Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Men Season 7 Ep. 14 Recap: 'Person to Person'

Photo Credit: AMC

“I hope he's in a better place.” Meredith, the slightly dingy but capable secretary, says this as Roger tells her he has to fire her, since her former boss hasn't returned. He then corrects her, reminding Meredith her boss—one Donald Draper—is not dead, but Meredith isn't talking about the great beyond. “There are lot of better place than this,” she says.

Don of course has died many times over the last seven seasons, metaphorically speaking, reinventing himself and starting anew over and over. The latest one has taken the form of a cross country drifter, one whose current location is Utah, where Don is tinkering on souped up cars with a few other mechanics, and taking up with the lady of the garage.

The good times come to an abrupt halt though, when Sally calls and reveals Betty is dying. Don, of course, calls Betty immediately and pushes to take care Gene and Bobby, but she holds firm, saying they need a stable home life, and to keep things as normal as possible. And Don being away is part of that. The haunted look that washes over his face prove she's right. Don may call consistently on the weekends, but Betty knows children need a stable, constant presence in their lives, and Don, however valiantly he may try, can't be the guy.

Don eventually lands on the doorstep of Anna's niece Stephanie's house, offering her Anna's ring as a sort of penance (or something to hock when she needs money), and saying he wanted to stop by and see her baby. Stephanie calls bullshit, and explains her child is living with his father's parents—the opposite of what looks to be Don's future arrangement with his own children. She knows Don is in some kind of trouble, at least the mental/emotional kind, and invites him to go with her to a commune that includes things tai chi and meditation and views divorce as a creative experience.

You can guess how well Don fits in with this bunch. Predictably, he looks befuddled and uncomfortable, feelings that only intensify when the woman standing across him follows the instructor's orders to give her honest reaction to Don's presence by pushing him..

More demons pop up during another group session, when Stephanie reveals she didn't like being a mother. Don obviously has his own mother issues, which another guest rubs more salt in when she tells Stephanie her mom left when she was a child, and like her, her child will never get over that sense of a abandonment. Don's biological mother didn't deliberately abandon him the way Stephanie (or Roger's daughter Margaret) have abandoned their children, but her death left him with similar feelings, while his stepmother viewed him as a burden, withholding her love from him. Even with all this, he tries to give the same bad advice he gave Peggy (another woman who decided not to raise her child) to Stephanie, telling her to move forward, but she questions whether that's possible. Given all we've seen Don endure, we know it's not. Overcome with emotion, she questions his reasons for coming to see her or trying to hand off Anna's ring like some family heirloom, reminding him they aren't family, before running away and leaving Don alone.

At wits end, Don puts in a person to person call to the closet thing to family, or at least a kindred spirit, that he's had: Peggy. “I know you get sick of things, and you run. But you can come home,” Peggy tells him. “Don, come home,” she says, her tone borderline motherly, before asking him just what he did that was so terrible.
“I broke my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man's name, and made nothing of it,” he answers, sounding absolutely broken and shell-shocked. No lies, no self-deception, no excuses, no compartmentalizing. This is Dick Whitman talking. At last, we have a breakthrough.

Well almost. That comes courtesy of Leonard, a business man who feels ignored and invisible at his job and at home. He talks about not feeling loved, then realizing that his plight hasn't been a case of not getting love, but being unable to receive it. He then relays a dream about being inside a refrigerator, having it open and seeing everyone smiling at you. However, the same smiling faces look past you, or at something else. Then the door closes, and you're alone in the dark again.

Leonard breaks into a body-wracking sobs, and something comes back to life in Don, who goes and hugs Leonard as they have a full on cry together. The last shot we see of Don is the furthest thing from the man we met in 1960; clad in loose clothing, eyes closed in meditation and releasing a sonorous “ohm” a smile slowly spreads across his face as the guru talks of discovering a new you. It's an idea Dick Whitman certainly knows something about, but his latest self seems born not out of fear or desperation, but out of self-awareness and the clarity that comes with going through a personal hell and coming out the other side. He at last seems to have found, if not happiness, some measure of contentment.

And he's found inspiration for his next great ad. The episode ends with the iconic, real-life Coca-Cola commercial from that era, a client Peggy mentions when trying to talking him off the ledge, which uses a multicultural, hippie crowd like the one Don meditated with. It implies Don went back to New York and created what's perhaps the most famous ad of all time. It's a fitting send off for a man who has channeled so much of his own inner turmoil and sense of ennui, as well as his hopes and aspirations into his work. Part of Don's breakthrough is in realizing everyone experiences those feelings, and he is not alone or unique in that sense. As Dr. Faye once put it, he's a regular person, just like everyone else.

Peggy's made head roads at McCann. Pete stops by on his way out to Kansas, and wishes her well, saying she'll be creative director in a decade, and people will brag about getting to work with her. “No one's ever said to me,” Pete tells her when she balks slightly at the compliment. “Imagine. A thing like that,” she says, responding with one of his signature phrases.

Of course, the major revelation is Peggy and Stan's declaration of love, a realization that hits her, as her boss once put it, like a lightning bolt. After telling Stan about Joan's offer of becoming a partner in her production company and getting into an argument (one, like nearly all their arguments, is rooted in her ambition and his seeming complacency) about whether she can or should do it. She apologizes for calling him a failure (yea it got real) the next day, and Stan says she'll be great at whatever she does, but he doesn't want her to leave, which leads to how much loves being around her and how he always wants to be with her.

“I want to be with you. I'm in love with you,” Stan tells her. “I love you Peggy.” The confession throws Peggy for a loop, and she cries and bumbles her way to saying she's in love with him too, and rom com conventions aside, you really feel these two people truly had no idea they felt this way about each other until now. They're both creative people. Stan is extroverted and open where she is introverted and reserved. He understands her work and her constant striving, and helps give her perspective on both, while she challenges him to demand the best from himself artistically. They're good together.

