“MAD MEN”: Wasted Partnership

 

“MAD MEN”: WASTED PARTNERSHIP

Looking back on Season Two of AMC’s “MAD MEN”, it occurred to me that the rivalry between the series protagonist, Don Draper aka Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm) and a supporting character named Herman “Duck” Phillips (Mark Moses), seemed like a complete waste of time . . . story wise. Do not worry. I am not criticizing the writing of Matt Weiner and his staff. At least on this subject. Instead, I am criticizing the behavior of two male characters, who I believe had the potential to be a winning advertising team.

Following senior partner Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) second heart attack in the Season One episode (1.11) “Indian Summer”, one of the Sterling-Cooper’s clients had advised Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), the firm’s other senior partner, to make Creative Director Don Draper a junior partner. Which Cooper did at the end of the episode. He also told Don that as one of the partners, he should be the one to find someone to replace Roger as the Director of Account Services. In the following episode, (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, Don hired Herman “Duck” Phillips.

In the Season One finale, (1.13) “The Wheel”, Duck seemed appreciative of how Don’s creative skills landed Kodak as a client for the firm. Yet, the early Season Two episodes clearly made it obvious that storm clouds were hovering on the horizon for the pair. In the Season Two premiere (2.01) “For Those Who Think Young”, Duck informed Roger that he believed younger copywriters with a bead on the youth of the early 1960s, should handle their new Martinson Coffee account, instead of veteran copywriter Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray). Don dismissed the idea, claiming that a bunch of twenty year-olds lacked the experience and knowledge on how to sell products. But Roger forced Don to go along with Duck’s plans and hire the latter’s protégées – Smith “Smitty” (Patrick Cavanaugh) and Kurt (Edin Gali). Pete Campbell’s (Vincent Kartheiser) father perished in the famous American Airlines Flight 1 crash on March 1, 1962 in the second episode of the season, (2.01) “Flight 1”. And when Duck convinced Roger that Sterling Cooper should dump the regional Mohawk Airlines as a client and use Pete’s personal plight to win the bigger American Airlines (who sought to change advertising agencies following the disaster) as a new client. Naturally, Roger and Cooper dismissed Don’s protests and went ahead with Duck’s idea.

In the end, both men lost and won their arguments. Instead of gaining American Airlines as a new client, Sterling Cooper ended up with no client altogether. In (2.04) “Three Sundays”, Duck informed the Sterling Cooper staff that their efforts to present American Airlines with a new campaign had been for nothing, when the airline fired Duck’s contact. Many fans saw this as an example that not only had Don been right about not dropping Mohawk, they also seemed to view Duck as someone who was no longer competent at his job. However, three episodes later in (2.07) “The Gold Violin”, Duck proved to be right about hiring the much younger Smith and Kurt as copywriters for the Martinson Coffee account. Their efforts led to a new client for the Sterling Cooper agency.

But despite the success and failures of both men, Don and Duck continued to duke it out over the heart and soul of Sterling Cooper. Only once, in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”, did both men seemed capable of working seamlessly as a partnership, when their efforts led to Sterling Cooper landing the Heineken Beer account. But this ability to work as a pair failed to last very long. One, both men seemed adamant that their particular expertise in the advertising business – whether it was Creative or Accounts – only mattered. Two, Don received most of the praise from Cooper and Roger for the success of the Martinson Coffee account in “The Gold Violin”. Granted, Don tried to give some of the praise to Duck (who mainly deserved it), but he really did not try hard enough. And finally, Duck became so resentful of his failure to acquire a partnership in the firm that he maneuvered a takeover of Sterling Cooper by the old British advertising firm that he used to work for. The main conflicts between Don and Duck seemed to be twofold – Don’s preference to take the nostalgia route over the future in his advertising campaigns (unless forced to) over Duck’s willingness to look into the future of advertising (television ad spots and younger employees, for example); and each man’s belief that their respective expertise in the advertising field is the only one that matters.

