Commentary

Episode 604: Mary Kay, Mary Jane, And The Electric Circus

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 4You say tomahto, I say tomato. You say catsup, I say ketchup. Within the out-for-blood prism of “Mad Men,” it all comes down to more whoredom, anyway, and then you die!

Of course, you also get your betrayal, hypocrisy, and misery on the side. Why don’t we call the whole thing off? Because with “Mad Men,” we always get a little extra sumpin’ sumpin’ to keep us going. This week was a very cleverly written, nicely shot little tinderbox of an episode full of ripe text and images to chew over for a long, long time. For starters, there is Joe Namath and friends, selling us on all-American napalm!

The title, “To Have and to Hold,” (the name of Megan’s soap opera) is apt, since it is really a Shakespearean soap opera within a soap opera.

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Plus there was a whole tomato subtheme, with the fight for Heinz Ketchup (the condiment of kings), and Scarlett (who wore a scarlet sweater -- if not a letter -- in the office.) And Bert Cooper’s gorgeous new office, filled with red Chinoiserie. And Joan (let’s call her “Red,” as Roger used to) and her friend Kate, painting the town red, if not electric.

Mad Men Season 6
Episode 4And Megan’s fantastic metallic dress at dinner with the would-be swingers, her boss and his wife, who reminded me of Jacqueline Susann (“Valley of the Dolls” author ) and her husband.

Plus we got the dawn of Dawn! That one act of Joan handing over the keys to the time clock and the supply closet to Dawn was brilliant -- even if Joan claimed it was a punishment. Because it showed that a) Joan was moving forward, finally, and helping Dawn; and b) when you think about it, that’s really all there is in life: the idea of time and how we choose to fill it. (Perhaps it was also a reference to the most important existential text of the twentieth century, “Being and Time,” by Martin Heidegger, but I digress.)

But first, let’s go back to the last scene from last week, that pathetic visual of Don rolled up in a ball at the door of his apartment. That suggested his act of peeking through the keyhole at his stepuncle’s whorehouse as an unwanted child, seeing his pregnant stepmother being taken by the old rooster on the bed.  It was a scene so traumatizing and bleak that he’s never gotten over it. (And in his own way, he keeps repeating it.)

Mad MenSeason 6 Episode 4This week, Don did a lot of spying through doorways, (listening to Peggy’s pitch, especially when she repeated his line, “If you don’t like the conversation, change it.”) He was also closed off in tiny rooms: When Sylvia, (who, as someone on Twitter said, looks just like Betty Rubble) hops on the elevator in her apartment building with Don on it, he locks the doors, and they kiss madly. One of the saddest scenes ever took place in Megan’s tiny dressing room. Pete’s little bachelor pad was the meeting place for the sordid affair with the ketchup guy.

At the agency, Don’s the only one who can get into the secret lockbox of a room where Stan and his beard are cooking up the clandestine recipe for “Project K,” the Heinz pitch. In the end, the project was such a disaster, filled with so many burned bridges and betrayals, that they might as well have been creating a bomb.

And by the way, Scarlett, you’re fired!

That was a new low for Joan: screaming such a vulgar, Trumpian phrase across the office. But I was thrilled that we got a little window into Joan’s life this week. (And that we saw the baby, who looks about 14 months old, although it seems he’d be about four or five by now, doesn’t it?)

Mad Men  Season 6 Episode 4Joan seems to have survived by making her life very small. Same apartment, same overbearing babysitter (her mom), same office life. Because, despite the partnership, it seems clear that Joan is still fulfilling the role of the office manager -- the same job she did some nine years ago -- and showing a bit of hypocrisy in firing a lively and devoted secretary for stretching the rules.

It was interesting that Joan's friend was selling Mary Kay cosmetics. That business, with its much-mocked pink Cadillacs for high-earning sales reps and managers, is the embodiment of the ironies of the women’s movement. To make it in a "man's world" and build a billion-dollar business, the founder had to make it all about extreme femininity and beauty. At the same time, the company provided a gateway for generations of women to enter the workforce and achieve financial independence.

Kate came to town to cheat on her husband and meet with Avon. The whole episode was about cheating, both personally and professionally. And it also suggested that everyone, especially in advertising, is either a pimp or a whore. After Megan’s fake love scene on the set, Arlene -- seeing Don standing in the wings -- told Megan, “Your manager is here.” (Meaning, your pimp.)

Even given his profound need to compartmentalize, it was hard to believe that Don could keep a straight face while calling Megan a whore for doing a fake sex scene on her soap opera. (He called Betty a whore at the end of their marriage, too.)

Mad Men  Season 6 Episode 4Is he playacting, trumping up his own reasons to leave her, working up some righteous indignation as a coward’s excuse to let her go? Or is he upset that he thinks she's been playacting for their whole marriage?

