‘Mad Men’ by the numbers: Sex, booze, cigarettes and pot over seven seasons

11 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Mad Men’ Episode 13: Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson, more than you will know.

Heartbreak unfolds insidiously in “Mad Men” — the heartbreak of dreams slowly lost, of marriages slowly decaying, of characters falling into hamster wheel habits that do nothing but wreck their emotional lives. The epitome of tall, dark, and handsome, ad man Don Draper shocked audiences with a very big admission during the AMC series’ second-to-last episode. [Warning: Spoilers] The great Orson Welles once remarked, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone.On Sunday’s episode of the hit AMC drama, one of the staples of the show, which is currently in its seventh and final season, was rocked with some rather unsettling news.“It’s been a gift to me, to know when to move on”—so said a surprisingly self-possessed Betty to Sally, as she explained how she’d decided to handle her cancer diagnosis: Not by fighting a losing battle, but by living out her final days on her own terms.

Going into the final seven episodes that wrap up this coming Sunday (AMC, 10 p.m.), the network says they had consumed exactly 369 drinks — in the office.With the imminent death of Betty Draper, whose last laborious climb up those college steps looked a lot like her ascension into heaven, Matthew Weiner dropped a bomb on his audience as well as his characters.

Editor’s Note: Every Sunday after the newest episode of “Mad Men,” lawyer and Supreme Court advocate Walter Dellinger will host an online dialogue about the show. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” Mad Men is predicated on said “illusions”—family, martinis, glamour, all in the service of filling the existential vacuum. Henry is ready to fight telling her she is ‘going to be just fine’ but Betty already seems at peace with the idea she will die and is not interested in his treatment options. We won’t ask who at AMC was tasked with watching every episode and counting the drinks, but that kind of attention to detail feels quite in keeping with the show itself.

Participants include Columbia University film and television professor Evangeline Morphos; Columbia University history professor Alan Brinkley; Broadway playwright Jean-Claude van Italie, whose trilogy, “American Hurrah,” was featured on “Mad Men;” and recent Harvard University graduate Elly Brinkley. But it turned out to be Betty — and her chilling reaction to the diagnosis took everyone by surprise. (Shout out to this week’s director Matthew Weiner for the beautiful shot of the doctor giving the diagnosis to her husband, Henry, with Betty in the foreground.) Her refusal to seek treatment frustrated Henry, who wanted to seek other opinions — but Betty was having none of it. Amid the handsome orgy of rhythms, hues, and moods, it’s also about the loss of innocence, this oddly deliberate rumination on the follies of man buried in a televised medley of zombies, drug lords, and dragons; an analog show in a digital world. Sunday’s episode was divided into three stories, a Betty story and a Don story and a Pete story, thematically linked yet as neatly compartmentalized as a TV dinner.

Giving a character lung cancer is, in one sense, a logical culmination for a show that has savored the ambience of cigarette-tainted rooms for so long. (The first episode was called “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” but really, it gets everywhere.) But why Betty, perhaps the longest-suffering of its many martyr-like characters? As such, whenever it devolved into melodrama, whether it be errant tractor, euphoric acid trip, or a little soft shoe en route to the great beyond, the punctuation was all the more pointed. Betty’s response to the cancer news encapsulated seven seasons of her character, then at the last minute she faked us all out, going where we had no idea she could. Because as often as she’s seemed extraneous to a show about advertising men and women, and as many opportunities as Weiner and co. had to send her off to live in a nice Republican mansion in Westchester Country and never be heard from again, she’s served as the show’s most persistent link to the world outside of Madison Avenue.

And, in Matthew Weiner’s world, it doesn’t get more wow than the big reveal during the shoe’s penultimate episode, “The Milk and Honey Route.” Don Draper (Jon Hamm), God’s Lonely Man, is in the throes of his not-so-Kerouacian tour of the Midwest. She barely has time to process the news: she goes through a roller coaster of emotions, she covers her ears. “It’s OK for you to cry, honey,” he tells her — then breaks down himself, forcing her to comfort him. But Betty calmly turns them down, leading Henry to track Sally down at boarding school and beg her to come home and convince her mother to extend her life by another year. And it’s a dim view of Betty that sees attending to her appearance even in death as vanity; the kinder view is to see it as an attempt to die with dignity—rooted in the same impulse that gets her out of bed and off to class, even if she knows she might not make it to the end of the semester. On the behavior side, 14 punches were thrown, most of them ineffective, and for all the times these characters deserved to get knocked upside the head, we only saw four actual slaps.

