Mad Men

Mad Men Discussion, Season 5, Episode 4: “Mystery Date”

Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and her mother Gail Holloway (Christine Estabrook) react to the unwelcome news that Greg Harris has volunteered for another tour of duty in Vietnam (Photo Coutesy of AMC).
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and her mother Gail Holloway (Christine Estabrook) react to the unwelcome news that Greg Harris has volunteered for another tour of duty in Vietnam (Photo Coutesy of AMC).

Katie: Hi Alex,

Wow. What a fantastic episode this past Sunday. If audiences didn't feel fully back in the "Mad Men" groove this season as I have, they certainly should now.

Let's start with one of the most notable aspects of "Mystery Date:" the very pronounced inclusion of historical events, like the Richard Speck murders in Chicago, as well as the race riots that were also occurring in Chicago at the time.

Of course, being a period piece, it's nearly impossible to not mention the current events of the 1960s in the show. However, what "Mad Men" has been so great about in the past (and in this case, I'd argue) is that the real-life events themselves aren't quite so intriguing as those events they affect and parallel the lives of Matthew Weiner's fictional creations.

For instance, this week the Richard Speck murders drew the somewhat macabre fascination of the young copywriters and co. at SCDP (including a welcome return from Zosia Mamet as Peggy's lesbian pal Joyce), as well as that of Sally Draper. Kiernan Shipka continues to stun with her arresting young talent, as she shifts effortlessly from petulance to curiosity to rage to fear during her squabbling/bonding sessions with Grandma Francis with riveting charisma.

What struck you most about "Mystery Date?"

Alex: Hi Katie,

You know, I actually thought this was the weakest "Mad Men" of the season thus far, and probably one of the show's lesser efforts to date, mostly for the Don storyline. I can certainly appreciate what Weiner's goals with this story, but there had to be a better way to show that Don wants to stay faithful to Megan. It was fairly clear from the start that his dalliance with Andrea (Madchen Amik) was a bed-ridden hallucination, and if there's one thing "Mad Men" doesn't know how to do, it's scenes set inside the characters' minds. This portion of the episode was probably my least favorite thing "Mad Men" has ever done, but the other story lines almost made up for it.

Joan has never had it easy in "Mad Men," and her marriage to failed surgeon Greg has been a reliable source for pathos in the past. Even so, it was insanely satisfying to watch her kick him to the curb, and Christina Hendricks really sold the dissolution of her marriage, a culmination of years of frustration exploding all at once. I especially liked the sense of history that the episode's script brought to this storyline, with callbacks to Joan's accordion skills and that ugly, ugly rape scene way back in Season 2. I can't help but wonder if this is the last we've seen of Greg, or if he's ever going to do the math on Joan's pregnancy.

A good bit of the episode was spent getting to know the new employees at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. While it was entertaining to watch Ginsberg nearly destroy his career before it even got off the ground, I'm curious what you thought of Dawn and Peggy's drunken late-night conversation.

Katie: I do actually agree with you about Don's storyline, which was far too blatant about Don's continuing struggle with marital fidelity. His altercation with an old flame (which, yeah, was pretty obvious was a fever dream from the start) was on the clumsy side, not to mention made episode's theme of violence against women far too obvious. That's a shame for a show like "Mad Men," which can be delightfully subtle on its best days. Had Don's story this week been altered or even left out, I think the episode might've been better off for it.

The scenes between Peggy and Dawn were a highlight for me as well, even though their story's thematic beats were almost as ham-fisted as Don's; it was just so much fun to watch the two of them interact. I loved seeing Peggy trying a little too hard to take the new girl (and the only African-American at the agency) under her wing, only to have all her carefully cultivated feelings of inter-racial sisterhood crumble with one suspicious glance toward her purse. Plus, you can't just go wrong with drunk Peggy.

A quick final rundown of some other details I found interesting this week:

  • Watching Don's face as Michael Ginsberg deliberately out-sold Don's pitch with his own for the footwear guys.
  • Actually watching Ginsberg deliberately out-sell Don's pitch for the footwear guys. The boardroom ad business bullshitting remains one of my favorite aspects of "Mad Men."
  • The uproarious back-and-forth between Roger and Peggy as she haggles the price of taking over the Mohawk account. I don't think the show has ever been as funny as it has this season.
  • Joan calling out her husband on his, thus far, seemingly ignored rape of her. What a powerfully earned moment. 

Any final thoughts?

Alex: I'm curious to see what the next episode brings for our cast. Joan will presumably be returning to work a newly single woman, and Roger's reaction to that will doubtlessly be priceless. However, I'm really fascinated to see how Dawn and Peggy's drunken night of bonding impacts the way Peggy treats her boss's secretary, and if it will have any impact on the office dynamic as a whole. More than anything, I hope Don is back on his feet, because if "Mad Men" is a few misguided dream sequences from collapsing under the weight of its own symbolism.