Joan isn't as lucky in love. Her time since leaving McCann has been marked by gallivanting around New York and when we first see her, Florida with Richard. Richard pushes her to expand her horizons (“Your life is undeveloped property”) and to think beyond her two-bedroom apartment and life in New York, an idea she seems open to. Still, her old life pulls her back via Ken Cosgrove, who asks her to look through her Rolodex and find a producer for a film for Dow Chemical. Joan calls Peggy and asks if she'll take the job (and the extra money). When the two sit down though, Joan talks about turning the one-off job Ken handed her into a real production company, with her as producer and Peggy as head writer and partner. Harris and Olsen. Sisters are doin' it for themselves!

Peggy, as previously mentioned, stays with McCann, and Joan's new path doesn't sit well with Richard, who knows building her own business will require lots of her time, as he did it himself. He says he doesn't want to root for her to fail, but he clearly wants a life full of travel of all adventure and no work, despite Joan believing they can have both. When Joan makes it clear she can't shut off her ambition to build something of her own (another echo of the Don Draper ethos), he walks away, wishing her luck.

Her interaction with another wealthy silver fox goes much better. Roger stops by Joan's place and offers to put their son Kevin in his will. We get an update on a-hole Greg(he had twins with some nurse and acts like Kevin never happened), Roger reveals he's dating Marie and the two of them come to a place of understanding and peace with their long, complicated history.

In the end, Joan puts her own dreams over those of the man in her life, Peggy opens herself up to a life that includes professional and personal success, Marie and Roger settle into a fiery, but satisfying groove (Roger's learning to speak French!), Pete and Trudy become the jet-setting king and queen of Wichita, Kansas, Sally's eases into her new role as surrogate mother, and Don finally appears to be getting comfortable in his own skin.

The circles of life and work continue. And this is where we leave Mad Men.

Other Thoughts:

--Hey, Gene spoke his first words! And it only took seven years!
--Marie to Roger: “Yell at me slower or in English.”

--Roger and Joan on Greg's knowledge of Kevin's real father:
--Roger: “So he[Greg] knows?”
--Joan: “No, he's just a terrible person.”

--Though the characters are friendly toward one another, what ultimately pulls them back in each other's orbit—from Peggy and Joan, Joan and Ken, to Don's presumed returned to New York—is work. These people aren't necessarily friends and they never really were. However, they share a common bond and kinship of rolling with the punches of Sterling Cooper's many incarnations and fighting in the trenches together all these years. A noticeable motif in this finale, and really the entire series.

--Joan on cocaine: “I feel like someone just gave me some very good news.”

--Don's truth moment with Peggy was gut-wrenching, though I have to take exception with him saying he made nothing of his stolen identity. After all, becoming a legendary (in ways good and bad), creative genius/rock star has to count for something.

Monday Man Candy

Check out a NSFW surprise after the jump (a gift for no Monday Man Candy last week)...

Via The Perks of Being A Model

Friday, May 15, 2015

Scandal Season 4 Ep. 22 Recap: 'You Can't Take Command'

Photo Credit: ABC

Scandal's fourth season has been one marked by a conscious effort to step back from the all out craziness of the previous one, restructuring the show to include both the case-of-the-week style plots of the early seasons as well as an overarching plot driving the action. In the past this was the voting-rigging cover-up of Defiance, and this year it was B6:13, which has inhabited the show's plot lines for more than a minute. This extended stay—which this season has culminated in a long, drawn out a showdown between Olivia and Eli—has led to a general feeling the show as spinning its wheels, saving the big blowout until now. And while this strategy has produced some gripping, emotionally resonant hours (“The Lawn Chair” and “Run”), some entertaining ones (“It's Good To Be Kink”) and a combination of both (“Put A Ring On It”), and provided some rich material for the cast—Olivia's ongoing battle with PTSD comes to mind—at times it felt like we were twiddling our thumbs, getting just enough B6:13 crumbs to keep us on the hook until the finale.

Going into “You Can't Take Command,” Shonda and Co. had quite the dilemma to sort out: how to definitively wrap up the B6:13 arc (assuming that it is definitively wrapped up) but whilst maintain thematic integrity. Killing Eli wouldn't be an option: her shooting a blank and making a deal with Russian spies aside, Olivia doesn't want her father dead, despite he hatred of him. Allowing B6:13 and Command to live on would have been an irritating, anti-climatic letdown, as the whole season (some would say the past two seasons) has been building to this point. Joe Morton's a great actor, and Eli Pope's a great character, but no character, however heroic or villainous, can or should be utterly untouchable, and time was running out on the believability of Rowan always living to fight another day.

And piggybacking off that second sentiment, allowing Eli to crush his daughter and have everyone fall back into the duplicitous status quo would have been, to it bluntly, fucking depressing. It's one thing for Scandal to operate in a world marked in shades of gray, but quite another for things to go completely black. Fortunately, “You Can't Take Command,” found a way to have Olivia trounce her father in a believable way, while using their showdown to set off some last-minute twists (Fitz giving Mellie the boot) and create some new adversaries (like Elizabeth vs. the newly unemployed Cyrus—though they weren't exactly BFFs before) for next season.

The episode picks up where last week's “A Few Good Women” left off, with an unsuspecting Mellie meeting with Eli, who puts on an “aw shucks” veneer of a wealthy man who wants to support her senate run. Eli can only pretend to be human for so long though, and quickly drops the act after pulling out a folder containing photos of her and Andrew Nichols and information on Operation Remington. Eli wears Mellie down with his request/threat to ask him what he needs, and what he needs is a some names. Said names turn out to be the jurors and court stenographer (who knits David Rosen horrible scarves by the way) Jake testifies to in court, who are subsequently slaughtered.

