At what cost?

Pete Campbell, street fighter. Who knew?

I realize that I’m a few weeks behind and it’s kind of late for a Mad Men season five reaction post, but this is my blog and I will write about whatever I want. I also just got out of school last week, so I have a legitimate excuse.

Season five may not have been my favorite Mad Men season–it’s a lot grimmer than its giddier, more hopeful predecessor, season four–but it’s probably the season with the most material to discuss at the technological watercooler, e.g. the internet.

The pacing for the first couple of episodes are slow. The direction seems a lot more experimental, the mood changes are more abrupt, but in the latter half of the season, those quirks become cleverer, more assured of its ability to effectively tell a story while conveying some level of artistic confidence. This ambitious directional efforts become most apparent in “The Other Woman,” when Don pitches Jaguar is intercut with Joan prostituting herself. It’s not trying too hard anymore–it has gotten it just right because it doesn’t overshadow the acting, the writing, and the storytelling, but rather, complements it.

Even though it’s been a few days since I finished the season, the characters’ decisions still haunt me. I think about the things they want and what they did to get it, but truly, at what cost?

Don seems to be losing his creative edge this season. He appears to be awkwardly old-school and out of place in the landscape of the mid-sixties. Realizing this, he throws out SCDP’s new employee, Ginsberg’s ideas and pitches his own sillier idea–an idea that comes off as safe and juvenile rather than innovative and fresh. It’s still not a terrible idea, but in comparison to Ginsberg’s idea, it’s nothing short of typical. But he needed to feel that confidence again–even if it means belittling someone else’s hard work.

Speaking of hard work, or the lack thereof, Megan, who I actually started off severely disliking, has become someone I sympathize with. I sympathize with her because she is an idiot, if there ever was one. She seduced Don, became his wife, got everything she ever wanted–money, status, a job she doesn’t deserve and claimed she really wanted–only to take it all for granted. She hasn’t earned anything. She’s spent her entire life getting things because she’s pretty and deep down, she knows that. And it’s sad, because what is there left to be proud of? Even when she strikes gold with the Heinz pitch–and yeah, like most people, she has some good ideas from time to time–she wants to give up and what? Become an actress? Get her husband to get her a role in a commercial because she can’t make it on her own? It’s embarrassing, but she’s willing to compromise to get what she wants. Because she gets it handed it to her, it seems like her dream of becoming an actress may be just another dream of hers, if her short stint as a copywriter proved anything.

And my favorite ridiculous knight of douchebaggery, Pete, begins an affair with a married woman. And like usual, his extramarital affairs aren’t those of no emotional consequences. He doesn’t feel guilty this time, instead, he wants to run away with the mentally unstable Rory Gilm–I mean, his mistress. But when she undergoes electroshock therapy and forgets who he is, Pete is left heartbroken. He was willing to risk losing his family to have a life with a woman he barely knows, and why? Because he wanted some excitement in his life? Because his life wasn’t the way he wanted it to be? Because he would always fall short of what he really wants for himself? Yeah, sure, hate Pete all you want, but there’s something frustratingly human about him. It’s gross how often he’s a perfect reflection of how I feel at my very worst and sure, I don’t go to the lengths that Pete does, but of course, the feelings do exist. So therefore, Vincent Kartheiser absolutely needs an Emmy nomination. He’s earned it because he has demonstrated an uncanny ability to play a complex character that audiences can both relate to and want to punch in the face.

Lane certainly did punch Pete in the face, but his devastating arc, which ended in the grimmest, disturbing moment in Mad Men history, is far from the ending that he deserved. SCDP took Lane for granted and he genuinely cared for the survival of the company. No one understood how difficult his job was and he was completely isolated–by his co-workers and his wife. Even if he moved on with his life, could he have found fulfillment elsewhere? I doubt it. He was born to be a martyr.

Joan chose what was best for her and her child. And the personal cost is low, but the moral cost is high. We still like her because we sympathize with why she did what she did. But it angers us that she even has to be in that position. This strong, powerful, beautiful woman–ditched by her tool of a husband, taking care of a man-child’s son, and being asked by Pete Campbell, out of all people, to secure the future of the company by doing what people think she does best–being objectified as a mere sexual creature–when she is capable of being so much more. We’re insulted that any of that had to happen to her, but we want her to succeed, and we’re glad that she got what she wanted, even though we weren’t happy about what she had to do get it.

Then there’s Peggy, the girl we root for, who never settles for less in her professional life, but pretty much settles for anything in her personal life. She agrees to move in with Abe and her mother is inevitably disappointed, but not solely because they will be living in sin, but because Peggy could do much better–she can find someone who would want to marry her. And Peggy’s mother is right. Peggy, always trying to adapt to the times, is a traditionalist at heart–she wanted Abe to propose to her and she was going to say yes, but instead, she settled for being a live-in girlfriend. Despite this, Peggy lands a job at a rival agency, only to realize that perhaps, even though her paycheck is going to be bigger, she is settling for less. Sure, she has her own office, but she’s working with the poor man’s Stan and Ginsberg and has to stay at a crappy hotel. She wants to settle for something, but she doesn’t get exactly what she wants. And I wonder how much longer she is willing to settle for other people’s plans for her. When will she finally create her own destiny? Because I, for one, can’t wait to see Peggy establish her own agency.

Meanwhile, Betty already chose her own destiny. Which seems to be one where she’s miserable and fat. Which also seems to be one where she shamelessly uses her daughter as collateral damage in her attempt to ruin her ex-husband and his current wife’s relationship. Even if Betty was successful, she doesn’t gain anything but a sick, disturbing joy, as a result of her brewing jealousy. Point is, she wouldn’t actually get anything, but she did it anyway. But I remember when she was actually a fairly good wife to Don–or better than what Don deserved, considering the kind of husband he was. What we didn’t like about her was not because she was a bad wife, but because she was just sort of a brat. And when she is upset when she finds out that she doesn’t have cancer and is, in fact, just fat, epitomizes exactly the kind of brat she is.

Last, but not least, there’s Roger–who has chosen to be lazy, to take LSD, to divorce his child-bride, to have a tryst with Megan’s charming, straight-shooting mother. And his cost? Just money.

In season six, I hope to see more Peggy Olson, Michael Ginsberg, Ken Cosgrove, and Stan Rizzo and better yet, Peggy forms her own agency and recruits the others. I would love to see those characters explored, though. Ginsberg has chosen to be work under the selfish dictatorship of SCDP, where his work is purposefully forgotten in the cab so another work can shine–and for what? To have a job? He’s proven be one of the more moral characters of the show and his father seems sweet. Cosgrove’s writing career is endearing and his relationship with his working girl wife seems lovely and here’s hoping he doesn’t fall into infidelity. And there’s incredible warmth to Rizzo, a far departure from his initial sexist comments to Peggy last season. And I kind of miss Henry Francis. Oh, I can dream big, right?

Here’s to another season of Mad Men over with. Which character’s decisions and dreams resonated with you the most? Thoughts?