Mad Men Discussion, Season 5, Eposode 3: “Tea Leaves”

Peggy prepares to interview the bristly, eccentric new copywriter Michael Ginsberg in the third episode of Mad Men's fifth season, "Tea Leaves." (Photo courtesy of AMC.)
Peggy prepares to interview the bristly, eccentric new copywriter Michael Ginsberg in the third episode of Mad Men's fifth season, "Tea Leaves." (Photo courtesy of AMC.)

Alex: Hi Katie,

I guess we should start with the metaphorical elephant in the room – the return of Betty. I’m sure that the increased focus on Betty had a lot to do with Jon Hamm’s directorial debut on the show, as having Hamm on the other side of the camera means that Don can’t get as much screentime as usual (and, thusly, that there can’t be as many scenes set in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office).

Even so, this was the most compelling Betty has been since Season 3. The show seemed to be punishing her for a minute, first making her grotesquely obese, and then giving her a cancer scare, but it eventually revealed itself as a juxtaposition of the marriages Betty and Don have found themselves in. Don has clearly changed for the better – if he was still married to Betty, Don would have been all over that floozy at the concert. Betty, on the other hand, is unhappy, and seemingly trapped in a downward spiral. Either way, I thought her dream sequence was the biggest false step in the episode. Maybe it was because “Mad Men” rarely indulges in dream sequences (I’m pretty sure this was the first one?), but I thought this one was a bust, overly obvious and oblique. What did you think?

Katie: Hey Alex,

I have to be honest, despite my delight at Betty's return (sometimes it feels like I'm the only person who cheers when she appears), I wasn't a fan of this episode. Maybe it's just the come-down from last week's two hour extravaganza, complete with Megan's star-making song and dance number (anyone else still suffering from "Zou Bisou Bisou" fever?) but this week felt a little thin, even by "Mad Men's" sedate standard.

That said, I have to disagree with you on a few things. First of all, I definitely wouldn't call Betty's new... um... look obesity, grotesque or otherwise; it was more like a less drastic version of the unfortunate fat suit they strapped on Elisabeth Moss toward the end of season one. In fact, I even assumed at first that Betty's weight gain was a result of the character's pregnancy, and that Matthew Weiner was just accommodating January Jones' real-life pregnancy.

And do you really think Don is that well off? Last week's "A Little Kiss" sowed the seeds for a growing generational divide that will surely alienate characters on each side of the line — both the older traditionalists like Don and Roger, and the groovy young'ins like Peggy and Megan. This episode just served to reenforce that theme, if a tad more subtly than last week: Don is loath to join bikini'd Megan on Fire Island to party with her friends, and could have not looked more out of place than backstage at that Stones concert running his micro-focus session on a teenage girl.

Finally, I do agree with you about Betty's dream sequence, although it's not the only one the show's ever done. Remember Betty's drugged-up childbirthing daydreams in "The Fog?" Or even Don's vision of Anna Draper's ghost last season? Not all of these are strictly "dreams," but I agree that in "Mad Men's" world, they do usually feel a little on the nose and out of place, not at all as effective as they were used on Weiner's alma mater "The Sopranos."

On to another notable feature of "Tea Leaves:" What did you think of new SCDP hires Michael Ginsberg and the African-American secretary Dawn (not to be confused with her boss, Don)? Did you detect a possibly brewing romance between Michael and Peggy in those bickering sessions between the two, as I did?

Alex: The first thing I thought of when we got our first look at Betty was the great prosthetics work the "Mad Men" team did on Elizabeth Moss in the first season. At the same time, what made that work stand out was the subtlety of how she slowly ballooned throughout the season. I think it's been roughly a year in "Mad Men" time since we last saw Betty, and while I forgot to consider Jones' pregnancy, it was still jarring to see such a drastic change in her. And I don't think grotesque is entirely unfair, as the episode goes out of its way to showcase her size (think about those big mumus she's wearing, or that frankly gratuitous shot of her getting out of the tub).

I agree that there's always going to be some tension in the Don-Megan relationship because of that generational divide, but their pillow talk in "A Little Kiss" implied to me that those two are definitely very much in love, but still learning about each other. And part of that is going to be Don learning about 1960s culture, something that we've been getting a lot of in the last two episodes. That party Megan threw last episode was time-appropriately groovy, and it's hard to find something more quintessentially '60s than smoking pot backstage at a Stones concert.

I'm especially curious where SCDP found the cash to make those hires, since last episode made a big deal out of their budget issues. Even so, I thought all of the office goings-on were consistently funny, and watching the characters react to the Dawn-Don situation was my favorite part of the episode.