Mellie tells Cyrus, who takes to berating her before she says the words Operation Remington; Cyrus springs into action, or at least it looks that way at first, by going to see Eli. Eli calmly reminds him those jurors and trial would've exposed B6:13, the secrets of the administration, and so on, and his murderous act counts as a favor, one he wants returned.

This latest stunt sends Olivia into a tailspin, and, after raging to Jake about always being her father's whipping girl, goes off to the sea witch, I mean Maya, for advice (seriously, did anyone else catch Ariel/Ursula vibes in their scenes together?).

“They did a number on you. You got that 'I've been in the hole look 'all over your face.” Maya, you ain't said nuthin' but a word. Like most of she and Mama Pope's mother-daughter talks, this one goes left in a nanosecond, as Maya reams her out for being self-involved and deluding herself into an uppity fantasy world where she wields power and stomps around putting out fires she created for herself. Olivia turns to leave, but Maya offers this nugget of real advice: Command has plenty of enemies who want him dead, but it's all for naught because no one knows who Command is. Translation: expose that ass.

Olivia goes straight to the top, carrying the B6:13 files David Rosen dropped in her office to the head of the CIA, listing off all the atrocities and cover ups B6:13 was responsible for. She looks believably rattled, and is all ready to haul Eli in, until Cyrus starts spewing metaphors about not poking a lion, and she has Jake and Olivia arrested.

One by one, Papa Pope's poisonous influence spreads, as each character's weak spot—or to quote Cyrus, pressure point—is applied so they bend to Command's will. For David Rosen, it's the threat to Abby's safety that makes him flip and push Olivia and Jake to sign affidavits recanting their statements; For Jake, it's the threat his mother will be without financial support since his assets would be seized if he doesn't sign; for Olivia, it's Jake's reputation being destroyed if she doesn't sign on the dotted line. Maya flips (unsurprisingly), saying “well I need a pen baby” when Cyrus offers her freedom for her silence.

Eli calls Olivia to gloat, gleefully responding to her retort he'll get his by informing her she did in fact kill Command; as we watch a montage of the remaining B6:13 agents being killed, the files being blown to bits (what does no one have a jump drive?) and Maya signing her freedom papers, he points that now for all intents and purposes, he is Eli Pope, mild-mannered paleontologist.

But oh snap, Olivia has an ace in the hole she didn't even know she had. Quinn mentions the $2 billion Huck took back when Olivia was on the black market auction block, but Huck dismisses her, saying it's been run through so many accounts it could belong to anyone. Including Eli Pope, mild-mannered paleontologist. Olivia pins the money on him, putting him behind bars for embezzling from the Smithsonian. Turns out Papa Pope was right; Command was/is untouchable, but Eli, mortal man, very much is, and the sight of Liv sashaying away as Eli screams her name—the say way Maya screamed his as he left her to rot in a jail cell—will be the gloop heard 'round the world.

Papa Pope wasn't only unrepentant tyrant to get his comeuppance this week. Elizabeth has spent much of this season under Cyrus' heel, but through some black belt-level scheming, pushes him out of the administration. She pushes Mellie to come clean with her about the dead jurors, appearing genuinely concerned, but if you look hard enough, something in Portia de Rosci's delivery, and her facial expressions makes her real intentions clear. Liz spills the Rowan tea to Fitz as Mellie gives her victory speech, and Fitz later confronts her on it, telling her to get out his house--the White House (just let that sink in)--and fires Cyrus. And who's his new Chief of Staff? Elizabeth! I knew home girl was playing a long game! Cyrus, knowing he just got got, has the look that says “well played” on his face as he hands over his access cards. You know this isn't over, not by a long shot.

After her triumph, Olivia comes home with Jake, expecting him to come inside. However, Jake tells his mission is complete. Command is gone, B6:13 is dismantled, and Olivia is safe, as he promised Eli and Fitz she would be. He's in love with her, but encourages her to go after the man she really wants—Fitz. Now that Mellie's moving out, the salacious element of her going to the White House is out of the equation. No more hiding, no more secrecy; they're free to make out in on the White House balcony in front any and everybody.

At least for now. Fitz can't exactly tell the American public “I'm divorcing my wife, the First Lady, because she was indirectly responsible for the deaths of more than a dozen jurors,” and neither can Mellie. And bringing the other woman and marrying, or even dating her, won't exactly be a cake walk, because like Mellie's senate run, it's never happened to a sitting president. And speaking of being out in the open, now that there isn't a salacious element to their relationship, what will it look like? Will it survive in the cold light of day? Best believe, there will still be secrets, mutually agreed upon half-truths, spin and political double-dealing.

This is still is Scandal. And it's still thrilling to watch. See ya' next year.

Other Thoughts:

--Fitz gives a touching speech on election night, calling Mellie his best friend and giving her props for resuscitating their marriage. Dayum, you'd never guess those words would come out of his mouth back with he was labeling her drunken personalities, and Mellie switches between smiling and grimacing at his words.

--Speaking of Fitz, while his kicking Mellie out definitely opens up some new possibilities plot-wise, I'm not totally sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, I get his feelings of betrayal and disgust, especially when they've been so open about pretty much everything this season, but what about the fact Mellie was still in the dark about Operation Remington and Eli's true identity? Or the fact Fitz has worked to keep Operation Remington under wraps lo these many years? Fitz appears to be looking for total transparency in his administration now; the only problem is Mellie and Cyrus didn't get the memo.

--Quinn figures out Huck was the trigger man who wiped out all the jurors, and pulls a gun on him, threatening to blow him away after calling him sick. First off, take a look in the mirror girl, but point well taken. Huck's reasons for following Eli's orders aren't said, and honestly, does it even matter at this point, with Eli in jail? I get Huck has demons, but four seasons in, his “I wanna be a family guy but I love killing people” arc is wearing pretty thin. To quote Maya Pope (imagine my voice dropping to a sinister register) “Huck you need to move on.”

