Monday, September 27, 2010

Calling Your Bluff

A couple of quick notes about the blog before I lay down my review of last night’s Mad Men episode, “Hands and Knees.” 

First, you will notice a new section at the top of the blog, entitled “Puddles of My Mad Men” (because it is of course my show).  This is where you can find all of my Season 4 recaps in one place as well as a somewhat brief recap I did of Season 3 last fall.  So, please enjoy all of that because it really is quite stellar writing.

Second, the blog will be back in full swing starting next Monday, October 4, 2010.  I have a couple of great things lined up for you all.  There are some surprises and new additions, some entertaining and inane podcasts, extreme amounts of vanity as well as a long-term plan whose wheels are in motion, which could not only alter the face of this blog but the face of the planet in general.  These are the things you come to this blog for, so, again, my Puddlers, please just sit back and enjoy this ride your on, which is called Puddles of Myself aka my fictionalized and embellished life, which is what we like to call the truth.


I’m not sure that I would ever make a good critic.  I enjoy the things that I enjoy almost too much and can’t speak about them without great amounts of praise, while simultaneously feeling the need to make the person I am speaking to or arguing against feel foolish for having the opinion of the object in question.  You could call this the Michael Jordan syndrome and it is usually the sign of a bad critic – although the trait does make the best basketball player, athlete and competitor of all time.  A good critic will stick to his opinions, will investigate an object, will allow for various view points, expand on them and entertain them and ultimately resolve that there is probably not one specific way to view an object but you should take his word that perhaps his view may be the most revealing.  Now, this all sounds fairly dry, but the thing about criticism is that when it is good it is written with a passion that belies its distance, but also strengthens it.  This is almost true of good fiction, except distance is essential and cannot be compromised as much as in criticism.

All of this being said, I enjoyed last night’s episode of Mad Men, which was entitled “Hands and Knees.”  It was not the best episode of the season or the series by far, but it did put pressure on the final three episodes.  This is not a pressure to deliver on expectations, but rather a dramatic pressure.  So much of this season has been focused on Don’s fall and his search for some way out, that an episode like “Hands and Knees” almost becomes essential in order to point the narrative towards its climax.  This would explain the fact that much of the criticism of last night’s episode is about how it felt like a soap opera, or to be more eloquent, that the action was not true to life, that the instances that all occurred in the span of time conveyed in last night’s episode would not all have occurred in the same span of time.  Now, this very well may be true, but the tool of dramatic irony – on full display in the conference room scene and the Betty Draper interview scene – have been used for centuries.  The conference scene was a perfect example of dramatic irony. Here you have a scene where pivotal characters in the show and in the agency are in the same room together, each one coming from a different vantage point; vantage points that each contain their own secrets and pieces of knowledge.  We as the audience are left to cringe at what we know and about what isn’t being revealed, every piece of acting becomes magnified because of the knowledge that the character has in relation to the knowledge that other characters don’t have, but we as the audience have – we make the scene even more dramatic than it inherently is.  So, perhaps the paperwork slipup that leads Don to sweat out G-Men hunting him down would not have actually happened in the same week as SCDP losing the Lucky Strike and perhaps Joan would not have found out she was pregnant at the same time that Lane Pryce has a clash with his visiting father – these are not things we can actually determine and they are maybe fruitless to critique and as Lee Garner Jr. says to Roger, “There’s nothing you can do.  Nothing you could do.  That’s just the way it is.”

This episode was obviously about the secrets that the characters must conceal just as the entire show is about the secret that Don conceals, which is an extreme, dramatic (in the best sense) example of the secrets we all conceal.  I wrote an ill-advised, amateurish novel during my senior year of college about friends who meet up during their last year of college only to realize how much each of them as changed and at the secrets that they each conceal from each other and have concealed.  I didn’t intend for the focus to be on the secrets, but my writing teacher, Steven Milhauser, informed me that that was where the drama lay, in the concealment of information. “All of your characters are friends,” he said to me, “yet they all conceal information from each other. And it seems that much of their relationship with each other has been based on concealed information.”  Since this novel was somewhat autobiographical (my influences being Joyce, Proust, Wolfe and Kerouac) I began to question the secrecy of my own life, and how much I kept from other people and from the world, which is to say that I kept a lot. I decided that no matter how honest I decided to be about myself and about the world in general, how much I would live honestly, that I would always be a concealer of information – this I because we are all concealers of information, our being, is always pointing to something else, pointing to an information or pieces of information that we contain, whether about ourselves, a topic, a romance, or another person.

Mad Men is about a “successful” man who is handsome but who conceals his identity from his wife and children, from his colleagues and from most of his lovers. This is a show about people who hide information about pregnancies, about whose children they have fathered, about having children, about whom they have slept with, about whom they have been raped by, about whom are gay.  What I enjoy about the show is about how these characters all attempt to continue to live their lives amid all this untruth, because sometimes to continue on in this world you have to lie about things, you have to lie to yourself.  Now, obviously, we always want to avoid the lying - we never want to lie so much to ourselves that we end up forgetting who we actually are.  In the end, lies will always catch up to us as they continue to do for Don.  We have to sacrifice great portions of ourselves in order to keep the lies afloat.  We can clearly see how much Don has suffered at his lies, what he has lost.  In the boardroom, we see the slight twinge of regret on his face when Roger lays into Pete for “losing” the North American Aviation account.  We see how much Joan has lost by lying about her affair with Roger, about having multiple abortions in order to cover up her affairs.  She has held a place for romance with a man who is tremendously quick with his wit and his postures of romance but who doesn’t recognize which tragedy Joan is talking about when she speaks to him after she has gone to perhaps have an abortion.  We see how much Lane has suffered and will suffer unless he goes back to London to see his family. He has perhaps been living a lie as an American and as a lover to his black girlfriend.  It is interesting to note that Pete comments to Trudy about how people who are liars get through life while the good people must suffer, even though he still carries the lie of his affair with Peggy and the fathering of the child she gave away.  Pete seems to want to come out of this situation, out of the boardroom as someone who is clean, but who really has hands that are as dirty as anyones. And, of course, Roger must lie about the Lucky Strike/American Tobacco account and its fate, only putting off what seems inevitable.  Although, we knew Lucky Strike was going to go this season one way or another.

All this being said, why then does the truth seem to pale in comparison to lies?  Don seems to be less attracted or to shy away from telling Faye the truth.  We want people to see the personas that we put up and not who we really are, but then we feel isolated when we realize how distant we are from them when we don’t tell the truth.  The truth is always more painful, which has been well documented, but it will save us in the end where the lies will destroy us.  Willie Stark in All The King’s Men said that “the end of man is to know.”  We always seem to want to know the truth but when we do, we hope for the lie, because the truth can’t be what it seems – it isn’t what we bargained for.  Then, how do we live honestly? How do we look for the truth? How do we accept the truth, when it is the lie that protects us, when it is the lie that pleases our eye?  These are questions I can’t answer for you in a review of Mad Men.  All I know is that once Don reveals his identity to Faye at the end of the episode, he first notices Megan, his new secretary, who apologizes to him for the paperwork issue and tells him that everything worked out.  Is that a lie that Don wants?  Or is it just a reminder of how thin the web of lies we all live in can be, that one slip of paperwork by a secretary can ruin even the longest-running and most concealed of secrets.  What does that say about us in general and the secrets that we keep from each other?  Perhaps as Lee Garner Jr. says, “There is nothing you can do.  Nothing you could do. That’s just the way it is.”

There’s one secret I won’t keep: Joan is still pregnant.

Three more episodes left.

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