Friday, April 03, 2015

MAD MEN Ep. 13: "The Wheel"

(S           P           O           I           L           E           R           S)

In which it’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.  And in which it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.

“ ‘Verona,’ Kathy said, and then they talked about Verona, the things they would see and do, and soon the fog was all around them and inside them and they were swallowed up and gone.  Not a footprint, not a single clue.  All woods and water.  A place where one plus one always came to zero.”    Tim O’Brien/In the Lake of the Woods

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.  It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther….And one fine morning-------

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
                          Nick Carraway/The Great Gatsby

It’s one of the signature scenes in the history of Mad Men.  It serves as an emotional climax for Don Draper’s character arc in the first season, a moment of catharsis for a deeply troubled man.

But in the end, for all of its haunting power, it’s still a sales pitch.  And in this famous scene, in which Don unfurls his brilliant renaming of the Carousel slide projector, the Kodak reps aren’t the only ones being sold a dream.

“They said ‘someday you'll find all who love are blind’
When your heart's on fire,
You must realize, smoke gets in your eyes”

As Don walks around the Kodak village three times and then sets it on fire (to borrow a line from Freddie Rumsen in “The Hobo Code”), we sees smoke wafting across the slides that he’s showing, the ones depicting a gradual recession into his family’s past (ending on his wedding day, and then a shot from what appears to be his courtship of Betty.)  It lends a sense of atmosphere and melancholy to the scene, the fog of the past rolling in to envelop those in the room.  It’s also a callback to the title of the pilot episode, whose first shot features the back of Don’s head, setting up this enigma that the audience will soon try to solve.  “The Wheel” ends with us seeing Don straight on, from the front, no distractions or obfuscations.  No smoke.  And with the arc of the season coming full circle (around and around, and back home again), we see the smooth man of mystery for what he really is: lost. And alone.

The brilliance of the Kodak sales pitch scene is the brilliance of Mad Men in capsule form.  Throughout this season, we’ve seen Don careen in all directions, searching for the fulfillment that always seems to be just out of his reach.  His placement in the grand archetypical tradition of the wayward seeker tugs at our heartstrings, because if only he could….And when he finally seems to come to his senses, when he realizes the value of the family he’s slowly abandoned (including the brother he rejected, whose suicide he finally learns about early in the episode), when for one final time he speaks to his inner self through an extroverted business action, all in a gorgeously shot scene that puts a capper on the traditional hero’s journey, well…

But as authentic as the scene’s emotions are, they’re also colored by reality.  All season long, Don has saved the day with pitches drawn from his own psychological turmoil.  All season long, he’s pulled the rabbit out of the hat again and again.  And just like those previous moments of glory, he’s pitching himself hard in the Kodak meeting.  Tapping into his own sense of nostalgia for a more idyllic family life, he’s like Jay Gatsby yearning to recover that part of himself that had gone into loving the object of his desire.  But just as Gatsby became lost in his dream of the vanished past, so too does Don become enraptured by his own patter.  And when the prodigal son finally returns home, his fantasy of an excited family greeting him can only last for a second.  The reality is an empty house, and a legacy of pain that can’t be erased by an advertisement.

But Don isn’t the only character in this episode that ends up adrift in the sea of life.  In a staple of the Mad Men universe, the greatest victories are often tempered by a creeping sense of defeat.  Witness the culmination of Peggy’s season-long transformation.  Flush with her newfound (albeit limited) prestige, she gets to join Ken in the casting session for the Relax-A-Cizor radio campaign.  And then comes a scene that stands out as one of the more uncomfortable, sad, and powerful moments in this season.  As Peggy tries to coach the gorgeous Annie in her line reading, a cutthroat edge that we’ve only seen glimpses of emerges in her.  The end result is the formerly timid secretary destroying a fragile woman in a manner that Don at his worst would be proud of. 

