Monday, August 16, 2010

Mad Men, Season 4:
Episode 4, The Rejected

I can be a very finicky TV watcher. I can't even begin to list the well-reviewed TV shows that I gave up on. Going the other direction, I was a loyal watcher of several shows that crashed and burned in the ratings. That said, I am currently in love with the fourth season of Mad Men. Like with Breaking Bad, I wanted to watch the most recent season in real time without springing for the ridiculously priced "basic cable" option that is available where I live, so I got the season on iTunes. Unlike Breaking Bad, whose third season I enjoyed very much, I find myself watching episodes of Mad Men twice before I comment on them. As usual, this post will have spoilers after the first photo, so you have been warned.

I'd also like to note that I ripped these pictures off from Tim Goodman's blog at sfgate.com.

If you watch the show, you know Don Draper is to Mad Men what Jimmy McNulty was to The Wire or Tony was to The Sopranos. You'll also know those other shows were filled with interesting and rich characters, and while Don's personal and professional life certainly play a prominent role in the most recent episode, it's Peggy and Pete who really steal the show this week.


In the very first episode, Peggy and Pete felt like plot devices. Peggy Olson was the new girl, so she was there to have things explained to her, which meant also explained to us viewers. The plot gimmick at the end of the first season where she didn't know she was pregnant felt contrived to me, but the show has did a great job of pulling out of what could have been a tail spin. Now, she gets to be young, successful and independent in New York in the mid sixties. This episode was directed by John Slattery, the actor who plays Roger Sterling. Roger quite often gets the funniest line in the episode, but this week it's Peggy who gets the topper. She goes to an odd artistic party at the invitation of Joyce, an assistant photo editor at LIFE. When Joyce kisses her at the party after giving her a drag on a joint, a surprised Peggy says "I have a boyfriend." Joyce comes back with "Yes, but he doesn't own your vagina." Peggy, ever the nice girl, smiles and says "No, but he's renting it."

With as dark as this season has been, a show titled The Rejected promises serious misery. Though there are characters who have a rough time in the episode, most notably Don's secretary, it was great to see Peggy and Pete have some triumphs that may actually be long term.


Pete Campbell's growth as a fleshed out character may be even more remarkable than Peggy's. Even when he was on Angel, Vincent Kartheiser lived on his sneer as much as Kristen Stewart from Twilight lives on her bitten lower lip. But this episode puts many obstacles in his way and he overcomes them like an adult would, and also gives him chances to play a character who is truly happy and not really used to it.

A conflict comes up and he's going to have to dump his father-in-law's account. He takes the news from the other partners at first with his usual bad humor, but the meeting with his father-in-law takes a completely different turn when the older man lets slip that he knows his daughter is pregnant, a piece of news Pete is not yet aware of. He doesn't sulk or whine. He's surprised at first, and then he's happy. He treats his wife like she's the woman he loves. He shows a lot of reserve (his father-in-law calls him a "high WASP"), but you can tell he's enjoying himself and the good news for his family.

He and Harry Crane have lunch with Ken Cosgrove, one of the young men at the old Sterling Cooper who did not get called to make the move to the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Ken was always so cheerful and talented in a modest way, but he's a much more bitter individual now. He accuses Pete of talking trash behind his back, and while Pete at first denies it and some of the accusations might not even be true, he apologizes and the relationship looks to be mended. Besides Ken being more jaded than before, the most shocking thing in the episode is him slamming McCann Erickson, an ad agency that still exists. Ken says he hadn't seen so many retarded people in the same building since he went to work one day with his mom, a nurse at a Vermont state hospital. In one way, it's the standard non-politically correct speech from the sixties the show captures so well, but to blast a company that still exists was startling, even if it is talking about the company's situation forty five years in the past.

Pete also gets to shine when he finally gets around to telling his father-in-law about the conflict of interest at the new agency, and pitches the older man on letting Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce take other products with no conflict, the much larger share of the company pie. His father-in-law calls him a son of a bitch, but Pete just shrugs it off. He doesn't whine, he doesn't threaten, he acts like an adult with a stronger hand and he plays the hand correctly. At the end of the episode, we see Pete as an adult in with the big boys, while Peggy is part of the youth movement of the sixties. The script has already made it clear which group really has the power, but to see them look at each other as the two groups split to go have separate lunches is a brilliant touch of sadness and longing. Series creator Matthew Weiner co-wrote the script, so it's hard to say if director or writer deserves the most credit for this episode. Regardless, it worked flawlessly from beginning to end. I find myself looking forward to new episodes with more anticipation than I have felt in a very long time.




1 comment:

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