As far as Ginsberg goes, I'm going to reserve judgement on the character until we get to know him better. He came off as a bit tactless and grating, something that Weiner and company no doubt intended, and I'm interested to see where they go with his character. While a romance with Peggy wouldn't be surprising, I hope that "Mad Men" is smart enough to keep things from getting too incestuous at the agency, and I also hope that Ginsberg gets another suit before he starts work. However, I was completely baffled by that final scene with his father, and I'm curious to get your take on it.

Katie: Yeah, the minute, day-to-day office dramas still maybe give me the most pleasure of anything this show, and maybe that's why I've been put off by this season so far; what with all the table-setting, the SCDP office itself seems to have been getting the short shrift.

And in that vein: no Joan this week! Last week her entire conflict centered around her stifling boredom at home raising new baby Kevin. This week I expected her to at least be back to work (where she, let's face it, really belongs), but she wasn't anywhere to be found. I'll tell you what I'm psyched for though — I'd love to see her go face-to-face with that uppity new copywriter Ginsberg. No one messes with Joanie in her domain. I was similarly baffled by Ginsberg's moment with his father, however.

A few stray details I enjoyed in “Tea Leaves:”

• Henry's dig at George Romney (father of Mitt), who, at the time, was a rising star in the Republican party,
• Betty's call to Don to tell him about her medical crisis — they've seemed to reach a place of comfortable respect, and Don even called used her old nickname “Birdie.” Awww. Am I the only one who wants those crazy kids back together?
• Don's constant dismissals of bumbling, pervy Harry: “Saturday night was fun.” “Okay.” Hilarious.
• Peggy's adorable green dress with the orange bow and white collar.

Alex: To wrap things up, let's touch on the increasingly irrelevant former half of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. As we saw last week, Cooper is rarely even included in meetings anymore, and Sterling is becoming a fossil far more quickly than he'd like.

As great as John Slattery is in the role (and he really is great - look at that ice in his eyes as he applauds after Pete disses him in the lobby), I think his days in the agency are numbered. A wayward comment to one of the agency's diverse new hires or a similar screw-up could prove to be the nail in Rogers's coffin, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he deals with his company slipping away from him. My prediction - it won't be pretty.

It’s been one week since the fifth season finale of “Mad Men” and we’ve pulled together our experts in a roundtable postmortem on Matthew Weiner’s acclaimed ‘60s drama. Spoilers ahead.

THE SEASON FINALE

Katie Stroh: What an incredibly strange episode of ‘Mad Men,’ let alone season finale. Matthew Weiner’s upbringing at ‘The Sopranos’ has never been more evident; that show excelled at anticlimax, and never has ‘Mad Men’ been more anticlimactic, especially considering Lane Pryce’s dramatic suicide last week and the remarkable lack of significant plot developments in the season finale. The only moment that offered any kind of revelation was the episode’s coda: a Heather Graham type approaches Don at the bar, asking him if he’s ‘alone’ and practically begging him to go back to his philandering ways, and then ... cut to black.

I can’t decide whether this episode was incredibly disappointing or incredibly brilliant; I’m looking forward to your insight and opinions, as I’m still in a state of bafflement.

Alex Williams: I wrote in our series recap about just how difficult it is to predict what’s going to happen in a ‘Mad Men’ finale, and this episode only reinforced that hypothesis. While ‘The Phantom’ certainly didn’t deliver much of a climax, and was often bafflingly oblique, it was befitting of a season that’s been ‘Mad Men’s’ most ambitious by a long shot. The show has made some bold stylistic choices this year, some of them successful (Sterling’s acid trip), some of them overwrought (Don’s strangle-happy fever dream back in ‘Mystery Date’), and this has often resulted in it losing a bit of its thematic subtlety.

Even so, ‘The Phantom’ had plenty of striking moments, and even managed to wrap up a few story lines. Weiner also took a book from “The Sopranos” in his seasonal structure, letting many of the big events go down in the penultimate episode.

Aleksander Chan: I’m torn between thinking season five as the series’ most masterful or appalling glib. Weiner has helmed this season so that it oscillated between inexactness and broadness, most evident in the finale and Don’s hot tooth.

‘There’s something rotten in you and it’s not your tooth,’ says Don’s hallucinated brother Adam. I can get past the opaqueness of this lame metaphor, but only as far as its ambiguous underlying meaning. What’s rotten? Megan? Don’s old self, his inner Dick Whitman? Repressed mournfulness for Lane’s death? I get embracing uncertainty in storytelling — done right, it can tease the viewer along and maintain tension and stakes.