It’s such a complex scene, as Peggy tries to establish some level of control by picking a traditionally beautiful candidate who will instill confidence in the consumer, only for Ken to remind her that the prettiest girls have the lowest self-esteem.  Listen to her instructions to Annie, filled as they are with images of regaining lost luster and youth, a sentiment which the much heavier Peggy is surely feeling at the moment (“Maybe you put on a few pounds, but then you got the Relax-A-Cizor and you’re back to being you, right now.”).  But also listen to the edge in Elisabeth Moss’s voice, as resentment for Annie’s looks drenches her words in acid (it’s a reminder of the Belle Jolie scene from “Babylon”, in which she gazed in mild horror at how readily the rest of the office pool dove into being manipulated into such stereotypically girly behavior.)  The student has learned well; just like in the best of Don’s pitches, Peggy has used a work assignment to deal with her own interior doubts.  But also just like Don, her budding killer advertising instincts can’t completely plumb the depths of those doubts.

Not that it matters in the short term, as by episode’s end she’s promoted to junior copywriter on the new Clearasil campaign (partly because Don begins to see her as his protégé, but also partly so he can emasculate Pete once more).  But defeat comes calling for victory once again, as an hour later she learns of her pregnancy (one of the major reveals of the season, even though in retrospect, it plays a bit like a traditional television cliffhanger.)  And here is the final moment of transformation, the decision that will haunt Peggy for years to come, as in a heartbreaking maternity ward scene, she refuses to hold her newborn child.  The double whammy of her promotion (“Is this really happening?” she asks Don) with the shock of carrying Pete’s child (“No, no that’s not possible.”) creates the signature trauma of her life, her very own Dick Whitman moment.  The almost mythological, fate-governed timing that allowed Pete to impregnate her literally on the night after she received the birth control pill prescription is too much cosmic weight for her to handle.  And like that scared young man who ran from the trauma of his old life into the safety of another man’s life, Peggy too will choose to survive by (as the modern buzzword parlance would put it) moving forward. 

And there’s Betty, the neglected queen of Ossining, sharing a touching scene with Glen, the only person in her world with whom she can be honest.  Glen’s first appearance in Season 1 is played for oddball laughs, but his attempts to console Betty (“I don’t know.  I wish I was older.”) offers a stark, dramatic portrait of these two lost souls: a young boy mature beyond his years and an adult woman stuck in a state of emotional immaturity.  When Francine tells her about Carlton’s affair, it finally motivates her to dig into at least one part of Don’s private life: the phone bill.  It’s through her discovery of his calls to Dr. Wayne (a worse betrayal, in some ways, than an affair) that she finally chooses to strike back at him through the information she doles out in her therapy sessions.  And it’s only the beginning of the split that will grow even wider come Season 2.

“A work of art is a confession.”
-Albert Camus

And so it is.  And so it goes.  Don Draper creates ad campaigns that are touching and beautiful, but which are also hidden confessions of his own insecurities (a method that will finally, devastatingly cave in his world in Season 6).  Matt Weiner creates a wildly popular television show that reflects his own experience growing up as a Jewish outsider in the rarified air of the West Coast.

J.D. Salinger recalls his own experiences with the artificiality of the adult world, and particularly the East Coast elite, through the words of a frustrated, isolated teenage boy.  Sylvia Plath confesses her descent into the abyss through a thinly veiled version of herself.  F. Scott Fitzgerald excavates his feelings of alienation, of being trapped between the worlds of the mega-rich and the destitute poor, of falling prey to the destructive power of affluence through a friendship between two men, one a disillusioned observer, the other an unashamed romantic destroyed by his dreams.  Tim O’Brien uses the nightmares of his Vietnam service, the phantasmagoric visions that keep him awake at night, to craft a story about a man who loses himself in his inner house of mirrors, of a wife who loses herself in trying to beat the odds, of a country that loses itself in the fog of history.  Raymond Carver confesses a life of alcoholism and self-destruction through the words of middle class characters struggling to overcome their setting and themselves.  Chuck Klosterman uses a rock and roll death site road trip to confess the pain and confusion of his romantic life.