--“Cyrus to Abby: I can't have a soul. If I had one, I would never accomplish a thing.” Couldn't this almost qualify as Scandal's mission statement at this point, white hat individuals David Rosen and Susan Ross notwithstanding?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mad Men Season 7 Ep. 13 Recap: ' The Milk and Honey Route'

Photo Credit: AMC

Goodness. First Joan walks away from the agency, presumably never to be seen again, and now Betty is dying? And of lung cancer? Not that that's a completely shocking development—like almost every other character on Mad Men, Betty's been sucking on cancer sticks from the moment we met her. Common medical sense aside, the reveal of her impending death just before the series finale is the emotional equivalent of being tackled on the one yard line: it hits hard and comes out of nowhere.

“The Milk and Honey Route,” focuses on Betty, as well as Don and Pete, following each character on a journey in which the common denominator is an exit. While Betty's is the most dramatic and literal, Don and Pete's arcs also deal with leaving what is familiar behind with the belief that what's on the other side is better.

Betty's story opens with her at school, tripping while trying to go up the stairs. She plays it off like she's fine, but goes to a doctor who insinuates her fall might be something more serious. It turns out Betty has an aggressive, advanced form of cancer, with the doctor giving her nine months to a year to live. Of course, Betty had a health scare back in season five's “Tea Leaves,” but it turned out to be nothing. Sadly, it's not the case this time and it's heartbreaking, not only because Betty really seems the happiest and most at peace that we've ever seen her, but because of the devastation the news will cause her family.

Henry takes it particularly hard, yelling at Betty for refusing to undergo treatment. He ignores her request to let her tell the kids, and goes to Sally's school to break the news to her. Henry wants Sally to talk some sense into her, and tells her it's okay to cry, before breaking down himself. Later, Sally shows up at the house, and Betty gives her a glare that says “I know you I know,” before coldly pushing past her. Henry goes after her, and Sally immediately snaps into older sister/mother mode, tending to Bobby and Gene.

Later, Sally and Betty have a very grown up talk about cancer and death. Sally says Henry doesn't know Betty's in love with tragedy of it all, and there may be some truth to that. It was definitely a sense of dark romanticism in Betty's first cancer scare. She told an old acquaintance she was “leaving behind a mess,” in reference to her family, and dreamt of Henry and her children mourning her. Betty often remarked her mother was vivacious and beautiful right up until the end; whether that was true or another example of Betty's superhuman ability to live in denial we'll likely never know. Either way, Betty's intent on following her example, leaving Sally detailed instructions on the dress she wants to wear and how her makeup and hair should be done for her funeral.

But Betty also reminds Sally she saw her own mother die in inches, and doesn't want to put her children through the same thing. She also tells her she doesn't want her to think of her as a quitter, and says her ability to know when to move on has been a strength in her life. In terms of her marriage to Don, that was certainly the case. Betty gives Sally a letter, instructing her to open it only after she's gone. Sally opens it earlier of course, and it both gives the aforementioned instructions for her funeral and parting words for her eldest.

“I always worried about you because you marched to the beat your own drummer,” she writes, before going on to say she's learned to appreciate this quality in her daughter, because it means her life “will be an adventure.” Her words come via voice over, as we watch both Sally's reaction (and if you weren't tearing up already, the sight of Kiernan Shipka bursting into an ugly cry will finish you off) and Betty as she walks up the stairs at school, her inner resolve to push past the pain and live her dream for as long as possible is palpable. A decade ago, Betty referred to herself as an ostrich with its head in the sand. Now she's as clear-eyed as ever.

The only person, aside from Bobby and Gene, who doesn't know the shocking news is Betty's ex-husband. Don has turned playing hooky from McCann into a full-on cross-country road trip—according to his call with Sally, he's currently in Kansas—but this is still Mad Men after all, so it can't be all aviator shades and stops at quaint hotels.

Don gets stuck in Kansas when he has car trouble, and given the small-town settings (church revivals and football are the big attractions), has to resort to paying a young guy to go score him some liquor, which he does, tacking on an extra ten bucks for his services. It sounds like a scam a young Dick Whitman would've run back when he was a valet peeing in rich people's cars. The kid, dark-haired, skinny, possessing an eager-to-please personality and a tendency to use double negatives in conversation, certainly could've been Don at that age.

The motel owners push Don to stick around for a meeting where local veterans come together for conversation and beer. The meeting actually turns out to a fundraiser for a vet who recently burned his own home down. Don is apprehensive, and it's understandable why; the whole scene would once again make him confront the gigantic lie much of his life has been built on. The knife gets twisted further when the guys introduce him to Jerry, who also served in Korea, but said temporary relief comes when Jerry says he arrived in Christmas 1953, after Don had already gone home.

Later, a veteran tells a story about when he and a few other soldiers killed some German soldiers in order to survive the brutal winter, despite the fact they wanted to surrender. Don then tells most (though not all) of his own ugly truth, of accidentally killing his own commanding officer, and getting to go home because of it. Everything seems good, until the guys bust into his room later that night and beat him up, claiming he stole their money. For a moment I thought it was another dream, like the opening sequence where he gets pulled over by an officer who says “you knew we'd catch up with you eventually,” though it quickly becomes clear this is is very real.

Don puts two and two together and confronts his young liquor supplier the next day (“You have shitty instincts for a con man,” Don snaps at him), who says he stole the money so he could get out of town. Don lectures him that starting his life this way will cast a shadow over the rest of it, and he'll have to become someone else, which, given the hell we've seen Don go through all this time, is not nearly as glamorous as the kid may imagine it to be. In the end, he gives the kid a ride out of town, and in a surprise move, gives him his car, telling him not to waste the opportunity. He drives off, and Don takes a seat at the bus stop, smiling broadly, either because he may have spared someone from making the same grave mistake he did, or because he's lifted some of the gargantuan weight of his past off his shoulders. There will likely always be some part of Don that's paranoid about his past catching up with him, but at this moment, that part appears smaller than it has ever been.