Does anyone feel anything genuine for anyone here? Peggy loves Stan, but she betrayed him. And his little moment of flashing her the bird in the bar was exquisite.

Partnerships, marriage -- these things provide no comfort. Nor does religion. Dawn tells her friend she’ll never meet a guy at church, because it’s “filled with harlots.”

But Dawn has the keys to the supply closet, and that’s enough to keep me going.

 

This week, seeking some naughty downtown nightlife, Joan and her friend made a beeline for the Electric Circus, an East Village hot spot in the late 1960s known for its "mindblowing" light and sound shows, and appearances by such groups as The Velvet Underground. Here's an original promo poster via @GlaserArchives.

20 comments about "Episode 604: Mary Kay, Mary Jane, And The Electric Circus".
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  1. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, April 22, 2013 at 8:15 p.m.

    Yes Barbara, the Dawn of a new story arc! Actually, I'm seeing an interracial romance on the horizon for her - perhaps with Bobby Baby (whose purpose I'm eagerly awaiting to discover). I rolled my eyes at Dickie the Ketchup guy because I can't imagine somewhat who dresses as flashy as him would fit in at Heinz headquarters in blue collar Pittsburgh (the city is still traumatized that Showtimes' "Queer as Folk" was set in the Steel City). Finally, media director Harry Crane's hissy-fit in the boardroom was great and quite appropriate - it's about time he became a squeaky wheel and pointed out to the smug account & creative guys who's generating the agency's revenue (can you tell I'm a fellow media guy?).

  2. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 22, 2013 at 8:30 p.m.

    @Rob--well put! But he didn't need to be as cruel as he was about Joan. ANd do you really think the check would materialize that fast? (Giving Roger his greatest line almost ever--should we stop the check before he cashes it? And Burt got to say his own version of, "You are no Jack Kennedy" to Harry. Btw, I guess his present salary has allowed Harry to invest in a wardrobe of racetrack jackets!

  3. Steven Cherry from IEEE Spectrum, April 22, 2013 at 8:55 p.m.

    You have the wrong "Being and" title, putting your existentialism count is off by one. Sartre's "Nothingness" beats Heidegger's "Time."

  4. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 22, 2013 at 9:07 p.m.

    Thanks for your comment, Steven Cherry. I understand that Sartre wrote "Being and Nothingness."
    this straight from Wiki. "Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being". His best known book, Being and Time, is considered one of the most important philosophical works of the 20th century. Wikipedia

  5. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 22, 2013 at 9:13 p.m.

    @Steven-- or did you mean that sartre's book is the most important? confused!

  6. Steven Cherry from IEEE Spectrum, April 22, 2013 at 9:14 p.m.

    Far be it for me to question Wikipedia's bona fides as the authoritative source for the history of philosophy, but it's quite a stretch to go from "one of the most important philosophical works of the 20th century" to "the most important existential text of the twentieth century."

  7. Steven Cherry from IEEE Spectrum, April 22, 2013 at 9:16 p.m.

    @Barbara, yes, that's exactly what I meant. Plus I've always been amused that the two works share 67 percent of their titles.

  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 22, 2013 at 9:35 p.m.

    @Steven-- well, arguing about existentialism and hermeneutics here on Mediapost is a fine thing!

  9. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, April 22, 2013 at 10:23 p.m.

    First things first. Media (this usually was presented last in the period covered by the show): Harry was (is) a fraud who (we recall) only succeeded because of Joan. She probably even forgets at this point.
    Second. In the NY Times Magazine article featured last season (November 20, 1966), Victor Navasky identified the Carl Ally agency as the existentialist one. Having worked there for 14 years, I can say there were a lot of No Exit moments. But ACH DU LIEBER would be a better title than Sein Und Zeit. Being and Time Sheets also could work.
    Third, going back once again, Betty's old roomie became a career hooker and there still is the possibility that Betty's modeling career was actually a call girl career and that is where Don first met her.
    Fourth, isn't there a prudish streak in Don? I thought that as he seems almost clueless at times and at other times absurdly squeamish about his wife's acting. Although I have to say that that soap seems a bit ahead of its time.

  10. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 22, 2013 at 10:28 p.m.

    @Tom-- that's interesting that you call it a prudish streak. Remember when Betty bought a two piece bathing suit and Don didn't want her to wear it? THe double standards and complete disconnect with his own behavior is terrifying.

  11. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, April 22, 2013 at 10:34 p.m.

    The Ketchup campaigns?
    Peggy's preamble was creditable, I thought.
    But Heinz, despite having the largest market share, did very competitive advertising...not defensive as the two agencies presented. Slowest ketchup, I think, was the DDB notion. Demonstrating thickness, which I guess ketchup users find attractive.
    Lancer's Rosé with Pork Roast a better culinary touch than the previous episode's branzino.

  12. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, April 23, 2013 at 7:55 a.m.

