MAD MEN Season 3: 'The Fog' & 'Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency'

The Fog - AMC - 13th September 2009 - 10.00pm

S P O I L E R S for non-US viewers!

An extremely impressive piece of television, The Fog completely inhabits the haiku tone poem structure and style that Mad Men has successfully created for itself. Here it shifts rather surrealistically into a dream-like territory that only the likes of Twin Peaks has previously mapped out on television. The Fog is primarily focused on the birth of Betty and Don's baby. For Don, this pregnancy began at the end of his mid-life crisis fling in Los Angeles and it's clearly both a nightmare he desperately wishes he could escape and a painful duty he must endure to maintain the primary coloured but hollow American Dream.

There is that fascinating and agonisingly long wait outside the delivery room where Don shares a bottle and cigarette with new dad to be Dennis, a prison guard over at Sing Sing. Don, as usual, bedazzles anyone whom he comes into contact with and has Dennis believing he has the perfect family and wife which judging by the pained look on Don's face at times is evidently far from the truth. Dennis proclaims that the child his wife is presently giving birth to will help him set his life back on course and make him a better man. Naturally, that's something Don wishes would be the consequence of his third child.  

Betty, meanwhile, drugged up to the eyeballs prior to her delivery, enters a bizarre dream state where she's become an idealised Grace Kelly substitute walking down vibrantly coloured suburban streets. She catches a caterpillar in her hand which she slowly closes. Somewhat heavy handed (forgive the pun) symbolism that is obviously a huge visual statement about her entrapment within her own unhappy life, brimming with unfulfilled potential. She also hallucinates and swears that she see her father in the hospital and later, it gets very strange indeed, when in her dream she sees Gene mopping her kitchen floor. A floor covered in blood. Betty assumes this is an omen, a portent of death and suddenly Gene turns to her mother who is standing next to a black man sitting in a chair. "You see what happens to people who speak up?" snaps her mother. Gene tells Betty she should be happy with what she has. "You're a housecat," her father adds. "You're very important, and you have little to do."

And the black man? Cleverly this ties into two of the other sub-plots in the episode and clearly represents the murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers. At the top of the episode Don and Betty had been called into Sally's school to discuss with her teacher the recent bad behaviour she's been displaying. The conversation, obviously irritating the hell out of an unconcerned Betty, uncovers Sally's continuing grief over the death of Gene and her apparent and not unrelated questions about Evers in school. Meanwhile, and ironically, Pete Campbell is working with his client Admiral, to try to discover why their sales of television sets are flatlining in some markets but seem to be growing in the 'negro' market. Campbell has a hair-brained scheme to advertise to this market and pitches the idea to Admiral. Either Campbell is a visionary before his time or he's just stupid. I'm for the latter. The whiter than white executives at Admiral nearly die of heart failure when he not only says they should market to the negro market but that the advertising should also be 'integrated'. Suffice it to say, Bert Cooper and Roger Sterling wipe the floor with him after Admiral complain. Love Roger's bitchy aside, "If it isn't Martin Luther King."

A further sub-plot sees Peggy meeting with ex-Sterling Cooper exec Duck Phillips. Duck convinces Peggy it is 'her time' and tries to persuade her to leave and take a position at his new company Grey. Instead, Peggy confronts Don in his office and demands a raise. He doesn't really do a convincing job of telling her that it's not a good time to ask for more money when the British owners of Sterling Cooper are moaning about the expenses that the creatives are getting paid. It's all left hanging in mid-air and will no doubt develop as a plot into the final half of the season. A stunning episode after some weeks of fine tuning and reshaping of characters and one which pushes the main characters forward and also deals, quite subtly, with the issues of the day.

Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency - AMC - 20th September 2009 - 10.00pm

S P O I L E R S for non-US viewers!

An utterly hilarious episode, much needed after the darker tone of last week. Meanwhile, congratulations to the series for winning another Prime Time Emmy for Best Drama. Anyway, the Brits are on their way for a staff inspection and Sterling Copper's incumbents are baffled as to why. The episode is very much an examination of the slash and burn nature of the business itself, of the American Dream at its most narcissistic and masturbatory. 

