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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

August 23, 2010 at 11:02 AM

Monday morning “Mad Men”

Can it be Monday already? Or am I still in recovery from seeing “Piranha 3D” on Friday? (More on that later.) Anyway, over at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Campbell — sorry, channelling Pete there for a second — last night, Roger’s past threatened his present, Don finally seemed to get back in the game (the ad game, anyway — his personal life’s still a mess), and poor Sally, whether or not she did what a pair of hysterical moms accused her of doing, is in the ten-year-old equivalent of a downward spiral.
After a period of near-silence, John Slattery’s Roger took prominence in this episode, in that way Matthew Weiner has of juggling his characters so that everyone takes turns in the background and foreground. Though Roger’s generally present as a genial buffoon, the guy who utters the episode’s funniest line but otherwise doesn’t do much (and he did it here again, to Joan, “Have a drink. It’ll make me look younger.”), here we got some insight, both light and dark, into his character. Roger is a World War II vet — he’s subtly but crucially older than Don, whose war experience was in Korea — who appears to look back on his service as the only meaningful thing in his otherwise dissolute life of privilege. While his racism, exposed when Japanese businessmen from Honda came to the office, was shocking, it made sense with how Roger sees himself — how could he, after fighting a war on the other side and watching friends die, shake hands and make nice with the enemy? Though twenty years have passed, the war is still very present for Roger (drinking, and indolence, can blur a lot of years), but less so for his colleagues, who are appalled. Most of all Pete, who accuses Roger of wanting to keep away new business that would make SCDP less dependent on Lucky Strikes — a development that almost caused a fight to break out, and who would you have bet on? (Roger’s bigger, Pete’s sneakier. Joan could take either of them, without even chipping her manicure.)
It’ll be interesting to see how the Honda account shapes up — and it was a kick to see Don’s dirty tricks to land it. The show seemed, for a few minutes late in the episode, to get lighter and airier as we watched an elaborate deception take place. That shot of Peggy, happily riding a red Honda motorcycle in circles in an empty white studio, had the carefree feeling of a day at the circus. And Don, though still stuck in his personal depression (“Why does everyone need to talk about everything?” he grumbled), seemed suddenly engaged in work again — back in the game, despite the best efforts of the wonderful Miss Blankenship. (“Mr. Cooper and Mr. Sterling” she intoned nasally into the intercom, long after said gentlemen have entered Don’s office.)
Betty the villain is back, furious at Sally for cutting her hair (yet another bid for attention by a neglected child who, sadly, wants to “look pretty”) and for “playing with herself in public” (which she certainly wasn’t doing — not in public, anyway), but really furious at Don. (The latter Sally subplot struck me as Weiner pushing the envelope perhaps a little too far.) “I want him dead” Betty fumed to Henry, who was surprisingly reasonable about Sally. Anyway, the ten-year-old’s off to therapy, accompanied by a silent but sympathetic Carla (would someone please give her some lines?), to deal with her own past. Maybe Roger should go too.

Two generations at war at SCDP. (Photo courtesy AMC.)

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