A work of art is a confession.

I create a Sophomore English curriculum tailored (inadvertently or not) to a confession of my life.  Of a young man for whom The Catcher in the Rye illuminated the falsity that awaited him in the adult world.  Of that same young man who followed Jay Gatsby’s idealized visions of romance to his own detriment.  Of that young man several years later, who finally realized the self-destructive nature of Gatsby’s journey.  Of that same young man several more years later, who realized that the Tom Buchanans of the world really do get to call the shots, and then run from the damage in their wake.  Of an adult who looked at his own working class upbringing and wanted to share that world with a group of young people who might find it a foreign oddity.  Of an adult who wanted those same young people to realize that it’s sometimes only through enduring the most grueling, soul-baring struggles that we can emerge as stronger, wiser, kinder, and better.

A work of art is a confession.

“But I thought it was like someone reaching through the stone and right to us”  -Harry Crane

My history with Mad Men is my history with life.  You grow up as a hyper-intelligent, sensitive soul.  You realize that too much of life enjoys crushing sensitive people.  You build a defense system galvanized with sarcasm.  You occasionally let down those defenses, but still get burned far too often.  You strengthen that defense system, mold it into an armor of icy cool.  You will not get hurt, because you’ve removed the concept of hurt from the equation.

I teach a trimester of English that encapsulates most of my preoccupations: the past, the seductive allure of melancholia, the latent cruelty of humanity, the need to come to terms with who you are.  I lead a group of young people through a season of a period television drama that says more about our modern lives than many shows set in the present.  I empathize with a character who is trapped in the effortless cool that he’s constructed.

I write a series of essays in which I revisit this world.

A work of art is a confession.

When I started these Mad Men essays, a great deal of my motivation laid in jumpstarting my long dormant writing life, with a deadline (the final seven episodes) to move me along.  And in following that old axiom: write what you know.  But I also knew that like those cave painting handprints that Harry describes in “The Wheel”, the story I would tell, the story I lived, would invariably come reaching out of the past for me.

And I didn’t know how locking hands with that past would affect me.

But in reconnecting with that past, I’ve also been able to appreciate it.  To gain a greater understanding of who I was, of who I am.  To hold onto all the mental snapshots that I captured during those years.

To make it all part of my landscape.

It’s been a time machine, moving backwards and forwards.  Taking me back to that place.  But also taking me back to where I am now.    

For one last time in Season One, the loose ends:

*I owe a great deal of gratitude to Natasha Vargas-Cooper, whose excellent book Mad Men: Unbuttoned served as such an invaluable guide for me, both in my teaching and real life.  It’s a breezy, informative catalog of the cultural reference points for the first three seasons of the show.  If you ever want to know who Draper Daniels was, or why the VW Bug campaign was so influential, it’s a great place to start.

*Matt Weiner recently told an amusing story about the shooting of the touching bank parking lot scene between Betty and Glen.  Turns out the rosy cheeks on Marten Weiner were authentic: that winter scene was actually shot on a 100 plus degree day, and the poor kid was sweating to death inside the car.

*Weiner has also noted how the original plan for this episode was to end on the scene of Don happily reunited with his family.  In part, this was because AMC didn't renew the show until after all 13 Season 1 episodes were in the can, so there was the distinct possibility that these stories would end after one go around.  But motivated by the possibility of a one and done show, Weiner wisely decided that the happy ending wouldn't be honest, and thus chose to end the season with the site of Don, alone in his house, perched at the precipice of despair.

*”Did you know that there’s a surge in adolescence right now?” (Trudy’s father Tom to Pete, offering him the Clearasil account.  That line will lead directly into the “For Those Who Think Young”, the first episode of Season 2, and one that deals with the emerging youth market and its role in Sterling Cooper’s future.

*Thanks to all of you who have been reading these essays.  If you’re new to the show, I hope that they’ve been at least somewhat illuminating.  If you’re a Mad Men veteran, maybe they made you think about something you hadn’t considered before.  If you’re one of my former students, I hope I provided a good laugh or two.

