”.

Mad Men continues tonight @ 10pm on BBC4


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