But here, that tooth underlies how many of the season’s symbolism has been too on the nose. It’s as if in the pages of the script, the messages get bolded, italicized and underlined twice: Those Heinz beans ads trying to target Vietnam protesters (These old folks, so out of touch!); Pete Campbell and his leaky kitchen faucet (Pete Campbell’s no man! But Don is!); Betty’s (benign) nodule (Her listless marriage to Henry might literally kill her!); Don pulling rank on Ginsberg and snowball ad (There’s a snowball’s chance in hell Don will let some wunderkind take his place!) — plot devices laid out in not nearly as subtle a way we’ve known ‘Mad Men’ to do.

And I do think Lane Pyrce’s phantom haunted the finale (that wide shot of the partners in the new offices was like a retro “Ocean’s Eleven” moment), but also specters of the show’s past: that final scene, as Don leaves Megan to shoot her commercial, he cozies up to the bar and lights a cigarette with the same easiness and palpable machismo of his season on self. When psuedo-Heather Graham asks him, “Are you alone?” he is isn’t — the ghosts of seasons past
surround him.

‘FAT’ BETTY

Stroh: Poor January Jones. I’ve always defended her place on the show; it’s true that in other roles, Jones is often wooden at best, but I still hold that something — whether Weiner’s direction, the harmonious match of Jones’ frigidity to her character’s, or perhaps just her stunning good looks — makes January Jones a strangely compelling presence when she steps into Betty’s high-heeled shoes.

Still, Betty remains one of the most maligned characters of ‘Mad Men’s’ world, (next to Pete Campbell, maybe). And now, as a product of the actress’s recent pregnancy, Betty has been imprisoned all the more firmly than she ever was in the Draper home — by that mausoleum of a house, by her ever more matronly wardrobe, and, of course, by that unfortunate fat suit, once worn with so much quiet sadness by Elisabeth Moss’s Peggy. And for all that, Jones barely appeared this season, only popping up in four of the season’s 13 hours and only garnering one major episode arc.

It follows logically that Betty would appear less and less in the show, as she’s taken less of a role in Don’s life. But call me crazy — something has had me rooting for a Don-Betty reunion fling, if Don has to cheat on Megan at all. I kind of miss those crazy kids making each other’s lives a misery.

Chan: Betty’s shorter arc this season made it difficult to sympathize with her and her vengeful lashing out at Don and Megan. Understandable given the terms of their divorce, but the show seemed to go out of its way to make us revile Betty — in her behavior and her body. That gratuitous body shot of Betty rising from the tub was abhorrent, and not because of her weight. It was because you feel Weiner and the show working really hard to make you revile the heavier Betty. I almost buy into her empty and unexciting marriage to Saint Henry and their McMansion as what’s boring her into Weight Watchers and subzero iciness, but the story line was too threadbare to ever going anywhere but mean.

‘THE OTHER WOMAN’ (OR THE JOAN INCIDENT)

Stroh: You know, the entire Joan-as-sportscar metaphor had the potential to be disastrously overwrought and clumsy. “You see? Just as cars are merely objects onto which men project all their mid-life crises and suburban ennui, so too are beautiful women! Joan is a commodity to be sold ... just like Jaguar cars!”

But if the analogy itself wasn’t anything all too profound, the execution elevated it to a rapturous level. That entire montage intercutting stone-faced Joan’s five percent partnership prostitution with Don’s own prostituting ad pitch to Jaguar made the blatancy of the “women are just products!” idea practically transcendent.

Chan: Critics have been divided about the sort of streamlined decision making of this episode, where Joan effectively agreed to prostitute herself for the sake of the company to land the Jaguar account. Would Joan, specifically the Joan who had just been abandoned by her husband and struggling and in a place of disillusionment come to such an awful decision in what appeared to be a matter of days? I’m not sure. There was definitely something missing from the whole sequence to me — like they cut out the middle to get the money shot of Joan swelling with disgust as the Jaguar man takes off her coat in the hotel room.

And making Don seem like the good guy by objecting but without any real urgency, or sense of actual responsibility for Joan (let’s be real: Don tried to stop her more to make himself feel better than to actually save her), was gross. But collectively, I thought the episode worked because it ultimately stayed true to ‘Mad Men’s’ modus operandi: the tugging between the desire for who we want to be and who we have to be. ‘The Other Woman’ was that at its most grey.

LANE’S SUICIDE

Stroh: Oh, Lane. Sweetly bumbling, well-intentioned, “chocolate bunny”-loving Lane. How you’ll be missed.

Although the signs that it was still somehow a horrifying shock when Joan opened the door to Lane’s office, only to find it obstructed by ... something. And then the realization set in. That moment alone would have been enough to make Lane’s suicide by hanging horrifying, but then having to see Lane’s stiff, purpled face was the most grotesque thing ‘Mad Men’s’ done since the lawnmower incident.

Williams: The aftermath of Lane’s suicide gave us an interesting but fairly standard scene between Don and Lane’s widow, but was ultimately worth it for that gorgeous shot of the five partners gathered in the office space that Lane’s suicide was paying for. His absence was never felt more than in that moment in the sprawling empty office space, but it still felt like he was in there in spirit, having given the firm the finances to definitively expand. In fact, there’s a good case to be made that Lane is the metaphorical phantom who gave the episode its title.