Not because he thought Sally should know, it turns out, but because he hoped Sally could convince Betty to undergo treatments that Betty had declined. Sally is forced to play the role of adult once again to the parents in her life — Henry breaks down in front of her, weeping about Betty’s near death and asking Sally, “What am I going to do?” And Betty has little hope that Henry will be able to keep it together enough to see her end-of-life wishes through.

When his Caddy breaks down, he finds himself stuck at a run-down (by his lofty standards) inn, forced to live the simple life: reading old books, eye-fondling housewives by the pool, and sipping plastic cups of cheap booze in his room while focusing on a broken miniature TV. “I killed my CO,” Don says. “We were under fire and fuel was everywhere, and I dropped my lighter, and I blew him apart. The remainder of that letter revealed that, for all her squabbling with Sally over the years, Betty had finally come to appreciate her daughter and her strong-willed ways, and to look forward to the life of adventure Sally will have as a result—a life in which Sally will pursue her dreams (yearbook, Spain) before it’s too late. So she gives Sally a letter and tells her daughter to read it only once she’s passed — instructions that Sally quickly ignores upon returning to school.

And I got to go home.” The proprietor of the inn is, like Don, a veteran, and invents him to the local American Legion chapter to drown their sorrows in liquor and raise some money for a fellow vet. When Betty comes to her room later, Sally snaps at her, “He (Henry) doesn’t know you won’t get treatment because you love the tragedy.” But Betty replies calmly, “I don’t want you to think I’m a quitter. Betty slapped Sally for cutting her hair — like that was Sally’s worst transgression — and Betty also slapped Glen’s mother, Helen, for suggesting Betty discourage young Glen from further fantasies about Betty.

After giving the money back Don gave him a lift to the bus stop, but decided to give him his car and waited at the bus stop for the next stage of his wandering. What a wonderfully redemptive moment this was for Betty, a character who has suffered a lot—at the hands of her philandering ex-husband, but also, it sometimes felt, at the hands of the series’ writers, who trapped her in that haunted Victorian that Henry picked out, saddled her with a beastly mother-in-law, made her wear a fat suit, and gave her a daughter who often seemed wiser than herself. It’s not a weakness.” Meanwhile, Don’s off on an adventure of his own: a road trip through America (“Wyoming had a two-headed cow!”), which comes to a sudden stop in Oklahoma when his car breaks down. Sally finally cries upon reading the letter, in which Betty makes peace with her daughter, noting that she is happy Sally marches to the beat of her own drummer, and that she hopes Sally’s life is an “adventure.” Betty’s reaction to her diagnosis is one of either complete denial, or complete acceptance. Back at the agency a heavy drinking Duck Phillips showed up and asked Pete for a personal favor, to meet private jet company Learjet and recommend him to fill their marketing vacancy.

When Betty collapsed on the stairs on her way to Freud 101, my first thought was: Of course it’s going to be poor Betty who is going to catch the lung cancer that just about every character in this series seems likely to succumb to. Back at school, Sally opened the instruction letter and we learned that the blue gown Betty wore to a 1968 Republican gala was her favorite dress, so she wanted to be buried in it.

Only slightly less shocking than Betty’s terminal prognosis was Pete Campbell’s new lease on life, courtesy of a scheming Duck Phillips and a whole lot of dumb luck. Pete asked ex-wife Trudy to come along and play the dutiful partner but when she refuses Pete stands up the client for dinner with his brother for advice. It was hanging in the closet, Betty wrote, “next to the mink.” While Henry was trying to convince her to get treatments, saying she had been lucky all her life, she was brushing the hair that will not fall out because she won’t have chemotherapy.

The duo were building a field hospital when Dick accidentally caused an explosion that killed Draper, and with Draper’s body burned beyond recognition, Tricky Dick switched dog tags and assumed Draper’s identity. Sally spent 14 or 15 years becoming a rebellious teenager and by all indications jettisoned all of it in the 25 seconds it took Henry to tell her about Betty’s cancer. Only a few days after failing to talk his ex-wife, Trudy, into sharing late-night pie with him at her house, he persuades her to start a new life in Wichita, Kansas — far from the disapproval of Connecticut housewives and the leering eyes of their husbands.