Most viewers seemed to view Don as the hero of the conflict between the two men and label Duck as the villain. This preference for Don even extended to his belief that Creative was the backbone of the advertising industry. Personally . . . I disagree. Not only do I disagree with Don and many of the viewers, I would probably disagree with Duck’s view that advertising needed to solely rely upon images – especially television spots. Frankly, I am surprised that no one had ever considered that both Don and Duck’s views on the future of advertising are equally important. Don and other copywriters might create the message or jingo to attract the public. But it is Duck’s (and Pete’s) job to not only snag the client, but provide the client with the opportunity to sell his/her wares. Even if that means using television spots – definitely the wave of the future in the early 1960s.

But many fans seemed to be blinded by their own preference for Don over Duck. And both characters seemed to believe that their ideas of what the advertising business should be were the only ways. The problem with both Don and Duck was that business wise, they needed each other. Look at how well they had worked together in mid-Season Two over the Martinson Coffee and Heineken accounts. Duck needed Don’s creative talent. Don needed Duck’s business acumen and ability to foresee the future in advertising. Unfortunately, both remained stupidly resentful of each other.

In the end, Don’s career managed to survive, despite the failures of two marriage and the near failure of his career, due to personal problems, heavy drinking and shirking. Duck, a former alcoholic who resumed his old habit in later years, was simply plagued with bad luck. Sterling Cooper’s British owners fired him after he had indulged in a brief temper tantrum. He worked at an advertising firm called Grey for a few years, before being reduced to a corporate recruiter. Copywriter Peggy Olson and Accounts executive Pete Campbell learned to maintain a balance between Creatives and Accounts whenever they worked on an account together. Yet, every now and then, I find myself wondering what would have happened if Don and Duck had managed to achieve the same.

Five Favorite “MAD MEN” Season Three (2009) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season Three (2009) of “MAD MEN”. Created by Matthew Weiner, the series stars Jon Hamm:

FIVE FAVORITE “MAD MEN” SEASON THREE (2009) Episodes

1 - 3.11 The Gypsy and the Hobo

1. (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo” – Don’s past finally catches up with him when Betty confronts him about his identity theft. Roger Sterling meets a former client/lover who wishes to rekindle their affair. And Joan discovers that her husband, Greg Harris, has joined the Army after failing to start a medical career in New York.

2 - 3.12 The Grown Ups

2. (3.12) “The Grown Ups” – The assassination of President John Kennedy serves as the backdrop of the wedding for Roger’s daughter and the final breakup of the Draper marriage.

3 - 3.07 Seven Twenty-Three

3. (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three” – Don’s attempts to land the Conrad Hilton account leads to him being blackmailed by Bert Cooper to sign a three-year contract with Sterling Cooper. Peggy begins an affair with former Sterling-Cooper Accounts Head, Duck Phillips. And Betty expresses interest in the Governor’s aide, Henry Francis, when she becomes involved in civic politics.

4 - 3.06 Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency

4. (3.06) “Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency” – A visit by the British owners of the Sterling Cooper agency and an account involving a motorized lawn motor results in mishap and bloodshed.

5 - 3.09 Wee Small Hours

5. (3.09) “Wee Small Hours” – An executive from Sterling Cooper’s client, Lucky Strikes, demands that the agency fire art director Sal Romano after the latter rejects the executive’s sexual advances. Betty grows closer to Henry Francis and Don begins an affair with Sally’s teacher, Suzanne Farrell.

Top Five Favorite “MAD MEN” Season Two (2008) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite Season Two episodes of AMC’s “MAD MEN”:

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “MAD MEN” SEASON TWO (2008) Episodes

1 - 2.08 A Night to Remember

1. (2.08) “A Night to Remember” – During this game-changing episode, copywriter Peggy Olson agrees to help a friendly priest named Father Gill create a promotion for a Church-sponsored dance. Office manager Joan Holloway helps Television Advertiser Harry Crane read new television scripts and discovers that she likes the job. Still reeling from comedian Jimmy Barrett’s revelation of Don Draper’s infidelity, Betty Draper helps her husband with an important business dinner, before she later confronts him about his affair with Bobbie Barrett.

2 - 2.05 The New Girl

2. (2.05) “The New Girl” – Don and Bobbie heads out of the city for a night together, before getting into a traffic accident. Don recruits Peggy to help him cover up the incident. Meanwhile, a new Sterling-Cooper secretary named Jane Siegel begins working for Don.