*And finally, I’ll end with this: this isn’t the last you’ve heard of Mad Men and me.              

Thursday, April 02, 2015

MAD MEN Ep. 12: "Nixon vs. Kennedy"

(S           P           O           I           L           E           R           S)

In which a man is whatever room he is in.

"The illusion, he realized, would not be perfect.  None ever was.  But still it seemed a nifty piece of work.  Logical and smooth.  Among the men of Charlie Company he was only known as Sorceror.  Very few had ever heard his real name; fewer still would recall it.  And over time, he trusted, memory itself would be erased."     Tim O'Brien/In the Lake of the Woods

For a long time, I dreaded the prospect of rewatching the entire run of The Sopranos.  Now you have to understand, during its heyday, I was mildly obsessed with David Chase’s paean to the poetic mundanity of post-peak Mob life (and American life).  I bought all the magazines, read every news item, scoured the internet for message board analysis of each episode.  That last bit of devotion is probably the most telling, as I had never before indulged in the labyrinthine analysis that the best of the web could bring.  Obsessively reading each week’s new batch of theories on plot arcs, symbolism, artistic references, etc. was enriching in ways that my previous television fandom hadn’t breached.  After all, the only two previous shows upon which I had so fixated were Twin Peaks and The X-Files, and most of the online discussion surrounding those was confined to the now-archaic world of newsgroups.  Although let me tell ya, when one of my lifelong best friends/fellow obsessives once printed off all of the newsgroup discussions/theories about the series finale of Twin Peaks and gave it to me for Christmas (collated in a three ring binder), it was like the free sample that a dealer uses to hook you for good.

I can lay some of the motivation for my rabid devouring of all things Sopranos at the feet of timing.  As I’ve probably mentioned before, I didn’t start watching the show until a few months before the fourth season debut (in the fall of 2002); by the time Season 5 rolled around, I had a home internet connection for the first time (feel free to laugh it up) and I had started down the long road that would become my teaching career.  So now that I was analyzing literature for a living, diving into the glut of online analysis surrounding Chaseworld seemed like a natural continuation of the rest of my life.

So yeah, the prospect of revisiting the show from the beginning was a bit daunting, in part, because I feared that shotgunning most of it without the long weekly, theory-filled weight might diminish the experience.  But I also feared going back to it because of my Dad.  You see, once I caught up with the first three seasons of The Sopranos, I started watching the rest of the show live with him.  And it turned into a real bonding experience for us.  We had always been close (those of you who knew him know that there’s a lot of my Dad in me), but having this set time each week for collectively experiencing a show we both dug was still something special.  He had watched the first three seasons live, but when I finally joined him it added a little something different to the proceedings.  I would dutifully fill him in on each week’s online chatter and point out references to other movies.  He would tell me stories about his younger days, how he saw himself in some of the formative exploits of the Soprano crew.  He always enjoyed the bursts of violence and defending of family honor that the show offered. 

And I’m not sure how much he ever consciously realized it, but my Dad had more in common with Tony Soprano than he thought; his mother was, in many ways, a spiritual dead ringer for Livia Soprano, a controlling, often icy woman who favored his younger sister, who several times told him that she almost didn’t want to have him.  Of course, like Mama Soprano, my grandma was always benevolent toward my siblings and me.  But as an adult, I now knew the other side of her personage.  And deep down, I knew that watching this show was, even if just on an unconscious level, a way for my Dad to exorcise some of those lingering ghosts in his head, and to communicate them with me in a manner that words couldn’t adequately express.  So when he died a year after the end of the show, I started to worry that revisiting it someday would dredge up feelings that I didn’t want to engage with.  That watching it without him might degrade my enjoyment.