Pete's story was the quirkiest of the three, bringing back Duck Phillips to create professional havoc that turns into a personal breakthrough. Duck, who's been called in to replace Don at McCann, runs into Pete in the elevator, and goes straight into his office, asking him to meet with an exec from Lear Jet, as a way to both pump up McCann and pump up Duck's services as a headhunter. Turns out, Duck lied to Pete and the Lear Jet exec, with the latter thinking Pete was meeting to join their company. Undeterred, Duck pushes another dinner date with the wives—despite the fact Pete is sans one and despite his ironclad contract with McCann. Nevertheless, Pete, intrigued by the offer, a senior position in Kansas, and asks Trudy to be his date, to which she declines.

“You know what, I'm jealous of your ability to be sentimental about the past. I'm not. I remember things as they were,” she says, with a hint of steel in her delivery.

Pete skips out on the dinner for a meal with his brother Bud, and Duck shows up stinking drunk at his room, babbling about getting him out of McCann and going to Lear Jet with stock options. And oh yeah, he called Jim Hobart. Pete tells him he's going to ruin everything, before Duck stumbles off. Pete comes over to Trudy's house at four in the morning and asks if she and Tammy will join him in Kansas. Trudy rightfully eyes him like a crazy person and tells him some things can't be undone, but Pete promises to be a different man, one not arrogant enough to think he can do whatever he wants and not lose her. She says she never stopped loving him, and well, now they're reunited and it feels so good.

After watching these characters for so long, pushing towards maturity in fits and starts, evolving and regressing at various points, it's satisfying to see them doing the latter, in ways that feel honest and hard earned.

See you next week for the finale.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Scandal Season 4 Ep. 21 Recap: 'A Few Good Women'

Photo Credit: ABC

With the season finale next week, a Papa Pope-sized shadow looms over the proceedings, with “A Few Good Women,” like “The Lawn Chair” and “Put A Ring On It,” before, pushes the father-daughter-ex-B6:13-high ranking-government officials showdown to the background in favor of a case of the week.

This time it's the case of Amy Ansen Martin, a female naval officer who Susan Ross encounters on a trip to a base and believes was raped after spotting a bruise on her arm, conjuring memories of a college friend who suffered a similar fate. True to her empathetic but unconventional nature, she decides to bring Amy back to the White House, which earns her an epic reaming out by Fitz and Cyrus. It's not entirely undeserved; her intuition and Amy's injury aside, she had no proof and no confession from Amy. Fitz and Cyrus' position of letting the military handle whatever crime may have been committed sends her knocking on Olivia's door. In fact, while some powerful men offer some backstage assistance, its the ladies of Scandal—a few good women if you will—who drive and champion Amy's cause.

It's a deft move by the show to bring Ross into Olivia's orbit this way; since she doesn't have any designs on power of playing dirty, the only thing that could make Ross break protocol and go rogue is standing up for someone else. Going to Olivia gets the ball rolling, and Amy confesses her rapist was Admiral Holly, a high-ranking, practically untouchable navy commander whose BFFs include Fitz himself.

Once Liv decides to, as Abby put, ruin the White House's day, the story takes on a life of its own, spilling over to Mellie's campaign as the public demands action. Mellie of course, thinks of her rape at the hands of another douchebag in power, Big Jerry, and the way Bellamy Young winces everytime someone says the word “rape,” just twists the knife even deeper. My first thought was she go into rebel, fuck you Fitz mode and come out against him without so much as a hooch-driven rant. But the end result—channeling her grief about Jerry Jr. and taking an opposing position at his suggestion—is much more satisfying, and shows their marriage, for all its faults, is truly a partnership.

Virgil Plunkett, a bumpkin fresh off the turnip truck, is assigned as the counsel to Liv and Quinn's military hearing; it pretty much goes nowhere, as both of them thought it would, though the good admiral drops a crumb when he says he wasn't on the base the night Amy says the rape happened. Later, Amy asks for Olivia to come to the ship and tells her she needs to get an abortion because she's pregnant. With Admiral Holly's baby. Yeah. Olivia somewhat delicately tries to explain if she waits a few weeks, they can pull the DNA and nail the bastard, but Amy understandably wants the procedure done now.

Olivia's impromptu visit gets Amy confined to ship under the vague charge of “conduct unbecoming,” which Olivia and Co. work around by claiming one of Amy's relatives—which as Liv slyly points out to Virgil, could be anyone in her extended family in any stage of medical condition—is sick. But at first, it doesn't seem to matter, as the military declares the admiral's whereabouts classified information. On top of that, Fitz holds on his position during one their late night calls, despite the public outcry and the fact it's Liv client. All appears lost as Olivia holds Amy's hand while she has the abortion.

However, Fitz comes through for both of the ladies in life, requesting and then receiving the classified files Olivia was denied, because well, he's the Commander in Chief, and suggests to Mellie she politically throw him under the bus. It's vintage Olivia Pope, and she follows through on it brilliantly, seamlessly pivoting from Elizabeth suggestion to make Jerry Jr.'s death the centerpiece of her speech (which takes place in Springfield, where he was killed) and segueing into how her military reforms will make the armed forces safer for everyone's children. Olivia takes the new info and gets justice for Amy.

Meanwhile, Quinn and Huck are going to town on Russell—like snatching out finger nails. *Shudders.* Russell not giving up any of the goods on Operation Foxtail, to the point where Olivia nad Huck have to hold him down from stop him from killing himself with a mercury pill.