She finally gained the respect she deserved from him, and he finally said (of her return to college), “Knock ‘em dead, Birdie.” They could have (the kids, we learn, would not be home until 6:30pm) but did not, sleep together, and that seemed right as well. One cannot help but notice, however, that right as many of the characters on “Mad Men” seem to be getting what they want, or right as they carve out a new identity, life arrives to stand in their way. It’s not that Pete regrets cheating on her, exactly, but as he says to his womanizing brother: “It feels good, and then it doesn’t.” (You could say the same thing about smoking.) Pete’s apparent metamorphosis into a decent human being is hard to swallow: As his ex puts it, “I’m jealous of your ability to be sentimental about the past. Joan believed she was finally in a position of power at a major corporation, but misogyny in the workplace cut that down and left her packing her bags. Don murdered Draper, a married man about to complete his tour of duty, in order to be rid himself of his brothel-soiled name and begin anew as a man of substance and character.

So he reads some Mario Puzo, shows off his dad bod at the motel pool, does some light typewriter repair, offers some remedial grammar instruction, and enjoys one very strange evening at the local chapter of the American Legion. That leaves for the end Roger, and most of all, Peggy and Joan who have traversed the journey from secretaries to partners and creative directors, reflecting the difficult path of women of their generation. Don seems to want to drive away from his troubles and find something new, but instead he’s stuck in a dry town and forced to confront his past: In the form of a Legion hall full of veterans who want to know the story of his service, and a young conman who reminds him of his younger self.

He has, like Amazing Amy, faked his own death, escaped the societal strictures weighing him down, and assumed a different identity—that of Dick Whitman. It seemed significant that our hero came clean about killing his c.o., the darkest element of Don Draper’s origin story, after initially lying about his rank. Don had been on his Nowhere Man Tour, cruising across America with his AM radio picking up tunes like “Okie From Muskogee.” Even the music was subtle. The vets he unburdens himself to take it in stride, though I thought, when they busted into his motel room later that night, that perhaps they were visiting upon him some country justice for the fragging in Korea.

The young man who cleans his room scores him some booze — upping the price just before handing it over, the sign of a true self-made man — and a couple more paperbacks: Michael Critchton’s The Andromeda Strain, a thriller about a deadly disease (sorry, Betty), and James Michener’s Hawaii. With the lyrical melody of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” playing over the credits, Draper/Whitman gives the most satisfied, contented smile we have every seen from him. He spent his early years thriving on balancing frat boys’ ways with the obligations of married life — something he seemed to have settled into based on societal duty alone. Don’s done some pretty damn disagreeable things over the course of his Mad Men tenure, from being an absentee father to Sally (and those other little ones) to cheating on his wives with any lady who crossed his path, from hippies to the woman formerly known as Lindsay Weir—which was witnessed by a shocked Sally, no less. He can’t even look a fellow veteran of the Korean conflict in the eye, but he’s told in no uncertain terms that this is not a place where “I can’t talk about it” cuts any ice.

No matter the frequency of his peccadilloes, though, we’ve always managed to forgive him, casting Don as the lovable, tortured lout with a shitty upbringing (he was raped by a prostitute, after all). A few flings and steadies here and there, but, mostly, Pete has been alone — a dedicated ad man trying to make sense of himself as a bachelor in the world.

In any given episode of Mad Men, the only thing more likely to come out of a character’s mouth than the trailing smoke of a Lucky Strike cigarette is a witty one-liner. It needed a new rocker arm, whatever that is, which had to be ordered from Tulsa, which left him sitting in a primitive motel room reading old paperbacks and watching Redd Foxx on TV.

As we enter the final days of Sterling Cooper & Partners, Slate’s TV Club will celebrate the show’s retorts and rejoinders by highlighting a Mad Men Zinger of the Week for Slate Plus. When Don advises him to return the money, his message is loud and clear: “If you keep it, you’ll have to become somebody else, and it’s not what you think it is.” Still, he offers him a ride out of town — and then ultimately, the ride itself, handing over the keys to his Caddy, leaving him on the side of the road with his bag of the clothes. It’s akin to the moment in Breaking Bad’s brilliant episode “Ozymandias” where Walter White permanently crosses over to the dark side, coldly telling Jesse he let Jane die before fighting off his terrified wife and son, kidnapping baby Holly, and speeding off.