But on a purely practical level, I also dreaded the trip back to New Jersey because of that greatest and most terrible facet of the return to any work of art: dramatic irony.  If you’ve never watched The Sopranos, know that much of its strength is derived from the sense of impending doom and chaos that hovers over even the smallest interactions.  So many of the memorable deaths on the show come not from an archetypical standoff, but from sudden bursts of pent up fury, from an innocuous argument gone wrong, or a slight that triggers the simmering rage from another completely different relationship.  Knowing exactly what happened, and who would die in advance?  Yeah, I greatly feared that knowledge would weaken the show for me.

And dramatic irony is also one of the reasons why I didn’t know how going back to Mad Men, the spiritual heir to The Sopranos, the first time I taught it would affect me. As I mentioned way back in the first essay of this series, watching the show in an academic setting actually forced me to analyze it for the first time, which ended up deepening my appreciation for it.  And somehow, over the three subsequent years of using Mad Men in a classroom setting, I never tired of unpacking the whole thing once again.  I always seemed to have new take on the show’s complex universe, and enough of the students brought their own fresh insights that repeating these stories that I knew so well became an oasis in the often arid academic desert.

It’s this sense of dramatic irony, one that has deepened in richness as each subsequent season of Mad Men has elapsed, which has made writing this series of essays so enjoyable.  Even to this day, I’m noticing old bits of business that are now affecting me in different ways.  And my recent rewatch of Season 2 has only added to this sense of richness.

Take Duck Phillips, everyone’s favorite slimy careerist (someday, I’ll have to write an essay about how much I love Mark Moses and the ever-growing string of unctuous cads on his acting resume.)  In the essay for “Indian Summer”, I noted how Don’s promotion to partner establishes the need for a new Head of Account Services and reinforces his desire to work without a contract (which essentially outlines the set up and resolution for Season 2.)  But during Duck’s first series appearance in “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, the sense of dramatic irony is amazing, as his interview with Don and Bert Cooper essentially outlines his entire character arc.

Now, I’m not saying that Matt Weiner already had the entire Duck storyline planned out this far in advance.  Weiner has often noted how AMC didn’t give him the renewal for Season 2 until after he had finished shooting all 13 episodes of Season 1 (more on that in the essay for “The Wheel”), so some of these late season plot machinations were partially intended to act as resolution in the event that Mad Men became a one and out deal.  But I have to think that he at least had an inkling of where he might want to go.  Or that he just picked up this interview scene and ran with it. 

The harbingers of Season 2 contained within Duck’s interview are fascinating.  Don introduces him to Bert as Herman, upon which Duck establishes his preferred nom de plume, which causes Don to note that his research told him not to use that name.  Duck’s wry reply (“I don’t know.  I like it when you call me Herman”) is a jokey bit of small talk, but it also subtly establishes the war of wills that will engulf these two men in the next season, as well as his disdain for creative types and their seeming indifference to hard numbers (Silicon Valley would love Duck.)  Don notes that Duck landed American Airlines for Y+R during his time in London; his attempt to do the same for Sterling Cooper will lead to Season 2’s AA/Mohawk Airlines debacle, the fallout from which amps up the tension between he and Don.  Pete and the boys fill the audience in on Duck’s drunken flameout in London, prefiguring his eventual downfall at Sterling Cooper. 

But perhaps the most prescient Duck-centric line comes from Ken Cosgrove: Published Author, when he notes “He’s a killer, but he’s damaged goods.”  If Season 1 of Mad Men is an introduction to Don’s compartmentalized, existential angst, Season 2 features him having to face down some of his more unpleasant attributes.  I once mentioned that Don’s affair with Bobbie Barrett was akin to an extended episode of him making love to himself, and it’s only when he finally realizes that (even though he wants to deny it) he and Bobbie are one in the same that he cuts things off.  But Duck Phillips is also a reflection of a side of Don that he fears: the cold pragmatist, stripped of any creativity or soul, and a man on the brink of a flameout.  A damaged killer.  As the series progresses, we’ll see more and more of Don’s old school creative temperament running up against the encroachment of purely data-driven advertising.  Duck is where it all begins.