Chan: It was almost Hitchcockian, Lane’s demise. That scene where he has to hold up (one) broken eyeglass to try and fix that shoddy new Jaguar in order to properly kill himself was the definition of tragicomedy. I never much cared for Embeth Davis’ performance as Lane’s wife, but that final interaction between her and Don was a tour de force. “Do you know how the rest of us live?!” she screams at Don, who practically whimpers out the front door of the Pryce apartment. He does, actually, but Dick Whitman has been Don Draper for so long, he’s forgotten how money can just as easily ruin as he found success.

PEGGY’S UPWARD MOBILITY

Stroh: What a conflicting scene it was when Peggy finally got the balls to leave SCDP for bigger things. On the one hand, it was about time Peggy got hers after years of being underappreciated by her mentor Don, her fellow copywriters and the many misogynistic clients she’s served. On the other hand, Don’s final kiss goodbye was completely wrenching, and as Peggy struggled to hold herself together, so did I. I have no doubt that Peggy will return to SCDP at some point, but for now it will be fun to see her stretch her wings and ordering around subordinates over at Ted Chaough’s firm.

Williams: How great was Peggy in these final episodes? The moment where she told Don she was leaving was beautifully played by Hamm and Olsen, and, combined with that episode’s Joan-related events, felt like the end of an era at SCDP, the moment where the firm lost its innocence and heart at the price of success. Even better was the scene between her and Don in the finale, as they serendipitously ran into each other at the movies. It’s the way ‘Mad Men’ pays off small character notes like this that makes it such a special show, and showing them engaging in the same worktime dalliance spells out perfectly how close these two became in their time working together, and how much they still mean to each other. For my money, that was the best scene in a finale that was often too oblique by a mile, a wonderfully measured coda to ‘Mad Men’s’ strongest character dynamic.

Chan: Season five for Peggy was about finding it in herself to finally demand what she wants and not feel bad about it. She didn’t get everything she had hoped for, but it was so rewarding for her character and the viewer for her to try. She couldn’t get Abe to completely commit. And she couldn’t quite elevate herself above liberal well-meaning by fearing Dawn might steal the money from her purse, but she found the tenacity to leave SCDP. Her pride in herself is magnified by our own.

PETE CAMPBELL

Stroh: Pete ignobly defended his title as ‘Character Most Fun to Despise’ this season, as the multiple punches he received to the face are any indication. His cowardly, passive-aggressive persuasions in favor of selling out Joanie to that disgusting Jaguar exec was surely his most despicable, but what really got me this season was the way he treated poor Trudy. It seemed that in the past few seasons Pete and Trudy had one of the healthiest and supportive marriage on the show. Now that they’ve moved to the stultifying suburb of Cos Cob and Trudy’s “let herself go” post-childbirth, Pete seemed to have lost all enjoyment of or respect for his ever-supportive wife, engaging in an affair with the dull, depressive Beth and lashing out at home. No, Pete. You can’t have good everything good all at once, so you better appreciate what you do have, or else you’ll go the way of Mr. Pryce.

Williams: ‘The Phantom’ had plenty of frustrating moments, but surprisingly, the only character whose storyline truly resolved was Pete Campbell, who was forgotten by his fling (one of the season’s weakest links, Alexis Bledel) and came to fisticuffs with her husband. Vincent Kartheiser also delivered a stunningly sad monologue that summed up his character perfectly, and also wrapped up the actor’s strongest season yet. Pete has been at his most compelling this season, thanks to Kartheiser’s unique deployment of equally repulsive and pitiful character details, not to mention his strong knack for getting punched in the face.

Chan: The worst! Campbell was at his most weaselly, spineless self this season. And was appropriately punched for it. But at the same time, there was something tragic about Pete’s bumbling this season. In the same way Dona and Peggy fight for what they want, Pete went about it in all the wrong ways, operating under the assumption it was all owed to him and never earned.

Photos courtesy of AMC TV

The cast of “Mad Men” in the season three finale, “Shut the Door. Have a Seat,” one of the most exciting and essential episodes of the series. (Photo courtesy of AMC)

Warning: This article includes spoilers for the first four seasons of “Mad Men.”

With “Mad Men’s” fifth season premiering Sunday, The Daily Texan worked through the first four seasons of AMC’s hit drama and found five essential episodes for catching up.

Season 1, Episode 1 — “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” — A lot of shows are struggling to find themselves in their pilot episodes, but “Mad Men” introduced audiences to Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) and the rest of Sterling Cooper with the same sure-handed confidence that guides the show today. The first scene of the series is an instant classic, but even better is the scene where Don Draper conjures up a pitch for the moguls from Lucky Strike Cigarettes out of thin air.