The owners Putnam, Powell and Lowe are worshiped as demi-gods and Bert Cooper is convinced they're coming specifically to see Don and ask him to become Creative Director for London and New York. How little Cooper really knows about his own business is devastatingly proven here. Cooper also orders Don and Roger to make up after their little disagreement and they're packed off to a barber shop to sort out their professional relationship.  Roger fears that the British take over has now made him very much a square peg in a round hole. Not that he cares. He's loaded.

As the London demi-gods of St. John Powell,
Guy MacKendrick and Harold Ford descend, there's a surprise leaving party for Joan Harris nee Holloway. She's quit her job rather foolishly in the expectation that the violent child-man she married is about to be promoted to Chief Resident at the hospital. Judging by his previous form, it's obvious to the audience that he isn't. Inevitability is the name of the game this week. For Joan, for Don, for Bert and quite, quite spectacularly for Guy MacKendrick. But what of Joan? Are the writers of Mad Men seriously going to ditch Joan and the very wonderful Christina Hendricks who plays her? Sterling Cooper needs Joan!

Meanwhile, baby Gene is causing all sorts of trouble. Don bitterly resents that Betty has named the boy after a man who he quite clearly loathed and although she simpers some pat explanation about keeping family memories alive through the naming of children it comes across more as a knife in the back for Don. Don's daughter Sally also can't bear to go near baby Gene. She's convinced Gene has been reincarnated and is now unable to sleep with the light off! Betty attempts some reverse psychology and delivers a present of a Barbie doll from her brother Gene. The doll ends up in the bushes that night. In a seriously funny moment, Don rescues the doll and sits it back in Sally's room. She wakes up, sees the doll and screams the place down.

The British contingent arrives and immediately inform Lane that he's being posted to Bombay and he is given a stuffed cobra as a present. For 'our snake charmer' they declare whilst announcing that handsome and charming Guy (check out the title of the episode for the real irony) will replace Lane. Later, in a conference Guy reveals to the team the re-organisation of the company under his command. Basically, Guy slots in as another layer of management with Don and Bert. And Roger gets forgotten entirely - some wish fulfillment from the Brits there! No promotions, no London-New York Creative Director role for Don. Nasty, nasty Brits. A very unpleasant bunch who've simply taken Sterling Cooper, cut the budgets, cut the expenses and cut the workforce and used Lane to do their dirty work.

Comeuppance comes rather wonderfully during Joan's farewell party. Poor Joan's putting a brave face on it as she now knows that she doesn't have the life of a kept woman ahead of her after hubby's drunken confession of the previous night that he didn't get the job as a surgeon and likely never will. Things get rather out of hand when Smitty starts riding a tractor, donated to Ken Cosgrove by a client, round the office. Ditzy Lois decides to have a go and causes utter mayhem. She rides over and crushes Guy's foot before crashing into an office wall. Blood sprays everywhere and Guy is crippled, his life only saved by a quick acting Joan. Tragi-comedy at its best. During this emergency Don receives a call from Conrad Hilton (of the hotel chain) and dashes off to a meeting. The big twist here is that Connie turns out to be the guest that Don had a very profound chat with behind the bar in My Old Kentucky Home. As the meeting progresses the impression is that Connie is about to offer Don a very lucrative deal.

The Brits declare Guy's career is over after losing his foot and, most hilariously, that he'll never play golf again.
Roger jokes "and just after he'd got his foot in the door". Lane will remain in place it seems and there's a marvelous bit where he and Don discuss American literature and he quotes Tom Sawyer, "I feel like I just went to my own funeral," Lane tells Don, "And I didn't like the eulogy." There's also a delicious little moment between Joan and Don in the hospital where you get the feeling that she's dying to ask for her job back and there's a definite frisson that exists between the two suggesting the relationship between them is more than an office friendship.

The episode ends with Don comforting Sally as he cradles Gene and explaining to her that her new brother isn't formed yet, doesn't know who he will be and that she shouldn't be scared of that. A lovely scene. The closing
"Song to Woody" by Bob Dylan over the end titles completely sums up the mayhem of the episode - "I wrote you a song / 'Bout a funny ol' world that's a-comin' along / Seems sick an' it's hungry, it's tired an' it's torn / It looks like it's a-dyin' an' it's hardly been born."

Thanks as ever to the marvelous Mad Men official site and blog.

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