Another bit of intense dramatic irony comes in one of the more heart-rending scenes of this season.  Hot on the heels of his final rebuke at the hands of Rachel Menken, a panicked and despondent Don returns to his office only to find Peggy on the couch.  When she breaks into tears over the firing of two janitors (who took the fall for her reporting the boys to building security for raiding her locker during the election party the night before), her anguished plea to Don is a thing of beauty:

“I don’t understand.  I try to do my job.  I follow the rules, and people hate me.  Innocent people get hurt, and—and other people—people who are not good—get to walk around doing whatever they want.  It’s not fair.”     

In the moment, this speech is wrenching.  Over the course of the first season, Elisabeth Moss is so good at charting the subtle transformation of Peggy, that when she cracks here and reveals that the sensitive woman of the pilot is still present inside her, it’s a real gutpunch.  Looking back at this scene after six and a half seasons of Peggy’s evolution into a much harder and pragmatic (but still sympathetic) person, it’s doubly sad (she has a similar speech with Pete in the Season 2 finale, in which her reveal of their abandoned child doubles as her confession of how much of herself she’s had to sacrifice to survive in the ad world.)

That final sentence in Peggy’s speech mirrors Don’s exact same words to Bert Cooper when the boss breaks down the cold calculus of a JFK election victory for Sterling Cooper.  And it’s that repetition of his own words by the woman who will become his protégé and one his few confidantes which inspires him to finally confront Pete about the Dick Whitman situation.

Oh yeah, I’m finally getting around to the king of all this episode’s plot threads: the long-brewing, epic standoff between Don and Pete.  (Boy, talk about buying the lede.)  One of the hallmarks of the pantheon of great modern television dramas (notably The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men) has been their subversion of the classic narrative arc through placing the major twists and resolutions in the penultimate episode of each season, leaving the finale as reflective epilogue.  Which means that “Nixon vs. Kennedy” contains a lot of big moments. 

And Pete’s attempt to blackmail Don with the knowledge of his true identity is the biggest.  Throughout the season, the show (and Don) has drawn a parallel between the Don/Pete rivalry and the Nixon/Kennedy race.  Here it’s all made explicit, especially in Don’s silver spoon rebuke of Pete before they enter Bert’s office (prompted by Peggy’s lament about fairness, and by Rachel calling him a coward.)  Pete is amazed that Don is willing to force this final confrontation, saying “You would rather blow yourself up than make me Head of Accounts?”  It’s another callback to Don’s supposed cowardice; the next scene will reveal his theft of the real Don Draper’s identity in Korea, which lends added resonance to his attempt to derail Pete’s scheme, to finally enact the magnanimous sacrifice that he was so unwilling to make in the war. (Note, as well, how the image above serves as a mirror image callback to one from the climax of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, Don and Pete once again blocked off in their own frames, physically separated by a beam, figuratively separated by their conflict.)

I’ve said it before, but Jon Hamm has never received enough credit for the subtlety he brings to the role of Don.  “Nixon vs. Kennedy” is a tour de force of his range, as he’s forced to play all aspects of the Don/Dick dichotomy.  During the flashback that reveals Dick’s first meeting with the real Don, Hamm’s voice is noticeably weaker and in a higher register; it’s only when he becomes Don Draper: Master of the Universe that he adopts the stentorian baritone that is cultural shorthand for masculine authority and power.  (It’s also interesting that Don Draper is the only soldier working at his outpost in Korea, prefiguring the solitary nature of the new Don’s life.)  That weaker voice returns later in the episode during Don’s panicked retreat into Rachel Menken’s arms.  And it’s here that we once again see what must be the real Dick Whitman, the frightened man stripped of his Don Draper armor, those old Fitzgeraldian hot whips of panic lashing away at him.