3 - 2.04 Three Sundays

3. (2.04) “Three Sundays” – Over the Easter holidays, Don and Betty clash over the discipline of their son Bobby. Peggy meets the new family priest, Father Gill. And Head of Advertising Duck Phillips recruits the agency in an effort to win over American Airlines as a new client.

4 - 2.07 The Gold Violin

4. (2.07) “The Gold Violin” – Art director Sal Romano develops a case of unrequited attraction for Accounts man Ken Cosgrove. Joan and Jane clash over an incident regarding a new painting in owner Bert Cooper’s office. And Betty learns about Don’s affair with Bobbie Barrett at a media party, thanks to her husband Jimmy.

5 - 2.09 Six Month Leave

5. (2.09) “Six Month Leave” – Owner Roger Sterling leaves his wife for Jane Siegel. Senior copy Freddie Rumsen’s alcoholism spirals out of control. And the death of Marilyn Monroe has an impact upon the firm’s female employees.

Top Five Favorite “MAD MEN” Season One (2007) Episodes

Below is a list of my top five favorite Season One episodes of AMC’s “MAD MEN”:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “MAD MEN” SEASON ONE (2007) Episodes

1 - 1.12 Nixon vs. Kennedy

1. (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy” – In this superb episode, Sterling-Cooper’s employees have an all-night party to watch the results of the 1960 Presidential Election. Also, Pete Campbell discovers that Don Draper’s real name is Dick Whitman, who had been officially declared dead during the Korean War.

2 - 1.10 The Long Weekend

2. (1.10) “The Long Weekend” – During the Labor Day weekend, Roger Sterling decides to cheer up Don over the loss of a client by arranging a double date with twins. During the date, he suffers a heart attack. Meanwhile, Joan Holloway has a double date with her roommate and two out-of-town businessmen.

3 - 1.05 5G

3. (1.05) “5G” – In this poignant episode, Don receives an unwelcome visitor in the form of his half-brother, Adam Whitman, whom he had not seen since the Korean War. And when Ken Cosgrove gets his short story published in a magazine, a jealous Pete asks wife Trudy to convince an old boyfriend to publish his story.

4 - 1.01 Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

4. (1.01) “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” – The series’ pilot episode introduces Manhattan advertisement executive Don Draper and his co-workers at the Sterling-Cooper agency, as he struggles to maintain Lucky Strike as a client for the agency.

5 - 1.09 Shoot

5. (1.09) “Shoot” – A larger ad agency tries to lure Don from Sterling-Cooper by hiring wife Betty Draper for a modeling job. Meanwhile, Pete devises a strategy to help the Nixon campaign.

“MAD MEN”: “The Times They Are A-Changin'”

“There’s a battle outside; And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.” – “The Times They Are A-Changin”
(recorded by Bob Dylan on October 24, 1963)

“MAD MEN”: “The Times They Are A-Changin'”

Not long after I had watched the Season Three episode of “MAD MEN” called (3.12) “The Grown Ups”, I walked into a pizza eatery and heard a song being played on the jukebox. To my surprise, it was an old Bob Dylan song called “The Times They Are A-Changin'”. I could not help but feel that it could have been an appropriate song for this particular episode.

Although series creator Matthew Weiner had claimed he wanted to avoid airing an episode about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963; I never saw how he could avoid the topic in the first place. Not only was the Kennedy assassination one of the major events of the 1960s, but one in this country’s history. And one of the series’ major themes is supposed to be the changing social mores of 1960s America.

The interesting thing about ”The Grown Ups” – at least for me – was how certain characters reacted to the assassination. Someone on one of the ”MAD MEN” websites had brought up a comment that the series lead character, Don Draper aka Dick Whitman, had made about a funeral in which he had participated in the Season One episode, (1.10) “The Long Weekend”:

”I remember the first time I was a pallbearer. I’d seen dead bodies before. I must have been fifteen. My aunt. I remember thinking, ‘They’re letting me carry the box, they’re letting me be this close to it, they’re not hiding anything from me now.’ And then I looked over and I saw all the old people waiting together by the grave and I remember thinking I, I just moved up a notch.”