The incident makes Olivia flash back to her time in the torture camp, later telling Jake her bathroom time there became sacred, if only because she knew it was the one place her father couldn't get to her. Speaking of that, Jake makes the astute observation that he and Russell are two of kind: handsome, slightly arrogant men who have been molded by her father and trained to follow and know her everyone move. They are Eli's way of letting her know he's always there, always lurking, always watching.

In one of the hour's oddest, but shall we say, heartwarming (I'll admit that's a stretch but I'm at a loss for synonyms at the moment), Russell and Jake knock back a beer while commiserating over Papa Pope's sadistic tendencies, his paternal hold over them, and his pretentiousness (“I love retro, but bitch please. Can we not pretend it's not 1973,” Russell says of Eli's musical tastes) and self-esteem crushing competency at his job. The two give each other props for being the agent's agent, and Russell gives lie to to Jake's belief the only difference between the two of them is Russell doesn't care about Olivia when he refers to letting his guard down around her. He tells Jake to look out for her and says he's “glad to be a part of the family,” before asking Jake to “let the crazy dude back in.”

And just where is our man of the hour? After her personal and political triumph, Mellie is whisked backstage, where Elizabeth is promising her a meet and greet with a donor with enough coin for them to run ads 24/7 until the election, as we watch a man mumble something about Operation Foxtail into a concealed device. Wait, Mellie's meeting with...Eli? Mellie is Operation Foxtail? What the hell is going on! See you next week!

Other Thoughts:

--“Ya'll are some crafty ladies.” Virgil, you have no idea. Though it turns out Virgil's pretty crafty himself, as he's not actually Virgil, but a B6:13 agent posing as the now-deceased naval officer (you can guess how he went), and who knocks out Huck before untying Russell and taking off. You can bet Huck's gonna want payback for that.

--Abby: “What happened to Russell...I was rooting for him?”
--Olivia: “He wasn't my type.”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mad Men Season 7 Ep. 12 Recap: 'Lost Horizon'

Photo Credit: AMC

“I've been trying to get you for 10 years. You're my white whale Don.” This is what Jim Hobart, fresh from a trip to the Bahamas, tells Don in his office. Hobart, clearly savoring the moment for all its worth, caps his triumph by nicely but firmly asking him to “say it.” Don turns around, flashes a grin, stretches out his arms and says, “I'm Don Draper from McCann Erikson,” like a charismatic trained seal.

But oh Jim, you didn't know? Don doesn't like to be tied down. And Joan doesn't suffer fools. And Peggy won't be treated like a secretary. And Roger just doesn't give a shit. If you haven't caught on yet, things have changed considerably since last week's “Time and Life.” The big move has happened/is happening—SC&P's partners and employees are now in a place so big Meredith has to guide Don to his office. Creative meetings, instead of the small, intimate pow wows we've witnessed, now resemble a cattle call, with pre-packaged box lunches and over a dozen creative directors stuffed in one conference room. And the aforementioned Jim Hobart has enough juice to buy a Minneapolis agency just so Don can pitch for Miller Lite.

Of course if everyone reacted to this with a shrug and a sanguine “that's life,” attitude, this wouldn't be Mad Men, and “Lost Horizon,” focuses on how SC&P's major players, save for Pete (who appears content for the moment), are dealing with this transition. Don deals with it by walking out of a meeting for Miller Lite to head for parts unknown. Well, the parts aren't exactly unknown, at least initially; Don was supposed to take Sally back to school, but Betty informs him she already took off, which leaves him free to scratch an itch to drive seven hours to Wisconsin and track down the elusive Diana Bauer.

It's all vintage Don Draper—taking off on a fool's errand under the guise of a perfectly plausible excuse. And what a foolish errand it is; even the ghost of Bert Cooper knows this won't end well, asking Don why he's traveling all this way for a girl he doesn't even know. He pulls up to the Bauer house and gives Laura, Diana's husband's new wife, a fake name and telling her she's won a contest as a weak ruse to learn her whereabouts. Don settles in for a drink, but when her ex-husband comes home he calls bull on the whole charade. Don subsequently tries sell some more bull, saying he's a collections agent before beating a hasty retreat. Though her ex-husband sees through that as well, following him outside to inform him he's not the first man to show up at his doorstep asking about Diana.

“She's a tornado,” he tells Don (twisters of a feather...I'm just sayin'), telling him he can't save her before instructing him not to come back. Don leaves, but doesn't go back to New York, opting instead to pick up a hitchhiker who's heading to Minnesota. All of this was quietly thrilling to watch. Don's been on his best behavior for the most part this season, and while that's good for the character (and those of us who want to see him at least a little happy as the series ends), turning over a new leaf means going without story lines like this, where he ditches work and fully indulges his hobo tendencies.

When you think about it, Don's old school antics don't come completely out of left field; much of SCDP and later SC&P's future existence depended on him being present, both physically and creatively, given they were scrappy upstarts. However McCann, like the Sterling Cooper of yore, is a huge machine. It's easier to blow off responsibility when you're not running (or bankrolling) the show.

Back at the agency, Joan gets greeted by the female copywriter welcome wagon, who quickly make their intentions known by running down their knowledge of her accounts and offering to let Peggy have the crumbs of their workload. We'll see how that works out.
Joan later takes a call with a client accompanied by Dennis, an idiotic McCann lackey who talks over her and puts his foot in his mouth when he makes a remark about playing golf, forgetting the guy is in a wheelchair. Joan rightfully starts to criticize him, before he bellows “Who told you you got to get pissed off?”

“I thought you were going to be fun,” he says before storming off and leaving all the work to her, another example of how her bombshell looks prevent others—more specifically guys like this jerkoff—from seeing her as anything more than a good time.