    That you can include existential works in your column is why you are a writer, and I am not. Great column and comments. Do you wonder, as Dawn pointed out, how miserable they all seem to be? I wonder how much Dawn we'll see in future episodes, but she is the outsider, providing observation that I expect will eventually come to pass. Also, what was that place with the phones? That didn't ring a historical bell for me (ha ha ha, ad infinitum).

  13. larry price from tmpg, April 23, 2013 at 10:53 a.m.

    as an almost senior citizen thanks for the poster. fantastic.
    also thank you for the great columns you never cease to write.
    but having a back and forth with Tom Messner is truly special. two of the smartest people (you and Tom) talking about a great TV show. Classic!
    best, lp

  14. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 23, 2013 at 11:32 a.m.

    @Larry-- thanks so much, Larry. Yes, Tom is a steel trap with a mind. And a gem. As are all the commenters! .

  15. George Parker from Parker Consultants, April 23, 2013 at 6:20 p.m.

    Barbara + Tom... I am beginning to worry about you two. You are starting to write about Mad Men as if it is real... It's a soap that just happens to be about advertising (less and less so) do not get your knickers in a twist. One day it will end... When it does, I recommend an evening with "Putney Swope." Much more stimulating than Sartre and Heidegger. As for Tom's reference to Lancers Rose, I used to work on that as part of the Heublein account at B&B, when I was a real Mad Man in the sixties. Two Brooklyn guys shipped in tankers of cheap Portuguese wine, pumped a bit of CO2 into it, packaged it in a stone crock, stuck an "Imported" label on it and made millions. Sold it to Heublein and made even more millions. You could really impress chicks with it, 'cos they served in in a champagne bucket... Very posh. Tasted like shit, but hey, you'd already had three Martinis. So!!!
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  16. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 23, 2013 at 6:29 p.m.

    @George-- Yes, in the early '80s a guy from Texas tried to impress me that his "favortite wahn happens to be Lansher's Van Roshay!"
    I was impressed. (not!)
    you're right, of course, George, but why deny us our twisted knickers?

  17. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, April 23, 2013 at 7:07 p.m.

    My withdrawal from the ad business has brought me down to three fixes. Barbara's Mad Blog, The Mad Men Show, and George Parker's blog, Ad Scam. Of the three, George's coverage of an agency I know nothing about (Draft FCB) with people I don't know run by a holding company I know less about than Sterling Cooper seems less real than the presentation on AMC and the libretto by Barbara Lippert two days later. What is real and what is fake? Downton Abbey and The Borgias may better represent the world of bureaucracies and scratching to get by in a Heraclitian universe. You never step into the same agency twice, the old Greek copywriter said, and his descendant Sartre thought existence preceded essence which kinda meant man was always changing pursuing his soul. His buddy Camus thought that the only question in philosophy was the question of suicide, a true expression of free will. My wife told me today over beers at Zum Schneider on Avenue C during the Bayern Munich versus Barcelona game that I took this show too seriously and that the show runners themselves probably don't remember that Joan carried this Harry guy during his flummoxing about to create a programming department at the agency. I had forgotten that Lancer's was carbonated and on reflection I probably never drank it although someone once told me it went well with Indian food.

  18. George Parker from Parker Consultants, April 23, 2013 at 9:02 p.m.

    Tom... You never fail to deliver, and Barbara is without a doubt the most erudite of ad flaneurs. Regarding Lancers.. It was designated as "Crackling" rather than "Sparkling." This because to two Brooklyn guys put in just enough CO2 to make it fizz when poured into the glass. Within seconds it was flat, but it was enough to impress your dining companion and hopefully lead to exciting things later in the evening.
    Cheers/George

  19. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC, April 24, 2013 at 6:04 p.m.

    Wasn't it interesting and poetic that three agencies pitched Dickie for Heinz Ketchup account and in Mad Men style, the one that won was large, well-known JWT's and we didn't see their creative. The other two presentations, including Stan and Don's "Just Heinz" without Ketchup wasn't good, would not have worked, wasn't approved nor creative. "It's only creative it it sells."
    In my mind and from my background, I don't think Dickie would have used the hotel room paid by Pete for the other two presentations. But it did represent Dickie's crass behavior. Way to go, Matthew.

  20. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 25, 2013 at 10:40 p.m.

    Thanks, Larry. Yeah, the affair with Dickie was all around tawdry. Don definitely didn't dance with the one who brung him. Don's campaign seemed more like the 80s, when everyone wanted to have an emotional connection to the brand. Whereas Peggy's actually sold the sauce, but was bold and graphic and more like what would have run at the time.
    Still, neither was as good as the actual work from back then.
    But it actually was dead on that after all of those secret assignations, Dickie would pick a big, old-timey agency to align with. I guess that's why they named him "Dickie."
    Don lost, and lost Peggy, and took out his anger on Megan, whom I'm beginning to like!

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