Season 1, Episode 12 — “Nixon vs. Kennedy” — “Mad Men’s” first season gives a lot of screentime over to Don Draper’s secret past, and “Nixon vs. Kennedy” shades in the final details of how Dick Whitman became Don Draper. The episode also gives us a languorous sequence as the office drones watch the results pour in from the titular election that’s filled with the small character details that “Mad Men” does so well. What makes it really memorable is senior partner Bertram Cooper’s (Robert Morse) reaction to an underling’s attempt to blackmail Don with knowledge of his true identity: a terse, characteristically Randian, “Who cares?”

Season 2, Episode 12 — “The Mountain King” — Season two doesn’t have quite as many striking moments as its peers, but “The Mountain King” is a spectacular episode featuring a transformative performance from Jon Hamm, whose Don Draper has decided to cast away his old life and live out his days as alter ego Dick Whitman. It seems like Hamm is playing an entirely different character here, and it’s startling to see Don so relaxed and friendly. Back in New York, a British company with deep pockets is circling Sterling Cooper, Peggy gets her most triumphant moment to date when she lands her own office, and Joan (Christina Hendricks) is at her most hollow and defeated after a traumatizing encounter with her fiancée in Don’s office.

Season 3, Episode 6 — “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” — “Mad Men” catches a lot of flak for its languid pacing, and up to this point, season three certainly takes its time with any significant plot movement. It turns out that creator Matthew Weiner was just getting all the pieces into place for this explosive episode, where plots like Joan’s impending departure from Sterling Cooper, the new company dynamic and Don and Betty’s new child all come to a head. Not to mention the macabre moment when a British executive’s foot meets a John Deere lawn mower, which is “Mad Men” at its most brazenly outlandish.

Season 3, Episode 11 — “The Gypsy and the Hobo” — Season three is distinct for its unshakable sense of impending doom, illustrated through the changes at Sterling Cooper and the collapse of the Draper marriage. When Betty finally learns the truth about Don’s past, it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and the resulting confrontation is Jon Hamm’s finest moment on the show, from the tremble in his fingers as he tries to light a cigarette to the pain he evokes with a lengthy monologue about his late brother. It’s a wonderful, cathartic episode that also features a welcome look at Roger Sterling’s life before World War II.

Season 3, Episode 13 — “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” — “Mad Men’s” season finales are unpredictable. The biggest plot developments usually transpire in the penultimate episode, and finales are the denouements, but season three closes with one of the most entertaining episodes “Mad Men” has ever produced. When Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) jump ship to start their own agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, it makes for a gloriously satisfying heist film of a finale. It also gives us one of the sweetest moments in Don and Peggy’s relationship and a sense of excitement and momentum that carries over into season four.

Season 4, Episode 7 — “The Suitcase” — Up to this point, season four saw Don in a downward spiral as a result of his divorce and his rising star in the advertising world, and all it takes is a long night with protege Peggy to shake him out of it. “The Suitcase” shrinks the show’s exceptional ensemble down to just Hamm and Moss for most of its runtime, and the show’s dialogue is at its most crisp and nuanced as they trade barbs and, eventually, Don voluntarily shares part of his past for the first time. “The Suitcase” is probably the finest episode “Mad Men” has ever produced, and it’s because of the painstaking detail that’s gone into creating the Don-Peggy dynamic, the audacity of building an entire episode around the duo and especially Elizabeth Moss’ remarkable performance.

Season 4, Episode 13 — “Tomorrowland” — Remember how I said “Mad Men” has unpredictable season finales? Well, it’s hard to pick a more shocking plot twist on “Mad Men” than the romance that blossoms between Don and his secretary Megan (Jessica Paré). Throughout the episode, Don is disarmingly happy and honest, even letting his kids in on some of the key Dick Whitman mythology, and audiences get one of his best sales pitches ever when he unexpectedly proposes to Megan one morning. Going into the fifth season, we’re left wondering if this relationship is just Don at his most impulsive or if he’s serious, not to mention the fate of the financially ailing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Printed on Friday, March 23, 2012 as: Previous episodes inspire anticipation

Inspired by the television show Mad Men, Banana Republic released a limited edition line of apparel reflecting the characters' style. (Photo Illustration)

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

As a man, I enjoy manly things such as whiskey and belts made out of rattlesnake. I grow facial hair for sport, and Sam Elliott voices my inner dialogue. I don’t go shopping and have rarely had occasion to go into a Banana Republic — that is until very recently, when the Gap-owned clothing retailer introduced a capsule collection inspired by AMC’s Mad Men. The limited edition series of mid-century apparel was designed in collaboration with Janie Bryant, the show’s costume designer. The line features 65 different easy-to-wear items that can be mixed and matched to create a number of different, stylish ensembles. The collection includes both men’s and women’s apparel.