Pete's on her side, working to get her involved in business, but largely she has to resort to her old ways, giving evasive answers to the men in charge, and using feminine charm to pull strings behind the scenes. However, Joan now seems to neither have the energy or interest in doing so, given she's had to play this game for decades. A meeting with Ferg Donnelly doesn't involve any yelling, but in its own way goes even worse. He tells her her accounts are safe, presenting himself as an ally, but laces his promises with gross innuendos—like making sure “nothing comes between me and your business” and her “showing him a good time.” At least with Dennis Joan knew what she was dealing with; a collaboration with Donnelly seems like it'll be much more dicey and treacherous to navigate.

“It's a big place and I asked the wrong person for help,” she later tells Richard in bed. The final straw comes when Joan meets with Hobart and asks for more independence, explaining she can't work with Ferg. Hobart bluntly tells her her status at SC&P as partner is irrelevant now, and she'll just have to get used to the new arrangement. Joan pulls out the big guns, saying she'd be happy to take her half a million dollars and walk, then threatening to call up the ACLU, and rally the other women for a sexual harassment suit. Though it would have been glorious to watch Joan go full on Erin Brockovich, sadly it feels much more realistic for her to take Roger's advice to accept half her buyout—$250,000—grab her Rolodex and leave. Is this the last we've seen of Joan? Geez I hope we get that lunch she and Don were planning to have before things wrap up.

Peggy hasn't gotten much of welcome herself at McCann. Her new bosses think she's a secretary, sending her flowers like they did all the other secretaries and sending a messenger to tell her she can work in the steno pool until her office is ready. Peggy rightfully balks, and says she'll be working at her old offices until her new one is ready.

Her situation worsens when the lights get turned off at SC&P; the sight of her dropping a cup of coffee she made in a pitch black office is not a good omen for her future. And even when she finally gets her own space, she still has to work at a drafting table.
The sound of some spooky music leads Peggy to Roger, who's tooling around with an organ (who knew SC&P had an organ?) Roger asks Peggy to stay with him and pack, mostly so he could bitch and moan about his non-role at McCann, but Peggy reminds him he sold the business, to which he offers more complaints about the unpredictability of the ad business in general.

Peggy concludes the move is a good thing, a push they needed; he says he'll miss this place, she says it was miserable while they were in it, though she backs away from the sentiment when Roger challenges her on it. The whole conversation is a push-pull between fuzzy nostalgia and cynicism. Though it's easier for man like Roger to be sentimental, since his future is secure, than it is for Peggy, still hungry and striving to leave her mark.

Later, the scene, as all extended ones between two characters on this show often do, ends on a very whimsical, warm note, with Peggy roller skating around the now empty office while Roger plays a tune on the organ.

Peggy shows up to her new digs the next day, hung over but looking fabulous as the old Sterling Cooper theme--the one same that accompanied Joan when she wore infamous the red dress and showed what brings all the boys to the yard--plays in the background, shades plopped on her face and a cigarette dangling from her mouth, carrying Bert Cooper's octopus painting under her arm.

McCann-Erikson doesn't know what hit them.

Other Thoughts:

--Meredith's proving herself a worthy secretary, laying out a look for Don's new place—he names her his new decorator—and covering for him when Jim Hobart asks about his whereabouts.

--Shirley had the foresight (and good sense) to secure a job elsewhere and tells Roger, who is shaken by her news, but mostly because it'll be one less face he'll recognize. Shirley talks about the trouble with starting over at a new place, and Roger says he's starting over too, before she subtly points out how that experience is vastly different for them, given their gender, race and class.

--Roger to Harry: “Maybe they can keep track of your hat size. It seems to be growing.” Shade.

--Betty to Don: “Your secretary is a moron.”

--Don missing Sally gives him time to talk to Betty, and they have a pretty civil exchange, as he massages her shoulders while lightly teasing her about carrying schoolbooks at her age. He even calls her Birdie. Aww.

--From Bert Cooper's cameo to Peggy hearing spooky organ music, the episode certainly gave an underlying sense of the SC&P/McCann absorption being a bad idea.

--Along with being a sexist pig, Ferg Donnelly is terrible at impressions.

Monday Man Candy

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mad Men Season 7 Ep. 11 Recap: “Time and Life”

Photo Credit: AMC
Aw hell Matt Weiner. Just three episodes to go before Mad Men signs off, and you drop this bomb on us. The bomb being McCann-Erikson is absorbing SC&P, essentially dissolving the company and any independent agency, that the well, agency and its partners had.

However. Don't mistake the preceding paragraph for disappointment; that would have been the taste left in my mouth had the hour played out for Don and Co. the way they did back in 1963, when they hatched their grand scheme to start SCDP and escaped the clutches of McCann. This time around though, the powers that be wrapped up the deal before the partners even knew the lease hadn't been paid. They will simply be cogs in a huge machine; extremely well-compensated cogs, but cogs nonetheless. It's a surprising, crushing downer of a twist—and one that absolutely should have happened. As thrilling as it is to see Don shake off the cobwebs and summon up some of the inventive, scheming fire of yore, you just don't escape a huge international corporation like McCann twice, at least not that way. Everyone's luck runs out eventually.

One of the highlights of “Time and Life” is watching news of SC&P's impending demise spread through the agency like a toxic ooze, leaving a stench of uncertainty and fear so strong even Meredith confronts Don because she knows something is up.

And it all starts when Roger calls about the lease notice, and a McCann exec plays coy, telling him to speak to head honcho Jim Hobart. The exec eventually reveals McCann is moving SC&P's physical office into theirs, but Roger smells bullshit and rightly assumes they're dissolving the agency.

Roger informs the other partners, but while Pete characteristically balks, everyone else seems resigned to their fate—though a four-year contract and a non-compete cause will do that to you. The plan is to keep the news mum, but Pete tells Peggy so she'll at least have a leg up when things starts to go down. She offers some small comfort by telling him he'll do well, despite the changing circumstances. It's a nice, short scene, one that mirrors their sofa chats back in the series early seasons. Peggy tells Stan, but for my money the real culprit in spilling the tea is Meredith, who walks in on the tail end of Dawn and Shirley discussing what SC&P's dissolution means for their future.