It doesn’t last: A few hours later, those same veterans are slapping him with a phone book, convinced that Don — or whoever he is — has made off with the benefit’s proceeds. You might say that he seemed romantic about the past—the pitfall that Trudy was so wary of when Pete first let on that he might want to rekindle things. But after a World War II vet recounted a particularly gruesome nightmare where the punch line was “you do what you have to do to survive,” Don blurted out a confession. Julia, Hanna: I’m very eager for your take on the Pete plot, and to hear whether you have high hopes—or any hopes—for the reconstituted Campbell clan.

In the final scene, Don gave Andy his car, told him to take this second chance and sat down at a bus stop, silhouetted against miles of emptiness and waiting for a bus to somewhere. It’s a little hard for me to believe in his epiphany—that he’s recognized in himself his father’s insatiable appetites and decided to reform himself. You cannot get off on that foot in this life.” Some pleasant things happened between Pete and Trudy, as the unfortunately-hairlined ad man has, with the help of Duck (strange), managed to finagle a cushy job with Learjet and convince his ex-wife and kids to join him in… lovely Wichita. “I want to start over.

That his path to betterment is paved by the wonderfully crazy and conniving Duck, and a very rich offer from Lear, suggests to me that as earnest as Pete may have been in that great moment with Trudy, this will prove a passing fancy. He is where he belongs. 2015 may not bring everything that Back to the Future II promised it would: flying cars, self-lacing shoes, we don’t see ’em happening over the next 12 months. (Then again, don’t bet against Nike.) But this year will definitely pack plenty of punch when it comes to cultural happenings. But no one there is surprised — this is Don being Don by most people’s estimates, and a level of acceptance over Don’s departure has settled peacefully over people like Pete.

That was the moment we knew he would be – even though he was thriving at McCann and was due for a million-dollar payout if he stayed through his entire four-year contract. Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again. I have a slightly hard time imagining Pete in Wichita, even if he does have a jet gassed up in the backyard and even if Kansas proves as wholesome as, say, Oklahoma. But despite the jarring change in scenery, Don still finds himself drawn to the same things he was drawn to back home in NYC, like a moth to the flame. Ever.” But the other wow moment in Mad Men’s second-to-last episode is that Betty (January Jones) has lung cancer that’s metastasized and spread to her lymph nodes.

Tegan and Sara, Metric, Fucked Up, Metz, Cadence Weapon, Lights and more will contribute music and avatars to a new arcade-style indie music game titled LOUD on Planet X. The game, which also features original scores written by Fucked Up’s Mike Haliechuk and Jonah Falco and Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning and Justin Peroff, is aiming to arrive on various gaming platforms this fall. Betty’s been plagued by health scares since Season 1, when she sought therapy after suffering repeated numbness in her hands, to the Season 5 weight gain and subsequent lump discovery/cancer scare.

The premise of the game involves the player choosing one of 12 musical acts who, upon completing a Level 1 hometown gig, go through a portal to a foreign planet. She and Henry fight about pursuing treatment (What do you think would happen if Nelson Rockefeller got this?” he shouts. “He would die!” Betty yells back). His identity — Don Draper/Dick Whitman — is suddenly thrown into the balance as every single man in the room could potentially call him out on his charade. The vets urge Don to share, and finally he says he “killed his CO” and relays the events that led him to adopt his Don Draper identity — all the while not admitting that he conned his way into a new name. While the two polar opposites have butted heads over the years—who can forget the moment Betty almost had her committed after she was caught masturbating at a friend’s house (“She was masturbating, Don!

Pete calls Tammy “Wonder Woman” when he puts toothpaste on her arm after a bee sting, and Trudy, returning from tennis with a friend, only smiles. The perks also escalate from $10 (a thank you in the game credits) to $5,000 (VIP tickets to the game’s launch party, an in-game avatar of yourself, executive producer credit and much more). Below, you can hear a snippet of Haliechuk and Falco’s score, which morphs from pulverizing and breakneck to ethereally ambient to triumphant and acoustic in a mere minute.

Billy Corgan made headlines on the dirt sheets – are they still a thing? – and beyond last month, when he signed on as a senior producer with TNA Wrestling. At the Legion Don’s host, sounding tipsy, admits it’s really a fundraiser for a friend whose kitchen was destroyed by fire, so Don puts some money in the can. “Forty dollars for Don!” the man shouts. And he’s not wasting any time backing up those words – he’ll make his way down to Orlando this weekend for his first set of TV tapings. “I’m full-on involved, every day.

