Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 3, Episode 7 “Seven Twenty Three” (B+)

Wow, it’s really incredible to see Don get angry. Jon Hamm is a magnificent actor, and his performance as Don is one-of-a-kind. It’s extraordinary how Don interacts with those above him, particularly those he truly respects, notably Hilton and Cooper. The way his fury boils up inside of him while he’s talking to Peggy creates a particularly powerful scene that ranks as one of the best of the season. Don’s conversation with the schoolteacher is also terrific, and the way he says “nothing is happening, we’re just talking” really drives home the meaning of the scene. I prefer that kind of layered meaning to Don’s despair-fueled road trip where he gets scammed and robbed by the young couple. I think it’s because the office interactions feel so much more real and therefore have a stunning impact, whereas when Don is in a daze, the show often feels a bit dreamlike and therefore less relatable or alive. It’s the kind of scene that seems at first like it’s a character’s hallucination and can’t possibly be actually happening. Nonetheless, it’s hardly ineffective, and the sight of Don with a bruised face walking into his office and muttering about a fender-bender says a whole lot all by itself. The character who shined most in this episode is most certainly Peggy, whose interactions with three alpha males – Don, Duck, and Pete – all bristled with intensity. Peggy’s remarkable response to Pete, “stop barging in here and infecting me with your anxiety,” is a surprising and wonderful show of how she’s gained confidence in herself and in her abilities as a copywriter just as entitled as any male peer. The way she falls for Duck is an unfortunate step back, but her ability to stand up to him and hold her ground is still impressive. Her understandable breakdown while talking to Don is meaningful because he really tears her to shreds and rattles her carefully built-up sense of accomplishment. Betty’s foray into local politics and using her party-borne connections (just like Don, as it happens!) is a nice way to utilize a character who’s been underused this year after a stellar starring role last year. Her argument with Don where she rejects Don’s claim that his need to be the one in control doesn’t apply to her was another great moment for a typically great episode.

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