Thursday, 19 August 2010

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The Ballad of Peggy and Pete The fourth season of Mad Men has been maligned in some corners because it "merely" continues to be superb. Such are the burdens of high expectations. The final scenes of the most recent episode, "The Rejected," demonstrate that the series deserves those expectations by living up to them. "The Rejected" is the first episode this season not to focus entirely on the perils of being single and Don Draper, instead concentrating on Peter Campbell's continued development into the person his wife thought she married and Peggy Olson's somewhat reluctant embrace of Beat ethics. The closing scene—or scenes if you want to be technical—simultaneously links the two of them while showing the growing distance between. It begins inside the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce with Campbell doing a man thing with other men: This is the world Peggy can never enter. It is medium long shot because business isn't personal, even when conducted with your father-in-law (who is square in the center of the frame). Director John Slattery then cuts to a long shot of the Beatnik crowd Peggy now runs with: They continue to approach until they walk into medium long shot, at which point they are stopped short by the glass doors of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. What follows is unsubtle but effective: as these people belong neither to the world of the firm nor the one it appeals to, they are denied entry. Slattery shoots them through the material barrier separating them from that world, then cuts to a long shot of its smiling Cerberus: Peggy quickly steps into the frame and—just in case you missed that worlds were on the verge of colliding here—Slattery cuts to a long shot behind the secretary in order to survey the scene: Peggy is on the left, aligned with the Beatniks; Peter's on the right, doing man things with men; and they are separated by the guardian of one of the only professions that could keep a creative woman and an enterprising young businessman in the same orbit. The secretary represents what binds these two together while simultaneously keeping the worlds the inhabit apart. It is no accident that her stiff posture cuts a line through the frame that is continued by the joint of the glass wall and wood paneling. Without pushing the windows-equal-freedom angle too strongly, there is no denying that in this scene the set works as representations of the respective worlds Peggy and Pete inhabit: a glass wall leading outside and wood paneling of the sort found in august boardrooms and Mason lodges. As Peggy heads to the door, Slattery cuts to a medium shot that reiterates the fact that Peter runs in the exclusively male circles she never can: Then he cuts to another long shot in which all the parties are visible: Peggy is leaving Peter and his world behind, literally in the background, and is being escorted by a lesbian into one he is barred from. Significantly, if your eyes follow Peggy out...
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Ads without products; or, "Don Draper" is now never himself In the previous post, I called the transition from the scene at the firm to the one in Draper's hall a "wipe," but that's not quite right. The camera pans left into the wall: But the second it succumbs to pure black, it bounces back to the right to place the viewer in the hall outside Draper's apartment: I debated calling this a "manual wipe" before my better angels piped up, but now I'm not sure what to call this. (An artifact of an impending commercial break? Irony itself would get the vapors.) All of which is only to say that whatever this particular transition is called, it creates a continuity between Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce and the hall outside Draper's apartment. Why? Most likely because Draper has finally decided that he will never be more than the professional persona he created. Not to sound my own trumpet, but my first attempt to understand the Peter/Peggy/Draper dynamic turned out to be largely correct: Peter and Peggy are headed into their respective futures, whereas Draper is slowly become solely an object of his own creation. His last link to Dick Whitman — Anna Draper, the wife of the man whose identify he stole — will be dead within months, at which point the only person who will that "Don Draper" deserves those quotation marks is his ex-wife. Soon he will be his creation, but instead of this moment marking the culmination of a lie or life self-fashioned, the result is as devestating to his personality as it was to his marriage. If there were some way Draper could arrange a divorce from himself at this point, all indications are that he would: he deliberately sabotages the family-friendly Janzen campaign by presenting the company with the very sort of lascivious material they wanted no part of; he sleeps with his secretary then treats her in a way that invites retaliation; and he starts drinking alone. The vast quantities of alcohol consumed on the show serve a social function, and they continue to do so during working hours. But without a wife and a fiction to uphold, "working hours" for Draper consist of his entire waking life, as when he drinks alone in his apartment and watches his own commercials on television. He has become the man he created and is miserable. In the final scene of "The Rejected," John Slattery provides a clue as to why when he transports the viewer into the hallway outside Draper's apartment. He begins behind the head of an old woman whose husband has stepped in the hall and asks "Did you get pears?" Whether or not she bought pears is a private matter. The whole hall neither cares nor needs to know the answer to that question and so she refuses to answer it. His wife seems more concerned with what her husband is unwittingly communicating: not that he needs to know whether she purchased pears, but 1) that he is so obsessed with trivial matters...

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