To promote the new line, Banana Republic sent out style guides that combined the various elements to create looks that emulated those of characters from the show. The guide consisted of inserts of look-alike models posed in different ensembles superimposed with questions such as “Are you a Pete?” As anyone who has watched the show can tell you, no one wants to be a Pete — Pete Campbell doesn’t even want to be a Pete and with good reason, because Pete Campbell sucks.

Two of the more central characters, Jon Hamm’s Don Draper and his increasingly unpalatable ex-wife Betty, portrayed by January Jones, have specific items of clothing that are directly attributed to them. There is the grey, pinstriped three-piece suit referred to in the style guide as “The Don,” and the stylish, high-waisted “Betty dress.”

“Mad Men,” for the uninitiated, is a one-hour television drama about life at a New York City advertising agency on 1960s Madison Avenue. The three-time Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Drama Series begins its fifth season in early 2012. The show employs a strikingly distinctive, chic ‘60s style that has garnered it a number of Creative Arts Emmy Awards including two for Outstanding Art Direction for a Single-Camera Series. Janie Bryant herself is also an Emmy Award winner, albeit for her work on the HBO western series “Deadwood.”

As a cultural phenomenon “Mad Men” has been credited with being the catalyst for a wide variety of trends from the renewed interest in 1960’s fashion to the precipitous rise in breast enlargement surgery among British women in 2010. In January, The Telegraph reported that the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons suggested the 10 percent increase in breast implant operations the previous year was due at least in part to the popularity of the show’s curvy star, Christina Hendricks, who portrays plucky office manager Joan Harris.

The show has also had a more than significant impact within the entertainment industry itself. Three musicals set in the 1960s — revivals of “Promises, Promises” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and the new musical “Catch Me If You Can,” based on the 2002 film of the same name — have premiered on Broadway in the last year and two new network television series slated for the fall, ABC’s “Pan Am” and NBC’s “The Playboy Club,” are both set
in 1963.

Given the show’s unparalleled success and far-reaching influence, it should come as no surprise that Banana Republic’s capsule collection isn’t the first thing to attempt to capitalize on the “Mad Men” name. Furniture collections, Barbie dolls, lighters, nail polish and mixology classes have all carried the “Mad Men” name. The idea to produce clothes in the series’ name isn’t even itself a unique idea — Brooks Brothers offered a “Mad-Men Edition” suit during the show’s third season run that was also designed by Bryant and based on an actual suit the company sold during the 1960’s.

Considering all the suits, knock-off television series, revivals of Neil Simon musicals and breast implants, “Mad Men” itself is not as widely known as one might think. The show boasts an average viewership of less than three million, making its cultural clout perhaps all the more impressive.

TV Tuesday

For the past decade, cable networks such as HBO, FX , AMC and Showtime have been embroiled in a competitive struggle to produce the best programming. HBO continues to produce strong dramas, and AMC’s “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” are among the best shows on TV. However, FX remains on top in terms of consistent quality, especially with its new boxing drama “Lights Out” and its Southern crime show “Justified,” which has just entered its second season.

“Lights Out” is essentially a boxing film in the vein of “Rocky,” but extended to 13 hours. While this might seem like a bad idea, the story of Patrick ‘Lights’ Leary (Holt McCallany), a boxer forced into retirement because of an ultimatum from his worried wife and pushed back into the ring because of the recent economic downturn, is already a strangely gripping slow burn of a program with a spectacular cast.

Usually cast as a stock intimidating thug, McCallany is revelatory as Lights, instilling his character with a weary soulfulness and easy charm even while his character realizes just how much he misses hitting people. McCallany’s versatility is on display in the first episode’s climatic scene, which intercuts scenes of Lights bonding with his daughter with moments where he breaks a dentist’s arm for a loan shark and beats a man senseless outside of a bar.

The rest of the cast is equally strong. “The Wire” alums Pablo Schreiber (as Lights’ financially irresponsible brother) and Reg E. Cathey (as a sleazy fight manager) are both fantastic. Cathey clearly enjoys his character’s inherent smarminess.

“Justified,” on the other hand, has just entered its second season. Timothy Olyphant stars as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a cowboy hat-toting, effortlessly badass character who couldn’t be a better match for Olyphant’s sharp wit and charisma. “Justified” gives us Olyphant’s most memorable character yet by essentially taking his constantly angry sheriff from HBO’s “Deadwood,” infusing him with a sense of humor and updating him to modern-day Kentucky.

In its first season, “Justified” suffered from focusing a bit too much on stand-alone stories after a fantastic pilot, turning into a typical cop procedural. Halfway through the season, the show quickly became more serial and much more compelling as a result. Season two is more streamlined, quickly introducing its seasonal arc while also working in a case of the week for Givens and his fellow marshals to deal with. The season’s serialized story line deals with a family of pot dealers led by actress Margo Martindale.

