• 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.

  • Q&A: Brittany Bosco

    Atlanta based artist Bosco, has risen to relative internet prominence with her new video, “Joker,” off her recently released “Let Me Go” EP. Like her array of talents as an artist, singer, designer, and musician, her music spans across genres in a self described, “experimental, feel good, textural, ambient, R&B blend” of music. The Daily Texan spoke with Bosco when she visted Austin for SXSW.

    Daily Texan: Atlanta seems to be kind of absent from the indie scene. How has that affected your music?
    Brittany Bosco
    : I think that the music scene here is very rich, and continuously growing. The thing that people really don’t know, is what’s really going on here, and the synergy that’s bubbling. All of these great artists are starting to merge. We have a really, really good indie scene here. [Atlanta] definitely makes you work harder, especially compared to New York or Los Angeles, it definitely has this raw energy, and this grit to just get things done. I think it really helps my music a lot.

    Daily Texan: Has being in Atlanta contributed to the more hip-hop R&B influences that permeate into your music, or do you think that is something you would have found no matter what?
    I love rhythm and blues, and I think that rhythm and blues is a large part of my sounds, but incorporating different genres with that , and making a nice blend is what I like. Atlanta is definitely known for its rap scene. Being here, I’m just trying to turn that around and show it in a different light. As an independent artist you really can pick a voice and have a voice. So I do play off of that just a little bit.

    DT: Your new video, “Joker,” blew up on the internet and was pretty graphic. Care to comment on that at all?
    A lot of people love the video, and there a couple blogs pushing too far because of the race issue and lynching. People draw so much from the video. Originally the song was about a relationship between a couple about just playing the game. Doing what’s right, and going through the motion. You realize that things you despise about the person in the relationship, are the same traits that you have too. How can you hate or love them, or love or hate them? I wanted to push the visual aspect because of course you have domestic violence. It’s an issue that is continuously pushed under the rug, so I wanted to bring that to the forefront. I also just wanted to push the boundaries a little bit.

    DT: Do you have plans for future videos?
    Yeah, we’re gonna do one more video. I think we’re gonna do a video for, “It was you,” next.

    DT: Do you have plans for what you want to do in that video
    I haven’t really given it much thought, coming off the Joker video, and doing shows at SXSW. My brain is always working and creating

  • 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.