Monday, September 21, 2009

Stop Me If You've Heard This One

Mad Men: Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency
Season 3, Episode 6

First, a moment to bask in a well-deserved Emmy win for Best Drama... yep, that hit the spot. And while neither Jon Hamm or Elisabeth Moss walked away with their own statue (a shame since Season Two might have been Moss' best chance given her excellent story last year), the entire cast and crew can share the honor of crafting one of the best dramas on television. And if last week signaled the season kicking off the ground, then last night we officially reached cruising altitude.

This week, Sterling Cooper had to deal with their own version of a British Invasion as their recent corporate overlords paid the company a visit, led by the eponymous Guy. By a strong margin the best episode of the season thus far, "Guy" had me (over just one part of a storyline) laugh out loud, get significantly grossed out, chuckle a bit, nearly fall out of my chair laughing and ultimately feel really bad about. I'd say more, but that would be telling, so we'll get into it after the jump.

After last week's episode spent so much time outside the walls of Sterling Cooper, it was nice to get back in the swing of things. That isn't mentioned to bash the story lines that take place in the Draper home (which are almost always more enjoyable than some of the family life struggles of later seasons of The Sopranos), especially the final scene with Don holding baby Gene and talking to Sally. That might be one of my favorite scenes of the series for reasons I'll get into later. But there is such a wealth of characters in the office that even days when most of them are ignored or sidelined, there's still too many compelling stories to get through. And I'm not just saying that because it means some screen time for the lovely Julie McNiven (Hildy and Supernatural's Anna Milton), who I always get overjoyed just seeing... in a non-stalker-ish way.

We'll get into Don and Joan's specific story lines in a moment, but obviously we need to talk about poor Guy. His arrival is likened to the coming of the Lord from on high. Ready to bestow great riches (given Don a job overseeing creative for London AND New York) and meat out firm justice (pulling the noose tighter around Roger's neck and making a call between Pete and Ken for Head of Accounts), it in reality is as a replacement for Lane Pryce, just shifting out on Brit for another. After we realize he isn't handing out a golden goose for Don, there's absolutely nothing to like about this guy. Sure, he's personable and friendly and magnanimous for the moment at least, but generally you can't go looking for leadership from a man who uses the same phrases over and over again as Guy seems to love. Since he brings so little to the table, it's perfectly alright that we laughed when the living mistake that is Lois mows over his foot, covering Pete and the guys in a blood spraying worthy of Dexter.

When a single bit means so many different things together, it's generally a great sign of quality. Doing tragedy or comedy alone is tough enough. But to hit them simultaneously and then bounce back and forth between the two the rest of the way, that's a step above my friends. At first we laugh, but that's only for an instant as the shock kicks in. Then we see Joan kneeling next to this man's mangled foot and fashioning a field dressing to try and stop him from bleeding to death, and that's when we realize it wasn't that funny. But a bit later Roger is making jokes ("Just when he got it in the door") while the janitor is squeegeeing the blood from Pete's office window. And let me tell you that gore is always funny when a squeegee is involved. Just say squeegee... it's comedy gold, I'm serious. But then we realize in the hospital that he really is losing that foot, which his co-workers assume means he lost his entire life... at least as far as his career is concerned ("He'll never golf again.").

This week might have signaled the end of the fall of Roger Sterling. I mean how can it get any lower than being left out of Guy's new organizational flow chart for the company... followed immediately by being hand written in underneath Burt Cooper while Guy has already moved on to the next subject. His cruel (but still funny) jokes about the ultimate fate of Guy's foot hopefully will signal him beginning to climb back into the swing of things and take an active hand in account management. If he gets back on his a-game and Pryce starts lining up his thinking with Don's view of the future, Sterling Cooper might actually have dodged a huge bullet.

So much depends on how Pryce handles the mother of all accounts Don's drinking buddy from a few weeks back, Connie (now revealed as Conrad Hilton played by Mr. Hey, It's That Guy - Chelcie Ross). This will either take them all to another level like Don's Madison Square Garden deal would have before Pryce and the Brits pulled the plug on it, or give Don the financial flexibility to branch out on his own. Because there's no way Don fails to get the promotion that he and everyone else saw coming and loses TWO once in a lifetime deals in the span of a month to corporate small-mindedness.

In a twist of his usual fortunes, Don gets let down at the office, but steps up substantially at home. While Betty is still telling Sally stories about fairies working for her new baby brother (who was already Rosemary's baby as far as Sally was concerned), Don diffusing the situation by talking to her about the unknown and the unexpected as good things, not necessarily frightening. In other words, (to use the perfect parallel they do with the nightlight) that you don't have to be afraid of the dark. It's wonderful in bringing up the idea of perception that we touch on in the office and in Joan's story. Don's speech to close out the show really was a great example of how much Matthew Weiner and company deserved the second consecutive Writing Emmy they received earlier in the night.

But getting back to perception, poor Joan is the star of this episode. Her perceptions of the life with her doctor husband have now completely fallen apart. Again, it's telling about the time that the part of her life that effected her openly the most wasn't when he raped her last season on Don's office floor. Instead it was when he revealed that not only did he fail to win the chief residency they had accepted as a given for so long, but that his career as a surgeon is effectively over in New York. And I don't think ANY of us want to see Ms. Manhattan herself shuffled off to Mississippi. It would be like a bad version of Doc Hollywood.

For a lot of the time, we consider Joan a bit of a joke. Not in her capabilities, as she showed handling the accident with Guy and the lawnmower or managing the way the entire office acts on any given day, Joan could be put anywhere at anytime and would deal with anything better than most. But its a joke that she couldn't imagine more for herself since she had more inherent potential that even Peggy. She could run an ad agency, but instead she can't even muster the courage to ask to keep the job she excels spectacularly at (even after saving the boss' life) because her loser husband let her down yet again. She doesn't look for more than the grocery bag of gist and dry cleaning bill she is offered.

As things are as uncertain as ever at Sterling Cooper, I couldn't help but imagine an ad agency with a signature client like Hilton with Don running things, Peggy in creative, Pete managing accounts and Joan running the office. It would be a force to be reckoned with, but is far too sunny an dream for this world.

One last note, Billy mentioned how long my last review is and this one is a beast too, but that just goes to show us that there's more to this show than most. I mean I could have written more about poor Pryce being shipped off to Bombay to solve another problem with no thanks or the inferiority of Mr. John Hooker running things in place of Joan, but then I'd be even more annoying. Hopefully, some people might discuss the things I've missed in the comments below... one can always dream.

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