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The Summer Man - The Ex-Communicator

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September 15th, 2010

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11:32 am - The Summer Man
The most recent episode of Mad Men was 4-08 'The Summer Man'. I think I can talk about three problematic stylistic devices it used without giving any of the plot away. My question to myself is - were these actual mistakes, is Mad Men going to jump the shark? Or do I have enough faith in Mad Men to think that three sharks in one episode makes it a plan? Makes it some kind of meta-message? Don't know. Particularly as, after last week's pivotal bottle episode, the tide may be turning in the doom of Don Draper - I mean things might just possibly be getting better. So that would be a bold nay reckless move - to pretend that the series has jumped the shark, just as Draper gets his act together.

The three problematic decisions were: firstly, protracted voice-over by Don Draper. Voice-over to reveal motivation violates a basic modern screen writing rule - but perhaps like a split infinitive, one that would be better honoured in the breach? And it violates the four-season long Mad Men rule, that we never see inside Don's head, we just infer.

The second decision is once again a double-violation. Firstly of a minor series rule - that a piece of era-defining music plays over the end credits. Not a crucial rule, but they broke it this time, with 'I can't get no satisfaction' over the starting credits - and utter silence at the end. More crucially, they illustrated each line of the song - like a slightly laborious fan vid - with literalisms: 'he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me' - Don lights a cigarette. Srsly?

And thirdly, towards the end someone mentions an Aesop fable which neatly points up a significant issue in the rest of the episode. Don firstly makes the person recount the whole fable, and then laboriously makes her explain the (perfectly obvious) meaning of the fable. This is very peculiar. They don't lead you by the hand down meaning lane in Mad Men. Nobody ever says 'this is what the story means'. This has got to be a joke for us, a meta-joke, yes?

So - interesting. I've got to believe this is on purpose. If so, it's very self-confident to play at poor writing and direction? I don't know.

The rest of the episode by the way was not crap at all, and did figure people blowing it, literally and figuratively.

(7 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2010 10:47 am (UTC)
I haven't ever seen Mad Men, but I've been reading your comments on it with interest, and on that basis alone I'm convinced that the sequences you mention aren't meant to be taken at face value. I mean, what is more likely - that a sophisticated team of writers, who've been consistently subtle and intelligent, suddenly lose the ability to spot a crashing banality; or that they're setting something up?

[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2010 11:08 am (UTC)
Well, when you put it like that :-)

Yeah. There's another interesting scene that gave me pause. Joan (traditional woman) criticises Peggy (new woman) for exercising power - 'it makes you look like a humourless bitch'. Peggy is left discomfited. In a simpler series this message would be the message - it would be an anti-feminist scene. No commentary is provided, and a lot of viewers took it at face value. 'Peggy got told'.

But, in context, perhaps it's a bit more complex than that. frankly, it has to be.
[User Picture]
Date:September 16th, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
I've been looking forward to seeing what you thought of this one - the voiceover-diary thing was such an odd choice! I hope everyone's right about it being a deliberate mistake. (And mm, the no-music was weird too - usually that seems to mean "something tragic has just happen in the show and we think silent end-credits will emphasis that", but unless they mean the use of a diary-voiceover was a tragedy, that can't be the case here...).

I didn't notice the relevance of the Aesop fable elsewhere, because I am always ridiculously slow to pick up on these things.

I think the scene with Joan and Peggy was really interesting, and very clearly not meant to say either "Joan was right to deal with it her way" or "Peggy was right to deal with it her way". Joan's comment about how she could have got rid of Joey easily by having lunch with someone, for example - we can't possibly have been meant to go "ah, yes, that would be a better way of managing things".

To me the scene seemed partly an articulation of the way they are both a bit troubled by (or uncomprehending of, or alienated by, or something) the way the other exercises power. And also something to do with the way that sexism and misogyny are really difficult to deal with, and women who choose to respond by working within a framework of acceptably feminine behaviours can make things harder for those who don't want to do that; and vice versa, too.
[User Picture]
Date:September 16th, 2010 12:08 pm (UTC)
Yes. Since writing this post I have come round to think the strange choices were both deliberate and intended to make you feel discomfited. I take Aesop's message to be an apparent endorsement of Joan's approach - Joan is the warm Sun, Peggy the fierce Wind. And yet Faye, who says it, is the toughest cooky - the fiercest wind - of all.

I loved Don restraining his drinking without getting all histrionic and teetotal about it, and I loved him refusing to sleep with Faye. Just lovely to see him getting his act together. Also lovely to see him soaking wet in trunks.
[User Picture]
Date:October 4th, 2010 10:22 am (UTC)
Yeah - I took it as the Old approach and the New approach. Joan is the old-fashioned head of the office, Peggy is the new, more liberated, woman. Neither of them is wrong in their approach, they're just conflicting approaches.

I checked who the writer of this episode was - and she was a producer and writer in the first two seasons, and won an award for her writing in season three. It must have been a deliberate change of pace.
[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC)
What azdack said...
[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
I am constantly impressed at how mad men anticipates something I was already thinking about. Last week I was worried that after such a good episode it would go off, perhaps become a more conventional romance story, so it is interesting if they have been playing with that notion.

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