Judging from the above comments, Don seemed to view his participation in this funeral as a sign that the adults in his life considered him mature enough to accept death and the changes it brings in the lives of many. His comments also made me wonder how the characters and the title of last Sunday’s episode. Who exactly were ”the grownups”? Were they characters like Don, Roger Sterling, Mona Sterling, Peggy Olson and Joan Harris; who seemed the least shaken by Kennedy’s assassination? Or were they characters like Pete and Trudy Campbell, Betty Draper, Jane Sterling and Bert Cooper, who not only seemed profoundly shaken by Kennedy’s death, but aware that the event might be a sign of the social upheavals to come?

JFK’s assassination seemed to have a very interesting impact upon many of the series’ characters. For Pete Campbell, the assassination encouraged both him and Trudy to realize that he was wasting his time at Sterling Cooper. Earlier in the episode, Lane Pryce had informed him that Ken Cosgrove had won the battle for the position of Sterling Cooper’s Head of Accounts. Although he managed to keep his disappointment in check in front of the Englishman, Pete allowed his feelings to finally pour out in front of Trudy. When he informed that he plans to take up Duck Phillips’ offer for a position at Grey’s, Trudy informed him to hold back on that decision and remain at Sterling Cooper. Then came the assassination. Both of the Campbells were not only shocked by the event, Pete saw it as a sign that society was about to change. In his odd way, Pete has had a talent for realizing that the world is changing. He was the one who saw Kennedy as a potential head of state. And he was the one who was willing to view African-Americans as consumers to be targeted – a concept that that the old-fashioned Sterling Cooper executives had frowned upon. When he and Trudy learned that the Sterlings planned to go ahead with Margaret Sterling’s wedding on the following day, the couple found the whole thing distasteful and decided not to attend the wedding. More importantly, Trudy encouraged Pete to go ahead and consider leaving the firm. Perhaps they had both finally realize that Pete could no longer pretend that nothing has changed.

I believe that other ”MAD MEN” characters were aware of the possible impact of John Kennedy’s assassination. But whereas some wanted to pretend that nothing will really change, others seemed certain that changes are in the air. During Margaret Sterling wedding reception, her stepmother Jane Sterling and Bert Cooper seemed pivoted to the hotel kitchen’s television set during the media’s coverage of the assassination and its immediate aftermath. Cooper seemed to have become increasingly aware of the changes that were affecting the country. I believe it had began with the sale of Sterling Cooper to the Putnam Powell and Lowe, a British firm in the Season Two finale, (2.13) “Mediations on an Emergency”. It continued with him facing the death of a former colleague and Sterling Cooper’s 40th anniversary in (3.10) “The Color Blue”. While watching him remain glued to the television set during the wedding reception, I wonder if the assassination might prove to be the last straw for Bert Cooper. And how will he react in the months and years to come? Will he wither away, longing for the days when he was younger and social values were different? Or being the pragmatic man he has shown to be in the past, will he learn to go with the flow?

Many fans have commented that Jane Sterling, nee Siegal, is too young for Roger Sterling. Perhaps. However, I find this sentiment rather interesting, considering that many viewers have been fans of the Roger Sterling/Joan Holloway affair . . . and Joan is at least two decades younger than Roger. But Jane was barely 20 years old when she first met Roger in (2.05) “The New Girl” and 21 years old, this season. As she had pointed out, she was not old enough to vote for Kennedy back in 1960. So far, she has been portrayed as a young and immature trophy wife for Roger. And he seemed to treat her more as a child than his spouse, as his reaction to her attempt to befriend Margaret proved. But like Cooper, Jane’s attention became glued to the hotel kitchen’s television. Many fans accused her of using the assassination news to ignore Margaret’s reception. I disagree. I believe that Jane was not watching the news just to ignore the wedding celebrations. The assassination had made an impact upon her, just as it has obviously made an impact upon Bert Cooper. Once more, Roger treated her as a child and tried to pull her away and shield her from the media coverage . . . just as Don tried to do the same to Betty, Sally and Bobby. Jane refused to allow Roger to pull her away. The assassination bothered her and she was being honest about it. I am not saying that Jane is a fully mature character. After all, she is only 21 years old. But considering her reaction to Roger trying to pull her away from one of the hotel’s TVs, I suspect that sooner or later, Roger will no longer have a child bride on his hands. And I cannot help but wonder how long Jane will remain with him.

