Mad Men, Jake and Adam discuss Season 6 so far

***WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS OF MAD MEN SEASON 6 UP TO EPISODE 9 ‘THE BETTER HALF’***

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Jake

So what did you think of episode 9, ‘The Better Half’?

Adam

I really enjoyed it. I think it was clear that this episode had to do with the duality within the characters. The most obvious example being Megan playing twin sisters and struggling to substantiate either performance. The fact that Don acted like a good father was a nice change of pace after a season that kind of made me not like him so much. The whole camp sequence was great.

Jake

Don is a very polarizing figure and after the rather negative aspects of his character have been displayed recently we get a chance to see the more positive side of his domestic life. The artwork used to promote this series certainly drew heavily upon the theme of split personalities, light/darkness, business/personal, representing two sides of a persona yet also a source of personal fracture.
I think the conversation Duck had with Pete sharply drew this parallel too.

Adam

From a sociological standpoint, I thought the Abe/Peggy break down was a good representation of the cultural shifts going on in the late 60’s.

Jake

I agree. For me they represented the ideological battle between capitalism and socialism that in many ways represents the Cold War era.

The other big divide simmering beneath the surface is the generational gap. Pete is a very peculiar character and in many ways he is a nowhere man. He’s neither professionally a senior partner and socially he’s neither of the older generation or the younger. Now it feels like with his domestic life he’s stuck in some kind of purgatory. I feel like he tried the 50’s American Dream of the white picket fence in the suburbs and found it so hollow.  I think Vincent Kartheiser does a tremendous job exposing the contradictions and empathizing a pretty unlikable character. I think there are similarities between Pete and Game of Thrones’ Stannis Baratheon, both of whom I think are fairly unlikable people but are fascinating all the same.

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Adam

You can sense his desperation (as Duck points out) when before he’s of course been frustrated he just seems kind of deflated and lost. That’s an interesting point about him not belonging to either generation. He didn’t fight in a war, so he’ll never have the respect of Sterling and Don, but he’s also the complete opposite of the counter-culture movement.

I have found it interesting that he seems very committed to social justice. The argument with Harry Crane after MLK was killed. Someone spoke ill of Gleason (the guy who died if i recall), and he had another blow up.

Jake

My initial response was that he was thinking of his mother and her slide into dementia

Perhaps Layne’s suicide is still hanging over as well?

Adam

Pete is the American equivalent of Layne in some ways, so it could be in his mind

Jake

It’s also interesting that we haven’t really seen Pete make moves on any women in particular.

Adam

No not at all. He seems desperate for comfort and friendship, such as when he asks Joan to supper without, at least obviously, sex being a primary motivation.

Jake

I think that in many ways Pete’s relationship with women echoes Don’s, for example last season where they were in the bordello and Don warns Pete off the path he’s taking.

And i think this leads on to Don and Betty. I don’t think that I was surprised by it but what did surprise me was Betty’s self assuredness

Adam

She seems motivated by Henry’s ambitions and she has really turned around with the weight loss and going back to blonde. She knew what saying yes to Don meant and didn’t get tied up in it at all, if anything Don was left feeling a sense of loss.

Jake

I thought originally they were foreshadowing that Henry’s move into politics was going to send her back into the role of trophy wife she filled with Don. Perhaps the difference is that while the attention she received from other men seemed to infuriate Don and make him more possessive, for Henry it was a turn on.

This episode was drenched in melancholia. I think that Don always feels as though not only is he lost, but there is a part of him which is lost and he’s not completely whole. I think that when he sees Betty he fills up with these memories of their former relationship that create a memory of love and fulfillment. The childhood camp is another prod and the beautiful scene with Betty Don and their son singing is like a crystal moment of happiness frozen in time, but as Betty says she watches his contentment decay.

It’s reminiscent of the famous ‘Carousel’ pitch. Don realized that a picture holds a lost memory of perfection that holds an idealistic place in our mind, a feeling of some lost moment of perfection

I found Don’s comments about how he really desires closeness rather than sex quite interesting. The flashbacks this season are giving us an idea of how he’s never really had a close loving relationship throughout his childhood, particularly with women.

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Adam

It really explained his relaxed attitude towards cheating, and also his inability to form strong relationships. Don is certainly broken, but he’s very good at pretending that he’s not. The rejection of Sylvia made him falter a bit, but soon he was back in his protective shell. But what Betty gets at is pretending only goes so far, and once you actually love him, it begins to decay.

Jake

Don’s philandering is driven by an impulse to control the chaos of his life. He doesn’t really understand how to form lasting relationships and instead of opening himself up to someone he builds walls and closes himself off. These affairs may be some way of him sectioning off a part of his life where he can pursue his desires and search for fulfillment, a tragically lost cause since there is no way he can really find it there. Relationships are in many ways a mutual surrender and I don’t think that Don is capable of that

Adam

What do you think of the Ted/Don dichotomy?

Jake

I’ve been very interested in how they’ve played Ted this season. In earlier seasons he was always as a Don wannabe, an example of regular agencies in comparison to the great advertising mind of Don. Now the growing tensions are between the regimented composition of Ted’s work and the free flowing ethereal side of Don. I was surprised that Don retreated into the director side and has left all the creative work to others. I expected that his return to extra marital affairs may have provoked his creativity again.
Adam

Yeah Ted is indeed very likable. He is organized and efficient, yet he’s still in touch with the new generation to a certain extent. He really gives Peggy the shaft, but it’s understandable. Ted’s approach to work is definitely not as “wow” worthy as Don. Don taps into some deep understanding of human nature, often gained from a dark circumstance, and spins an amazing story that blows are minds. Ted just works his ass off and has a decent knack for ad work. Not everyone can use the Giligans Island formula, but it’s still a formula

Peggy trapped in the middle is definitely interesting, especially since she has feelings for Ted. She’s clearly not happy with the merger for numerous reasons, but her attempt to play the middle ground doesn’t seem to be working.

Ted, Don and Peggy ponder the latest plot twist.

Jake

In the first episode we got a little glimpse of Don’s classic creativity, with the Hawaii resort pitch. Some of the darkness behind his work is seeping through mainstream America and is triggering an adverse response compared to what previously may have been more positive.

Adam

His understanding of human nature comes from a dark place that doesn’t translate well to the current climate. The 50’s were great, people could take it, but the 60’s have so much turmoil that it’s not the message they want to hear.

Jake

This season has really started to take a turn to the dark in general. Last week ‘Grandma Ida’ broke into the apartment and this week Peggy stabbed Abe.

I liked the Megan/Sharon Tate theory because I feel as though there is a real sense of foreboding emerging.

Adam

I certainly hope Megan doesn’t get murdered, but if this comparison holds then we may see that happen .The sirens when Megan stands on the balcony were really ominous, it’s about that time when the social fabric really started to tear apart.

Jake is from Melbourne, Australia and editor-in-chief of The Cultural Labyrinth from. Adam is a Hoosier (native of Indianapolis, USA) currently residing in Amsterdam.

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