I’m working around the clock to change the wrestling product, particularly as it pertains to television, working on what I’m hoping will be a developmental system,” he says. “I’m basically working two full-time jobs, and it’s really hard to balance, because obviously my day job in the Pumpkins is pretty intense. But once he’s settled, he’ll begin taking on his toughest task as a creative exec: changing the very culture of the promotion, and pro wrestling in general. “It’s difficult, because wrestling is a very intact culture and you can’t just throw it in one direction.

I’m very engaged with the executives there about how to not only move the company in the right direction – let’s call it a social currency level – but also do those things symbolically that the American public will recognize as change. “As I’ve learned in my music career, there is change in the real sense of the word, and there is change symbolically, and often times symbolic change is more valuable than real change. When they go together, then you have everything,” he continues. “And that’s very much what needs to happen, because wrestling, let’s face it, it doesn’t always get its due in American culture, even though it’s been on television for 70 continuous years.

Pete says, “You’re not supposed to act on it!” and wonders why the two of them are always looking for something better, looking for something else. Though perhaps his new role with TNA has tempered his inner smark just a tad – when asked to compare TNA’s chief competition, WWE, to a Smashing Pumpkins album, he wouldn’t bite. The moderates in this debate typically qualify their rhetoric with “We all know we need police, but…” It’s a familiar refrain to those of us who’ve spent years in the streets and the barrios organizing around police violence, only to be confronted by officers who snarl, “But who’ll help you if you get robbed?” We can put a man on the moon, but we’re still lacking creativity down here on Earth. While law enforcers have existed in one form or another for centuries, the modern police have their roots in the relatively recent rise of modern property relations 200 years ago, and the “disorderly conduct” of the urban poor. Rather than be scared of our impending Road Warrior future, check out just a few of the practicable, real-world alternatives to the modern system known as policing: Unarmed but trained people, often formerly violent offenders themselves, patrolling their neighborhoods to curb violence right where it starts.

Stop believing that police are heroes because they are the only ones willing to get in the way of knives or guns – so are the members of groups like Cure Violence, who were the subject of the 2012 documentary The Interrupters. There are also feminist models that specifically organize patrols of local women, who reduce everything from cat-calling and partner violence to gang murders in places like Brooklyn. While police forces have benefited from military-grade weapons and equipment, some of the most violent neighborhoods have found success through peace rather than war. Violent offenses count for a fraction of the 11 to 14 million arrests every year, and yet there is no real conversation about what constitutes a crime and what permits society to put a person in chains and a cage. Decriminalization doesn’t work on its own: The cannabis trade that used to employ poor Blacks, Latinos, indigenous and poor whites in its distribution is now starting to be monopolized by already-rich landowners.

Don sits icing his eye when Andy knocks on the door with a bottle saying “this one’s on the house.” Don accuses him of taking the money and setting him up. From hippie communes to the IRA and anti-Apartheid South African guerrillas to even some U.S. cities like Philadelphia’s experiment with community courts, spaces are created where accountability is understood as a community issue and the entire community, along with the so-called perpetrator and the victim of a given offense, try to restore and even transform everyone in the process. When they get there, he tells the kid, “Pink slip’s in the glove compartment,” and, “don’t waste this.” Sally opens her mom’s letter as soon as she gets back to school.

Communities that have tools to engage with each other about problems and disputes don’t have to consider what to do after anti-social behaviors are exhibited in the first place. Happy Buddy Holly song, “Everyday,” closes the episode. “Every day, it’s getting closer… love like yours will surely come my way.” It’s sad… but it’s real. In New York, Rikers Island jails as many people with mental illnesses “as all 24 psychiatric hospitals in New York State combined,” which is reportedly 40% of the people jailed at Rikers. Mental health has often been a trapdoor for other forms of institutionalized social control as bad as any prison, but shifting toward preventative, supportive and independent living care can help keep those most impacted from ending up in handcuffs or dead on the street.

Hollywood will attempt to breathe some life back into the Terminator franchise next month with the release of Terminator Genisys, which brings Arnold Schwarzenegger back for the first time since 2003’s disappointing Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. That was followed by the Fox TV show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (canceled too soon after just two seasons) and the 2009 abomination Terminator Salvation, which has been disowned by just about everybody involved. Good luck trying to find anything resembling a cohesive storyline between all of these works, or even the same actor playing John Connor more than once. The main problem with everything after the second movie is the complete absence of James Cameron, who dreamed up the franchise and wrote and directed the first two pictures.

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