August 10th, 2008
After a busy day of moving, there’s nothing better than sitting down with one of the most satisfying dramas on television and just letting its quality suck you in. But, to be honest, it wasn’t grasping me at first: maybe it’s being tired, maybe it’s just that the show is finding a slower pace after a couple of really quick episodes, but there was something about “The Benefactor” that wasn’t clicking.
But then all of a sudden everything starts clicking – what seemed like a strangely slow subplot for Harry Crane turns into a sudden revelation of its broader impact on his life (And Peggy’s for that matter). It’s one of those examples where something initially so isolated has this ripple effect, showing in tiny small moments how one thing impacts everyone else.
And even though the episode is slow to start for Don and Betty Draper, they end the episode both with extremely twisted views of their current marital detente of sorts: as they both continue to struggle with embracing their new roles, it is clear that their expectations for happiness are quite different. When Betty cries in the car on their way back from dinner, they’re inexpicable tears of happiness, her bar set so low that being used to flirt with an unruly comedian is her new calling.
But, I guess this is normal: for her, Don is really just a Benefactor, although a slightly more benevolent one these days.
August 3rd, 2008
If last week was about the dueling crises of Betty and Don Draper, the sophomore episode of Mad Men’s second season is all about how the show’s other two primary characters are dealing with crises of their own own. Pete and Peggy’s fates are no doubt intertwined in this series, from the premiere’s tryst to the finale’s birth, and while they share only a brief conversation and one long look during one of Pete’s lower moments, their connection is apparent throughout.
Mad Men is all about reactions: to the times, to the people, to tragedy, to triumph, and everything else in between. We don’t see Flight 1 crash into Jamaica Bay, but we see the reactions of the people at Sterling Cooper and through the impact it has on Pete’s family. Much like the second season from a conceptual level, the show isn’t about showing us every event, but rather slowly pulling back the curtain on the ways that those events change these characters. It’s a show where a plane crash is never just a plane crash not because of some sort of electromagnetic field, but rather due to the show’s ability to emphasize the widespread impact of events both big and small on the characters it knows so well.
Season One, Episode Five
To say that “5G” is uneventful or unrevelatory isn’t really doing it justice, but the point could probably be made. Of the episode’s major story points, none of them are all that surprising: yes, they fill in some blanks in Don Draper’s past and present, but elsewhere the episode plays much into the same things we already know. Pete is unwilling to share the spitlight, Draper has a lot of secrets, and Peggy is still just a little in the dark when it comes to how to handle her new position.
What “5G” does, though, is make these elements more starkly real: it displays the pettiness of Pete and the desperation of Draper. Pete’s attempt at being famous is a bit of a simple little plot point until you consider the implications on her marital relationship, but Draper’s actions take his character to a new level. The relationship between his old life and his current one is what paralyzes him, and here we see that seeing those two worlds collide creates a volatile situation.