Duck Phillips had an interesting reaction to the assassination. After calling Peggy Olson for an assignation at a hotel room, he heard the news of the events in Dallas on the television. Duck expressed silent shock before ripping the television’s extension cord from the wall. Then Peggy appeared. Many fans saw this as a sign of Duck using Peggy for his own nefarious means. When their affair had first started in (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”, fans were claiming that Duck was using Peggy to get even with Don for his termination from Sterling Cooper last season. Considering that Peggy has not left Sterling Cooper, fans are now claiming that Duck is using Peggy as some kind of addiction. Frankly, I no longer care. I am getting tired of these bigoted remarks about Duck. I realize that he is not perfect. But he is no more or less flawed than the other characters. I also get the feeling that fans have not forgiven him for abandoning his dog in (2.06) “Maidenform” and continue to view him as some kind of slimy villain. As for his actions regarding the hotel room’s television, I believe that the assassination had upset him so much that he tried to turn away from it and continue his assignation with Peggy. But even after they had sex, he realized that he could not run away from it. Duck told Peggy what he had done and turned the TV back on. The interesting result to all of this is that he – quite rightly – thought about his kids and wanted to check on them. On the other hand, I found Peggy’s reaction to the assassination rather interesting. She seemed a little put out by her family’s reaction to the news and went to the office to hide from the media coverage by working. This reminded me of her reaction to Marilyn Monroe’s death. I wonder if Peggy is slowly becoming a Don Draper. If not, good. But if she is, I cannot view this as a good thing.

For the Drapers, I think the assassination made Betty realize that the world is changing and that it was useless to pretend otherwise. Don tried to shield his family from the bad news and pretend that everything was going to be okay. Even Joan Harris had pointed this out to Roger Sterling during a telephone conversation that the world will continue, despite traumatic events like the assassination. And in a way, both Don and Joan were right. Life will continue. But the two characters also failed to see the long term affect that the assassination would have on American society. Betty seemed to feel that life as she had known it will change. Which would explain why she had no qualms about Sally and Bobby watching the news about JFK’s death. As she had pointed out to Don, what was the purpose of trying to shield them from the news. And I think the assassination made her confront that she no longer has a marriage. Or perhaps she never had one.

I have always suspected that Don and Betty never really loved each other when they first got married. Both had married each the other for superficial reasons. Betty tried to maintain the marriage by pretending to be the perfect housewife and making attempts to emotionally connect with Don. She also fooled herself into believing that a third child might finally improve their marriage. Don simply tried to maintain the status quo as successful professional man and suburban husband/father. Whenever things went wrong with Betty – her discovery of his communications with her psychiatrist, her discovery of his affair with Bobbie Barrett, her kicking him out of the house and finally her discovery of his identity as Dick Whitman – Don tried to be the perfect husband/father and pretend that all is right with the world. I found myself recalling his comment in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”, when he told Betty that he doesn’t want to lose “this”, following her confrontation about Bobbie Barrett. There is a good chance that he might be in love with Suzanne Farrell. But I suspect that he harbored doubts that she could be the perfect social wife that he feels Betty can be. But the assassination and other events of the year, like her discovery of Don’s true identity may have finally made Betty realize that her marriage is a lie. I suspect that Don’s attempts to placate her over the assassination may have been the last straw. Even Sally had failed to buy Don’s reassurances that everything is going to be all right, by a strange look she had given him. I feel that Betty is tired of living the lie. I feel that she is tired of being a“housecat”. Her dream in (3.05) “The Fog” made me wonder if she would ever start to reject that role. I think her confession to Don that she no longer loved him made me suspect that she has had enough. When will Don realize that he has only loved the idea of Betty and not the woman, herself?

I might as well say it. I believe that ”The Grown Ups”, like the previous episode, (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”, is one of the best episodes from the first three seasons of ”MAD MEN”. Some believed that showing the assassination on the series was pointless. They suspected Weiner would allow Don and Betty’s marriage as it did in the past and everything else would continue without any true change. Weiner proved them wrong. Because in the end, ”The Grown Ups” and other episodes from late Season Three proved to be the catalyst for more changes when the series moved deeper into the 1960s.