Martindale’s Mags Bennett is a new addition to an already strong cast. Ruthless drug kingpin is not the first thing that comes to mind when one looks at Martindale, but she effortlessly sells her character’s particular mix of deep-fried Southern maternity and ruthless business savvy. Also memorable are Walton Goggins’ reformed criminal and fellow newbie Jeremy Davies.

With “Lights Out” and the new season of “Justified,” FX continues a stellar television season. “Lights Out,” which airs on Tuesdays, is halfway through its first season while “Justified” is only two episodes in, but both shows are quickly becoming some of the best on television.
 

UT alumna Sam Wiley aims to win walk-on role in hit drama ‘Mad Men’

With a half-empty glass to her red lips, Sam Wiley stares seductively with her piercing green eyes. Her sweet, pale face contrasts her come-hither pose and sassy ’60s demure appearance.

Wiley, a recent UT Theatre and Dance alumna, is one of nearly 4,500 participants in a photo contest hosted by the popular AMC drama series “Mad Men” and Banana Republic. The competition is a call for “mad fans” to submit a photo of themselves in their best “Mad Men” look, and the winner will receive a walk-on role in season five and a $1,000 gift card to Banana Republic.

“Mad Men” takes place in the 1960s but still comments on contemporary issues. Set in the world of advertising, the show follows the fictitious firm Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and their main man, the mysterious Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm. With detailed costumes, sets and storylines with dramatic crescendos, “Mad Men” is AMC’s most popular show. It is currently the most award-winning drama on TV‚ having earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series Drama three times in a row and an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series twice. This Sunday, “Man Men” will compete for the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy award again.

Though Wiley is a working actress and is featured in an upcoming web series titled “Beasts of Burden,” she said “Mad Men” could be her big breakthrough if she won the competition.

Wiley found out about the Mad Men competition after her friend Derek Dahmann, an economics senior at UT, posted the casting call link to her Facebook wall.

“He likes to pretend he’s my agent,” she said. “So sometimes he shares these things ... it’s a running joke with us that I’m going to fire him if he doesn’t get me auditions. This is the closest thing to an audition he has gotten me.”

The competition was more than two weeks in when Wiley saw the link. By then, the top contestants were already ahead with tens of thousands of votes.

“I hate that I got such a late start,” Wiley said. “It is discouraging because I can only wonder how many votes I could have had had I entered the contest when it started.”

Wiley said she still tried because she wants to take advantage of every opportunity she has to succeed as an actress.

Participants in the contest were required to pick up a “Mad Men” style guide from Banana Republic. While some purchased the clothes in the guide for their entry, others used the catalog to inspire their own costume ideas. Wiley decided to take the creative and thrifty route by creating her own ’60s style by tucking in the suspender straps on a jean jumper to create high-waisted shorts and borrowing a blue blouse from her sister’s closet.

Since Wiley’s sister, Anna, a nursing sophomore, is a big fan of the show, Wiley asked her for advice on how she should look.

“I just told her to look at Betty Draper,” Anna Wiley said. “I can see her in Betty Draper because they both have blonde hair ... and that kind of sweet, pure-faced look.”

Anna Wiley said she would be jealous if her sister won. “I want to meet [the cast] but I would be very excited for her.”

Wishing to look sexy without revealing too much, Sam pulled her hair back into a classic low bun, applied some eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara to bring out her aquamarine eyes and red lipstick for a dramatic touch. Because there is constantly a cigarette and drink in the hand of at least one character in every scene of Mad Men, Wiley decided to add a lipstick-stained glass to her ensemble.

The first outlet Wiley used to promote her profile was Facebook. She created an event, a group, continuously posted the link to her voting page on her status and sent out reminder messages to her friends.

“I think there is some research that proves people have to see or hear something seven times before it actually sticks with them,” she said. “I plan on promoting this more than seven times. I need all the help I can get.”

Wiley said she doesn’t think she can win with just the people she knows voting for her, but will also depend on the support of strangers. She even posted her voting link and picture on Craigslist asking the community for a helping hand.

As of Wednesday, Wiley has more than 2,000 votes.

Wiley said winning the contest and getting a walk-on role might not fully showcase her acting skills, but it would at least get her into a room of powerful people and her name and face out to casting directors.

“In this business, it really is all about who you know, and the “Mad Men” gang seem like the right people to know,” she said. “If they like me, maybe they will even write me into the show as an actual character.”

Wiley said she doesn’t want just 15 minutes of fame.

“If I’m only in the show for one episode, I want to leave my mark,” she said. “This is what I went to school for and this is what I have been dreaming of since I was a little girl.”