Here’s something that should come as no surprise to those of you who’ve been reading these essays from the start: the moment when Bert Cooper responds to Pete’s reveal of Don’s identity with “Mr. Campbell…who cares?” garnered the wildest in-class applause of the first season.  And yeah, in the moment, it’s satisfying snub of a character who’s hard to like.  But as I rewatcheed this episode, I was struck again by how the conflicting physicalities and senses of cool between Don and Pete drive so much of the stock audience response.  It’s so easy to applaud Don when he finally claims authority and takes a stand for something, while it’s also pretty easy to boo and hiss at Pete when he does the same.  But the power plays that each tries to pull during this season aren’t that dissimilar.  It’s just much easier to take the side of the sexy cutthroat than the geeky one.    

A final word about the end of Don’s affair with Rachel.  Her climactic moment of revelation is potent, as she claims that their time together was “a dalliance, a cheap affair” and that “you don’t want to run away with me, you just want to run.” (In the moment before, she nails him with “What are you, a 15-year old?”)  And there’s a lot of truth in her sentiments.  But looking back at this episode years later, there’s also a lot of sadness and missed opportunity.  Because we know that their affair wasn’t just a cheap fling, that Don actually finds a compassionate, spiritual connection with her, flawed as it may be.  But in the end, she’ll always be that utopian ideal: the good place that cannot be.

And in the end, the dramatic irony inherent in rewatching Mad Men for this essay series is a big reason why I was somewhat apprehensive of doing so.  So attached to my teaching career have my memories of Season 1 become, I worried that going through these episodes again would dredge up some suppressed pain.  For as mercurial as my time teaching could be, the Mad Men unit was a deeply rewarding part of my life.  And now that I’ve left that part, it sometimes seems to me that those Mad Men days have taken on the mantle of being the good place that cannot be.  But ultimately, they’re all part of the continuum of life.  To once again quote Sylvia Plath, they’re part of my landscape.  And revisting them has been almost as rewarding as experiencing them the first time around.

*I could write an entire essay about the raucous Election Night office party.  It’s Mad Men in capsule form: massive boozing, repellent sexism (Ken Cosgrove yanking up Alison’s dress to the approval of the office pool always got a stunned reaction in class), dry and absurdist humor, the cost of bacchanalian living (Harry Crane’s tryst with Hildy showing that the Sterling Cooper culture can infect anyone).  Paul Kinsey’s play (Death is My Client), his barely disguised rant against his fellow workers, makes me laugh every time (“I can’t control my genius!’).  But the aftermath of its performance also provided a nice character moment for he and Joan, as she reminds him how his big mouth ended their relationship, while he makes sweet and temporary amends by dancing a silent cha-cha with her.  It’s a bit that other shows might skip over as being inconsequential to such a plot-driven episode.  But it’s little snapshots of humanity like this that make Mad Men such compelling drama.

*After dismissing Pete from his office, Bert Cooper’s final line to Don (“Fire him if you want.  But keep an eye on him.  One never knows how loyalty is born.”) would prove to be prophetic, as their Season 1 rivalry would inadvertently create a deep bond between he and Pete.  It also serves as an ironic counterpoint, as the scene immediately cuts to a flashback of the explosion that allowed Dick to steal Don’s identity. 

*That climactic flashback, when young Adam spots Dick in the train as it pulls away?  Yeah…that gets me every time.  It’s final, tragic confirmation of how much that little boy never really grew up, and how his big brother’s ultimate rejection of him destroyed his soul.

*With the exception of a brief (but important) cameo at the beginning of Season 2, this episode marks the end of Maggie Siff’s run as Rachel Menken.  But she wouldn’t be able to abandon her knack for playing respectable women who fall for the bad boy, as she transitioned into the role of Tara, Jax Teller’s doctor girlfriend, on Sons of Anarchy.

*”You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.  Forget about that boy in the box.”  (Woman in the train, to Dick.  Also a callback to the last remnants of Dick’s life, the photos that Pete absconds with, which are housed in a box.)

*”It’s marvelous.  I become incantatory.”  (Paul, describing the effect drinking absinthe has on him.)