When Lou calls Don, it appears the news has gone bi coastal. However, after some confusion, Lou reveals he's moving to Tokyo, because some firm—who he claims made Speed Racer—bought his horrible Scout's Honor cartoon. The lucky break has him feeling his oats, as he tells Don to enjoy the rest of his miserable life and hangs up. Good riddance. Don quickly realizes Lou's exit has an upside, that being SC&P's Cali office can be a launch pad for them to take the conflicting business McCann has and use it to maintain their independent status. They just have to convince the clients to come with just like they did in 1963.

Ken's not taking the plunge with Dow Chemical, turning Pete and Roger down after metaphorically dangling them over the roof by their heels. And given what happens next, a yes or no from Mr. Cosgrove really wouldn't matter. When the partners meet with Jim Hobart and run down the California plan, Jim stops Don mid-sentence, asking him to have a seat as he reels off the top-tier business they'll be in charge of under the new arrangement. Buick, Naisco, Coca-Cola and a major pharmaceutical company will all be their new clients he explains, before advising them to take the rest of the day off and pop champagne. The struggle is over.

Or is it? As Joan notes, accounts were listed off for everyone but her, and she is highly skeptical Hobart will keep his word and that anyone will take her seriously. Ted is relieved to let someone else take the wheel, but Don seems unsure and uncomfortable about the whole thing, an expected reaction from a man who's spent decades living by his own personal hobo code.

The post-meeting pow wow does give us what may be the last great Roger-and-Don-alone-in-a-bar scene, as they ruminate over the day's events. For Roger, it's the end of Sterling Cooper, both in company and his bloodline (being an only son with a daughter). Roger expresses admiration for the way Don was always striving for more, with Don reminding Roger he didn't have to (“In another lifetime I would've been your chauffeur,” he says). They also ream each other out over the other's personal history, with Roger reminding Don how hard he was on him when he married his secretary (though Jane wasn't technically his secretary) then turned around and did the same thing with Megan, after revealing his relationship with Marie. It's a conversation rife with references to both the men's tumultuous, long-standing relationship and the show's history.

“You are okay,” Roger tells him as he leaves, echoing Don's Lucky Strike pitch from the pilot. Of course, we've seen enough to know that's not the case. Don's still living at the old apartment (and still hasn't bothered with a least getting a futon for the living room) while his realtor Melanie searches for a new one. When he learns Diana called, he goes looking for her, but finds a gay couple in her apartment instead. No disrespect to the actress, but given we have a minimum of two hours left of Mad Men (unless Weiner is going to gift us with a 90-minute or two-hour finale), I really don't want to spend much, if any of it with newer characters.

But Don's not the only one struggling. Peggy meets with a headhunter after Pete tells her about McCann, but is told her best move is staying where she is and joining McCann. Though like her mentor, Peggy's not all that thrilled about it. On the personal front, working on an account involving kids brings up old demons.
“You hate kids,” Stan tells her, unknowingly striking a nerve. It also explains Peggy's vitriolic response when the girl she and Stan get left babysitting injures herself (stapling her finger) and her mother berates her for it. Hours later, the argument is still weighing on her, and she goes on a diatribe to Stan about a young girl getting “in trouble” for following her heart, saying a woman should be able to make a mistake and move on just like a man can. Stan connects the dots, asking her how she handled her pregnancy, and Peggy says her son is probably with a family somewhere.

“I don't know because I'm not supposed to know. Or you can't go on with your life,” she says. Peggy has certainly made an effort to do the latter. But while she may not ever know the whereabouts of her child, acknowledging that she had one—that, this in fact did happen—to herself, and importantly, those close to her, and embracing it as simply part of her life's story, may help her finally make peace with her decision.

Of course, what no one can deny is happening is times are a changin' at SC&P. Roger breaks the news to all the employees, but folks don't seem convinced everything is fine, and tune him out and start talking over each other. Not even Don can quiet the troops with a great, rousing speech, only getting out “this is the beginning of something” before everyone just walks off.

Aw hell.

Other Thoughts:

– “Time and Life” gave Alison Brie what's likely her last appearance as Trudy, as she and Pete momentarily unite when Tammy is put on a wait list at Greenwich Country Day, a prep school Pete's family's pumped a lot of money into. A meeting with the headmaster goes horribly wrong, as he cites some ancient feud between his family the McDonalds and the Campbells (apparently Pete's ancestors came and ambushed the dude's family in their sleep) as reason for rejecting Tammy, with Pete punching the guy out in response. Later, Trudy talks about her stagnant social life, explaining how husbands won't leave her alone, but saying sadly in another decade, everyone will leave her alone. Ten years after Helen Bishop, and it's still hard out for there for divorced woman in these suburbs. “You're ageless,” Pete tells her. If this is their last on-screen appearance together, it's a nice send off.

--Joan and Richard are still going strong. When she tells him she got some bad news at work, he immediately books a red eye to New York. He's either really devoted or supremely sprung on what Ms. Holloway's throwing down. Just sayin'. Though her new romance may be influencing the way she treats Roger, quietly but firmly telling him “Don't do that” when he yells for her, or refusing to break the bad news to the other partners for him. Perhaps it's a way of asserting she's no longer a secretary, nor his caretaker. Then again, her putting her head on his shoulder after he initially gets the news proves she's not completely above comforting him.

--Stan: “Real kids are shy. And you have to talk to them like people.”

--Shirley: “My goodness Meredith. We should put a bell on you.”

--“What's in a name?” Don you said a mouthful.

Man Candy

Via Sexy Ass Black Men

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Smoke Break

FYI: Being I have to handle some personal bidness, tomorrow's Mad Men recap will be a bit late. Until then, take in this gif....I don't endorse tagging cancer sticks....but goddamn Jon.
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