The Great Mad Men Re-Watch: All Hail the Blankenship

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As we move toward the middle of Season 4, Don starts to tailspin down the dark hole of alcoholism. Maybe his new Girl Friday, a loud old lady in cat glasses named Ida Blankenship, can rescue him from the brink. (Don’t count on it.)



Season 4, Episode 4: “The Rejected”

Review Notes:

There’s rejection happening all over the place in “The Rejected.” Peggy’s “indulge yourself” campaign for Pond’s is rejected by Dr. Faye, whose research indicates that women just want a husband. Then Don rejects Faye’s research, probably still annoyed at how it directly led to that emotional encounter with Allison—the secretary he callously rejected after bedding her one drunken night around Christmas. Then there those rejected nude photographs, the ones that broke the ice in the elevator between Peggy and her new admirer Joyce, a photo editor at Life. Peggy would reject Joyce, too, but Joyce didn’t really mind all that much.

The best stuff in this episode involved poor Allison, who, ensconced behind one-way glass as co-worker indulged in a Faye-led pity party, stormed out of the room sobbing. Peggy ran out to console her, but then things took a turn: Allison revealed her encounter with Don, and assumed Peggy had had one, too. The double slap in the face took Peggy by surprise, then brought on a wave of anger—not out of jealousy, but because Peggy was genuinely sickened that Allison would stoop to sleeping with Don, and had assumed that Peggy would do the same. “Your problem is not my problem,” Peggy said, pointedly. “And honestly, you should just get over it.” It was cold, yet you could also see her point of view. That this encounter came in the same episode where Peggy developed a flirtatious repartee with cool lesbian Joyce (Parenthood’s awesome Zosia Mamet, David Mamet’s daughter) demonstrated just how far Peggy had come in rejecting what she now considered old-fashioned and self-sabotaging notions of how a woman should behave. Later, Allison launched a paperweight at some framed photos after Don offered to sign whatever recommendation letter she could write under his name. The image of Peggy teetering on a chair and peering into Don’s office to see what had just happened is among the funniest of the series.

The departure of Allison, as sad as it was, opened the door for Season 4’s breakout character: Ida Blankenship, a senile old bat assigned to Don’s desk. Ida seems to get just about everything wrong, and remains stubbornly insistent on her right to do so. To Don, she's a nightmare. To us, a consistent delight.

Grade: A
All hail the Blankenship.



Season 4, Episode 5: “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”

Review Notes:

Pete tries to woo Japanese executives from Honda motorcycles (the company wasn't yet pushing Civics on America), who can’t take their eyes off Joan’s breasts. But things take a turn for the ugly when Roger storms into the meeting and gets combative—the wounds of World War II are still raw for him, and these guys were responsible for killing his friends. Despite his disastrous outburst—which later produces some amazing confrontational moments between Roger and Pete, who now looks and acts like an equal—the Honda executives insist they still want to see SCDP’s presentation, so long as the agency follows their rules: $3,000, no finished work. The challenge as posed inspires some creative problem-solving, which, like the Thanksgiving ham caper a few episodes prior, proves to be pretty fun for us. In this case, it’s a matter of the other guy blinking: Ted Chaough, Don’s nemesis, thinks SCDP is breaking the rules and producing a splashy ad, so he commissions his own. (Once again, Peggy gets the best image of the episode, driving a red Honda around in circles inside an empty studio booked to trick the other guys into thinking a full shoot is going on.) The ruse works: The Japanese eliminate the competitors who broke the rules, and SCDP wins the campaign.

In other news, Sally gets caught masturbating. Well, not even Mad Men can bat .1000 with all of its various subplots.

Grade: B+
Great comedy and drama is wrung from the culture clash. Plus I love a good corporate caper.

Fun Finds:
Pete gifts the Honda executives with a boxed cantaloupe. “Japan is probably the only country in the world where you have fruit as a gift concept," according to this New York Times article.



Season 4, Episode 6: “Waldorf Stories”

Review Notes:

We get something of a Don Draper origin story in this episode. Not the Dick Whitman storyline, but how Don met Roger and got started in the ad business in the first place. It happens in a fur store, with Don advising Roger on a mink wrap for Joan, which Roger actually models on himself in a full-length mirror. It’s a disorienting tableau, to be certain, and then Roger notices an ad (Betty’s the model) and asks Don who does their work. Later, Don slips his portfolio into the box—I love that he flips it open to a mockup for Play-Doh—and Roger calls the move “out of line.”

There’s a lot of great stuff here, from Peggy and chauvinist art director Stan Rizzo’s strip-off at the Waldorf (Peggy wins, naturally) to Don’s drunken presentation to the Life Cereal people, where he pulls a long string of slogans out of his ass: “Life is just a bowl of Life Cereal! Life is sweet! Enjoy the rest of your Life … Cereal! Life: the reason you get out of bed in the morning. Life: the cure for the common breakfast.” Of course, that last one—which he lifted straight from “Roger’s idiot”—is the one they like. And that’s how Danny, a.k.a. Roger’s idiot, gets a job at SCDP.

Grade: B
Don-as-alcoholic plot is starting to feel a little on-the-nose, especially because Jon Hamm, as it turns out, doesn’t play a particularly convincing drunk.



QUESTIONS

1. Season 4 surprised many viewers by how often it veered into broad comedy, and that begins to emerge in these episodes. What are your thoughts on the tonal change?

2. Do you think the show went too far with Sally’s plot?



Episodes to watch for next Tuesday: "The Suitcase," "The Summer Man," and "The Beautiful Girls"




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